Aaron and Andreas - Chapter Three

The next few weeks were very strange with getting used to a new job and having someone in my apartment. Andreas was certainly no trouble -- in fact, he was often a real help. So long as I gave him some indication of what he could prepare for dinner, it was done. He was an excellent cook and very creative. We had picked up the table and chairs from Ralph, but Andreas insisted on removing his work from the table at dinner. I did insist he leave it there when he was doing a project that required a large, multi-colored chart. It took longer to get it out and put it away than he had to work on it.

Thursday evening after Andreas had been at my place for three weeks, Jerry called to say he had the weekend off and asked if I was free for that mountain hike I had missed. I told him I was not working weekends -- well one every month or so. "I think soo. I'm sure Andreas can make it without me."

"Bring him along. Susan has been hounding me about her going. With her along, the pace should be slow enough for Andreas."

"I'll ask him. I don't want to force him into anything. What's your mom going to say about extra bodies?"

"She'll probably raise hell because we haven't been up before. Guess we need to take both our vehicles in case either of our significant others needs to come back."

"Vehicles? Jerry, you sound like a policeman," I laughed. "And what's this about significant others? You have one, but I don't think I have unless someone is hiding something from me."

"Well, maybe someone is. Anyway, how about it? Why don't you bring the city boy along?"

"I'll give you a call as soon as I talk with Andreas. And, Jerry, I don't mind kidding, but how about no more comments about significant others? It suggests something which is not true and could do great harm, especially to Andreas."

"Sorry, Aaron. I know better, but you'll have to admit he is one good-looking dude."

"If you say so, Jerry." After I hung up, I thought about what Jerry had said. Joking? I wondered. After all, Ms. Allen had kinda made the same suggestion. I knew I was pretty mixed-up in my own mind -- or was I just pretending, hiding? From whom? From myself? One thing for damn sure, any suggestion that Andreas was anything other than a young man I was providing with food and shelter would probably cost me my job, any relationship with Andreas, and God only knows what else. Jerry had to know that. And I had better watch my step.

Andreas had insisted on doing some laundry and I insisted he not lug a huge basket of clothes downstairs and back up. "You have been told about lifting," I reminded him. He was right when he said the clothes weighed less than one of his school books -- of course they are massive these days. He came back upstairs with a basket of clean, neatly folded clothes shortly after I had talked to Jerry. When he walked in I asked him, "How'd you like to spend the weekend in the north Georgia mountains?".

"The land of Deliverance** and good old-boy rednecks? Think I'll pass on that."

"Just prejudice. You racist, Boy?" I asked him in my best bro accent.

"Yeah, I am very prejudiced about staying in one piece after I've just been put back together."

I then told Andreas about Jerry and his family. "Jerry and his family have been a real family to me and I love going to the mountains. Jerry promises easy hiking since his fiancee is going along. It's beautiful this time of year and if anyone tries to get out of line, Mrs. Coghill will handle it." I told Andreas about Edward almost using the "N" word and what happened. Andreas got so tickled he ended up with tears in his eyes. I think more because he had been so on edge emotionally and was not able to start working through the mess he had been in.

"I guess if Mrs. Coghill is there for protection, this black boy would be safe as Moses in his basket," Andreas laughed. "Sure I'd like to."

"You're going to need hiking boots. Your fancy Nikes just won't do." I started to give Andreas money and tell him what brands to look for and to make sure the ones he chose were properly fitted, but there was still time to get the boots. We went to an outfitters and got the boots. Andreas was surprised at the cost. "I thought only Nikes cost an arm and a leg."

"The big difference is these, with proper care, will be good years from now." Andreas wore the boots home and I suggested he wear them to school Friday. "Not a real break-in, but enough to show up any problem," I told him.

"Aaron, I can't just keep taking money off of you. I've got to get a job and help pay my way."

"Not a very smart idea, Kiddo. The smart idea is for you to keep up your schoolwork and have a little fun. A job would be too much right now. You are going to have to think long term."

"So are you. This can't go on forever."

"It won't. You'll be making money this summer and maybe have a job next fall, depending on how college turns out, but don't worry about money right now. You have more important things to worry about." What I didn't tell Andreas was that the boots were the last big purchase he would be making because I had gotten into the maxed-out credit cards trap a year or so ago, and when I got out vowed never to do that again. I still used a card, but it was paid off every month unless I had to make a major purchase, and then it got paid off in two months. If I couldn't pay for it in two months, I went without. Andreas being with me didn't cost a whole lot more but, of course, the utilities and food bills had increased. But he would never know that.

I called Jerry and told him we both would be going to the mountains. "Why don't we meet at my place? Even though we're taking your truck and my Jeep, we can go together."

"Fine. Think you can be ready by 5:30?"

"Probably, but why don't we grab a bite to eat and miss some of the rush hour. We'll be going up 575 and you know that's a parking lot until 7:30 or 8:00. We'll get to your place about the same time if we leave Atlanta at 8:00 as if we left at 5:30."

"Right as usual, Aaron, me lad," Jerry laughed. "Better yet, why don't I have Susan whip up dinner at your place. She can get off work early with no problem."

"YOU have SUSAN fix dinner?" I asked. Jerry was very much a mountain kind of guy and always talked as though he was lord and master of his house. But we all knew he was like his dad had been, very much at the beck and call of his woman -- not that either were henpecked, they just knew what they had when they found a good woman. To tell the truth, I was surprised Jerry was dating again because Linda had absolutely been his life. "I'll let Andreas take the Jeep to school tomorrow and he can be back at my place by 4:00-4:30 and help out. He's a great cook. We have everything we need here unless you want steaks."

"You know I want steak! I'll pick them up when I get off in the morning and bring them over. Susan can just meet me there." I had forgotten Jerry was still on the night shift.

"Say, Bro, why don't you get your things together tonight then come here from work? You can get in your beauty sleep and we'll have dinner and then roll."

"Sounds good. By the way, have you added Andreas to your vehicle insurance? If not, you best."

"I'll take care of it tonight." When I hung up, I looked up the 800 number and called and had Andreas added to my insurance. An eighteen-year-old male cost a bundle, but being an honors student got a big discount for him and the fact that he was the secondary driver helped as well. That finished, I told Andreas the plan. He was hesitant about taking the Jeep, but I assured him it was ok.

Friday was uneventful to say the least. In police work, you kinda hope a day is uneventful, but it sure makes it long. At 4:00 Ralph said, "Let's call it a week". We went back to headquarters, turned in our reports and were on our way. Ralph offered to take me home but it was out of his way, so I suggested he just drop me off and I'd take MARTA.

Susan and Andreas had reached the apartment and had started fixing supper. "A great cook you rounded up here," Susan said as I kissed her on the cheek.

"Yeah, think I'll keep him." Andreas dried his hands, walked over and gave me a hug, a habit he had started almost by the time he first walked in the door. We had talked about it and he said he had always been starved for affection and now that he had someone who didn't think hugging made you a sissy, he was going to make up for lost time.

"Jerry still asleep?" I asked.

"I guess so, neither of us have been in the bedroom to see."

"How'd the boots do, Andreas?" I asked. In answer he held out a foot and said they were fine. I hadn't noticed last night, but the kid's feet were huge. "I wonder how many cows it took to make those," I joked.

"No cows, genuine water buffalo," I was told. "Dinner in twenty minutes. Want a beer?"

"Not just a cook, Susan. He's my houseboy as well."

"Watch it with the boy stuff," Andreas said, attempting to appear insulted. "Here's your beer." He handed me a frosty mug which was just what I needed. When I finished my beer, I went into the bedroom and woke Jerry. I hate people who wake up cheerful and Jerry was one of those.

"Think I'll shower and change before dinner," I said.

"I probably need to do the same. I had a rough night. There was a major free-for-all at the Cheetah Club again. I swear, I think that place should be closed down."

"Never happen because it brings in major income for the city from old bald-headed guys, here for conferences, who go there and watch the bouncing titties. Shower first? I can wait."

"Go ahead. I need to get awake and I'm not really."

After I showered and got dressed, I took down my backpack and put in things for the weekend. When I went back into the living room I asked Andreas if he had packed and he said he didn't know what to pack. "Take your school stuff out of your backpack and throw in socks and underwear for two days, jeans and jacket, shorts and T for hiking, depending on where we hike, and other clothes for around Coghills' place. Have homework you need to do this weekend?"

"No. Things are sorta winding down. Now that AP exams are over, physics, calculus, English and chem are anticlimactic. We are just passing the time in those. No homework for my photography and PE classes, although I'd like to get some photos this weekend, but I forgot to get a throw-away camera."

"Know how to use a good one?" Susan asked.

"Yeah, sure do. Just never had one to use except at school."

"It's not too far out of the way to swing by my place. I have a great camera and all the works which I never use. I got used to using a little point-and-shoot one and since I just do snapshots, that's fine. So my good outfit I got for high school graduation is just gathering dust. You can keep it as long as you like."

"Great! Thanks a million!" Andreas said as he grabbed Susan and started to swing her around. "I forget," he said, when I started to tell him to watch it. "I'd like to take my sketching things as well. Is that ok?"


"Sounds like an art trip," Jerry said as he walked into the room. "Man, I am starved."

"Dinner in a few minutes," Susan said as she kissed Jerry.

"Beer?" Andreas asked and, when Jerry nodded, poured one and handed it to him.

Andreas had already set the table and, when the food was ready, he and Susan put it on the table and we sat down. I kinda wondered what Andreas would do about grace since it wasn't something Jerry and I had observed except at his mom's place. As soon as he was seated, Andreas' head went down and Jerry's was right behind his. Susan looked amused for a moment and bowed her head as I did mine. "Good friends, good meat, good God, let's eat. Amen." Andreas said.

"I'll say amen to all that, Andreas," Jerry said.

Susan was having beer with her dinner and Jerry and I had a second one. Andreas had iced tea. The food was absolutely delicious and we enjoyed it tremendously. Jerry and I cleaned up from dinner while Andreas got packed. Since Susan lived only a few blocks away, she ran home and got the camera outfit for Andreas and we were ready to go at seven.

We had a great drive to north Georgia after we left the metro Atlanta traffic behind. The night was clear and it didn't get really dark until after 8:00-8:30. There was a full moon so the countryside was bathed in silvery light. When we entered the mountains, Andreas was captivated. I was surprised the only time he had been outside Atlanta was when he was a young kid and spent summers with his grandmother in Macon. She had died when he was nine, so his memories were of over nine years ago. The last few years he had gone to Macon, his grandmother was not up to going fishing with him which he remembered her doing when he was younger.

Jerry and Susan were ahead of us and pulled off at a lookout. When the car lights were turned off, our eyes gradually got used to the darkness. Even well into the mountains, the glow of Atlanta's light could be seen on the horizon, but there was no light where we were except the light of the moon and stars. The mountains lay in row after row of peaks to the north, all bathed in the natural light of the sky. No-one spoke for the longest time, then I heard Andreas release his breath. "It is so beautiful," he said. "It takes your breath away." Susan was standing beside Jerry and he had his arm around her. As I stood, gazing across the mountains, I felt Andreas' arm encircling my shoulders and it felt so very right.

Once again I wondered about my sexuality. Having been raised very much in the black community, I asked myself, "Aaron, are you a candy-ass nigger?" The answer to that was a definite no, but was I gay? I honestly didn't know and didn't know what would change if I could/would ever answer yes. All I knew at the moment was that Andreas' arm was around me, it felt so very right and I had very strange feelings toward him, feelings which I dare not express and which I better suppress.

"Beautiful, isn't it? Jerry asked softly. "One day I want to leave Atlanta behind and come back to these mountains and I'd like for it to be before I am old enough to retire."

"I don't think I'd like to live here all the time," I said. "As beautiful and peaceful as it is, I am just a real city boy. I need the hustle and bustle of the city to keep my blood flowing, but it sure is nice to be able to get off the fast train now and then. How about you, Susan? Andreas?"

Susan was snuggled up against Jerry and was silent for a few minutes and said, "Yeah, I wonder if I could live up here. Not sure I could, but if I did, I'd have to make frequent trips to the city -- the way you guys make trips up here, but more often. Maybe I could get used to being here most of the time, but I'm not sure. It's something Jerry and I are working on. I hate to be this way, but it may be the one thing that breaks us up."

"Since this is my first time to really be out of the city -- I mean really out of any city -- I'm just wandering along. It's sure beautiful but I think I, like you, Aaron, need the bright city lights most of the time."

We all were silent again when Andreas cried out "WOW!" as he pointed to the sky. I thought at first he was referring to the stars -- you never, ever, see stars in the city as you do in the mountains where there is little or no artificial light -- but as I was about to comment, I saw the last glimmer of a shooting star.

"Your first shooting star?" I asked.

Andreas nodded. "I read about them, but didn't really believe there was really anything called a shooting star."

"Make a wish?"

"I did remember that much. I sure did," he said as he turned to look at me. I could see his eyes sparkling in the star and moon light and it did things to me.

"We better get moving as we still have miles to go before we sleep," Jerry said.

"Robert Frost, American poet," Andreas spoke as if he were on a quiz show.

"Correct," Susan said. "Poem?"

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," my favorite, I think," Andreas mused. "No, I think The Road Not Taken is my favorite."

"You don't sound much like a basketball player," Susan said.

"Duh... like, you know, duh... what does a... you know, basketball, like player... sound, you know, like?" Andreas said while almost drooling. Susan cracked up and Jerry and I had a good laugh, as did Andreas.

When we were back in the Jeep, I said, "You keep surprising me Andreas. I would never have thought you read poetry. I mean other than what you are forced to read."

"Actually I got turned on to Frost when I was in the ninth grade. I was assigned to do a report on him and really got into it. Later I read other poets, but Frost remains one of my favorites -- but I absolutely get carried away by D. H. Lawrence. I like Langston Hughes among the African-American poets, but not the usual stuff. Come to think of it, how does a cop know poetry?"

"Kinda the same as you, but later. I did AP English, believe it or not."

"Why didn't you go to college, Aaron?"

