After his house party Greg had given some thought to his place in the contest between the cousins. Seth had left him in the middle of a local struggle he might have easily laughed off or walked away from if he had been back in St. George. He thought about jumping Evan in the bathroom at school. Greg even toyed with blowing them both at the same time just to see who could get off first. The bet's importance was quickly eclipsed by his father's new plans. Greg was hurt. It showed at school where he became withdrawn in class. After their first fight Greg simmered through Monday and then left for St. George Tuesday morning. John found a terse note when he went to the trailer so his sister Rose was prepared when Greg materialized at supper time. Greg fidgeted around his aunt and uncle's house for an hour and then retreated to Zoë's house as soon as he could.
Zoë's mother let him into the house with an appraising look that spoke of long experience with Greg and directed him to the family room. He found her at the computer when he tramped down the stairs. She glanced at him over her shoulder and then turned back to the computer and closed a window dramatically. "Well darn it all you just made me waste thirty-five minutes writing you a letter." She swung the chair around and held out her arms as she stood to greet him. Greg was wrapped in her soft flesh for a moment before she slapped him on the side of his head, pushed him away to demand an explanation for his unexpected presence and then drew him back for another hug. They were about the same height but she outweighed his 73 Kg by 20. Their friendship extended back to the third grade and she had been picking up the broken pieces of his life ever since he had wet himself accidentally in the back of the school bus on their way to Claybank. She told him to take off his coat and then she folded herself onto the couch and watched him expectantly. Greg began to talk.
She patiently listened to him until late in the night even though he knew she had to get up for school in the morning. It all came out; Going north to Bonner, the silence from his other friends in St. George, the cliquish high school, his father's avoiding memories of his mother, brother and sister, his father's sudden marriage that made him feel like Hamlet, and the mistake he had made with Seth. She interrupted him at that point to ask him what he thought his mistake had been. He had paused in confusion, thinking he had been clear. He had looked at her expectantly but her only response was to hug him and tell him to go back to his Aunt and Uncle's place because she needed to get some sleep.
Greg slept in till about 1:30 PM. His Aunt and Uncle were at work so he had the place to himself. He had a long shower and decided to go to the music store before heading over to the high school where he hoped to connect with his friends. When he left the store he did not think it was odd that he had picked up a capo and a Green Day book he thought Seth might like to work through. Seth was bored with the old songs in the books Greg had bought in Saskatoon. Walking the hallways of the school was strange. It should not have been. He had only been gone a little over four months and everyone knew he was going to come back. He thought about how quickly you can get disconnected. He finally found Allan in the crowd of students streaming out of the school. Allan used his cell phone to connect with Tim Gillard. Greg was struck again by the similarity between Tim and Evan Peterson. Greg put the months of long silence between them aside and hugged his friend. After that it was easier to imagine his life could still return to normal.
Tim, Allan and a few of the others celebrated Greg's return with a game of touch football on the lawn in front of the Assiniboia Legislature, then it was supper time and Greg knew he should see his aunt and uncle. There was talk of a party, but it was a school night and people had work to do. Tim drove Greg back to the school where he had left his car. They stood together beside the Mustang. Tim told Greg about Allan's new girlfriend, a girl Greg had slept with, and Tim said the parties were not the same without him. Greg teased him back and described Evan to him. He twisted the truth a little and made Evan Tim's clone and the parties laughable. Tim saw the guitar book in Greg's car and asked him if he was playing again. Greg mentioned Seth and Tim laughed calling Seth fresh meat. Greg lapsed into silence, his afternoon a sudden shambles.
His dad had phoned while he was out and his aunt Rose forced him to promise he would phone back. After supper Greg drove the brightly lit streets of St. George for an hour. He stopped at the Qu'Appelle Mall and wandered through the scattering of late night shoppers. He ordered a plate of Chinese food and picked at the food. It only served to depress him. Family groups and desperately bored adolescents Seth's age caught his eye and he came to understand that there were no answers for him in St. George. He returned to Zoë's house knowing he would be heading back to Bonner the next morning.
"I'm attracted to him, but it isn't right." It seemed to Greg that Zoë would approve of his restraint, as she had never approved of his abandon. She had sat him down, and made him listen to her winter tales of family and friends. After hearing about her aunt's medical troubles and her older sister's new baby, there were pictures, she ignored his growing restlessness and slowly explained the frustratingly slow progress on the school yearbook. Finally, when Greg was at his wit's end, she had asked him how he was feeling. After Tim's comment outside the school his thoughts had turned to Seth.
"Why, what is so wrong with it?"
"He's young and inexperience. I feel like I used him." This was difficult. This was a part of Greg's life rarely shared with his friend. She leaned forward and touched his cheek softly.
"Did you hurt this boy?" she said it softly. Greg sighed. He thought she saw him as an overenthusiastic boy with a tendency to bruise his knees or break his toys. He did not understand that he was Eros to her, playful and thoughtless and she knew when he put on his aspect he was a force of nature.
"I might have" he admitted in aggrieved voice "I don't know."
"What has he told you?" She sat back.
"Nothing I think"
"Are you actually listening to him?"
Perhaps not , thought Greg. "He afflicts me" Greg blurted out.
"What an odd thing to say Greg, how Biblical, how unlike you"
"It's been hard, you know? I've tried to get on since... since the accident. Seth isn't part of that. He's this fresh kid, this really nice guy, who likes me, but he doesn't understand what happened. Well maybe he understands. His dad died." Greg paused for a breath "Now dad is rushing into this fucking marriage with his mother like..." he paused again helplessly.
"The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables?" Zoë contributed helpfully.
"Exactly! So I'm expected to just move on and Seth... Seth takes their place. I can't handle it." Greg held his head.
"Do you feel good around him?"
"I need him. Oh I love him. It's just he is doing this insane thing and acts like they don't..."
"Whatever are you talking about? I mean your Seth." My Seth , thought Greg. There was silence for a while as Greg scanned back in his mind. When he spoke again his voice was low.
