Greg was preoccupied as June moved slowly toward July and freedom from Bonner with finishing his classes and dealing with the rapidly transforming shape of his personal life. He had let his dad and Debbie organize their return to St. George. Once he had established that the condo would be in the right location he had lost interest in it. A few friends who had lost touch over the winter months started to make contact with him. He welcomed it, but found he had separated wheat from shaft and had his perceptions of friendship shaken up. The mates he had planned to room with in the fantasy first apartment had gone their own way. Greg caught up in a world where Debbie and Seth were now family had paid little attention to the monumental significance that was high school graduation in Bonner and Aspen .
Greg's new Aspen friends had swung an invitation for him to the Aspen grad party. The concept was not a completely unfamiliar one to him. Graduation activities in St. George were mostly for the graduates. If he had been around, Greg would have crashed a number of house parties marking grad at McGregor. The idea of a Safe Grad was new to him. It was Alden's first Safe Grad too so the boys had shared the experience of filling out pseudo-legal permission forms with their parents and negotiating the number of over-priced drinks their parents were prepared to sign for. Greg had not counted drinks for years and his father had simply rolled his eyes when Greg ordered a case of Pilsner. The party itself had been a Spartan affair held in an empty Quonset. Held in mid June well before any of the participants could verify their actual graduation, it had given Greg a slightly false preview of the Bonner graduation scheduled for the end of the month. Greg had traveled out with Alden and stood at the back of the Aspen school gym and caught the end of the graduation ceremonies. It seemed very elaborate to the boy from the city. By the time he had arrived it had been in progress for an hour and a half. Half an hour later he had joined the mass of students outside waiting for the party to begin. If he had known they were going to stand around the school parking lot from ten to twelve while an RCMP officer and various parents watched keenly for bottles of beer he would have come later. Eventually the milling group of young people had been tagged with florescent wrist bands and piled into school busses. They traveled through the dark to the party site. It was a tightly contained drunk with an early climax and a long and fuzzy dénouement punctuated by a massive beer fight when the rising sun invigorated the survivors into a final frenzy of effort to use up the remaining cases of alcohol. In the seething mass of partiers it had been easy to forget the parents and he had lost himself in the music dancing with the girls he had met and trying to converse above the noise. In the flashing strobes Greg had seen couples making out. An occasional ninth grader drifted past overwhelmed by the riot of the long night's journey into the hung over dawn. They were the siblings of the Aspen grads granted some special dispensation to attend a high school affair by the organizing parent committee. They had served as a reminder of Seth and curbed any impulse he might have had to join the interlocked couples. More sober than most Greg had shared a beer with Alden in the relative quiet of the snow-fenced coral set up at the mouth of the Quonset. Pine scents mingled strangely with the odor of spilt beer and urine as they relieved their bladders in the dark narrow space behind the two portable toilets. They passed the beer back and forth silently as they stood. Alden had leaned over and kissed Greg in an unexpected moment. He had seemed embarrassed by his impulse and turned back to say something. Greg reassured him with another kiss. They finished the beer and zipped their flies up. It was as close as either one of them would come to acknowledging the bet or the possibility Seth had seen between them in the spring. During the car ride home after Alex's father had come to collect them Greg also reflected that it was as close to making out as he had gotten all night.
Greg picked up the last box and brought it out to the living room. The tired old trailer had seen too many people come and go. Greg doubted that he would miss the place much. He recognized it would take more than five months to give Bonner a chance; never-the-less, except for a few people he had come to like, he felt like he was taking the best part of the town with him: Seth. Greg glanced at his watch. It was 8:30 and Seth would be waiting for him.
Greg gave the pile one quick look before he left; he didn't plan to come back. He had taken what he could in the car and left the rest for his dad to bring south. He realized his dad would be back in the morning but he went back to take a last look at the big bed room.
It was just as he had found it five months before. He saw a flash of red under the desk and crossed the floor to pick it up. He leaned against the desk and played with the pick thoughtfully. It was an end. So many endings in a person's life; you think you reach a point and it seems that things should just not go on. You tell yourself it has been enough, right? Then of course you push on past that moment because unless you are Sydney Carton reassuring yourself that it is a far, far better thing you are doing just before you get your head chopped off, or Juliet checking out over Romeo's dead body with a dagger thrust, the truth is, it is not really the end of everything. Greg wondered whether Hal had a last moment to tell himself that his eighteen-year old story was over, probably not. Greg imagined if Hal had seen the truck coming he would have not believed what was about to happen. He imagined Hal reassuring himself that the truck would miss, or it would not be that bad and he would just have to explain the bashed in car to his father after listening to his mother's affirmation that driving in the city was a bad idea.
The story does not end for seventeen-year olds unless you are Romeo or one of those kids on the wall back at the school. Greg's dad and Zoë agreed he needed to stop clinging to the past. It had been time to move on. Greg knew he could do that now. Sydney Carton died for love and Romeo; well Romeo offed himself over a fourteen-year old. Greg could put an end to mourning and sleeping around for a fourteen-year old too. Who said English literature classes were irrelevant? Greg smiled and slipped the pick into his shorts. Greg glanced in the bathroom and then moved back to the living room.
Hal's guitar, well Seth's now, was propped against the boxes next to Seth's fishing pole and tackle box. Greg opened the guitar case to slip the pick between the strings on the neck. It was a simple guitar but Hal had enjoyed playing it. Greg pulled it out of the case and sat on a box. The strings only gave a whisper at his touch. The music was mostly in his head but it was a reassuring echo of Seth's song.