"Lack of money -- even with scholarships I had to have money for living expenses. And after my girlfriend and mom both did themselves in with crack, I felt that college was a waste of time since I had decided to go into police work. It was not the worst decision I have made, but it was not the best either. I took a few courses after I got out of the academy. I want to do more. I don't know that I want to be a policeman all my life." I soon became involved in my own thoughts and I suspect Andreas did as well. We both fell silent and we rode into the night, I think very much in tune with each other.

It was nearly 10:00 when we arrived at the Coghill home place. Mrs. Coghill was waiting for us. She hugged all of us, including Andreas. "Andreas, if you are a friend of Aaron's, you are welcome. He's kinda my darker son," she chuckled. "Leave your stuff," she said. "Come on in. The pie's awaitin'." Mrs. Coghill always had apple pie and ice cream waiting for her returning son and those he dragged in. Tonight the pie was still warm. "Andreas, you still doing ok? Jerry told me you had the stuffing beat out of you and got rescued by old Aaron."

"Yes, ma'am. Thanks to Aaron getting all the pieces to Grady in time, I got put back together. Think I'm as good as new."

"Good! Well when you have finished with your pie and ice cream, you can get your things and bring them inside. Susan, I don't know your sleeping arrangements in Atlanta, but in my house I insist on a piece of paper before there's any bed sharing. All the boys think I'm old fashion and they are right. Jerry, put her in John's room. Joseph and Edward may be coming in this week-end so, Andreas, if you don't mind sharing with Aaron, you two can take the twins' room. I know they won't be coming in."

"Mom, if they object, I'm sure Susan and I won't mind sharing the twin's room."

"I suspect that's at least true for you, but you know the rules, buddy boy."

Since I had been to the Coghill place many times, I knew the house very well. The Coghills, being all guys, shared a large bathroom. I guess Susan would be shown the small bath in what was to have been a guest room until every nook and cranny was occupied by a Coghill son.

"Mom, I think we better hit the bed. We've all had a full day and I'd like to take a short hike before breakfast."

"Are you nuts, Jerry? Hike before breakfast?" Susan asked.

"You don't have to go. No-one does, but I want to get up to the cliffs overlooking the river for the sunrise. Mom can get you up in time for breakfast when we get back,"

"Thanks. I like that idea better."

After our good nights, we all went to our rooms.

Since Andreas moved in, I had been pretty careful to allow him privacy such as when he was getting undressed for bed. We both had been sleeping in boxers although I had slept in my birthday suit before his arrival. A couple times I think he started to get into bed nude and remembered. At least it seemed that way. Tonight we'd share a bathroom with Jerry. "Guess we better just get dressed for bed and then do the bathroom bit," I said as I started getting undressed. When Andreas stripped, I glanced up into a mirror which displayed him in "full frontal nudity". The kid came with a nice set of equipment I thought, and quickly realized what I was doing and blushed. Dressed in boxers, we grabbed our toiletry bags and went to the bathroom. Jerry was already there, brushing his teeth.

When he finished he said, "Andreas, I want to watch the sunrise in the morning. The only disadvantage to that is we'll have to leave here about four-thirty, quarter of five. Are you planning on coming, Aaron?"

"I hate the hour, but you know I'll be there. Andreas, I'll set the clock in time for us to get up and get dressed and you can get up or not as you please."

"To be honest, it would be a totally new experience for me. I don't ever remember seeing a sunrise. I think I can crawl out of bed. We'll see."

After we got into bed, Andreas was asleep and snoring softly in no time at all. I wasn't. I was really working myself into a mess about my sexuality. My girlfriend and I had sex and it was great. In thinking back, that was what it was, sex. I mean I liked her, but love? To be honest, I hadn't loved her. Before she overdosed, we had stopped having sex. Not by her choice, but by mine. I knew enough about the crack business to know that if she needed to, she'd trade sex for crack and I had seen a high school friend die from AIDS, the result of passing a needle around, and no sex was good enough to make that a good trade.

I long ago admitted to myself that LaTonya turned me on a lot more than she thought. Of course, she had hinted that I was gay so I guess she would miss some of the erections she had given me just by being nice. But she had hinted that she thought I was gay. So had Ms. Allen. Even Ralph had kinda questioned me about it. I supposed I should have reacted one way or another to the hints, but I didn't. I guess I didn't because I wasn't sure myself. I do know one thing, when we were at the lookout tonight, I got a raging hardon when Andreas just draped his arm over my shoulder. And a couple times recently when he hugged me, I had a sudden and strong urge to kiss the guy.

I guess I needed to talk to someone, maybe the department's shrink, but that might put my job on the line or at least make it tough. I couldn't talk to Andreas. I could, but it wouldn't be fair. He already thought he owed me big time and, since he knew he was gay, he might feel obligated to do something with me. I liked the kid a lot. I loved the kid as a big brother should and it better stay that way for his sake. Obviously nothing was going to get settled tonight and I finally drifted off to sleep.

When the alarm went off, I was very confused. I wasn't in my own bed and for a moment I didn't know where I was. I was confused for only a moment because Andreas immediately got me squared away when he groaned, "I hope to hell a sunrise is going to be worth it".

We went to the bathroom, both sporting piss hards which were impossible to hide. After a piss, we brushed our teeth, washed our faces and went back to the room and got dressed. "I hope your boots are broken in enough. You did wear them to school, right?"

"I should be earning a commission from all those sold this weekend because of my wearing them," Andreas laughed. "They are going to be the latest fad at Lakeshore."

Jerry came to our room and said, "Are the sleeping beauties ready for a short walk? I have some coffee in a thermos and some energy bars for when we reach the cliffs."

The three of us walked in silence, single file as the path was narrow. Before we reached the cliffs, the roar of the river cascading over a series of falls could be heard. Suddenly the path seemed to widen and Andreas, walking ahead of me, was ready to charge ahead. I reached out and grabbed his jacket and said, "Better slow down, Hoss, or your next step will be into pure mountain air."

The path ended abruptly at the edge of the cliff, which was a couple hundred feet above the river. The sky was quite light and the river visible below. "WOW!" Andreas said, just as he had done last night. I remembered the first time Jerry had brought me up here and that had been my reaction as well. Jerry walked out to the edge of the huge shelf overhanging the cliffs. I always got a strange feeling when I walked out to sit beside him. Andreas seemed to have no fear of heights at all as he walked onto the rock and sat down between my legs and draped his arms over them, pulling my legs to himself.

Jerry opened the thermos, took three cups from his backpack and poured coffee for us. He then handed us a couple energy bars and we sat, silent, drinking our coffee and eating. The sky was gradually growing lighter and suddenly the fingers of dawn shot into the sky, fingers of reds and oranges. Andreas' sudden intake of breath broke the stillness, which before had been broken only by the sound of the river far below.

We sat for, I guess, half an hour, all in silence. Finally Jerry said, softly, "I could be here every morning and never tire of the sunrise. Every day it is different."

Andreas answered, almost in a whisper, "Thanks, Jerry, it sure was worth the trip. Yeah, I think I could join you." And Andreas was definitely not a morning person.

As we walked back to the house, unlike our trip up to the cliffs, we talked. Jerry asked Andreas what he wanted to see while he was in the mountains. Andreas responded he didn't know because he had never been anywhere that wasn't inhabited. "The wildest place I have ever been is the park," he said.

"And the wildest things there are the people," Jerry laughed, and Andreas joined in his laughter. "Aaron, you have any suggestions for hiking?"

"Since we will have Susan and Andreas, it needs to be a hike for seeing, not speed hiking."

"Yeah. I'll come up with something. Now I am ready for breakfast, one that I don't have to cook."

"As I recall, that's the kind you usually have, a Waffle House special," I said and Jerry laughed.

We were nearing the house and, like a horse, the closer to home he got, the longer Jerry's strides became and the faster his walk. It was just 6:30 when we got back, ready for a shower and shave.

Ms. Coghill was busy cooking when we walked in the kitchen door. "You have thirty minutes," she said as Jerry kissed her on the cheek.

"Susan up?"

"Don't think so," she replied. "Morning Aaron, Andreas. Sleep well?"

"Sure did and I'm starved," Andreas replied.

"I'll take care of that as soon as you take care of the shower and shave bit."

As I said, the boys' bathroom was very large. There were two showers and two basins on either side of the door and two toilets in stalls in a room beyond the bath. Jerry headed straight to the toilet and closing the stall door. Andreas and I shared the remaining toilet for a piss. I know it's kinda hard to believe, but we had never seen each other nude. Well, thanks to a mirror, I had seen Andreas last night. Andreas said, without embarrassment, "Both pretty well-hung, I see". I blushed.

When Jerry came out of the toilet, I asked him how we should dress. Sometimes when we were getting ready for a hike, Jerry would say, "Better wear jeans," because we would need protection for our legs. At other times it was definitely shorts and Ts, especially in the summer. Of course late April was not generally warm in north Georgia, but it seemed unusually warm as we were walking back from the cliffs, especially for early morning.

"It's going to be a shorts and Ts day," he responded. "If you want to make sure, throw a light jacket in your backpack." Jerry was the only one with a backpack for our predawn stroll, but everyone would be carrying one for the day. Each of us would carry food and water -- but if Jerry chose the right route, there was a stream from which it was safe to drink, about half-way to where we could eat lunch. Andreas, of course, was packing a camera bag full of goods, so I offered to carry both our part of lunch. He accepted, which was somewhat of a surprise since he usually asserted his independence.

Andreas and I got dressed and went to the kitchen. "Need any help?" Andreas asked Mrs. Coghill.

"Seems Jerry is hiding so you can do his job and set the table. Plates and all up there," she said, pointing to a cabinet with the spatula she had in her hand, "silver in that drawer," she said pointing again. "There'll be six of us. Edward came in last night. Aaron, if you will fill water glasses and get the napkins, we'll be ready when the latecomers arrive."

As she spoke, a finer-featured version of Jerry walked into the room, dressed in shorts and a T, barefooted. It was Edward. He, as all the Coghill boys, had their mother's coloring -- dark, dark brown eyes, dark complexion, black hair. Some of the boys had curly hair, some straight. Edward was definitely from the curly side of the family. His longish hair framed his face in curls. He had his dad's height and build, over six feet, and had a well-defined body which was lean and clean. Jerry told me when he got to high school some of the bullies took him on, thinking his lack of sheer bulk meant he was a weakling. "They learned otherwise and often had to apologize from the ground, and word got around quickly," he had said.

"Good to see you, Edward," I said. "This is a stray I picked up off the street," I said, pointing to Andreas. "Andreas Jackson, Edward Coghill." The two shook hands.

"This is a surprise," Edward said. "Andreas Jackson was just picked up off the street or did you kidnap him so you can get ransom from the NBA?" he laughed. "Saw you in the State All-Star game," Edward said. "You're awesome."

Andreas smiled and said, "Thanks."

Susan and Jerry finally arrived and we all sat down at the table. "Edward," Mrs. Coghill said, and Edward said grace.

The table was loaded with biscuits, hot country sausage, scrambled eggs and fried apples. "Andreas, you need to know the sausage is great, but definitely pepper hot and I don't know whether you have ever had fried apples or not. I hadn't the first time I came, but if you have or haven't you are in for a treat. But even better will be next fall when apples are fresh."

We all fell to eating and there was little talk for a few minutes, then everyone kinda slowed down. "Edward, how much longer before you are home for the summer?" Jerry asked.

"I finish in three weeks. Not sure I will be home though. I'm giving some thought to going to summer school. I want to get more of the hard stuff out of the way before I transfer to Emory next fall. I have already been accepted and, with summer school, I would be an advanced sophomore when I get to Atlanta."

"What's your major?" Andreas asked.

"I'm taking a liberal studies program which is designed as pre-law. I hope to go to Emory School of Law. Where are you headed next year?" Edward asked.

"Not sure. I have scholarship offers from Tech, Emory and Georgia State. Tech is a basketball scholarship. I guess if I could be sure I'd make the NBA, I'd take it for the money, but sooner or later I'd like to get into medicine and if I got in the NBA, I'd probably be too old to get accepted to med school. I'm still not sure. Then, well, my basketball career may be over. Tech expected me to sign with them a month ago, but I couldn't make up my mind. Now, I don't know..." Andreas didn't say why his career may be over and I said nothing.

"Must be good to have options," Edward said.

"Need I remind you, you would have had options had you not thought partying was what high school was for," Mrs. Coghill said.

"Mom," Edward whined.

"It's true," Jerry said. "But, Mom, he really did a turnaround before his senior year in high school and this year in college, a turnaround that Emory recognized and accepted him. I'm proud of him."

"So am I," Mrs. Coghill said. "But he needs to remember why his options were limited."

"So what are you up to this weekend, Edward?" Jerry asked.

"Nothing, I guess. I just wanted to get away before I get in the final exam rat race. Why? You have a suggestion?"

"We had planned on a hike today but, with you here, we could pack enough stuff for an overnight. Anyone interested?"

"You mean out in the woods with bears and tigers and stuff?" Andreas asked. I looked at him expecting to see a smile on his face but, when I looked, he wasn't kidding.

"Yeah, and the guys from Deliverance as well," Edward laughed. Andreas blushed and got a shy grin on his face. "I take it you have spent most of your life in the city."

"Yeah, I spent some time in summers with my grandmother in Macon and we went fishing some, but that was practically in the town."

"You'll be in less danger from wild animals in the mountains than you are from the wild people in Atlanta."

"You expect me to go off into the woods when there are a flush toilet and hot shower here? No, thank you," Susan said.

"Ah, Susan, you don't want to be a spoilsport," Jerry said.

"Look, Jerry, I like it here at your mom's place. I'd like to have a get away place here in the mountains. That doesn't mean I'm interested in the outdoors: roughing it, hiking and all that sort of thing. No, thank you!"

"Ah, Susan," Jerry was sounding like a kid begging a parent.

"Jerry, you can come back later and you men can camp out. Susan doesn't want to. You brought her up expecting a hike, not a camp-out," Mrs. Coghill chided Jerry.

"I can go back to Atlanta," Susan offered.

