Subject: The Weight Gay Adult-Youth (Revised) The Weight ©MCVT2017 May 11, 2019 Saga of a man who bore a weight, and he finds it wasn’t heavy enough to give him the strength he needed to be the man he wanted to become. Life, and loneliness in a small town in a small town isn’t easy, but strangely gets better. **You can make things better for Nifty with a fty/donate.html ** Adult Content, 100% fiction: MM, coming out, youth, self-realization, slow read. ===================================================================== Pulled into Nazareth, tired after a week in Philly. Pumped gas, watching a guy yelling up at a trucker. Mutual flip-off. Picked up his bag and turned away as the semi drove off. Approached me with his head down. Asked me if I knew a place to stay, still studying the pavement. “You looking for Ted?” I asked, right above a whisper. No answer. “Okay. Motel Fifteen — rough trade on the parking lot, but cheap. `Bout two miles off the highway, want a ride?” He looked to be in his twenties and sported a fat, cracked lip; rooked by the trucker probably. Gave me a look like he would john me. “Nah.” He sighed, looked around the parking lot and walked to another truck. As I returned the nozzle to the pump, a kid ran up to me from the darkness, breathing hard. Almost came to my shoulders, small, skinny kid, dark hair flying around his head in a mess of waves. Under that mess, brown eyes focused on my face. “Mr. Ted?” He asked glancing around. “Yep, who’re you?” “Andy’s friend.” I nodded and pointed to the passenger seat. “Got a name, `Andy’s friend?'” I smiled. “Blue.” He smiled back. He looked strong, well-fed probably from the out-of-date sandwiches in the dumpster, and he smiled. Good sign. … Paying for gas inside, I see two fine citizens of Nazareth, Carmen and her crazy husband Chester picking up another six-pack. “Livin’ it up again?” Smiled and nodded at them. Carmen smiled slyly as she looked over my shoulder seeing the boy get in my car. “Looks like you are. Got some hot business going this weekend?” “Now, Ms. Carmen, you in a bad mood cause your underwear inventory’s short again?” I winked, “That boy’s probably on his way to Philly — staying in the barn. Ain’t no business `round my place. Only an invitation. We’re hospitable folk, right Chester?” Rheumy-eyed Chester was too drunk to answer and weaved toward the door, stopped and puked on the threshold. Chester’s pants were wet – peed his pants in public again. Sweet retribution; I went about my business. Milk, eggs, bread, bananas, and a cup of hot chocolate. As I passed Chester, he asked if I wanted to buy one of his hounds. Short on funds again — trying to dignify his laziness by throwing a dog in the mix. “Still the stinking liar.” I thought. Chester didn’t keep dogs — he’d probably steal one. We eyed each other for a moment, he was still chapped about our history; his history. “When did I become your personal ATM?” Don’t think he understood that but he was still stewing when he pulled his fist back in a slow, irregular line. Anemic attempt at violence. Grabbed his wrist, and brought it to his waist, “Wait a minute Chester, you know I’m a peaceful man.” Handed him a ten and walked to my car. … In the car, I put the top down and asked Blue if he was frightened. I’m a big man, little over six feet with broad shoulders, muscled back, chest and arms — over the average in that department due to my work. Kept my dark hair in a flattop — I have to sweat often and profusely. “Andy told me about you — I been waiting two days watching for a red convertible. Andy said to ask if you were Ted, first.” He sipped the cocoa, “I’m going to DC. Andy’s got a place now.” Nodded, I remembered Andy well. He came in the snows, standing outside the convenience store, hungry when I met him. Slip of a boy — weighed maybe a hundred pounds without his rucksack. He’d been taken “between the Sheetz,” meaning, used and beaten in the deep woods along the highways between the big commercial rest stops. Left for dead but pulled himself together and found his way toward the lights of the gas station. Took almost a month before he healed, and he began working to pay me back. Farm boy, he knew hard work – chopped wood, cooked, cleaned and we whitewashed the outbuildings together. He was on his way to DC with only his hopes in hand, but he’d do well. Smart, brave boy, full of spirit and smiles when he left in March. I still miss him and wondered if his family had even reported him gone. Never saw an alert for that incredible kid. … The old railroads of our area no longer felt the tons of coal or the wheels of coal cars pulling it along. Different kind of railroad sprung up, the underground kind. Again. Kids running away from restrictive rural areas, even some of the devout religious kinds of homes where love was supposed to triumph all. In the past years, I gained a reputation — get the kids cleaned up and on their ways. Some came in beaten and bruised. If their bodies didn’t carry wounds, their spirits did. Occasionally a girl came, but mostly boys. I guess the word spread online — I took in three, four or five a year, sometimes two at a time. Didn’t stay long — they wanted to work and Nazareth a was dying town. Most the population was in elder care or working in one. Nothing in Nazareth for a boy but trouble. Nothing here for a queer boy but worse trouble. My place was safe haven for a few days or weeks. These kids who came felt powerless, they escaped from their oppression. But they carried an unnamed power, the power that caused adults to shudder or to recoil in horror — depending on the myths their families were soaked in. The kids who came to me didn’t understand that paradox but quickly discarded the myths and came into their own. Taught them their act of their leaving was their first grasp at their own power. Those kids shook their families and communities with a force that altered lives permanently, I know. It was about the taboo — the secrecy of a universal, often daily need. Expressions of sexuality are stronger than declarations of war. Trust me — I know the war-displaced and the refugees. I was one of them. … All my power appeared in a completely unexpected explosion around me when I was seven and crazy Chester was ten. It came about because of Chester’s sexuality, that and his lack of courage. The albatross around my neck, that’s Chester, and I learned to live with his rotting stench — finally learned to laugh at it: We were caught in the barn, fiddling around like boys do — had our miniscule erections out. Chester had plans on my groin and was showing me how to rub one out first, he was going to show me some other fun. We were found out when my mom came looking for us. My mother grabbed us by our ears and marched us out of the barn, and down to Chester’s house. “These boys better not be playing together again.” Mom told Chester’s parents. Chester was a sleaze-ball back then and said I had forced him — didn’t know why he came up with that, he was bigger than me. Laws weren’t so well-defined about children back then, and my family had land, my father was a supervisor at the rail yard. Turns out Chester became a pawn in his parent’s game to squeeze my parents for damages. The next morning my parents and me were called to the courthouse. A magistrate heard our stories. Remember well, standing there completely clueless while Chester was red-faced and breathing hard, telling lie after lie about me putting my penis, which he called my “keet,” into his “tootie.” Chester seemed overly-agitated but continued with his outlandish tale while I stared in wonder. A “keet?” “He put his erect penis in your anus?” The magistrate asked, somewhat suspicious about this incredible tale. Chester didn’t answer until my father suggested, “Are you talking about someone putting their cock in your asshole?” Dad shot Chester’s father a dirty look. Chester and his family weren’t the brightest folk nor the most virtuous. The courtroom was silent for a while. Chester nodded looking aside, I think he was embarrassed or confused but he stuck to his story. I had no idea what was going on and said Chester was showing me how to jerk off — I told my simple truth with few words. The judge let it slide, doubtful anything happened, but Chester’s parents played the grieving victims saying their proud, first-born son was assaulted, extremely deflowered–screwed beyond repair. They hired a lawyer but it didn’t go to court. I suspected Dad had to shovel some bucks their way. Through this whole mess, my parents were probably wise to the strategies of our neighbors and sent me to Miss Fanny, my great aunt in Altoona. Dad had good work, couldn’t leave town. Mom alluded to having to live with my homosexuality out in the open — said I was marked for life. I didn’t understand that either, but I felt bad about leaving my home. … Life was great with Miss Fanny, a never-married great aunt. Her mother worked the burlesque circuit and trained Miss Fanny in all kinds of dance and song. The house was always filled with music. Of course, Miss Fanny attended church — her family had settled down in a big Victorian house near the railroad and were esteemed among the citizenry. Saturday nights, she sang the blues at the old upright piano with friends filling the house past midnight. A short three hours later, she was leading the choir in her wig and flower-print crepe dress that fit her rear too well. What a performance! Her friends were an odd mix of artists and musicians, the social outcasts of the area. If someone played an instrument, they showed up on Saturday evening and found a place to sit, had to get there early if you didn’t want to stand all night. They came from the hills, and as far away as North Philly. All kinds of people showed up with fiddles, harmonicas, horns, sometimes odd instruments I’d never seen before. Plenty of dark-skinned folks brought homemade stringed instruments and drums made from all manner of wood and leather. Their cars lined the streets throughout the neighborhood for those hours. Strange