Playing with Greg had become important to Seth because it had quickly moved to a point where he felt he could contribute something Greg might value. Greg had little experience with reading notes. He had confessed this to Seth the first lesson; he mostly played by ear and used tabs. Since then they had been learning from each other. Despite his piano background, Seth found he favored tabs. After the first month there was an easy give and take between them. It was the music. It was being close. After the night of falling stars, it was something he did not want to lose. Seth let the time spin out in play with his need for reassurance surfacing every time they paused to talk or take a drink of soda. Seth was getting better at saying what he thought. Even so he tried a little tact. He paused and watched Greg play until Greg must have noticed his companion had stopped. Greg cocked his head quizzically.
"I'm going to miss this when we move." He tried to keep his voice light. He was disconcerted when Greg dropped his head and resumed playing his acoustic softly. It was a less mournful variation of the piece Greg had composed a few months earlier. Seth cleared his throat and tried a more direct approach. "Do you think we will still have time to play together after we have moved?" Greg added a slight percussion to his composition by tapping the guitar with a small finger. Seth listened patiently for a minute with a slight frown on his face. They were supposed to be passed this now. "What the hell Greg?" Greg stopped and gave him a small smile as his eyes slid up to meet Seth's face.
"Sorry, it's just you are being so subtle about it." Seth met his eyes and his blush was almost imperceptible. "You know I plan to go to university after next year; stay in residence if I can't find some people to share an apartment with." Seth did not bother to nod his head. Greg had shared his interest in journalism and the Journalism program in St. George had a solid reputation. Greg had explained that this was the main reason he had not pushed the idea of going to the more exciting Medicine Hat campus or even leaving the province of Assiniboia for Saskatchewan or Alberta . "So we have already agreed to share a room so they can have a study together in the condo." This was true and Seth was rather excited by the idea. "We won't be able to get away from each other."
"I guess, but I still wanted to hear it." Seth ran a hand along the neck of his father's old guitar. Their minds must have been following the same track because when Greg continued he echoed Seth's thoughts.
"... but the truth is things will be different when we get there."
"I suppose, yeh, but other things too Seth." Greg turned to prop his acoustic against the corner of the desk and reached for Hal's electric. He snapped on the amp as he continued. "I need a job. Something I can do after school and weekends. Zoë's mom said she would hire me at the restaurant as a busboy." Seth had been certain Zoë was Greg's girlfriend until he had laughed at the suggestion. "I tapped myself out here this winter and dad is not that big on allowances."
"At least you get an allowance." Seth had not thought about that. He realized he was going to have to push his mother for something. She was going to be a student instead of a teacher. It did not sound like there would be much left over for him. It was time to suck up to Mr. Cox, John, or whatever he ended up calling him. "I'll have to get a job too."
"You are only fourteen, maybe a paper route." That was not very promising. "That is what I had last summer. Well, yard work I guess." No shame if Greg had done it , Seth thought. A bit of a step down somehow though. Seth had earned his pocket money shoveling wheat and canola and doing light chores close to home. This year the Cannons had agreed he could drive truck in August. That was not going to happen now. "So I will be busy. Last year at school too." Greg watched Seth's face fall before continuing. "You are going to have lots of friends too."
Seth decided to get right to it. "We get along don't we?"
"Yes" Greg whispered back; eyes unwavering.
"Greg, is there an us ?" Seth was too shy to say boyfriends. Greg had been so evasive all winter and spring Seth still had difficulty trusting their friendship. There had always been that last qualification; the big `but' in Greg's responses to him. "Next month..."
"Yes it will have been a year." Greg still met Seth's eyes and it was Seth who needed to drop his eyes and study the vomit green shag. "Seth" Greg called him back to attention. "It is going to be easier with you there." Seth was grateful for the words. "I'm not completely sure what I mean, but I think I need you now. You're good for me. Do you understand what I mean?" Seth did. He remembered how he felt before Greg had come and they had met. Not empty; people always talked about feeling empty like there was nothing there but a hollow inside their hearts. It was not like that at all. Seth had seethed with feelings, mostly bad, and what he had needed was something fresh. Something that might help make some sense of his feelings and help him move on. Greg continued softly, "I thought I had lost Hal and Sue. The funny thing is Seth you have a way of constantly bringing them to my mind when we are doing things together."
"Even when we kiss?" Seth was still shy about that.
Greg laughed at that and shook his head. "Maybe not that, though now that you mention it Hal comes to my mind a little."
"Because it is gay?"
Greg did not answer directly. "I had this teacher. He came from Britain and he had this argument with us once. He said he was an immigrant to Canada and that made being a Canadian more special to him than it was to those of us who simply got born here. He said his citizenship was a conscious choice."
"Straight people and gay people say they have no choice. They are hard-wired the way they are. Well maybe I was too in my own way, but Seth I choose to be with you right now." There it was Seth thought, always the slight hesitation to commit all the way.
"How will you feel when we are back with your old friends?"
"Seth, I don't know where we are going or how serious we should get. That's the God's honest truth." Seth gave him no reaction to that. "I want you with me though." Greg actually blushed and that surprised him.
"What do you mean?" It was all too new to Seth. Did Greg mean he wanted him as a boyfriend? How important was he to Greg anyway?
Greg ignored this and handed Seth Hal's guitar.
"Do you remember the piece you played me at the school?"
"You promised not to tell my mom about that, remember."
