(© 2010 by the author)
The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's
consent. Comments are appreciated at...
The house was a bit over large for a single man into late middle age, but this location in the Vermont countryside was idyllic; a picture postcard that I could live in year round. Our little slice of heaven sat on a rise amidst the rolling hills of New England; high enough to be able to look down onto the forests and meadows, yet low enough to still be dwarfed by the surrounding undulations of nature’s land bound, stationary waves.
The snow was a bit heavier this year. What made it particularly beautiful is that mother nature seemed to be going out of her way to ensure it always looked its absolute best, by providing a light snowfall every three or four days; just enough to freshen the look.
I was sitting in my usual spot in the late morning. My second story library had a magnificent view of the countryside. I’d bought this place two years earlier primarily because of this view.
I say our, because it’s just me and my Shetland Sheepdog, Rogene Autumn Haze; a pedigreed Sheltie that had earned herself a vast array of awards. I called her Hazy. Can you imagine having to wade through her pedigree every time I called her? To make it clear, I am not the sort of man to go traveling from show to show just to show off my best friend to strangers. Hazy has earned the awards because the breeder I’d bought her from did all the work. I didn’t even attend most of the shows.
Still, I think my tiny collie enjoyed the attention she garnered from all the appearances, but there was never any doubt in my mind that she was more than pleased to be home and with me. The things I loved most about my bundle of fur was her energy and her affection. I always got a good workout during our daily ‘walks’. These usually turned into a game of cat and mouse with the two of us chasing one another around the large estate and even into the surrounding countryside. Neither of us ever came home in anything less than a mild state of exhaustion. Our ‘walk’ was usually followed by a shared nap on the huge pillows I had perpetually piled in front of the fireplace, whether it was lit or not. That was ‘our place’. I knew this because Hazy was fanatical about chasing anyone else off the pillows.
In the evenings when I’d finally settle down for a glass of wine and a bit of a read, she’d always jump up onto the love seat and worm her way onto my lap. It was such an ingrained habit for the two of us that I seldom even noticed. In fact, the only times I knew I’d been neglecting my responsibilities as the affectionate master is when she’d wait for me to notice that the typical weight was missing from my lap. On those occasions I’d close my book and coax her into my lap and then spend the next hour or so petting and cooing to my partner.
As I say, our walks were a favorite pastime. But I have to admit that Hazy was all girl. I say this because she made it perfectly clear that my primary role as her master was to ensure she always looked like the quintessential picture of sheltie perfection. The one word in my vast vocabulary that would get her immediate and undivided attention was the word ‘brush’.
It wouldn’t matter what she might have been doing. If I noticed that her coat was looking the least bit unruly, I’d simply have to say the word and she’d stop whatever she’d been doing and run to the basket I kept by our pillows and she’d nose through the contents and return with the brush in her mouth, her tail wagging in anticipation.
Grooming my small partner was a very relaxing form of entertainment. I was always able to blank my mind and forget my limited concerns. I swear that there were times when she’d enjoy the attention so much that she’d fall asleep in my lap. But generally, she’d stand ever so patiently, her eyes half closed, and she’d actually coo.
The only thing missing from making this perfection was Jason. We’d been partners for twenty-five years and his sudden death was still something I struggled to accept. The cancer had overwhelmed his systems so rapidly that there was nothing modern science could do but try to ease his departure.
I’d really tried to continue life in our condo in New York City but had been unable to live with all the memories. Everywhere I turned was a reminder of all I was missing and so I’d moved as far from all the memories as I could bring myself. I adored the east coast so never even considered anything more drastic. The stark contrast between the country living and the city was precisely the anodyne I’d needed. It was far from the concrete jungle and bustle of all that humanity, constantly reminding me of my loss.
It was fortunate that I am an author and have done very well for myself over the years. My science fiction and fantasy novels had all done well. But it was the few that I’d sold to Hollywood that allowed me the freedom I now enjoyed. The three blockbusters that had resulted were still bringing in respectable royalty checks each quarter. I was even in the middle of negotiations to have yet another of my works turned into a movie. Only this time would be different, because it was being planned as a CG production.
The most astounding benefit of all that Hollywood attention was that I was able to extend invitations to many of the celebrities that I’d come to know. The names that had been involved in bringing my stories to the silver screen were impressive. And no, I’m not going to name drop here. They already have to deal with more than enough of the glitz and glamour. They accept my invitations precisely because they know that they’ll be able to escape the paparazzi and the constant intrusions to their lives.
But there were times, like today, when all the quiet and serenity became a bit much. It always seemed to settle in about this time of year…the holidays. Thanksgiving was less than a week away and I had forgone my habit of yet another spate of begging old friends to give up their preferred city entertainments. In fact, I hadn’t broached the subject with any of them this year, which I’m sure pleased them all. But I was not looking forward to a solitary holiday.
So, I was sitting at my window, letting the melancholy set in. Even the beauty of nature wasn’t enough to ease the ache that was settling in.
The air was cold and crisp. I’d discovered that earlier when I’d let Hazy out for her morning business. The other thing it was, this Saturday morning, was beautifully bright, which always seemed to be the way in these cold regions. The colder and crisper the air, the clearer the sky and thus, the brighter the sun. That, of course, only served to heighten the effect of the newest snowfall as all that white did much more than simply lay there; but seemed to sparkle in silver and white. That effect was enhanced by the snow that was collected on the green boughs of the evergreens, and the stark, bare limbs of the black and white trunks of the birch trees.
It was a shame that all this natural wonder could not raise me from my doldrums. But the sound of snow machines heading in my general direction was. That was an all too familiar sound. It meant that the Three Musketeers were on there way. It was Saturday, after all, and it was time to clear the accumulated snow from the porch and walks.
They were a rambunctious bunch. All three of the boys were twelve. They’d approached me tentatively just as the summer school vacation was about to begin and had asked if they could care for the lawn and hedges. They were, all three, eager to have some money of their own for the summer.