music and smells drifted up to my little room over the porch on Saturday nights. I loved living with Miss Fanny, her life stitched all these different people and different sounds together into a rich tapestry that enveloped me snugly every week. Miss Fanny was the first woman I loved and respected beyond any other – even my own mom, she taught me by showing me how good life could be when you accepted people as they were. She brought out the best in everyone around her — she bore the weight well. While I was learning life from my Miss Fanny, I studied hard at school and went on to a trade school learning how to weld then went into machining. I liked that work and got on at the union through one of her friends. Worked in Altoona till Miss Fanny ailed, my parents came and later we buried her. The entire town turned out for the funeral; it was a celebration though I cried for days. My Miss Fanny was gone forever, but not her love. The full weight was placed on my shoulders when she passed. Soon afterward, Mom and Dad sold half our farm land, Dad retired. They took their proceeds and moved to Altoona to upgrade Miss Fanny’s old house and live there. Dad told me the rest of the old homestead was mine, “Live in the mess you made.” Maybe it was a mess he’d lived in, but I hadn’t. Had no idea what mess he was talking about and I knew I’d live a lonely life. … Didn’t keep track of what happened in Nazareth while I was in Altoona those years, but things had changed. Economy worsened, lots of people moved away, through one-decade half the population left to find work elsewhere. My old hometown was a ghost town. That left plenty of room for karma to happen, and it did. More polite to ask before you do it, I guess, but ol’ crazy Chester, the poor little victim took his keeted tootie through the neighborhoods one June night and got caught peeking in our neighbors’ windows. Liked to watch people dressing and undressing. Got hauled in for it when a girl’s daddy shoved the barrel of a shotgun to his ear while he was standing in the privet hedge, pecker in hand. Talk about stupid, Chester asked the man for a few more moments so he could get himself off. This did not go over well with the father nor the judge. Chester’s peeking caused a stink all over town because the charges appeared in the newspaper alongside the speeding tickets and DUIs. In a useless effort to whitewash the incident, or perhaps aright the family name, Chester’s family grabbed Carmen, who already had two children by two different men and was pregnant again. Shotgun wedding to counter his voyeurism. “Chester’s a normal guy, just a one-time incident.” That’s what they wanted everyone to believe. Carmen was a good-hearted woman, maybe too generous with her favors, she was glad to be called a wife instead of the other names people used for her. That seemed to work out, Carmen and Chester’s relationship was immediately cemented with alcohol and drugs. Crazy Chester hit a streak of bad luck. I didn’t know it, because you’d never catch me checking, but Chester wore women’s underwear. We’d heard whispers of him sashaying around his house in a girdle and stockings. I ignored it as idle gossip. Chester had to get a job because he was on a `work for your welfare’ program. He took day labor with the road crew after a hard winter – shoveling up the asphalt chips and slinging gravel for a few bucks an hour. Endless work repairing potholes along state roads. Day started out cool on the asphalt but heated quickly and the laborers pulled off their jackets. Before noon, they pulled off their shirts. Chester was huffing and puffing still with his jacket zipped, they said. Men on a road crew noticed and began razzin’ him about the jacket. One pulled the zipper down and they pulled his jacket off him. Maybe the crew was a buzzed – they pulled his shirt off next and found he was wearing a bra. I’ll admit he had man-tits flopping over his beer belly, but road crews aren’t kind. They took photos of Chester in his chinos and his bra. Their harassment continued. Wasn’t long before his nylon panties coursed social media and his tiny dick, flattened behind the lacy briefs had a few seconds of fame up and down the seaboard. Seems the bra had a tiny butterfly in the front and the panties were a complimentary shade of pale pink. Shoulda just grinned and posed for those shots instead of looking like he was going into a seizure. Chester ran away that day and didn’t go back to work. Well, no legal problems, but because of the heat and mis-aimed camaraderie Chester was outed as a cross-dresser as well as a voyeur. Serious blow to his ego and the family name fell further. Sure, we all chuckled but Chester became goofier and a more dedicated alcoholic after that. Seemed Chester was desperate in some ways, always seeking another thrill, more pleasure. When he found a moment of satisfaction, he chased it hard and it never was enough. He carried no weight. By this time my non-penetration of Chester was now only a few dust motes in the fading memories of the few last residents who were around to know about it. People looked at me as a “lifer” in this miserable place. Wasn’t so miserable for me, I lived outside town on twenty acres of good farmland that I’d let go fallow, and only kept a few goats occasionally to sell for meat or fill the freezer. Took in machining parts and occasionally got a contract in the area, if I could find one. My life was comfortable, I became a placid, satisfied soul after Miss Fanny’s schooling on values, I stood tall with the weight. It made me strong. … As we pulled into the garage, I asked Blue if he wanted to stay in the barn or come in the house. “No shower in the barn and no food in the kitchen out there, but it’s warm. Your choice.” “Andy said you’d ask. I’ll stay in the house.” Before we went in the house, I asked him to strip. He had no modesty, probably had been at a shelter. After examining his hair, and skin, I dampened his hair with the medicine and left the bottle, pointing at his groin. “Everywhere and the pits.” Stuffed his laundry in a plastic bag, went inside and carefully emptied everything in the washer. Hot water, detergent. I checked my watch and went back to the garage and handed Red a can of disinfectant, bug spray and a plastic bag for his shoes. He was going through his rucksack and handed me several more things for the wash. Twenty minutes later, I shooed him in the shower, leaving a long tee shirt and a pair of socks, and went to get dinner going. Coffee, toast, I’d wait to see what he wanted. When he came out of the shower, I asked if he was feeling alright, “Got any fever? Headache? Stomach okay?” He seemed alright, and I asked about the scrape on his leg. “Had to climb into the dumpster and slipped.” I got the ointment and a stretch bandage and looked at it. The scrape at the top was fairly deep surrounded by a small bruise. Long scratch scabbed over. His hair had pulled up into thick, black waves around his head — sticking out every which way, and I noted his skin was light brown–even-toned and smooth. Still had a lot of childishness about him. Narrow shoulders, straight lines except for a small tummy. Not bony at all. As I safety-pinned the bandage over his scratch, I looked at his feet. “Nail clippers on the back porch by the door.” Pouring him a cup, “Did Andy explain the rules here?” “He said to be very good to you. Told me to thank you again.” Only had a few rules for the kids — no lying, stealing and they had to say they were my great grandnieces or nephews if anyone asked. Had to clean up after themselves and help out where they could. Alcohol and drugs put them back on the road immediately. Maybe I was like a social worker in some senses, but I asked where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do for work. I had contacts that could help through my union buddies — didn’t leave a kid on the roads, way too chancy. Of course, if they wanted the road I complied unwillingly. I found out Blue was half Cree; mom was First Nation. Real name: Blue Moon Stokley. Blue became elated, then downcast as he told me about his brothers and sisters. I changed the subject. “Tell me what Andy’s doing now.” “Getting on with the feds. He’s renting a room with some guys–expensive in DC. Sometimes he goes to Dupont…” Andy seemed to be doing okay, but I wasn’t sure. Takes around a year to get on with the feds. Had to wonder how Andy got past the background checks; there are ways if you know the right people. “I need to charge my phone.” Blue said and we went to the computer with me beside him. “Check to see if you’re missing. If the police see you, you’ll have to go back.” Didn’t seem to be anyone looking for him. “What kind of problems made you leave?” He only nodded, “Parents…” His voice was slow — he plugged his phone in and went to bed. … I was off for the next few days, and we were up early, Blue cooking breakfast and I got my schedule out. “Have to work in Annapolis on Wednesday to Friday. We’ll stop back by DC if you want to go with me. You can stay with Luke while I’m working — then we’ll go check for Andy.” He was off immediately but came back disappointed. “Been over a week Andy hasn’t called back — no texts, nothing.” “Think he lost his phone?” “Maybe.” “Did he say where he was living in DC?” “Anacosta, something like that.” “We’ll go to Dupont and Anacostia, why don’t you go online and check the bars he might visit?” Blue was on the computer a long time checking gay bars in DC. Emailed me a list of six in DC and the spa. I got a gray feeling about Andy–he was proud, and a boy of his word, if he told Red to come to DC, he had to be there. Why didn’t he answer his messages? … The next few days we worked around the farm, cleaning up. Not much to do really, but I told him I wanted to mow when we came back, “Do you know how to use a big riding mower?” “That’s fun!” Good for me. We left for Annapolis; Blue was content to stay with Luke. Luke was the son of a man who visited Miss Fanny when I was ankara masaj yapan escort a kid — the man who helped me get into the union. Luke’s Dad always let me sit on his lap when he visited Miss Fanny — he was a baritone with a smooth, sweet, caramel-like voice. Didn’t remember much of his son Luke from my childhood, he only visited a few times, but Luke was older now, lived with his daughter Anna Lee. When we arrived at Luke’s I took Blue to the door, “Stay and keep Anna Lee company. Lee’s gone for his dialysis, but he’s a lot of fun. You’ll see.” I went on to work. Union scale didn’t come as often as I wanted. When I returned from work that night, there were Luke and Blue playing chess, Luke was teaching him the moves. I kissed Luke’s bald head, “You being good to my boy?” “Oh, he’s the best. The very best. Do you know he can speak French?” “I’ll be damned.” Blue had captivated Luke. “You teaching him religion?” “Going to study Daniel tomorrow.” Luke winked at me and examined the chess board while Anna Lee rolled her eyes. Luke had his ways, and he was always a gentle man, and I figured Red would have a good time if he didn’t learn anything new. Exhausted, I grabbed a little dinner, showered and went to bed while Anna Lee, Luke and Blue watched the tele. Next two days were the same, Blue helped Anna Lee with her chores and seemed to lift the spirits of these people two and three times older than him. It was a good visit, and I’d just stuffed a hefty amount in the bank as we left for DC. … Parking in DC is impossible so I pulled a small tool case and a blanket from the trunk and gave Blue my billed hat. I sat Blue on the tool kit and blanket and told him to circle the block while I went in the bars asking the regulars and the barkeeps if they’d seen Andy. I had a good pic on my phone and showed it around. No luck. Then we cruised Anacostia, then the circle. No one had seen Andy. That was no surprise. We waited till night fell and Blue circled the bars again while there were more people inside. Again, no luck. No one working Dupont or the other haunts, I decided to go to the police, feeling the need to enlist more serious help. They took a report and my phone number. Back on the highway, we were quiet. At the first rest stop, I pulled in and talked to Blue, “Put out word with the gay bars when we get back, send them a photo with a phone number. They don’t have to call us, just give Andy the flyer. How about that?” He nodded appearing disappointed. Lost his first love and potential shot at a life off the res. That must hurt, so I told him when we got home to work the flyer up and we’d come back to DC later. “Sound good?” He nodded, “Do you think he’s still in DC?” “Not sure. Send that flyer out to Delaware, Maryland, Virginia — all their bars and different groups. Can you round all that up?” “I think so.” At least I’d filled the leaks in the dam of devastation for a moment. To get his mind off Andy I asked if Luke taught him about Daniel. Red laughed, “He’s weird, that old man Luke. I had a great time.” That started him chattering and laughing about what he and Luke had “studied.” Luke was a devoutly religious man in a peculiar way. Made all the men of his spiritualism into homosexuals. Yep. Moses, Solomon, Elijah, the Disciples were all gay men and led the world toward the light in a warm, loving way according to Luke. That may have been more truth than fiction. … Made a stupid mistake with Blue. When Andy came, he was seventeen. I mistakenly assumed Blue was seventeen. He’d just turned fifteen, I’d also assumed that they were lovers. They weren’t. They’d met online where Andy somehow sensed Blue’s distress and pointed him toward me on his way south. Red was too young to be on the road — too young, too naïve, but smart enough to wait for my car and ask my name. This boy wasn’t inclined to life on the curb. Red loved spaghetti and cooked up a big pot for dinner. As we ate, I asked: “How long you been on the road?” “‘Bout two months, a week in a shelter — I split. That was worse than the streets.” “How did you survive?” “Panhandling–sometimes working.” “What kinda work?” “Drug deliveries, sales. Guys wanting a blow job or something…” He stopped eating. “Did you do it?” “Coupla times. It was cold. Gotta buy something if you stay in the all-night joints.” “Not telling you how to run your life, but I think you’re too young to be on the street.” “I know now.” He looked at me, “You’re not putting me into foster care or sending me home, are you?” “Let me think about it. You haven’t finished your schooling — have you?” “No.” He finished chewing. “I don’t need a diploma. I can join the military or work construction.” “Go online tonight and see what the military requires, I think you’ll need a diploma or a GED. Tomorrow we’re renting the tractor. You up for mowing?” He nodded, mouth full of garlic toast. Later that evening I asked to see his leg again. Bruises gone, but the deepest part was still there and oozing something nasty. Wondered if he had a piece of metal or crud down in that puncture wound. … On the way to rent the tractor, we stopped at the clinic. Now, some doctors retire to small towns and some hide in small towns. Nazareth had a hider. Our doc got pinched years ago writing extra `scripts for the hookers in Southern California. Moved here and renewed his license — worked as our local GP. His bitter wife ran the office. I asked if we could see the doctor about an infection on Blue’s leg. We sat and waited for a few minutes. In the exam room, Blue took off his jeans and the old man poked and prodded around the scrape. “I can send you to the hospital, or we can do it here.” He said, then explained that he wanted to open the wound and clean it out. “No insurance. Blue, you gonna let the doctor look into that wound?” He winced and nodded as the doctor gave him a tetanus shot. The old man filled several syringes with a pain-killer then injected it around the area, sliced open the festered wound and squirted saline for several seconds, then stuck his gloved finger in the hole he opened. He held tweezers over the wound, “This is going to be sore later, take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory. I’ll give you some antibiotics. Come back later if the redness doesn’t go away.” He held up a bit of black detritus he’d pulled out of Red and stuck his finger back in to check for more. “I want an STI screen. How much?” I dropped into the exam. He gave me a price and told me to roll up my sleeve. “Not for me, for him. Put my name on it.” I flashed a fifty. He didn’t budge till I flashed another. Red didn’t like his blood being drawn but submitted to it and a swab up his dick. Damn doctor was giving me some hard looks, “Need to get a sample from you, `John Doe?'” “I know what I’m doing.” I snapped and we left for the drug store. That afternoon, Red mowed several acres closest to the house. I’d take on the next day’s mowing. We ate sandwiches on the back porch when Red asked if we could go to the Pride Celebration in DC, he wanted to look for Andy there. That was a good idea but months away. Red worked up a good flyer and we emailed it out to thirty or forty places asking them to post it where people could see Andy’s face. Hard to sleep that night, Andy’s face from that photo kept coming into mind. Had a lot of respect for Andy, in some ways he reminded me myself, the best parts of myself. Wondered if he was working a street corner now or was working at all. … Next morning, I was up before dawn mowing below the ridge and got most of it done, planned on leasing it out to the farmer next door for his stock. Gave him a call and left a message. Blue was still in his room as I started breakfast, getting the coffee going and ready to shower when Blue cut me off at the bathroom door. I went in anyway and started the water listening to him pee. He undressed, ready to shower. Pretty boy, beautiful, lanky body just filling out. My fingers went to his leg, I pulled the bandage off — looked better, no longer red and festered. “Take your pills?” “Yep.” His naked body reminded me of my men. The few men in my life weren’t as beautiful as Blue. My sexual liaisons were in Philly every now and then when I could get a hook-up. Had three men I visited; two were married, one was an out and proud older man — Terrance. He’d raised his kids till they were adult and came out to his family, to their relief. Terry was a happy man, very loving but seldom available. The other men were desperate, too quick and fearful — we used each other in a heavily veiled sexual world — without a sky much less stars or sunrises for those moments. There were others in the union, but it’s a chest-bumping, confrontive world of money, bullshit and one-upping. Not to my liking. Here was with a boy, kissing me under a warm shower, hard dicks rubbing, breaths speeding. He took me to bed wet, wanting to thank me with some fun. Sure, I kissed him, stroked his smooth skin, played with the few hairs around his dick. He went down on me, getting me hard for a fuck, I could feel it coming. Something didn’t feel right. I didn’t need thanks, I was working off my past sorrows helping the kids, not earning any sexual favors. He said he wanted me inside him, rubbing him. Boys on the road with any heart left wanted stability, maybe they couldn’t say it, but they wanted something sure and deep for a few moments, to be owned and to own even if it was just a minute or an hour. They craved that. They wanted to feel loved. Couldn’t get hard for Blue. Just couldn’t, I held him close and asked him to tell me about how he found out he was gay. Gently, I shored his resolve to be the best gay man he could be. To be the best man he could be no matter what happened around him. Don’t think he understood all I was saying; impossible to give him more than that. The boys that came through fueled fantasies, yet I didn’t have a deep attraction to their skinny bodies. Pity offset lust. The pain of their histories often left my eyes stinging. That described our embrace during those moments. … That next week, we went back to the clinic. I knew it would be bad when we went