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|-- ERIK --|
"So what is it we're doing?" Noah asked.
"I'm going to show you how to clean tack."
"Why do you clean it?"
"Well, most importantly, it makes it last longer. But it also keeps the leather supple and reduces noise when a rider is using it. Here are your gloves," I offered.
"You're going to be using glycerin soap and other stuff that will work your hands raw. We clean all the tack used each day at the end of the day. Then we do a thorough clean and conditioning on the tack once a week."
"And I'm the lucky guy that gets to do it!"
That made me laugh. "Well you're the newest person here, so you get to learn from the ground up."
"Oh, like Ryan showing me how to muck stalls."
"Did I tell you already that I appreciate you hiring me," Noah said, almost anxiously.
"Yes. We're glad to have you."
"How's the guy doing?"
"The guy, Ezra, is recuperating slowly, but he won't be coming back to work. Having had a heart attack recently; plus angina and a coronary bypass a year ago, his doctor said ‘that's it for work.'"
"So there's a chance I could stay on? Not just a summer hire?"
"We'll see," I agreed.
Noah just smiled at me. With that, we got down to cleaning the tack. I spent a lot of time showing him how to prep, clean, and condition the tack.
"What's this stuff?"
"I've never heard of it. What does it do?"
I was impressed that he didn't just say ‘huh'. "It's a fairly traditional leather dressing, and relatively cheap compared to most synthetics."
It took us several hours to get through the stack that was waiting to be cleaned.
"Is it this bad every day?"
"No. We fell behind, being short staffed. The cleaning we do daily doesn't take long and the weekly deep clean isn't usually this bad."
"That boring," I asked.
"Naw. Just a lot to do and..."
"It's not the most fun thing, I'll admit."
We finished up and put all the tack away.
"Well, you've gotten to muck stalls and clean tack... what other fun tasks can I add."
The look on Noah's face told me I'd tormented him enough.
"Let's grab a couple horses, and I'll give you a detailed tour."
I knew Noah had ridden the trails with groups at times, but I wanted him to really understand things. I got Diablo ready while having Noah get Fleet Street set. After he had his tack on, I checked it over.
"Nicely done," I admitted. That earned a big smile from him.
We headed out of the stables down along the wood line, until we got to the outer trail.
"So we've got a lot of native plants along the trail. These are a big draw to riders and wildlife. The combination is great as folks always comment on what they see while riding. If you're riding with a group, you might get asked questions. It's good to learn what most of the plants are, so you can provide answers."
"Tree, tree, scrub, tree..." he said pointing at different plants. His tone told me he was joking.
"Table mountain pine, red spruce, greenbrier, which needs to be pulled out, and a hickory..." I corrected.
"These things need labels," he replied. "You know, like when you're at a nursery."
"Actually, that's a great idea."
The look on his face told me he thought I was joking.
"I'm serious; we could put labels on some of the different trees, so folks can identify them on their own."
We were about half-way back on the trail when I turned Diablo and headed towards the fence. We rode along the fence line with me pointing out maintenance items, signage, and other markings. By the end of the ride, I could tell Noah was facing information overload.
"Let it all sink in, then ask lots of questions," I told him as we got the horses in their stalls. "I don't expect you to learn everything in one day."
"That's expected on day two," Will said as came around the corner.
We all broke out in laughter.
"You have a good day?" Will asked.
"Coming back tomorrow," I asked.
"Oh, definitely. After all, I don't want to miss mucking stalls!"
More laughter ensued.
"Take two Aleve and a hot bath tonight," Will suggested. "It will help with any soreness."
"Why don't you head on home," I said to Noah. "We'll see you at seven tomorrow morning."
"OK." With that, he walked out of the stables.
"I think we found a good one," I said to my son-in-law.
"Good. It will be nice to have more good help around for the summer."
"I'm thinking he'll be around longer than the summer."
"He hinted several times during the day that he'd like to be more than a summer hire."
"What about school?"
"He told me at one point that he was an OK student, but it doesn't sound like college is in his future."