"He has a way of stumbling over things I'm sensitive about. Playing the guitar... I do homework with him like I did... I can tell he is so excited about coming to live with me. I could feel good around him Zoë." She suddenly returned to an earlier point.
"You have not been moving on Greg, you have to understand that."
"Christ that's all I have been doing since the accident, moving. First to my aunt and uncle's, then I followed dad to Bonner on the edge of nowhere Saskatchewan, and I'll trail after him now to I don't know where as part of his new family. It has been so hard to hold on."
Zoë paused and looked at him after that. Then she spoke quietly to him, "A Zen master sat before a young man who had come petitioning him to accept him as a student. He had traveled far to meet the master because word of his wisdom had spread to his distant country and the young man yearned for enlightenment. The master listened to the young man describe the path he had been following and the many teachers he had listened to before finding his way to the master. He nodded his approval for the young man's efforts and gestured to an empty tea cup on the table before reaching for the pot beside the brazier. The student was honored to be served by the master and lifted the cup carefully. The master began pouring the steaming tea into the rough bowl of the delicate cup and the young man flinched and looked up in surprise as the hot tea spilled over the lip and onto his fingers. Hesitantly he cautioned the master to stop pouring. The cup was full he said. The master paused and then placed the tea pot back beside the fire. When he turned back to the young man he replied, you are not yet ready to learn." Greg looked at Zoë blankly and she sighed. "Okay, so I'm not a Zen master. Greg, think about it, you're not living the way you're going. Take a chance. I'd like to see you really happy." Greg shook his head and looked at the fire. "I'm going to bed and you need to go back to Bonner in the morning and deal with things."
Greg returned to Bonner on Thursday. John only comment was that he might have brought the golf clubs back with him. Greg and his father settled down into a quiet truce. Debbie Patterson wisely let him brood in class. He wasn't rude to her. Somehow in his mind it wasn't her fault. Being drawn north to Bonner was his father's decision and he had never been consulted. He was still furious that once again his future was being decided for him. Greg's father had made it clear that if the Patterson's wanted to come it would happen. Seth's mom had left the decision in the hands of the University of Assiniboia Faculty of Graduate Studies. The weeks that followed left Greg tense. Greg suspected they would go to St. George anyway. His father was certainly optimistic.
Evan and Tyler teased him once about having to listen to his "mom" in class. They dropped it when they remembered he had lost his family so recently. Seth had it worse in the Middle Years room. He couldn't get his classmates to stop referring to Greg's father as either "your daddy" or "your mom's boyfriend". They were less sensitive to his feelings and despite John's awareness of the problem Seth found himself on detention frequently. John would retreat to his office to minimize the eighth grader's agony. Greg tried hard not to let his anger spill over on Seth and the two continued going back to Aspen to play with Alex and Mat. They both forgot their troubles in the music. The drives home were still pregnant with the erotic memories of their first drive home.
The trailer had grown warm in the early June heat. The Cox's had no air conditioning and he imagined Greg lying in the bed at night stripped to the waist, his chest slightly damp, waiting for the soothing cool of a northern summer night. Seth was in no hurry to go back to the school. He lingered in Greg's room puzzling out a way to close the breach with Greg. He returned to the picture of Greg and Hal. Maybe this all would have been easier if he could have dealt with the younger Greg in the picture. He wondered what Greg had been like. "You were like, what, fourteen here?" Younger Greg would have leveled the playing field here. Seth would not have felt so inexperienced. Greg at fourteen might have been less judgmental of his awkwardness. Young Greg had a nice smile, old Greg did not smile enough.
"More like thirteen" Greg was stretched out on his bed watching Seth. Seth had this way of pushing his cap back on his head. He never wore it squared or backwards. It made him seem young. He was bumping his crotch against the edge of the built in chest of drawers and his left foot rested on his right as he swayed slightly back and forth in thought. Greg imagined himself reaching over to scoop him back by the waist onto the bed just to feel his warmth and see him smile.
"So did you know he was gay then?"
"No" Or maybe he would stand behind Seth and pretend to study the picture over his shoulder. His groin would press lightly against Seth's cheeks as they swayed. He might slide a hand across Seth's stomach. He was a lean boy and there was no fat beneath the silk skin he had touched so long ago. His hand would move up onto Seth's chest as he enjoyed the scent of his body. Seth turned toward him, his eyes on the picture in his left hand. Greg blinked as Seth settled back against the drawers before crossing his legs. His right hand slid under his T-shirt as he scratched a spot below his armpit conveniently exposing an expanse of smooth skin. Seth you little poser , thought Greg; torn between admiring the swell of the boy's crotch and the soft eyelashes.
"Were his friends gay?"
"What do you mean? I never met very many of them. I guess most were. Some probably were straight."
"I mean did they seem gay?" Seth had stopped pretending to scratch and had now found something worth touching on his shoulder.
"You mean were they flaming queens or something? No, not around me; I know one guy like that... drama queen. Actually, I don't even know if he was gay."
Seth finally met Greg's eyes with a slight smile. "So he might not have been gay, but he was really gay ." He broke eye contact and went back to his study of the younger Greg. The eyes seemed so open. Seth shifted his attention to the older brother. Like the pictures on the walls at the school, the ones of the people who died, it was hard to relate to this face. When Seth looked at his dad's picture the pain all came back to him. He did not understand why Greg kept this picture close. It would have to be painful.
Seth knew Greg had his eyes on him. Being watched by Greg felt different than being stared at by Dean Wallace; he liked that Greg seemed unconscious of his fixation. It was a new feeling for Seth, being watched like that, it made him tingle. It made him feel special. Greg's eyes seemed to say he cared for Seth, yet he had never given Seth an explanation for why he would not even talk about what had happened between them. Greg was confusing. He turned away to put the picture carefully back on the top. He noticed a book that had fallen behind the lap top on Greg's desk and picked it up. Stephen King, Seth was not a big reader but he did find horror movies interesting: The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon . It was not too long. Seth showed the cover to Greg and asked, "Is this good?"