in — the doctor’s wife was out and he approached us himself in the empty waiting room. A small viral load of HIV was detected. Now, I didn’t jump up and down in horror, no. It’s manageable. Blue could have a great life if he was careful. Blue went into a full-blown meltdown. I understood that, he’d left a bad situation and made a worse one — so young… He felt no one would ever want him; love him. The doctor handed me a brochure on HIV that listed a clinic, it had the suicide hotline number on the bottom of the last page. Stopped by the store, dragging him behind me, sniffling and morose. We decided we’d have lasagna for dinner and left with a bag of his favorite snacks. On the way home, I simply let him cry. Sat in the car a long time as he let out a lot of that painful, abrupt news. … Not being the best on the computer, I asked him to help me. We checked the email account for word about Andy. Nothing. We read about HIV. I found out he was now considered a person with a disability and since his chances at the military were shot, he’d get help with his education and meds, all that. Blue wouldn’t listen to me. Had to let him grieve before I could make any headway. The wound on his leg was healing shut and his skin and eyes were clear — he was able to work and make a good life for himself and I repeated that several times. Above all, I had to keep a seed of hope sprouting inside him. I called the neighbor back and told him if he wanted a lease, he’d better call me. As we spoke on the phone, I told him I’d make him a deal to lease all my pastures. Struck a good bargain and I made plans to mow the rest of my fallows through the next few days. Took Blue to the barn that afternoon and cleaned out the loft, then had him mow around the yard and part of another field. Hoped I’d worn him out; at least he wasn’t weepy any longer. After dinner, he became quiet, laying on the couch and watching something. Researching further, I asked about his citizenship. “Dual citizenship, American and Canadian.” He whispered, “Why?” “The sooner we get you in for monitoring, the better. There’s a lot of help for you. Maybe we can turn this situation around.” He fell asleep while I sent a number of emails and researched sites. Finally, found a home for HIV positive youth in Montreal, there was one in Quebec and Toronto as well. After reading the few details they’d posted, I contacted them and asked for more information. I took Blue to bed with me as a precaution and held him against me telling him he was still the same to me, and he’d be a great man, “I know it.” The next week, I got an email from the Nazareth public health clinic to come in for HIV testing. Docs have to report to the CDC. Blue and I went in together and I acted surprised, floored. Of course, those were Blue’s results, so I told them I wanted another test. It would come out negative, and they’d leave me alone thinking their reporting system had bugs. We returned the mower and rented some other tools, stopped by to pick up two pre-made gates and went out to install them. Blue checked the fences and we were ready for the livestock. I hated their stink, but the income would smell sweet. When we got back in the house, I turned on the computer and asked Blue to wait for a shower, “Need to check the email.” No one contacted us about Andy. Three places north of us contacted me about services for youth with HIV. I showed Blue. Through the contacts, we found a video counseling service in Toronto and called. Blue took control and asked for a counselor. I left him to his conversation and listened from the kitchen. Blue wouldn’t give his last name or location. The counselor seemed experienced — no pressure, only nodded when Blue said he just found out he was HIV positive. An hour later, he came into the kitchen, “That guy’s going to email you.” “Was he any help?” “Yeah, it’s not as bad as I thought.” Blue didn’t seem so upset any longer. After all that, I breathed easier. I’ll admit I was afraid he’d commit suicide — lots of ways to do that on a farm. Within the week, we were on our way to Toronto. A room came open in a group home for HIV positive kids. He was glad to be back north, and I wished him well, telling him he always had a place with me. It appeared to me he was excited. Home to an empty house, hoping Blue would make it where he wanted to go in life and still longing for word from Andy. … The cattle came to the fence every morning to see what was going on. Bovine are curious and smart in their ways, and I gave them names and talked to them. They liked me turning the radio on classical music and stood along the fence in an evenly-spaced row as though they were seated at a concert. If I had to leave for work, they bitched at me when I returned missing their music. Funniest thing, but I treated them well – they wouldn’t stay long before they were processed for the frying pan. The national economy was teetering on the brink of collapse after a spate of bad loans, and I hired a company to set up a website advertising my services across the state and around the area. Union jobs were harder to come by unless I wanted to become migratory, moving across Canada and the US following the little work there was but the competition was steep. Life on the road would leave me with way less than union scale. I had years of experience and held out for part-time work close to home. Took from savings and invested in solar panels, caulked the windows and started chopping wood for a long winter. For entertainment, I went into the gas station in the mornings to read the paper and have a coffee — they’d installed several small booths. Ambiance was awful, but I needed contact with the real world while I waited for work. Crazy Chester was never up early, so I could enjoy some peace and began speaking with the others who came in. Didn’t know so many of these citizens, but I met a woman who was talking about her daughter who recently graduated from the community college and started a business. Ornamental iron work, fancy gates and spiral stairs, regular stairs, all kinds of garden and fencing work – I gave her my email address telling her I was a journeyman machinist and welder, though it wasn’t counting for much these days. Being a start-up company, that young gal was short on funds and space. She had a great, though limited portfolio of work she’d accomplished with some of the undocumented welders. The woman had to work out of a storage shed at the rental place. I offered my barn on the condition she hire only me for the welding and assembly. “Even got an office.” The empty room would convert easily. She jumped at the larger space and we got on with it. Working alone with my plans and instructions, I began cutting and assembling, while she was out in sales or working up estimates. She had an edge being a woman and a minority – kinda cute and sharp as a tack. She starting picking up contracts in Philly. Wasn’t long before I had to install shelving for inventory and make a paint space in one of the empty stalls. Through the months, the money started coming in and I was finally holding my own financially. Went to the gas station at night, parked on the lot but didn’t see any kids. State troopers had cracked down on people, especially kids, at the rest stops. Human trafficking had gotten out of hand with the slump in the economy. I began a lonelier personal life. Still checked for an email about Andy. Month after month I checked, maybe just from habit. … Surprisingly, my computer made a dinging sound, like the bell on the counter at the dry cleaner. Came during the lottery results. I didn’t know what it was about so I opened up some things and checked. Someone emailed Andy’s account. The email was from a goofy address, “PrawnMan,” a personal account, not the programs or bars we’d notified. “I’ve seen this guy. Why are you looking for him?” That was mysterious. I wrote back immediately thinking it was a scam: “Old friend of mine. I won’t pay for information that I’m not sure is true. Tell him to email me at this address. Ted” Immediately, a chat box opened in the corner of the screen, “This is Andy, I miss you.” My heart jumped, but how do I know this is my Andy? “Prove yourself.” He sent a photo of himself, smiling and hair neatly trimmed. He held his ID by his face. “Where are you?” “Ocean City, MD.” “When can you come?” “1 week. Got work @ Nazareth PO. Gotta go finish my shift. Miss u.” “Miss you too.” I sent, hoping this was really happening. … For some reason, I felt the need for iron in my hands and immediately went into the barn and started on two work orders. All the pieces cut and lined up ready to be welded, assembled and painted. Was broken out of my concentration by the steers at the fence bellowing for me. Had I been working all night? Wasn’t even tired as I walked along the dew-covered grass, giving each a pet, I told them about Andy. “He’s going to be a mailman… Deliver gifts and important papers, like bills.” Swear they were smiling back at me so I turned their favorite station on the radio and blasted it across the meadow. Went in and emailed Andy again that he could come anytime, “Call if you need a ride.” That night, I got another email from Andy, “Can’t leave early, will you come early? I have a place — only two more nights, then I’m done here.” Left that night after I called my boss-lady and asked for a few days off. Got to the shore at midnight and found Andy, tall, slender young man now, almost twenty, waiting in front of an upscale seafood restaurant untying his apron. He jumped in the car, grabbed my face and kissed me. “Walk the beach?” The sea breeze was cool as we walked, stopping often to embrace. Andy had tried DC, too costly. His phone was stolen on the Metro. Got another but lost his old contacts. Worked a few odd jobs before one of the men he roomed with suggested he work as a waiter mecidiyeköy escort along the coast in a popular tourist town. During the chaos of moving and day labor, he’d gone to the library — slipped in a few minutes here and there. A librarian