All three of them had worked so diligently during the summer, that my yard had been the envy of many. So, when the school year had drawn near, I’d had a talk with their parents and we’d agreed to some winter chores for the boys on Saturdays. This had thrilled the Musketeers. And truth be told, it had thrilled me just as much. It would certainly save my aging back and give me some much needed time away from my solitude.
Dark haired William was the quintessential farm boy. Well muscled for a boy his age and ‘sturdy’. There was nothing the least bit boyish about his physique. This boy worked hard on the family dairy farm. It was clear, however, that he was all boy when he wasn’t having to discharge his duties at home.
Blond Eric was a typical skinny kid of small stature. There was none of the work-a-day development in his body that William had. He was thin as a rail, with no definition to his body whatsoever. What he lacked in bodily development, however, he more than made up for with his mind. This was one very intelligent boy. There was nothing of the nerd in him, but he was an absolutely dedicated student. He’d happily have been schooled year round if he had his way. Summers were always hard for him, as he sat on the sidelines and watched his friends playing baseball and soccer. And then, of course, there was football and basketball when the school year began. He just was not the athletic type, despite his energy. But he was well liked by his peers.
The final member of the Three Musketeers was Archie. Shocking red hair was always the first thing anyone noticed about him. Then it would register that the boy was nearly man height. That, in a boy of twelve, always brought people up short. But it was entirely reasonable considering that his father and uncles all topped out at nearly seven feet. Archie was still the runt in the family; a standing joke. He was a happy child that fit in somewhere between the workaholic of William and the dedicated academic of Eric. His body was almost alarmingly skinny. But that was completely natural, according to his pediatrician, for a boy whose body was determined to achieve its final height before it began to concentrate on filling itself out. He was a perfectly healthy boy.
What was most surprising about the three of them is that they were a complete team. There never seemed to be any shuffling for dominance between them. When there was a decision to be made, they would discuss it and formulate a satisfactory compromise they could all live with. In the six months that I’d known the boys and their families, I’d never seen them in anything more than a minor disagreement. It was a refreshing situation.
You see, I’d been a middle school teacher for five years after graduating from college. I’d witnessed all the little dominance games that kids could play with one another. I was so sensitive to the consequences that I’d had to leave teaching. I’d had more than my share of similar abuse growing up and I found myself in a constant state of anxiety over what I was witnessing with some of my students. Since there was nothing I could do to stop what I was seeing, under the current restrictions of the education system, I chose to leave.
Some who knew my story have accused me of taking the coward’s way out, but I saw it as escaping a situation that could have gotten me into serious trouble because there was no way I’d have been able to stay clear of the land mines of interference. Hell, it was a sticky situation all those years ago, and it had only gotten worse as teachers and administrators were handcuffed further by the ‘experts’.
Well, the career change had been a good one for me, because it had forced me to pursue my ambition of becoming an author. My first book saw modest success; enough to make me believe I could actually make a living. My second book had gone straight to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list. It was all I needed to set aside any regret about my move.
It was at a book signing in New Jersey for my third book where I’d met Jason. He’d stepped up to the table just like any of a hundred other fans. But when I’d looked up into his piercing green eyes, it’d been like an electric shock going through my body. And then he’d smiled at me and I melted on the spot. I signed his book and did the unthinkable…I included my phone number.
Fortunately, my publisher never learned of that lapse in good judgment. Obviously, it’d turned out to be the best decision I’d ever made in my life…better even than my decision to leave teaching. We’d fallen madly, deeply in love during that first date, which had happened the very night of the book signing.
The roaring of snowmobiles grew rapidly and I smiled. The boys could always be relied on to brighten my day, no matter how low my spirits were. So I abandoned my post at the window and headed downstairs. I got there to find, as usual, Hazy jumping up and down in the entry hall, barking her excitement. The boys were, after all, great favorites with her, because they could be counted on to entertain her for hours as they went about their work.
I had no fear as I opened the door for her, even though the boys hadn’t quite arrived yet. They all knew exactly what to expect upon their arrival and were very careful as she ran around their arriving vehicles, barking and jumping in her excitement. The minute the boys stopped and shut off their snowmobiles, they jumped off and the next fifteen minutes was spent in entertaining my little bundle of love.
That was more than enough time for me to go back inside and pull on a down jacket and then return to the porch and sit, watching the antics. Damn, I remember having that much energy once upon a time. I do my best to entertain my furry friend, but it’s clear when the boys stop by that she is totally in her element. The boys are nearly as quick as she is and their play together makes me tired just watching it. Tired, that is, once I stop laughing at it all.
It’s also clear that the boys adore Hazy. Their family dogs are all great, hulking brutes and the boys stand no chance with them. With Hazy, the competitive ground is much more even. Besides, when one of the boys falls and she jumps on them they aren’t crushed under the weight.
Yes, Saturdays were always a joy for the two of us. She got energetic playmates and I got the tremendous satisfaction of watching three very happy boys.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking…I’m just interested in their bodies. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m not the least bit inclined toward sexual antics with boys. Oh, don’t get me wrong. If any of them were to stand naked before me, I would certainly take in a complete view. The male body is a joyous thing to behold in all its facets and ages. But the idea of being intimate with a child holds no appeal to me. I much prefer my partners to be able to carry on an adult conversation, with adult interests.
No sir, my interest is much more in the realm of older mentor to insatiably curious boys. And these three were definitely all of that. Their questions as we came to know each other ran the gamut of topics. And yes, there had even been a few questions about sex and their own bodies.
It appeared that Archie, despite his rail thin physique, was developing a bit earlier than his compatriots. The fact that the questions had initially come from the other two lads and had been directed at Archie’s development made it quite clear that they were going through all the typical exploration that close friends were capable of. The fact that I was neither shocked nor inclined to lecture them about the evils of their curiosity in each other, quite stunned them.
I always smile when I remember that day in late July. The boys had finished their work for the day and were rough housing in the front yard. Their antics had included quite a bit of crotch and ass grabbing between them. Of course, they hadn’t realized that I’d come out onto the porch during the sporting about. I remember laughing to myself as I set the tray of lemonade and cookies on the porch table. It took me right back to my own friends when we were that age and I remember thinking, ‘damn, was I really ever that age?’