Greg was uncomfortable. He wished Seth would put Susan's book down. Seth flipped the book over and read the back cover. "Well, it's about this girl who gets lost and she has to take care of herself."
"So is some freak thing or pervert after her?"
"It's a bear."
"What happens? She gets it in the end doesn't she? Shoots an earring or something stupid; all his movies end like that." Greg had not read past the point where Susan and he had closed the book the night before she died. It had taken them so long to get there. "Is it any good?" Seth gave Greg his full attention.
"Yes, it's not that bad." He tried to say it lightly. He would never finish the book, Wikipedia it, or see the movie whenever King got around to making it. When, inevitably, he accidentally learned how it came out he would imagine he did not know.
"I'm still stuck for a book report for your dad and he is on my case about it. Mind if I borrow it?" Seth figured if Greg thought it was alright he should give it a try. He turned to the first page and read a paragraph. Nine year old girl; Seth was not sure about that, but it was as good a reason as any to delay leaving Greg's room and a part of Greg he could take with him when he did leave. He risked sitting on the bed and lay back where he could prop his head on Greg's crossed legs. He did not notice Greg's long silence.
It was like the time Seth had asked for Hal's guitar. Greg looked at Seth's profile as he scanned the text. He had curled the cover back over the spine taking possession of Susan's book. He could not bear to think that someone would learn how it ended when Susan never would. It was so unfair. Greg turned it over in his mind and found he could not explain that to Seth. It would be too hard and it was just a book. It was just one of many things Susan would never get to do, or that Greg could share with her. He cleared his throat, "yes." Seth looked perplexed by his words. "Yes you can have it." Seth nodded his head slightly in understanding. It was a small thing to Seth; he had already assumed it was his to borrow.
"I hope you can help me with the report. Your dad doesn't think much of my writing." Seth smiled at Greg and rolled over so he could rest a hand on Greg's leg.
"Sure" It was the only answer that came to mind. Seth's closeness and desire was overwhelming Greg and driving a wedge into the cracked armor he had drawn around him after the accident. "Hey" Seth waited expectantly "You should probably get back to the school. Your mother is going to be ready to go." Seth sighed and submitted to the inevitable.
Greg got up with him and followed him to the front door. After Seth had left, he paused to grab a drink from the fridge. But he did not feel like a drink. He slammed the door and headed back to his room. He needed to vent. He hesitated at the door to his room and considered first the guitar propped on its stand and then the computer. Zoë might be home, or she might be working after school. He could not remember what she had told him. Finally he turned to the bathroom and slammed the flimsy door shut. He looked at himself in the mirror then leaned on the counter as he fumbled with one hand to open his pants. He did not need any lubrication. He just began pumping.
It was always the same now; he did not know why he even tried. He would begin by thinking of his partners in St. George; the special ones, the ones of his most erotic intimate moments, girls and boys he had crushed over the last three years. As he brought himself closer it had to be the boy. Not the fresh before; not the first time Greg had allowed himself to be seduced in the basement of his home surrounded by other couples, not the first time he had penetrated Courtney or been taken by Will; but the changing moment that night in the car on the side of the highway when he had tasted Seth and heard Seth's heart beating through his trembling belly; the moment when Seth paused in his retreat and bent his head toward Greg's mouth for the first soft kiss. The moment when he cracked and something got through to him. The air seemed to rush out of his lungs when he came and he collapsed over the sink; Greg could not shake free.
The dishes and silver clinked in the silence of the small kitchen. John broke the two-week truce. With the start of June father and son had to discuss the future. "The house has been sold." Greg's pause was imperceptible before he continued to eat. John watched him slap some mashed potatoes on his plate before attacking the chicken.
"I thought you would keep it since you plan on bringing Seth and Debbie." Greg had difficulty keeping the bitterness from his voice. He absorbed himself in dissecting the breast.
"Well that would have been the economical thing to do, but I don't think it would have been good for any of us." Greg warmed a little at this. He glanced at his father before returning to his plate. "That house is our memories Greg. I, we, need a fresh start." they hadn't talked about the future much. "What would you like to do after next year Greg? Are we still talking about university?" It was still what he wanted to do. He and his friends talked about sharing an apartment near the St. George campus. Some of the plans were unrealistic. When he really considered it he wasn't sure they would be able to afford it. He told his father about the plan and waited for his reaction.
"That's what I would be thinking about too I guess. I'd rather see you in residence the first year. At least till you found your way around the classes." John really wanted him to stay at home, wherever that was. But he remembered how he had felt at eighteen and he was prepared to accept that his son would want his freedom. At least his one remaining child was not demanding to go to Medicine Hat and the main University of Assiniboia campus.
Having his father accept the idea that he would move out encouraged Greg to share his doubts. "I know I'm probably asking for a lot. I don't know how much money I can earn." Still residence seemed a little confining to him. He had seen the new towers on campus. He had a year to figure out how to convince his dad to go with an apartment. "I guess a residence might be okay" he conceded.
"I'll help you with that Greg. You need to be able to focus on doing well. I don't want you stressing things; particularly in your first year." Greg appreciated the reassurance. He sat back and looked at his father.
"How serious are you about the Patterson's?" Greg meant was this permanent. "I mean, why move in with her? You could just date each other like you are doing now." His father fiddled with his food a moment before replying.
"It hits you like that sometimes Greg. You don't feel cautious." He waved a hand as if it would capture his thought. "It feels right to me." He looked at his young son. "Don't you ever feel that way?" Greg did, but it unsettled him to think his father could act so passionately.
"So are you telling me you two are going to get married?" Greg didn't sound as critical about this as he had been. John found himself saying more than he might have thought wise.
"It doesn't matter to me. I guess I would wait to see how things work out down the road. Debbie wants to marry me. She thinks Seth would be upset by our just living together. She thinks he is pretty innocent." John gave his son a shrewd look to see how he would react to this. Greg kept his thoughts to himself. The silence dragged a bit so he couldn't resist saying something.
"Mom's always wanted to think their boys are sweet and innocent." He thought of his mother with a smile. John saw the smile and decided to open the door farther.