helped him with the forms — he told me it took a week of checking online and tracking down past employers, but he submitted his application with the post office. Been working in the beach town for almost a year when he got notice he was hired with the post office and there was an immediate opening in the Nazareth Post Office. “Jumped at it — just a rural route north of town. You gonna let me stay with you until I find a place of my own?” “Wouldn’t let you stay anywhere else.” Kept a still face, still wondering if this could really be happening, but my heart was beating wildly. Andy wouldn’t lie to me. He just wouldn’t. We talked about Blue as we went to the car. “Wait to send him a photo, he’s in a safe place now and needs to stay for a while.” Didn’t mention anything else. … In his small room on the top floor of an old house, we undressed and slipped under sheets damp with the salt breezes. The warmth of his skin welcomed me. Holding him against me as closely as I could, I kissed his face and his neck; each kiss releasing the aching moments of yearning I’d endured. “Been working the curbs?” “Nah, I ask the county to help with my rent if I’m short and eat at the restaurant. Lots of guys have asked, but no one – no one like you.” We were both tired and fell asleep quickly. I slept in the next day while Andy went out and brought back coffee and one large pastry. But for the tall, narrow window that opened to the north, there was little in Andy’s room. Spartan, but he’d furnished it with his hopes and ability to hold on till his luck changed. His self-discipline served him well. As I sat on the side of the bed, naked with a cup of coffee in one hand, and the pastry in the other, Andy knelt in front of me, catching me off guard and vacuumed my erection into his tender lips. Never minded a sexually assertive man, I lay back and let him suck and play with my frenulum with his tongue. Balancing the cup of coffee along my side, I held it upright against my side and lay the pastry on my belly. My hands went to his hair, feeling along his ears, and his morning stubble, I looked down as his eyes caught mine. Yeah, he smiled with my rigid dick in his mouth — my heart jumped. Immediately pressure climbed as my eyes closed and my heart beat rapidly and I moaned. Just the touch of his fingers behind my balls caused me to shake and cum. Hot blasts, three, four… He looked up at me as my erection waned, dropped me from his lips and grabbed the pastry with his teeth and ate it. “I love you.” Came softly from my lips. … Of all things to discuss, he put my coffee cup on the night stand, took me in his arms, “How are those gooseberry bushes doing — the ones we planted by the fence?” “The one in the corner died, but the others are okay. Don’t produce much. Why?” “Just curious. We put a lot of work into planting them.” “Got steers in the pasture behind the fence now. Lotsa fertilizer.” “Good.” He gave me a radiant smile. Stayed in bed enjoying ourselves, catching up on what had happened in our lives. We didn’t want to get up, but Andy had to go to work at three that afternoon. Gave me time to think about things as I washed the car and cleaned it out. Found a several boxes for Andy’s few things, walked the shore for shells. Strangely, the only shells were from China sitting in the gift shop windows. When I picked him up, he brought a seafood dinner, fries and tea. We ate in bed, “Let’s have a barbeque — celebrate you coming. I’ll invite Luke and Anna Lee.” His eyes jumped and he grinned when I mentioned Luke. He loved Luke and his doctrine. “Invite them some of your friends from work.” He told me, “We’ll do it together.” Our conversation ended, we were quiet as moonlight streamed in the window on the narrow bed, phosphorescing Andy’s skin and hair. He glowed, his bright eyes smiling as we kissed. Inhaled his scent deeply and touched his face, relishing the moments. Never occurred to me that he was looking at me in the same way, under the same light of the same moon with the same full heart. I’m not known as an alpha male, all tatted and snarly, aggressive and brutish, though I am assertive and won’t wimp. Like to consider myself well-balanced, neither dominant or submissive, and when it came to Andy I was selfish and it made me passive. To see him above me, sweating and working as hard as he could to give me his cum — that transfixed me. In my mind, I’d encourage him, beg him, I needed him to reach his pinnacle of pleasure inside me and fill me with pure Andy. Liked to think I was the only one who got it, and I was in that moment. The act made me feel one with him–owned. Never felt that with anyone else. He filled me with his hot gift that night. As he lay beside me, I knew my body was taking his fluid and absorbing him into my bloodstream. I was drunk on Andy as we fell asleep. … Back in Nazareth, Andy was surprised, “Looks like you need a new roof. Those shingles look like corn chips and the house needs painting.” “Later.” Maybe my pride kept me from speaking the truth about my sketchy financial condition. “Got to pay the taxes and utilities first.” “There are ways.” He kissed my cheek as we entered the house. I went back to work in the barn while Andy cleaned the house and mowed the front yard. Steers seemed to take to him and came to watch. As I loaded a number of ornamental fence sections on to the installer’s truck, I saw Andy over by the gooseberries with a sharpshooter, tearing up the ground. What was he doing? The steers were on the other side of the fence supervising, I supposed, but he was tearing up the ground around the bushes rapidly, red-faced, sweat flying. When I looked later, he was putting all the dirt back around the bushes. What the heck? Over the dinner table that night, Andy confessed to a crime: “Robbed a trucker and don’t have one regret.” He winked at me. Seems a guy picked him up for a spin under the guise of taking him to Maryland, but the buyers on the parking lot kept hounding the trucker-cum-dealer for blow. While the trucker went out to make a few bucks, he left Andy in his cab. Andy, knowing people hide things under their mattresses, lifted the foam and found stacks of cash. Quickly, the boy grabbed a loaf of half-eaten bread, dumped the bread and kept the bag. Replacing the cash with paperbacks, bread and his dirty clothes, Andy had filled his bread bag with the ill-gotten funds and stuffed it into his backpack then jumped out the other door of the truck and ran into the night. Kept running till he was far into the woods behind the rest stop. He stayed in the woods digging a hole with his hands and anything he could find. Buried the plastic bread bag filled with cash and covered it. Stacked several rocks on top and waited till dawn so he could count his steps and knew the direction from the parking lot so he could find it again. Walked to the next truck stop later on, he asked for food, but was snatched by a crew of rednecks who took him into the deep woods and had their fun at Andy’s expense. Battered and bruised, Andy pulled himself back together. On determination alone, he picked himself up, and started walking with only an empty backpack and his filthy jacket and ragged clothes. It was cold and he was angry — but he wasn’t without means. He walked miles back to the stop where he’d buried his cash, got it and started walking south, dodging the troopers and truckers. He’d only settle for a job in DC and was resolute. Andy stopped in the Nazareth gas station, pulled out a hundred-dollar bill but was afraid to spend it in the gas station that night. He stood under the bright lights wondering how to get what he needed. That was the night I met him, hungry yet standing in front of the convenience store filled with food and afraid to show such a big bill, then leave with cash in change everyone had seen. He was reticent at first but asked me to buy him a sandwich and a cup of coffee as I entered the store. When he lifted his bruised face toward me, “Put your money away.” We sat in my car talking, with him stuffing food in his mouth. I went back in the store for milk and another sandwich, and soon he was sleeping as I wound my way back home with the slender slip of a boy. Left him in the car, letting him wake and decide what he wanted to do for himself. He could have left, but he came in the house and thanked me. Made him de-louse and clean up, he fell asleep on the couch for almost a week–sitting was painful. Not sure what he’d been penetrated with, but he wouldn’t let me check his rear or take him to the doctor. Said he’d be alright as he sipped soup, ate a few crackers and went back to sleep. Had to get something for his foot fungus, stick-on bandages and he had no clothes with him. Got what he needed and waited, wondering what was next as his health returned to his thin, pale form. “What’s that got to do with you digging up the gooseberry bushes?” I asked. “Way back then, I waited for you to go to work, I buried the cash under the bushes and covered it up. The earth was already soft, so I told you I mulched them, but I hid the money.” “You mean I’ve had all that cash and didn’t know it?” I thought. “Where is it now?” He went to the back porch and came back with a burlap bag, sat down and dug in the bag until he pulled out the old plastic bread bag. Carefully, he started pulling out the stacks of worn bills each wrapped in a rubber band. “Let’s count it.” The moldy, damp bills stunk, but Andy had done well, paid a price, but he was $37,570 richer for it, he had more than he thought. “Why didn’t you come back here when you couldn’t find work in DC? That money could have helped you.” “If I spent it, I’d be left high and dry again. This was my grubstake when I found a job. I want to buy a house and keep the people I love around me. You know, make a real life.” Sounded like Miss Fanny speaking, I smiled and understood “Don’t know if you’ll find too many loving people in Nazareth, but you’ve always got me.” … I’d like to think it was from his heart but I imagine Andy was looking toward the winter. The