"I won't tell Debbie." Seth had told Greg about his mother's hopes that he would find his way back to his Royal Conservatory lessons. Greg settled his acoustic back between his legs in the classic Spanish style. "It was sweet. I tried picking it out on the guitar, but I don't remember it well enough." Greg played the central part he remembered and then stopped. "Do you think you remember it?" Seth had played it from memory of course. He tried strumming it out on the electric guitar but his cording was not good enough. He switched to picking out the notes and after each note Greg followed with an accompanying cord. They did not finish it, but Seth played enough to reassure them both that it might be done. Seth started thinking of it as their song. Greg switched to a piece that Seth felt confident about. It was the one he had tried with Matt and he likely played it too much because his mom was tired of it now. After a while he realized Greg was not playing. He was watching Seth work the frets as his fingers moved across the strings. Seth stopped and looked at him. A tear slipped down Greg's cheek, but his face seemed at peace to Seth. It had none of the reserve Seth had noted on his friend's face when Greg had something on his mind that he did not want to share with Seth. "Go on"
"No, are you okay Greg?"
"Don't sweat it. You can do that one now. It has come along Seth." Seth smiled with pleasure and when Greg set his guitar aside he offered the Epiphone back. Greg shook his head. "Time for new fingers; you keep it. It's yours."
"No man, this was Hal's."
"What do I need with two electrics? It's cool Seth. I told you it is time to move on."
"I don't know what to say."
"I told you Seth. It just seems to fit this way."
"Not Hal..." Seth was sensitive about pushing Greg too hard.
"No, just us doing this together, keeping it going between the two of us. Your dad, my brother, nobody completely gone, just mixing together somehow."
"Something new, right?"
"I guess" Greg leaned forward. They were touching of course. They always did "Always something to take in."
"That's just life"
"Yes" It came to Seth that the gift was Greg's answer to his question. Greg would not forget. Greg did want Seth to be part of his life in the years to come. Seth ran a hand over the guitar and then held it out for Greg. Greg hesitated then accepted it. Greg understood. Here at the trailer or out at the farm, it did not make much difference now. There was no your place or mine anymore.
Greg shifted the conversation away from talk of commitment. "You know I thought I would be out of here by now. I had plans you know. Last exam and I was on the road south."
"Thanks for staying." Greg had agreed to stay an extra week just to help Seth finish the barn roof, and keep him company while the Patterson's packed and their parents ran to St. George. It was pushing into July and Greg was visibly anxious now.
"Not a problem." Greg hated it, but there was Seth.
"I wish I had something to give you back. This could have been so hard Greg without you." Seth was sure his mother would have stayed close to Bonner and the home quarter. "Even if they had not got together I would still have gotten to know Matt and next year in Aspen would have been better." They was always their parents.
"Everyone in Aspen would have liked you." Greg thought Seth always seemed to shine out. Greg was unaware of his own transformation. That first February day at the school when he had glanced past his father's shoulder into the classroom Seth had been just another young boy in a crowded room. You see what you are looking for. "Everyone will like you in September." Even so, Seth might like to meet some people. He would have to think about that.
Greg was hungry and there was nothing much left in the trailer. "Hungry?"
"Sure; do we have enough money to go out?" John and Debbie had miscalculated the boy's appetites and the trailer was slim pickings now. What was left of the last quarter of beef was out at the Patterson farm. Greg did a quick mental calculation.
"We need to save it for the trip. We were going to do something in Saskatoon . Let's walk to the store." Standing brought them close together and when Greg placed a hand on Seth's shoulder to offer Seth the right of way it was only natural for Seth to meet his eyes and raise a hand to Greg's waist.
They closed the distance and joined lips. Seth felt Greg's hand slide down his arm and their fingers mingled a moment before Greg worked his hand into Seth's palm and twined their fingers together. It always felt so good to Seth, this holding hands, but it also signaled Greg's continued unwillingness to move on. Seth broke the kiss and met Greg's eyes. Greg's mouth twitched as if he wanted to say something, but there were no words. The words had been said about this and Greg still needed time. It was the briefest of interludes and Seth ended it with a last peck bestowing his forgiveness, or perhaps he was just reaffirming his patience.
Occasional touches as they moved down the hall reassured them both. Then they were out in the sun's harsh glare and they were just two teenagers walking down a dusty street in dying village full of faded dreams that never touched them. You would take them for friends because while they walked mostly apart, they had a tendency to pause along the way, the younger with his fists jammed deep into the pockets of his cargo shorts, smiling broadly at the more serious older youth. It seemed to make for a longer journey; however, the distance they needed to travel was really not that far. They had the time, and time held no consequence to the two companions, though the rumblings in their stomachs drove them onward.
Rub a dub dub three men in a tub , Greg reflected to himself. The boat was no tub. Greg wondered how long the cousins had argued before settling on the 18 foot Four Winns Tyler's dad had parked out at the lake. Greg had sat between Even and Tyler during the ride up listening to them fire comments back and forth between long silences and Greg's attempts to shift the conversation. It was, Greg realized, the first time he had actually seen any of the territory around Bonner. Stands of Aspen stood like islands amid the fields. When they were surrounded by the geometric ridges of fresh cultivation the landscape took on the appearance of some vast Japanese garden. Greg had found the landscape more interesting than the relative merits of a twelve-year old Four Winn with 175 horse power versus a 2005 Ebbtide. Now he was comfortably reclined in the bow of Tyler 's boat watching the effects of a light breeze playing across the surface of the cove the cousins had finally agreed to try. Their rivalry tired him. The sun felt good on his shoulders. When he had removed his shirt there had been a pregnant pause in the boy's conversation. Greg toyed idly with the pole not caring greatly if a fish took the bait. He had fished once with his father and Hal when he was ten. His father had lost more lures than he had caught fish and when they had landed a small Jack, Greg had been repulsed by its rough and slimy surface. He had watched it gasp its life out in the bottom of the boat and then felt sickened by the inexpert cleaning his enthusiastic father had done before charring the mangled filets in hot grease. It had been the only fish they had caught that day much to Greg's relief.