I told Will about the idea to label some of the trees as the two of us walked to the house.
"Need help with dinner?"
"That would be great."
"What's the plan?"
"Parmesan crusted chicken, pasta and sauce, and a veggie."
"Put me to work," I offered.
We cleaned up and got to work on dinner. As we talked, I thought about how similar Will and Tracer were - and yet how very different. We had things well in hand when Tracer and Ryan came in.
"Dad, have you thought about a graduation present for Kirk?"
"Not really. I've lost track of so many things the last few weeks. The ceremony is Friday night, isn't it?"
"You have anything in mind?"
"Will and I were talking about both Kirk and Jacob. Even though Jacob's graduation is done, we thought we should get something for him. Anyway, we were thinking pots and pans for Jacob's first place. We also thought about getting Kirk a laptop computer for school."
"How much were you two thinking of spending?"
"I think the best answer is whatever it takes to do the right thing."
"As we were walking in, I figured you and I could add some software to Kirk's present to make it fully functional. You know ‘Office' and such," Tracer added.
"What about for Jacob?" I said looking at Tracer.
"How about a gift certificate to Belk, so he can get what he needs for his first place?"
"That sounds like a good idea."
"Where are you going to get a laptop in time for Friday?" Tracer asked Ryan.
"We could get it at Staples over in Bluefield, or a Best Buy in Christiansburg or Bristol," Will said.
"Bristol has more options and is closer than Christiansburg."
"I'm off tomorrow, so I could run down there and get everything," Ryan said.
"Sounds good," I agreed.
The driveway alarm chimed.
"Glad we had a chance to get that out of the way," Will said. "I'm betting that's them."
Will's assumption was quickly proven correct as Jacob and Kirk walked through the back door.
"Three more days! Three more days!" Kirk started chanting.
"No more days," Jacob started and was quickly joined by Will and Ryan. "No more days!"
"Aw. No fair," Kirk said.
We all laughed.
"Don't get me started," I commented. "It's been a LONG time since I went to school."
That got everyone laughing again.
"Well, I was class of 1980 and class of 1984"
"1980???" Kirk sounded astounded. "I was like..."
"You were like nothing," Ryan interrupted. "Not even a glimmer in your parents' eyes."
"You were born in 1987," Jacob teased.
"A real young'un," Tracer added to the teasing.
"Aw, he's blushing," Will said.
"Another blusher," Ryan put in.
"Another?" Kirk asked.
"Yeah. Will blushes easily," Ryan explained.
The teasing continued well into dinner that evening. The light-hearted banter was something that had been missing around the table - hell around the house since Ezra's heart attack.
After dinner, Tracer and I retired to our bedroom for a little alone time.
"What do you want to watch?" I asked, as we walked through the door.
"How about That ‘70s Show?"
I grabbed the remote, turned on the TV and changed the channel to Fox, while Tracer turned back the bed. I changed into my pajama bottoms and climbed on the bed; Tracer did the same and snuggled up next to me.
Tracer put his head against my chest as we watched the TV show. I let my hand run through his hair twirling some of the curls around my finger.
As the show ended and Quintuplets came on, I realized that Tracer had fallen asleep against my chest. I reached for the remote and flipped through a few channels - finding nothing, I turned the television off.
"What's up," Tracer asked in a hushed voice.
"Time to go to bed..."
He reached over, switched off the light on the nightstand, and turned to face me, "Night," he said, as he kissed me. He rolled over onto his side and I snuggled up against his back, kissed his neck, and wrapped my arm around him.
I woke up about 2 a.m., and Tracer was curled up behind me with his arm wrapped over my chest. I lifted his arm and quietly escaped to the bathroom. I took a quick leak, then climbed back in the bed.
"Huh?" Tracer said in a barely awake voice.
"I had to pee. Go back to sleep," I whispered.
Instead of rolling over, Tracer pushed back the covers and crawled out of bed.
"I'm gonna pee, so I don't wake up later."