"Debbie said Cliff's mother used to tell him when he was sharing too much information. She said there were some things she was happier not knowing. I told her Mary wasn't like that. Your mom wanted to know everything. You know she went through your drawers. She even read Susan's journal."
"You talk about mom with her?" Greg was a little surprised.
"Sure Greg. Cliff and Mary are the silent partners in our relationship. They are going to be looking over our shoulders all the time. It helps me to understand what Seth's father was like." John said it quietly, but he was angry. Did Greg think that nineteen years of marriage simply evaporated when a partner died? The boy thought he was so shallow. "You obviously talk to Seth about Hal."
"Why do say that?" Greg knew he probably did. He worried about what Seth had said to his mother and what she might pass on to his dad.
"Seth asked me if Hal ever took you to parties." John smiled at Greg. Greg went back to eating. "I've seen you with Seth and Susan. You are a better big brother than Hal was Greg. You shouldn't feel bad about that."
"He had a lot going on. You don't understand." Hal had struggled with his personal life.
"Greg, I know Hal was gay . I'm not talking about his lifestyle or his parties. I just meant you and Sue never fought. You listened to her. You even helped her with her reading; and now you make time for Seth and his problems." Greg didn't know what to say. He choked on his chicken. "What? You think Hal kept that from his old man?" John enjoyed his moment. He hadn't been happy with it, but it was Hal. He looked at the rerun sitting across the table. Greg was so straight; he was all about the girls, he'd give John some grandchildren. He was a good looking kid and John had seen the little girls flirting with him; hopefully the grandchildren wouldn't be too soon.
"So Hal told you; about his being gay?"
"No, but you can read the signs." At first it had been his interests and then John had noticed Hal never talked about the women in his life. He had so many close male friendships. "Did he tell you?"
"Yes," John had thought as much. Greg idolized his brother. He would not have seen it for himself. It was good to know Greg had accepted his brother with all his limitations.
"Did mom know?" Greg couldn't imagine it.
"God bless her no. She wouldn't be good with that. I always thought I would let Hal tell her when he finally came home with... well you get the picture." John laughed weakly.
Greg had met some of Hal's friends. Hal would have had to just tell her. "I think he did okay dad. It was always easier for me to connect with Susan." Susan and Seth, Greg didn't want to talk about them anymore.
Mr. Cox had just flipped open his Social studies binder to the assignment when his mother poked her head in the door to catch his attention. They exchanged a significant look and Greg's father tossed the binder back onto the table and went to have an inaudible exchange of words. Seth slumped deeper into his desk wishing himself out of the classroom. Nina Getty poked him in the back and he was aware that Nigel Switzer was eyeing him from across the room where the sevens sat. He avoided watching the two adults and began adding another guitar to the smudged cover of his duotang. "Look everyone, pull the Cree case study out and try not to burn the room down while I'm away." Seth sighed. Just a month ago he would have been relieved to have Cox leave the room. It was one of the advantages of having the principal for a teacher. Now it meant he would be forced to listen to the guys. He kept his eyes on the cover and added a few bars of notes next to his latest creation. Normally the class would have lapsed into quiet conversation but all he could hear was the rustling of paper and the odd whisper. Seth glanced at the door where his mother stood arms crossed. Her eyes showed no recognition as they passed over him. He opened to the assignment and stared at the words. Time dragged on. Finally Seth raised his hand.
"Yes Seth" his mother responded in the neutral teacher voice he had come to expect at school.
"May I go to the washroom please?" He responded in a similar tone. It was like a game they played for the benefit of the students and teachers. Seth had noticed Greg and his father did not play it. Greg actually called his father `dad' in front of everyone. She paused as if to consider his ulterior motives and then gave him permission. He realized suddenly he would not miss this old building. It was going to be a relief not having his mother around all the time. Seth's footsteps echoed around the high ceilings of the entrance way as he thumped down the steps that led to the basement. The washrooms were in the far corner just past the furnace room door and the open area that served as the school's gym. It was not entirely fair to criticize Mr. Cox or the other teachers for turning a blind eye to the boy's activities. There were few enough people to supervise and trouble was not expected here in the basement where at worst a kindergarten student might soil her pants. Problems would happen in the newer restrooms where the high school boys read pornography and the high school girls cried.
Seth paused at the door, listening for the sounds of activity, before moving into the washroom. It had the rank smell of generations of boys. You could imagine the boys varnishing the old wood work around the porcelain with their inattentive movements. Or you could see it for yourself. Seth watched young Matthew Haley, Beth's brother, swing around momentarily to see who had intruded on his business. The urine arched onto the floor like a sprinkler before he recognized the benign Seth and swung back to the urinal. Seth had an impulse to slap Matthew on his bare butt. He had dropped his sweat pants down to his thighs. Matthew knew enough about masculine etiquette to finish his business in silence and was enough of a boy to cast sidelong glances at Seth as he eased his cock out at the urinal beside him. Seth had not come down to the restroom to relieve himself so much as he had needed to escape the claustrophobia of the middle year's classroom and his mother's eye. He shifted beside the small boy as he fingered himself before the flow began. Matthew hiked his pants up and left with a final glance at Seth's heavy penis.
Seth was zipping up when Dean Wallace surprised him. "Hey Patterson, what's up?" Seth shrugged a noncommittal answer. Dean was not a friend. Seth would have simply pushed past the older boy except he was self conscious and thought Dean would make a crack about washing his hands. He paused at the cracked sink before he left. Dean leaned against the wall and watched him. "You know Cox; do you think he will do it?"
"How should I know?"
"You hang out with him all the time now. Does he have a girlfriend? Hugh's brother said Cox is all over the chicks in Aspen ." Seth was tired of being asked about Greg. There was no paper towel left so he shook his hands off before wiping them on his pants.
