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The Mandrakes Volume I: The Teardrop

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The Mandrakes. Four men of alternative lifestyle. Introduced first in 'A High Country Tale', the four volume set marks down the early days of development of each of these unusual and exemplary humans. Lucas Laughlin Cevennes. Odd boy out. Had he been born a sheep, he would have been the black one. If he had been born into money, at the age of majority, he would have become the exiled trust fund baby. As it was, Luke fought proverbial currents, took roads less traveled, stuck to his guns, set high standards and learned from mistakes. He was a survivor. Oh, and he knew he was gay. From the ripe age of four, though no comprehension existed for the concept then. Born into the sinful state of Man, as constantly reminded by the evangelism enveloping him, a young boy learns of the difficulties involved in growing up different. He pictured himself as ‘bent’. Through tribulative trial and error--- emphasis on error--- Luke finds that standing tall, in confidence of his own abilities, can be gauged differently by different people. It was all in the perspective. And bent looked pretty attractive to him…

Other / Romance
Zachariah Jack
Age Rating:

The Teardrop

Late Spring, 1995

The raindrop smack-dabbed me in the left eye. Splat. I winced involuntarily, blinking to diffuse the intruding loner, speculating from where the wetness had come. A cerulean sky was cloudless and the meadow around us treeless.

Upon clearing to focus again, I trained my sight back on the opposite horizon meeting the far edge of the grassy tree-edged athletic complex. To the spot I had been previously studying before the drop’s trespass. Only myself and the pointer, Magda, were on the series of far flung soccer and rugby fields this late spring dawn, or so I had thought. A figure across the way dispelled that notion.

In curiosity, I gauged compact features of the distant person, watching as it stretched, arms up and over, legs spread, feet planted. The swarthy impressionist profile was blurred by three hundred yards of separation yet I could discern the presence as a person of color. It drew me.

Looking back on it, I should have read body language more astutely. And would have been better served to have paid attention to Magda’s low, throaty growl as she also appraised the single distant being. But, I didn’t. Instead, I admonished the big girl to hush, disliking an other-than-friendly reaction. In the moment, we regarded the man—I could now tell it was indeed a male by body movements—continue with limbering techniques commonly employed in commencing and finishing aerobics.

After brief assessment, we went on with our fetch game, picked up on realization Magda Lena’s ropy drool wasn’t a result of exertion. She had run across an orphan rubber ball somewhere earlier during our pre-dawn run and latched on to it, per her wont, then patiently awaited my notice. Various modes for invitation to play were common—Magda was a play demon, demanding multiple periods of such interaction daily. And, sometimes nightly.

Absorbing into familiar companionship, we disregarded the man, returning to ourselves. That is, until Magda pulled up short, swinging around in an athletic midair 180 twist, landing lithely on all fours to face a suddenly closer figure now loping our direction. Brief rumble of a growl again arose from her throat but cut short as she remembered my previous remonstrance. The handsome canine glanced back over her shoulder in a questioning look, ball in mouth. Inquiry as to my own feelings on the person’s approach was plain by her face. Hair over her withers bristled involuntarily and the reaction set a small ripple of wariness through my own body. I paid attention to the dog, having come to trust her instincts in most situations.

Unfortunately, I was male. Blessed and cursed with two heads.

“Wassup?” The darkly complexioned short man intoned the greeting through a toothy grin. Deepness to the voice registered different than what I would have guessed by his frame and movements. Smoothly baritone, it rolled musically around my ears, conveying conviviality and friendliness, even in its brevity. Slowing to a walk, the clearly athletic individual sashayed closer. In a fluid movement, he whisked the light tank top up and over a sculpted curly head, the sides of which were carved in serpentine designs. A longer topnotch imbued the shorty with a bit of added height and the edginess of a newly re-popularized mohawk effect. He set to deliberately wiping down first his head, then his arms, pits and torso in rapscallion sensuosity. I was enthralled. Black men’s versatility factor in haircut options had captivated me since high school days. This man’s look and body language tugged my eyes like a puppeteer.

As the shirt cleared the artwork topping him, my eyes slid southward taking in the cut form, from nice pectorals down over slightly rounded abdominals covered by finely curled black hair disappearing under low-hanging gray gym shorts. Hugging sexy hips, the workout shorts complemented a starkly white jockstrap underlapping them. I was envious of the strap’s proximity to the mounded mystery cradled inside. My tongue inadvertently licked encircling lips as they shaped into an inadvertent ‘O’ of praise for the hirsute physique now exposed before me.

“Gettin’ hot out here already, ain’t it?” The sheen of sweat coating him betokened truth to the comment. Still, I detected intent other than a need to cool off by the action. Not that I was complaining. The view was delectable. And the darkly colored player absolutely knew this.

The look on my face must be a total giveaway. Rarely had I ever been mistaken for a poker face, I thought, attempting to rein in growing interest. “Hot is a g-g-good word…y-yup,” I stuttered stupidly, compounding the discomfiture pitiful in its evidence at a failed double entendre.

The man was glad for the less-than-confident reaction, I quickly grasped, confirming the fact by lightly cupping his right palm over the mass inside, coverage adeptly framing exactly what the well-built stud intended. Pulsed kneading of the mound set into motion several levels of reactions shared between the two of us, not least of which was perceptible swelling of the lump from which my offending eyeballs could not divorce themselves. Again, as intended. The man was in his element, toying with me.

My own junk lurched into action mode without consent, much to my chagrin. The effect tented the front of my running shorts in mere seconds. It proved the cue for which he was looking. His grin said it all, though my focus only tangentially reported this to a silly brain, vision tunneled toward the man’s rising corpus, such as it was.

No more words passed between us just then, lust bespeaking a language of universal inference. The knowing lecher closed the remaining distance, cupping palm now replacing his own bulk with my traitorous organ.

‘Wrong-headed’ took an alternate meaning as the aroused male turned me by the rapidly engorging thing presently disavowing any cranial hegemony, leading us both back toward the tree cover twenty feet to my rear. What little remaining autonomy I commanded deserted me there.

Waist-high underbrush tickled my bare legs, waist and lower torso during a bridled walk into the shadows beneath spreading oaks. Upon reaching the huge flared trunk of one, I was lightly but firmly pushed back against rough bark. My running shorts descended in congruence with the experienced palmer directing me. Without any more than a soft, repetitive clucking sound, he squatted, bottoming them at my ankles while simultaneously facing into the prodigiously prideful, bouncing boner poking from my crotch. The idiot of a dickhead wrested complete control from my useless brain, and contrastingly, surrendered in total thrall to the crouching man. Two-faced thing. It possessed understanding of what was occurring. My addled brain, not so much.

Wiping a three-day stubble back and forth across my hyper-sensitive mess of a cock, the man’s pair of full lips abruptly engulfed it as I dumbly watched. Squeezing against the sponginess encountered, they slid masterfully down over the beggar. An excess of saliva slathered the shaft in slow descent to the cul-de-sac that was my smooth groin. The nose following those fat lips nuzzled and rolled over and around the pubes basing my other head while this unnamed master proceeded to show a talent for which I was unready. And unaccustomed to accommodating. His mouth was supremely talented.

My locked knees buckled. Shudders of pleasurable waves enveloped me. Experienced hands and forearms lightly scraped me up and down in nappy friction. I surrendered to the plethora of stimuli unexpectedly kidnapping my senses.

At a calculated point of ascent toward ecstasy, the lips backed off. Through the haze of hormones, I heard a husky voice whisper, “Damn, boii, this be ’da bomb dick…I be gonna do this again…now hang on, runner boii man.” With that, the lips resumed their truest calling. Over a precious few minutes, the tandem of the muscly tongue sharing the deep throat with my throbbing piece combined to methodically pump me to rapturous peak. Warm velvetiness of the toothed cavity remained married to the thickness of the shaft it was working, not separating again.

Upon sensing imminent success in its mission, that throat harvested the crop it had cultivated, climactically glugging down my proving jism in contented fashion. Like a cow chewing its cud. The man’s hands roamed my body’s zooming paroxysms as I delivered the goods by repetitive thrusts. Synchronous rhythm persisted between us for more minutes as the rolling waves smoothed gradually to a lolling lollop of a spasming piece. He was a kid on an all-day sucker.

Jarringly bamboozled in my perceptions, I felt strangely freed yet shackled. Rolled back eyes gradually righted themselves above my arched neck and I flexed it, gazing down satedly upon the diminutive squatter borrowing my midsection. His squelched grin attempted revival even amidst its glutted state as our eyes met. His expressed more gratification than would have been guessed… I was the recipient here, after all.

The service-oriented man backed slowly off my emptied shaft and smirked. “That be a all-time ‘top two’ listin’ dick, runner boii. Stay tuned,” was all he said through smeared lips. Arising, the cocksucker playfully slapped my dribbling sponginess and exited the leafy hideaway.

That was the entirety of my introduction to the Devil Incarnate.

Summer, 1979

Growing up, I had always proven to be an early budding late bloomer. At two and a half years of age, I had mimicked my older siblings’ alphabet wherewithal. Without even singing it. I was writing names and words in puerile script by three. Using my left hand, I mirrored the expert penmanship taught to my older sister and brother. Proffering a first masterpiece one day at lunchtime for parental perusal, I awaited the expected adulation for the work, having seen such heaped on elder brethren for similar feats.

“My goodness, Lukie, look at what you’ve done,” cooed my surprised Mama. The others were less blown away—I had stolen somebody else’s thunder by the doing, it seemed, and there was a necessary price to be paid. Envy, I found out then, was a deadly sin.

“Mama, he copied from my schoolwork, and traced the letters. He din’t write ’em hisself,” tattled the ad lib liar, ’Beccah. I had not traced them, I thought. Noting the lack of attention to the earth shattering information, she added, “and he wrote it with the wrong hand.”

The immediate change to a look of castigation from dear Mama brought a satisfied smugness to my idolized big sister’s face. She sat back and complacently watched the sharp smack on the pale knuckles topping my dominant left hand, bringing stinging insult to a moldable young psyche. The dreaded anti-thumb-sucking glove was dug out within seconds, fastened into place by over-tight rubber bands which dug into my tender flesh. Told to leave the torture device in place until Daddy came home, both of my older and wiser sibs covered snickers of delight at the fall from grace. “He will want to hear all about such evil malfeasance,” I was assured. The Devil had gotten into me.

Three hours passed before my Daddy, the hero, arrived. By then I was a trembling mass of sobbing nerves with a frightfully throbbing left hand. It pulsed and stung from lack of circulation. Mama informed me it was the retribution of the Lord for breaking His Word. I was well aware, she reminded me, that using my left hand for anything other than cleaning myself after pottying was expressly forbidden by The Book. Leaving me to wonder what should be done might that need arise in the present fix.

Within half an hour, though, neither were relevant factors. My creamy little buttcheeks had been leather belt whipped by then. Additive effects of multiple sites exuding painful manifestations left whacked knuckles and numbed hand forgotten. I wanted to suck that thumb bad as I cried to sleep in the dark of a supperless evening.

Next morning, the offensive appendage was unwrapped. The purplish extremity took three days to regain feeling and in several ways, that was worse. I didn’t attempt writing for months after that.

The church pastor recommended entrance into kindergarten on my fourth birthday which coincided with the opening of the fall term. “Lukie is a prodigy in catechism and outstrips all the six-year-olds in Sunday school. Even some of the seven and eight-year-olds aren’t a match for his memory. He knows his letters, all his colors and is able to count to one thousand without help. Enroll him in school.” Antioch Christian School sat at the top of the hill overlooking our house. I was registered within the week and waited through the intervening weeks in wonderment of what may be coming.

Arriving the first day as the bell rang, my brother and sister abandoned me to my own devices at the front doors of the school. Sculpted cherubic hosts hovered protectively in perpetual admonition at the upper corners, offering precious little support.

The protective left glove had been securely rubber banded in place as a hedge against untoward behavior. I was hoping against hope that nobody wore leather belts inside those doors, gazing wistfully at the lane descending the hill as I contemplated my predicament.

A few stragglers scurried inside the doors without noticing my lost boy self. From behind came a softly feminine voice. Soothing uncomfortable bewilderment, it purred at me, “Honey, are you lost? What’s happened to your hand? Is it hurt, sweetie?” Peering fearfully around, I found the comforting face of a brown-haired angel worriedly studying me. She came forward, leaned down, and scooped me into her warm bosom. I melted into the arms of my savior, Miss Wilson.

Two hours later, after a trip to the school nurse, gentle treatment to my alienated hand, and a visit to the principal’s office, I was brought to Room 202 in the kindergarten wing and deposited amongst Miss Wilson and her twenty charges. Just in time for nap hour. A glass of warm milk, a chocolate chip cookie and multiple hugs later, I lay ensconced on a nap rug between two dreaming six-year-olds.

My eyes never left Miss Wilson that first day. Through catechism, visual arts, and right-handed finger-painting, I wasn’t about to let the beautiful lady out of my sight. I even followed her when she left for the ladies’ room, only to be—gently—rebuffed into remaining with the teacher’s assistant until Miss Wilson’s promised return.

At recess, another check-up by the nurse kept me inside. The white-haired woman seemed mystified by the gloving incident. Murmured voices from an adjoining room concluded with certainty that I had had a childish prank played on me but thankfully not suffered any ill-effects from the tight wrap.

I overheard further discussion about how to best inform my parents and just knew I would suffer further fall-out after that conversation. Not involving anyone else who might worsen my adversity at home was the reasoning employed for refusal to address their questions in the first place. Home was suddenly not high on my list of desired destinations that afternoon.

The fear apparently showed in my features. Miss Wilson took it upon herself to escort me home, much to my consternation, thinking my brother or sister may have done the mean deed. She knocked on our front door at the bottom of the hill and waited. I listened to the babbling creek down from the house and the lowing of cows on the far side there, wishing to hide amongst them rather than face dear Mama.

Miss Wilson introduced herself almost apologetically as Mama opened the door. Mama’s wary look set off pangs of dismay in my frazzled brain, even as Miss Wilson hurried to assure her that I had behaved admirably though my first day, adding that there was a bit of worrisome news to tell her and my Daddy.

A look of incomprehension followed by barely disguised shock and disgust flashed over the young teacher’s compassionate features as Mama straight-forwardly imparted the lesson of ‘the glove’. I shrank under the dining room table as the explanation proceeded, not understanding anything that was occurring. Only fathoming that something was not right. That irascible left thumb edged closer and closer to my mouth. I steeled a nascent four-year-old will to halt the sinful progression.

“She’s not a true Christian,” Mama told Daddy over a tense supper a few hours later. “She was judging me the whole time. I could see it in the woman’s eyes. She is not devout.” The two Christians that were my parents sat at the dining room table softly counseling one another over the imbroglio suddenly confronting them. I peeked from around the darkened doorway, attempting to decipher incomprehensibly complex issues integrally tied to me, missing another denied supper. The bad son. And, getting badder, I deduced.

“When I described the disciplinary method we use to teach the children” she went on, “the young lady had the nerve to inform me that it was not an acceptable form of intervention. She acted in an ungodly self-righteous way, saying that rubber bands could cause irreversible damage to Lukie. I told her that our Faith and Belief in our Lord would see to the proper methods and that we knew our pure road to stifling sin arising in youngsters, thank you very much. She pretty much huffed her way out the door and hinted we would be hearing from Pastor Stevens and the principal. Do you think she can do such a thing, dear?”

My Daddy answered in his monotone voice. The one auguring quiet, smoldering anger—we kids always knew to listen closer when his voice dropped—and the loss of volume not only kept me from hearing what he said, it chased ripples of goose pimples over me.

Sure enough in the next days, not only the pastor and principal Wilkins, but also the school nurse showed up at the front door in evening hours to pow-wow with my doting parents. To instill some parenting advice for them to ‘think on’. It was not taken well and my name-in-mud was bandied about surreptitiously, much more to my dismay.

Thankfully, Old Testament cautions concerning left-handedness and its association with Beel-Zebub were put into perspective by New Testament teachings through the pastor. Medical necessity to stop stricturing techniques for teaching disciplinary methodology was stressed. I sustained no further primitive torture.

Unthankfully and notwithstanding, the haranguing on all sides from Daddy and Mama to siblings elevated to mental torture. I was tainted.

Miss Wilson’s classroom became my port-in-the-storm. A place where left-handedness was not only accepted, it was a point of honor which Miss Wilson made certain to champion before my classmates. I was exonerated in the schoolroom sphere. My schoolwork subsequently excelled. Purposely pursuing finger-painting with the right hand, for ostensibly religious purposes, I became class scribe using the left, inwardly basking in the changed tone. Actions of politic necessity birth themselves early on in the evangelist community… I was proving a quick study.

The year of kindergarten neared its close with talk of the legendary school carnival ushering in summer break. Having been informed of the excitement and frivolity to be experienced on that final day, wariness of leaving my bastion of Antioch-embodied sanctuary was blunted by mental visions of fun promised for then.

During nights before the extravaganza, I can remember even now the strange exhibitions taking shape in my mind, gamboling through dreamscapes. Four-year-old mental machinations imagined all sorts of mirthful goings-on, one leading to the next, from night to night. All carried a common theme which, even then, I somehow knew to keep to myself.

Varying scenarios of the carnival enlivened nightly prophecies, strolling amongst lines of gaily decorated booths boasting games, prizes and goodies in the hallways and byways of a spectral Antioch. Laughter and fun pervaded all. Hours and hours of great merriment grew my infantile anticipation as grab bags, fishing booths, balloon popping, coin tossing, acrobatic feats by teachers, colorful costumes and delicious smells all came together to whet a kindergarten appetite for frivolity.

The concept instinctively relegated to the realm of sequestration, even in my age of innocence, was one perplexingly recurrent motif. It provided inexplicable titillation for a childish brain. With sole exception of the sainted Miss Wilson, no one but males of our species attended the fair in those dreams. Schoolmates, teachers, brothers, daddies, uncles, cousins, strangers. All were gender specific. What could that mean, I pondered? And was left to muddle through that conundrum for years to come.

Summer, 1988

“Here, Lukie, let me show you how to check,” Sexy Rexy instructed, mentor that he was. The rhyming moniker meant little to the twelve-year-old virgin inhabiting my adolescent-cusping body. I had been warned earlier to keep watch for lake slugs---leeches--- common to Lake Cutaway. But the admonition had meant little to my greenhorn self. This esteemed older cousin meant to teach.

So, I watched, initially intrigued, as the carrot-topped worldly cousin of exceeding teenage beauty—all the girl cousins agreed--- brazenly pulled my swim trunks down from the perch just above my hips, baring the paleness of the smooth pubic surface underneath.

A newly tanned, sunburnt demarcation between exposure and coverage registered in my head while a pubescent peter sproinged attentively, and uncalled on, from its nest there. A dark gray slimy blob above and to the side of the suddenly awakened organ shared multi-level focus in an unforeseen flood of sheer terror. What was happening? The mind shrieked on seeing these split planes of obscene effects abruptly bared without forewarning above my shucked shorts.

Angst only compounded by powers of ten upon seeing and feeling Sexy Rexy’s fingers grasp the sucking parasite around its edges, then unceremoniously yank the thing from virgin white abdominal skin there. A sharp ‘schhlop-pop’ gave audible character to my silent scream. I wilted away from the grossness and the invading hand in mortification.

Pete, my private pet, only recently discovered for his duality of functions, bounced repeatedly off Rex’s wrist and palm in withdrawal, dribbling something gooey across his fingers. Unaware whether the leech, the goo, the contact, or the combination of occurrences engendered it, my cousin evoked a throaty ‘Yukkk’ as he hurled the bi-ended sucking annelid into the lake and reached down to wipe the offending stuff on a mossy carpet edging the water. All in one motion.

Standing erect, he gazed again at the double lesions of the worm’s attachment sites, unable to miss the rigid and embarrassingly arched worm-named-Pete. My secret trouser cohort seemed to search for the vacated hand just divesting from it, bobbing in hovering arcs like a cobra on the prowl.

“Damn, Lukie, where’d you get all THAT?” The vehemence in his sixteen-year-old voice quavered from base to treble and then back, proclaiming his still volatile manliness. It left me fearful that I had irreversibly insulted the golden boy of my maternal family branch while simultaneously wacking out at the awareness that the sanctity of my crotch had been unknowingly invaded by a slimy lake demon. Not certain how to address any of the turn of events now unfolding, I simply stood paralyzed, ogling the guiltscape I had somehow managed to cause.