He was gone a few moments, then climbed back in bed with me. I snuggled up behind him and wrapped my arm over him pulling him closer.
"I think someone's waking up," Tracer said softly, as my dick hardened between his cheeks.
"Yeah. The little guy has a mind of his own."
"He's not that little, and I like the way he thinks." I heard Tracer hawk up some spit, then felt him reach back to my dick and wipe it on. He repeated the process a couple times before he started pushing his ass back on my dick. As my dick slipped in, his ass clamped down on it, making the journey slow and pleasurable.
When I bottomed out in his ass, I held still. My cock throbbed as his ass pulsed around it.
With my arms still wrapped around him, I started to play with Tracer's chest as I slowly pushed in and out ever so slightly. I toyed with his tits, and each flick of my nail over the tip caused his ass to clench on my cock, which started eliciting little gasps and moans from him.
I wasn't pummeling his ass. Hell, I wouldn't even say it was fucking; just my dick buried deep with throbs, little pushes and thrusts. Tracer was whimpering as I kept up the slow pressure combined with the teasing of his nips.
I let my right hand slip down his abs and found his hard dick. I ran my dry hand up his shaft and found the tip covered in precum. My hand covered in his juice, I ran it back down his shaft.
"That's it, Baby."
As my hand reached the top again, I collected more slime and stroked downward. As I picked up the pace jacking his cock, I started pulling a bit further out and thrusting in a bit harder.
"That's what I need," he cooed. "Fuck me! Fuck me!"
I picked up the pace a bit more as I felt his dick start to strain.
"Shoot, Erik. Cum in me..."
Tracer's ass started working overtime to milk my cock as I kept thrusting. I could feel the load building in my balls, and I worked his cock faster.
"I'm gonna... cummmm..." Tracer moaned as his dick started spasming.
His ass really clamped down on my dick as I thrust in deep. Buried, I felt my balls really churn.
"Fuck!" I yelped as I shot my load.
My body bucked as each jet of cum went in him deep.
We both finished shooting and lay there together for a few moments before either of us spoke.
"Clean up?" I asked.
"Naw, just keep your dick in me, and we'll deal with it in the morning."
I pushed in a bit more, knowing my dick would eventually shrink and pop out. I kept one hand on Tracer's chest, the other on his deflating dick, and kissed his neck.
"Night," he said quietly.
Moments later I heard him snore softly. He beat me back to sleep by minutes.
I woke a bit earlier than normal that morning, grabbed my clothes, padded downstairs, and used the main floor bathroom to clean up and dress. Ready for the start of the day, I filled a thermos full of coffee and went out to the office. I had some paperwork I wanted to get done so I could focus on training.
After switching on the lights, I reached over and flipped the switch on the stereo system. Big & Rich were telling me to Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy. I started on the paperwork and hummed the song a bit... I stopped to laugh. Less than two years ago I didn't listen to - hell, I didn't even like country music. Now I'm singing along with it. I was moving along on the paperwork when Gretchen Wilson's voice started belting out of the radio Well, I ain't never been the Barbie doll type... as she got to the refrain, I thought about all the redneck women in the hollows around us that this song fit so well. She was telling me how she could look as sexy as a Victoria's Secret model in Wal-Mart underwear when the intercom buzzed.
"Yeah?" I asked.
"Hungry?" Will asked. "Breakfast is ready."
"I'll be right in."
I finished up the form I was working on, filed it away and walked out, leaving Gretchen to say Hell Yeah!
After breakfast Jacob drove Kirk to school, and as soon as they were gone, Ryan got on the road to Bristol. Tracer, Will, and I cleaned up the kitchen and walked out to the office together.
I was about to go in when I noticed Noah looking at the job board.
"Morning, Mr. Chamberlain."
"Morning. And it's Erik... as I mentioned a few dozen times yesterday. If you go around calling Mr. Chamberlain or Mr. Klein, none of us will know who's supposed to answer."
"Noah, it sounds like your folks raised you well... So, how's your body holding up after three days of working here?"