"Nah, I just thought since Edward was here, it would be a good time. We can come back later," Jerry said, but I had known Jerry long enough and we had been close enough for me to see he wasn't as at ease with the situation. "Edward, want to go along? Easy hike to High Falls, lunch and Eagle's Nest for the sunset."

"You're walking back in the dark? That's an adventure if you know the way," Mrs. Coghill said.

"Nah, I thought Aaron and I could drive up to Eagle's Nest and leave his Jeep and drive back here. Then after the sunset, we could all come back in the Jeep."

"Sounds like a winner to me," Edward said. "What are we waiting for?"

"For you to help Mom clean up after breakfast and get lunch packed while Aaron and I take the Jeep to Eagle's Nest."

"Ok, let's get on it, Edward," Andreas said as he got up and started clearing the table.

"I can clean up," Mrs. Coghill said.

"No doubt," Andreas said, giving her his brightest, double-dimple smile. "Edward and I probably won't do it as well, but we'll do it."

"Then I'll start getting a lunch together," Mrs. Coghill said.

"Tell me what to do and I'll help," Susan said.

Jerry and I drove to a clearing near Eagle's Nest, parked the Jeep and drove back to the house. Jerry was uncharacteristically silent. I started to ask him what was wrong, but decided against it for two reasons. First, I knew what was wrong and second, he knew me well enough to talk to me if he wanted to.

When we reached the house, Andreas and Edward were running around like two young puppies at play. It was refreshing to see Andreas so relaxed, not that he had been withdrawn or anything. He had broken down and cried a few times when he was telling me something about his life before and after he had been put on the street, but generally he had seemed ok. Watching him now, I wondered.

Susan and Mrs. Coghill had packed a picnic lunch, which had been distributed among backpacks belonging to the males. Susan had a practically empty backpack, I guess just her light jacket and nothing else. Jerry handed her a first aid kit which she placed in her pack and we were off, Jerry and Susan holding hands leading the way, and me bringing up the rear. Andreas and Edward were still acting like young puppies darting off the trail here and there, Andreas with Susan's camera at ready. We hiked at a lively clip for a half hour without stopping. When we reached an outcropping overlooking a deep valley, Jerry asked, "Anyone for a break?" and stopped when Susan answered in the affirmative.

Jerry and I have been on this trail before and this was a favorite spot of mine. The outcropping extended a couple hundred feet out over nothing, just several hundred feet of clean mountain air. Water bottles came out of backpacks and after we each had downed half a bottle, we all sat down, Susan between Jerry's legs, her arms over his knees as Andreas had sat with me earlier. The two boys sat side-by-side, still and silent for a change.

The view from the outcropping was awesome and we were all drinking it in. I thought back to the first time Jerry and I had climbed to this point and how awestruck I had been. It was hard to tell Andreas' reaction as he sat very still, gazing across the valley. After a fifteen-minute or so break, Jerry stood as did the rest of us except Andreas. No-one said anything for a couple minutes then Jerry asked, "Ready to go, Andreas?".

Andreas reacted as he would have being awakened from a dream. "Oh, sorry. I could stay here the rest of the day," he replied softly. "It's strange, it's scary, knowing you are hanging in midair, but awesome too. Well, I guess awesome is scary," he said with a kind of puzzled look on his face. He stood slowly and we moved out in silence for a while, then the two boys started running about as before.

It had been almost nine when we left the house. Jerry and I would have left after the sunrise and not gone back, but this was something new to Susan and Andreas and to make a hike look like work rather than pleasure could ruin the whole idea for them.

After another forty-five minutes or so of hiking we reached another favorite spot of mine. The trail was level for about half a mile with a small stream running beside it when, suddenly, it turned sharply and just ahead was a wall of rock, I guess fifty or sixty feet high. Pouring over the edge was a waterfall, not a large one, but very pretty. Jerry had told me it was called Bridal Veil Falls and it was easy to see why: because the water coming over the end of the cliff looked lacy.

There was no basin at the bottom of the falls. Instead the water flowed down through round rocks, reappearing as the small stream some distance from the falls. "Anyone for a drink?" Jerry asked as he held a cup under the edge of the falls. Andreas was first in line and after gulping down a cup full said, "Man, that is cold! I thought about a quick shower, but no thank you! The water is icy, and even though I don't like a hot shower except for relaxing, it isn't warm enough in north Georgia for me to get under that falls!"

Everyone drank from the falls and we emptied our water bottles and refilled then with the cold water. "Everyone's feet doing ok? The going is rougher for a mile or so."

"Rougher than it has been?" Susan asked. She was sitting on a rock, taking her shoes off.

"Yeah, we're going to be doing some serious climbing -- I mean there is a trail, it's not mountain climbing as you might think about mountain climbing, but the trail is steep. Susan, you are wearing footies? You need socks," Jerry said as he opened his backpack and took out a pair of heavy socks. "Footies don't soak up sweat and you sure don't want wet feet for the next few miles."

"Miles? Did you say miles?" Susan asked, as she took off her footies and put on the socks Jerry gave her.

"Yeah, we've got about a couple miles before we reach the spot for lunch. You doing ok?" Jerry asked Susan as he sat down beside her.

She looked at him with a half-hearted smile and said, "Sure. I guess I never thought we'd be walking so far and so fast. But, yeah, I'm ok. Thanks for the socks."

"Are we ready to move?" Jerry asked.

"Let's gooooooo," Edward said and started toward the trail that went up the side of the falls in a kind of natural steps. Being natural, the steps were not even and wound back and forth like switchbacks on a mountain road. As a result, Edward and Andreas, who were ahead, didn't look back at us but down on us. Jerry was walking ahead of Susan and often stopped, turned and extended his hand to help her up when the steps were far apart.

It wasn't long before Edward and Andreas were no longer playful puppies, but tired ones. I knew they would run down when they had approached the falls' path as if it was nothing.

Jerry and I both stayed in good shape -- Jerry had to get on my case after I partnered with Ralph, since Ralph's idea of a heavy workout was hefting a couple large beers, and I just couldn't seem to find the time for a workout on my own. Jerry suggested we work out at the beginning of his shift and end of mine. That was working fine. Andreas asked about joining us, but I wasn't about to let him start a workout before his doctors gave their ok. So far they had nixed the idea.

Andreas had asked questions about when he could start exercising and was told he could walk all he wanted to, but no workouts and no running. When he asked the doctors why, they just said they had to be sure all his internal wounds had healed. Andreas hadn't said anything about it to me and I didn't feel I could ask him about the situation. Not because of him, but I was afraid I'd let slip what the doctors had told me. There were very serious doubts about Andreas ever playing basketball again. I didn't understand all the technical jargon, but what it all boiled down to was that while Andreas was lying on the floor being kicked repeatedly by Kumba Richardson, his insides were bruised and organs torn and ruptured. He really was lucky to be alive, especially since he seemed in such good health.

It was forty-five minutes after we started up the trail beside the waterfall when we reached the top. All of us were sweaty, breathing hard and ready for a break, even though the distance we had traveled was less than a quarter mile. The top of the cliff was very deceptive since it appeared to be a kind of mountain meadow with a small stream flowing through it. When we reached the top, we all flopped down on the grass and pulled out our water bottles and drank deeply.

After a fifteen-minute break, we started the last bit of the hike before we'd eat. The hiking was easy as we walked along the grassy bank of the small stream. Jerry and Susan were again walking side-by-side, holding hands. Susan seemed to be enjoying herself again, but she was definitely an unhappy camper when I reached the top of the falls. Edward and Andreas had recovered and were again running ahead, veering off into the woods at the edge of the grassy stream bank. I was glad I had insisted Andreas buy several rolls of film because he was using it like it was going out of style.

We were walking like we were out for an easy stroll, so it took a while to reach the turnoff when we left the stream and walked into the forest. The trail we took wandered through huge old trees, forming a leafy arch over our heads. As we walked, Andreas stopped and waited until I caught up with him. When I did, he wrapped his arm around my waist and motioned for Edward. When he came over, Andreas slipped his arm around Edward's waist and the three of us walked together. "Old friend and new friend," Andreas said. "Thanks, Aaron."

"For what?"

"For everything, but especially for today. It has been wonderful. I never knew the world could be so beautiful, so interesting, so exciting."

"Thanks to you for making me see it again, with new eyes."

"Yeah, that's what it is," Edward said. "I have been wondering what made today different from all the other times I have been hiking here, but that's it! Andreas has made me look, I mean really look. It's almost like I was hiking in a place I had never seen before."

The three of us walked arm-in-arm until we reached a glade surrounded by huge old oaks. "Anyone for lunch?" Jerry asked, as he dropped his backpack on the ground.

"As if you needed to ask," Edward laughed, dropping his backpack.

We opened our backpacks and soon had our picnic spread. Along with cold fried chicken, Mrs. Coghill had put potato salad -- "I'll put this is Jerry's backpack with two bottles of frozen water so it won't spoil and make you sick" -- pork and beans, carrot and celery sticks and fried-apple pies for dessert. She had also included plastic forks and a plastic table cover, which we spread out in a sunny spot near the middle of the glade.

When we had finished eating, there was nothing left of the food except chicken bones. Jerry opened his backpack and took out five folded sheets of plastic. "If you're going to take a nap, you might want to put one of these under you to keep you off the damp ground." He took two of the sheets and he and Susan moved across the glade from us -- not private, but not right under our noses.

I spread my sheet and lay down. When I did, Andreas spread his next to mine, but perpendicular to it. He lay down with his head on my chest. "Hey, I like that idea," Edward said, as he lay down with his head on Andreas' chest. I might have thought something was going on here if I wasn't so tired and sleepy, so instead I drifted off to sleep.

**Deliverance: novel by James Dickey set in north Georgia mountains. The major characters are city boys, most of whom suffer at the hands of north Georgia rednecks, including a homosexual rape. All of the characters except one die during the weekend outing. Made into a movie with Burt Reynolds.

Chapter 4

I expected us to take a short nap, but I guess no-one was anxious to get moving again, because Jerry shook the three of us awake after an hour's nap. "Aaron, what do you think? We can get to Eagle's Nest either by way of the Alpine Meadows or the Cascades."

"You know what my choice would be," I said. "I'd always choose the Cascades but, since Susan is new to this, Alpine Meadows is definitely an easier hike. It would take about the same length of time since Alpine Meadows is easier, but longer."

"Or we could split up," Edward said. "I know both routes as well as you do."

"Ok, Susan and I will take the Alpine Meadows trail. Aaron?"

"I said I would choose the Cascades trail but, if you and Susan don't mind, I think I'll tag along with you."

"Andreas, the Cascades trail is pretty steep and rugged, but it is beautiful. It is up to you. I'll hike either one," Edward said.

Andreas looked at me as if asking for permission. That was something we had to talk about. I certainly didn't want him looking at me as a parent, although I did some of the duties of one I suppose, but I was not his father. "Andreas, the Cascades trail is really beautiful, but is very rugged. You need to decide whether you are up to it or not."

"I'm fine," he answered. "You don't mind if I go with Edward?"

I started to ask "Why should I?" but thought better of it and just said, "Not at all".

We all got our backpacks on, after making sure we had all our trash in them, and started. Shortly after we left the glade, we separated.

The Alpine Meadows are a series of mountain meadows rising in what were natural terraces. The slope was gentle, but constant, between the stone ledges forming the terraces. Some of the terraces were very steep, essentially straight up, but they were never very long so hiking was generally very easy. A couple times Jerry went on ahead so he could help Susan up a ledge which was very steep and with few footholds, but she seemed to be enjoying the hike, unlike the morning one.

About half-way across the meadows was a huge boulder, twenty or thirty feet high at the front and ground level at the back. The three of us walked onto it and to the forward edge. The day had been cool and, when we got to the top, there was a gentle breeze which seemed almost cold -- since we were all sweating from exertion getting to the top of the boulder. The sun had warmed the rock and it felt soooo good when I lay on my stomach, looking across the valley to rock cliffs on the other side. After lying on my stomach for a while, I turned over and watched the white fluffy clouds moving slowly across the sky. After several minutes I laughed when I realized I was playing a game I had played as a child -- imagining the clouds were first one thing and then another.

"Something funny, Aaron?" Susan asked.

"Yeah, see that cloud up there? It's Mickey Mouse. See? There's his ears and there is his nose," I said as pointed out parts of a large cloud almost overhead.

"Look, he's changing into a duck," Susan laughed.

"You both have lost it. A cloud's a cloud," good-natured and literalist Jerry said.

"Use your imagination, Jerry," Susan said.

"I did, and it's still a cloud," he replied.

Our talk drifted from one thing to another. Susan asked about Andreas. Jerry told her about his being beaten, but not why. She was very clever at probing for an answer to that question, but I was clever enough to realize what she wanted and not to give it to her. Jerry asked what the latest from the doctors was. "There was good news and bad news," I answered. The good news is that he's doing very well. The bad news is that he probably will never play basketball again and may have to restrict other activities. I don't understand it all, but one of his doctors said, 'Look, his insides took a real beating and think about it as leaving some weak places which could bust loose if he overdoes things'. He seems fine, but I worry. He has an MRI and CAT scan next week and they should give a more definite answer about the future. I don't know how he will take it if he is told no more basketball. He had been told he had a clear path to the NBA, and being told the fame and money are not to be is bound to be a blow. We'll see."

"I guess a final decision may come as a blow, but he certainly seemed at ease when he told Edward his career might be over. I think being a doctor is more important to him than fame and money," Susan said.

"Yeah, and I hope you're right," I replied.

Lying on the warm rock made me sleepy, so sleepy I was reluctant to get up and get moving -- as were Jerry and Susan -- but finally we did. We hiked at a leisurely pace, stopping when something interesting caught our attention. We finally reached Eagle's Nest half an hour or so before sundown. I had expected the two boys to arrive before us since they could move at a good clip without Susan and both were in good shape, so while the trail was strenuous, the distance was much less than the meadows trail and they should have been present, but were not. As time passed, I began to get worried and I could see Jerry was as well, but neither of us said anything -- to avoid upsetting Susan.