Over ensuing seconds, we both sized-up the situation, gradually regaining quasi-abilities for cogency and sensate cognition. My cousin’s eyes receded into their sockets and the whites of my own diminished in their owlish proportions as we both watched in mesmerized states while my proxy, Pete, continued his waggling propensity. He was ‘sniffing’ rare air for the first time in close eyeshot of another than myself.

The wiped fingers twitched in knowledge that they had been brushed and oiled by verboten action. But I noticed they also inched closer. “Those buggers are real tricky, now, Lukie,” warbled Sexy Rexy, attempting composure, yet failing audibly. He reached out, tentatively, pin-pointing the duo of tiny punctures, “See those? Uncle Sparky told me they have poison up inside of ’em. He said you should suck the crud out so’s not to get sick. Or die.”

He made eye contact at the moment the forefinger lightly poked the left puncture. His eyes flickered as Pete grossly overestimated himself, jumping upward and doing a measure of poking of his own. Mortification rebounded. This time, however, the hand didn’t act like it had been singed. The light poking persisted. By both finger and Pete. “You should do that, Lukie.”

“Do what?” I squeaked, very close to adolescent apoplexy by way too much sensory overload.

“Suck the poison out,” he repeated. The multi-pointed contact persisted and while the finger lightly palpated the tummy wounds, the cobra waggled brazenly up and down the exposed wrist and forearm. Still no retraction. But gobs more goo.

“How do I reach it?” came my overly logical reply, now beginning to sense an overpowering wave of a poison-induced rush toward certain death.

“Well, Hell, cousin mine, I’m just sayin’,” both of our minds jumping to the next option at the same time. Eyes back locked, finger and Pete completing the circle, we stood studying the problem, my will weakening by the second with the numbness of the toxic brew invading my life force. I began trembling and quivering in the quandary of impossibility that confronted me.

The next option couldn’t be actuated any more than the first one could, I quickly deduced.

My cousin’s gallant action ousted that point. Descending to a squat, placing a hand on either side of my waist, Sexy Rexy proceeded to shyly pucker two teenage lips, closing over the offending skin punctures at once. Lightly at first, then with more vehemence, they began sucking that dastardly poison right back out from where it had been injected. My light-headed rush toward death improved appreciably within seconds.

Pete, still waggling autonomously, rasped up and over and back, from the side of my cousin’s neck, over the protruding ear and into the fine silkiness of the reddish-auburn topnotch crowning him. Interested as heck and without any idea of what to say. But apparently familiar with Braille.

Turning his head to the side, Rex spat a copious load of blood-tinged expectorate onto the moss below, rotated back, abutted Pete again, and continued sucking, harder, at the sites. Four or five repetitions of this action proved too much for Pete. The abomination suddenly spewed its own copious mixture of pearlescent poison, repeatedly jetting over and down my cousin’s bare shoulder and back, leaving a viscous string of toxic sludge tight-roping from there over to his adjacent ear and silken locks.

Slowly glancing upward at my face, I observed a smirk of resignation perfuse his tanned features as one final insulting dribble strung itself from hair to eyebrow. Turning to spit a final time, my newly sworn enemy—how could the truth of the matter be anything else---abruptly arose. Expecting revulsion or fisted onslaught, I felt my body wince.

Much to my surprise, neither materialized. We both watched as the toxic smear tangoed downward over his cheek, muscled neck and pectoral. Then, wordlessly, he strode into the lakeside eddies. At waist depth, Prince Valiant dove forward into the chill clearness, lissome form submerging in cleansing immersion.

I forced myself to action, countering rather than thinking. Losing the ankled trunks and following his dive. Coldness shriveled the atrociousness of Pete’s engorgement in the doing. The two of us emerged opposite one another twenty feet out, treading the greenness, in apprize of the harrowing scenario just obviated.

Expectations of condemning hatefulness never developed. Sexy Rexy stared into my eyes and smiled with a twinkle as he expounded on a crisis just solved by quick thinking. “Welp, Lukie… that’s how ya’ do the deed. Now, I don’t be supposin’ that all the details needs bein’ talked on, so’s how ’bout we two agree that I tell the tale back at camp…’K?”

Relief abounded. Prince Valiant, indeed.

Evening descended over the pristine lake occupying acreage to the far northern border of Minnesota, near Lake of the Woods. Two dozen members of my dear Mama’s side of the family sat strewn around a growing bonfire, variably on the ground, flat rocks, or logs gathered in semicircle. A final sliver of sun flared out on the far horizon across Lake Cutaway. Dusk fell.

The men—serious fisherman--- all compared notes on the day’s catch. Among three different boats and the banksiders, it seemed that the richest take of coveted Northern Pike had been hooked and strung by little Claire, my cousin by Mama’s second sister. The aunts were not letting them overlook the fact.

Claire had been delivered breach nine years before this very night, umbilical cord strangulating her tiny legs at the knees. The result was a withering of neonatal calves and feet. Necessitating crutches and braces, the wisp of a girl had shown strong will by learning to swim over the ensuing developmental years. She was an eel in the water. Her safe haven. The camp at Cutaway Lake had been procured with Claire distinctly in mind; the rest of the cousins had become adepts in the domain, too. All manner of water sports busied the clan in available warm months. Winter sports were excelled at, as well.

Dear Mama and my hero Daddy had separated themselves from this unorthodox family branch early on. First moving out-of-state, allegedly for job opportunities, then widening the breach by evangelizing themselves, my brother and sister, and by extension, myself. These blood kin were virtual strangers in my eyes until the past two weeks.

Mama had suffered a debilitating fall in the springtime of the current year. Fracturing multiple vertebrae, she had been faced with hospitalization, long-term therapy, and seclusion. God was speaking mysteriously, it was rationalized. Daddy’s family was caring for my two older siblings. ’Bekkah plus Elijah, the good children, had been placed in the care of Daddy’s Daddy’s coven. Religion subsumed them all. All the time.

My aunt, Ella, had been helping Mama through recent months, having temporarily moved into the household. Since her marriage was a childless one and her husband away for long periods, she wanted to help her sister. Observing the difficulties unintentionally brought down on myself during that time--- I was constantly in hot water through infractions of the strict living code by merit of being the ‘curious’ child---she noticed, then acted.

Through subtly persistent lobbying, agreement was reached allowing my accompaniment of the Laughlin branch to the family lake retreat for these summer months. Promises of adherence to strict rules for religious indoctrination were initialed in blood. Luckily for me, Aunt Ella’s memory proved sorely lacking on that score. All brainwashing techniques were conveniently forgotten on the road out of town.

Since kindergarten, I hadn’t been challenged regularly, bouncing from year to year between devotees of fundamentalism and more progressive teachers pursuing true educational curricula. The mercurial nature of my school experience made me wary and cautious. New people and new teachers were intensely evaluated for their proclivities, weighing signs of erudition versus indoctrination. I learned to roll with the changes required, but only at the stunting of creativity and scholarship. Too much effort had to be expended attempting to cover a natural thirst for knowledge. And regurgitate verses. Thus, my future held a narrowness of opportunity.

Arriving with Aunt Ella during the summer eve kick off at Camp Cutaway, my life transformed. Popcorn and Pepsi amid a boisterous game of Liverpool Rummy in the airy lodge wowed my senses. The simplicity was consuming. Non-judgmental camaraderie with blood relatives heretofore unknown won me over immediately. Innately recognizing the missing links for finding myself, I merged with aunts and uncles and cousins, reveling in the freedoms proffered.

In the manner of kindergarten at Antioch, the lake setting provided an epiphany for a stifled young brain and body. Along with an adeptness for water sports, enlightenment to widely ranging intellectual disciplines was encountered. The lodge’s well-stocked library unsealed a smothered mind amidst benevolence of encouraging kinfolk. Its atmosphere afforded wide latitude for learning. Anything desired. Much came clear in that summer. Delving every subject that intersected inquisitive eyes, I was overwhelmed. Heaven was discovered there on earth. In the far northern reaches of Lake Country.

The blooming of the arrested early bud began then and there.

This sunset, with the conversation centering on a coming fish fry, compliments of cousin Claire and the supporting catch by the uncles, Aunt Ella queried me on inauguration to leech-bait status achieved earlier in the day. “How’s the wounded veteran, Luke?” She was the only one reading my distaste for the condescending ‘Lukie’, another reason for my burgeoning loyalty and love of the woman.

“It’s a little sore, but it’s good, Aunt Ella,” I assured her. She had nursed my stomach wounds upon Rex and my return from the far side cove, proclaiming it innocuous. Thankfully, Pete had behaved. To my immense relief. Rexy confided the story in the stark terms of a sixteen-year-old: search, yank, wash. No mention of the life-threatening travail expertly avoided by his swift, heroic actions. I was fine with that, not liking attention to an awkward subject, but did wonder silently about the lack of kudos my handsome cousin required. His stock with me increased in value by the act. We smiled at each other knowingly across the fire. No one seemed to notice. Perfect.

“Well, it is a rite of passage here in the North Woods,” Uncle Sparky’s gravelly voice broke in, “everyone has to experience the insult sooner or later. Best to know about how to mess with the buggers. It’s good the things aren’t deadly, or we’d all be toast, wouldn’t we?” He chortled at the comment, with everyone else, missing the look of surprise flitting across my confused face by the revealing fact. Things that make you go, ‘Hmmmmm’.

Stockard, fourteen-year-old cousin, piped up, redirecting my acute perplexity as we all prepped and roasted my first s’mores. “Who’s gonna be up for a sunrise slalom tomorrow?” The change of subject brought a collective groan. All but a few around the fire wallowed in the sleep-in luxury summer vacation afforded. Apart from uncles, Claire, myself and Stockard, a sunrise skiing jaunt with a pre-dawn wake-up call enticed few.

Pre-dawn was my personally preferred time due to the chance for solitude; an apprehended respite from immediate family back home. By stirring at that part of the day, the world was my oyster. And would remain so for a lifetime, meditative as I was. So, yes, a ski jaunt sounded great, loving the newly discovered favorite sport.

The artful sport of slalom skiing had captivated me on the first attempt. By flawed teenage sophistry, the cousins--- all older by at least two years--- had thought to inaugurate-by-fire on that first Cutaway morning. Informing me dawn was the best time for such a sport, their initial miscalculation induced a distaste for dawn like their own. Second was failure to inform of any alternative besides the single ski method, which defined advanced water slalom. All guffawed behind my back in planning the most difficult introduction possible to keep my pre-teen self humble. As if that were an issue…

…The first night calmly pondered surrender to daybreak as Aunt Ella sleepily rolled over to peer out an open screened window. Registering the throb of the inboard-outboard motor thrumming to life focused her downward into the darkness that was lakeside. Dimly, she visualized an undersized ward and nephew awkwardly positioning a single long adult ski. Twice the optimal length for his size. Both feet were slackly bound into over-large bindings. The boy tread water while handling the more challenging mono-handled ski rope.

Having been fit with a belly belt float, actually preferred by experienced older skiers due to its brevity and minimal constriction, she figured the device had been chosen for the novice skier precisely to increase drag. The large size didn’t cinch around his waist snugly, being intended for waists multiple inches larger than her nephew’s 22-inch one. The thing was large enough for an easy slide to ankle level, or even over his head, with little impediment, rendering it more encumbrance than life-preserver.

Ella nearly jumped to the boy’s defense, then checked herself, confident in the good-naturedness of all the older nephews and trusting their good sense. Besides, she had noted Luke’s tenacity in the face of challenges. The boy’s passive-aggressive response to hindrance was significant. It occurred to her that this might not turn out the way practical jokers were plainly devising.

Pulling the rope taut for take-off, Ella could almost hear the twelve-year-old’s chattering teeth. He was wearing only a borrowed speedo swimsuit at the urging of his cousins: the suit favored by all experienced water athletes. Like the ‘safety device’, it tracted little support by virtue of a rookie’s tiny hips.

Gunning the big Evinrude motor without a traditional hand signal warning, the boat accelerated with enough force to raise an eight-hundred-pound gorilla. She watched as the ski rope jerked from Luke’s unprepared hands, whisking personless over the surface of the lake as the powerful boat, full of delighted cousins, quickly circled to offer a second chance. Ella observed the immense satisfaction the unfair move provided puerile senses of humor, rolling her eyes while they came around to line up the craft for continuation of their newly met cousin’s morning of futility. First moments were not boding well for the twelve-year-old.

A second aligning of boat to skier proceeded with more useless instructions thrown at the freezing newbie, all levity lost on the diminutive boy as he focused on implementing every detail of their valued advice. Ella noticed that all relevant guidance was absent. The ski tip was not visible above the water, an essential element of which the cousins clearly overlooked informing the first-timer. His curly head bobbed up and down in the water, obscuring sightlines and flooding nostrils. The rope was angled in relation to the boat instead of straightly aligned; the handle much too large for allowance of small hands to gain secure purchase.

Again, the motor revved without warning to top speed by maxing the throttle. Roiling liquid enveloped the small boy’s body and his head plunged underwater, surely ‘waterboarding’ his mouth and nose, Ella worried. The over-sized speedo and waist belt were indeed combining to suck him further under by the second.

Considering the balance factor obligatory for success at slaloming, and the imbalance imparted by the single-handled rope’s uneven pull to the side of the ski, Aunt Ella waited for another snap of the rope indicating separation from the skier. Seconds passed. Concern the boy had been caught by the rope in some fashion provoked her anxiety level. Again, she tensed to jump to her nephew’s defense, worrying over bad consequences. What were those boys thinking?

Then, out of crystal green water, a small crouching missile launched upward, emerging from the turgidity boiling around Luke. The ski pointed slightly above vertical and straight ahead, ski rope meticulously taut. Sudden absence of drag thrust the boy airborne, skeg clearing the surface: a typically lethal event for most old-handers. The effect normally caused loss of rudder and therefore control. Flips, twists and catastrophic somersaults commonly resulted; wipeout almost inevitable. Hopefully without injury, Ella’s mind flashed.

As she and the boys witnessed, the skeg descended in deliberately controlled fashion, catching the agitated surface water underneath. A tiny rooster tail arose neatly behind it like a synchronized water feature. The adult ski settled, featherlike, onto the churning overlay. A little boy straightened up, arching his spine to a proper bend back over now rigidly straight legs. He stabilized on the surface of the pristine lake in the center of a turbid chevron behind the big boat, exhibiting uncommon poise. Clearly in his element.

On a slow arcing turn around the glassy mere over the next ten minutes, the new slalom ski-baby gained feel for the water, maneuvering in various small ways, experimenting. He challenged untried ski leg muscles and investigated torque and traction of water geometry. Baby turns and curves, trial scoots, angling of body leans were serially tested.

Then, without notice or hesitation, a sudden zag outward widened to a venture up and over the turbulent treachery of one wake. Navigating it successfully, he then caught an edge, leaning gracefully into sheer smoothness of the tranquil façade peripheral to roughness behind the boat. An s-shaping curve propelled a smooth kick back in toward a re-crossing of that wake.

Whether purposely or by accident, Luke plowed forward at an angle, shooting up and over the rise. Once again airborne, he cleared the second wake’s opposing crest. An adept move seldom attempted and often missed. A square landing was stuck as if practiced for years.

Ella didn’t smile. She ear-to-eared at the sheer temerity evident in the pre-teen’s body language. Watchful eyes of older cousins had collectively sagged to serial gapes, disbelieving of what they just beheld. Not only had little Lukie overcome an obstacle-course meant to demoralize him, he did it with style, aplomb, and athleticism rarely achieved by seasoned skiers. And, by Ella’s estimation, any of the practical jokers.

When the boat finally completed a second full circle, it arrived back at the boat dock. Ground zero for the prickly beginning and shot-like emergence that had initiated Luke’s virgin ride. He stuck another jump over both wakes once more and dug in a ski edge, picking up speed on the curve. Slingshotting loose off the rope, the boy surfed into a frictioned slide, collapsing backward at lake’s edge. Sinking into a shimmer of wavelets, only a head of dripping ringlets framing a mouth full of gleeful teeth remained visible.

The haunting twitter of a loon to its mate and low rumble of an idling motor were the only sounds piercing morning quiet. No one spoke… no one made a sound at all.

It was only as he was coasting in after the rope release that shocked onlookers realized three things. Firstly, the boy possessed a natural talent for this balance-heavy sport. None of the cousins had begun skiing slalom. Like all beginners, they had started out on two skis. A fact of which Luke had been left ignorant. Second, he was first skier of the morning on first day at Cutaway. Luke had never seen anyone demonstrate any of this for him before accomplishing what he had just done.

And, thirdly, as he sank in slow-motion through the water surface, all hearkened on the fact that both speedo and waist float were nowhere to be seen. Lost in the tumult of take-off. His boy junk wobbled freely, side-to-side. It seemed over-large for a pre-teen and appeared to be inflating. His maiden trip had been done completely free of all cover… or modesty.

Little Lukie hadn’t broken any lake records. He had set the standard. The cousins were chastened. Every single one took the curly-headed youngster under their wing from that moment forward. Ella mused on such a quirky life lesson as this in quiet awe…

...After the campfire marking two weeks at Cutaway, with s’mores and fishtale-telling, under a full Strawberry Moon, two ski-junkie cousins, Lukie and Stockard, opted to bed down on the dock, eager for the coming break of day and a next ski adventure. Making pallets supplied by their aunts, the boys skinny-dipped and sniggled for an hour as moonbeams strafed them, silvery tongs bathing features in spectral array. The camp house up above fell into quietude, lights flicking off one-by-one until only spirits of the darkle persevered.

Perhaps it was the full moon. More likely, it was the nascent stirring of endocrine undertones providing provocation. Regardless, dreamscaping to a repositioned lunar globe led by an arching Artemis, Luke luxuriated in the sublime serenity of a soft nocturnal lake breeze. Bed coverings had long before been kicked clear by activity peculiar to restless writhings. The wafting zephyr deliciously caressed Luke’s torso and legs. He reveled in night’s song.

It was inevitable that such contentment exact a toll. Blood coursing through him under such illusioned conditions pooled subconsciously and before his brain had even registered the effect, he felt the pulsing bounce of his previously noted---by others; Luke had no basis for comparison ---over-ample Pete, snaking at an angle over a tiny waist, and resting, between bobbles, over the edge.

A phantasmal palm reached tentatively towards it, then halted, considering the magnificently arching smoothness, a moonshadow wavering under it on skin and dock. Heat of an adjacent cousinly shoulder rasped Luke’s in alien contact, making Luke jump. He exclaimed in surprise.

“Relax, Lukie, I’m just checking him out,” Stockard’s almost husky voice reassured. The eidolon delusion soothed a somnolent mind. With that, Luke did try easing the sudden tension his subconscious imbued. But, this illusory, unintentional contact was far too pleasurable for the perceived mortal sin that must be going down. Had to be: Lukie had absorbed the admonishing verses drilled into his memory through years of repetition. The only other relatable event had happened just the day before, he recollected. But Rexy’s efforts had been necessitated by the menacing toxicant from the leech…then he recalled words alluding to the subject by his uncle. Maybe so, but maybe not. What was happening around here?

Conflicting emotions were warring in his ripening body and mind. Fear of Divine thunderbolts grew inside the storm cloud that was his conjuring mind. Yet, how in the big wide world, dreaming brain posited to askew thought processes, could anyone or anything make such delicious sensations a bad thing?

Something wasn’t adding up. So, while he turned the problem over, instructions were followed. Luke lay still, except for uncontrollable quivering, absorbing the luscious effect in closed-eye ecstasy. After all, Stock was surely no devil…

He nearly jumped out of his skin when a sudden lightning strike of heat, manifested by exhaled breath, next shattered his misapprehending senses. Sitting bolt upright, he choked back a declaration of wonder as he now found Stockard leaning toward him, peering in curiosity. The almost concomitant arrival of a mirage gusher of whole cream, globular in its consistency, accompanied the sweetest feeling ever experienced. The rich milky stuff gave substance to a permanent mental image, ripe for re-conjure in future fantasy settings of hormonally-induced pipe dreams.

His hands came up by reflex, grasping the glossy tresses covering the noggin sizing things up. Luke flashed on an epileptic classmate back home in the throes of ‘a spell’ and convinced himself that he was suffering one of those. Dang, he was ready to turn epileptic if this was the firsthand buzz!