"I'm sore in a few places I didn't know I had, but I will say that working here would cure anyone's insomnia!"
"It will indeed. Tracer and Will are going to be finishing up the fence repairs today or tomorrow; so, I figured we could get started painting this year's portion."
I stopped for a moment and thought, then said, "Come with me." I led Noah into the office and pulled out the big plot map of the farm. "Here's the property."
He nodded his head, but said nothing.
"Two hundred seventy-seven acres covers a lot of territory. On this end, it's roughly a third-mile deep while at that end," I said, pointing to the old Pittson farm, "it's about half-a-mile deep. The total width is just over a mile. So when you add it all up, there's nearly three miles of perimeter fencing."
"There's more," I continued, pointing to each area as I spoke. "We have riding areas, grazing areas, and the likes that are all fenced in. All totaled, there's about five miles of fencing; and typically, you have to paint a section every five years. So, if we do the math, there are roughly thirty-three hundred, eight-foot segments. And we have a three rail fence, so that's..."
"Nearly ten thousand rails and over thirty-three hundred posts, which totals over ninety-five thousand linear feet of rail or post. So, just over eighteen miles of painting," Will explained from his desk. "That means we need to paint over three and a half miles of fence rail each season."
"Since you're new here, you haven't learned that Will's our resident type-A math nut when it comes to things like that," Tracer said.
That made Noah laugh a bit. "It's a lot of work," he commented.
"It keeps the summer staff busy," I said. "We can't paint if the temperatures are below fifty, if it's too damp, or raining, or too windy... plus, on busy days we don't have the available staff to paint."
"Makes sense," Noah agreed.
"The sun hasn't dried everything yet, so why don't we work in the stable for a bit, then we'll load up and go paint."
In the stable we found Hank and Randy and helped out with morning chores. While the four of us were working, talking, and a bit of light-hearted teasing. I made adjustments and Hank ended up going out with Noah to paint, while I worked on a few more skilled projects with Randy.
At the end of the day, I was sitting at my desk when Tracer and Will came into the office.
"So, what's the deal with Noah," Tracer asked.
"What do you mean?"
"He seems to be getting special attention, compared to the typical summer hire."
"Well, he wants to be more than a summer hire. I hadn't had a chance to talk with you two and Ryan, but he's hoping to stay on with us."
"Thinking he could replace Ezra?" Tracer asked.
"Well, possibly. Seems like he has a good head on his shoulders, polite, eager, and he's done every job I've thrown at him this week. Hank said he dug right into the painting. Evidently, his worst trait is asking a lot of questions about the job."
"That's not a bad trait at all," Will said.
Before I could continue the driveway alarm sounded.
"I hope that's Ryan," Tracer said. "That way we can get the stuff into the house before Jacob gets back with Kirk."
Will stuck his head out the door and looked. "Come on..." he said.
I followed them outside, and found Ryan pulling bags out of the back of the Jeep. The four of us got the presents and everything else Ryan had picked up into the house and stored before the boys got back from school.
Dinner conversation that evening focused on graduation and plans for the future. While you could tell that both Jacob and Kirk were excited about the things to come - they were still concerned about their family situation.
Friday dawned a typical day, and all the little things that come with running a business, a farm and a home kept me very busy. About five, Ryan stuck his head into the office.
"Quitting time," he said.
"I'll be right with you."
"Now, Dad. I've known you too long... with you ‘right with you' might be an hour from now."
I was about to give my son a reply, when I thought about it and bit my tongue. He wasn't a smart mouthed kid; he was my business partner, an adult, and... most importantly, right.
"OK. Let me lock the machine."
I gave the computer the three-fingered salute, as Tracer called it, and called it a night, following Ryan into the house. Inside the house I found Tracer and Will dressed for the warm early summer evening - khakis, a dress shirt and tie. I went upstairs and started my shower.
Twenty minutes later, I walked down the stairs with Ryan... wondering where the time had gone. The young man, now slightly taller than me, didn't seem as familiar as the young boy that I could visualize running down the stairs. As we walked into the kitchen I put my arm around him and give him a hug.