"So what's Seth up to today anyway?"
Greg took a sip from the bottle before replying. "He's cultivating with Alden and Hugh." Debbie Patterson had unkindly referred to this as recreational tillage : farmers getting out in their air conditioned cabs and running harrows through the soil as they listened to KD Lang. Just an excuse to get away from their wives and play with a huge toy , she had added when she had spoken briefly with Greg on the phone from St. George. Seth had been keen to go farm and besides, he was still furious with Tyler and his posse after the Bonner Grad party out at the Klein's farm. A day out on the water fishing and tubing with Tyler, or Evan for that matter was just not on for him. He had given Greg his fishing pole and tackle box with a speculative look that told Greg he was not entirely trusted with the cousins by himself. "We leave in two days and this will be his last chance to run heavy equipment for a while. He is really pumped about it."
"Yeh, I remember that. Dad let me run the Deer when I was fourteen."
"I remember that. You were all over the place with that thing."
"Better than you were. Uncle Phil made you sit in his lap."
"Hey, that Case is a big machine."
"Jesus..." Greg murmured to himself and took another pull on his bottle. The cousins seemed to have a never ending conversation. The boat began to rock as Tyler shifted to the bow and sat across from Greg. Tyler had also removed his shirt and Greg noted that he was softer than Evan. Not fat at all, but there was the beginning of a slight role around his waist. All the drinking catching up to him perhaps, something to worry about when he was nineteen and he joined the afternoon club at Bonner's hotel for a few brews before he headed home. Greg had seen enough of the type at the parties... that slab of meat and fat at the Klein's Grad Party for instance. Seth was still a strip of adolescent rawhide. Kind'a like a 5'7" erection... hot beating meat wrapped in silky skin demanding to be clasped firmly and squeezed... a cute head with a sensitive giving mouth Greg liked to nibble on and tease with his tongue. Greg shook his head slightly. The sun must have been getting to him. He reached down to where he had dropped his hat and pulled it down over his face. Get a grip guy. Greg shifted his bottle so that it covered his crotch better and toyed with Seth's pole.
"You don't believe me?" Tyler must have noticed the head shake and thought Greg was still listening to him. Greg thought it must be time for another cast and began reeling in the lure. He left the cold bottle squeezed between his legs. He let the clatter of the reel fill the silence while he puzzled out the missing parts of the conversation. "I mean it Greg, I'm sorry that happened and what Elias said was way out of line." That got Greg up to speed and explained the sudden fishing trip with the cousins.
"Don't sweat it Tyler. Shit happens at parties." He should have walked away. What did he really care about what they thought? "I'm just glad it didn't get worse." The evening had ended well anyway. Greg checked the tear-drop lure glistening on the tip of Seth's quivering rod and with a now practiced flex of his wrist watched the white string arch out across the undulating surface of the water.
"We're glad your still here." Evan commented from the back of the boat.
"Yes, it's been great having you around. It's gonna be different next year." Greg lost interest in the fishing pole and propped it under a knee where the big one would not drag it into the water if it ever hit the lure. Greg avoided looking at Tyler and studied the shoreline. "Strange to be in a new school"
"It won't be that different. You've been in other schools Greg. I'm right aren't I? Shit we know these people, don't we Evan? We go to the same hockey games and ball games. Anyway, it's just for a year." Tyler added.
"It's going to be harder Tyler ."
"Ah, I give it a week."
"Okay, maybe a month, I'll give you that." It was like they had forgotten Greg for a moment. "I bet four weeks tops."
"Oh, now it's a bet is it?"
"Fuck me guys, are your lives so boring you have to bet on everything?" Greg was tired of it all. They were good guys in their way but they were completely ridiculous. "I just don't get you two. You have boats and bikes, trucks, hockey, girlfriends," Greg thought of Seth proudly driving a tractor around some field "you get to play with monster machines..."
"Tyler gets off on it" Evan's voice had a hint of reproach.
"And you don't?" Tyler replied defensively.
"Not like you do"
Greg examined the contents at the bottom of his bottle and absently revealed his own thoughts, "Does it bother you Evan that Tyler wants more? Is it better to just use them for a moment and walk away?" His remark brought the cousins back to the reality of his presence and they stared at him for a while in silence. Tyler moved away from him and back to the other end of the boat. The silence continued between the three of them and before long Greg heard the sounds of the cousins casting their lures and reeling the lines back in. Greg pulled his line in and dropped the butt of the rod onto the deck of the boat before closing his eyes and letting the sun warm his body and the slight breeze flutter across his exposed skin. Greg had to admit it was nice out on the water. Evan and Tyler had found an isolated spot and Greg wished he was alone with Seth.
"Fuck me senseless Evan, the little shit told him all about it."
"Damn I could kick the shit out of him."
"You'll have to get past me first." Greg sat up and swung his legs down as he took in the looks of consternation on Evan and Tyler 's faces. He did not think Tyler meant it, but it annoyed him to hear the comment anyway. The cousins, Evan who looked so like his friend but was so different, and Tyler who was more like Greg than Greg cared to admit. "You had him caught in the middle and he did not like it."
"You know he did it don't you? He blew Evan." Greg gave Tyler a measured look.
"Yes, I did know, but it is fucking sad of you to say so." His voice was soft and the reproach seemed lost on Tyler and Evan. Zoë's sluttish friend he might be, had been he hoped, but in this he had been good. They had never quite been trophies to hang on a wall and boast about. School was too harsh a place to carry that around.