Unable to control anything at all under the circumstances, his hands insentiently pressed and pushed. If he were indeed seizing or about to bring down deific reprisal, then it wasn’t as bad as it was cracked up to be. That was the only other lucid thought taking form in his dreaming mind. Everything else constituted rainbows and butterflies.

Stockard backed away in a flash after Luke’s hands let up, retching over dock’s edge into black waters of the lake. “What ya’ doin’ Lukie? Ya’ nearly smothered me!” The garbled words brought both the boys back to ‘reality’ in the delusional flight of fancy.

“Sorry, Stock… but what’d you do that for?” So frenzied by the fuzzy feelings still ricocheting inside him, he wasn’t particularly coherent. “Did ya’ do that on purpose?” He sank back down now, head and neck tense on the makeshift head roll. The throbbing that was Pete gave him abrupt cause for concern.

While he had produced such messes before, this was the first time not to awaken to the sticky smelliness. When it got him in trouble at home. Oh, or resultant to an accident. Like the day before. Either way, it had never lasted so long nor felt so good. Even amidst the roving physical cacophony which he grasped must be an illusion of fantasy, his ears were still ringing and the goosebumps roving his body were plastering subconscious senses even as he spoke.

“Well,” Stock replied, red-faced, “no… I don’t think so. It’s just that your thing is ginormous. We all saw it the first day you were here. When I saw it again, now, I decided to get a close up…and…well…you kinda went-off…” The cousin stammered that last part out, like he had just then thought of it.

While Luke had sure enough pushed, he hadn’t meant to any more than Stock claimed he had. If neither of them had intended their uninhibited dream actions, Luke deduced that Pete had been down there needing help; hands only answering the call. And then it had exploded. Intuiting no reasonable meaning whatever, the boys talked about it while Stockard spritzed his face with lake water.

“Do you do that every time?” Connoting an allusion to the gusher of a gully washer, Luke shook his head, then nodded it, then shook it again. His head ended up traveling in circles.

“I dunno, Stock, that was the first time for that to happen that way…I usually just kinda’ wake up to it… or something,” not wanting to let on about the day before with Rexy. He wasn’t a tattler, like ’Bekkah, after all. Despite awareness this episode was only a figment of his imagination, he wasn’t shattering the effect brooking the contrasting realms by admitting it in this subliminal state of mind.

“Sure did think I was done-in, Cuz. You nearly freaked me out.” His words didn’t match the tone. Luke was pretty sure that his cousin was not hating what happened. But, allowing him to save face, Luke kept quiet.

Finally settling back down side by side on their pallets, gazing at the silver orb upstairs, the two made more and diminishing small talk until drifting off, night sounds rhapsodizing around them, dreamscape colluding to mesh two worlds.

The haunting cascade of hoots called out as if inside Luke’s ear. The eerie mantra reverberated off somewhere a short way away and boomeranged back in rounds. Two slumbering boys scrambled upright out of a sound sleep at the unnerving resonance, tangling clumsily in each other’s legs. The result vaulted them both over the edge of the dock.

A strike of cold envelopment caused a shock of physical pain. Surfacing, the duo sputtered at each other in confusion, catching the thrashing of great wings out of the corner of their eyes. Drawing attention, they watched as the splendid outline of a great horned owl rose effortlessly from the dock, not five feet from where the sleepers had just reposed.

Butt naked as they both were--- Luke groggily puzzled at reasons for that--- chill of the morning stimulated them the more as they hoisted up and out, back onto the dock. He remembered a mutual decision the two had tacitly made upon climbing out from a bedtime swim the night before, engrossed in talk of silly and profound things, comfortable in the state of freeness under cover of shadows.

Immediately after that memory, Luke hit on the dreamt nocturnal event. The two grinned in mutual awkwardness at their gawky awakening, simultaneously wondering about what the other was grinning.

No shame, no remorse. Luke felt newly wrought. Where were all those constantly ratcheted-up guilt pangs that wracked his conscience and stalked his existence back home in Texas? In that other world. The twelve-year-old felt freshly hatched here in this spot. Remorse eluded him. This world was entirely different in its mood. Luke felt like he belonged.

The boys rolled up the pallets, air drying, then donned swim trunks as they anticipated the ski spree soon to come, taking pleasure in the nip of pre-dawn against skin. Needing to await at least one older cousin or adult, the two sat and talked, feet dangling in the water.

Before long, they heard faint shuffling movements from inside a still-darkened camp house. Muffled voices conversed: one gruff, another chirpy. Within minutes, the screen door squawked a greeting and here came Uncle Sparky. Little Claire rode on broad shoulders for the short trip to a little girl’s haven. Water. Staccato dialog sufficed for morning salutations and departure prep, the exhilaration of a physical rush keenly anticipated.

Claire settled into the spotter’s roost while the boys donned gear and plunked themselves through the smooth surface of a chill caldron. The succeeding two hours saw two young boys push limits of natural acumen for skimming, cutting, delving, jumping and sliding over the glassy sheen frosting their playground.

Dual ropes allowed for tandem skiing, effectively doubling their ski time. Experimentation laid bare formerly undreamt talents. Driver and spotter egged on youthful fearlessness. Derring-do throve. The elder teens were finding themselves in for more than they had bargained, Sparky considered. Small wonder they were sleeping in, again, the sage uncle snorted.

Following the first two weeks of the warm bonding amidst commonality of a therapeutic lake, Luke was melding readily into the circle of kinfolk with easy amity by a welcoming milieu of inclusion. Ella contemplated warmly, sipping coffee, enjoying two cousins’ watery frolic from the big porch. Her nephew was literally blossoming before their eyes. The gurgly murmur of her big heart soared as marvel of it grew. The woman’s confidence secured surety that this young man would hurdle his way into manhood despite trials still sure to be encountered after this summer had long lapsed.

October, 1991


The word hung between us in the thickness of the humid afternoon. I was distracted, as usual, and though peculiarity of the word did register, the activity occurring below sight lines made me less than communicative.

“Somethin’ wrong with that?” The shirtless Asian boy queried me, art of defense clearly a familiar feature in the guy’s personality. Sweat trickled down a smooth golden-skinned chest and stomach as he squinched the almond eyes cutting sharp holes through me. The intensity almost burned. I was upset with myself for leading this person to an unintentional inference.

“Heck no, dude. That’s your name? Is it a nickname?” It scored belatedly in my fried brain that upon asking my name seconds before, the offer of his might reply. It hadn’t been a sentence. So, as attention had fixed on two hairless golden arms angling together beneath foredrop of the army green plywood fence marking the edge of right field, separating us, I assumed the hands were in touch with his crotch snake.

The boy’s initial gaze had appeared vacant when I looked up from my aimless trot his direction. It had taken a few moments for the both of us to gather details of the goings on, intent on our own business as we were. Supposedly, anyway.

Upon my realization the nice-looking male was draining the lizard, by body language exhibited, the cute boy apparently noticed my notice. He had recovered wits by demanding my name. I had proffered it reflexively even as I mentally pictured the hidden activity out of view. Obsession with the midsections of almost every male encountered was simply what it was. Slowly learning to hide the proclivity due to commonly untoward reactions, I now conjectured whether the present case would turn antagonistic.

No adjustment in stance, nor altering of nicely rounded bare shoulders feeding into muscled arms, informed me that, at the least, he wasn’t shy. “No, it’s a real name. Had it all my life. Dude.” The emphasis on the ‘dude’ vernacular was meant to subdue. I read defensiveness by the method for a second time. Then hastened to lessen the tension.

“That’s fly, man, I’ve never met anybody with that name--- I like it.” Then, I added, “I’m an apostle.” The attempt at levity took a moment, but upon registering, Chug broke into a close-lipped half smile, letting a bit of the guard slip.

“So, you’re perfect? Or just Biblical?” He had wryly grasped the tactic usually employed to defray dislike for the burdensome name christened before I could raise objections about it. The ploy worked.

Curtly shaking something behind the fence, the boy snapped an elastic waistband. Two handsome golden hands raised up into sight. A wisp of sadness touched my teenage psyche as I lost the vicarious connection with what was conjuring curiosity by the hand moves. Ahem, I fantasized to myself. Another one eludes…

Sidling closer to the green divider, I nonchalantly gandered downward. We sized up one another, me visualizing the nether parts. Of course. As well-proportioned as the upper reaches already scrutinized, I now saw. Running briefs, jockstrap and cross-trainers framed nicely-curved thighs and calves. And the golden motif carried on there, too. Sexy.

“Neither, according to my folks. I’m the Devil’s spawn.” I hadn’t meant to open up that much to this stranger, yet the words tumbled forth, unfiltered, in another manifestation of a plethora of tainted traits. Chachalaca. Chatterbox.

“Really? I ain’t never met a bad Luke before. Wanna hang out?” The reply and offer somehow identified a kindred spirit and I prepared to expound on my badness when a screech of derision interrupted our repartee.

“Hey, Flash, you numbskull! Get your stupid mind back in the game and stop chasin’ the damn butterflies!” This, from baseball-capped Coach Ribble. “You’re not pickin’ daisies out there… get your head outta your ass!” The vehemence stung. Tensing, I jerked around. Humiliated at my misfeasance, I chirruped a stuttered rejoinder of faked remorse.

Turned to re-focus on the boring baseball practice, it dawned on me that Chug remained. I could feel his gaze from beyond the fence. Calling over my shoulder, I abashedly offered a stunted apology. The Asian boy chortled that he would catch up with me after practice. Through the precipitous mental tumult, it flashed on me the guy wanted to continue talking. I grinned despite my doghouse status, happy that it was so. Chug seemed cool.

An hour or so later, after practice and another awkward trip through the realm of team showerland--- the fact that not a single pubic hair had yet popped up provided endless hilarity for my dratted teammates--- I emerged from a side dressing room door.

Having successfully blended into the wall by the darker back corner, avoiding coach’s scrutiny of everything shower-related, it permitted uneventful escape yet one more day. Though still on high alert for torment tactics. The exit opened into a deserted administrative parking lot. I slipped under the tangle of bushes surrounding the little-used way toward blessed absentation from a despised team sport venue.

I had detested team sports ever since I could remember, ascribing only negative undertones to all things ‘team’. It wasn’t that I sucked at athletics, or didn’t like playing them. Physicality was highly valued. It was simply that I had never taken to the model of group activities with kids my gender who, in packs, tended to be some of the vilest of blowhards and bullies. Teams equaled packs.

Lost in a reverie of these musings, I completely missed the furtive character crouching amongst the bushes. One second contemplating bully tricks, the next found my head and face wrapped in a ripe jockstrap. Ripping the thing off, I immediately assumed defensive posture employed more than once, fists raised, not knowing who or what to expect.

The giggle saluting a scheme well-met emanated from leafy bushes just passed. The source of it suffered a sharp reply from my still diminutive fifteen-year-old balled fist. Feelings of justified satisfaction for spoiling the fun of a tormentor lasted fractions of seconds--- right up to when a bloody-nosed Chug stumbled out of the hiding place, holding an abused body part in abject distress. I was instantly appalled by such a pugilistic response, too late recognizing a practical joke meant for fun.

“Whoa--- Chug! I am sorry, dude. I just reacted. I am soooo sorry. Here--- let me help,” I offered helplessly. My blind punch had been perfectly targeted. Blood flowed from the boy’s nose. I grabbed for his head and bent it up and back. Whipping off my t-shirt, I applied firm pressure to the offended appendage, receiving a brisk kick in the shin and jab in the ribs for my trouble. I didn’t let go, though. Recognizing just deserts, I hung on.

“What a jerk, Luke,” the golden-toned Asian gurgled. The raised head retrograded blood and mucous into my new acquaintance’s mouth and throat, gagging him. Chug’s hands came up, shoving the shirt aside to allow air through. I found myself inches from his face. As eyes met, emotions traded back and forth, conveying tortured opinions.

A sudden congestive ratcheting issued from his throat, presaging an explosive sneeze. The result drenched me with copious phlegm, blood, spittle and snot. Topping my freshly showered head, the rank mixture cascaded down my face, stinging my eyes and invading my mouth, then dribbling over my chest.

Still feeling this comeuppance was warranted, I used the soiled shirt to wipe myself down. Then, lacking anything else, I pulled off my shorts and proceeded re-applying pressure to Chug’s still-flowing nose. It appeared crooked, I saw, withering me further by the comprehension of its dislocation. Or brokenness.

The next attempt, I more carefully tipped the ruined cartilage back, covering only the left nostril, which could now be seen as the side that was draining. Murmuring a constant stream of contrite euphemisms, I nonetheless remained attuned for additional hostile moves or volcanic eruptions. But, a spent Chug just sagged against me, losing steam and will simultaneously.

We stared each other down, closely approximated as we were, streaming persistent emotions. Loathing what had just gone down, concurrence infested me by the descriptive term this already ex-friend had assigned. Jerk.

What was wrong with me, the thought needled? Everything I did seemed to end badly. I was, indeed, evil spawn. And felt like clobbering my own nose in a loser attempt to make some kind of sorry-ass amends. Should rationalization have conceived it might have helped anything, I would have done. As it was, I just slumped down to the dirty curb with this Chug boy. There we sat, mulling private ideas.

After five counted minutes, I eased up on the gnarled nostril. Finding cessation of the noxious flow, for most part, I dabbed the thing sympathetically, jerk that I was. The look conveyed now was enigmatic. Chug’s visage had changed to inscrutable. Only later did I learn about introversion, such as it was. An ages-old Vietnamese method for absorbing insults…or worse. In the moment, I felt he might still lash out, so remained on guard. Or hoped for more payback. Unsure which.

Out of the clear blue, I perceived a soft gurgle emerge from his throat. Tensing for a blow, or upsurge, incredulity washed through my confused brain as two sensuous lips curled slightly upwards in a whisper of a crooked smile.

“You sure as Hell liked that strap better when it was on me, Luke.” The truth in the statement blew us both away. We melted into each other, quaking with inner laughter. My stupid eyes boiled over by the undeserved exculpation. Arms wrapped around each other and we knocked noggins in letting it all go.

The trip to the hospital for nasal reconstruction was both a long and a short sojourn. From then on, we were inseparable.

April, 1992

“Dude. I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way. It’s just the way it feels best.” Chug inhaled the oddly palliative dung aroma as he shoveled shit while I pulled the wire curry through Joe’s coarse mane. I could hear his familiarly raspy intake of breath from around the stall wall and mused over this explanatory slant.

“Really? You don’t think they have rules about it? I mean, I thought there had to be some set standard for how it needs to happen--- and be right, I mean.” I remained obsessed by intricacies involved with straight world sexual mores. Chug was my unfettered sounding board for such conundrums.

The snort arising out of Smokey’s stall pulled me up short. I grinned in picturing my best friend’s scathing glance sure to be piercing the wall in this direction. He was way too familiar with my prudish pronouncements and beyond exasperated by disbelief that anyone our age could be so unversed in the art of teenage sex.

Over the six months since we had met, and after the establishment of certain limits, Chug and I shared knowledge of one another that most boys our age would never have, were we typical fifteen-year-olds. But we weren’t. Typical, that is. In any way.

“Well, it just seems that with so little variability in the ways you straight boys have at your disposal to please a woman in comparison to two guys doin’ the deed, there must exist some list, or manifesto, or something, to keep you on the right track so’s y'all don’t screw the whole thing up. You know how finicky girls are, now.”

“Luke. Are you serious? My man, that is crazy--- you think there is a manual for how to get it on with a woman? You have to be kidding me.” His strained rejoinder garnered nothing in return. The pregnant pause as I continued unknotting my Tobiano Pinto’s long hair provided answer in itself.

I dearly loved pulling the Vietnamese boy’s chain. Even though mystery truly shrouded methodology in heterosexual sex tactics, and more so, women’s desires regarding the matter--- I had absolutely zilch in the first-hand knowledge factory on the subject--- it bamboozled that he could be so easily led down the primrose path as often as he allowed me to do so.

The soft crunch of our steeds’ contented munching as they relished sweetfeed from wooden cribs seemed to stretch on and on. The air was chock full of moistness; my sticky skin prickled lightly in precipitous precognition.

Muted whir of air presaged a shovel full of horse manure as it angled around the corner into my line of vision. I was showered with a fecund mixture of straw, urine-soaked sand and horse turds. Rebuttal to my latest baiting perfidy by Chug’s sudden epiphany.

The stuff rained over me, sticking in hair, clotting on exposed torso and arms and legs. Cutoff blue jean shorts offered precious little cover against the putrid mix. Bare feet were invisible under the crap settling around them. I stood immobile through the sloppy spattering, weirdly reveling in the communion we shared. Gross as it was, the mess proved our bond, I knew, and the small stitch in time stuck to my mind as much as the raiment of refuse now worn.

Seeing my non-response as he stared at the work of art from around the corner, Chug barreled into Joe’s stall, riling my quarter horse in the doing. Smacking his smooth bare body against my own, our sweat mixed, sliming us both. He proceeded to smear the putrid mélange like a Sydney Pollack masterpiece, fingers and palms painting over my immobile form. Smooshed turds on my face, in my curls and down my shorts made an emerging toothy grin stand out, starkly contrasting brownness against white. Upon hesitantly opening eyes to check the scene out, my visage must have been hilarious, his own smile within inches of mine.

Anyone seeing these antics could never fathom friendliness as basis for the act. I puckered my lips and planted a smelly smooch smack on my friend’s open mouth, further grossing us out. We giggled so hard together that we fell to the sandy floor, Joe sidling over to one side and arching his neck at us in an expression of pure equine disgust. As we surveyed the situation through the state of dishevelment to which we had been reduced, we saw Chug’s dun pony, Smokey, peer tentatively around the corner in curiosity at such ridiculous display.

Our legs had gotten mixed together and we sat, facing each other in this organic guise, my fingers repaying my friend by slowly doing a little of their own body painting. A distinct ‘click’ sounded from a couple stalls away, down the central barn corridor. In seconds, both of us squinted around to see our fellow horse owner, Jill, poke a curious head into the scene playing out here.

Shock, disgust, disbelief, utter incredulity. All suffused her pretty face upon the beholding. We held still, guilelessly inert, as the girl busted our asses ignominiously. The fellow teenage equestrian was used to our impropriety and acting out, yet the present picture proved novel in her assessment.

Establishing the fact that our condition and positioning were resultant to neither a fight, nor off-the-wall kinky sexcapade, she simply rolled a set of emerald eyes at us, “How in the world do you two live with yourselves? You are totally uncouth! Truly.” And with that, she disappeared back out of our visual field, tut-tutting in mock disdain for the mental picture she must now live with. We could feel her own resigned grin once out of sight as she audibly ‘ewww’d’ her way down the corridor to BelleStar’s stall, her palomino.

The seventeen-year-old beauty queen had grasped the unusual bond we two shared within a few days after moving her horse into the utility co-op stretch of land snaking through the middle of the residential area adjoining it. Stable, barn, riding arena and large round shaded cement water trough, along with other rudimentary amenities, had been built on the land years before our arrival.

Tall metal matrix towers basing the electrical lines serving the area loomed benignly over all. While not upscale in the least, the dual function mode condoned by the electric co-op recouped a nominal sum monthly from the horses boarded here. Maintenance that renters such as ourselves did for the place in upkeep kept costs for the utility to a minimum. A win-win.

Eleven horses abided under the sturdily constructed barn at present. Most owners were residents of the surrounding suburban enclave. Chug, myself, and Jill were high schoolers who availed ourselves of cost-effective facilities, allowing a way to afford pleasures of equestrian pursuits in the quasi-urban setting we inhabited. Not to mention an escape from the tedium of home life. Chug had gamed into the set-up a month after we had met, purchasing Smokey and gravitating to the same advantages as I had done.

My parents had begrudgingly permitted purchase of the treasured brown and white paint horse a year before, using a bit of the proceeds accumulated over preceding years in saving for college costs sure to fall on my head in coming times. With three children, the youngest sibling status parlayed my options down the line of priority for Christian folk intent on scholarships to a devoutly religious college.

Gleaning that goal of theirs for me, plan B had been devised. Having figured out the definition of autonomy early in teenage life, I had grappled with the premise in an upfront manner. By merit of an unusually diplomatic approach, considering usual clumsiness regarding such matters, the promise of underwriting my own education had won their grudging acceptance.