The four of us got into the truck and followed Jacob and Kirk into town. We stopped at Long John Silver's for a quick snack and still got to the school about fifteen minutes before seven. We parked and waited for Jacob, who had stopped to drop Kirk off at the staging area by the gym. After he joined us we walked to the front of the school.
"CHET!" Will said in surprise seeing a handsome young man in suit and tie by the door. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to see Kirk graduate."
"He's gonna be stunned," Ryan said.
"This is the Chet guy?" Jacob asked.
"I take it you're Kirk's brother Jacob."
"That I am..."
Before Jacob could give Chet the third degree I decided to interrupt.
"Gentlemen, we need to get inside, find a seat, and watch the ceremony. The interrogation of Chet can start - after Kirk graduates."
That got a lot of chuckles out of the group and a big smile out of Chet.
The ceremony reminded me of the one I'd attended four years earlier, except that while I was happy to see Kirk graduate; I was nowhere near as emotional. After the ceremony completed, we all went to the area where we'd agreed to meet Kirk. With four guys over six feet, it was easy to hide Chet. We'd been standing there a moment when Jacob gasped.
"Why are you here?"
"Kirk is my son," she replied tersely.
"I was beginning to wonder."
"Mom, I won't have you ruin his night."
"I'm not here to ruin it, I just wanted to see him graduate... he is MY Son, after all."
"You have an odd way of showing it," Jacob replied.
"Jacob, I'm trying - it's not easy deciding between your husband and your son."
"No. I guess it's not, if you look at it that way. Of course, it's your bigoted, closed-minded, foul mouth husband against both your sons that have done nothing but be who they are. So, it's easy to figure out who you chose."
"Jacob!" she was in tears.
"When you're ready to love Kirk and me unconditionally, let us know. Until then - goodbye."
His mother had tears streaming down her face, and Jacob simply turned to face our little group. His eyes were red and tearing up, but his face was set firmly to show as little emotion as possible.
"Jacob, I love both of you unconditionally," she said. "I really do."
Jacob did not reply. The rest of us stood quietly. His mother touched him on the shoulder.
"Son, maybe one day you'll understand and forgive me."
With that, she turned and walked off. Moments later, Kirk came bounding up to us.
"You'll never guess who I thought I saw in the crowd," he said to Jacob - clearly not seeing Chet hidden behind Tracer and Ryan.
"Who?" Jacob asked.
I could tell he had his emotions under tight control.
"Oh, I thought you were gonna say ‘that Chet guy.'"
"Huh?" Kirk said.
"‘That Chet guy', the one you met at William and Mary."
"Why would you think that?" Kirk was clearly puzzled.
"Oh. Just figured you saw him... sitting with us."
With that Tracer and Ryan stepped aside revealing Chet.
"CHET!" Kirk said and flung his arms around him.
For the next few minutes our little group was abuzz with excitement. Periodically someone would come up and greet Ryan, Jacob, or Will. Others stopped to congratulate Kirk, but he could barely pay any attention to them as he spoke quietly to Chet. After a bit, I decided it was time to move things along.
"We have reservations at Cuz's for dinner, so we'd better get a move on," I said.
"Umm..." Kirk started.
"Yes, Chet can join us, we'll make sure they add a chair," I replied.
"Why add a chair," Ryan said with a teasing tone. "Kirk could just sit in Chet's lap..."
That got a good laugh from everyone.
Will and Ryan rode over to the restaurant with Jacob while Kirk rode with Chet. That left Tracer and I alone in the truck. I didn't catch one of the lights and fell behind the other cars. When we got to Cuz's, Tracer and I grabbed all the gifts and went in finding the guys were already seated.
"We got you both sweet tea," Ryan said. "Plus we ordered the mushroom caps, the fried catfish bites, the crab dip, and chips for appetizers."
"Sounds like a great start," Tracer replied.
Everyone checked out the entrees and tried to make a selection.
"What's good?" Chet asked.