next morning, he went to the farm supply and opened an account with some of the cash, then stopped by the corner where migrants gathered waiting to work. At noon, a crew of men began scraping and repairing the outside of the house for paint. Another man came to give him an estimate on the roof. Let them work it out for themselves, I had three detailed jobs ahead of me in the barn and was welding all afternoon. The steers just watched, bellowing occasionally when a truck pulled in the drive. Were humans their entertainment and my life their soap opera? On Wednesday, the flashing was finished being replaced around the chimney and blocks of shingles were awaiting placement on the roof. The painters had already started spraying, two worked on the trim. Over lunch, Andy told me we were going to have our barbeque on Sunday afternoon, I had to clear the drive in front of the barn, “Tell everyone to bring their lawn chairs and a cold dish.” That night I called several folks and emailed a few, texted the rest as Andy told me he was starting his training at the post office on Monday morning. Life jumped into high gear around me. … Sunday morning, we hosed the drive, brought the speakers out, and prepped for our visitors. Steers watched from over the fence, enjoying the music and all the activity. Noon, people started coming by after church. I opened the barn and we sat the bowls of food on my work table with coolers of ice in the front. Andy met everyone at the front gate and directed the parking. What a champ – slender, nimble, blonde hair flashing around his head. Didn’t offer any explanation for his relationship with me other than friend. I noticed that my neighbors and others from town didn’t say anything, in fact, most didn’t seem to care. Had things changed that much or was it me? Before two o’clock there were twenty-five people milling about with plates of food, reminiscing and I noticed people had brought other friends and neighbors I didn’t know, but the crowd was mellow and telling the old tales, catching up with others’ lives. I was standing by the grill turning the hamburgers when I had to look twice. Here came Carmen and the devil, walking side by side up my drive! Crazy Chester came to my home? Looking him over, I saw he’d lost weight though his skin still carried the yellowish cast he’d worn for years, it wasn’t as bright now. The rum blossom had faded, maybe he was wearing some of Carmen’s make up. Carmen veered off to talk with the women, but crazy Chester walked straight up to me, stood beside me and looked around, “Sorry.” He said softly. “Sorry?” “Got to make amends. Sorry I lied when we were kids. My life went downhill from there. Finally got myself cleaned up during my last stint in jail. I’m in the program.” I nodded and flipped the meat. “You gonna forgive me?” “Nope.” “I said I was sorry.” “Got to define your offenses in front of the community, then ask me for forgiveness, else it won’t stick.” That was the way in our area, maybe it came from the religious sects that lived around here — he had to give a full, public confession first. Something about hurting one is hurting all. “Want a burger?” He got a plate and made himself a burger, deep in thought. As the sun was setting, people were sitting, talking. Andy had introduced himself around, telling people he’d be with the post office, driving the route up around the south end of Panther Creek Valley and telling them, he’d be looking in their boxes for a surprise. Everyone chuckled; they took right to my handsome postman, chattering and planning surprises for him. Someone had brought beer and wine, most of the crowd was buzzing happily as Andy lit a few candles and sat them around on old wooden crates that sufficed as tables. Wouldn’t you know, as everyone was busy enjoying themselves, Chester stood up and came beside me at the grill and asked for everyone’s attention, banging on the side of his iced tea can with a spoon. “Listen here, listen up everyone. I’m only going to do this once.” Took a deep breath and squared his shoulders, “When we were kids, I lied on Ted. Got him in trouble with the judge and his parents.” He stopped and looked at me, “I told everyone he ass-fucked me. He didn’t. His parents sent him away, and I’m here to apologize for that. My dad told me what to say, and it was wrong. I knew it but I lied anyway. I’m sorry for lying on you, Ted and you losing your home.” He looked at me. “Some good in being an obedient son, I guess. I forgive you and I’ll tell you that being sent away turned my life around. I got to live with Miss Fanny, wonderful woman — changed my life for the better. Thanks, Ches.” We shook hands, and like it goes, several others had confessions to allow, then there was laughter and a lightness came across the crowd. Andy was standing alongside Luke and Anna Lee, watching this peculiar custom unwind. I’d seen it happen before, but not in decades. They were amazed. Chester and Carmen stayed to help clean up, and after they left, Luke came to me, “That’s why you were at Miss Fanny’s?” “Yep. But I think it was more about my mom, she knew I was queer.” “Then it was a damn stroke of luck — him lying `bout you.” I could only nod. … In bed with Andy, I wasn’t tired, but profoundly relieved. Maybe I’d done some good in this town by coming back and I turned to Andy, “I don’t care if people know I’m gay — they were saying it behind my back all along. Doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore. Thanks for the roof, the paint and bringing everyone back together — that was a party they’ll be talking about for years.” “Times change, people change. There’ll always be some problem folks. That guy Chester, that must have been hard for him to admit.” “Enough of Chester, he’s made his own life, his way.” I knew I couldn’t demand love, so I slipped my hand to Andy’s briefs, “I want you.” Squeezing gently, he turned to me and kissed me. Pulling him against me with my hand on his rounded rear, “I’m so proud of you, every bit of you.” Feeling his erection build, I shucked his briefs and began fingering his hole, hunching our erections together. He took my face in his hands and looked into my eyes while he kissed me again. Our motions became more urgent and I felt the heated rushes building pressure, I gasped. “Yes. Now.” His eyes were wide and his head fell back. Two cocks began release in our desperate moves, sweaty and wet, we came. Didn’t move for a few moments as our erections twitched out a few more drops and we looked down. I smiled and took in his scent. He looked at me and whispered, “I love you.” I licked our cum enjoying the taste of two men – two strong men. … Andy was out the door early the next morning, and I wandered into the barn after saying good morning and turning on the music for the steers. They were getting bigger — I’d miss them. They’d helped me through some lonely times. As I passed the gooseberry bushes, I wondered where Andy had stashed the money now. He had a lot left over after the roof and the house painting. Boss-lady handed me three more work orders. Easy work making hand rails, then welding finials on several gate posts, and re-welding someone else’s work. I began at my worktable while she pulled in later with another contract and news. She wanted to hire another welder to bid on some bigger contracts. That was alright, “I’d like to check him out first, make sure he knows his trade.” Then, she told me she was looking for larger space. “Where?” “Old Duggan place — you know the old two-story east of city hall.” “Yellow house with the cedar fence?” The house had stood empty for years. It had a big yard and a garage with an apartment above, several large trees and an overgrown lot — about an acre and a half. “Have you signed the papers yet?” “Still trying to contact the owners — they’re out of state.” We talked for a while and I told her there was a piece of land where she could pull in a construction office trailer and set up a metal shed for the inventory and the welders, “Probably get a good deal on it.” We went about our day without further conversation, she stayed late that night working on the books. I finished up my work and went into the house awaiting Andy. I showered and cleaned up the place, still sorting the recycling from the barbeque. I glanced back at my house — looked good, thanks to some lax dealer and Andy’s generosity. Chopped kindling for a while thinking of Andy and me sitting in front of the fire this winter. He said he loved me. Hadn’t heard those words since Miss Fanny died. Andy came in with a bag of uniforms. Shorts, shirts, slacks and a jacket. Had a heavy hat with ear flaps. He’d be driving a cold route in the snow. “Saw Chester and Carmen today.” “Yeah?” “Told me to thank you.” Chuckling, “Did they say anything else?” Didn’t want to hear him asking me for a loan. “Yeah, he said to come by anytime, he’s working at that new sandwich place downtown, the one that makes fresh bread but doesn’t have french fries.” We made dinner and I told him about Chester’s `keet’ and `tootie,’ and how confounded I was. “May need some of that Nazareth keet tonight.” He whispered as he took the dishes to the sink. My knees went weak. I keeted his tootie the best I could, and kept grinning remembering Chester’s life filled with strange antics. In the shower, I kissed my Andy, kissed him all over and dried him gently. What a man — bedding me of all people, and he said he loved me… … Our days went smoothly until my boss was ready to move the shop. We needed more room. I told her I’d lease the pasture where the steers were, “Over that rise is a flat place where you can set up a trailer and a shed. Lots of room for inventory. We’ll put in a drive for the trucks and you’ll have mersin escort plenty of room for expansion without the city taxes.” She agreed and we began negotiating and working up the numbers for our contract. … Winter came and we worked through the contracts, piling my finished work until the assembly crew could get through the icy roads. Worried about Andy out on