I’d called out to the boys. “Snacks have arrived!”
That had brought the expected stampede of shirtless boys to the porch. As always they chimed in as one. “Thank you, Mister Adam.”
“You’re welcome, boys.” I gave them a few minutes to down a couple of cookies each and refresh their parched throats. “So, boys, I hope you’re a bit more circumspect when you’re around your families.”
Billy had looked perplexed. “What’s that mean…circum…?”
“Circumspect,” Eric finished for him. There was a definite look of fear in his eyes.
“What’s that mean?” asked Billy.
I’d smiled slightly and nodded to Eric to continue. It was obvious he knew what I was referring to.
It took him a moment or two to gather his courage. “I…I think Mister Adam saw us grabbing each other.”
I nodded and the other two boys got the same fearful look on their faces. Billy even teared up a bit. Well, I certainly couldn’t prolong their agony.
“Relax boys. I’m not offended in the least. And before you ask, I have no intention of mentioning it to your parents…or anyone else for that matter. It’s nothing that a gazillion other boys haven’t done together. It’s been going on since the beginning of time.”
The stunned looks on their faces was priceless.
“Isn’t it gay?” asked Archie.
“Come on, guys, relax. At your age it’s called curiosity. But it’s the sort of curiosity that most people in this country would be offended to see. I just thought I’d warn you that you needed to be careful about where you did that sort of thing. Like I said, I’m not offended by it. I was your age once too, ya know.”
That got raised eyebrows and half open mouths.
“You mean you did it when you were our age?” asked Billy as he wiped away the unshed tears.
“Yes I did,” I answered and then smiled. “Sort of hard to imagine, isn’t it?”
I laughed. “I remember at your age trying to imagine my parents having sex at night. I distinctly remember thinking…ewww, gross.” I made the appropriate face.
That got them to laughing and they finally began to relax a bit. Well, needless to say, that started our journey toward a more open friendship. It was fun as the boys slowly started opening up with the details of their lives. It wasn’t long before they were turning the tables and asking me about my life.
I had the time of my life when I was finally able to convince the boys that I really was the author of books that had been turned into movies. Especially when they found that the movies were ones that were among their very favorites. Of course, I’d had to take them inside and pull one of the DVD’s from my collection and point out the credit on the back that named the author of the book on which the movie had been based.
Well, this raised my status to that of celebrity. Of course it didn’t hurt that I allowed the boys into my writing warren to see the pictures covering the walls of the various Hollywood celebrities that I’d been seen and photographed with. What really sealed my fate, however, was when one of the male stars of the last block buster arrived for a week-long visit.
Fortunately, my friend was not the least bit shy about his presence. He loved the fans, especially the kids, and was actually excited about the prospect of spending a day with only three. He and I had carefully choreographed his appearance that late summer day. The boys had just finished their initial play session with Hazy and were making their way to the porch to get their assignment for the day when my friend had casually stepped out onto the porch.
“Damn, Adam, what’s all the noise?” he’d asked as he stretched and inhaled deeply.
I bet you can imagine the reaction. The boys stopped dead in their tracks. All three mouths opened in silent awe as their eyes threatened to pop from their heads.
My friend smiled down at the boys a moment and then looked over at me. “The colors are really vivid on your new statues, Adam, but couldn’t you have found ones with better expressions? Those looks are pretty silly.”
I swear you could hear all three mouths slam shut as they blushed and smiled slightly.
“Well, boys,” I’d said, “As you can see we have a guest.”
Needless to say, there was no work accomplished that day. It did take a bit to get the boys to relax, though. My confident young companions had turned suddenly very shy around the Hollywood mega-star. Fortunately, my friend was young…in his early twenties…and was able to coax the boys into more natural behavior in less than half an hour.
The day began with a Q & A session about movies and movie making, naturally enough. But then it had moved into personal questions, at which time my friend turned the tables on the boys and surprised them by wanting to know about their lives.
I’d warned the man about the boys when he’d called to invite himself for the week, so he’d come prepared. When it got toward supper time, we took the boys into the formal dining room where the man had spread out some souvenirs. Each boy got a fall jacket with the logo for the last movie on the back and their names embroidered on the front.
My friend and I were touched and gratified when each of the boys had accepted their jacket gingerly and with just a touch of moisture in their eyes. The thank you from each boy had been breathless and quiet as they shaken his hand.
He next signed and dated a poster of the movie for each boy. Then we’d taken pictures. One with the four of them together and then an individual shot for each boy with the movie star. I printed those immediately.
The last thrill for the boys was when we loaded their bicycles into the truck and drove each of them home. My friend had made the suggestion, knowing full well that there would be considerable doubt about the boys’ story of meeting him.
Well, sir, the boys became minor celebrities themselves when the school year began. They’d each worn the jacket to school and taken the group shot to prove their story.
I smile every time I think about that day.
There was one last revelation that cemented our friendship. It had happened just before the school year began as I was setting about preparing my flower beds for the rapidly approaching autumn weather. I knew just enough to be dangerous where my horticultural efforts were concerned. I knew there needed to be a pile of fresh mulch around the perennials. So I’d gone to the nearest home store and purchased a dozen bags of the stuff.
When I’d explained what I needed from the boys that day, Eric had stared at the pile of bags critically.
“Uh, Mister Adam, where are the rest of the bags?”
Fortunately for these boys, I was not one of those adults that automatically dismissed a child’s skepticism or ideas simply because they were a child. These boys had long since convinced me that they truly understood how to live in this part of the country.
“That’s all I bought, Eric. I assume from your question that I’ve made an error.”
“Yes, sir. I help my Gran with her flower beds every year. I couldn’t tell you for sure without measuring, but this looks like enough to do only about a third of your beds.” He flipped over the top bag to the back and all the instructions. “See here, Mister Adam?” I stepped next to him and looked down where he was pointing. “This chart tells you how much square footage one bag will cover depending on how deep you want the mulch.”
“Well Eric, since your gran has the finest looking gardens I’ve seen in these parts, I would be wise to enlist your expertise in ensuring the job is done right. So, how deep should I make the mulch?”