Knowing that my life could not and would not follow edicts set by indoctrinated parents, and steeled by resolve to fly free of the lifestyle from the time of a thirteenth birthday, planning for escape had been carefully orchestrated. Mowing and trimming yards, grocery-shopping trips by bicycle for elderly homebounds, a part time job at Tinker’s Auto-Body shop and odd jobs interspersed amongst these had supplied means to an end dear to my heart.

I purposely navigated the intricacies of evangelistic life born to in seemingly resigned fashion. But an underlying, unspoken strength of determination guided my path, dead ends and all. My mistakes were legion, yet it was Sophocles who had rationalized the truism that we never learn from our successes… by that yardstick, I must be very, very wise, indeed.

Presently sitting crotch-to-crotch, legs intertwined, sludged in shit as we were and busted royally in our antics, Chug pretended to be more grossed out by the feces-laden kiss planted on him moments before than the fact of our nasty condition. Yet neither of us attempted extrication. We sniggled happily, enjoying one another’s proximity.

Though straight, Chug had never shied from bodily contact, even knowing my alternative proclivities. Having not yet acted on acknowledged predilections--- a couple of bizarre happenchances being summary of my sex realm to date--- this friend acceded to my bent nature. He had easily gauged me at our first meeting.

I found my best friend to be supremely sexy, and extremely desirable. We were inherently smart enough to know not to pursue a uselessly harmful fling. That path would destine quick dissolution of a deep friendship. So, while I teased him incessantly in ways leading to our current untidiness, he got back at me by tormenting my erogeneity. To distraction.

It commonly left me in a funk, these provocations arousing wild hormonal spikes. Confident in not only his effect on me, Chug also trusted that the ties binding us were rooted in non-sexual spheres of influence. No way would we ruin such an alliance by fatuous satisfaction. ‘Friends-with-benefits’ was not on the table for us. Thankfully.

Aware as he was, Chug now sat, almost dick-to-dick, with our legs layered, enjoying the state of all now between us. We conspired and confided betwixt ourselves, giddy in the connection. Predictably enough, as we rounded back to the previous conversation regarding straight boy rules when bedding a woman, the ever-ready snake between my legs took notice. The latent Pete gradually limbered himself awake, rising like a phoenix, unbidden. Up and toward Chug.

Never denying attraction for the beauty of my friend, I unabashedly allowed the engorgement. At the apogee of Pete’s arching, Chug glanced down at the bluejean covered outline of him. Used to such reactions invoking my youthful indelicacies, he exhibited no consternation as the stupid, misguided thing once again made itself known. His own junk never responded in kind yet I nursed the belief that the boy was a bit over-curious about Pete.

Noting the enflamed appendage pointing directly up at him, within mere inches of bumping, conversation dwindled. I observed as Chug reached one hand tentatively toward the interloper. He grasped the denim fronting it, deliberately unzipped the dividing cover, then watched me as I watched him blatantly reach with the other hand, pulling the sides apart. His action allowed for escape of the serpent from its lair. Chug guffawed as the elastic junk snapped to attention between us.

Pete sat there, hovering and bobbling back and forth in all his glory. Chug, still totally unfazed, proceeded to examine the over-sized piece of equipment. In the semblance of an anatomy professor viewing a cadaver. While stiff, though, the organ was far from cold and lifeless. His interest interested me and I sat still, awaiting the next move.

A pearlescent bead appeared at the eye. To everlasting surprise, my bosom bud tipped the glob with a gold-toned finger, then raised the jewel to his horse turd rimmed lips. I was mesmerized; shocked by the unexpected move. His eyes returned my wide-eyed stare as he furthered the hamming by tonguing that finger. Then, he lowered the same finger--- just the one--- and curled it around the straining shaft embodying Pete.

The crowning head seizured at his touch. I liquefied as the eye spasmed, then felt, more than saw, the founts of juice erupt upward. Six or seven spurts landed on the gilt skin smoothly covering Chug’s ripped belly, dripping down to pool in the sexy-as-hell bellybutton of which I was, oh, so vexedly familiar.

Chug watched all of this, evident enthrallment matching mine. As hot goop heated his umbilicus, he raised his head once more and uncurled the enwrapping middle finger. The resultant pitch upward slung remnants of creamy cum in an arc that roped both our filthy faces. The long dick smacked sharply on my flat belly. His shit-eating grin hang-dogged me in success.

“How long did you say it took you to grow that?”

We sized up this added quirk to the whole bizarre episode, filed it properly into a folder marked ‘science experiment’ and disentangled our mirthful selves from the other. During the brief trip to the nearby water trough, Pete languidly lolled before me, happy in his freedom. Submerging for an overdue cleansing, playing in the coolness of a constantly replenishing piped-in stream feeding the sizeable vat, we ducked under the galvanized waterfall for flushing of caked hair.

Returning to the stalls, we tidied up our areas, finished currying Joe and Smokey, ejected the friendly horses to pasture for the afternoon, completed raking and shoveling stalls, donned running shorts and shoes and locked tack rooms. Peeking in on Jill, busily braiding BelleStar’s mane and tail, the girl again rolled her eyes toward us, smiling indulgently at our eccentricities. The way only a supremely confident pretty girl such as herself could. I took note of the second and third takes by Chug in her direction as we backed away. The straight boy was under a spell. And didn’t know it.

Setting of a steady lope for winding a way home through tree-lined tracts of homes, enjoyment described our ease of association. I had up and quit the baseball team three weeks after the nose-breaking incident, much to my older brother, Elijah’s, and Daddy’s displeasure. It was, after all, America’s Game. Figuring out that they were the solitary reason for my sticking with the sport, and honing in on the much preferable way my new friend spent his extracurricular time, the decision had been easy.

The cross-country track team added me to its roster soon thereafter. The word ‘team’ was a misnomer. Chug and I were partners. Plus, it had been one more act of passive-aggressive rebellion on my trajectory toward de-evangelized existence. Blissful release accompanied the pronouncement. The added factor of cementing a pledge between Chug and me had inked our marathon running pact. I was hooked. For life. I may not get to water ski often, but I could run forever. We wended our way home, secure in the verities.

Charles Ng Chug would beguile for years to come. Still, autonomy, I was figuring out, did become me.

May, 1992

“Luke... Luke? Are you there, honey? We have a bad connection… I’m having trouble hearing you, dear. This blasphemous new portable telephone is all static…Can you hear me, Luke?” Aunt Ella had been reaching out to me due to a report she heard through the grapevine. At home, we couldn’t really talk, what with informative breathing on the bedroom party line. Dear Mama was listening in. So, I had taken a chance and called her from this payphone.

That had worked really well. Not a single word of mine had gotten through apart from the fraught, high pitched, ‘Hello, Aunt Ella’. By her voice, it was clear she was damned worried. I tried yelling into the receiver from this phone booth outside school but noisy traffic from buses rumbling past stymied the effort.

I had a feeling connection problems came from my end of the call. The phone here was notoriously fickle. Being my prime source of private communication, I used it regularly. Many a quarter had been wasted by dropped calls and dial tone interruptions. Frustrated, I banged the thing, hard, back on to the hook. That sure should be beneficial to its future clarity, it crossed my mind. Tears welled up again, threatening to spill over. I huddled into the tiny free-standing booth surround in effort to make myself small. Or disappear. Or something.

Suddenly, a familiar tap to my left cheek signaled. Looking timidly up, I found Chug smiling at me. The smile faded as he took in my streaked face and red-rimmed eyes.

“What’s up, LL?” He had recently taken to the new moniker upon finding out my middle name by chance when I lifted the birth certificate from Daddy’s desk. They would never miss it, I had reasoned. In fact, they would probably extrapolate its disappearance to the next jump: I’d never been born. An option, at the moment, of which I perceived as preferable to the truth. Chug knew of my distaste for the name Luke. In an act of solidarity with me, he had opted for LL. Lucas Laughlin. He always had my back.

“Are you a’ight, boy? You look like shit,” the only true confidant I had ever known asked.

That bit of sympathy was all it took. The welling up spilled bounds of ringed lids, flooding in deluge down my cheeks. I turned into my friend and buried face into chest, sobbing. His arms came up, gently encapsulating. Not a word. None were needed.

A scathing catcall flew out a bus window just rolling past, barking a single word, “Faggots!” Chug raised a middle finger salute toward the male voice. Pulling away from the vulnerable site, he led toward the nearby Dairy Queen. Entering, we slid into the closest booth to the door. While Chug ordered iced teas, I kept my head down. Using a shirt tail, I rubbed defenselessly expressive eyes, a constant giveaway of private feelings. My friend’s bare leg rubbed mine under the table.

Thankfully, only a handful of students populated this common gathering spot now. Summer vacation fever was upon everyone, especially seniors, and the fast food joint wasn’t the place to be seen. Chug didn’t attempt conversing, feeling my pain. His leg just kept up the rhythmic stroking as assurance of presence.

After a few minutes, composed a bit, I glanced up for a second. Then immediately down. Awful wetness menaced again. I couldn’t remember crying in his presence before…oh, except the first day we met when I had busted his nose…what a good memory to dredge up. Physical abuse at my hand…just great.

Chug’s warm fingers finally reached over, taking mine, and pulled toward him. That worked. Lifting my head, I met his eyes. “Daddy told me not to come back home. Mama and he talked, he said, and they decided I couldn’t stay anymore. I was too bad an influence on Eli and ’Bekkah, he told me: I break all the rules. So, I packed some things in my backpack and left for school this morning but couldn’t go in. I’ve been over at Pygmalion Books all day. I just tried calling Aunt Ella, but we didn’t get past hello…” My voice rasped low and monotone. Daddy-like.

“You mean Aunt Ella wouldn’t talk to you?” He looked surprised, knowing how close she and I were.

“No, it was just a bad connection. I think I busted the payphone.”

“Boy, I’ll bet that took care o’ curin’ the problem,” the deadpan reply made me smile in spite of myself. Which set him to doing it, too. In a minute, we were both tittering like schoolgirls--- or faggots--- and I felt like a ton of bricks had lifted off me. Chug could always do that.

“Y’know, Luke,” reverting to my name without thinking, “you hate that house. Why don’t you just come on home to the houseboat with me? My mom would be fine with it if you shared with us. My bed is big enough for two and my little brothers are pretty cool… for being just-past-rugrats.”

I had met Mrs. Chug on several occasions, once Chug had gotten past the fact of embarrassment at living on a houseboat. I thought the idea of it was pretty neat, and I liked his mom and family. His Dad was always off in the Gulf of Mexico, shrimping. The only thing he knew.

The immigrant family was so obsessed with Americanizing themselves that I had been almost immediately lassoed into teaching the kids--- and her--- everything American. So, that option appealed greatly. A safe port, I thought. Ergo, one where I might earn my keep.

So, it had come to pass. The move was constructive. The Chugs were exceedingly gracious in their welcome. My mind cleared. Over the final weeks of my sophomore year, I devised a plan with aid from Mrs. Tipton, my counselor, which we took to Mr. Lade, the vice-principal. Achieving their blessing---both understood the home situation, having dealt with my folks--- the two bent over backwards to finagle the plan to fruition.

The best part was that upon hearing the strategy, Chug had bought into it. Hook, line and sinker. In two days, we were both allowed unusual leeway to proceed with the crazy scenario. On top of it all, Mrs. Chug and Aunt Ella had signed off on it. What a difference a day makes.

Through dumb luck or maybe some unrecognized foresight, advantage had been taken of a new feature at the high school equated to me by Mrs. Tipton in freshman year. The veteran counselor had seen something, I guessed, and taken me under her wing. Long story short, the process allowed exposure for a very few students to a crash-course curriculum.

The combination of being under-challenged by high school, along with a knack for speed-reading, permitted me onto the fast track. Mrs. Tipton lobbied hard for my inclusion. Only one other freshman had ever been included, administration deeming mental maturity a major force in reckoning for acceptance. That last point had been kept from me. Evidently, I met the bar.

By sophomore year, now about to be completed, I had accumulated enough credits through extracurricular study to graduate early. There were extra STEM course completions acceptable in the embryonic program, as well.

Two weeks after moving in with the Chug family, a Monday morning meeting with Mrs. Tipton concluded with information about my advanced placement through college credits totaling 31 hours. By this achievement, I would be allowed entrance to the University of Texas in Austin the coming fall semester. College sophomore status.

The whole thing hadn’t really dawned on me when signing on, just gravitating toward getting away from the loathed duo of home and high school as quickly as possible. My parents had agreed to the program without really taking time to understand. Or, now that I thought on it… maybe they did. Things that make you go ‘Hmmmmm’.

In very short order, the traumatic ‘divorce’ from family who deemed me a discardable child had transformed into a rainbow archway to the future.

Explaining the situation in bed with Chug that night, he had perked up at description of the stratagem fast track program. A confession followed. My friend had been inducted into the same program, at his mom’s insistence. Chug was the other freshman. It had been the one secret between the two of us. Administration was careful to keep students on special track separated from one another in advanced classes, preferring acclimation to older students. Intent was to mitigate chances for young participants linking with one another in a clique that might stunt… yup… mental maturation.

Chug had been on a parallel track with his own counselor. We now understood the peculiar reason why we never shared any classes. Track team, the single exception. Desirous of not extending the perception of strangeness to which I was already sensitive sealed lips on the situation. Even with my confidant, Chug.

He harbored similar feelings. We now exulted over vacating the high school venue before it had been foreseen. Together. Double bliss. Unlike my parents, Mrs. Chug was busting her buttons in pride at her eldest boy’s feat. My folks probably didn’t even know. Chug’s mom considered me a good influence, not Devil’s spawn.

Exceptions not addressed in fast-tracking were the determination by administrators and school board demanding a base level of credit hours encompassing non-core courses---basically basket-weaving, home economics, etcetera --- be spread out over the progression of the modified high school event. A safeguard against exactly what the administrators feared: throwing students unready for college experience into a failing situation. These courses were to be completed in the coming summer by special dispensation. Powers-that-be had granted the first two-year graduation certificates so far endorsed.

“No, Dinh, Charlie is absolutely not a bad name or a bad word in America,” I was addressing one of the nasty left-overs of the Viet Nam War. Known as the American War by the Chugs and other emigrants who were lucky enough to resettle here in the states after communist takeover in the 1970’s. Thousands had escaped through the 80’s and now, the ’90’s. My Uncle Sparky had served then and described the war of resistance fought by guerilla warfare methods. Namely: the Viet Cong; aka V. C. Hence, in American: Victor Charlie.

“Neither is Victor. Both were just a way for soldiers to refer to communist sympathizers they were fighting against back then. Charles and Victor are very respectable American names. Like your brothers.” I hoped to dispel the notion associated with the names. Currently used by bullies, bigots and ignorant children in acting out xenophobic fear toward peoples new or different to this country.

My best boy, Chug, bore enough ill will for the fallout to go by his surname only, rebelling in a passive-aggressive manner the only way he knew how rather than hide behind an American name as a Vietnamese immigrant. Charles. His older brother had been named Victor years before in the Chug Family’s effort to assimilate. The two male names were the only American ones they knew. By the time Dinh and Nguyen came along, the Chug’s felt more comfortable using old family names instead. Good for them, I rooted.

Ten-year-old Dinh now had an American perspective to mull through. I hoped it would keep negativism at bay. His older brother had a heaping dose on his plate enough for all four brothers. Mrs. Chug came in with fresh spring rolls for a break from lessons being reviewed. Her old-world smile and manners endeared me more with the passing days. The woman was the epitome of what I pictured as a mother figure. Chug bumped the door behind her in entering and kissed her, then tousled Dinh’s hair. Elder brothers were father figures while Father was away, by Vietnamese tradition.

Crunching the hot rolls and washing them down with Oolong tea, we sat on the side of the bed. Chug had sent his application to UT Austin two weeks before, much too early to expect any notification. Yet here he was, fretting over it big time. Since the two of us had day-tripped to the flagship campus a week before--- around our home eco and weaving classes--- in search of possible living space, he just couldn’t contain himself on the undecided question.

No amount of reassurance placated him. Upping the ante, my application had been sent a year before for the fall semester a year from the coming term. Receiving acceptance earlier in the spring, admittance for the coming semester instead was mere administrative process. Mrs. Tipton had been ahead of the deadlines on my behalf. I would be ever grateful. Chug was intellectually advanced. Harvard or Yale would love to have him. If only I could convince him.

Even so, the two of us savored planning for academic life in Austin. On a night when the houseboat floated still and quiet, ex-rugrats finally silent on floor pallets outside our door, gentle jostle of wave action lulled us while we whispered conspiratorially. Chug’s naked shoulder singed mine with each metronomic undulation. We contentedly drifted toward sleep, laying in the single bed.

“Do you think we can find a place for Smokey and Little Joe?” Chug was adamant about the subject. As hard as I had fallen for long-distance running, to which he had exposed me, my bud had fallen harder for the horse boys. He had never had a pet for which to care. Animals were workers--- or food--- in their home country. Our cross-over interests were welding more than bonding us. It was life-changing.

Sharing things in this manner provided an outlet never experienced with blood brother, Elijah. Total religious indoctrination had been replete with brainwashing of which middle-eastern madrassas could be envious. We did not communicate. Eli’s initial fall college semester would come with a full scholarship to Bryan College in Tennessee, I knew. The fact of his being two years ahead of me in school by our age difference, but now concurrently entering college, held a particular irony.

The small evangelist college was the very one named in honor of W. J. Bryan--- that would be William Jennings Bryan--- he of Scopes Monkey Trial fame. From the 1920’s when the battle over evolution had supposedly been fought. The same college which, in the last year, had changed its mission statement to permit teaching of only Intelligent Design and Creationism in the sciences. Nothing pertaining to the false prophet known as---horror of horrors--- Evolution. Go figure.

The entire science department and 25% of other departments’ teaching staffs, including all department heads, had resigned in disgust. Still, full scholarship: good. That is, until I researched the school and found that 90% of the student body was there on full scholarship. All funds provided by Dominionists, Flat Earth Society, Oath Keepers, and the like. Translation: they needed acolytes.

Bugtussled at the premise, I re-focused my thoughts, “There’s bound to be gobs of stables in Austin, Chug. Next time we’re there we should look. I’d love to have the outlet of riding, dude. But, we have to remember what we’re going to UT for. Will we have time for them by ourselves?”

“Yeah, I’ve thought about that, too, LL, but I don’t know what we’d do without ’em if we don’t take ‘em. Or, what they’d do without us… y’think o’ that?” My stalwart friend was nothing if not loyal.

“Well, what about Dinh and Nguyen? They could probably keep up the boys and learn new stuff by doing it, if we decide to leave them.” My idea wasn’t without merit. We had both seen how the youngsters took to the atmosphere at the stable when tagging along with us. An increase in responsibility would be good for them. Soft humming next to me made clear that Chug was turning the concept over another time. I let him have space for the process.

After a bit, he spoke, “That is smart, LL. They do need something to center them. Mom has been looking for a responsibility like that; she’s worried about me leaving already. And Vic has his own interests.” Victor, the eldest son, was head-over-heels in love with Cecile, the girl of his dreams. At almost eighteen, it was a ripe age for Vietnamese boys to start setting their future. And, Mrs. Chug wanted the next generation on board. Badly. A new American-born generation was all-important to her. The reality would set the family into sync with her adopted country’s life stream. She hadn’t minced words on the subject. Vic was vitally positioned in her eyes. Chug’s mind churned.

“If we do find a place in Austin, any stable would have to be close to where we are, since we won’t have wheels… and we would need to travel light. Just basics. We’d probably need to leave behind most of our tack… and saddles.” My boy was really going now, I could tell. “When was the last time we saddled ’em up, anyway, Luke? That trail ride to Addick’s Dam a few months ago?”

“That was it. Remember, we used the hackamores, and everything,” I replied. “What a hassle. Had to take it all off to let ’em in the water, anyway. And they were so sweaty under the blankets and stuff. The boys do fine with halters, anyway. I like the feel of riding bareback better, so, maybe it would be best to leave all the bulk behind.” I was rationalizing now, even though all was true. We both liked the feel of playing Indian over cowboy. Bareback and halters were a lot less encumbering.

“Oh, just admit it, Luke, you like feeling Pete rubbin’ around on that backbone--- think I didn’t see him perkin’ up out there? You haven’t put the saddle back on once since then. Ha. You get off on that stuff.” He was teasing me. I hadn’t noticed that he had spotted my discovery. I did like the effect. Pete was getting massaged regularly by the method.