Greg did not want to be angry with Tyler or Evan. They were okay. He figured they would go on until they were burned by one of their targets or someone outed them. Evan might be the man and switch to girls, piling one on top of another. He was sad about Tyler though. He did not think Tyler understood himself very well.
"Nothing wrong with a blow job Greg; I bet you like them too."
Greg glanced at Evan and smiled slightly. He was not the person to analyze these two. "No comment on that one." Greg wanted to shift the conversation before the pair imagined he might be interested in settling their original bet. There had been times throughout the spring when he had imagined this conversation. He might have told them it seemed to him they were users unmindful of the feelings of their incidental partners. At least Tyler felt some sort of attraction, but Evan seemed to have contempt for the boys who let their need to belong and their curiosity overwhelm them. Greg might have straightened them out. He was not the person to judge these two.
Greg knew he was Saint Paul on the road to Damascus and Seth had struck him to the ground where he lay blindly groping for the right path. He was a player giving advice to players and he could not imagine they would believe him. He was in fact not convinced he was not still the Greg who loved the parties and the harmless coupling with familiar and unfamiliar partners. Part of him feared the drive south and wanted to stay in the shabby trailer room playing guitar or sitting in a canopied tree house exchanging kisses and caresses with an innocent boy. He was not the person to reform these two.
So instead Greg told them he was bored with fishing and they had promised to take him tubing too. Tyler and Evan accepted the change in conversation gratefully. Each in his way dreaded Greg's reaction. Tyler because he did not want the straight boy thinking he was really gay and Evan was conscious that Greg thought little of seventeen-year-olds who took an interest in younger teenagers. Both wanted to put Greg's unwelcome intrusion into their family game from their minds so by the time the three boys had packed the fishing gear away it was almost possible to pretend they had never talked at all. Before long they were engrossed in speed and a black tube skipping violently as it shifted across the sparkling waves with each twist of the powerful boat. Not too hard to be three teenagers in the best summer; the one last real summer of freedom before graduation ended childhood.
Greg put the pick up Seth's fishing pole and tackle box as he left the trailer living room for the last time. It was time to drive out to the Patterson's. Greg drove the distance in silence. It was still cool and the sky was clear. Greg slipped his Oakley's on as he drove into the sunshine. He turned off the air conditioning and rolled his window down. The morning air washed past him and his spirits lifted. The drive was familiar now. He glanced at the dew-washed fields of green and bluffs of trees shimmering in the intensity of the morning light. The derelict buildings in the abandoned yards seemed to be giving themselves back to the rich soil and stands of poplar and aspen. Freshly turned black earth contrasted with the shaggy road allowances waiting for the first hay cut. Small yellow and purple accents in the prairie grass celebrated the early summer winds. Occasionally he would catch a glimpse of a well tended yard. He decided to stop short of the Patterson farm and said goodbye to Alden. He turned into the gravel road passing between the new field stone columns that marked the Cannon yard. A row of cream colored bins lined the edge of an expanse of well swept gravel. Greg turned his CD player off and pulled to a stop beside the Case-John Deer Alden and his brother Hugh were preparing for the morning's work. The brothers climbed down to greet him. Greg swept his eyes around the yard past the new home and the older house Alden and Hugh's grandparents still lived in. He waved at Alden's mother puttering in her young garden. The boys had few words for each other. Alden was headed on a different road and they both knew it was likely a final meeting for the two friends. Alden was in his own world wearing faded green work pants and boots. The farm and its challenges were the real world that Alden felt banished from when he was immersed in the unreality of school. He was on his way to the field and he was content in his element. As they gave each other a hug Greg noticed Alden still had the bruise on his face from where Justin had nailed him at the Grad Party. Greg got back in his Mustang and headed back out of the yard. The air was dry and Greg caught the smell of dust tainted with manure as he pulled away from the Cannon's yard. He thought about Alden's bruise and the scrapes on his hand. It had been Greg's first fight since fifth grade and it could happily be his last.
Greg passed the turn off to the Klein farm and slowed down on the loose gravel while he waited for a chance to pull by the massive cultivator swaying behind a green and yellow tractor. The Bonner grad had been too full of anger and resentment. As Greg eased passed the heavy monster the harrows reminded him of the moment he had realized going out to the Klein's had been a mistake. It had started when Rose Hartmann had shyly asked him to escort her to grad. The unattractive girl had attached herself to him in History class when she found he took the work as seriously as she did. They had found they worked well together. Greg was unaware of the impact his attention had on her. He watched her blush and in a moment of compassion agreed to be her escort. He was rewarded with another blush and felt a little uncertain about what he had committed himself to. He asked Evan about it later, worried that Rose would be expecting too much from him. Evan reassured him that he was just eye candy. He had to be in her grad pictures, eat dinner with her and escort her up the isle at the ceremonies. That done, he was off the hook. All he had to do was show up in a suit. Reassured by this, Greg had let the matter drop.
Looking back from the safety of a July summer morning Greg might laugh at the grim events of the grad exercises. At the time he was furious. The dinner was held in the Odd Fellow's Hall and Greg was relegated to sitting with Katelin Hartmann who had escorted Mark Klein and Austin O'Connell who, like Greg, had agreed to escort Deanna Switzer. The three were pushed into a front corner where they mumbled pleasantries to each other and eyed the room for friends. Greg noticed his father and Debbie had been placed in the opposing corner. At least they had been together. Mark, Rose and Deanna sat in splendor with a boy Greg did not recognize who acted as Master of Ceremonies. The toasts at dinner were full of references to the impending closure and veiled references to outsiders dismantling a close-knit community they did not understand. The graduation ceremony that followed was no better. The guest speaker was a mother of a grad and the former principal Michelle Klein. In Greg's mind she was rude beyond belief. At one point he had swung around to search out Seth at the back of the room when mention was made of people entrusted with the care of the school cavorting in hot tubs when they should have been back in Bonner working to save the community. A slight disruption at the back of the small hall marked the moment when Alden and Hugh dragged Seth outside. His father, to do him credit, smiled slightly in the direction where Greg knew Debbie was sitting and actually winked.