“Gran says at least six inches, but she prefers to heap it a little higher…about eight or nine inches.” He looked about the yard. “Uh, how many square feet of gardens do you have?”
“I don’t suppose ‘a lot’ would be terribly accurate?”
Eric laughed. “No sir, that’s not going to help us.”
“Well, you boys know where I store my tools. Go find a tape measure and we’ll calculate the area.”
“Ewww, math,” said Billy.
I frowned from one boy to the other. “Haven’t you learned about areas, volumes and ratios yet?”
“Yes, sir,” answered Archie. “But Billy’s not very good with math. But our teacher last year really wasn’t that good. Eric tried to help him, but he just got more confused.”
“Billy,” I said gently, “Areas, volumes and ratios aren’t really that hard. And they really are something a boy who will one day be running the family dairy farm should know about.” As I watched the poor boy, it was obvious that he was truly frightened about something.
“Eric, why don’t you and Archie go get what you need out of the work shed.” They ran off. “Come on, Billy, you can help me round up some paper and pencils.” I put an arm over his shoulders and I could feel him shaking. “Billy, please, calm down.”
“I’m just too stupid to understand that stuff. Dad was so mad at me for almost failing math last year. He’s going to take away my snow machine if I don’t do better this year.”
Damn, the boy was nearly in tears. “Shh, Billy. Tell you what we’re going to do. I’m going to show you that you aren’t too stupid to understand this stuff. Would you give me a chance to show you?” He nodded…reluctantly, but he nodded.
We rounded up our supplies and then proceeded to measure my beds. It was immediately obvious that Billy had a good understanding of fractions. He was easily able to read the tape correctly and had minimal difficulty in adding them together. It helped that Archie and Eric were very patient and encouraging.
It took a bit over an hour of sitting with the boys, but by the time we were done, Billy was shocked.
“I did it! I got it right!” he yelled and then jumped up and hugged my neck.
Well, sir, that was unexpected. It’s the first time that any of them had hugged me. And I found that I really enjoyed it. Especially when I realized the boy was actually crying his joy.
“I did it,” he said into my shoulder.
“Yes, Billy, you did it,” I said as I hugged him back.
“You made it real easy to understand, Mister Adam,” said Archie. “Even I understand it better.”
“You’re real good,” said Eric. “You should have been a teacher.”
“I was for a while after college. But then I took up writing and that made me more money.”
“Yeah, the good ones always end up leaving because of the money,” sighed Eric.
“I have to admit, though, that I miss the moments like this, when one of my students suddenly realized they weren’t hopeless.” I then pushed Billy upright. “So, what d’ya think? Better?” He nodded. “Good. Now you boys remember…I’ll be here this next school year if you’re having troubles. You stop by with your books and we’ll see if we can’t smooth out the rough spots…Okay?”
“Yes, sir!” they cried out in unison.
Billy came by frequently as the school year began. But as the year progressed and he became more confident, his visits dwindled. Instead of coming over for every little thing, he was more able to work out the solutions. I only saw him now for the really complicated new concepts. Archie and Eric would stop by every once in a while as well. It wasn’t just the math either. They were bringing me questions from all their subjects.
Life was good. I had my writing successes and I had one of those rare opportunities to shape young minds. See what I mean about the boys? Just sitting here watching them cavorting with Hazy and remembering our travels, metaphorically speaking, and the depression lifted. Yes, I missed Jason still, but that was no reason to let myself fall into a holiday funk.
It took the boys an hour and a half for clear the walks of snow and check all the flower beds to ensure the exposed branches were not overloaded with snow. That was more than enough time for me to prepare something a bit more than the usual after work snack for the boys.
As usual, the boys arrived at the back door and there was much stomping and groaning in appreciation for the warmth. Also as usual, they entered the kitchen in their stocking feet, with flushed faces. Archie was carrying one exhausted dog. They stopped as they entered, surprise clearly on their faces at seeing the breakfast bar set with bowls instead of the usual platter of cookies.
“Get a move on, boys. Lunch will get cold.”
“Whoa!” they called out as one.
Archie headed to the den to deposit Hazy on her pillows for her nap and then joined his compatriots in the downstairs powder room to wash up. By the time they returned I’d set out the tureen of homemade tomato soup and was just lifting the first batch of grilled cheese sandwiches off the griddle.
“Mister Adam, this is great,” said Billy as the boys took places.
“You’re welcome, boys. I thought it was about time I cooked up something hot for my little buddies.”
They smiled as one as I began to ladle the soup into their bowls.
“Oh, I love Campbells Tomato Soup,” said Billy. And then he took a spoonful and got the most comically surprised look on his face. “Wow, what did you do to the soup, Mister Adam?”
“Yes, sir!” they cried in unison.
“Well, my friends, I hate to disappoint you, but that is not canned soup. I got it started this morning, early, and it’s been simmering on the stove all this time.”
That got stunned looks on all their faces.
“You mean you made this from scratch?” asked Archie.
“I promise you, the tomatoes were red and round when I started.”
“Wow, Mister Adam,” said Eric. “That sounds like a lot of work. Thank you so much.”
“How come the cheese is white, Mister Adam?” asked Billy with a slight frown. It was obvious that he hadn’t taken a bite yet of the sandwich half he held.
“Try a bite and see if you can figure it out. I promise it won’t kill you.”
Archie and Eric chuckled as Billy took a small bite and then almost immediately took a bigger bite. “Mmmm,” was his only response.
The other boys followed his example once they stopped laughing.
“Ooh, Swiss cheese,” exclaimed Archie.
Well it was smooth sailing from there. By the time the boys left, all I needed to do was rinse the empty soup tureen and the sandwich plate. The soup had been such a hit that their bowls were spotless as they’d all sopped up every drop with their final sandwich. It was very satisfying. You could never quite predict how young kids will react to something out of the ordinary. I even got a hug from each boy before they left for home.