After waiting twenty minutes, and growing increasingly anxious, I said, "I think I'll go down the Cascades trail and see what's holding up the guys."

"Sure you know the trail?" Jerry asked.

"Yeah, no problem."

"Got a flashlight?"

"Yeah. I'll be fine." I started down the trail and as soon as I entered the woods, it became very dark. Even though the sun had not gone down, it was so low on the horizon that the trees blocked its light. I had gone about a hundred yards down the trail when I saw a light ahead. As I drew near it, I could see the two boys, arm-in-arm coming up the trail. I finally acknowledged a feeling, an emotion I had felt several times earlier in the day. I was jealous! "You really have something to deal with, Aaron," I said to myself, "and damn soon".

As I drew near the two, I felt relief and shame because they were not walking arm-in-arm. Edward had an arm around Andreas' shoulders, using him as a crutch, favoring his left foot. "What's the problem guys?"

"I stepped on a loose rock. It rolled and I turned an ankle about three-quarters of a mile back. Man, I couldn't have made it without Andreas."

"I got worried," I said, "and decided to see if I could find you. Here, Edward, let me and Andreas pack you to Eagle's Nest. "Andreas and I formed a pack saddle with our arms, bent forward and Edward sat down. We lifted him and walked as quickly as possible to where Jerry and Susan were waiting.

"What happened? Edward have one of his lazy attacks?" Jerry asked.

"Yeah, I guess he decided there was no way he was going to get away with it otherwise, so he turned an ankle," Andreas answered.

"How bad is it, Bro?" Jerry asked.

"Pretty sure it is only a sprain, but it hurts like hell. Got an ace bandage in your backpack?"

"Sure." Jerry took out the Ace and bound Edward's ankle. "That'll hold you 'til we get home."

"We're not going yet are we? Look, the sunset is going to be awesome," Edward said.

The sun was almost touching the horizon and it was easy to see a spectacular sunset was already started. "Think you can stand an hour more, Sport?" his brother asked.

"Sure. Wouldn't miss the show," Edward answered.

Jerry took from his backpack the two water bottles which had been frozen, and handed them to Edward. "These will help," he said, as he poured the water and what little ice was left into a plastic bag, making an ice pack.

The sunset did not disappoint us and it was quite dark when we started down the path to where the Jeep waited about a quarter-mile away. Edward was clearly in pain, but didn't complain. When we reached the house, Mrs. Coghill had Edward ice his ankle and as soon as that was underway, she started serving up a great country supper.

After supper, we cleaned up for Mrs. Coghill and were all ready to turn in after a day hiking. I was half-asleep when Andreas said, "Thanks, Aaron. Thanks very much."

"For what, Andreas?"

"For bringing me up here, for letting me get to know your friends, for showing me just how beautiful the world is and can be. For letting me know you are there when I need you. For giving me a day with Edward."

"Thank you, Andreas, for making me aware of... I'm not sure of what except of being alive, of seeing and wanting to see, really see... Just thanks, Andreas. Thanks. I guess it was good being with someone your own age. I know you must miss that."

"Come off it, Aaron. I'll be nineteen shortly and you are what? 40?"

"Not quite that ancient. I'm twenty-two."

"No! Really? Three whole years older! I was six and you were nine. You were twelve and I was nine. You were sixteen and I was only thirteen. You were..." Andreas couldn't go on because we both were laughing so hard. When he got calmed down he said, "No, it was not about being with someone my own age -- he's older too, you know -- it was justt good to be with someone like myself who is essentially carefree. I mean he has to worry about grades in college, and I do in high school, but that's it. I don't have to worry about anything. Well, maybe whether or not I get to play basketball again, but we don't have to worry about things you and Jerry have to worry about -- work, getting shot, those kinds of things. Well, I do worry about that sometimes, your getting shot, I mean."

"Nothing to worry about, Andreas, I don't plan on getting shot."

"You do and I'll kill you," he laughed.

Sunday Mrs. Coghill went to church and left the five of us to fend for ourselves, which we did very nicely. She had just walked in when the rest of the Coghill clan came in and all of them pitched in finishing Sunday dinner.

After dinner, the grownups gathered on the deck overlooking a stream behind the house where the youngsters were playing. "Andreas, how about joining the kids? This bunch of adults are getting b-o-r boring," Edward said. The two young men were soon in the creek with the kids.

It was about 3:30 when we were all packed, said our goodbyes and headed back toward Atlanta. "What a great weekend! It was fantastic," Andreas said. "And now it's back to school."

"And next weekend?"

"It's really late this year, but it's prom weekend."

"You going?"

"I paid my prom dues, but I guess not. I'd have to rent a tux and all that stuff."

"Don't have a date?"

"Nope, I'm gay, remember?"


"So it wouldn't be fair."

"Why not? You take a girl to the prom, you have a good time, you show her a good time. Take her home, give her a goodnight kiss. You don't have to fuck her for heaven's sake."

"I don't know. I wouldn't feel right."

"Because you are making too big a deal of it. Go stag if you don't want a date. Of course, I suspect there are few women available this late in the game, but a girl who hasn't been asked would tell her grand kids about you. Give it some thought."

When we got home we put things away, had leftovers from Sunday dinner Mrs. Coghill sent home with us, and both got a shower and crawled into bed.

Sometime in the night I woke to hear soft sobs from Andreas' bed. I got up, walked to his bed and sat on the edge. "Andreas, you awake? Bad dream? What's wrong?"

Andreas sat up in bed, wrapped his arms around my neck and really started sobbing. I didn't know what was wrong so I just held him close. When he regained control, he looked up at me and said, "Aaron, he was beating me again".

"A bad dream, Andreas, just a bad dream. He will never touch you again. I promise he will never hurt you again." I held him until he relaxed and went to sleep. I eased him into the bed and stood for the longest time looking at him, wondering what I could do to make his life easier, and I did not come up with an answer.

Monday Ralph came by for me, and I let Andreas drive the Jeep to school since he had an appointment for a follow-up exam at 1:00. I knew he was anxious about it, but he didn't want me to go with him even though I told him I thought I should be there.

"Man, you sure are uptight today," Ralph said as soon as I was in the car. I didn't even have time to say "good morning".

"You got that right."

"Today's the big day for Andreas. Surprised you're not with him."

"He didn't want me to go with him. I let him take the Jeep. His appointment -- I guess that's appointments -- start at one."

"That what he told you? And you believed him? Man, you have a lot to learn about raising teenagers."

"That's another thing he got on me about this weekend. He reminded me I wasn't that much older than he is. He's a teenager for only a bit over a year then he hits the roaring twenties". Time dragged terribly. Ralph and I stopped for lunch at noon and when we got back in the car, we had to do a run out to the airport to pick up a package. It was some special stuff really needed by the lab downtown. The plane was late so it was after two when we got the package, and almost three when we got back downtown. When we got back in the car, he drove as if he knew where he was going. "Where are we headed?" I asked.

"Where do you suspect? We're headed for Grady." Ralph picked up the car mike and said, "Mattie, Ralph. Aaron and I are headed to Grady to check out something in case you need us." When we reached Grady, there was a police cruiser parked in the tow away zone. Ralph walked up to the car and spoke to the officer in the driver seat. As he walked back to the car, the cruiser left. "You have to have a few years service before Grady provides free parking," he said as he pulled into the space just vacated by the cruiser.

When we reached the information desk, Ralph walked up to the elderly pink lady sitting behind the desk and said, "Honey, we're supposed to be accompanying Andreas Jackson who is here for tests. Can you locate him?"

"It might take a minute. He's not a patient, right?"

"Right. He's just here for tests."

The pink lady dialed a couple of numbers and after the second one said, "He's in the outpatient waiting room. Do you know your way?"

"Yes, I do. Thank you, Honey."

"Laying it on a little thick, ain't you, Dude?"

"Dude, I learned one way to keep pink ladies and waitresses at Waffle House from calling you Honey is to call them Honey first. Here we are."

Andreas was sitting in the waiting room, a notebook on his lap, his head in a book. "How you be doin', Dude," Ralph asked.

Andreas looked up and a huge smile spread across his face. "Hey, Old Dude, I knew you'd come. Thanks."

"Yeah, Couldn't keep Aaron away. What's 'appin'?"

"Looks like nothin' 'appin'. Well, actually, they have taken my blood, my piss, and punched and probed. They did an ultrasound and a CAT scan, and I am waiting to have an MRI made and then I can go. It will be a week before I learn anything."

"Hurry up and wait... Yeah, I know that routine," Ralph said.

"Guess you need to be out catching doers of dark deeds," Andreas smiled.

"Nah, we placed them all on hold while we checked on you."

We stayed with Andreas until they came and got him for his MRI. I don't know what took so long, but it was after four when he came back. "I'm done for the day," he announced. "Want a ride, Roomy?" he asked with a great Andreas smile.

"See you in the morning, partner," Ralph said as we walked out of Grady. Andreas and I walked to the parking lot and picked up the Jeep. He drove.

I could tell Andreas was uptight and I wasn't sure if it was because of what he had gone through today, or remembering what had happened, or worry about what might happen. "Worried, Tiger?" I asked.

"Yeah, a little bit. There seemed to be an awful lot of tests and things today, like they were looking for something and couldn't find it. I don't know whether I have lost something or what."

"Know it won't do any good to tell you not to worry. I do. But you're in good hands."

"Yeah, I know." As Andreas spoke, the phone rang. He was sitting near it and picked it up. "Aaron's and Andreas' place, this is Andreas... Oh, hello Ms. Helms. How you doin'?... Yeah, I spent the day at your place... No, don't know anything yet... Yeah, the man's here. Aaron, Ms. Helms."

"LaTonya, what's 'appin'?"

"How'd you like to do a repeat of the prom, Aaron?"

"What do you mean?"

"Ms. Allen called me today and asked if I could chaperone for the prom. I asked if I could bring a date and she asked if DeWayne was in town. I told her no, but I thought I might round up an old prom date. Interested, or do you think it would put a crimp in Andreas' style?"

"He says he's not going. Got any spare maidens he might escort?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. My next door neighbor's daughter is in the same fix I was in. She thinks she's engaged to a sailor who is under the ocean somewhere. I'm sure she'd like to go, but thinks most men might get the wrong idea. Probably be an early night for Andreas since she only wants to go to the prom."

"Does she bark?" I asked.

"No, you fool, she's actually very good-looking. Let me talk to Andreas. I know he knows her."

"Andreas, I have a matchmaker on the phone. She'd like to talk to you."

"Andreas, Ms. Helms... No, I hadn't planned on going... I guess I could. I just don't have a lot of money to spend... Aaron, she wants to speak to you."

"Yeah, what's up?"

"Andreas is concerned about the money, I think. Can you handle two proms?"

"If you two don't expect the limo treatment, sure."

"Put Andreas back on."

Andreas listened for a while and finally said, "Sure, I know she's pretty and a lot of fun... Well, if it will help you out, I'll go. Aaron."

"Take it you talked him into it."

"Sure did. You'll be proud of him, Aaron, because he cleans up nice and so does she. I'll be wearing pale yellow and I think she will be in streetwalker red. Talk to you later."

"You know, I think we were just walked into a trap," I said as I hung up the phone.

"Yeah, well, if I have to show up at the prom with a female date, LaLisa is the one. She is one good-looking woman -- not that that turns me on, but I do appreciate a thing of beauty. And, hey, you didn't do so bad yourself."

Tuesday after I got off, Andreas and I made arrangements for tux -- very classical and conservative. While we were at the mall, we ordered flowers for the girls and when we got back home, I made dinner reservations at the Peasant Uptown, a place I loved when I could scrape together enough.

"Guess they will just have to go in a Jeep because I am not springing for a limo," I said.

"Better than a police escort," Andreas laughed.

"Better keep this a secret or Ralph may show up with a police escort," I laughed in turn.

The rest of the week was very busy as Ralph and I got assigned to a series of burglaries on the Northside. Man, those people must have piles of money or very good credit. The burglar used the same MO so we were pretty sure it was one person or the same persons. The stuff taken would not be showing up in pawn shops. All of it was art, mostly paintings, but some small sculptures. One man was devastated because the burglar had taken four paintings and left three in the library. The burglar was helpful in one way. He turned on the computer and left a scrolling message, "I never touch forgeries. It is dishonest."

The insurance company decided to have the paintings checked and they were forgeries. It was doubly funny because the originals had been widely reported as part of a European art theft so the guy who bought them knew he was -- at least he thought he was -- purchasing stolen goods. Money doesn't make people honest or change the nature of their crimes, their crimes just involve more money.

Mid-week I made appointments for Andreas and myself to get our hair worked on -- Friday after work. One of my classmates had earned his barber's license when he was sixteen and worked Friday night through Saturday in a College Park barbershop. He was flat out good and had earned enough to get his own apartment and go to Georgia State when he graduated from high school. Now he arranged his class schedule to allow him to work Friday and Saturday and one other day in the week. He had a huge customer base so he was doing well.

As a police officer, I probably should have just shaved my head like most of the black officers, but I didn't. I kept a "high and tight" cut. Andreas was one of those rare dark-skinned people who had what is known in the black community as "good hair". It was plentiful, very soft and curly, not kinky. His hair was beautiful so he wore it in what I guess was a standard cut for whites, but rare for African-Americans.

Ralph dropped me off at the apartment. When I got upstairs, Andreas was having a Coke and watching something on TV, I think one of those "I beat her ass because she be fucking my baby daddy" shows. When I came in he turned and asked, "Where do they get these people? They are advertising for women who had a baby by their father or brother. Those people are crazy."

"Not too crazy to get on TV and make a fool of themselves," I answered. "Talk about being a disgrace to your race, they are a disgrace to the whole human race. Ready to go get beautified?"

After we had finished at the barber shop, we went by a rib place and ate ribs for supper. "I like ribs, but I wonder if the meat is worth the battle," Andreas said.

"No question in my mind about that," I said, wiping the sauce from my face.

On the way home, we picked up our tux. Both fit like they were tailor-made. "If I keep going to proms, I need to buy one of these," I said.