Bonner hadn't gone in for safe grads. By the time Debbie Patterson had dropped Seth and Greg off at the Klein's he had known the party could turn ugly. Debbie wouldn't even get out of the car. She had not been as amused with Klein's comments as John. She told the boys to be back at the road by 3:00 AM. Seth coughed in the cloud of dust her tires had generated spinning around in the yard and commented on how pissed off the grad ceremonies had made her. The only resemblance to the Aspen grad was the location in a Quonset and the barbeques cooking hamburgers. There had been almost two hundred people in Aspen . The Bonner Grad party was half that number. The thirty high school students were reinforced by a handfull of teenagers invited by the grads and a large number of former graduates who saw it as the last Bonner grad party.
Greg and Seth found the beer kegs and started to search out a circle of allies. The boys felt they were deep in enemy territory after the venom of the evening. They settled next to a disgruntled Alden. Alden was pouting because he hadn't managed to get Hannah invited to the party. Under the circumstances Aspen students would not have been a good idea. Alden couldn't get passed the fact he would be alone all night. The four boys were joined by others, but generally spent the time drinking. They sent Seth and Hugh on trips to the kegs for them. Rose and Katelin had broken Hartmann tradition and come to the party. When Beth Haley brought the Parkers and the rest of the Cannons over Alden's pose was looking healthier. Greg was drinking too much and Alden nudged him to get his attention. "Do you see what's happening here?" Greg looked at him blankly. "We've got two camps here and it doesn't look good." Greg noticed the distinct separation between the two parties. Most of the older people didn't seem to be part of it.
"Let's start dancing or let's just get out of here." Somebody went to crank the music up and Greg pushed Seth toward Beth and pulled a protesting Rose out to the dance floor. With someone starting it the party's tone lightened and the two groups started mixing up. Rose loosened up once they had danced a while and when an older man caught her attention Greg went back to entice the equally shy Katelin out for a dance. He passed her off to Alden before annoying Tyler by dancing with Deirdre and Rebecca. The dancing worked and before long the party had lightened up. The dancing helped take Greg's mind off of the anger he felt for his dad during the ceremonies.
He was eating a charred cheeseburger with Evan when the trouble started. It started with a conversation about going to Aspen in the fall. Seth was in a good head space and commented that it was going to be cool. He thought the people he had met were fine. Elias snapped back at him pointing out he was headed to St. George with his new daddy and who gave a shit what he thought. Seth started to walk away from them when Dwain tripped him. Seth lost his temper and after he scrambled to his feet he threw a punch at Dwain. Dwain wasn't really looking for trouble and he easily pushed the younger boy away. Seth came back in and little Wesley stepped in behind Seth and punched him in the kidney. Seth turned in pain and pushed him into the dirt about the same time Greg and Evan reached the scuffle. Greg pulled Seth aside and held him till his head had cleared. "It's a party Seth. Chill out dude it doesn't matter." Greg could feel Seth's heart pumping in his chest. They had both probably had too much to drink. He whispered "Let's go have a toke and cool off; okay?" Seth stopped struggling and nodded his head. He hadn't meant to loose his head and he was glad Greg and Evan had stepped in. He put an arm around Greg's shoulder and turned to tell Dwain he was sorry when Elias tossed his half-empty cup at him.
"Take your cock-sucker out of here Cox." Struck with his brilliance he nudged Tyler and Dwain. "Hey; get it Patterson is a Cox-sucker just like his mother!" The joke got a few laughs but Tyler and Dwain wished he had saved it for another moment. Greg took three paces forward and drilled Elias in the mouth. He felt his knuckles graze the younger boy's teeth and saw Elias drop backward into the harrows of a cultivator; and then his head exploded as a stranger's fist connected with his head just behind his ear. It dazed him for a moment and little Nigel got a kick in before Alden flung him away into the growing circle. Greg didn't care how they felt about him, but he was angry with the way they were treating Seth. Tyler and Dwain were pushing Elias away so Greg turned back to protect himself from the slab of muscle and fat who had hit him from behind. He was the kind of guy Greg saw outside the bars in St. George. He would drink hard and live for the moment when he could swing a punch. Greg knew he was seriously outclassed by the sweating mountain. There wasn't much point in wading into it with him so he held his palms up. The man didn't care and bulled his way back in for another shot at the seventeen-year old. Greg stood his ground but he couldn't block the shot to his stomach and it glanced off him as he twisted away. Too many people there would be glad to see him brought down. But not everyone; Evan was holding Seth back and Justine and Beth were screaming filth and abuse at some guy named Justin. Alden stepped between them and took a hit to his face that spun him around. Alden's distraction gave Greg one clear shot and he sunk his foot into Justin's groin. The man dropped with a satisfying sound and Greg let Alden and Hugh pull him away into the dark toward the cars and trucks. They pushed him into the back seat of Alden's truck while Evan pushed Seth in from the other side. The Alden drove out of the Klein yard in a hurry.