Smiling, I rejoined the comment, “Funny, you seemed to enjoy it a little more than you admit, too, Chug. Little Chug was sittin’ up and taking names as much as Pete, straight boy. I’ve never seen him so happy.”

“Maybe, but Pete was leakin’. Dude. I watched all that wet he was spillin’ inside those shorts. That wasn’t all sweat. Dude.” I could feel the smile around his words as he said them. His hand slid over Pete as he teased, never shy about touching. Pete jerked at the contact, immediately at attention. My barely sixteen-year-old hormones, combined with heat from Chug’s palm, had proved a menace more than once.

Even though I was deeply aware of his sexuality, it mystified me at his penchant for ‘crossing the line’ in handling my junk. I knew it was just a way to reinforce influence over me, like my teasing manner was toward him. Still, lack of very many demonstrable limits for a future breeder, as I called him, threw me sometimes. Regardless of our steadfastness on the subject, if we hadn’t staked out priorities from the start, I could probably fall--- hard--- for this person that I loved like a brother.

“Look at you, Luke. What is up with this thing?” As he fingered Pete, familiarly. Little Chug didn’t respond in like fashion. I knew from firsthand testing. It kept me at bay.

I had concluded by this point that I fell into the category of well-hung. Rarely spying shower room snakes of equal size, it sure wasn’t for lack of checking. Little Chug was two-thirds Pete’s size. The morning stretches had proven the fact succinctly. As well, my hand had strayed over the beaut more than once upon wakening in nighttime hours, exploring nocturnal boners. While very nice, I thought, Chug’s deliberate turning away had been enough to keep our few, but strict, limits where they were. For the best.

Nevertheless, the fact endured that Chug appeared innately drawn to Pete’s size and shape. I felt that the ostensible front put up by teasing denoted just a tad more interest than admittable. Or admissible. His lack of inhibition proved multifaceted in the experience. I would never deny fondness that it occurred.

As if to punctuate the point, Pete began pulsing jism without any warning. Chug let it happen, feeling the sizzle drench his hand, snickering at his effect on me. Once again reinforced. With the other hand, he reached under the mattress and pulled out a towel stuffed there for just this contingency, as I had discovered. After cleaning himself, he draped it on still babbling Pete. My nocturnal emissions were well-documented in just the short time I had been a part of the household. Chug had armed himself. Flushing, more from release than embarrassment, I wiped as he chortled.

“Go to sleep. Horn Dog.” And then rested his hand on my thigh. Wow, I liked having a real brother.

January, 1993

“Look at the teensy thing, Chug. She’s freezing out here.” The little black and white spotted puppy with a piebald face gazed forlornly into my eyes, recognizing a kindred spirit. The mite of a baby had been hanging around outside T.C. Jester dormitory tower for the past three days. I had delivered milk and crackers in a bowl twice already, hiding it around the corner amongst some bushes. She readily gobbled the mix, peering up appealingly both times after finishing, telling me, ‘Please, Sir, I want some more.’ Shades of Dickensian desire.

It had killed me to leave her then, on my way to physics and organic chemistry labs as I had been. But, the pipsqueak was still in place, waiting, on this brisk Saturday morning as Chug and I emerged for our weekend ten-mile loop. An hour later, the urchin bowed at me in playful invitation when we strode back up the steps, front paws splayed down and out, little butt wiggling out of control up and back, frenetic wiggle of coccygeal smiles daring me to pass her by. Chug reminded me of our commitments for the day. I regretfully scruffed her ears in a tacit pledge. The baby ‘yip’ tore me to pieces.

After the vanguard coolness had filtered through the Hill Country as augur of the main course to come, the predicted cold front blustered through the city in the coming night, winds howling around our tenth-floor windows. Frozen raindrops pinged icily off glass panes over ensuing hours, causing snowballing of angst at thoughts of the orphan shivering by a drafty corner of the big dorm complex. Finally, at 3:30 AM, I couldn’t bear it any longer.

Rising, I noisily cavorted around our suite, bouncing and rattling in and out of the study carrel and closet, then the bathroom shared with our suitemates, Hamilton and Kevin. The two banged on the wall twice in signal to cut the shit out; Chug persisted in feigning sleep through my rudeness. He plainly preferred warmness of bed to a reckoning with the cold onslaught outside our windows.

Not a fan of such weather, hunkering down was his method for dealing with rare wintry snaps that reached Austin. Upon a third accidental ramming of his bedside, the last time carelessly yanking covers from his nude form, he had groaned and shivered. Grumbling mightily, nary a word passing his lips, he moodily acquiesced to plaints for an early Sunday run. I knew it to be my only viable option for possible success. It worked.

Body-stretching at Jester’s cornerstone, I spied the quaking bundle of spots hunkering beneath some ventilated bushes. Ongoing lobbying efforts intensified. My harangue in her behalf was merciless. Still wordless, my roommate grimaced from her to me, finally shrugging in resignation. Brooking no chance for reneging on implicit acceptance, the tiny ball of fur was hastily bundled into my sweatshirt. We slinked back through the commons to north wing elevators, dinging the up button repeatedly until the slow machine finally admitted us, ascending once again to 1029.

Not a sound emanated from any room as we passed, even hardy partiers sacked out and snoring what with the monster storm now blowing. Entering the room, Chug sat and watched, sleepily acknowledging my ministrations for buffing the baby dog with a towel and then wrapping her in another. Exhausted, the little thing yawned contentedly at me as I placed her under my bed covers, tucking into warmth. Just ears and closed eyes remained visible. Asleep in seconds flat. I was finally mollified. Baby waif was safe.

Chug growled groggily, still miffed, “Are we going or not, you idiot?” It was not yet 4 AM.

Flipping up my hoodie, I strode to the door, backward glancing to assure myself of her sleep mode, then opened it. Sweeping an arm in a grandiose gesture, I beckoned a reluctant partner to join me.

Over 60 minutes, we made way south on Colorado Street to Town Lake, thence proceeding on well-trod trails over darkened paths marking a favorite loop. Not today, though, Chug’s demeanor reflected. Uncharacteristically quiet, invitations to manhandle and horseplay went unanswered. I sulkily settled for the plodding pace set by our freezing feet, passing miles in stone cold silence. Weather was responsible for only a part of that chilliness.

Climbing graded inclines back up to campus, the gusty norther buffeted relentlessly. Sleet stung exposed faces and legs. By the time of return to the elevator, Chug stared me down frostily, “Can I go back to bed now, Massa?” It made me laugh out loud. He gave up a miniscule glimmer of a smile, according me understanding of forgiveness. Endorphin release had by now kicked him into a comfort zone. I ringed my elbow around his neck in gratitude. He punched me.

Entering the dorm room, my first glimpse locked on a knocked-out pup. Unmoved and unmoving. Nose tip barely visible from under blankets. I checked for breathing. Smelling puppy breath, sans shivers, I let the sleeping pup lie.

Chug stripped upon crossing the threshold, strewing frozen, ice-laden layers across the floor. His gilded skin glistened and Little Chug nestled in shriveled cloister, little guy doubling down on expressions of disapproval, mirroring an unsmiling topside mien. “Whadaya’ starin’ at, Godzilla? We ain’t all horse hung.” Voicing the opposite of my assessment. I thought the tyke was adorable as he was, telling him so. “Well, just don’t be tryin’ to wake HIM up, too. One of us is enough,” he groused, disappearing into a hot shower. Steam was soon billowing from the communal area. I brewed strong coffee in our small pot and prepped a cup the way he liked it--- latte style.

Twenty minutes it took before the freshman re-emerged, rubbing his head with a towel in sniffing a path through the doorway, following his cute nose to steaming cup. Perusal of the pup brought a look of approval, softie that he was, “Boy, she is sacked, huh? Looks like Mary Magdalene after a Jesus fix.” The sacrilegious connotation fit. She did look pretty blissful. “I don’t know what you’re plannin’, though, LL. Ya’ know she’s not allowed in the dorm…right?”

That thought had bothered me since a first sighting days before, yet didn’t change anything. She had to be helped. We would just figure something out. The little imp wasn’t going to be put out. At least not unless I went with her, as the adage went. A remarkably prescient pledge as it turned out.

Over ensuing days, then weeks, the pup revived remarkably. I made a tiny sand box for her in a corner, assembling pet bowls and such from a secondhand thrift shop on Guadalupe Street. She owned them immediately, herding Chug and me towards the set every time we walked close. Oliver Twist had to be in her bloodline, I induced. She wasn’t shy in the slightest.

While basically a quiet little thing, soft warbles and chirps grew demonstrative. Her head would cock like RCA Victor dog from days-of-yore in adorable relief, completely absconding with Chug’s or my ability to ignore. She figured out buttons to push for whatever came into her bright-eyed little head. Expressions emoting from her were priceless.

Chug tried dubbing her Vicki for a while, but she and I both knew her proper name to be Magda Lena… after Lady Magdalene. She affirmed herself in it the first time it passed my lips. Chug persisted a bit longer but finally surrendered. Magda became a fixture. Not having to leave the dorm room for almost two months, except when we spirited her outside through nocturnally deserted hallways for runs with one or both of us, good luck held at first. Our suitemates noticed odd odors and funny emanations through our shared bathroom but held the confidence by unspoken obliviousness.

The kicker finally came, though, one morning when we were returning, pre-dawn, from a good loop around campus. Mr. Gladner was waiting at the double glass foyer doors when we arrived, Magda all over him in a quick second. The dorm manager, lenient and kindly most times, stood toe-tapping as she jumped him. “Ahh, so this is the clandestine virtuoso bedecking our edifice with mystery, of whom I have heard whispers. Hello, mighty mite-ress,” he bent down and patted Magda a moment. Standing, he looked between the two of us, “You are aware, men, of rubrics set in stone regarding her presence. Correct?”

Dishonorably busted, we colored by flushing, saying nothing. What was there to say? Halfway through the semester, two days before Spring Break, facts spoke for themselves. We were allotted three days to place her elsewhere, or we, ourselves, would be in need of alternate accommodations.

Dejectedly entering the building after such an ultimatum, unsure of how to digest the dilemma, we were abruptly bowled over by a whirlwind figure bustling against our inward trajectory. A blond ponytail whipped back and forth in weaponized lashes, smacking Chug repeatedly across a surprised face. Then the whirling dervish came to a stop, realizing proximity to a victim just attacked.

“Oh, so sorry about that, I’m…” and in fractions of a second, Chug found himself face-to-face with our old stablemate, Jill. “I’m… oh my gosh, Chug! I am…blow me away…it is you… and you, too, Luke. Well, who is this--- cute as can be?” Magda hadn’t been surprised in the least by this new presence, licking a tanned leg in greeting as if it belonged in her life.

Jill squatted down, wrapping the pup in her arms. Rising up, two tongues worked furiously, one wagging words, another slurping cheeks. Long lost chums, immediately, the girl cooed at her and then us. “What a surprise…actually a bunch of them. Do you guys live here? I didn’t know they let dogs stay, too. My friend Emily is going to be happy to hear that--- she’s missing her baby sooo much. She’s in the coed wing up on seventh floor. Hates her roommate and is in new-found love with this boy, so she is wanting her dog a bunch right now. We’re going out later this morning to look for a house.” The bubbliness arrested us to stock still quiet, absorbing unexpected energy in a maelstrom of words. “It is so good to see you both.” As her eyes locked onto Chug. Suddenly, I was an accoutrement.

We all took a collective breath before the two eye-latched people talked at once. “We just found out…,” he began; she interposed, “Are you still cross-countrying?” They laughed together at the awkwardness, then backed off another second.

“Gee, Jill, you look amazing…like always. Sorry, I must stink baddd…we are just finishing a run,” in an ungainly sniff at a ripe pit, he appeared ready to spill all his secrets to her in one-minute flat. I could tell by the gawping expression. He was bashful here in front of the most beautiful girl ever to cross his vision. As I knew, and he did but didn’t. That’s how nonplussed the boy was at the moment. Most definitely cross-eyed.

“That is so sweet, Chug, or are you going by Charles now?” She obviously had done her homework on my buddy. The high school homecoming queen who had graduated a year before us stood here, having matured from petite prettiness of prep days into a great beauty. New grace of carriage balanced by youthful glow and vivacity now imbued her with truly Miss America looks. Chug was noticeably tongue-tied and dick-headed.

I stood back as the two reacquainted, enjoying a view of two attractive persons, seeing more than either of them. Having always understood the look of puppy-doggedness in Chug’s eyes when she came near, back in stable days, I presently saw similar characteristics flashing over hers. They liked each other. A lot.

Several minutes passed as they chatted, when suddenly, Magda gave a mini-whimper. Desiring to stand on her own. It burst the bubble enveloping them. Jill kissed the puppy, putting her down. The licks took up on my own legs and I leaned over to rub ears. “Oh, my goodness,” Jill exclaimed, “How rude. Luke, we’ve just been ignoring you. That’s so mean.” The sincerity was filed away: this was a real person. Chug needed to know her. Go, boy, I shouted inwardly.

“No biggie. I’m breathless watching the two of you. I didn’t know that many words could fit into so short a time. You two are amazing.”

At the comment, both of them seemed to curl back from one another, making a space that hadn’t been there a moment before. They became aware of more than just small-talk between themselves. It was cute as heck. I drew Magda to my side and told them I needed to get her in before morning traffic began. We were already in the proverbial doghouse, I said, and didn’t want to compound things. Excusing myself, I hugged Jill and winked at Chug, pulling my own little girlfriend inside.

Over a slow, methodical, soaking shower, I contemplated these two friends. My best bud and past stable partner, Jill. There was chemistry there for anyone to see. It scared me a little, but brimmed me over at the same time. Sensations of something big were horizonal. I sat with Magda on my lap for an hour, studying physical properties of magnetism for physics. Metaphysical transference to psychological analogies kept invading my concentration, wrapping around magnetic qualities I had just witnessed, before Chug finally rattled our soon-to-be-ex-doorknob.

March, 1994

“They are the cutest, most perky little nipple twins you could ever hope to squeeze and suckle, Luke,” Chug was exuberant. After three Dos Equis’ and half a dozen oysters, the boy was opened up like a jade gate on a wedding night. “Each morning when I wake up, the first thought in my head is that I’ve won the Trifecta.”

“Well, by definition, Chug, you kinda have, dude.” The wryness in my tone made him glance up from his preparation of the next straight-boy aphrodisiac, twinkling eyes aglitter. “Just thinking about her gets Little Chug a’fattenin’ up, Luke. I’m gettin’ more and better with each passing day. Damn, who would’ve ever thought? How’s ‘bout you, buddy, you stayin’ happy? Any one rockin’ your world right now?”

“I’m a monk, Chug. Ain’t looking for nothin’. Nothin’ looking for me. Magda and I are doing just fine, thank you very much. The books and stuff, plus runnin’, that keeps us happy. Wish you and me could do some more miles, though. We’re not that far apart, you know.” My boy failed to respond.

I starkly missed that part of the two of us. He was mentor for that outlet of mine, after all. Now, what with him so pussy-whipped and our horse boys back home with Chug’s younger brothers, there was a big hole where all that had thrived. Even after joining the university track team, without him along the ride was a little lonesome. I missed him.

Over the last year, scenery between us had changed. Elementally. Charlie Chug, my best man, was on the brink of putting that appellation on my shoulders. He and Jill had set a date and I was to be just that. His best man. Serendipity had burst the bubble of bachelorhood for my friend a year before on the early spring morning he and Jill bumped into one another. “She isn’t pregnant, is she?” His ebullience brought the idea into my head.

“Hell, no, you know we’re on ‘the pill’, and stayin’ that way. It’s gonna be years before we take that leap.” The cocky confidence made me laugh. Where had we all heard those famous last words? But, I really did hold high hopes my two closest friends would do that. A family at this stage could change things even more than they already had. These two were head-over-heels in love enough to be twisted should expansion plans take root. Career courses might take on a different hue, if so. Surely, they were considering that. Chug was intent on an advanced degree in mechanical engineering and Jill was on track for a law degree. UT was Texas Mecca for both. Positioning couldn’t be better. Hence, my hopes.

The crowd in Dry Dock had picked up in the last thirty minutes; noise levels intensified with it. We shared another beer and dozen oysters, then decided to call it an evening. I needed to study. And I missed my girl. Magda was my constant companion now that we had established a home on 28½th Street.

Bottom floor of the funky bungalow had come on my radar after a humiliating boot from Jester the previous year. What with Chug’s move into Jill’s new place--- a house on Greek Row she shared with Emily and Dave--- the little place had proved a godsend. The artists living upstairs from us were perfect housemates. Quiet and into their crafts. So, we were pretty much set.

“You doing anything new with the team, now? I know you run faster than anyone I’ve ever seen---in one place--- but you sure can go forever. They invite you to up the ante yet?” I just shook my head. He had encouraged me to take things to next level, but enjoyment of companionship with Magda and taxi team status were enough. I could keep focused on a medical degree better without hassles or interruptions. Study, my dog and home track meets were plenty. I was content.

“Just remember, Luke, all work and no play can turn you into a bitter young guy. You need an outlet for that little big man in those shorts. I know you too well. Want me to jack you off, or sumpin-sumpin?” He was pulling my leg, I was aware, but at mention of former chumminess on that score, my junk lurched of its own accord. Damn, that was another facet of our friendship I missed. For a straight man, he sure didn’t have many hang ups. I’d never find that again, I thought. Never mind, though. The five-finger jig was well-attuned for my needs. No prob, I reassured myself.

Turning away from him out on the street a half hour later, bewildering pangs of regret permeated me. Unexpectedly. I grasped the loss of familiarity as something for which my hand could never substitute. A lonesome tear rolled from my cheek to pavement as I turned back to see him fade into shadows. On the way home, I reflected on the callous twists and turns of Lady Fate.

October, 1995

A month into first semester of med school. I knew immediately that I was in the place and position meant to be. A natural acumen for the field emerged and with it, discovery of a scholastic home. The branch of learning birthed burdens of previously unfathomed responsibility due to erudite demands. Philosophies and theories unencountered prior to this exposure tasked me as never before. Finally.

It also awakened need for a strict abiding set of dictates guiding day-to-day routines, forcing development of a battle plan to keep on required track for successful navigation of challenges to capabilities. Adult strategies replaced simplistic teenage thought-processes. Different sets of trials and duties not apprehended in a more juvenile era now urged my conscience.

By developing abilities, subliminal fears harbored over the previous year regarding my young ward, the pointer Magda Lena, uncovered not only evidence of existential foundation for qualms, but also fresh avenues for comprehension of them. Surreptitious testing of Magda with the aid of a curious and sympathetic senior med student by clandestine means proved providential. And devastating.

Magda was discovered to be living with a genetic cardiac anomaly for which sole cure was a complete heart transplant. And that, only should I figure a way for her transmogrification to human status. Having noticed a few incidents of vague symptoms arousing worry genes in my brain, the set of diagnostics had been manipulated to establish or repudiate concerns. Results were definitive. Though not surprised, it still staggered. The girl was my life. She, and only she, knew me. Anticipated every move, read every mood, provided succor in time of need.

I found myself burdened by powerlessness to alleviate the threat in her defense. Confiding in a particularly benevolent cardiology professor, a dressing down delivered for unauthorized covert diagnostic workup was followed with heartbreaking confirmation that I might expect one to two years of relatively healthy time with her before a slow descent toward death would occur. And that, if there were no catastrophic events which could take her abruptly.

The furry light of my life remained unfazed. Bright eyes and smiling tail animated our days as reality settled in. Involving her in every aspect of my training regimen was my solution. Cardiopulmonary vestment and fortification could help extend her time. I was rationalizing, of course, yet the lifestyle suited us both, so daily protocol was made easy by acting on it. She thrived.

I savored every romp, run, playtime, naptime and love time inordinately. Every dawn, sunrise, morning, afternoon, evening, and nighttime were gifts. She returned everything five-fold. The dog had to know, I surmised. Somehow, this sprite of a being had demanded entry into my life just when she realized I would need it most. She was my rock. And, she now carried an expiration date.

Most of my early med school professors were charmed by the handsome pointer mix, letting her sit outside didactic classes in wait for my return, wagging and licking her way into hearts of classmates. The track coach made her our team’s mascot, exampling her enthusiasm as a catalyst. Probably, I rationalized, she was the real reason I was allowed to remain on the taxi team, filling in for injured or ill regulars. It certainly could not be a result of my running forte. That didn’t excel, at least on the collegiate level.

Whatever it was, it all worked to keep the girl contented… thus allowing the same for myself.