I had the flowers delivered to the apartment since delivery was free and saved me a trip. By seven Andreas and I were ready. He was one handsome guy -- tall, well-built, beautiful rich milk chocolate skin and a smile that would stop a train. "God, you are good-looking," I said as we stood side-by-side, checking everything in a mirror.

"Not such a bad-looking brother yourself," he said and smiled.

I don't know why I didn't think about the drive, but we had to go to College Park, pick up our dates, then drive all the way across Atlanta for dinner, but the food was worth it, we all agreed. Although the prom started at 8:00, from experience I knew nothing would happen until close to 9:00. The senior walk was at 10:30. At least half the juniors and seniors would show up for the walk and leave soon afterward, having more interesting things to do in the hotel rooms their parents rented for them. Since the prom was being held at the Peachtree Center hotel, we had a relatively short drive after dinner and arrived at 8:30. The band was just getting started and the couples present seemed reluctant to dance. LaTonya and I weren't and as soon as we started dancing, Andreas and LaLisa joined us.

LaTonya and I danced some, nibbled on the food and visited with teachers. I had seen some of them when I went to the conference for Andreas, some I had not seen since graduation. Ms. Boynton, head of the science-math magnet program, said, "I don't like to talk shop at a party, but you need to speak to Andreas about next year. Georgia Tech and Georgia State are both putting pressure on me to have him make up his mind."

"And Emory?"

"I suspect Emory know they don't stand a chance since they are not a basketball powerhouse," she smiled. With Georgia Tech being a nationally known basketball school and Georgia State rising in the ranks, Emory's basketball program was a joke since even basketball players were expected to make the grades to stay in without selected courses, tutors, all that goes with getting basketball players regardless of academics.

"I wouldn't count Emory out, especially if the other two have to have an answer right away. He is more relaxed than he has been for a while. He had a through going over Monday and hasn't gotten the results yet. That may answer the basketball question with a big 'NO!' but nothing's sure right now. He would definitely pick Emory, all things being equal, because he really wants to go to med school there."

"Well, his options will be closing soon, regardless of what he decides."

"Thanks for the warning. He's supposed to get the results of his tests Monday. I'll talk to him then."

At midnight the band played the last dance and we left. When we were in the Jeep, I asked, "Anyone up for food or drink?".

"After the food and drink at the prom?" LaLisa asked. "Last year at the junior-senior the food was scarce and bad. I heard the juniors saying that would not happen this year. There really was no need for going out to dinner before but, don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed it. Andreas, thanks so much for inviting me. I really wanted to go, but would not have gone without a date. You are a gentleman and a scholar," she laughed, then said, "Hey, never thought about it, but that's really true in your case".

We took LaLisa home first. Andreas walked her to the door, took her key and opened the door, kissed her on the cheek and came back toward the Jeep when she went inside. As he approached, LaTonya said, "Someone commented on the lack of social graces among the athletes at the Christmas dance and noted Andreas was an exception, and he sure is. I wonder why?"

"I doubt that it was from home training," I said. "Or maybe it was from his mom. I did notice he was reading a book on manners right after he agreed to go to the prom. He takes everything seriously, I think, even having fun!"

"He's a great fellow, but you know that don't you?"

"Yeah, I do." I wasn't sure what LaTonya meant by her remark and kept my response very general.

Andreas was unusually quiet as we rode home after dropping LaTonya off, so much so that I noticed it right away. I wasn't sure where his thoughts were, so I didn't disturb him.

As we walked upstairs, I asked, "Did you have a good time, Andreas?".

"I had a wonderful time," he said as I unlocked the door. "It was almost perfect."

"Oh, only almost perfect?" I asked as I turned on the living room lamp. "And just what would have made it perfect?" Andreas suddenly looked down and blushed. "Yes?"

"I... Nothin', Nothin', Aaron," Andreas answered.

"Ahh, come on. You turn down a chance for a perfect evening. May never have another chance."

Andreas was standing just inside the door, and when I spoke he looked down, digging at the carpet with the toe of his shoe -- the exact picture of a nine-year-old asking his first girlfriend for a kiss. He blushed and looked up, half-smiling, half-hesitant. "I'm afraid, Aaron. Just forget it."

"What horrible thing is it you need to make your evening perfect?"

"Not horrible for me. Maybe for you."

"Give me a chance to be horrified," I said. "What would make this a perfect evening, Andreas?"

The young man looked at me, again acting like an embarrassed nine-year-old. He finally looked up, a shy smile on his face. I had to listen hard to hear his soft response. "A dance with you."

"Whoa," I said to myself. "What have I let myself in for?" I knew I had thoughts about Andreas -- nothing definite, just a feeling, a questioning. Here he was asking me to dance with him and I knew his request implied more than just friendship. I mean it had to, right? I was confused, frightened, unsure of myself, of my world. Wouldn't a dance with him indicate a kind of feeling and commitment I wasn't sure I had or could give. Finally I had to respond so I asked, "A dance with me would make your evening perfect?". I asked as though I had not heard correctly.

"Yeah, but if you don't want to, I understand. I mean I'm gay and all. And I can understand if you don't want to and all. Me being gay and all."

We could straighten out what I did and didn't feel later, and I did mean later. This was important to a kid who was on his way back from hell. "Put on a CD, Andreas," I said as I slid open the glass door to the balcony, the only place beside our tiny kitchen that wasn't carpeted. The balcony wasn't huge, but it was big enough for a dance.

The CD started and Andreas walked out onto the balcony and took my hand, and pulled me into his embrace as a real oldie started:

                    Are the stars out tonight
                    I don't know if it's cloudy or bright
                    'Cause I only have eyes for you, dear

                    The moon may be high
                    But I can't see a thing in the sky
                    'Cause I only have eyes for you

                    I don't know if we're in a garden
                    Or on a crowded avenue
                    You are here, so am I
                    Maybe millions of people go by
                    But they all disappear from view
                    'Cause I only have eyes for you

I was confused, bewildered. Andreas was holding me close as he started singing with the CD. He had to know the effect he was having on me. In fact, it might be clearer to him than to me. I was aroused, more than I could ever remember being aroused. Andreas could not help feeling my hard cock between us. And what really bothered me was I felt like I was where I was supposed to be -- in Andreas' arms, dancing to a love song in a warm spring night. He said a dance with me would make the night perfect, well I hadn't expected the night to be special, just a bit out of the ordinary. Now he was making the night perfect for me. My mind was a whirl, my thoughts all over the map. Was I gay? Was I in love with Andreas? What would it mean if I were -- either gay or in love with Andreas? Could I be in love with him without being gay? Was I taking advantage of him?

If I thought I was confused while we were dancing, my world came to pieces and became whole at the same time when, as the song ended, Andreas put his hand under my chin, tilting it up, smiled and placed his lips against mine in a deep, passionate kiss. His tongue invaded my mouth, bringing with it a taste, the taste of Andreas. I literally dissolved in his arms. My legs became weak, my knees collapsed and, as I started to fall, Andreas swept me into his arms and carried me into the living room. There he placed me on the sofa and stood, looking down at me, a smile starting then being wiped away by worry. He finally sat down beside me and said, "I'm sorry, Aaron. I really am. No, I'm not. I'm not sorry I let you know I'm in love with you, but I am sorry I upset you. Forgive me. Please?"

I couldn't speak. I was too confused. I reached up and took Andreas' hand and pulled him down beside me. I looked at him and, for reasons I couldn't understand, huge tears started running down my face. As soon as he saw them, Andreas slid off the sofa and lay on the floor in fetal position and started sobbing in great, heart-breaking sobs. "Oh, God, Aaron, please forgive me. I didn't mean to hurt you. Now I have destroyed everything."

I didn't know what to say or do and wasn't sure I could say or do anything. Finally I could stand it no longer and slid off the sofa and gathered Andreas in my arms. When I was able to speak, I said, "Andreas, you have destroyed nothing. I'm not sure what you have done. I am confused, but you have destroyed nothing. I'm not sure what has happened, but I am not sorry that you asked me to dance with you. I do know it felt right and wonderful. But I need time to work through a lot of things, a lot of feelings. Can you give me that? Please?"

"Aaron, I am sure of one thing and maybe only one thing. I love you. I knew it the weekend we were in north Georgia. When Edward and I left the three of you, we were having a great time talking, asking each other questions. I don't know why, but he asked me if I was gay and I told him I was. I expected him to tell me to get lost -- and I would have been had he left me," Andreas smiled. "He asked me if we were boyfriends and I told him we were not, but that I had fallen in love with you. He asked me some very pointed questions. He wanted to know if I was in love or just grateful for your having taken me in. He really pushed at me to make sure I was in love and not just lusting after your body -- I told him I was, but there was more than lust. More than infatuation, I also assured him. He asked when I was going to tell you and I told him I was afraid I would run you off. He was the reason I wanted to make sure you realized you were not a great deal older than I was. All that sort of thing. I had felt I was in love with you before, but after that afternoon with Edward, I was sure."

"Maybe I need to spend an afternoon with Edward," I smiled. "Obviously you can get me hot and horny, but I would never base a relationship on that. In fact, it would destroy any relationship we had. I can't sort out my feelings right now. I'm not sure I am gay. I mean I had a girlfriend that I loved, I really did love her, but... I'm confused, Andreas."

"That's ok and you can have all the space and time you need to sort things out. Just don't feel pity for me and pretend you love me. I'll wait until you can honestly say you do or do not love me."

"Andreas, I'll never lie to you. There is no question that I love you. Never doubt that. The only question, the only one, is the nature of that love." I got up from the floor, extended a hand and pulled Andreas to his feet. When I did, I embraced him in a bear hug and said, "Andreas, I thought I was the older guy and you are the one who is supposed to be confused."

"Yeah, well, I guess we are just different."

It was nearly two in the morning when we got to bed. Andreas was snoring softly soon after he crawled under the covers. I lay awake, playing the night's events over and over in my mind. I was still questioning them and myself when I finally went to sleep.

I was very sound asleep when I was awakened by a bloodcurdling scream. I shot straight up in bed, confused and disoriented. When I got my bearings, I realized where I was and that Andreas had screamed. About the time I was fully awake, Andreas screamed again. He had rolled himself in a tight ball in the middle of his bed. I went to him and shook him to wake him. When he was half-awake, he put his arms around my neck, squeezing me very tight as he started sobbing. I held him close until he regained control, then asked what was wrong.

"I had a nightmare again, Aaron. I dreamed I told Mom and Kumba I was in love with you and Mom started beating me and Kumba strapped on his gun and went looking for you. It was horrible."

"It was only a dream, Andreas. You are safe here and I am here. It's ok. Go back to sleep now."

"Can I sleep with you? Please?"

"Oh, boy," I thought. "How can I say no and how can I sleep with Andreas in bed with me?" I guess I was about to find out. "Sure."

I went back to bed and Andreas climbed in beside me, spooning himself into my back. As he had felt in my arms dancing, so in my bed. It seemed so right, so where he should be.

We slept late Sunday, finally crawling out of bed in the early afternoon. No mention was made by either of us of the events of last night. There was, it seemed to me, a feeling of intimacy in just being together, but it could have been my imagination.

Monday, Andreas was off to school and I drove to the station. Ralph greeted me with, "The Superintendent wants to see the two of us. I was told it is some hush-hush project."

When we got to the big man's office, he told us to close the door and take a seat. Before we sat down, he introduced us to Chief Haynes of the Macon Police Department. "Chief Haynes, I'll let you explain what's going on."

"You, of course, know that I-75 runs from Florida north and is the main route for drug distribution from the Florida ports. Macon is a kind of hub for drugs intended for Atlanta, Savannah and Columbus, as well as Macon. The distributors and dealers in Macon are very clever. Macon is small enough that most everyone knows everyone. It's hard for our boys to do anything because they are known. What we want to do is have someone from the outside go underground and see what they can find out. In looking over files, the Superintendent and I were impressed with your record, Johnson. What had special appeal was the fact that Detective Hicks had recommended you in the most impressive way. He asked for you as his partner. I'm convinced the right person could get the information we need in short time -- a month, six weeks max."

"Johnsoon, I suppose I could order you to take the job, but I won't. It's dangerous, and the type of police work that requires the willingness of the person undertaking it. If you accept the task, you'll die in a way not yet determined. In accordance with your wishes, there will be a small private funeral and your ashes scattered somewhere. There will be a big write-up here and in Macon. We'll have to work that out. You will be given a new identity as an ex-con. You will be released on a parole and have to report to your parole officer weekly. He will be your contact. There will be no other contacts. I won't kid you, the job is dangerous. We have lost two officers already to the dealers, at least we think they are responsible. Since you have no family, that problem is eliminated."

"I do have a young man I took in who is my unofficial ward. What will be done about him?"

"I didn't know this. What's the situation?"

I decided if these men were going to be my lifeline, they better be able to handle Andreas' situation, so I told them why he came to live with me. They promised they would keep an eye out for him and told Ralph he could consider checking on Andreas as part of his job. "I'll also look into Kumba Richardson's file, but I will do nothing until you're resurrected," the Superintendent said. "Can't have him snooping around trying to find out where I got my information. Think about the task and let me know in the next day or so. If you decide to take it on, there will be some pretty intense training as well as work creating your new identity. I'd like to have a man on the streets of Macon by next weekend."

"I wouldn't have hesitated a few months ago, but now that I am responsible for Andreas, I'm not sure. He will have to know I am not dead. Given his emotional state now I would not subject him to believing I am dead."

"Do you think he can convince everyone he DOES believe it? I don't! If he knew, I am much afraid it will put you in greater danger," the Chief declared.

"Leave Andreas to me," Ralph said. "If it becomes absolutely necessary, I will tell him, otherwise his distress is your life insurance, Aaron."

"I'll have your answer as soon as I can," I said.

When we got in the car, Ralph said, "Aaron, this is a very dangerous assignment you are being asked to do, but it could make a real difference in the drug trafficking here, and that's why you became a policeman, right?"