"I recommend the ribs," I said. "I know Tracer's partial to the catfish, but you're getting that for an appetizer."
"The menu changes every year when they reopen for the season. This used to be a dairy barn, and the farm is still in operation. In fact they grow a lot of their own vegetables. They also have two cabins that are available; you know like a bed and breakfast," Ryan explained. "I'd recommend the barbeque pork or beef. I hear the steaks are good, but we can grill steaks tomorrow night."
Before he could reply, the waitress appeared to take our orders. Chet ended up with the three-way platter letting him try the pork, beef, and chicken. The dinner conversation focused on Jacob getting to know Chet and Chet getting to know Jacob, Tracer, and me. It appeared that he'd been well briefed on our little family.
The waitress reappeared from time to time to refill drinks, and finally took desert orders. While we waited I grabbed the first box and handed it to Jacob.
"That's for you. A belated graduation present from the four of us."
"Y'all didn't have to get me anything..."
"And ‘we've already done too much.' You sound like a broken record," Will chimed in. "Open the damn box!"
It was a big box but rather light. Jacob ripped off the paper and opened the box. He waded through a ton of tissue paper and finally pulled out an envelope.
"Hmmm..." he said.
"Open it," Ryan urged.
He opened the envelope and found two gift cards.
"One's for Belk and the other's for Wal-Mart," Ryan explained. "We figured you could get stuff for your first place."
"Thanks," Jacob said quietly.
It seemed to me he was about to burst into tears, so I grabbed the first box for Kirk.
Kirk required no urging to open his box.
"What?" Jacob asked.
"It's a laptop!"
"It's got a Pentium 4 processor, two gigs of RAM, runs Windows XP and has a forty gig hard drive," Ryan explained.
"That's so cool," Kirk said. "I don't know what to say, but thanks!"
Jacob's face was an interesting study. Somewhere between panic and distraught.
"That's from Ryan and Will," I explained. "This is from Tracer and me."
"Open it," Tracer said.
"What now?" Jacob sounded more distraught.
I thought I heard Jacob say shit under his breath. At that moment the waitress delivered our deserts sidetracking the conversation.
As we got ready to leave, I told Tracer I wanted Jacob to ride with me.
"Jacob, let Ryan drive your car home. I want to talk with you a bit," I said.
As we got on the road, I could tell Jacob was very upset.
"Jacob, I know things haven't been easy, and I know you feel overwhelmed by all the help..."
"Yeah, but you know... it's more than that. I'm sure Kirk's mentioned that my dad had a reason for everything - and blames everyone but himself. Tonight, I finally realized what a first class ass my dad really is." He took a deep breath and continued. "We never celebrated birthdays, we didn't celebrate anniversaries, we didn't celebrate my high school graduation - they weren't important. We never got a gift from him, Mom would slip something to us when she could... and those - those were always special."
He pulled a handkerchief out of his pants pocket and wiped his eyes. He took a moment to compose himself while I drove on quietly.
"Tonight... tonight I realized how a real family works, and more importantly, I realized what I've missed - what Kirk's missed throughout our lives. Y'all are so caring, sharing, supportive, and giving. My dad's..."
He stopped and sobbed. I saw a small parking lot for some office and pulled in. I sat there quietly while Jacob cried a bit more. He stopped, sniffed a few more times and regained his composure.
"It's over... done."
"It doesn't have to be. Tracer's dad came around..."
"Yeah, but I bet you if you ask Tracer about his childhood, he remembers it fondly. Well, until his dad threw him out. But until then, there was love and happiness. Then things got fixed, and now his dad's supportive, caring, and giving again."
"Even if my dad would come around on the gay issue; and there's a snowball's chance in hell of that, it's not going to make a difference. He's a closed-minded, homophobic, racist ass-hole. According to him the world has put him down, kept him down, and won't let him up. When in reality it's because he's a fucking, lazy jerk that won't do a lick of work."
"There's one good thing that came from him," I said looking at Jacob. "Well, make that two..."