the two-lane roads up north, but people were kind leaving him banana bread or hot biscuits and coffee in their mailboxes. I was able to enjoy the fireplace with him next to me. He was such a romantic. Romance was something I wasn’t very familiar with — small outward expressions of love. He brought me colognes and fantastic soaps. He liked lotions that smelled fruity, and clothes that fit him like gloves, even his uniform. “Be proud, lover. You are a beauty.” I’d think often. The holidays came and I escorted my beauty to the party at the post office. That holiday party was the first I’d attended in years. Knew most of the office and delivery people. Felt comfortable among them and even had eggnog that sent me into orbit. Then ate too many rum balls. Andy wound up driving us home, singing with the radio all the way. At home he half undressed me and brought me to the couch. Got a fire going and tossed me a blanket while I watched, head spinning. When the room was warm, he danced in front of the fire, taking off each article of his clothing and tossing it at me. When his briefs hit my face, I grabbed them, and held them over my nose while I sniffed and watched. Incredibly erotic – the shots of warm light from the flames between his legs and outlined his slender silhouette. Soft, blonde hairs of his body softened the lines along his legs and arms. His muscles were more pronounced now, sinewy, and his movements so fluid… So relaxed and so aroused — this felt like a dream until my phone rang. Didn’t recognize the number, muted the sound and continued watching this beautiful man seduce me. Damn phone started vibrating. After the third time, I told my beauty to get under the blanket with me. Strange area code, but I answered it. Blue called! “Where are you?” “North Dakota. I’m on the res.” Andy grabbed the phone from me and they started chattering, catching up on all the news. While Andy listened, I slipped my hand to his briefs. He pushed it away and gave me the “stop it” look. So, in my half-drunk state, I went to the hearth and began shaking my butt and taking my boxers down inch by inch wiggling my shoulders and eyebrows while his eyes widened. “I’ll call you back later.” I tossed my boxers at his face and he grinned, grabbed my hand and pulled me onto him and we made love frantically. He even got me over the arm of the couch and gave me my gift deeply. I remember how hot his cum was as it filled me. My life couldn’t be any richer. … Andy had to have a gathering on December thirty-first. He called Chester for several sandwich platters and bought wine for sangria. We invited a few friends, my boss and her mother, thinking it would be a small affair. Nope. Not in this town — it became an open house with everyone bringing something and someone. Couldn’t help but think they were curious about Andy and me. We welcomed everyone as though they were kin and it was a quiet evening — no confessions or absolution, but a lot of reminiscing. As I listened them describe their tribulations or strange events, I realized that our town was filled with people some would call pervs. Miss Fanny would call them neighbors. This mob was more diverse than I imagined. Crazy Chester, I don’t know why I couldn’t get shet of him, brought the platters late and had Carmen with him. They laid out the food and helped Andy with the wine and sodas and stayed as guests. Chester no longer had a belly, his skin hung on his bones in drapes, but he was smiling. First time I’d seen him look so bad, and first time I’d seen him smiling. It wasn’t the time to ask. Couldn’t understand why, but I felt he was on some journey, like the boys at the gas station looking for a ride. He stopped here for a moment of comfort, something stable, a moment of feeling loved. Andy, the perfect host, was working through the crowd, refilling glasses, hugging and giving cheek-kisses to everyone – he was like that. I’d been raised to be reserved, Miss Fanny taught me it would be better for me — not exactly a wallflower, but not one to put myself into situations the way Andy did. … My steers were taken to slaughter — feeding the nation. Through the mud and muck of February and March I had a road grated to go back to the rise. Had it rocked and soon the construction trailer and the electricians came to set up the office for my boss. The shed for the inventory and welding shop came next, then we posted the job opening for the second welder. Interviewed the applicants myself and selected a man who had little English but who walked me around the shop showing me how he would handle different problems. He was a middle-aged refugee from Northern Africa. Called himself Abu, and he was grateful for a job and understood the drawings when I helped with the notes on the work orders. Abu was a hard worker, patient man and we worked well together. Life at the shop continued, more work coming every week as our reputation for solid, quality ironwork spread. Dang if our boss didn’t get us a contract for two sets of stairs in a seven-story building — that would keep us sweating for the entire summer if not the summer and autumn. Blue visited. Andy sent tickets and our boy came in looking great, tall, lean and dark. He didn’t want to stay — he was in school, readying to graduate and go to college. Kinda envied him studying engineering, but he’d do well. He held himself differently now, straight and relaxed. Andy took a day off to show him around and I’m not sure what else, but I left it between them. … After three years with Andy, we were a thing, but not a bad thing. Seems people in town appreciated us. Andy’s open friendliness made that happen — his familiar smile seemed to bring us all closer. Over dinner one night he asked if I was ready to move yet. “What?” “Remember I told you I wanted to buy a house.” He buttered his roll. “Oh, yeah. Did you buy one already or are you looking?” “The old Duggan place — there’s a yellow two story on a big lot…” “I know it. It’s almost a hundred years old — needs a lot of repair.” “It would make a great bed and breakfast. I want to swing a loan and turn it into a business.” He put his fork down. “So, I have to move?” ” Time to move into town, we’ll rent this house and I’ll be closer to work.” “I’m supposed to retire?” Seems he had my life planned for me. “No, you’re supposed to run the place while I’m at work.” That did not sit well with this old machinist, “Not cut out for it.” “You are. Look at all the kids you took in, and something about Miss Fanny… you mentioned her one night. Hospitality, acceptance, graciousness — you got all you need. We can hire the rest.” The weight Miss Fanny left to me shifted in that moment. Pulled my shoulders back and took a deep breath. I decided to keep my mouth shut and see how this panned out. … Maybe it was because Andy wanted it or it could have been the incredibly comfortable new furniture he bought, I decided to move into the old carriage house at the Duggan place with my man. Did you know you can forget how ragged things get through years of wear? It’s true. Before we made any major changes, I asked him where he’d hidden the money. I suspected the basement, but he said it was all taken care of, “Don’t worry.” He explained that if we needed money, he’d get a debit card with the cash and put it on an account online or at the local farm supply. We eyed each other — I really didn’t want to see him in trouble about taxes. Later, I figured out he’d gotten a PO box and mailed himself the cash to keep it safe. We got a loan for the old house and hired a crew to start remodeling the carriage house, only four rooms, adequate yet comfy. I continued working and emptying my old house. Abu and his family of seven wanted to rent it. Fine with me, they were nice folks. Abu and his children started turning the side yard into a garden as soon as we signed the lease. … That summer Andy told, not asked, Blue to come and help with the repairs on the house. That astounded me, but they had an arrangement of some sort. Blue brought two boys from his college and they worked alongside the crews fixing and painting the Duggan house. Electricians, plumbers, came first, then the carpenters. Andy was careful and had submitted all the restoration plans to the historic society. They were delighted that someone had saved the old house. Found out later he got a tax break for all the fussing about cornices and gingerbread trim. The whole summer was a party with the college boys grilling outside almost every night and the music lasted late. Had to tiptoe through the sleeping bodies to wake Andy but got him up and going every morning. It was a good summer and got better when they tore the old cedar fence down and had a bonfire. Boss-lady cut me a good deal and we set the metal posts and installed a simple, but historically-correct spiked fence, about three feet high with fancy details. That fall the boys left and a man came to till the soil in front of the house. He went back and forth over the dirt till it was fine and smooth. He scattered seed heavily and left. Wondered what that was about. The back lot still had to be mowed with our new riding mower. Now I wondered where all this money was coming from — were we going to have enough to finish this venture? I imagined some came from the loan, some from the small business program and the historical society had kicked in a couple of thousand, but I was stymied. The house looked good and everything worked, but there were no furnishings or appliances. I waited to see what my mailman had up his blue polyester sleeve. Andy was out in the evenings often saying he was “getting things lined up.” He didn’t want any help. Before the holidays, furniture started arriving. Ancient oak buffet, fancy mirrors in gold-leaf frames, heavy wood beds and the big load came on a Saturday — velvet chesterfield from years ago. A dark, wide claw-footed dining table with two leaves and ten chairs sporting needlepointed cushions arrived. We hustled to get them in the house before the snows came. “Where’d you get all this — it