As I was loading the dishwasher, I reflected on my three musketeers. Despite how close we’d become in the past six months, the boys never forgot their manners. They’d been raised well. They never forgot their please and thank you’s. I never had to reprimand them for not asking permission. But none of this was stuffy or forced. It was simply a natural part of who they were. There was a lot to be said for country living. These three were a direct contrast to the selfishness of the city kids I’d taught in New Jersey.
My good mood lasted well into the week. Until Thursday morning, that is. I woke depressed. Thanksgiving and Christmas had been our holidays, Jason and me. Every year we would pull out the stops and dive into the decorating and preparations for feasts and parties held at our condo.
Since his death, I found it hard to generate any enthusiasm for this time of year. And this year was particularly powerful in my depression. I’d received many cards from friends and that had only heightened my loneliness as they’d each mentioned their plans for the holidays.
I coasted through the day by reading and accepting the attention of Hazy, who could sense my mood and did her best to be that one spot of cheer in my day. And really, it did help immensely to have her undivided attention as I spent my day primarily with a book or attempting to write a bit on my next project.
It was just two in the afternoon and I was sitting before the fireplace reviewing what was in the kitchen in the form of leftovers when my front yard exploded with sound; the sound of numerous vehicles, all honking their horns.
“What in the devil!” I’d said aloud as Hazy and I jumped up and headed for the door.
We arrived on the front porch and were both stunned by the four vehicles completing their approach. When they came to a stop at the foot of the porch I could see the three musketeers, one in each vehicle, along with each set of parents. The first vehicle in line was an SUV and had one of Billy’s older brothers behind the wheel and no one else. There is only one thing about this event that immediately shattered my concern; everyone was smiling like loons.
Uh, okay, I’ve never seen a loon smile. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a loon. But it’s one of those overused clichés that everyone accepts without question.
The boys remained in their cars as the parents all got out and stepped up onto the porch. It seemed that the spokesman was going to be Billy’s father.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Adam,” he said.
“Uh, Happy Thanksgiving, Herb,” I stumbled. “Uh, what’s going on here?”
The man smiled, obviously amused by my shock. “Well, Adam, it seems that the boys believe you’re spending your Thanksgiving alone this year. They pointed out that there were no cars present, like there was last year.”
“Well, yes, that’s true,” I answered hesitantly.
“They also mentioned that you’d lost your best friend a few of years ago and that they believed you’d be feeling a bit depressed.”
Well that one choked me up a bit. So all I could do was nod. But I had to glance in the direction of the cars at my young friends. This was awful mature reasoning for boys that were still so young.
Herb smiled again. “Well, Adam, good country etiquette tells us that it is our duty as good neighbors to invite our friends to our holiday table. You know, all those good Christian values.” He actually chuckled at that. “But we had a small problem. We couldn’t decide just which family it should be to host our neighbor.”
“Adam,” said Herb’s wife, Veronica, “It seems that our sons were worried that you’d decline any invitation because you wouldn’t want to be seen as favoring one of them over the other two. That left us with an insoluble situation.”
“It surprised us all when it was the boys themselves that came up with an answer,” said Jeremiah, Archie’s father. “They have invited themselves to Thanksgiving dinner with you.”
“With me? But I haven’t…”
“Of course you haven’t,” interrupted Marsha, Eric’s mother. “That’s where we come in.”
I was still so stunned by it all that I just could not fathom where these people were going with this.
“Adam, this means a lot to the boys,” said Herb. “And I must confess that we’re awfully proud of them for it. So proud, that the mothers and grandmothers have pooled their many talents and prepared a Thanksgiving meal that you and the boys can share.”
“But this is supposed to be a family holiday,” I objected.
“Family and friends, Adam,” said Jeremiah. “Family and friends.”
Herb shook his head. “Adam, this means so much to the boys that I witnessed my son do something I haven’t seen in quite some time. He actually shed a couple of tears while he was trying to convince us.” He then reached into his jacket and pulled out a slip of paper. “And I have to admit that it means just as much to us as the boys’ parents. The boys received their quarterly report cards this week.” He unfolded the page and turned it so that I could see the marks. “Do you see that ‘B’ next to Math, Adam? My son was a solid ‘D’ student last year in math. He gives all the praise to you for helping him understand what his teachers were too stupid to teach him. They just don’t care enough about the individual student. It’s all about their class average. So long as that number is in the acceptable range, they don’t worry themselves about the struggling students.”
“Each of the boys has improved grades,” said Marsha, “Even Eric. There can be only one reason for this. That is you.”
“So, Adam, the question needs answering,” said Herb. “How would you like to spend your afternoon enjoying a Thanksgiving supper with your Three Musketeers?”
“I…I’d like that…very much.”
Everyone but Herb did an about face and headed toward the SUV, motioning the boys to join them. When the boys got out of their cars, I saw that they were dressed in suit and tie for the affair. That got raised eyebrows from me.
Herb chuckled as he looked at what I was responding to. “It was their idea, trust me. We usually have to threaten them with dire consequences to get them to wear the darn things. You’ll have to ask them what prompted it.”
I chuckled in return. “Damn, Herb, this means the world to me.”
“I can tell. But I’ll simply repeat…we’re awful proud of the boys for this. And once the decision was made, the women went on a cooking binge.” He laughed as the rear hatch and the two back doors were opened and platters, casseroles, and pie plates began exiting the vehicle. “Hope you have plenty of room, because you’re going to have lots of leftovers, even with the appetites of those three.”
I was stunned. And then I glanced down at my casual self. “I certainly feel under dressed.”
Herb clapped me on the shoulder. “Well, go and change if you wish. I’m sure the boys can get everything headed in the right direction.”
And so I did. Hazy remained behind to properly supervise the parade. As I was getting myself properly attired, I suddenly realized that Hazy had certainly acted out of character. Normally, she’d have been all over the boys. Today, however, she’d remained quietly sitting on the porch, her tail sweeping with much enthusiasm as she watched it all happen. Sometimes I wondered just who was in charge in this household.
When I came back down, now properly attired, the parents were all waiting just inside the shut door.
“You clean up rather nicely, Adam,” chuckled Herb.