The time spent over an unforgettable summer on the shores of Lake Cutaway had opened me up to the art and benefits of all things massage. Minnesota Laughlin branch members of my family were heightened in their knowledge and practice of such modalities. Trade-out rubdowns were commonplace. I had gleaned then that the fine sense of touch was not the sin taught and reinforced at ‘home’ in the forsaken Evangelicalville of my upbringing.

Maintaining dedication even now, it was incorporated into our regimen for my favorite lady. Magda greedily assumed ‘the position’ upon gathering my intent each day, luxuriating in shared closeness and therapeutic profits from lymph clearance, circulatory stimulation and suppleness factors resultant to ministrations. Deepening our bond in the process. I gained as much from these intimacies as her. Hoping to extrapolate the practice to a wider range of beneficiaries in future times, I kept proficient.

Med School, indeed, proved to be my natural niche. Discipline instilled by the complexities involved both challenged and widened horizons. It was, as I already knew, where I should be. I felt way fortunate to have figured it out. Nimble reactions and dexterous rationality necessary to succeed with the principles and precepts made me tick. Puzzles with ramifications.

The youthful entry afforded me by an uncommon acceptance into a profession mostly reserved for older, more mature candidates hit my consciousness as the only aberration to a lifelong motif heretofore experienced: ‘early to bud; late to bloom’.

Aunt Ella begged to differ. The wise lady confirmed and validated me, visiting Austin regularly in support of a boy’s life course; the matriarchal figure missing from reality. Always taking a room at the quaint B&B around the corner from my bungalow, two of us ranged widely through topics meant to expand an intellectual radar over marathon coffee and tea rendezvous’. Starbucks profited by our patronage. She strongly reinforced the concept that the present road was a true calling. I grasped the conduit to a solid mission’s province. Virtual blinders kept my brain straining forward, prize visible in the distance.

Unfortunate double-headedness peculiar to gender would come perilously close to spawning a derailment. The proverbial snake in the grass… err… pants… had yet to rear its own demanding, tunnel-visioned head. An erotic incident in oak woods off Zilker Park south of downtown Austin earlier that year had left indelible imprint. I would awaken in wee hours, Magda’s head cradled in my arm, breaths puffing comfortingly over chest or shoulder, to aching engorgements consuming the celibate rascal Pete.

Nocturnal emissions increasingly soiled sheets, the quintuple jig unable to satisfy teenage hormonal spikes. Dreamscapes now encompassed recurrent variations on the erotic scenario played out that memorable morning. The sweetest short story on my porn-scope. When I had my rocks knocked off by the hairy satyr now torturing an overactive Id. Cravings of a missing link hounded me mercilessly, awakening unfulfilled desires barely tamped down by force of will since that incident. Until it all changed…

…An evening thunderstorm was not on weather radar. I had checked before leaving for an overdue running loop to clear my head and satisfy Magda’s inherent need. We had just passed Dobie Mall on Guadalupe Street as the first big drops of rain hit sizzling pavement, super-heated by an Indian Summer hot wave. Steam and rain fragrance lofted over my nostrils. We zagged onto Pearl Street for detour under awnings known to line a less-traveled thruway.

We were soaked anyway by a sudden onslaught of wetness within another two blocks. Sopping curls plastered my face, impeding clear vision. Missing a large crack in the uneven sidewalk, an ankle caught an edge. The rain-slicked surface guided the unbraced joint to an angle, stretching a ligament to unsupportable limits. Tumbling down, I hit my hip, barely missing Magda on the way, ending in a heap. Knee scraped, hip aching and ankle unforgiving, I sat, massaging the injured locomotor. A low growl from Magda alerted me to presence. Glancing up, rain pelted my face in fuzzy visualization of a figure leaning over me.

“Looks like you bunged it up, by the swelling, boy. It’s turning colors, too--- does it hurt?” The question didn’t carry much tonal sympathy but the deepness struck a chord. Shushing Magda, I focused on the figure, putting together a picture of the familiar form identifying as the man of color often visiting my dreams since those lips of his had robbed Pete so ably, months before. The satyr.

“Yeah, it does. I hit a d-damn curb the wrong way and next thing I know, h-here I am,” I griped. The goateed guy squatted down next to me and reached, touching the swollen joint. I winced at the contact. “Hey, c-careful, dude. That h-hurts.”

’I think we oughta get you--- and her--- out of this storm, a’ight?” Rain splotched glasses, new to his look, cocked awkwardly at the tip of his broad nose. It cartooned his look. I laughed despite myself. “Good answer.” The man had mistaken the response. With that, he handed my arm, hoisting upward in an easy move. Muscles in his forearm and bicep rasped against me on the way, reminding of the previous encounter by purposely provocative friction then. Pete noticed.

“Here, runner boy, let’s go this way.” Magda followed, wary in her distrust of this person, same as before. The manhandler guided us around a shrouded corner two buildings away. Accepting help, I leaned into the shorter man, causing further contact. By the time we reached a small metal door under a shallow overhang, cold rain was causing pinprickles by contrast to otherwise extremely hot weather. Added stimulus. I made out an innocuous sign over the door, ‘Delivery Entrance for Pearl Street Warehouse: Austin’s Premiere Dance Bar’.

Pounding on the door, he looked me up and down as we waited, “I DJ here some nights. We can get dried off and take a look,” nodding downward at my black and blue ankle.

In a minute, a young guy opened, peeking out into the rain. Seeing my helper, he cracked a grin, “Marsh, hey bro. Get on in, I’m gettin’ wet.” He stood aside while we clumsily stepped up through the doorway, Magda hopping up behind. The guy looked surprised, “Hey, I don’t think Jesse’s gonna like that dog comin’ in…maybe it should stay outside.”

“Nah, Gerald, it’s with us---well, him,” gesturing at me, “found him a couple doors down with that.”

The added gesture toward my ankle got lost in Gerald’s track downward, alighting on my now swollen crotch. Pete was remembering, all right. And totally ignoring the more pressing matter of my injury, he had decided to make an appearance, obviously thinking re-acquaintance. Ahem, I reflected, flushing deeply at attention to the wrong joint. Gerald’s eyes widened in astonishment as Pete’s big crown took the liberty of peeking out from under suddenly inadequate coverage.

Grinning more, the black man named Marsh bounced looks in triangular fashion, noting Pete and my face before looking at Gerald, “Don’t worry, Gerald, my man, I got this. We know each other. Could you get some ice and a clean towel…purty please?” The engrossed younger man turned slowly away--- at least his body did--- following the directive. Lips were licked by flicking of his tongue as the head only reluctantly followed along. It swiveled a couple times more as the body receded into a cross hallway behind.

“Wow, runner boy, glad to see me, huh?“ His cockiness exuded the same confidence I remembered from the meadow those months ago. “Well, first-things-first, I always say,” he joked. He led toward a small receiving counter, hoisting me effortlessly up and onto it. Leaning over, a burly shoulder purposely banged against my malcontented organ on the way down to loosen a shoelace. Again, on the way up with my sodden Tiger running shoe, the nappy familiarity of the ebony forearm jostled Pete.

The imbecile sproinged straight up into hover position from under the useless pouch enclosure of my shorts. Like a bobblehead doll. I watched, unable to even attempt covering the idiot. Not hesitating for a split second, this Marsh man deepthroated Pete in one fell swoop, throat rolling around the sensitive head, nose nuzzling pubes. The lightning bolt to my senses was not weather-related.

He stayed planted in that position for several seconds, until a scurrying Gerald burst around the corner carrying a cup of crushed ice and a hand towel. On his heels were two other people. One, a made-up, half-dressed male in a kimono, and another, a bluejeaned bearded man wearing a wife-beater undershirt. Shit, I thought, what in hell had I gotten myself into? As this question gelled in my head, the three bumped and grinded over one another through their headlong rush around the corner into the room. Apparently, Pete’s precocious peeping had sent a message ahead with Gerald. Or else they didn’t want the ice to melt.

The man called Marsh finally rose up off my companion. Not from an act of busted humility--- no, he just needed a breath of air. Pete preened in front of newcomers. A slimy rope of saliva mixed with several drips of precum slid by gravitational law onto rain-wet belly. Unlike an erstwhile thinker-in-chief formerly known as a brain, which reasoned my face to a quick place of reddened embarrassment--- it told me I was a total stranger here--- Pete waggled his way into boastful arch of conceit particularly preferred by his rarely seen blooded swell. The big-headed show-off.

“OK, let’s see what we can do ’bout this swelling,” nodding with a smirk toward the offended ankle below. He reached for ice and towel, rolling former into latter, then applied it wrap-fashion around the black-and-blueness. Reaching one-handed, he hoisted his t-shirt--- I recalled the signature move--- over his head, using it as a tie with which to secure the cold pack.

All this time, three sets of eyes ogled the cyclops. Like deer caught in headlights. What ankle? Their collective retinae pondered. My blushing arm mimicked the Marsh-man’s move, using the single-swipe method in an overhead removal of soaked running singlet, shortly blotting out Pete’s audacious dangle. Six eyes dropped in disappointment. The sculpted mowhawker’s cocoa fingers encircled the shirt enwrapping a now-hidden shaft, grasping it like a stick shift.

“OK, folks, good of you to help, now let runner boy here have a minute to let the thing rest…’K?” The continued snarky grin acknowledged not a scintilla of self-effacement for his previous oral action.

“Really, Gerald, and Sonny… and Dee… pull ’em back inside your heads. I need to speak to the young man in private. Can you give us a second?” Even in my state of discombobulation, I questioned that. The three grumbled through an exit, but did so. Thank God, showtime was over. I sighed in relief.

“We really should get this elevated, boy.” I mistook once again, what with his hand continuing to pulse Pete. “No, I mean the ankle. It needs to be raised up.” The hand departed and repositioned under my knees, other arm and hand supporting my back. Cradling me now, he glanced down at Magda, good dog that she was, nodded to her, then proceeded to the cross hallway.

Instead of turning the way the three had just gone, he turned right. We went down a darkened way until an internal glass window appeared. In passing, I could see that it sided a DJ booth. Various sound-tracking and music-producing machines and devices littered the room, haphazardly strewn in a semi-semblance of functional disarray.

Jostling the knob on an adjacent door, he pushed it open, again signaling OK to my girl. Carefully leading with my dangling legs, we three entered. He headed for a couch on the far wall, covered in music paraphernalia, record and CD covers, etcetera. With one foot, Marsh swiped at the mess, sweeping stuff to the floor, then placed me gently on to threadbare cushions, backed up to one armrest.

Checking the tied ankle bandage once more and finding it adequate, he turned and twisted a plastic pull on window blinds. Magda settled into a corner, lying in a pose intent on keeping me in sight, watching as the shirtless helper came over and sat on the couch edge. A big hand braced itself as he leaned into me, strategically grazing Pete in pass by. Pete wasn’t wilting at all; the compact muscle man seemed relieved by that fact. The hand stayed. Pete just throbbed.

“So, we meet again,” the comment was monotone but meaningful. He looked into my eyes, locking on, again sizing me up, adding, “I knew it was just a matter of time. Just surprised it’s at this place. You don’t seem like the type to be around here. Name’s Marsh--- yours?” The palm felt warm but my nipples were chilled, both tipping up in an erect posture by dichotomous effects.

“It’s---uhh---it’s uh, L-Luke…L-Luke, yeah, Luke…” Why did I stutter like this in the man’s presence, I frowned? It was the more embarrassing of embarrassing things I had done in his company. Same as before, out on Zilker Park field.

“Ya’ sure ’bout that, now…Luke, yeah, Luke?” His mocking was meant to confuse. The mimic exacerbated the act. Deepening my humiliation. At least we were alone. As thoughts burned through my degraded psyche, the hand wheedled Pete. Making intentions plain.

Seeing my transparency, he grinned another time, “Yeah, I’m a’gonna definitely do that.” Slow squeeze. Covering singlet was pulled free by Marsh’s dexterous snatch. Pete popped up, looking for something he’d mislaid. ‘Ohhh, yes,’ Pete mimed, ‘it was that set of lips.’ No more words, but those lips functioned in alternate mode, suckling the head, making it jump, then massaging their way southward. Ending in a sponge-lock of muscular mastery.

I forgot the aching ankle, eyes rolling back in my own signature move, completely under the man’s spell. His sidelong stare at my face certainly milked the knowledge. We stayed rigidly joined, rhythmically jutting into one another, head to crotch, for a matter of three minutes---tops--- before Pete spouted happily. Like a whale blowing. Spurting spume, hotly lining the oral cavity controlling me. The talented mouth never misplaced a single drop, repeating the glugging effect also memorable from our initial meeting.

The same look of contented repletion faced me when Marsh finally resurfaced, leaving me to wonder how anybody could enjoy the deed just finished. To my teenage mind, possibility of fulfillment in such a subservient role was alien. My prude self couldn’t quite grasp the notion at this stage in life. Yet, there was no denying the absolute gratification Pete and I derived--- and badly wanted to re-visit.

A soft twittering of background noise following Pete’s explosion alerted us to prurient eyes persistent in voyeuristic penchant. I was mortified by the audience through the ‘closed’ blinds; Marsh seemed proud by the display… go figure. I would need time to process that information.

As he wiped both of us with the wet singlet, a rap on the door interrupted. I hastily pulled up my shorts, attempted slapping Pete into submission, and observed Marsh’s mouth raise in a smile. The man stood up, turned to the door, and opened it. Smeared lips, dishevelment and mostly bare naked state remained unadjusted, mysterious lump in the man’s pants still unrevealed.

A Coolio-like personage entered the room, scanned the two of us, sniffed grungy odors pervading the close confines, then set down a stack of CD’s in his arms. A wide mouth turned down in a way that still rolled up on the edges enough to equate an odd smile, haughtiness evident. “Well, it sho’ do be a queer bar now, don’ it, bitches? Which one did da’deed to who, now, yo?” He deliberately looked from us, then over to Magda from her place in the corner, then back…

…Marsh deposited Magda and me in our bungalow an hour after that, positioning me on the couch with the wrapped ankle propped on a pillow. The severe thunderstorm had deluged the city for the entirety of my second adult blowjob. Peeping toms, thomasina’s and Coolio-types included.

“Still on the top-two dick list, runner boy. Been awhile, huh? You kinda torpedoed my tonsils by that e-rup-shun. Sweet stuff. Repeats to the front o’ the line. Keep limber, runner boy.” Straightening up, he cockily swaggered toward the door. The still bare muscle-laden back undulated with each step. Just before the door clicked closed behind him, I picked up on the parting quip. “Stay tuned.”

Yup, the Devil Incarnate.

Three weeks had elapsed since the fartlek in the thunderstorm. Limiting myself to gym workouts and non-running cardio drills to keep Magda at least minimally satisfied, she and I suffered through the period. Dramatically. My mind wandered, studies lagged, nutrition was overlooked and even Pete was ignored. All not good. Magda exhibited cabin fever symptoms throughout the spell and by the time for the stabilizing ankle boot removal, both of us were near zombie state.

Mid-term exams were in the rearview mirror now, and imperfections regarding my performance had materialized. Dr. Bonnet, first year anatomy professor, and Dr. Nelson, intro physiology prof, had both called me in. Counsel with the two had led to takeaways that they wondered about readiness for the curriculum, even though both grades had come back as B’s. Being the youngest class member, my inclusion had apparently been based on expectations of perfection; therefore, their concerns.

I assured the two of my complete dedication and wherewithal, assigning the bummed ankle a point of rationale for them. Their response that perhaps outside interests--- meaning running--- may need curtailment appalled my psyche, what with the investment and benefits drawn from the involvement. I promised, however, to adhere to a strict convalescence regimen and keep side-effects, i.e. injuries, to a minimum in the future. Whatever the reasons, I was informed, the subject may need revisiting.

I conveniently ignored mentioning the true distraction pulling on my concentration and drive because it was something refused admission even to myself. Looking back, if only Magda could have talked, perhaps things would have unfolded differently. I rehashed the recent three weeks, still in denial of truth, as I warmed to an elemental change without hearkening to facts of matters. It had all begun at the free weights gym within days of applying the ankle boot…

… I hoisted the curling barbells in supine repetitions and attempted to blot out the free weights gym now providing the majority of physical fitness work. This was definitely not my cup-o’-tea, I gritted teeth for an umpteenth time. A perpetual frown perfused not just my face, but my aura. I hated this. Poor Pitiful Pearl’s sorry lot in life seemed jovial by comparison. The curling repetitions gnawed at me.

Magda must be frantic, alone at home yet again. The gym manager refused to allow her to even sit outside the doors to the free weights wing of the sprawling athletic complex on campus. She and I chalked up the snub to plain meanness by the words thrown at us when I had put in an insignificant dispensational request. Nastiness in utter refusal seemed awfully personal, somehow. I had given my word, though, and intended that to mean something. So, the suffering.

Now, centering on the fact I would be able to begin brief walking routines in coming days, incorporating this stupid and cumbersome boot, I welcomed a miniscule flicker of light at the end of the tunnel. Absorbed in aloofness and self-pity, I didn’t notice a shadow darkening my own until the deep voice broke into a cloistered world.

“That’s probably not the best use for those, runner boy.” The intrusion made me wince as I jumped at the familiar sotto resonance, recognizing it at once. “Wow, sorry to wake your baby ass up, Champ. You look like death warmed over. Wassup?”

Marsh stood studying my technique, a few feet to my side, big arms pumped up by recent exertion. Blood vessels protruded like veritable garden hoses, snaking up and down the skin beneath the hairiness. Huge thighs and legs looked to be nearly ready to burst by their size. Tiny weight-lifter shorts bulged, as well, and my visage must’ve spoken volumes.

A toothy smile lit me up, teasing, “Damn, bro, you ‘bout ready to get all up on this, or somethin’? That face o’ yours is sure tellin’ a story, now.” Already red from my own exertion, I couldn’t shade too much more—at least there was that, I thought. The heat of the blush still raised my temp, anyway.

“Hey, what’ya doin’ here? Ain’t never seen your ass on this side of ‘da fence’. Thought you was a cross-country free spirit. Where’s your track side at? You get banned, or sumpin’?” He was genuinely curious. It was the first time I could recall sincerity of any sort in his demeanor. I nervously stuttered through explaining the situation as he nodded comprehension.

“That’s right, runner boy--- Luke, right? You done bunged up an ankle that day. Now I remember. When you came over to da’ dark side, huh?” The mocking tone re-asserted itself. “The day I helped out with that ole’ swelled joint, a’ight?”

Several dozen people were working out across the expansive weight gym. The man’s allusion to our last meeting raised sudden fear that Pete might be listening; I felt a pang of anxiety. The little man between my legs had been unusually quiet and undemanding of late. Appearance of this man had brought tumult both times I had encountered him. Even though events had included distinct pleasure, I had no desire to broker a revisitation of previous situations. At least, not here.

The perceptive person scrutinizing me gathered as much. “Hey, how’s ‘bout we check outta here and catch some coffee. You should be getting’ to know me some, a’ight?” Mixture of vernacular with an obvious ability at articulation was proving just another layer of confusing contrasts for me. I couldn’t figure the person for what he truly was: thug or intellectual. The amalgam of evidence he broadcasted allowed for little categorization.

Without thinking, I responded, “OK, muscle-man, why don’t we just do that? I’m finished anyway and can’t stand any of this. Let’s go.” His look of surprise caught me. It wasn’t what I expected. Again.

“Whoa, bronc. Now, where’d that come from, runner boy? You just showed me something new--- what about that?” That reply made me think. It took a minute to appreciate a sudden non-stuttering self in actual dialog with him. That had been a first. I felt bigger by the doing. And proud of myself.

He helped put misused weights back on racks, then we headed to the locker room. Unlike the track and field locker room, this one had private lockers and individual showers. I stripped, a bit warily, still unsure whether Pete might act out, and headed to an adjacent stall.

Marsh had disappeared around the corner on entering, saying he’d meet up at the exit in a few… giving me a modicum of confidence I could avoid embarrassing myself. No one else seemed to be close by at present, fractionally increasing my comfort level.

Soaped up head to toes, boot blessedly off, and eyes glued shut to keep soap out, I suddenly felt a whisper of breeze as the shower curtain moved. Next thing I knew, a fondling set of fingers were swirling around my nutsack. The feeling was indescribable. So said Pete. And with that, feelings of confidence plummeted, then soared, almost at the same time.