"I don't know, I don't care either, just give it up Dean." Seth pushed past Dean and headed back to his room. He passed Aaron on the stairs without a word: Aaron and Dean. Seth had not expected Aaron to become so involved with the other boys. They talked about him now. Seth compared himself to the younger boy. Did Aaron like boys? Was that why the seventh grader had held out so long, so he would not expose himself? More importantly, was that Seth's reason? He was not sure. He liked girls in the abstract, he had never had an opportunity to do anything really, but he had thought about them. Before Greg had shown up in February he had had a crush on Beth.
Seth paused outside his classroom. He could hear Mr. Cox talking quietly to the class. Seth leaned against the wall outside the door unwilling to renter the world where he had to deal with his mother's boyfriend. His boyfriend's father, why wouldn't Greg accept him? Why did he go off to parties in Aspen and flirt with Beth and Becky and ignore him? Nobody in Bonner was closer to Greg than Seth, not even Alden. Didn't Greg feel the same way Seth did? Seth knew he should just confront Greg and force him to explain. But he was afraid. What if Greg said he did not care? Seth slumped to the floor outside the room and buried his head in his arms. He barely noticed Aaron as he passed by back to the classroom. Mr. Cox's voice murmured a question to Aaron and he heard the sounds of an answer. Later Mr. Cox knelt down beside him and put a hand on his shoulder. "Are you okay Seth?"
"No" Seth shook his head and pressed it harder into his forearm. Seth was not okay.
Debbie confided to John that Greg had seemed more relaxed in her classes. She wondered if he was coming around. John told her some of their evening conversation. It seemed the more he talked about their family the more reassured Greg was about their plans for the future. It seemed Greg needed to know his mother, brother and sister were still there in some way.
John knew Debbie had come to her decision when she handed him the letter from the University of Assiniboia . "What do I tell Seth?"
John looked back seriously. "I'm in the principal's office. How romantic is that?" She didn't respond so he reached for his brief case and pulled out the ring box. "This is such crappie timing Debbie. I have the local board meeting tonight and exams start in two weeks. The school has to be shut down and we have no time to find a place to live." Debbie looked at the ring on her finger and told him not to worry about it.
It was a familiar moment. Greg was listening to Alden's excuse for leaving him stranded in Aspen for an hour without much sympathy. "So because Hannah got horny you made me sit at that party all by myself?"
"Give it up Greg. Tammy was all over you when we got back." Greg noticed Seth had joined them at the table. Seth never did that unless he wanted to talk about something important.
"How did it go?" Seth and Mat had experimented with the teleconferencing equipment over the noon hour.
"You were right, there is this little lag that makes it sound off." still, it hadn't been that bad. It had been cool being the center of attention both in Aspen and Bonner. He almost wished he could go to school with some of the girls and boys he saw watching. The director of education had been impressed with them. Seth put that aside and concentrated on Greg's reaction to his news. "Mom got accepted." he quickly glanced at Alden before looking back at Greg. "He gave her a ring." He wanted to see how Greg was going to take this.
Greg knew he really didn't have much room to maneuver on this. It was a done deal and all he could do was make it less painful for everyone. Hal and a truck driver had changed things ten months ago and the world just kept on turning through the seasons. He looked back at the boy. Seth looked so worried and he realized how important it was to Seth for Greg to be alright with all of this. He let his guard slip completely away. Even though they were in the classroom he reached out a hand and clasped Seth's forearm. "Don't look so worried Seth. I promise you it will be a big cloud of dust." Seth impulsively gave Greg a long hug before leaving the room.
Seth noticed how carefully Greg eased his Mustang over the dirt road. It was clear night and the moon was full. "God this isn't a road! I keep drifting off into the dirt." Greg was appalled at the size of the rocks and did not like the rattle of stones hitting the bottom of the car. He slowed down slightly just to be safe.
Seth rolled his eyes and shook his head slightly. It was dry and the fresh tilled field beside them was no danger. "You can go faster."
"We should have come out with Hugh and Alden in their truck." Seth was glad they had not, he liked being alone with Greg. They were going to be family. He smiled to himself.
"Don't laugh at me. I'm just not used to this." Seth almost had what he wanted. He had waited patiently for his mother to make her decision and now he had time. The weeks till June 30th were not important. He had Greg for the summer.
"You'll help show me around St. George won't you?"
"Sure" Greg struggled with that a bit. He knew he had to decide what his relationship was with Seth. Zoë had not helped. The road led on into the darkness carrying Greg and Seth to an uncertain destination. "Have you been out here before Seth?" Greg peered past the glow of the headlights hoping to see a sign of abandoned farm yard Evan had directed him to. Perhaps there would be a bonfire marking the location. Just keep driving straight, Evan had said.
"No, this is my first time too." Seth was not concerned. The car was warm and he was with Greg. Greg would get them there. "We'll probably be there pretty soon." They both noticed the darker mass of trees about a hundred paces off the road. "See, it is not really that far to go. I bet if you were too drunk to drive you could walk back to town."
Greg decided to leave the Mustang close to the road. In the faint light cast by the bonfire he could see that the other vehicles were ranged by the fire. As he waited for Seth to dig the case of Pilsner out of his trunk he listened to the happy chatter around the crackling fire. Greg was drawn to the laughter. Seth brushed against Greg and Greg absently placed his hand on Seth's back as they walked to join the others. They moved apart when they reached the light. Tammy came over to give Greg a hug as Seth dropped the case on the tail gate of Alden's truck and sat next to Hugh. He watched Greg and the girl from Aspen exchange a lingering kiss and then turned away to accept the beer offered by Alden's younger brother. They sat watching the activity around the fire and talked about inconsequential things. Seth was grateful for the company. It helped distract him from watching Greg.