“I think my suit sees just about as much wear as you claim for your boys. I’m sort of surprised it still fits.” I then looked them all in the eye. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Adam. But please know this, it’s not just the boys that are thankful for your friendship. You’re a good neighbor, Adam, and we are thankful for your presence.” He then paused a moment and I got the feeling there was going to be a serious addition. “We want you to know something before we leave, Adam. When the boys came home this summer with the news that you were a famous writer, I admit we got curious. So we asked our resident computer guru, Marsha, here, to do a bit of research.”
I nodded…and I admit it was with a certain amount of trepidation.
“As I’m sure you know, there’s been quite a bit written about you and your success. So we know that your best friend was more than just that. He was your partner.”
Well, what was I to do? I nodded.
Herb shrugged. “Believe it or not, not everyone that embraces the country life are straight laced, religious bigots. We’re not offended. But we are sorry for your loss. Marsha says your partnership lasted twenty-five years. That’s a long time to share your life with someone, whatever your sexual preferences are. And yes, we told the boys about what we’d learned. You know what their response was? All they said was, ‘yeah, so?’”
Herb smiled at my surprised look. “Yeah, we were sort of surprised too. But they added that it didn’t matter to them so long as you weren’t all girlie about it.” He laughed. “Their logic was inescapable. They said you were their friend. And your private life was no one’s business.”
Silence reigned for several moments.
“I don’t know quite what to say.”
“Then don’t say anything,” said Veronica. “We just wanted you to know that we were aware and that you needn’t worry about our reaction. The boys are right. You’re a good friend and a fine neighbor.”
We shook hands all around and then they left. I simply stood there on the porch and watched them depart wondering what I’d done in my life that warranted such remarkable behavior from these people.
“Uh, Mister Adam,” said Eric from behind me. “Supper’s ready.”
I smiled as I turned. There they stood, my Three Musketeers. Each of them looked mighty dapper in their suits and ties.
“You make a handsome bunch, boys.”
Eric and Billy each grabbed one of my hands while Archie led the way into the formal dining room…a room that I’d rarely used. The boys had certainly been busy while I was changing. The table was set with the formal china from the cabinet and the silver from the drawer. There was even a horn of plenty centerpiece; one that I was sure had real fruits and vegetables in it. What really impressed me, however, was the amount of food that was covering the white tablecloth the boys had selected. Herb was right, I was going to need all my available space for leftovers.
They led me to my place at the head of the table and then sat themselves down as I stood there looking at the enormous spread before me. And then I did it; I looked down into the eyes of each of these marvelous children. Well, there was no controlling my reaction. I teared up immediately. But I fought down the intense emotions so that only a single tear traced down my cheek.
I chuckled. “Leave it to a gay man to be unable to control his emotions.”
That first open declaration of my sexuality was met with smiles and nods.
“Boys, I can tell you without any hesitation or exaggeration, that this is the nicest thing anyone has done for me since Jason died. When you arrived I’d just been thinking about the contents of my leftover bins, wondering what I was going to do.”
Silence filled the room for several moments before Eric piped in.
“Go on, Billy,” he whispered.
Well, it was clear that Billy was nervous as he stood at his place. I chose to sit, so as not to tower over the poor boy. It was obvious that they had something to say and he’d been elected as their spokesman.
It took him a moment to gather his courage. “Mister Adam, you are the best adult friend any of us has ever had,” he began softly as he slowly turned his head to face me. “You’re the only adult we’ve ever met that has treated us like people and not just kids.” He then looked away and down to the far end of the table at the large portrait on that wall. “Is that a picture of your partner?”
I had to take a deep breath as I looked at the smiling face hanging there. “Yes,” I said softly. “His name was Jason.”
“Were you married?” he asked hesitantly.
I chuckled and was able to relax a bit. “Not legally, but certainly spiritually and emotionally.”
He looked back at me slowly. “You never talked about him, but we could see the look in your eyes every time you mentioned your best friend. We may only be kids, but we could see that you really missed him. Thanksgiving and Christmas is supposed to be all about family, and we just knew that you were missing your family. So we decided that we would be your family this year. Happy Thanksgiving, Mister Adam.” He then stepped over and gave me a hug…a serious, family type, lingering hug.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Billy,” I choked slightly. That was followed by the other two boys stepping up and repeating the hug.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to take up several pages here describing our meal. Wouldn’t that make for some truly exciting reading? Not! It was a meal. It wasn’t the contents of the table that made it extraordinary, despite that everything was absolutely perfect. It was the company. We spent a great deal of time moaning with delight at the numerous tastes…and by the end of the meal groaning at how much we’d all over eaten.
What is worth mentioning is that I did not spend the meal thinking about how much I was missing Jason. I didn’t sit there and make comparisons to past holidays. The explanation for that is simply that I was able to put that part of my life behind me, because these remarkable children were ensuring that we created a whole new set of memories. Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t something they thought about consciously. To them it was simply a great meal in the company of a special friend.
For me, this was the very first holiday meal I had not spent with the friends from my old life, reliving all the old memories. It also helped that I wasn’t stuck in conversations with other adults, rehashing the difficulties of our adult responsibilities. No, I was having conversations with children who were old enough to speak intelligently, but without any of the great and mighty concerns that most adults just could not leave behind. In fact, the boys seemed intent on reliving all the little moments of our friendship.
I was particularly amused when the boys started pointing out which of the dishes had been prepared by which mother or grandmother, and then began to compare the merits. But it was all in good fun and none of them took the gentle criticisms of their fellows seriously. The meal was filled with reminiscences, gentle ribbings, and a great deal of laughter.
Our coats and ties lasted for almost a full half hour before we had to shed them and begin loosening our belts. It was another hour before we all finally set our utensils down and gently pushed our plates away and gave a collective groan of satisfaction. No one even suggested we cut into any of the pies.
“So, boys, what shall we do until our bodies decide there’s enough room for dessert?”
“Do you have a TV?” asked Archie tentatively. “We could watch some football.”
“Hmm,” I smiled, “We’ll probably have to dust off the cobwebs. I can’t remember the last time I actually turned on the darn thing.” That, of course, was a gross exaggeration.