A familiar set of lips took to adding extra stimulus to the fingering, then began working their way up--- yes, Pete was by now pointed that direction--- arriving at the top of the shaft just as I got soap rinsed away. No surprise the lips belonged to Marsh, but the fact of his butt ass naked state did shock me.

The largest ostrich-egg sized balls I’d ever laid eyes on hung in pendulous continuity below a handsome ebony prick, currently aiming directly at me. Not as large as Pete, the thing was nonetheless sizeable. Marsh slowly massaged the package as he peered up from around the swelling that was ‘TopTwo’.

His mouth continued its work and I watched two sets of male equipment, both at full mast, centering my vision. An attempt to reach down and touch the wondrous balls met with a head shake and off-angled glance into my eyes, disabusing me of the attempt.

Sight of the man’s ministrations cranked pleasure factors for me as I followed the live porn, vicariously sensing his hand stroke the swarthy junk. Damn, it made Pete better. True to form, only a few minutes were necessary to bring my wilding child to the edge. But this time, as I felt the release without seeing the spurts, I wide-eyed as his own dick eye suddenly did its own ejac-dance. Creamy stuff smeared my shins, dribbling downward, noticeably hotter than the shower spray.

Our eyes remained in coordinated contact. Another first--- my own eyes hadn’t caromed upwards in the signature roll back under my upper lids, per usual. I got to see the man’s stuff do what it did. Swell and spurt. It was satisfying.

Experiencing a throat-glugging reprise, Pete spasmed happily inside the mouth being test-driven yet another time. Blackbeard, a nickname that jumped into mind for his own piece, bobbed up at me in its own rendition of release. It answered things. I understood a bit better that look of repletion by the visualization. My bursting had made his respond in kind. Things that make you go ‘Hmmmmm’.

He arose, letting Pete fend for himself, body-bumping me all the way up, then turned and flushed his mouth with hot spray serving us both just then. A hand curled around my left buttcheek and squeezed hard-packed roundness. Those eyes returned to mine and, now grinning, exuded approval in a single hissing word, “Nice.” Drawing out the single syllable to a New Orleanian paragraph. Sending me sky-rocketing, the sexy-lipped man set his full set up against mine and sank that tongue through the connection, using teeth to lightly nip my lower one. He held it, quite still, and stared.

I was blown away. Never had such sensuousness enveloped me. The hook had been set and I was reeled in, then and there. We had to sneak our separate ways out the stall to avoid detection in a now populated wet area. Pete languidly bobbled, still half-engorged, past more than one set of curious eyes on my way to the nearby locker. For once, I couldn’t have cared less. Let ’em look, I sighed.

Twenty minutes later, we sat together chatting amiably in leather chairs at the on-campus student union. Who in Hell was this enigma across from me? It was one query repeatedly trekking around my now vacuous brain.

He described for me a start-up home healthcare agency recently launched, boasting several government contracts as clients and currently negotiating more. Adding new employees weekly, I was enlightened to a shrewdness of entrepreneurial ambition. The DJ job was about to be scrapped as time needed to pursue that was fast diminishing. It was, after all, only a hobby. Other details opened new acquaintance with this fascinating man. Bedazzled was I.

Through all the information processing, I vaguely heard him ask, ‘Would I like to be his guest for dinner this Saturday evening?’ And heard the answer--- would love to--- pass my lips without thinking. Nary a stumbling stutter. Marsh acted impressed at new-found confidence. Only later did the peculiarity dawn on me about lack of questions regarding my own private life. It was all about him.

We parted at the entrance to the on-campus gathering spot with promises to meet at my front door this coming weekend night. Feet never once touched ground, restricting boot back in place but forgotten, as I limp-waltzed home to find Magda. Sensing an abruptly improved mood, the girl romped happy circles around me in the neighborhood park abutting our street, rhapsodizing in her and my gladly revived camaraderie. I told her I was in love.

Billy T’s Bistro on 15th Street will remain a memory as inaugural dress-up dinner date for a newbie med student and accomplished man of color. His stylish ways and now entirely articulate manner melted my defenses as red wine suffused brain cells. The effect was amazing. I again wondered who was this person suddenly attaching to me? Hell, who was I?

The urbanity of the upscale restaurant and soft live jazz in a corner of the old converted home lent atmosphere to an evening the like which I had never once known existed. Acting the supreme gentleman, Marsh beguiled me through sublime instructions for choosing, swirling, inhaling and imbibing good wine, ordering hors d’oeuvres, experiencing entrees, naming the music and charming the wait staff. A Man of the World, he was.

Suave badinage flowed effortlessly. This time, all centered on me. I made a mark, I could tell, upon answering his question regarding plans and dreams. The fact of my present place in UT Medical School widened this handsome, talented, sexy male’s dark eyes. I had taken him by surprise, too, gleaning an alteration in demeanor following the admission. Marsh played a flawlessly winning tack in granting me a dash of innocent gravitas by the fact. He seemed more impressed. I savored validation.

Over baked Alaska--- necessarily ordered before dinner, I registered--- and Italian espresso, with a twist of lime, the paradox named Marsh further ambushed my wits by leaning conspiratorially over an immaculate white tablecloth. Sensuously, he whispered, “Hey, Big Boy, you are aware how damn handsome you look tonight, sitting there in your vest with those curls all ringling down alongside your pretty man face, now, right? Well, it is true. I’m going to take you home and make da’ love to you… can you handle that, Luke?” I had most undoubtedly arrived. And could. Handle that.

Inexperienced as I was in matters of love, the ‘digestif’ back at the bungalow took a quirky turn which once again left me bemused. Yet, in a good way. I had long feared the act of submissive consummation more than a little, even though desiring it. My solely theoretical familiarity combined with total lack of experience made it that way.

Strong arms led a way into the den and made their dominating presence felt, erotically teasing me in ways untried. After a half hour of exotic foreplay, including a sensuous virgin fingering with an excited ejaculatory surprise, onslaught of masculine domination twerked.

Double boners waggling, bouncing and leaking over one another, Marsh placed me forcefully on my back. Raising and spreading my legs, he erogenously massaged my hole with that muscly tongue. This newest sensory initiation had me gibbering ecstatically, never having thought of back entry as a site for that action.

Whoa, I thought, as I melted in Sambo-esque swirlings. The big ballsack was bound to be bouncing off my cheeks within minutes. I steeled my senses for what was about to come---and cum--- into my virgin chute, curiosity tinging me, when Marsh unpredictably about-faced.

Releasing ankles and climbing up on my lap, he slid Pete smoothly up into his own tightness. Splendid heat engulfed me. Sight of eyes rolling up in his head took me aback. Rising and descending onto my smooth belly, the thick neck arched; buffed arms braced down and behind. Watching the man’s certifiably excellent bulging abdominals and layered pectorals tense undulantly, Blackbeard and the fat ones bounced off and on in added provocation. The entirety brought me to climax twice more in the coming minutes.

Through synchronous riding, Blackbeard squeezed off his own spew each time Pete swelled inside him. Shooting over my face and trailing down my chest in encore, a second time augmented the first drenching which surprised us upon his saddling up. We experienced battling orgasms. I was overcome by multiplicity, not aware that was in the playbook between two consenting adults, either.

So, expected pain of anal entry, never experienced before, was not to be. We sank together, cuddling in shared simultaneity. Sleep overpowered amidst entwinement. Through the night, more mountings occurred. All manifested by Pete sinking inward to deep reaches he’d never plumbed until then. I was a top man, I reflected, falling into a stupor of sweetness. Now, a ‘blooded’ man.

Magda was odd one out in the scenario. Never having slept anywhere but in my bed, and what’s more, in my arms, she woke me before daybreak, nosing my dangling hand from a lonesome spot on the floor. A soft whimper of confusion jerked me from reverie of repose, the sultry body beside me. I arose to smother her in hugs and kisses of apology.

“Good morning, Luke, my runner boy. Get back up here, I’m needin’ some attention.” The sexy-voiced bedmate called. A seductive blowjob, another saddling-up by the masculine bottom man and a leisurely breakfast over easy banter, shared in intimacy, next led to a communal romp with Magda. I felt pretty fulfilled by this point.

Daytime and evening were spent discussing plans for time together in coming weeks. This, despite niggling warning flags about loss of continuity of a purposely blindered existence focusing on important points of light--- namely, school and Magda.

Drift from her had begun the previous night. Monday morning Parasitology Lab marked the next chink in my armor, wresting precious little good from information not reviewed beforehand. A break in usual routine. I rationalized ways past both as Pete reminded me of the new force in my life. Marsh Robertson.

“What happened to your finger, Marsh?” I had noticed it our first morning together. The distal phalanx of his left middle finger was missing. A roughly healed scar covered the tip, uneven appositional edges poorly aligned. Had to be traumatic, obviously. Lawn mower? Cooking accident? I had wondered but never broached it until now when he had questioned the crooked little toe on my foot. The result of a running accident several years before. The thing had healed in misalignment, I had explained.

Now, I waited for a reply. A pause of several seconds lingered before an uncharacteristically tentative answer, “I was born without it.” Nothing else. I didn’t say anything, holding my peace. But now knew, for the first time, that this man would lie. Unnecessarily. When the truth would do. The warning would shadow me. Another slow, sensuous slide onto Pete made me forget.

Over the first two months dating Marsh, I was at least a physically full grown adult. Sexual experience increased by the week but stresses of school were beginning to weigh on me. Religious ardor of a sacrosanct routine lay in tatters and my girl, Magda Lena, had been relegated to benchwarmer. Her new spot on the floor by my bed was as close as Marsh would allow her to me--- us--- through nights we spent together.

The easy-natured, debonair male moved clothes into a spare closet. In the process, I found myself under a thumb by handfuls of little requests--- only suggestions--- for changes in heretofore ordered existence. Undemanding as they seemed, dull sullenness began a slow but steady creep into our interactions when resistance was mounted to any of these.

Over the months, classmates and Chug were steadily rebuffed in coldly emotionless fashion. Marsh gradually crescendoed disapproval of my relationships into open hostility. Should I cross him, he retaliated by vacating the premises. For days on end. No contact. Nothing.

After days of absence, concern mounting, he would turn up at the front door, grinning as if nothing untoward had gone down. Nary a proffered explanation. It was his private time, I was informed, and not acceptable fodder for discussion. I learned to keep quiet.

Those hiatuses, for all intents and purposes, yielded a blessing. After graduating from reviled ankle boot status, Magda and I were back to routine during his absences. Fartleks returned to the schema. Studies were engaged. Chug visited. Aunt Ella called.

With more passing months, the mood between us soured to a point that even Pete was not as interested. Periodically, Marsh would revert to full-scale pander pimp. Charm offensive on full display. Dinner and dancing with wine; teaching moments on subjects only he could impart.

Caving ignobly, time and again I disappointed not only Magda, my friends, aunt and classmates, but myself. I grew to read his modus operandi. Psychiatry courses depicted a manic-depressive characterization. Newly re-labelled as Bipolar Disorder.

The morning that I stumbled on imprinted pastel pills while searching for toothpaste in his overnight kit confirmed it. Paxil. Bouts of hatefulness finally ensued and six months into our ‘relationship’, I was first accused of cheating. With Chug. My married best man. The shrieking screams from an unreasonably illogical set of arguments backed by fictitious evidence and unnamed sources cornered me. He became unfriendly, then antagonistic, toward Magda. That proved unforgivable. I never did.

When present, long silences became the norm, shouting fits his only mode of response. The day he cursed out Aunt Ella for her audacity in defending me was the final straw. I told him he must leave and stay away. Packing up clothes in the spare closet, I presented them to him one morning when the ear-to-ear grinning ‘other guy’ knocked. Contrast in personality display from one second to the next was shocking.

After that, I changed locks and barred windows. Magda and I made new running loops and varied our timing. I changed phone numbers and notified housemates, friends and classmates Marsh was now relegated to ‘persona non-grata’.

Soon following, the stalking and dirty tricks began. I feared for my and Magda’s safety. Marsh would show up at track meets, friendly as all get-out, or incongruently, creepy, with a full-body frown. And a black cloud hovering over his head. It was visible to me. I commenced looking for clues from a distance. I’d espy him watching from darkened corners. He showed up at restaurants or coffeehouses when sharing time with friends. Or at study sessions on campus, sending me scurrying to check on Magda.

The following late spring, about a year from our first encounter, on a predawn run around Town Lake, disaster struck. At a small footbridge over a narrow inlet edging the lake, Marsh dashed from around a shadowy corner where he had lain in wait, cold-cocking me in the ear. His powerful fist laid me out. The last thing I remembered was hearing a snarling Magda lunging to my defense and a sharp shrill scream of pain as he kicked or punched my girl. Blackness took me to a horrible place then.

An unknown amount of time later, I came to. Dazed and bleeding from the crushed ear, headache of epic proportions, blurred vision incapacitating me. Hearkening to the last memory--- Magda’s pitiful scream, cut off precipitously, mid-sound--- I forced myself up, desperate to locate her.

What had he done? My mind shouted. Why? Stumbling over the bridge, I picked out a patch of fur floating in the water. A rope had been tied to an end post there; far end disappearing close to the patch. I sobbingly dove into the water, grasping the fur. Lovingly cradling my girl’s still and flaccid body from under the surface, I began resuscitation efforts.

Opening an air passage, checking for vitals and breathing for her. There was no heartbeat. My cardiology patient love was not alive. Endless efforts brought no revival. I slowly sank into the shallow water’s edge, forlornly coming to grips with the comprehension that I couldn’t bring her back. In my arms, covered in tears of anguish, we sat.

My chest heaved in sudden nauseous spasms. Clutching her tight to me, I died inside. Morose bereftness invaded my heart. I felt it would stop like hers had. The beating in me registered as totally unfair. Why was mine working, yet hers was not? Feeling extra palpitations, I recognized that my heart was, indeed, breaking as I experienced it. I awaited the degenerative waves to slide me to a joining of us two on the Other Side.

Instead, the extra beats widened and strengthened, expanding my consciousness to a metaphysical state. Then, it dawned on me that the ectopic beats were not my own. A sharp beat bounced through my being. They weren’t my own!

I grabbed the glimmering shred of hope and renewed efforts. Untold time passed, and then, miraculously, my girl precipitously coughed, slimy fluid flooding from her mouth. The last strangled scream, cut off by the vicious blow, gurgled up from her lungs. A remnant, now just the barest of faint whimpers. Her devoted eyes focused on mine. She had come back to me. The weak lick confirmed it was true.

June, 1996

I lounged, ruminating at my familiar haunt, Starbucks, on the corner of 30th and Lamar. The morning paper lay partially read in my lap. Tepid black coffee sat on a side table. Amidst a vacant gaze at the plate glass window, faraway eyes picked up on commotion of hands outside and pulled into focus. Chug and Jill smilingly gesticulated toward me.

Interrupted in their jog by sight of me through the window, new-fangled three-wheeled baby carriage leading, the two beamed as they slowed to a stop. Chug looked good. Golden skin glistened sexily, his toned body exuded good health. Jill was regaining svelteness sacrificed to bring Jillian Victoria into the world. Her beauty was unusual. Getting up, I walked to the door and joined the little family outside.

“I couldn’t tell it was you for sure, Luke, the glare was strong. But Jill knew. How you been? Dude?” The jocularity remained and the traditional tease---dude--- still bore meaning. I felt suddenly older than my twenty years.

“Doing great, you two. How’s the most beautiful baby in the world?” I cooed into the roller-stroller at the tiny gilt-skinned doll with almond eyes and Jill’s nose, mouth, plus hair. The petite lips curled into a quick smile, laughing at my funny noise and face. “Gosh, she’s pretty.” Kissing both of my best friends, we chit-chatted for a few minutes, comparing notes. I hadn’t spoken with them for a month. Studies now consumed me. It was my totality. And, I was regaining a form of contentment. Running again, the concussion side-effects remained in complete remission these past weeks. Clearance had been granted, so I had grappled bull’s horns and stood up tall in a push for new normalcy.

“Well, you look like you’re in the usual stellar shape, Luke. Look at that flat belly. We are jealous.” This from Jill, little roll still pooching her middle. Her hand reached over and brushed sun-bleached ringlets, now hanging down past shoulder level, a wildness springing from my head in riot of auburn unruliness. “How do you do all that, Luke? It is so manly on you. Any girl would die to have these…or you,” as she fingered the ends. I flushed at the compliment.

“Aww, shucks, girl, my head’s swelling. You trying to unbend me again? It’s a lost cause, Jill.” The ongoing joke warmed me.

Chug joined in, tucking a pacifier into the little girl’s puckering mouth, “Hell, Luke, you know my wife, always the matchmaker. But true, mighty danged eligible, my bud. You know you were my next choice if Jill hadn’t hooked up with me.” Smug smirk was wiped off his face by a sharp jab to ribs from his beauty queen. Wincing, he hang-dogged at me in surrender, but I noted the look in his eyes. And just wondered…

He straightened his face after a moment, “Really though, Luke, how you doin’? We know everything has been weighin’ on you the past two months…lotsa stuff went down. Are you honestly coping OK?”

They were assured it was so, another time. Like the month before at our last meeting. True, I had dealt with a lot but while still disheartening, there certainly existed a lightening in the future. I meant to make for that place. In the meantime, the head would be trained straight ahead, with blinders. Making my way through med school was all that was truly needed. Along with my books.

Thankfully, nastiness that chaptered the time with Marsh had finally been put to rest. The malicious attack on Magda and myself had brought charges and quick incarceration. A restraining order was enabled. Pending litigation, both criminal and civil, would follow the confused, sick man for years to come. Consultation with police and attorneys, as well as an associate D.A., had shed more light on nefarious ways of the man with whom I had come into a first adult relationship.

Turned out, the home healthcare agency had been a sham. Rife with counterfeit documents, faked home visits, calculated skimming of funds for illicit usage, and robbery of mentally-challenged people plus vulnerable retirees. Worse, actual visits had resulted in multiple elder-abuse allegations.

The detective involved revealed to me a story of morbid interest, equating basics of a violent liaison with another man. It seemed while living in California, that earlier lover had bitten off Marsh’s middle finger in the midst of an altercation. After Marsh had strangled a pet cat. Authorities had put pieces together after several years of sleuthing, hampered by no help from the jilted lover. I was confident that when and if my ex-whatever--- lover, teacher, stalker--- managed to get through legal ramifications of his past, the IRS would be coming after him as well.

A short month after the lakeside attack, my dear Aunt Ella had suddenly, unexpectedly, succumbed to congestive heart failure. The wide-ranging, worldly relative with such an over-sized heart had fatally opted to take part in a niece’s eccentric undersea wedding. The beloved woman’s carefully secreted condition--- no one in the family had been made aware--- burst under the pressure. For a second time in weeks, mine had almost followed suit. The lady had been there at so many turns in my young life. Owing her almost everything ever achieved was such a trite truism. Overwhelming grief smothered my psyche.

Flying up for the funeral, I had spoken at her wake, choosing to relate the story of a time when she had been in Austin. Staying at the homey bed and breakfast as she did every visit, I told the Laughlin family and loved ones about one particular afternoon. On that day, upon arriving at the B&B, I had entered the front door to find Aunt Ella alone and laying on the midway landing of the stairs. Eyes closed as if asleep. Concerned, I hurried to her, asking if she needed any help. Unmoving and with eyes closed she calmly replied, ‘No, Luke, dear. I don’t. I can’t decide whether to go up or down. So, I’m waiting here until I do.’ From then on, when any Laughlin clan member couldn’t make a decision about something, they simply said, ‘I’m on the landing’.

Uncertain how to make my way without her, I succored belief that she would be waiting, when the time came, on that middle landing. The same as many others whose lives she touched.

Heavy-hearted, I then returned home, falling into my best girl’s rejuvenated paws. Chug and Jill cared for her in my absence. Magda had revived after the trauma suffered in my defense, rebounding in a remarkable manner. I had hated leaving her behind for Aunt Ella’s funeral, barely bearing separation from her for any amount of time after the incident. Our reversion to old running loops had made the girl extremely content. Nights together were full of sweet dreams once more. I awakened each morning to bright eyes of a licking fiend, as always.