Seth sat fuming on the seat beside him angry that he had not been able to join the fight he had started. The adrenaline dropped away from Greg quickly and he couldn't help laughing at the reproachful look the younger boy gave him. He reached out and pulled Seth into a headlock. Seth pulled himself away angrily, then switched moods suddenly and tried to wrestle Greg in turn. It ended in friendly laughter as Alden turned the truck toward Aspen . Hugh and Seth teased the older boys about their poor showing against the older man. It was only 12:30 when they pulled over and Greg dug out his pipe. The four stood by the side of the road sharing the pipe and the companionship of youth on a warm summer night. They drove on in silence to Aspen lost in their own thoughts. Hannah was suspicious when they tapped on her bedroom window, but she let them in and fussed over Alden's face and listened to their story with disproval. Seth phoned his mom to tell her where they were, omitted the fight and accepted an earful about drinking and driving before assuring her that they would not drink anymore. They spent an hour drinking sodas and eating junk food together while they watched late night TV. Greg was reading the signals from Alden and Hannah so he took the two boys out for a walk around town for another toke. As they walked the quiet streets Greg and Seth thought about Alden and Hannah back at the house. They said little as their hands brushed frequently and they were content to listen to Hugh's happy chatter. Greg sent Hugh down to retrieve Alden and stole a kiss from Seth. Seth pierced the darkness within him prying his armor wider. Alone on the street he wished them away to somewhere private.
The green tractor with its load was lost in the dust hanging behind the Mustang and Greg accelerated along the last stretch of gravel before the Patterson farm. He tried pushing the events of the grad party away as he drove closer to Seth. Better to think about the hours spent together this last week. The barn was finished finally. Seth was clearly ready to be on the road. He was sitting on the house steps surrounded by his baggage waiting for Greg. Greg wondered how long he had been sitting there. When Greg got out of the Mustang to open the trunk Seth remained on the porch steps watching him. Since Greg had been out last Seth had finished putting plywood over the windows. A few last panels lay ready to cover the living room windows when his mother left. He was intent on securing the house while he was away.
Seth seemed reluctant to go now that Greg was here, but when Greg walked up to the steps Seth pulled himself up and came down to meet him. Greg gave him a hug and Seth returned it holding on to him for a long time. "It's a little harder than I thought, I guess." He admitted finally letting go of Greg. Greg patted him on the back and turned to remove the fishing gear and begin loading the small pile of things on the porch. Both boys were traveling light. Their parents had decided to take on the responsibility of moving themselves. Greg's aunt and uncle would keep an eye on the boys until the two had returned to the new town house. Greg wondered if his dad would be comfortable in the Patterson home over the next week. They packed quickly and then Greg paused before getting back into the Mustang as he watched Seth lean on the hood and look around the yard a last time. Greg had learned how much the place meant to Seth over the last month. He respected the moment.
It would be okay, Seth thought. Nobody would have understood more than his dad. Dad had never pushed the farm at him. Alden and Hugh couldn't even imagine a different life. Dad had always left the door open for him. His dad would tell Seth stories about his youth in Edmonton . It had been understood he would have to get a trade if he expected to farm. He knew his mom had dreamt of other things for him too. He glanced at Greg waiting patiently for him to get in the car. This would have been so much harder to do alone. He looked toward the barn and surveyed the new shingles. It would have been smarter to replace it all with tin, but he had liked the old cedar shingles and he had found enough bundles in the barn to redo the entire roof if he had had time. It must have been an unfinished job his dad had left. He was glad he had finished it for him. He was glad about that roof and the special memories it had for him now.
Greg and Seth had finished it on a hot day two days ago. Greg had helped him many times during the end of June but he hadn't been sure he would come back to help him on that last day. He'd felt lonely working by himself so his spirits had lifted when he saw the Mustang running up the road through the dust. He had smiled thinking about how much Greg hated getting the car dirty. He had paused to wait for the older boy and sat on the ridge pole watching Greg pull to stop and climb out of the sports car. Greg waved and disappeared into the barn below to collect the second tool belt. Seth went back to work while he waited for him to climb up.
They worked together all morning on the hot roof. Seth was conscious of Greg as they worked in silence. Greg was the coolest guy Seth knew. Greg had showed up the first day and asked Seth to teach him how to shingle. He even listened patiently when Seth wasn't happy with the way he did it. Greg knew what he was doing now and they worked as a team. There wasn't much left to do so they did not rush. Greg pulled his shirt off and Seth followed his example. The sun felt good on his back. When the last row was almost done Greg stopped and started to pack up the extra tools. He commented that he would get some drinks while Seth finished. Seth had appreciated the gesture and he knew Greg had done it intentionally. He worked with his dad beside him until the last shingle was in place then dropped the last of the tools over the edge of the roof. He thought about getting down, but decided to sit on the roof and look around the yard a bit.
Greg joined him with a sack of cold beer. Seth could have stretched the moment out for the rest of the day. "Who is Judy and why is she e-mailing me?" Greg glanced at him.
"Didn't she tell you?"
"No, she just said she knew you and you had told her to email me. What's with that?" He had just gotten the message and he didn't know what to say to the girl. He was afraid she was some kind of stalker.
"Well I was hoping that would go better. Judith Arams is Zoë's sister. She's going into grade nine too so I thought you might like to know someone when you get to school. She can really get you connected." He watched Greg open a second beer and sat back.
"So what are you doing? Setting me up with a girlfriend?" Greg shifted on his side and looked at him. He was conscious of Greg's body.
"Well she is nice." Seth shook his head. He lay back frustrated with himself. Greg had been avoiding him since that April day. Things were getting so much better between them. He admired Greg's chest and followed the light scattering of hair down to his navel. Seth felt he had given Greg the time he said he needed and he needed Greg to finally commit to him.