We spent a half hour clearing the table and storing the copious amount of leftovers. “Well, this will ensure I have plenty to eat between now and Christmas dinner.”
The boys really hadn’t seen all that much of the interior of my home. It was a very large house; a two storied colonial farm house of nearly five thousand square feet. Yeah, it was a bit over large for a single man and his undersized collie, but I hadn’t bought it because of the size. It’d been solely about the view. So, anyway, the boys had visited my kitchen, den, living room, and office, but not much else.
I led them to the back of the house where I had set up my media room. Actually, I’d spent a considerable chunk of change before I’d even moved in and had three rooms in the back of the house converted into one.
Jason and I had never been much for the typical television watching. It wasn’t really until the food and decorating channels started coming onto the scene that we spent any amount of time in front of a TV. My home was equipped with a satellite dish and DVR so that I could record shows of interest during the week. I’d usually spend my Sundays in here watching what had accumulated in that time.
And yes, though it probably goes completely against any of the stereotypes, I enjoyed the occasional sports show. There wasn’t a one of the current sports that I was the least bit fanatical about following. I could go for several weeks without watching a NASCAR event, and I was never interested in following any particular sports team. It was just a way to enjoy an occasional bit of no brainer entertainment.
As I led the way to the back of the house, I had to smile, because this was going to turn into an event. I was very proud of this bit of remodeling. We’d never had the room in New York for this sort of thing, but it was something I’d always wanted. When we turned the final corner, I didn’t have to turn to see the reaction of the boys. I could hear their feet come to a halt on the hard wood floors. But mostly it was the gasp.
What we’d just entered was a seriously cut down version of a movie theater lobby. There were several movie posters on the walls…mostly from the movies made from my books. There was a counter, complete with popcorn machine, soda dispenser, and displays of numerous candies typically found at today’s movie houses. And, of course, I hadn’t forgotten the velvet rope barrier. You just could not have a home theater without the velvet rope and brass stands.
I turned slowly, smiling like the cat that had just been able to snatch something fresh from the local fish monger. I didn’t say a word. I simply enjoyed watching their young bug-eyed faces slowly taking it all in.
“Oh…my…gosh,” said Archie finally, as they all settled their gaze on me. It took a moment more for them to shake the stunned looks. Then they smiled. “Wow.”
I laughed outright at this point. I swept my hand around at the posters. “I decided when I moved in here that since I’d had the great good fortune to have several of my books turned into movies that I absolutely had to have somewhere appropriate to watch them.”
That was when they finally took a closer look at the posters. They were surely familiar with each one. But what they hadn’t noticed initially was that each of the posters was covered with signatures. Now they took the time to step up and look at each one.
I’d been involved in the creation of each of the movies in question. I hadn’t been one of those irrational writers that complained about the artistic license producers and directors often had to take. My contracts that allowed them the privilege of making a movie of my efforts had all been carefully constructed to ensure that the most important details of each book was not compromised. Otherwise, I was simply there to provide interpretations of what I’d been trying to do if the director got confused.
As the author I had the right to be in on the film's creative process. It was another thing I’d insisted be in my contract. Each movie had been a joy and I tried to be involved without becoming a pain in the ass."
The one thing I’d insisted upon was that I would receive one of the very first movie posters. I’d have that poster framed without a glass cover and it would be on the set every day. The poster would sit on a table near the food buffets with a sign asking everyone to take a moment and sign the author’s poster.
These posters, now protected by glass, hung there for anyone to admire. I was very proud of those things.
The boys ooh’d and aah’d over the various signatures. I waited until they’d exhausted the possibilities in that realm.
“Well, boys, shall we go see who’s playing whom?”
After the surprise of the ‘lobby’, the boys were better prepared for what lay beyond the heavy curtain that separated the theater. Still, they were forced to stop and gape once again.
My theater was large enough to seat twenty-five people comfortably. And when I say comfortably, I mean that the seating was mostly oversized lounge chairs, with a deep and very long day bed sort of arrangement filled with pillows against the back wall of the theater for those that preferred to lay about. The screen was one hundred and fifty inches wide.
I was a little afraid that the game selection would be an ordeal. I was paying for the full package of channels available. That meant that if there was a football game being played anywhere in the country, I’d be able to receive it. Since I was not a faithful fan of any sport, I hadn’t really realized that the games on Thanksgiving were few and carefully orchestrated by the networks.
Well, all I can say is that my young companions were thrilled. Since I was paying for the full package, we were able to watch the game in high-def with the sound all around us.
We watched the final quarter of the first game of the day. Then, while the preliminaries of the second game were in progress, and the boys had shown a passion for the game, I pulled out three laptop computers and showed the boys how they could log onto the NFL network and get more out of the experience by watching the stats and sidebars as the game progressed. I know, you’re wondering why I had such things available. It’s only because I had this unfortunate habit of constantly buying the newest thing in portable computers and I never saw any reason to toss the old ones. This was one of those rare opportunities where I was grateful for the habit.
By the end of the second game, we were all ready for the dessert portion of our meal.
As each boy placed his laptop on the shelf they’d come from, they each stepped up and gave a huge hug. I was really coming to enjoy this side of our friendship. I mean, just how much affection does a single gay man living out in the country receive? It was all the more profound now that I knew that the boys were aware of my sexual orientation and weren’t put off by it. In fact, now that I had the opportunity to really think about it, it was probably that very fact which made it easier for them to demonstrate their affection, knowing that I probably wouldn’t go all macho on them about it.
Whatever the reason, I was touched. I certainly wasn’t feeling that little knot of depression any more. I was, in fact, a bit giddy from it all.
When we arrived back in the kitchen, I was expecting a certain amount of competition about the pies. But it was the boys that suggested we each have a small piece of each of the three pies that had been included in our feast. Eric was the one that explained how the mothers and grandmothers had all sat down together to work out who would make which dish.