On one particularly beautiful early morning, there had been a skip together down to Town Lake. Following a brisk 10K loop, we entered into a familiar game of hide-and-seek at Zilker Park field. Per usual, instigated by her. While the pointer studiously struck point at fictitious prey away from me, I had hunkered down, in a shallow depression across the wide-open meadow we both loved so much, to await her. Watching her dart out of bushes forty yards distant, her astute nose easily sniffed out my spot. Romping toward me, I lay stock still, enjoying my athletic companion as she bounded rapturously toward my prostrate form. She wasn’t fooled in the slightest.

I could discern her smiling face, intent on reaching me when, within twenty feet, her eyes took on a puzzled expression. Her gait slowed, becoming uncoordinatedly out of character. I jumped and raced to her, barely reaching her as she sank drunkenly into my pleading arms. Cradling her there before she hit the grassy plain, we explored one another’s eyes. Hers evoked a loving entreaty. ‘Don’t worry, Daddy, I love you.’

Registering the fact of what was occurring, I drew her into my lap, supporting and stroking her head as we longed back and forth. The private little jig, composed on the first morning of her warm awakening in the dorm room at Jester Tower, the one I had sung to her every morning of our time together, now arose haltingly from my lips. I sang it to her one final time. Absorbing the picture of her which would have to suffice me forever.

As I began the second verse, her glazing eyes fixed on mine and she reached out that long pink tongue in a face lick of reassurance. My hand over her big heart caressed the last beat as it reverberated through the both of us. Laying there together, celebrating our past and present, we were warmed by dawning rays of a peeking sun as they spread across the verdant field so fondly shared.

My mind meandered as Jill and Chug chatted on. They gradually noticed my distance. And one lone teardrop. A surreptitious glance they thought I didn’t see signaled time to make an exit. With promises of get-togethers and plans to come, meaningful hugs fortified me. Jillian’s little sniggle tinkled my ears as they picked up a departing pace.

Re-entering the coffeehouse, I gathered my things and now cold coffee, setting mental sights on this Sunday’s itinerary. First stop, eclectic neighborhood bookstore, Half Price Books. Joe Wilkins, the proprietor, had alerted me to a recent Thursday delivery of books from a defunct monastery outside the little town of Blanco, south of Austin.

Joe’s purchase acquisition had been fortuitous, he’d told me. At an estate auction, the rare book purveyor had taken possession of a number of the mission library’s out-of-print early collections which had resided in the old Jesuit enclave these past three hundred years. As a budding collector, hopes persisted that in their perusal I might come across an elusive third volume of a three-book anthology for which I kept up a persevering search. Seeking completion.

Many spare hours had been spent combing upper reaches of musty shelves on a rickety ladder there at the funky old store. Planning to spend several more in quest of the uncommon tome, my feet headed out to do just that.

This might just be my lucky day, I conjectured, ambling down the shady sidewalk.

Try out a preview of the coming-of-age story regarding Cal Broadhearst. Life experiences mold the distinctive young man into that which he becomes in his maturity. A confident, self-possessed, able and accomplished gay man-of-color. Introducing the second volume of ‘The Mandrakes’: One Clear Day…

The Mandrakes
Volume II: One Clear Day


“Mammay. What’s a piccaninni?” Cal Al wanted to know.

The ten-year-old fixed a gaze on the elegantly slim neck as he asked, knowing truth of the matter would arise from that spot. Sure enough, at the same moment of the boy’s last word, silky cocoa skin took on a tautness previously absent. Muscles beneath ribbed themselves in cords of sinewed potency though energy of the display remained deliberately tamed.

No word had been spoken, yet the reaction informed Cal Al that the matter was, as he supposed, profound. The peculiar word was unknown to him; insight needed for meaning. He quietly awaited words to fill blanks in the question.

Cassandra Casseiopia Broadhearst continued measured peeling of carrots in preparation for dinner to come as her backside body language held son in check. While an already tall, slim youth remained still and mute, he inwardly summoned up basis for the query…

…An hour before, Cal hopped the gate outside the Roosevelt-era red brick schoolhouse across the Coosa River from his family home. The dull thud his cross-trainers made hitting ground muddled the word he heard from behind, “Piccaninni!”

Unsure if he had understood the alien term, he glanced over a shoulder. Ansley Hightower stood watching him from a few feet distant, just behind the bush bordering the gate and therefore out of sight. “Huh?” came Cal Al’s request for clarification. He viewed the grimace marring a big seventh grader’s pale features, thinking hot afternoon sun must be dazzling the older boy’s eyes.

It wasn’t. “I said, ‘piccaninni’, ya dumb darkie, cain’t ya hear?” The grimace intensified up to a full scowl as thin lips spat the next words. “Lemme guess: ya don’ be speakin’ Anglish. ’Huh’s the onliest word ya know how to say, I’m a’bettin.”

Slow to rile, Cal Al nonetheless warmed at the low-rent vernacular; a little more by inclusion in a category of ignorance. He didn’t know this boy, having only laid eyes on him before now when passing in the hallway a few times. Why the animosity? The fifth-grader tried defraying rising tension with a quick smile so commonly disarming to most, “No, I’m quite able to express myself. What might you be meaning was more my point. I couldn’t quite make it out.” Cal’s diction was flawless. His truthfulness, a little less so. He had actually caught the new word; his footfall had only stepped on it a mite.

“Dumb as a stump, fo’ sho’…what a idiot. Can’t hear and dudn’t unnerstan’ nuttin’. Just like all ya’ll.” The vituperation hit another nerve but Cal attempted placation yet again, invoking his parents’ exemplary behavior and genteel manners as example. He was taught to respect elders and avoid violence. The fact that a lanky grade-schooler stood taller than the rest of his class still left him smaller by inches and tens-of-pounds in comparison to this blusterer, although the factor had not registered with the younger boy.

“I’m not dumb. I speak just fine. But never have heard that word, now, that is sure. Were you asking or telling something, sir?” Adding the term of respect, same way he’d heard Father intone with others.

Without further reply the blowhard suddenly rushed Cal, stooping to grab a handful of dusty sand then raising up in a fluid motion, slinging the decoy toward Cal’s face. An opposite fist followed in roundhouse arc with coldcock intent.

Even at ten-years-old Cal was not fooled by a basic boxing tactic. He dodged the dirty shower, then easily blocked a curving wind-up blow with his forearm. The quick fist of his left arm darted reflexively at the bully’s face, forcefully popping an exposed eye. The smack resounded around the almost empty school yard. A high-pitched yelp followed, bluster now replaced by a short blub on the way to sandy red dirt just sampled.

The fledgling self-defender assumed raised fists, leg-crouched position awaiting the next move. He quivered a little as adrenaline release hit. This was a first. In another second, seeing the bigger boy struggle, the youngster retracted fists and reached down to offer a hand up to the white boy.

“Stupid scum-bucket,” the chubby ground rider chirped. He fumbled up, slapping away the proffered hand in the effort. Stumbling to his feet, Ansley bulled off down the cross street, palming a fast-bruising eye. Cal Al listened at a gradually diminishing spit of epithets as would-be bully distanced. Then brushed himself off and turned toward the river bridge to home…

…The memory receded as Mammay’s soft voice broke in on the pregnant pause, “Child, wherever did you come upon the word…at school?” Cal related the episode just endured, with no little bit of trepidation in telling of the punch, knowing his mother’s penchant for diplomacy. And he then…waited.

Still viewing the back of her head, no eyes to gauge, no lips to study, only the neck to judge what ground he might stand on at the moment, the boy was not fearful; only subdued. “Calumet Junior, my handsome and intelligent son. The word derives from an amalgamated contraction of terms through four centuries. Different meanings through varying times. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. Spelled one way one decade, another way the next.” Her elegant southern lilt elucidated more than Miriam Webster’s sound bite. The explanation was used as a lesson on more than one level, employing vocabulary meant to challenge her children’s curiosity. It worked well. Her son would be soon researching at least one word she had utilized.

“In this day, my son, it is still cited, though rarely, as an epithet. A demeaning method exercised by weak-minded people to evince superiority as a brace against inner inferiority.”

“In the language of Cameroon, from where our ancestors were stolen and enslaved, a precursor term once designated a Prince of the Hinterlands. And this, my son, is to what you must hearken whenever the word is uttered. Because your father has determined our own lineage arises from those same Hinterlands. You, my son, are born of the blood of Princes. And you must grow into a man able to fill the size of those shoes. With great gifts come great responsibility. Never, ever forget these tidings.” She turned resolutely as she spoke those final five words, both eyes coming to laser focus on ten-year-old son raptly alert to this delineation. Goosebumps pervaded him inside and out.

“When you have mulled the concept, your father and I will clarify any paradoxes raised. Now, off with you to change that filthy shirt. Find your brothers and mind that you finish homework before chores. Then play. My young prince.” Fondness smiled in a suffusion of palpable affection. Calumet Alfrederic Broadhearst, Junior, hugged her tightly before hightailing it up the staircase.

The doorbell sounded at two minutes till dawn the following morning.

A yesteryear mechanism, the chime had been installed in the Civil War era. Having fallen into disrepair a hundred years before, the device had apparently been forgotten over ensuing time. Professor Calumet Broadhearst, Senior, had discovered the ancient extravagance while refurbishing the home in the first year after Cassandra and he acquired the old dilapidated estate.

Calumet’s position at the local university as a Professor of Biochemistry was a milestone in newlywed lives eleven years before. The man meant to establish a home as complement to the station he had attained. Only by merit of an obliging friendship between a Rome City Clerk and the Broadhearst couple had the purchase been consummated. Sale of property in early 1980’s between races was not common.

The clerk had smoothed transaction between a young couple of color and last remaining member of an old plantation family who had moved out amid losing the home place due to unpaid taxes and penalties. An old, destitute owner never knew of the buyer, only that the sale relieved her financial worries in age of dotage to which she had awakened one day. Assisted living was much preferred, and resultantly affordable, at this late stage in life.

History behind the ancient three story edifice on banks of a meandering Coosa River proved obscure, yet enough data remained in county archives to establish facts that the manse and outbuildings had housed only one family through many generations. Along with their slaves.

Several years, precious funds and much sweat equity had been expended but finally lustre of the antebellum mansion with iconic Corinthian columns adorning a spacious loggia had been reasserted. Every effort had been effected in discovering details and accoutrements crafting the grand house at its conception. Likewise, a contrasting exertion had been exhausted for uncovering history of it. Methodically, purposefully and quietly, all evidence of the macabre evil staining its fabric as a harbor for involuntary servitude was erased.

The outbuildings had been razed and ground plowed deeply under where slaves and livestock had once ‘stabled’. Established century oaks were adorned with crape myrtle, magnolia and evergreen trees in major transplantation over the gently sloping river view expanse. Landscaping in Italianate style of the Renaissance Era was meticulously laid out beneath them.

Dumbwaiters were installed in place of slave closets which had functioned as hidden crannies for on-call servants in a past era. New fixtures updated all aspects of the home until it rivaled any in the Rome, Georgia region. Revitalizing the old estate, in conjunction with the couple’s intellectual gravitas, marked the Broadhearsts as upscale denizens with whom to be reckoned.

Mindful of an edifying sentiment the doorbell apparatus might impart, Calumet Senior had taken trouble finding artisans capable of bringing about its resurrection. He discerned essence of his soulmate in the thing’s rebirth. Repair of gong-like bells next to a grand front entry had been a final plum in the pudding rechristened as The Broadhearst Estate.

The doorbell system served, by serial synchronicity, multiple sites throughout the house and back verandah. Far Eastern flare of low, reverberative resonance reminisced an earlier period which Cassandra dearly cherished. Subtle tactility complemented audibility. By the effect, it endowed peaceful verisimilitude to an extant character of the worldly woman’s refinement. Imbuing familial credence, it named the place ‘Home’.

When it engaged so early in the morning, Cassandra detected a caveat of caution in its reverberations. She arose from her marriage bed, leaving a sleeping husband to drowse. Gathering a robe around herself, in slippered feet she descended to answer the bell’s plaint. For, she sensed, such was what it must be.

On opening, the over-sized heartwood oak door gaped at three forms filling the entryway. Sheriff Lancaster, a deputy and the family lawyer were framed in a huddle which broke apart at her greeting. “May I help you gentlemen at such an early hour this day, Sirs?” Her charming manners counterbalanced somberness of both law officers; Counselor Black was previously familiar with her style.

“Good morning, Cassandra,” Claudius Black began. “We regret calling at so obnoxious an hour,” and at this, he cast a meaningful glower in the direction of two others, “yet I found myself duty-bound to accompany these gentlemen on an overstatedly urgent errand of which they first informed me an hour ago.”

“Please, do come in, then, and let us see to it.” Again, Cassandra assuaged sensibilities of the men by her grace. Standing aside, she ushered the three into a spacious foyer, offering seating which was refused.

“Mrs. Broadhearst,” the sheriff removed his hat as he began, “I am afraid that there has come to the attention of the night magistrate a matter of some seriousness. The deputy and I have been dispatched to inform you of charges being filed against your oldest son, Calumet. And to escort him to the courthouse. We were informed of an incident at the school yesterday. Bodily harm was inflicted by him in a physical attack on Deacon Hightower’s son, Ansley. The young man is presently in county hospital being treated for wounds from a blindside attack.

Cassandra’s stiffening at roll out of these words altered the atmosphere in the room. A protective lioness could not have evinced more distinctive body language by response. Cold haughtiness now filled the voice that spoke, “I am very hopeful to hear that Mr. Ansley is not badly injured. That said, surely, Claudius, you have informed the local authorities and magistrate of several particulars which immediately spring to mind. Am I correct?”

Mr. Black nodded obsequious acquiescence and proceeded to summarize the situation, for obviously another time, in front of the law men. Due to the nature of the attack--- ‘alleged attack’, the lady interjected--- the sheriff had been instructed of need for bringing in young Cal for questioning. It seemed Deacon Hightower had pulled strings with the county judge, a family friend. Orders were plain, he explained.

“And am I to be informed as well that these gentlemen are fully aware of the age and nature of my son’s minority status? It would be unsuitable for any reputable law system to approach such a matter in this way, or am I missing something?” Unruffled demeanor had become coldly detached from directly addressing two-thirds of the visitors to her home. A queen at court, reflected Claudius Black.

In that moment, Professor Broadhearst appeared. Wide awake, dressed and bright-minded, despite a recent bed-ridden state. Greeting the men, he shortly garnered tenor of the conversation. Astutely absorbing rare display of his wife’s regal rancor, he took lead. Inquiring of the sheriff, it came to light that the boy, Ansley, had limped into his parents’ home the previous evening following the school day. A badly blackened eye, a fractured arm and a deep head laceration with possible concussive effects had been brought along. Compliments, said Ansley, of a cowardly and unprovoked attack by a young black boy bent on violence. For unknown reasons, he had insisted.

Dr. and Mrs. Broadhearst traded glances, begged a private counsel with Mr. Black and retired to the kitchen for a pow-wow. Following a curt interchange, seeing no alternative, the three deemed it best to raise their son. All of them would accompany the law into town for a talk with the magistrate.

Two hours later, a confused ten-year-old and his thoroughly exasperated parents sat in a small windowless room at the courthouse in downtown Rome. Differing reconstructions of the altercation had been hashed and re-hashed before the night justice--- not the family friend of the Hightower’s--- and decision to allow departure of the accused with parents had been summarily decided.

Evidence and deposition gathering were ordered, and, with a miffed tone, the magistrate informed the sheriff such should have been carried out before a precipitous move of detaining a pre-teen for allegations of unsubstantiated nature, short of charges involving homicide.

Young Calumet, remorseful at such turn of events, felt directly responsible for the bully’s condition somehow. Even with firsthand knowledge that he held. It would seem a criminal justice system was intent on righting the wrong of an ‘ethnic incident’ in custom of a past century ethos. Could he be sent to prison? Were there prisons for ten-year-old felons? Might he be lynched, he fearfully considered? The boy had heard chilling stories about ‘strange fruit’.

Reassurances had little effect, what with Cal Al’s mastery of 1990’s tech-driven information sources. Cable News, a nascent fixture in an apprehensive society, lent weight to implications regarding downfall of civilization by just such transgressions as Cal found himself presently accused. He concluded doom.

Arriving home an hour after that, the three were bombarded by five boyish mouths full of foreboding brainwaves. Via morning television news reports. Their saintly big brother had been demoted, in absentia, to lawless miscreant during the interim. They were in uproar. Sophie, lone little sister, lay asleep in her two-year-old dreams. Unfazed.

Parental remonstrance dissolved the kangaroo court in lieu of backyard landscape maintenance. Still, Cal Al had to deal with his twin later that Saturday evening as the two laid up amid sorry states of mind in their shared bed and bedroom, taking refuge from literal and figurative maelstroms around them. A deluge of rain, hail and winds had engulfed the riverside sanctuary in a fast-forming tropical storm. It provided perfect excuse for walling out the mess torturing Cal’s small sphere.

Laying together familiarly, in fashion of twins, Coy Al begged the question, “How’d ya break his head and his arm with just one punch to his eye?” He could not come to grips with either the violent outburst or unbelievable talent for so great a damage quotient. The alter-ego twin both elevated and further debased Cal’s tattered status, depending on gist, during seclusion together. “Why’d ya do it, Cal,” provided recurrent refrain of the interlude.

The minutes-younger carbon copy rarely ever got under Cal’s skin: their binding connection precluded most occasions for discord. The present scenario’s confusing details, however, were trying his already thinned patience. “Coy, I already told you, none of that happened. The pea-brain guy is making it all up. Something else had to have happened after I saw him leave. No way I did any of what they’re saying. Except the black eye…”

Having broken down the matter inside a nimble brain during flowerbed de-weeding a while before, Cal had cleared his bothered conscience. But if this twin brother couldn’t grasp a sympathetic side, then there really must exist the proverbial creek without a paddle in the boat. Both boys started at a sharp clap of thunder, warm bodies pulling close in reflexive search.

Coy’s dark brown leg wrapped through his brother’s and he buzzed audibly as an inexperienced mind sought balance. Sense of angst between bosom brothers was palpable. The two were certain of sameness in feel of the other. Cal pushed a bush of hair onto his twin’s chest; Coy responded by gathering closer. Each was a port in every mammay-less storm. They sensed things before the other knew it themselves. A two-way street regularly shared.

The next worry gelled in Cal’s head. “Well, what do you think is going to come down at school on Monday? Am I gonna get gang-banged by the jerk’s friends, ya think?” The idea wasn’t pretty.

Coy let drop his previous line of questioning, quick to defend. “Bra, you know I got your back. Ain’t no white boy militia gonna be houndin’ on you, you know that. And Doy’ll be there, too. We be good, Cal.” His skinny arm pulled tighter.

The reassurance redounded inwardly, channeling a picture of three-musketeers facing off against forces of evil…it made things better. They soothed each other by communal closeness over the next hour. Falling into a peculiarly patterned shared body language, spoken words receded to mootness. Sleep settled and at least inner turbulence receded. No better place to be in a squall than their room, their bed… their bro.

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Janine: Der Schreibstil hat mir sehr gefallen, allerdings sind manchmal Satzzeichen falsch, oder fehlen komplett, dadurch verliert man manchmal leicht den Überblick. Aber ansonsten ist es eine sehr gute Geschichte.

Briana: Estoy amando el libro.Por ahora se los recomendé a algunos compañer@s de trabajo, y les encantó, algunos no tienen tiempo para leer.Asta ahora me gusto la parte en la que unos de los hermanos le acaricio la parte íntima a Bianka

Mharms: It is nice that it is a serial of stories, book to book. The storyline is fast moving through history.

Mharms: I like the storyline following in the numbered books. This makes an interesting narrative. All adults would enjoy reading.

Tammy L: It was really good. Short and sweet.

Emeline: Roman très sympa mais on a envie d'une suite. Je le recommande à tous ce qui aiment les romans fantaisies.

Kaytlynn Shamhart: This book had me crying and throwing things around

camila andrea: en general me a gustado todo desde la trama asta como se desenvuelve todo y creo que me encanto y que la autor/a tiene una muy buena imaginación 🤭🤭 y yo se lo recomendaria a mis amigas para que se entretengan y se envuelvan en esta trama que me parece buena y que me quede asta las 2 de la mañan...

Jennifer Leigh Anne Ciliska: Wow!! Loved it!! Thank you for sharing your story with me

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Jessie Dean: This was a very touching book. The writing was great and I loved the characters and plot.

higill: I like your reading your work and i love your writing so please keep it up. I can't wait to read your other works. I will tell my friends about this book.

Nashla_343: Me encanta ❤️🤣 y me dio mucha risa

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