"Right, Of course, right. But now? Now I have Andreas to consider. And even that situation is different than it was a week ago. And he graduates in a few weeks. I might miss that."

"We're in a job that does require sacrifices. I'll make sure there is a full video of the event if you aren't here for graduation if you accept the assignment. But what's this about the situation with Andreas changing?"

I had told Ralph nothing about prom weekend beyond the fact that we both had gone and had a good time. "I guess it's now or never," I thought to myself, took a deep breath and told Ralph everything.

"Yeah, the situation is different all right. And you two haven't talked since, I mean about Andreas' confession of love?"

"No, I don't know what to say and I guess Andreas is just waiting for me to say something."

"What are you afraid of?" Ralph asked. "I guess you are not 100% gay. Few are, just as there are few 100% heteros. But, Aaron, LaTonya, Ms. Allen and I have all hinted at what we see and that is you are more on the gay side of the equation than the straight side. I think you know that as well, just haven't admitted it to yourself."

"I know I am confused and I guess I am beginning to admit that I am gay. I know one thing, Ralph, I am falling in love with Andreas, but he's so young."

"Yeah, when you retire at sixty-five he will be only sixty-two and have to take an early retirement and wait three years for medicare!" Ralph laughed. "Right now we need to be talking about how we are going to deal with Andreas if you decide to take the assignment. I'm worried that if he knows you are ok in Macon, he won't be able to hide the fact, or at least won't be able to convince anyone he's devastated by your death, and anyone who knows him will know something is wrong. I know something about what's going on there because I got called in to be asked about you. Aaron, I am convinced when this situation blows, there will be a lot of surprises. Right now I wouldn't trust anyone knowing you are not dead if you take the assignment. Not even Andreas. He might make an innocent slip and get you killed."

"You are right, of course, but at the same time, I can't put him through weeks and months of grieving for me, and he would."

"Certainly true after what you told me about last weekend." We talked over the next two days as we were going about pretty routine matters. I, of course, had said nothing to Andreas. Life had settled back into pretty much the routine it had been in before the prom. Well, not exactly. There was a lot more touching going on, arms around shoulders when it seemed natural. It was increasingly obvious to me that I might not be 100% gay, but I was close to 100% in love with Andreas. That was why it was getting harder all the time for me to do what I did Thursday. Ralph and I went downtown to headquarters as soon as he picked me up. We went to the big man's office and I told him I'd take the assignment. I guess the idea that I might -- God knows how -- lose Andreas to drugs did it. I had never done anything as hard in my life as saying yes to the assignment.

"Great. I was afraid you wouldn't and I didn't have anyone else as good for the job." We then discussed how it would be handled. I wasn't happy about it, but it was a very good plan.

Thursday, at noon, I got a call on my cell phone -- not the police radio -- from the superintendent. "Take your car to Perimeter Mall and drive behind the Firestone place. You'll find my car there. Take it and leave yours. The show is hitting the road." At 1:00 we got a call to join in a high-speed chase on I-20 west. It was strange because we saw no other police cars on the way out. Somewhere between Atlanta and Douglasville, we saw two cars burning -- very strange. When we arrived, the superintendent and Macon's police chief were the only people present. "How did you guys get here?" Ralph asked as we reach the scene.

"In the two cars," the superintendent answered, pointing to the burning police and other car. "We finally have our bodies." The plan called for a high-speed chase of a "felon" by "Aaron", a chase which ended in a fiery crash. The two cars were to burst into flame, burning the two beyond recognition. The burned bodies would be cremated and the ashes of "Aaron" would be scattered in north Georgia at his request. "Aaron, as of a few minutes ago, is no more. You'll be taken off the payroll as deceased and all the proper papers filed -- death certificate, everything. Even start payments on your insurance."

"Superintendent, I haven't changed my beneficiary. I would have changed it to Andreas if I had remembered.

"Aaron, unless this takes over six months, you don't have to worry. It takes ages for insurance to get straightened out -- after the request leaves my desk."

I hated the plan, but knew it was the best possible way to get rid of "Aaron". Fortunately, Ralph was the one who would have to comfort Andreas, Jerry, and anyone else who might care.

When the fire department arrived, the superintendent had me in his car along with the Macon chief. When the fire department -- it was from Douglasville to make sure no-one recognized me -- started putting out the fire, the superintendent left with the three of us in his car. We drove to a secluded spot where the Macon chief's car had been hidden. I got out and before I left said, "Ralph, take care of Andreas and let him know I love him." I looked back as we left, wondering when, or even if, I'd see my friends and Andreas again. It was a sobering thought.

Chapter 5

As the superintendent and I drove back into the city, I found myself on the verge of tears. I was the one who would have to tell Andreas the news, the terrible news, that Aaron was dead. "Ralph, I don't envy you your job, but anyone else talking to the young man would appear strange. The bodies will be taken to the Medical Examiner's as soon as possible, and he has arranged to have his staff attend an in-service until 5:00. He will personally get the bodies to the crematory. The ashes will be available Friday afternoon. The two bodies were two the county would have to bury, so there will be no questions. One's ashes will not be returned from the crematory. The other's ashes, the ones you receive, will be taken to the mountains and scattered. You made sure Aaron left specific instructions about that?" I nodded. "I am hoping he will luck up and break this case soon."

"When can I tell Andreas that Aaron is not dead?"

"Only Aaron can do that. I am not kidding, Ralph, he is going into real danger and I don't want to make it more dangerous than it is."

"Superintendent, I hope there is something in all this for Aaron. He took this case because, as you know, he has suffered greatly because of drugs, but I think there was another reason. A week ago, Andreas told Aaron he was in love with him. Those of us who know Aaron well know he is bisexual if not just gay, but Aaron doesn't know that or admit it. The fact that in high school he dated the same girl for two years and they seldom had sex should say something to him, but he just says he is confused. This assignment will give him time away from all he knows, time to think and sort things out."

"That could be dangerous. He needs his mind on his work."

"I'm betting money that it will make him very careful concerning his neck, and a tiger on the job. At one point in his life, everyone he had cared about was dead from drugs. He sure doesn't want that to happen again."

"I hope you are right."

"I am. Now I have to come up with a reason why Aaron is dead and I am alive and without a scratch."

"Oh, a detail I hadn't thought about. How's this? You had gone to Douglasville to testify in court. A very unimportant case so no-one will remember whether or not you were there. I'll check the docket and pick one."

"I guess I can't put it off any longer."

"Let me know if there is anything I can do. By the way, you have a brand-new car. It's waiting for you."

"Thanks, I guess."

I went down and found my car waiting. Somehow or other it didn't seem right. As I was driving -- taking my time -- to Aaron's place, I got a call on the radio from the superintendent. "Ralph, I have just learned of your partner's death this afternoon. I'm sorry. Call on me if I can be of help. You're lucky you weren't with him or you'd be burned to death as well. Even though you didn't get called to testify, going to Douglasville was lucky for you."

"I guess I should feel lucky, but I don't."

"The reporters are here now. I'll try to keep them away from you and Aaron's roommate. Again, call on me if I can help."

The superintendent was not a dunce. He knew anything he said over the radio was instant in-house news.

When I reached Aaron's apartment, Andreas opened the door and when he saw me asked, "Where's Aaron? What's wrong? I know something is wrong."

"Let's go inside, Andreas."

Once inside I told Andreas that Aaron was dead. I was prepared for his response, I thought, but when it came, I was not. He fell on the floor, weeping quietly, saying over and over again, "Everything I love is gone with him. I have absolutely no reason to go on living, Ralph. Why couldn't it have been me? Why? Why did Aaron have to die."

I lifted Andreas to his feet and held him close. "Andreas, grab some clothes. You're going home with me."

"No, I'm staying here where I was with Aaron."

"No, you are not. You need people around you. Get some clothes."

Andreas argued, but finally got his things together. When he was ready to go, I said, "Andreas, Aaron once told me if anything ever happened to him, there was a letter in a locked box for me. Do you know where he kept it? He seems to have forgotten to tell me."

"I think it might be on a shelf in his closet." Andreas looked in the closet and called, "Yeah there's a small fireproof box here. You have the combination?"

"Yeah, it's 9-9-0-8. Open it."

Andreas opened the box and took out an envelope. "This is addressed to you and says 'In case of my death or becoming comatose'," he said as he handed me the envelope.

I knew what was in the envelope since I had read it carefully after Aaron had written it. It simply said, in case of his death, his body was to be cremated and the ashes scattered off the cliffs overlooking the river in north Georgia -- "Jerry and Andreas know the place". The scattering was to be private, only the Coghills, myself, Andreas were to be present. It also said, "Tell Andreas I love him".

"Andreas, get clothes together, we're going."

When I got the kid home, Lucy took charge. The woman had been a wonderful wife for thirty-five years and a wonderful mother for thirty. Andreas, in his distress, pushed all her mother buttons. Understandably, Andreas said he wanted nothing to eat, but Lucy hovered over him, doing motherly things for him. There was no reason she should do otherwise as she had not been told about Aaron's assignment. She actually got him to eat a little supper and, as soon as he had finished, took him to the guest room. "I think you need a long hot shower," she said, "then get in your pajamas and try to relax".

Andreas was on automatic pilot, which apparently was attuned to Lucy's frequency. It was obvious he was just going through the motions. After a long shower, he called me and said, "Ok if I sleep in boxers? That's what I generally do."

"Sure. Sleep in your birthday suit if you like."

"Don't think Lucy would appreciate that."

"You might be surprised," I countered, and got a faint smile out of the kid.

The superintendent had given me some sleeping pills for Andreas. "No need for him to suffer more than he has to," he had said. "See that he gets one as soon as you think he's needs to go to bed."

It was only 9:00 when I finally got Andreas to take a pill and go to sleep. When I checked on him before turning in myself, he was asleep, but his sleep was restless. When I told Lucy about Andreas' statements about having no reason to go on living, she insisted I sleep in the guest room with him -- in spite of the fact there was no reasonable way he could do away with himself in there. I slept little, what with worrying about Aaron, Andreas and being cramped in a twin bed.

When Andreas cried out at five in the morning, I went to him and held him while he wept. Lucy had heard him and came to the guest room with a glass of water and another sleeping pill. He took the pill and was soon asleep again, sleeping until nearly noon.

I was anxious to see Saturday morning's paper to see just how big a story Aaron's "death" had been. There was almost a half-page story on the front of the "Home" section. It was made up of several different articles. One had a picture of Aaron in his uniform and the story of his "death". Additionally, there was a graduation picture and story about his years at College Park, a sidebar about his decision to enter police work because of what crack had done to him. I was surprised. There was also a separate article about the "felon" he had been chasing when the crash occurred. It was a story designed to be picked up by the Macon paper, since the "felon" was supposedly from Macon.

When Andreas got up, Lucy got him to eat something, after which he showered and dressed. Before he got up, I had called Jerry and told him the news and of Aaron's request that his ashes be scattered in north Georgia. Jerry asked about Andreas and I told him he was with me. We talked a long time about Aaron and just before I hung up he said, "You know Andreas was in love with Aaron, don't you?".

"Yeah, Aaron told me about prom weekend."

"Did he tell you he was in love with Andreas or hadn't he found out?"

I laughed, "You know he would be the last to know, but I think it had dawned."

"Let me know what the plans are. We can drive up to mom's place this afternoon or in the morning."

"I'd like to make it as quick as possible for Andreas' sake."

I got a call from the funeral home mid-afternoon telling me I could pick up the ashes after 4:00. "And, Mr. Hicks, we will have a selection of urns from which to choose," the undertaker had said.

"No need. The ashes will go directly to the place where they are to be scattered."

Andreas was sitting in the kitchen with Lucy. If he needed a mom right now, he had a good one. She seemed to know just exactly what to do with our son when he was upset, and she was working that magic on Andreas. "Andreas, you need to get dressed for a trip to north Georgia. We can pick up the ashes at 4:00 and we will drive directly to north Georgia. Jerry and Susan are on their way now."

"I need to go back to the apartment. I only have these" -- he stuck out a foot -- "and I will need my hiking shoes."

"Ok, when you are ready."

"I'm ready right now." Andreas gave Lucy a big hug and said, "Thanks, Lucy. You don't know how much I appreciate what you have done for me."

"Think nothing of it and I expect to see you around here often," she said, returning his hug.

There was silence in the car as we drove to the apartment. Andreas disappeared into the bedroom and reappeared dressed for a hike.

While we were there the phone rang. It was the superintendent. "Ralph, I got to thinking: after all the build-up, we were letting this funeral take too much of a backseat. The director himself has raked me over the coals about that -- by the way, he doesn't know. He insists on his car taking you and the boy to north Georgia with police escort. Additionally, each time you cross a county line, the sheriff will have deputies ready to escort you to the next county. It will make good copy for the news."

I told Andreas about the escort. I didn't know what he'd think about it, but he said he thought Aaron deserved at least that.

The chief's car came for us at 4:00 and we went to the funeral home, picked up the small black plastic box with "cremains", and headed for north Georgia. The chief's driver had said he would drive as slowly as we wanted, "out of respect".

"I don't think Aaron would approve of us holding up traffic," Andreas said. "Let's go to north Georgia." Whereupon the blue lights came on and the sirens started, a Fulton County deputy leading. We were driving at maximum safe speed. When we reached Fannin County, the sirens were turned off and we proceeded with a bit more decorum to the Coghills', arriving at 6:30 -- a new speed record, I suspect.

Mrs. Coghill met the car and immediately took Andreas in her arms, hugging him close. We walked inside where Mrs. Coghill had a huge supper waiting. When Andreas said he wasn't hungry, Mrs. Coghill said she wasn't surprised, but everyone was expecting him for supper. "You need to be strong, Andreas."

The psychology worked. Andreas sat down and when Mrs. Coghill had served his plate, he started picking at his food as the Coghills started telling tales on Aaron. There was a lot of laughter as friends remembered him. I wished I had a tape for Aaron. He would have had a blast with it. Andreas was probably not aware of it, but he was eating, putting away a lot of food.

When everyone had finished supper, Mrs. Coghill told everyone to go to the deck, "The evening is nice. I'll bring coffee and dessert."