So, we had our choice of apple, pumpkin, and pecan pies. The boys, in their usual fashion, worked together to serve the pie that their family had made. And then, to my great enjoyment, they praised each pie as we ate. There was that non-competition between them. Or maybe it was some deep desire that they not mar this marvelous holiday with any bickering. Besides, I certainly couldn’t decide which of the pies was better. Since I liked all three styles, I was very content.
It was eight o’clock when I loaded the boys into the car and drove them home. It was fortunate that we all lived on the back roads, because when I’d dropped the last boy off I found that I just had to take a moment and express my feelings. I pulled off the edge of the road and put the car in park. I then leaned back and simply let my tears fall; tears of supreme and utter joy and peace.
What had started out as a day of monumental depression had been turned into something that could only be described as magical.
I don’t know how long I sat there, but a set of headlights pulling in behind me got my attention. I quickly wiped the tears from my face, thinking it was a Sheriff’s Deputy checking to see why I was sitting here. I couldn’t see anything to really warn me as the figure walked up, so I was mighty surprised to see Bradley, Billy’s oldest brother step up to my window…smiling gently.
I rolled the window down.
“Hi, Adam. You okay? I happened to be looking out my bedroom window and saw you stop.”
“Yeah, Brad, I’m fine. Just sitting here being a bit overwhelmed by what the boys did.”
He reached up and gently wiped away a tear I’d missed. It was such a tender gesture. “So, I see.”
He chuckled. “Why do you think all these country folks were so accepting of your lifestyle, Adam? I’ve been out since I was sixteen.”
Well, hell, he might as well have hit me on the side of the head with a baseball bat. And then I got worried, and it must have shown.
Brad chuckled again. “No, Adam, I’m not here to hit on you.” He shivered. He wasn’t wearing much. “Uh, could we continue this with me over there?” he asked pointing at the passenger seat.
Well, sophisticated and oh so worldly me could only manage a stunned nod.
Once seated he turned and took my right hand gently into his. “Look, I have a lover of my own. I’m not looking for another. I just came out here because I had a feeling you might like a shoulder. I can’t imagine you’ve had many of those lately.”
Well, that set off my tear factory again. And as soon as that happened, this marvelous young man, whom I knew was twenty-two, scooted over and pulled me into a gentle embrace.
I’d been a long time without any affection from anyone and I was coming to enjoy what the boys were willing to give me. But this…this was different. This was ‘family’, despite our age difference. This was a young man that was completely comfortable with who and what he was. A young man with a tremendous amount of compassion.
We sat there for several minutes as I vented my joy into that remarkable shoulder, feeling his hands gently rubbing my back. When I finally quieted and pulled away, he was ready with a handkerchief for me. He didn’t say a thing until I’d managed to dry my face.
“So, were those happy or sad tears?” he asked.
“A bit of both, I suppose. But mostly happy. No…primarily happy…very little sad.”
“Good, that’s what the boys were hoping for.”
“You talked to them?”
Brad laughed. “Those three can be real brats sometimes. But they’ve been brave enough to actually come talk with me quite a bit. I suppose you know how curious those three can be…about everything.”
“Don’t I know it,” I chuckled.
“What’s surprised me is that their questions have all been carefully worded. They’ve never been the least bit crude or cruel. They came to me Monday night when they noticed that there weren’t any cars collecting outside your house like last year. They were really worried about you. I thought it was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen from them. They can really be a handful sometimes, but they’ve also impressed me quite a bit lately. They’re a lot more conscious of their actions. Somehow, I think you’ve had a lot to do with that.”
“I suppose I have,” I said quietly. “Mostly it’s that I try not to treat them like little kids. They’re on the cusp of having all sorts of things changing in themselves and that can lead to a lot of bad choices.”
“Isn’t that the truth. So it’s you I have to thank.”
“The little rascals have started asking me questions. Personal questions.” He grew quiet for several moments. “You know, I never thought I’d really be able to have a close relationship with my little brother…not after I came out. I know it made him uncomfortable at first. Then they started working for you and three months later they learn that you’re gay. I think it was an aha moment for them.”
“Ah. All gay men are perverts and you have to steer clear of them when you encounter one.”
“Something like that. Anyway, they discovered that their new best friend was gay and that none of the horror stories were true. Billy even came to my room one night a couple of weeks after they found out and apologized to me. Then, when everyone had gone to bed that night, he appeared at my bedside before I’d fallen asleep.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too. But he was in his pajamas for a change. He looked me in the eye and asked: ‘you wearing pajamas?’ I told him it was too damn cold in my room not to. That was during that first cold snap we had. So, what does he do? He climbs into bed with me, hugs me, kisses my cheek, and says ‘Goodnight, Brad’. And then he promptly falls asleep.”
“What did your parents say about that?”
“They don’t know. He’s never done it again. It was his way of saying he loved me and that it didn’t matter anymore.”
“What did you do?”
He chuckled. “I cried myself to sleep…what do you think?” He then pulled me into another embrace. “The boys are right, you’re a good friend, Adam.” He then released me and started to turned.
I stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “You know, you and your friend could stop by from time to time and be friendly. I haven’t been able to simply sit with gay friends in a long time.”
Brad smiled. “Jack’s been trying to convince me to do just that. But I was afraid you wouldn’t welcome that sort of company, reminding you of your loss.”
“You’re probably right, I wouldn’t have. But after today, I’ve come to realize that I’m wallowing and I need to get on with my life. I had a long and loving life with Jason. But that doesn’t mean I can’t start new and makeover my life. Bring Jack by…soon. We’ll have a glass of wine and get to know each other. Just don’t pick a Saturday, okay?”
“I won’t. But I’ll warn you that I plan to tell the boys. They’ll be real happy.”
“Thanks for coming out here tonight, Brad.”
We smiled and he left. After he’d gotten himself turned around, I resumed my trip home.
“Okay, Jason, I get the message,” I said aloud into the empty car. “Thanks for the boot in the ass, lover.”
Well, that was all it took. The holidays took on new significance for me. My head was spinning with plans by the time I got home. It was time. I was finally ready to dive into the holidays. I had a reason once again. And people with whom I could share them.
[And just so my many readers know…yes, there will be a second installment for Christmas. LOL.]