Greg stopped at the truck long enough to grab two bottles of beer and then followed Tammy closer to the fire. He thought he paced himself carefully. He was the designated driver after all. Tammy had come with Alden's new girlfriend Hannah and she drank faster than Greg. His beer was only half gone when he headed back to the truck for Tammy's refill. Seth was still on the tail gate and he paused to give him an affectionate hug before returning to the fire. Tammy gave him another lingering kiss and he brushed an open hand over a prominent nipple. We are definitely into foreplay , he thought. Someone tapped him on the shoulder and he turned his head thinking it was Alden or Seth looking for a toke. Instead Tyler Peterson grabbed his face and gave him a wet kiss on the mouth. Greg reacted in surprise and pushed him away quickly. Tyler leered at him and the group around the fire laughed at the joke. Greg grinned back sheepishly acknowledging the point scored on him. He felt really good as he took another pull at his beer. Tyler 's prank made him feel like he was finally part of the group. "I'm not available Tyler; you'll have to find someone else tonight." Tyler laughed back. Greg had never liked him better. Tammy joined in by straddling Greg's lap and grinding her hips against his. She put her hands on his shoulders and turned toward where Tyler was laughing with Dean.
"Yeh, back off, he wants me. " she turned and thrust her tongue past Greg's lips and began to devour him to the sound of further laughter. Greg let his hands rest on her hips as she kissed him. She radiated heat against him, he was awash in her scent but for some reason she could not take him away tonight. She paused, arching her back so that her full breasts thrust out in invitation, and tipped her head back for a long pull on her beer. Greg looked down at the tight belly above the mound of her sex and knew that it was another invitation to touch. Instead he turned to where he had last seen Seth.
Seth was not alone. Beth had joined him on the tail gate and Greg caught the moment when she leaned close to Seth and offered him a soft kiss on his lips. Greg remembered those lips and felt hollow. He watched another moment and then turned away. It was right. Beth was beautiful and she and Seth were of an age. Seth had a right to have this memory to take away with him to St. George. Greg looked back at Tammy as she dropped the beer and began running her nails over his chest. He closed his eyes to let the sensation and her passion capture him. Something was wrong. He shook his head irritably and wished her off of him. Damn Zoë anyway. Tammy slipped a hand quickly between his legs feeling for his strengththrough the fabric of his jeans and then rose gracefully to her feet. He gazed up at her lithe inviting form and took her hand. She moved into him after he had stood and molded herself to him as she kissed his neck. They drew back from the fire and then she turned with an offered hand to lead him to Hannah's car. Greg paused staring at her hand and then found himself looking over to where Beth and Seth had been kissing. Beth sat alone looking at the fire.
Seth walked slowly across the tall grass to where Greg had parked the Mustang. He took another pull at his beer and shook it slightly. He had not drunk very much. After a moments consideration he turned around as he walked and hefted the half full bottle deep into the brush where it would not hurt a tire. It hit a rock in the dark and shattered with a satisfying crash.
Beth was a sweet girl and he had long imagined her lips on his. A part of him was very grateful that she had noticed him sitting on the truck by himself. It was the first time she had talked with him alone since they were children. He did not think he was wrong to imagine an invitation in her kiss or the way she had held herself close. It had been a very different thing than the kiss with Evan. Beth, he had to admit, could have excited him. It had been nice. A kiss like Greg's had been. It had made him feel good and he needed to feel good, perhaps because he knew that in six or seven weeks he would be gone, it had not satisfied him, but he knew that was not it. What the kiss had done was clear his mind. It had been going on too long now. Greg needed to understand him. They needed to talk, but not here. Not when Greg was distracted yet again by someone else. This was something for just the two of them. When Seth reached the car he sat on the hood and lay back against the windshield. Greg would not like that, but the starts were too bright to ignore and he would rather watch them than Greg and the Aspen girl. Seth blinked up at the stars. A flash caught his eye and he shifted his head away from the full moon and visualized its track. As he stared into the black a second spot of light appeared and burned a short slash along the same line. Seth jogged his head as if to point it out to someone, then he remembered he was alone. Wish upon a star , his dad would have said. He wondered if it was a meteor shower and if there would be more. Seth saw two more short flickers before a bright mote appeared and seemed to cross the sky in slow motion. There's a big one, he reflected. It finally faded away. Would the stars be so bright in St. George and would he have time to look at them?
Seth, at fourteen, had never thought much about love and it was not a word he would use much. In grade five he had been consumed by Cindy McCallum, one year his senior. His father had died when he was in grade six and girls were not so important to him. Hugh Cannon and Aaron O'Connell became his best friends. That was fine with Seth; he had admired Hugh's brother Alden a little like he admired Greg now. Beth Haley caught his eye in grade seven but she also caught the eye of a number of older boys. Hugh started going to parties with his brother when Seth was in grade eight and things were not the same. When Cindy McCallum's family moved to Battleford he had been sad. Lying on the hood of Greg's Mustang, it came to Seth that he had been even more depressed before Greg's father had proposed to his mother. He could tolerate living with Mr. Cox, he would make that work, and he would be with Greg: a brother and maybe something more. Seth was looking for the next shooting star when the shocks flexed beneath him.
"God it's a beautiful night."
"Yes it is." The stars seemed to brighten and the moon bathed Greg's face in soft light. "There have been some meteors." Seth waved a hand in the general direction.
"Cool; I guess it wasn't a good night for a party." Greg tried to get comfortable up against the windshield. The damn wiper was cutting into his back. Seth only had his head propped against the glass so Greg slid his body further down. "I just thought that after all the waiting it would be good to unwind. You haven't partied since my place." Greg instantly regretted bringing that up. Seth kept his silence. His mother still held to the one party a month rule, but he had not missed them. Being with Greg in Aspen and spending time with him after school was more than enough at the moment. He wondered what had happened to Tammy. "I guess I have not been handling things well and I'm taking it out on you."
"What do you mean?"
"It's been a shitty year." Seth did not know what to say to that. In some ways it had been the best year since his dad died. "I've made a lot of mistakes."
"Are you sorry we... did that... on the highway?"
"No!" It came out from somewhere deep and Greg was surprised with the force of the conviction in his voice. Was he simply trying to reassure Seth or was that how he felt? Zoë's words worked their way into his thoughts. It was definitely easier to talk to Seth in the dark.
"Well I'm not sorry either."
"I kind of jumped you though."
But not the second time, not in your bedroom. Seth smiled to himself. He noticed Greg fumbling in his jacket pocket. "Don't"
"What?" Greg had paused; hand deep in pocket while he looked over at Seth.