I reached over and gave him a bit of a hug, the best I could do considering we were in the truck. I got us back on the road and we talked.
It was nearly eleven before we got back home and things started to settle down.
"Chet, you and Kirk stay up as long as you like. We get going around here about five a.m., but we'll try to keep it quiet, so you can sleep in," Ryan said. "Night!"
As we were about to head upstairs, Jacob told us that he wanted to get to know ‘that Chet guy.'
Saturday morning was rough, and I went through two thermoses full of coffee to stay awake. Around noon I was coming back into the main yard behind a group of renters when I saw Chet, Kirk, and Jacob coming out of the stables leading horses.
"Taking Chet on a tour of the farm," Kirk stated.
"Sounds like a great idea."
"I haven't gotten to ride a horse in a long time, so I'm really looking forward to it."
"Shep is a good horse, if you haven't been on one for a while," I pointed out.
"I thought Will said the horse's name was Pi," Chet said.
"It is," I responded. "His full name is Sheppard's Pie... hey don't blame me, Ryan named him."
"Oh. I was thinking Will meant Pi as in three point one four..."
That got me laughing but before I could say anything, Chet continued. "Well, these two are riding Bucky Ball and Gordian Knot, so I made an assumption - obviously a wrong one..."
"Around here the names of horses are at the whim of the owners, and the whims of the ones named Ryan and Will are often quite wild," I replied.
That got a good laugh out of them.
"Y'all have a great ride, and I'll see you at dinner time. I need to finish up with my group."
With that, I rode off.
The afternoon was a repeat of the morning with me trailing groups throughout the day.
That evening Ryan and Tracer teamed up on dinner with steaks on the grill, sautéed onions, fresh green beans, and French fries. We sat outside at the picnic table with the citronella torches surrounding us to keep the bugs at bay.
"It's so quiet," Chet said. "And look at the sky... I don't think I've ever seen so many stars."
"Where are you from originally," Tracer asked.
"I'm from Richmond; specifically an area on the southwest side of the city called Stony Point."
"Too much light pollution?" Ryan said.
"Exactly. If you were lucky, you might see a few stars, but only a few. I remember when I was maybe twelve or thirteen, we had a blackout during the summer. It must have been pretty big because that was really the first time I'd seen a lot of stars in the sky, but nothing like this."
"Didn't you ever vacation somewhere where you could..." Jacob started to ask.
Chet interrupted Jacob, "My folks took us on vacations, but they were always, ummm... educational."
That got a series of blank stares.
"It's not a bad thing. We went to the museums of New York, or on a tour of London, Paris, Tokyo."
"Wow," Kirk said quietly.
"I was always kinda jealous of my friends when they'd talk about going camping, fishing, and hiking. And they were jealous of all the cities I got to go too."
"The grass is always greener," Tracer said.
"Where did you vacation?" Chet asked.
"Usually to visit our grandparents," Will said. "But we did go to Dollywood a few times and once to Disney World."
"I'd love to go to an amusement park. And you?" Chet asked Ryan.
"We didn't really do many big vacations. A lot of short camping trips. Will took me to Chincoteague and Assateague a few years ago, and Halloween trips to Nashville the last few years. When I was little I'd visit my grandparents, but that's about it."
"What about seeing your mom," Chet asked.
"She..." Ryan stopped for a moment. I was about to cut in when he started back up. "She left when I was four, and we never saw her again. I found out she died two years ago when my step-brother contacted me."
"Sorry to hear that," Chet replied softly.
"Thanks. I feel I got the best end of the deal. I grew up here with my dad, got a great guy as my ‘other dad;' his brother as my lover, and a great step-brother to get to know."
"How old's your brother?"
"He turns fifteen this summer," Ryan said. "He lives in Wyoming so I don't get to see him that often, but he's coming for a month later this summer. Then Will and I are flying back with him to spend a week in the Rockies with him and his dad before his school starts."
"Killer," Chet said. "Another place I'd like to visit."