The mood became very solemn once we were outside. I noticed Andreas had separated himself from the group as a whole. He refused coffee and dessert when Mrs. Coghill offered it to him. We had been outside for a short time when I heard a car drive up. Shortly afterward, a young man walked onto the deck. Andreas turned and when he saw the young man, he got up and ran to him, saying, "Edward, Edward, he's dead". Edward took Andreas in his arms and the two wept. Finally, Edward took Andreas' hand and led him down the steps. I saw them as they walked along the bank of the stream running behind the Coghills' house.

I didn't know when Andreas came back. Mrs. Coghill had shown me to a room about 8:00 and I was in bed shortly afterward, exhausted from the past two days. I'm not a very religious man, but I sure sent a few up on behalf of Aaron and Andreas. I had been told by Andreas we would be leaving the house at 4:30, because he wanted to scatter the ashes at sunrise.

Four came very early and I was half-asleep as we walked in silence through the forest where there was just enough light for us to make our way to the cliffs overlooking the river. Andreas stood at the edge of the cliff, holding the box with the ashes. Edward was standing beside, his arm over Andreas' shoulders. As the sun rose above the horizon, Andreas opened the box and scattered the ashes over the cliff's edge. The light from the rising sun caught the falling ashes, turning them into a stream of red and gold. "You are missing a grand funeral, Aaron," I thought.

When we returned to the house, Mrs. Coghill finished a grand breakfast and everyone ate. After breakfast, Andreas asked if we could wait until afternoon to go back to Atlanta. We were going back with Jerry and he said he was in no hurry. "Edward and I are going for a hike," Andreas said. "We'll be back before too late." It was only much later that I learned Andreas wanted to talk about Aaron and his love for him, and he trusted Edward to listen and to keep his secret. Andreas told me what he had wanted after I asked him if he was falling for Edward a couple weeks later, when Edward came to Atlanta to spend the weekend with him.

When we got back to Atlanta, I insisted Andreas come to my place. "You don't need to be alone right now. Besides, Lucy will kill me if I didn't bring you back so she could baby you." I insisted he stay with us the whole following week. He only went to the apartment to pick up what he needed. Friday morning at breakfast, Andreas said, "I have been here long enough. I'll go home after school today. I need to get on with my life." As he spoke, tears started running down his face. My heart cried for him.

I checked on Andreas every day, either by driving by or phoning. Two weeks after the "funeral", I asked Andreas if he needed anything. "Ralph, this is kinda embarrassing, but I am out of money. I guess I should have realized my freeloading was over but, with everything else going on, I didn't think about it. Could I borrow some until I can find a job and earn some money?"

"Haven't you been getting a check from the department? I know Aaron intended to name you as beneficiary of his insurance. I'll check for you tomorrow. Do you need money tonight?"

"No, I can get by a day or so. Thanks, Ralph. Thanks for everything."

I went straight to the superintendent the next morning. He saw me at once and was most apologetic about not having taken care of getting money to Andreas. "Detective Johnson will have our heads if that's not taken care of now. Since he is 'dead', he is no longer on the payroll. I'm holding the paperwork on his insurance. He is really on his own in Macon. I'll see that a weekly check goes to Andreas. In the meantime, I'll get a couple hundred in cash to him today."

Andreas was staying at the apartment and seemed to be handling his grief very well. Lucy insisted that he come for dinner at least once a week. I kept in touch with Ms. Allen. She said Andreas was obviously grieving, but not in an unhealthy way. "He's doing his grief work very well, I think," she told me.

As I mentioned earlier, Edward came down to spend a weekend with Andreas, and Jerry had taken him to the Coghills' another. The next week, Andreas told me, Jerry had called and asked about moving in with him. "He said he and Susan had a long and serious talk and, as much as they loved each other, it was clear it would never work out. Jerry is living for the day he can get hired as a Fannin County deputy and move back to the mountains. Susan had just about had enough the weekend she went to the mountains with me and Aaron. She was convinced she could never live in the mountains after a weekend camping trip. She's a city girl and Jerry is a mountain man. Jerry had moved in with her and let his apartment go, so he is looking for a place to live and thought it would be a good idea for him to move in with me. I think it is a good idea as well."

I agreed with Andreas and told Jerry so when I had breakfast with him one morning. "Ralph, I need to know something. When I got to Andreas' place the night I moved in, he said he had to get clean sheets for Aaron's bed. 'Sometimes when it gets to be just too much and I can't sleep, I sleep in his bed -- it still smells like Aaron. But I made my bed for you and put clean sheets on Aaron's bed, but I still want to sleep in it.' Don't you think that is strange?"

"Didn't you have a security blanket when you were a kid?" I asked him.

"Yeah, but I gave it up before I went to school."

"You gave it up when your life changed. Andreas life changed when you moved in, so he gave up the security blanket. You've got to remember he had just confessed his love to Aaron, and had a real hope it was being returned, when his world was shattered. Anything he can hold on to is ok." Jerry nodded agreement.

Graduation sneaked up on me. I had to rush around to make sure it was videotaped, but I did get arrangements made for that. Lucy had insisted on having a party for Andreas after graduation. Jerry had asked his mom and Edward to come down for the event, which pleased Andreas to no end, so they all showed up for a cook-out at our place.

The graduation program listed the scholarships accepted by students. That was the first time I had known Andreas had accepted an academic scholarship to Emory. When I asked him about it, he said the doctors thought he could play basketball as there was no permanent damage they could see. "But I looked at my chances of ending up in the NBA -- frankly, I'm not really interested in basketball and am somewhat frightened that I might be permanently injured playing. With those feelings I realized ending up in the NBA was not likely to happen. Besides, what I really want to do is go into medicine and Emory is the best place for that."

He had a week between graduation and going to work at the Center for Disease Control. Edward invited him to come to the mountains for the week saying they could get in a camping trip and just laze around before both started their summers. He went and it turned out to be a great week indeed.

When he came back, he threw himself into his internship at the CDC and Jerry said he thought he was doing great. "But you know, he tells me sometimes he knows, he just knows, Aaron is not dead. What do I need to do about that?"

"Nothing, just let him talk about it."

Several weeks after Aaron's death, Jerry told me Andreas woke up in the night, the first time for a while, and said Aaron was in danger. "He went out on the balcony and just sat. I think he may need help."

"Give him some time," I advised Jerry. Truth be told, it was kind of spooky.


I was having a really hard time leaving Andreas thinking I was dead, but after the chief had briefed me on my way down, I realized it had to be that way or he really would be left behind when I got a bullet in the head.

I was surprised when we did not drive directly to Macon. Instead, when we reached Forsythe, the chief started taking back roads until we were in the middle of nowhere. He had turned down a barely visible trail -- it couldn't be called a road. After we were completely surrounded by trees and vines, he stopped, we got out and walked about half a mile further down the trail. There was a beat-up truck in the middle of the road. "That's your transportation for now," the chief said. "Drive on down this trail for about a mile and you will find a hunting cabin on the river. That will be home for the next few days, probably a week. There will be two police officers waiting for you. They will work with you creating an identity, a story, and giving you all the information we have. You are not to leave the cabin until you are ready to become Oscar Carter, your new name.

I found the cabin as promised and was welcomed by two police officers who looked like anything but. They were narcotics agents who had been undercover, but now suspected they had been identified. Their names were Kenyatta and Chandler. "I was named for Joel Chandler Harris," Chandler said. "Not surprising I get called Uncle Remus," he laughed.

The first thing they did was have me empty my pockets, putting everything in a bag which they hid in the attic. "Any of that could get you killed," Kenyatta said. They took the clothes I'd been wearing and put them in a garment bag, and it was hidden in the attic as well. I was given jeans and a shirt to wear. "When you are ready to go into town, we have state-issued clothing. The story is you are just out of prison on parole. Here are your papers and your wallet with identification -- everything you need including about twenty dollars. After that's gone, you will be on your own. All your things will be sent back to Atlanta as soon as you leave here."

I looked at my driver's license and discovered I was, indeed, Oscar Carter.

"Let's have supper and a relaxed evening since it will be the last relaxing time we have," Chandler said.

Friday morning we were up at eight and had breakfast, then started working on my identity. I had my "story" down by lunch but, as the two guys said, only in my rational brain. "You have to get it to the point it is natural or you'll slip up."

In the afternoon, we started going over files, trying to see some way to get at the major drug distributor in Macon. "The facts are few and simple," Kenyatta said. "We know huge amounts of cocaine are coming into Macon and are picked up and taken to Atlanta, Columbus and Savannah. We know it comes from Florida. But how it gets from Florida to here and from here to the three other cities is a mystery. We also suspect that all the drugs going to Atlanta do not stop there. At least as much as goes to Columbus is picked up in Atlanta and taken to Chattanooga. Again, we don't know how. The money flowing into Macon must be going somewhere, but we don't know where. Finding out is your job."

"I always did like easy assignments," I smiled.

"Seriously, Oscar, we are stumped and have had no breaks. Frankly, if you just get out alive it will be a success. To actually break the case will be a miracle. I am serious, Bro," Kenyatta said.

We broke for supper and, afterwards, sat around talking. I suddenly realized Chandler had addressed me as Oscar and I had started responding as such. Supper Friday was the end of Aaron so far as I was concerned.

Saturday we spent learning about my "cellmate". He was from Macon and I had learned some things from him. For fear someone might contact him, he was being moved to a high-security prison up north and kept in isolation. Absolutely no communication was allowed him. "Sounds kinda unfair to him," I observed.

"Don't bleed too much for him," Kenyatta said. "He's serving three consecutive life sentences. He was asked if he'd like to be part of an experiment with a private cell as a reward. Since things are so crowded in Georgia prisons, inmates are sleeping on the floor, he jumped at the chance."

After an hour of intensive study, we would take a fifteen-minute break. After the break, I'd be quizzed on what I had been told since the first session. Generally I did well, but when I made a major boo-boo, Chandler would remark quietly, "You're dead, Oscar". It made an impression.

Sunday, a week later, after lunch the two left me on my own and disappeared in the bedroom. It was half an hour before they came back. I would not have recognized either of them, they had so altered their appearance. They handed me a new outfit which included a baseball cap and dark glasses. "We're going into Macon and, basically, just drive around so you can put things with names you know. We'll not get out of the truck. I don't think anyone will be able to identify us, but we don't want to take any chances."

We drove around Macon for about an hour. The two pointed out places I would need to know, including a couple places I might get help. I didn't relish putting up at Union Mission, but I might well have to spend nights there until I could get on my feet. I'd need a job quickly, but had no idea what I might do. I had to keep my lack of education, as Oscar, in mind.

Monday and Tuesday continued my education about Macon. Wednesday I was taken to a back alley in Macon and put on the street. "You're to report to your parole officer Fridays at ten. He will arrange to be alone when you show up. Your officer is Jake Halcombe. He's the supervising officer so he has a private office to protect you. You have the phone number you can call if you absolutely need help. You don't have it written down do you?"

"No. All I have on me is my wallet, nothing else."

Dressed as a newly released prisoner, I waited until the two had gone before walking out of the alley. I planned to show up at the Union Mission later, but first I wanted to just walk around Macon, testing my internal map against reality.

I showed up at the mission in time to be preached to and prayed over, the cost of a not-too-bad supper. Tickets for the night shelter were passed out before we went to supper, but I decided the weather was good enough for me to sleep outside somewhere.

After supper, a youngish man asked me where I was staying. I told him I was just out of the "state hotel" and didn't know Macon that well. He invited me to join him in an abandoned building on the edge of town. There were five or six other people inside. "Dere be only one other sane person here," he told me. "De other four be dumped on the street after dere ninety days in Milledgeville. Of course, de first thing dey done is throw 'way dere medication, so de voices is back. I think dey be harmless, but I doan have nothin' to do with dem."

I slept with one eye open, but nothing happened. In the morning, Simon, that was the young guy's name, asked if I'd like to do some work. "Pay be bad, but no strings." I agreed and we went into a residential part of Macon -- large old homes with extensive gardens. We went to a back door where a maid answered the bell. "Fanny Mae," Simon said when she appeared, "I sho' de madam need some garden work done, an' yo' be havin' two healthy, good-lookin' brothers to do it". Fanny Mae laughed and said, "Yo' brothers might be good-looking, but yo' sho' needs a hot scrubbing to get rid of de dirt an' stink. When yo' goin' get a real job an' be somebody?"

"Next week for sho' but right now I needs a little pocket change."

"I'll see if Madam be needin' work done. Where yo' pick up dat good-lookin' dude yo' be having with yo'?"

"Well, Fanny Mae, dis good brother be called Oscar an' he be lookin' for work after an extended vacation at de state five-star hotel."

"What yo' be in of?"

"Drug dealing. But I be innocent."

"Dat what dey all say," she answered.

Remembering to keep the dialect was harder than I thought. I had worked so hard for years getting rid of it that using it just felt wrong. Since I said I wasn't from Macon a slip now and then might be expected, but no major ones.

Fanny Mae disappeared and came back shortly. "Yo' be in luck. Madam say her gardener done gone an' slipped under de lawn mower an' ain't gonna be back fo' weeks. Here de list of what she be wantin' done an' here de key for de tool shed."

The first item on the list was mowing and edging the lawn. Simon got on the riding mower and started. I took a weed-eater and started trimming up the lawn. Simon finished before I did and started edging. At noon, Fanny Mae brought up plates piled high, and iced tea. We sat in the shade of a huge oak and ate. After we finished, Simon took the plates back and we lay under the tree resting. I needed it.

"Know where I might land a regular job?" I asked. "Know it ain't gonna be easy after my vacation, but I doan take well to street life."

"Doan neither. I got put on de street by my mama after she caught me doin' weed. Jest been on de street fo' a few days, but knowed most of de street dudes from ditchin' school. I be workin' in de gardens in dis neighborhood since I big enough. Jest luck old Washington cut he's foot. Lookin' like a job jest waitin' to be had. Yo' know, I gonna introduce you around and maybe de two of us can have a summer job jest workin' gardens."