"Don't get stoned." This wouldn't be real if Greg got wasted. He could tell Greg was sober and Seth wanted him to stay that way for a while longer. He turned away from Greg and back to where his star had burned its way across the night sky. "What mistakes?"
Greg held the soft stone pipe, running a finger tip over the clinging tar surrounding the small bowl. He was not ready to talk about his family so he stayed with his feelings about Seth. Do not assume you are right , Zoë had scolded him; tell him where he stands with you . Greg's flight response was strong and the clear laughter of the people around the fire was calling to him. He could get lost in the laughter.
"I've made mistakes too Greg." Seth broke the short silence. "It looks like we are stuck with each other for a while and I need to know where things stand between us. About us, I think I liked having you do that." Seth was having a hard time with the coarse phrase and paused a moment. He rushed on before he could loose his nerve. The darkness helped. He could imagine it was the young Greg beside him, the Greg who would be as confused as he was. "Sucking cock" there, he had finally got it out, but it still sounded crude.
"I liked it too Seth."
"Why did you stop? Are you waiting for me to say something? Is it that you like girls more? Girls like Tammy? I just don't understand Greg. I'm new at this and I don't know what I'm supposed to do. You look at me all the time. Admit it; I catch you watching me at school even. Am I supposed to be doing or saying something? What am I doing wrong here?"
Greg was overwhelmed by all the questions and he wasn't ready to answer some of them. He started with the easiest question. "It is hard for most people to understand this Seth but I don't much notice if it is a boy or girl. Well I notice... you are grabbing at different things and different things are poking at you." Greg paused. That usually got a bit of a chuckle from the person he was talking to. Seth remained silent. He continued on, "In a way there is not much difference. I just find people beautiful and I want to explore them and feel them explore me. You are one of them Seth." The metal hood flexed as Seth rolled over to look at him. Greg absently wondered how much damage they were doing to his car.
"Why did you stop? What did I do wrong?" The answer to that was complex and touched at Greg's deepest conflict. Seth's voice had been calm and insistent, he needed some answer.
"You didn't do anything wrong kid. It's complicated okay? I stopped because I like you a lot and I'm not sure it's right to get into anything with you."
Seth screwed up his courage and leaned over Greg. He paused to look into Greg's eyes and there was no rejection there. He placed his lips softly on Greg's and after that it was easy. Greg stroked his side while their lips caressed. Their beer-laden breath did not matter as they warmed each other's faces. It was all sweet to them. Seth broke contact reluctantly. "That felt right." He smiled at Greg and finally caught a twinkle in his eye. Seth rolled off Greg's chest and let his hand travel down Greg's open coat.
Greg caught his hand before it could reach its goal and twined his fingers into the boy's. Seth looked at their hands and then questioned Greg with a look. Greg met his eyes steadily. "I have a friend who tells me I set these things too cheaply." Zoë had chosen the word slut . "I'm trying Seth, honest. Can you be patient with me? I just not sure I can do this yet." It was an odd reversal for Greg and he tried to sooth the sting of rejection with a kiss. He cupped Seth's head and pulled him down again. Seth came reluctantly at first and then gave himself to the moment. Seth's warm body pushed the pain away and a little joy filled its place.
Later they sat on the edge of the hood. Greg glanced back to the spot where they had been lying. "It's fine Greg. Stop worrying about it." Greg had to chuckle.
"What would you like to do now?"
"Actually, let's go back to the fire."
"Yes, I think I want a beer now." They slipped off the hood and headed back up the trail to the others. Seth slipped his hand into Greg's and the older boy let it stay there. Greg looked around at the trees and grasses all sage and purple in the strong moon light. It was beautiful and the young people filled the earth-scented air with laughter. "I probably should have let you get cranked... then this might have ended better for me." Greg responded with a squeeze.
After Greg's conversation with his dad and the bush party it was easier to accept an invitation to go out to the Patterson's for dinner while his father fought what he hoped would be his last battle against the local board. The director, Ed Marsh, was joining him to meet the evening's challenge over school closure. It was the first time Greg had really spent with Seth out at the old farm. While they waited for dinner to cook, Seth took Greg around the old yard. "The yard is pretty clean." He glanced at Greg. "Mom has kept me busy cleaning things up. Dad was kind of laid back about things. He'd leave piles of stuff all over the place. It used to drive mom mad. I did most of it myself and hauled it away in the grain truck." Greg had new respect for the thin eighth grader. "Sometimes when she was upset she would come out and clean up by herself. I guess we both used it for that.
"Where's the truck?" Greg was curious to see the size of it. They had sold it after the clean up was done. Seth said it was a piece of junk anyway. "Have you been fixing the barn?" Greg noticed someone had been on the roof replacing old shingles. Seth looked along the roof.
"It's not big enough for anything really. Dad just liked the look of the old horse barn. We had a metal Quonset but mom sold it." He pointed over to an area where Greg could see the cement foundation. All that was left of a working farm was the old stucco house on its stone foundation and the small white barn. The buildings were well placed against a bluff of trees leading down into the coulee. "I wanted to finish the barn before I left."
"You have a nice place here Seth. I could come out and help you finish the barn if you show me what to do." Seth looked at him and smiled. He nodded his head and looked around the yard.
"I know how you feel about our parents Greg, I was not sure I was ready to give this up yet either." The place meant a great deal to Seth. "Mom said she will keep it and let me decide what I want to do with it." Seth was realistic. He didn't think he could farm what was left and his dad had made things work by getting by with worn out equipment. He wasn't sure if he was enough of an optimist to be a farmer. "Hey, I never told you about this." Seth waved him over and pulled a door open to let Greg into the old barn.
The inside of the barn was as neat and tidy as the yard outside. Seth pulled back a tarp and showed Greg a seventy-eight Camaro. Greg looked it over. It hadn't been fixed up that much, but it looked in good shape. "My God, does it run?" Seth and Greg got into the car and Seth started it up for him. The engine sounded good. Seth looked at him proudly.