must have cost a mint. These are antiques.” “When I deliver to the door, if I see something that looks good, I’d go back on my lunch break and ask the owner if they’d like to donate to a historic building. Each piece here has a history. I’m going to take photos and the histories and sell the rest. Most people want to get rid of the old things if I’ll haul it off.” … Slowly, through the next year, we lived like misers making the loan payments and spent our weekends in the old house decorating with the ladies from the historical society. When we put up wallpaper, I almost cried–it looked like Miss Fanny’s old house, my childhood home. Then, when the sheer lace curtains were hung and the rugs were in place, I wept for those days as I cleaned the windows. Old melodies and the blues played in my head as I worked. Memories of Miss Fanny filled my days and things came fully together when an old upright was placed in the parlor. The historic society held several meetings in the house and newspaper reporters came by. We listed online and got a few bookings. Those first guests were treated royally, I made sure they had their privacy and plenty of good food, though I demanded a microwave. Mostly I served simple things with homemade jams and local honey. Fortunately, a lot of nosy women wanted to see what was going on and came by if I needed help with a pan of hot biscuits in the morning. The seed that had been so carefully planted in the front was wheat. Seeded so thick it waved silvery stripes in the breezes. That grass bent gracefully and shone lightly like a gentle caress over the land toward the front door. I could have watched it for hours it was so relaxing. Later, local women came to cut the stalks to weave the heavy heads of grain on their long stems into wall hangings. We kept our wheat field every year. Andy had tied us closely to the townsfolk with that harvest. … I was still welding with Abu and came home every night to work in the yard with Andy. We hoed and raked, dug and planted until we had an herb garden and a space for weddings. Andy wanted me to make an archway in front of the coming rose garden for the bride and groom. He wanted to advertise our yard for weddings, reunions, anniversaries. Sheesh! No one had ever asked me to design anything before, but I worked up some sketches. “Approve it with the historic society first.” He said without even seeing it. I called the president of the society and sent her a photo of my sketch. A day later, she sent the photo back with a few more flourishes on it. She liked it. I did my best on that job and painted it white, installed it myself. … Working two jobs for several years was wearing and through that time I learned a lot more about the people of Nazareth. Never hurts to know the postman, and the people he served came by to look, often leaving a plant, an old tintype, doilies or hints on cleaning the antique furnishings. My parents had never been treated as well by the townsfolk. “Live in the mess you made,” I remembered and this was a superb mess. After a heated discussion over adding a hot tub or a koi pond, I surrendered. “If you want a hot tub, better keep it covered, the historical society will never go for it.” Andy was right about the koi pond – the birds would probably shit all over someone’s bridal gown and wedding cake. We put in a hot tub surrounded by vines and shrubs and a simple shower. Andy advertised our business in a national gay publication. Several writers came out to take photos and write a story on us. That next week, our website lit up with bookings. Seems the photo of Andy and me in the hot tub stirred interest. Took a week for me to realize the smiles and flirty looks I got around town were about that photo — I thought people had developed tics or lost their marbles. Also had to wonder what they were doing reading gay magazines. Business demanded that I change my work hours, Andy took the weekends working the bed and breakfast, and I welded the days we didn’t have visitors during the week. Boss-lady let me flex my hours, and Abu’s wife always sent me home with fresh produce, but my schedule was tiring. All the sweat we’d put into the old house was paying off, we’d increased the value to over three times what we’d paid for it. Furnishings alone were worth thousands. I’d finally built a decent retirement fund and Andy was working on becoming the post master. He’d probably get it — the rest of the staff were all in their sixties. We were doing well. Very well — my life was not what I expected it would be, it was much better. … Sadly, we attended Luke’s memorial in the chill of winter — his house was filled with people, mostly men, each one tearful and sharing their memories of our loving Luke. Anna Lee had plenty of offers of help, and the donation basket was filled with checks and large bills. Though this man was a quiet, religious soul, he’d offered his brand of spirituality freely and sowed the seeds of kindness, bless him. Shed silent tears on the way home. He was the last of the men I knew from Miss Fanny’s Saturday nights. Shortly thereafter, Chester passed. Spent several months in the hospital before leaving the mortal realm. Open casket funeral — there was crazy Chester in a negligee instead of a suit. Bright red and black lace bodice with touches of beading accentuating his pierced nipples. Even had lipstick and mascara. Seemed somewhat out of place for the casket, but I imagined he created an afterlife where it would be appreciated. Had his memorial in his home. We were respectful and I couldn’t help but shed a tear for all the misery that swirled through his life. Poor Chester, but he’d given me Miss Fanny — she’d given me the weight that built strength inside me, protected me and brought Andy to me. … In bed that night, we were quiet until Andy said the strangest thing, “When I went to Chester’s mailbox, he met me every day, we talked. In his way, Chester loved you.” “Loved me?” “Yeah. Maybe he was rough around the edges, but he said he admired you and how you lived your life, always wanted to be your friend. He respected your strength; said he didn’t have the gumption to live like you. Seems to me it took a lot of gumption to wear that outfit in his casket.” “Chester said that?” “Yeah. All his foibles, all his proclivities, despite all that he came into his own during his last moments…” Andy was quiet for a moment, “He was another man, like us. Different surroundings, different time, but more like us than not.” He held me close, his breath on my chest. “He was another man, like us.” I pondered that and wondered how Chester and Carmen had made love all those years filled with drugs and booze. Had they cherished each other or just passed out in the same bed? Maybe they’d been as loving as Andy and I were…. I stopped and realized yes — yes, of course Chester was like me. He needed love and acceptance like I did, maybe more. He was another man, like me, we’d both lived in a small town where people whispered insults behind our backs. Decades of pain and exclusion had been the same for both of us. Pulling Andy close, skin to moist skin, familiar scents of my lover filling my nose, “This is for you Chester,” I thought as I penetrated my lover’s tight tunnel and slowly made love to him in the most reverent way I could, rubbing his back and reaching around him to find his hot shaft. I pumped through those moments on auto-pilot as hot tears burned my eyes. The weight. My weight hadn’t been heavy enough to keep my eyes level with Chester’s; I looked down on Chester all our lives. Why, in my arrogance, did I think he hadn’t borne the same shunning I had? The avoidance and snide comments, all the name-calling behind our backs had hurt both of us equally. The weight I’d borne proudly fell suddenly to my gut turning into a heavy load of guilt. My erection went soft. No way to continue, I simply took Andy in my arms to kiss him tenderly. Chester had an extra weight of shame by his abrupt outings–I’d never had that. Those outings resulted in a strength I’d never know. His strength revealed itself in a final spiritual adrenalin rush to bear the weight of being truly himself and proud at our last viewing of him. Yes, he’d borne a weight that made him strong. A weight that I hadn’t acknowledged much less respected and eschewed him instead of offering compassion or at least understanding. In that stinging moment of realization: “Miss Fanny, Chester, forgive me.” … As it turned out, Andy carried his own weight — different from mine, yet a weight all the same. My weight held me down — made me slow to anger, it was about avoiding tragic consequences from careless offense. Andy’s weight was about taking whatever was in front of him and working it into a graceful blessing — a more elegant weight and from what I knew of him, a tricky one not meant for just any man. The weight Miss Fanny gave me had taught me to accept and offer love to kith and kin, and I tried. Andy’s love made people feel like more than they were, his love lifted them into an easier and almost noble place. He did that for me. Andy taught me that sex is richer with love, and evidence of love was a romantic gesture — a dance in front of the fire, a kiss, a private memory of a moonlit night that through all time, only we would know. Most importantly, he stood tall and proud beside me – that was the most romantic gesture I could ever receive. An outward expression of love for the entire world to see. As I grabbed our small, wheeled suitcase Andy pointed toward the wharfs in Baltimore. This welder and his post master are taking a cruise. We pull our collars up against the cold wind, breaths making puffs of steam and holding gloved hands as we stride the salted sidewalks. We’ll be in the Virgin Islands in several days, we’re going to snorkel naked. That’s what Andy said, and he promised music and dancing, and so much romance, I’d never need anymore. I seriously doubted that and I wondered if sharks had a taste for keet. The Weight

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