"What about you two?" Ryan ask
"We never went on vacations," Jacob replied.
"Or out to eat, or to pretty much anything fun," Kirk added. "Dad has a reason for everything - and usually it's blaming someone else."
While the conversation continued, I had an idea. I caught Ryan's eye and nodded towards the house.
"Excuse us a moment," I said.
As soon as we were far enough away from the table, Ryan asked. "What's up?"
"I thought it might be nice to let Chet have what he wants."
"Oh, sorry, that came out wrong. I was meaning, let him go camping. You know tent, sleeping bags, in the woods..."
"Oh," Ryan said with a huge sigh of relief. "Though with Kirk in the tent, they might just..."
"That's up to them, they're both adults."
We found the tent, two sleeping bags, and a couple lanterns in the basement and hauled them upstairs. On our third trip up, we found Tracer in the kitchen.
"I wondered where you two had run off to."
"Just being sneaky," Ryan said. "But with you here, we should be able to get most of this outside in one trip."
With that we each loaded up with stuff and headed out towards the table.
"What's all that," Kirk asked first.
"Camping equipment," Ryan replied.
You could tell that no one had gotten the idea yet.
"Since Chet has been deprived of the joys of camping, we thought we'd change the situation. It's supposed to be a pleasant evening with lows only going into the upper fifties, so how about taking him camping?"
"You're taking me camping? Tonight? Where? How? Huh?" Chet's confusion was total.
"Actually, it's a two-man tent and there are two sleeping bags, so we were thinking you and Kirk. And yes, tonight," Ryan explained. "As to where, hmm... I see a couple hundred acres of woods over there you could get lost in."
"If you take us up on the offer," I added. "I'd suggest you go off one of the trails a good bit and find a clearing; that way if you decide to sleep in tomorrow, none of the riders see you."
"But..." Jacob started.
Before he could get going, Ryan gave him a look. I don't think Kirk saw it, but I could tell Chet did. It shut Jacob down long enough for Ryan to lean over and say something quietly in his ear. I assumed that Ryan reminded him that both boys were adults, and they'd be around each other soon enough.
With the camping equipment sitting there, you could tell that Chet and Kirk just wanted to grab a sleeping bag and run for the woods - I was impressed with their self-restraint.
"How about I go grab the Gator, load it up and carry all the equipment out a ways. I can point you towards a few different clearings. In the morning you can walk out, and we'll pick up the stuff later in the day."
"That would be great," Kirk said.
I went over to the barn and got the Gator. As I pulled up beside the table, I could see Jacob and Kirk deep in discussion. Everyone else helped load things up.
"I need to get a few things from my bag," Chet said. "I'll need my inhaler and such."
"Me too," Kirk added.
With that he and Kirk both went into the house to grab a few things.
"You OK?" I asked Jacob.
"Yes... No... Yes... I'm..."
"He's an adult. They both are. They're going to be around each other soon enough, and you won't be able to stop them at that point, if that's where they want to go."
"That's basically what Ryan said to me five minutes ago. Which is why I'm at yes, no, yes..."
I heard the back door close.
"We can talk more after they go if you like."
"That would be great."
I drove the boys into the woods and stopped after crossing the creek.
"Damn, it's dark out here." Chet said.
"Yup. Here, let me help."
I grabbed a lantern, a load of stuff and led them down along the creek. A couple hundred feet off the trail I stopped and headed up a small rise. At the top, I turned and led them a little further on to a nice clearing.
"Can you pitch a tent?" I asked Kirk.
I helped Kirk get the tent pitched, showed them both how the lanterns worked, and pretty much got things set up for them.
"Boys, two pieces of advice," I said. "First, if you get cold, zip both the bags together, get naked and climb in. Your body heat will warm each other up."
"That sounds like FUN," Kirk replied.
"Second, if you're gonna play tonight - play safe," I said holding up a few condoms.
"I've got condoms," Chet admitted.
"So do I," Kirk said.
"Good boys. See you in the morning."
I grabbed the spare lantern and walked back out to the Gator.
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