"Dad's," he sat back and listened to the engine. Greg noticed it still had an old 8-Track in it. "I have to get someone over here to help me get it up on blocks until I can drive it."
"Alden lives for this kind of thing. I bet he would come over and help you." Seth nodded. Alden's family lived down the road. They would probably watch the place for the Patterson's until they decided what to do with it. Greg leaned over and gave Seth a small kiss. The boys covered the car carefully and left the barn. "Show me your tree house Seth." They crossed the mowed yard holding hands and entered the trees.
Greg found his father and the director of education sitting together at the small dining room table. His father had produced a bottle of Scotch from somewhere. Greg made some polite noises and escaped to his room. As he lay on his bed he could hear their conversation through the thin walls. Ed Marsh seemed to appreciate his father's efforts to make the change less frightening for the Bonner families. Apparently there had been a split in the board's solidarity.
"All it takes is a few key families and you can start moving the rest. You did a good job John."
"I think you can thank my son Greg for that. He helped connect a few of the boys and girls in Bonner together with the people in Aspen. Nature did the rest."
"I wish Klein's stooges on the board could have seen all those kids together listening to the boys play guitar."
Greg lost interest and turned his thoughts to the Patterson's. He was disturbed by how comfortable he had felt sitting with them. He had enjoyed being with them. Mrs. Patterson, Debbie, had worked hard to make him feel comfortable. Seth had been even more anxious about how Greg and his mother would deal with each other. Greg had been prepared to tackle the moment and found the problem didn't exist. It was easier to handle dinner at the Patterson's than to handle dinner with his father. Part of it was being three instead of two. It was the absence of ghosts. Lying on his bed back at the trailer he had to admit that part of liking Seth was it felt a bit like being with his brother and sister still. Seth was young like Susan and a guy like Hal. Greg felt like he should apologize to his missing family.
In trying to shake his guilt off Greg told himself that Seth was not some sort of replacement for Hal and Susan. Seth was Seth and there was something unique about him Greg could not shake. That thought distracted him from thoughts of family to his feelings about a boy who was two years younger than him. He heard the director leave, but he didn't feel like talking to his dad right then. He needed to work through his feelings first. He felt the pipe and canister in his coat pocket. He had planned to share a toke with Seth but it had not worked out. He took his coat and headed over to King Edward Park.
It was dark and cool under the trees. Winter was a faint memory and the wind was scented with the new leaves and the perfume of flowering bushes. Greg only needed to take a pinch in the pipe. Two careful drags finished the pipe. The rush was always bitter-sweat because competing with the craved sense of well being was the memory of hurt and loss he had felt at the hospital. He closed his eyes and listened to the sounds of a Bonner night. He heard the wind in the leaves and the distant sound of a door close, cars on the main street and somewhere young voices challenged their curfew. "Give me the pipe and dope Greg." Greg opened his eyes and saw the dark shape of his father beside the crumbling foundation. He wasn't up to a fight so he handed the stash over to his Father without comment. I told you to get a satellite dish , he thought to himself bitterly. His father sat down next to him on the foundation and toyed with the pipe. Greg closed his eyes. He wasn't interested in a lecture. He tried to recapture the mood of peace his father's interruption had snatched away. "Do you have a match?" Greg opened his eyes and looked at his father. He had a hand out. Greg handed him the lighter and watched as his dad light the Bick and took an expert drag on the pipe. Greg watched him a little dumbfounded. "God this is strong stuff" he said trying to keep the smoke in. His dad let the smoke out slowly enjoying the rush that accompanied the release. He took another tentative pull at the pipe and drew the last ember out of the ashes. Greg kept watching his dad as he seemed to hold the smoke without effort, then let it drift out through his nose. He looked at Greg staring mutely at him. "God Greg, you think I am so lame." He chuckled a little and added as an after thought, "I could have used this earlier. Man I could have tuned those people out completely." He glanced back at Greg.
"You're a different guy dad. You are constantly surprising me. I'm afraid to find out what you are going to do next." John looked back at his son sadly. Sure he had to be responsible and grown up, but where did it say he had to feel old and dull.
"What makes you think I have to be any different than you kid?" He knocked the ashes out on the cement beside him. "Let me feel too. You can't corner the market on that." He filled the pipe a second time and took another toke before passing the pipe over to Greg. "I didn't think you were using dope still." Greg dropped his head.
"I didn't till I moved here." In his heart he knew the dope had killed his family. He had promised himself in the hospital waiting room that he wouldn't be a user anymore. Shit, he even drove Seth home stoned from Aspen on more than one occasion. He'd blown the Seth stoned. Greg held his head in his hands "Oh shit dad." he started crying quietly. They were slipping away from him. He couldn't hold on to them. Things just kept crowding in on him. Everything wanted him to move on and push them back somewhere out of the way.
"What's wrong son?" his dad's voice was gentle.
"We were stoned dad. Hal was stoned. We fucking killed them."
"Is that what you have been thinking?" John wanted to hug his son. "Hal was stoned. I was too busy to pick them up myself. Mary didn't like to drive down town. There could be a lot of blame spread around kid. None of it is yours. The truth is that bastard came out of nowhere. Hal couldn't have done anything that day. Let him off the hook and let yourself off the hook too." But it had been Greg's dope. They sat together in the dark silent for a long time.
"So we just move on?" Greg still didn't feel quite right. He didn't trust his judgment at that moment and he needed the reassurance of a parent.
"What else can you do? Forget you perfect offering Greg. There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." Greg was silent. John realized Leonard Cohen meant nothing to him. "They don't need you to stand still Greg. You can't keep everything out Greg and pretend things haven't changed for us now. Don't keep plugging the cracks in your armor when something sneaks through. Let the light in."
Let Seth in. Let him replace his family. That was the thing he could not have said to Seth out there in the dark. He was still not sure if he could. Seth and Debbie needed them to engage. Life kept flowing and the waters were never still. The last of the Cox's sat together in the dark comforted by each other's presence and content to let John's words be the last ones between them. It wasn't the end of their journey together; it wasn't the end of the pain they felt.