"Hey, snap out of it Kid!" Seth realized he had been staring at Greg's crotch and he turned red with shame. Greg slid over next to him and placed a hand on his chest. Greg's touch always excited and reassured Seth. "We're going to be sharing a room for a year dude. Do you really think it is a good idea to start something like this?" Seth looked at the older boy and found his eyes tearing over. He didn't want to think about that. He just wanted to feel the way he had in Greg's bedroom that day.
Seth wanted the older boy to kiss him, but he pulled back a little to give them space before looking at him with his head cocked. Greg seemed poised in some way he could not quite identify. Was he ready for flight like a cautious coyote on the edge of the field, or was it more like Barney quivering beside him in the grass, eyes attentive to the moment when Seth would throw the old red ball? Seth was not sure and it worried him that Greg might not be sure either. "Why do you do this? What are you doing to me?"
It was Greg's turn to look down with shame. Seth studied his fine jaw as it rested on his chest. He needed Greg's arms around him. He needed his lips touching is face and neck. Seth leaned over and gave Greg a hard shove that sent him over suddenly and there was a heart-stopping moment when Seth watched Greg scrabble on the new shingles. Greg dropped over the pitch break and slid to a stop a foot short of the edge. Seth peered down the roof. They stared at each other for a moment and then Greg carefully crawled up and rejoined Seth. When he reached him he leaned down and kissed Seth gently on the lips. He dropped close beside Seth a foot lower on the roof. After a brief silence Seth began again. "I want you Greg."
"I want you Seth."
You could have release without climax. It was possible if the words were right and the voice, whispered with the proper intonation, conviction and force was the right one. The dry summer wind blew through the green aspens close against the barn and the rush of the trembling leaves echoed Seth's body.
"What the hell are you waiting for?" Seth whispered. He watched as Greg seemed to awake beside him. Greg's eyes focused on the quaking aspen, turned to the thin wisps of cloud above, and then he turned quickly as if in surprise to study Seth's tear stained face. He brushed a wet trail with the backs of his fingers and smiled at Seth.
"Nothing, there's nothing to wait for Seth." Then Greg eased himself down until his head was in Seth's lap and his arm circled Seth's hip protectively. Seth ran a hand across Greg's broad shoulder and down his back as far as he could reach. Seth wanted to touch him everywhere. Each deep breath he drew seemed to whisper Alleluia.
Greg held Seth close content to feel his warmth through the soft denim fabric of Seth's work pants. Seth's hard body rose beneath his head as he let Seth's presence flow through him. Seth was hard and he was not. He understood that though. He had been hard as they worked together on the shingles wanting this. Now that he had it his body was at peace. He felt a lightness as if the heavy armor shielding him had finally slipped free and the brilliant prairie light shone through him. The passion would come back when the time was right. Seth shifted beneath him and Greg raised himself on the rough shingles as Seth stretched out on the roof. Seth put his hands behind his head and smiled at Greg. It was an invitation that reminded Greg of the April afternoon in his trailer bedroom. But this was not quite the shy Seth from that day. Greg knew it was still an inexperienced Seth and a voice whispered caution and tenderness. He placed a hand on Seth's thigh and Seth responded by reaching out to stroke Greg's hair. Greg moved his hand up to Seth's belt.
Clothing fluttered down off the barn roof and lay discarded near the ladder. The sun cleared the tall aspens and light spilled across the scattered clothing before Greg and Seth climbed down pausing on the ladder occasionally to kiss. A steep barn roof, shingled in cedar is an uncomfortable and precarious place for two distracted young men discovering love. But then perhaps it was no more uncomfortable or precarious than the course they had set for themselves.
Seth smiled at Greg and slipped into the Mustang. He flipped through Greg's CD wallet looking for something to listen to. He settled on some old Headstones and never looked back as Greg drove them out of the yard and back toward Bonner. Once they were away from the farm Seth glanced back to see what Greg had in the back seat. It was full of the guitars. He slid his dark glasses on and rolled the window down. He felt jumpy and he wanted to get going. He had left Bonner that night at the Klein's. He looked at Greg again. They would be okay too. He knew that now. Bonner was fifteen minutes away and they drove it in silence. Where does it go when it's gone? And how does it end? Faces are lost in the scatter to the wind, into the wind. He felt the wind on his face and he was back on the hot roof with Greg close against him. Greg had said what Seth needed to hear as he paused, fingers curled around the heavy buckle of Seth's jeans. "I need you Seth. Nobody else, I swear it, for as long as you want me." Time had lost meaning for a while as they explored each other in the sun and wind. Greg had held back, he always seemed to hold back, but on the roof Seth had understood. Greg cared for him and the experienced seventeen-year-old had not wanted to overwhelm him like he thought he had in the car coming back from Aspen. Seth was content. He would show Greg he did not need to hold back.
Greg knew it was a long drive to Saskatoon and St. George beyond but he wanted to do one last thing before he left Bonner. It had been in his mind for a while. He knew he had finally come to terms with his need for Seth, just as he had been forced to come to terms with living beyond his family. As they pulled into the village Greg asked Seth if he wanted anything before they left town. Seth shook his head. He had everything he needed now. Greg drove straight down Main Street and surprised Seth by cutting into the broad expanse of the school parking lot and ground to an abrupt stop. He put the Mustang in neutral and turned to Seth. "Time to go" he gave Seth an evil grin and then put the Mustang back in gear and for the first time spun it around in tight circles grinding the tires into the loose gravel. When the Mustang was finally enveloped in a fine cloud of prairie dust it shot out of the school yard and headed through the streets toward the highway and the south. Seth leaned back with a contented smile on his face.