I didn't know how much investigating I could get done working with Simon, but right now I needed money. Simon was right: the pay was bad, but better than I expected and there was no tax as it was all under the table. By the middle of the next week, we had lined up five places and went on a regular schedule, a house a day. Any extra meant extra money. We also did pickup jobs on Saturday. By the end of the second week, I was surprised at how much I had to tell Jake. Never think your servants don't know all there is to know about you. I saw the dynamic often. Madam or Mister talked as though the servant was a piece of furniture.

My second Sunday in Macon, Simon had gone home and asked to come back. His mama had let him come back home and recommended I take a room with Miss Janie, an ancient black retired school teacher and matriarch of the black community.

I went around to Miss Janie's place and asked if she had a room I could rent. She grilled me up one side and down another. Finally she said, "You may be on parole from the state of Georgia, but you're on probation with me. One tiny slip and you are out of here. Understand?" I nodded. "And I need your first four weeks rent. In advance, now." I had the money and the rent on the room was practically nothing, particularly when she told me it included breakfast and supper. I was at her place only a few days when I realized she took in boarders for company more than the money and was treating me like a nephew.

I made it through the week ok, thinking of Andreas only a few minutes at the time. I was busy, working hard at my jobs and trying to find out something about the drug scene in Macon. So far all I had learned was that weed was plentiful, but that was not my concern. Sundays were another matter. I slept late and then had the whole day to think about Andreas. After one particularly painful Sunday morning, I told Miss Janie I was going down to the river. "Don't go without a fishing pole," she said, went in the house and returned with one. "You can dig worms at the edge of the garden in the mound of dirt, I feed 'em there," she said. I did as she said and had a can of worms quickly.

I walked up the river a ways, to where the path along the river just petered out, sat under a large willow and started fishing and thinking about Andreas. I wondered what he was doing, how he was doing, if he still missed me, that sort of thing. I had pushed his confession of love for me in the very back of my mind, but here on a lazy Sunday afternoon with no sound except the river flowing by, it came back with a rush. I wondered if I had taken the assignment to avoid facing my feeling for Andreas and the fact that I might be -- was -- gay. I thought about that and the beating Andreas had received because his mom found out he was gay. Most communities are homophobic, and even the most accepting has its share of bigots, but the black community takes homophobia to new heights. It always puzzled me how blacks who were out-and-out racist, hating whites, could align themselves with skinheads and other white racists, when it came to homophobia. I guess that was why I had very carefully avoided coming to terms with my sexuality.

My high school girlfriend had been a good cover, and she was a cover I saw now. We seldom had sex and it was good... no, it wasn't good. If I was really honest, she didn't turn me on that much. By the time that would have become a real problem, her mind was on crack, not me. I was sure dumb. She had been on crack for a good long while before I found out. I tried to get her to get help, but she overdosed instead.

Anyway, here I was alone, with nothing to do but sort out my feelings. I thought back over my time with Andreas. Every minute seemed vivid and crystal clear and standing outside it, it became equally clear that I loved the guy, not as a younger brother or friend, although I definitely had those feelings as well, but as one gay man loves another. Yeah, I was gay and admitted it, and I was in love and admitted that. When I realized how I think I would have felt had I thought he was dead, I started crying, huge tears running down my face. I decided then and there to get busy and see if I couldn't get back to him soon -- before he found someone else.

It was a good thing I had reached a conclusion about myself, because suddenly the fish started biting and I had a good string when I walked back to Miss Janie's. She was thrilled with the fish. I had no idea what to do with them, but she showed me how to gut and filet them in a few smooth motions. I couldn't do as well as she did, but we did have fish ready for the frying pan and we both enjoyed the results of my fishing trip -- I doubly so because I had come to grips with who I was.

After supper each evening, I sat with Miss Janie on her front porch as she commented on the passing traffic. She was a gold mine of information. My big break came the Sunday evening of my fishing trip. A big, black Cadillac came down the street slowly and Miss Janie said, "Yeah, drive slow and show off, now that you're respectable". After the car passed, I asked Miss Janie who it was.

"That was Sister Rose. She was a small-time dope dealer, just weed, then suddenly she got religion and, before you could say 'Amen', she was building her Cathedral of Tomorrow. Millions she's poured into it, millions I don't know where she gets. She draws a big crowd, that's for sure, what with three-four gospel choirs, each with its own orchestra of ten-fifteen people. Each choir has its own big bus and tours all over the place."

"They make tours?"

"Yes, one or more on tour every weekend. Leave Friday and back Sunday night for the big show at her place. Until a few months ago, she was holding forth in a warehouse she rented, but the grand opening of the Cathedral of Tomorrow -- which will seat over two thousand -- was three-four months ago."

"Who's behind her? Surely she didn't start out with piles of money."

"I'm not sure who all, but I do hear she's connected with that black undertaker. Funerals have gotten bigger and bigger, but the prices undercut the white establishments. When somebody dies, the family gets flowers from the Cathedral of Tomorrow with a letter and booklet, which says something about sympathy and an offer of their facilities. I understand the new building has a 'Slumber Room' for funerals. That big-shot lawyer Jason Stanley Story is also all mixed up in the whole thing. I don't know how they are all connected, but they are. That black undertaker even sends all bodies to be funeralized to Atlanta to be fixed up. Says they do a better job." Suddenly wheels started spinning in my head. Maybe Miss Janie was on to something without realizing it.

"How'd you like to check out this Cathedral of Tomorrow tonight. We'd at least hear some good gospel singing."

"We got time? I'll have to change."

"Sure. I suspect we could come and go just about any time."

I'll say one thing for Sister Rose: she sure knew how to put on a show. She was dressed in a long, slinky gold dress, parading in front of a gospel choir dressed in red. She was the star and she knew it. The choir was good, very good, and I could see why they could tour as much as they wanted. Miss Janie and I stayed for an hour and the show was still going when we left. As we left, I picked up three or four brochures from a tract rack in the entrance hall -- and it was an entrance hall. It was as large as many churches, three stories high, with a chandelier at least fifty feet across. Great sweeping stairs led up to the two balconies and three sets of massive bronze doors opened onto the main floor. All in all, it was a cross between an opera house and a high-priced whorehouse. Yes, Sister Rose had money coming from somewhere.

When I got back to my room, I looked at the brochures. There was one listing the governing body and I noticed that Jason Stanley Story was listed as attorney, treasurer and vice president. Sister Rose was president and executive officer. Willie Brown was secretary and chairman of arrangements. That was it. There were no other officials. I soon learned who Willie Brown was, because one of the brochures was "The Cathedrals of Tomorrow and the Bereaved." He was "that black undertaker" Miss Janie had talked about. A third brochure listed the activities for the week. There were the usual services, Bible study -- all you would expect in a going church -- but the choir schedule caught my attention. There were four gospel choirs. One would be at the Cathedral for Wednesday but would be on tour to Savannah over the weekend. One would be present for Sunday morning services, one had a week for relaxation and one would be touring to Columbus. There were two funerals scheduled, one Thursday and one Friday.

I lay back on the bed, an idea forming in my mind. I didn't get far before Andreas took over my thoughts. I wanted so much to tell him to wait for me, because I really loved that man. I drifted off to sleep and dreamed of Andreas, not a nightmare as so many of my dreams had been since I came to Macon, but a beautiful dream of making sweet love to Andreas who was, truly, the man of my dreams.

I was careful, but I asked a lot of questions about Sister Rose and the Cathedral of Tomorrow during the week. I found nothing to either confirm or deny the idea I was working on in my head. Friday, when I made my report to Jake, I asked if it was possible to get an audit of the books of the funeral home, Jason Stanley Story and the Cathedral of Tomorrow. "Also you need to be ready to audit the tax returns of Story, Sister Rose and the undertaker," I told him.

"I'm sure we can get an audit done without arousing suspicion, especially the businesses. What do you expect to find?"

"I'm not sure, but there's an awful lot of money being made off of drugs I've been told, and no-one knows what happens to it. I just wonder if it's not being laundered by the church. Something's fishy there. Too much money too quick."

I also asked him if he could get me price lists from the other three funeral homes in Macon. "That should be an easy one," he said.

I decided to go back to the church Sunday night. I picked up the weekly activities brochure. There were no funerals scheduled, but three of the choirs were touring, again to Columbus, and Savannah and this week one was going to Atlanta. I picked up another activity sheet entitled "Cathedral Partners". It reported that three churches had joined with the cathedral ministries -- one each in Columbus, Savannah and Atlanta. "Our gospel choirs will be supplying music at these new Cathedrals of Tomorrow. The gospel choirs can always use new voices to help spread our ministry," the sheet said. It seemed strange to me that the three cities couldn't come up with gospel choirs of their own.

I decided to check out the Ebony Funeral Home's business. They offered a "pre-need" policy and I went after work Wednesday to discuss a pre-need plan. I went for two plans, one the absolute maximum and the other second best. I guess I should have known, but I was thunderstruck by the cost of dying, especially if you wanted to go first class.

I took my "pre-need" plan with me when I went to see Jake. "Turned out, even given the federal regulations requiring funeral homes to provide price lists, it wasn't as easy as I thought," Jake said as he spread the price lists on his desk. "There's something rotten in Denmark," he said as he compared Ebony's prices to the others. "Someone is making a killing, no pun intended, or someone is going broke. Look at this. On comparable items, Ebony is 200% below the others." He picked up his phone and told his secretary to get a casket company on the phone. When she rang him, he got passed from person to person until he was angry. "Look, I need to know the cost to an undertaker for three models of your caskets. It is part of a criminal investigation. Now you can either give me the prices or prepare for warrants for an audit and search... I thought I was being reasonable. Just give me the three numbers... Thanks. Well, it seems both statements are true, someone is making a killing and someone is losing money. Ebony is selling caskets at cost. There is no way they can be making money. I will be interested in what an audit shows up."

I went to a Wednesday night service and had a brainstorm. I had a decent voice, so I volunteered for a gospel choir. Seems you get fitted for a robe and ready for the bus by Friday night. The choir I was in was scheduled to go to Savannah, where it was highly unlikely anyone would know me.

I had been in Macon six weeks, as long as I was told I would be and was still not finished. I wanted to see Andreas and make sure he was ok at least. At best, I'd like him to kiss me as he did prom night -- and then some.

Friday night I got to the cathedral early and did a little snooping around. The choir buses -- luxury models and more -- were out back being loaded. I was surprised when they came around front for the choir to load because the baggage area on the opposite side of the buses was being loaded. The orchestra's instruments were loaded, then the choir's things. We had all been given identical garment bags and suitcases for our choir robes and clothes and the luggage compartment wouldn't hold them all. I expected to be told to take my things to the other side of the bus, but that didn't happen. They went on top of the bus.

Once we were in Savannah, the buses went to the motel where we were all staying, two to a room. Our belongings were unloaded and the buses left. I heard the drivers talking about getting together at a bar as soon as, "we get the stuff unloaded". The church was several blocks from the motel and I wanted to see if I could find out what "the stuff" was. I walked around to the side of the motel and got a taxi in a few minutes and gave him the address of the church. I got out, paid the driver and walked down an alley leading to the street behind the church. I was in time to see the last bags, identical to our suitcases, being unloaded from the side of the bus not used and taken into the church. I decided I had all the information I needed except for one more thing. I decided to contact Jake as soon as I got back to Macon.

We rolled into Macon late Sunday night, and I went straight to Miss Janie's and hit the sack. I lay there thinking about what I had concluded, and decided I'd wait a little longer to see if I could find the last piece of the puzzle. I had a real nightmare and even woke up Miss Janie. I dreamed I was in a casket, unable to move, and Andreas was standing over me crying. Miss Janie fixed me a "little toot", good Tennessee sour mash with lemon and a splash of water. "I keep this for medicinal purposes," she said. "Better than any sleeping pill, at least more enjoyable." She sat on the edge of the bed, holding my hand and singing a lullaby. The combination worked.

Monday, I found a phone booth near where we were working and called Jake. "Jake, be ready to move," I said. "I think I've got it figured out. Check something for me. Find out where the casket company has factories. I'll be in touch."

Monday night I told Miss Janie I was going for a long walk to clear my head so I'd sleep. I hadn't been around the funeral home, so I thought I'd check it out. I don't know what I expected to find, and really saw nothing unusual except there was a tractor-trailer rig parked at the back of the main building behind a high hedge. The truck and trailer both had Ebony Funeral Home, Macon, Georgia on them. Why would a funeral home need a tractor-trailer rig? I had a hunch, but that was all.

Tuesday I had a hard time getting away from Simon. He had been to a big party Saturday and was still carrying on about it. It was after work when I finally got to a public phone and called Jake at home. "What did you find out?" I asked.

"Ebony buys from two companies, remember? Both have plants in the southeast as you might expect. One has them in Tennessee, Alabama and Florida. The other has plants in Georgia and Florida. Anything else I can do for you?"

"Yeah. Don't know how you can do it, but I need to know where the caskets Ebony uses comes from."

"I'll see what I can do," he replied.

When I got back, Miss Janie was sitting on the porch. It was still hot and her house was not air-conditioned. I pulled up a rocker and sat beside her. "Miss Janie, thanks for Sunday night. I really had a nightmare and a half."

"Surprised you haven't had more after being in prison. Is prison as bad as people say?"

"Worse. It's hard to talk about. There are all sorts of bad things going on, but not being able to go and come as you please is punishment enough. 'Course, it wouldn't be as bad except every con looks out for himself and has no care for anybody else. Yeah, it was really bad."

We rocked in silence for a while, then she said, "Oscar, for some reason I just can't see you in prison. No sir, you just don't act like a former con. Don't know why but, somehow or other, it just don't fit."

I made no response, but took that as a warning. I had been around her and Simon long enough to relax a little, a little too much, I suspected. I had better watch it.

I had a real stroke of luck Wednesday. One of our regulars had asked Simon if he could do some work for a friend of hers. "After hours, of course." Simon agreed and we went to her place, after we finished our regular work, and worked until it was almost dark. It was only slightly out of my way, so I went by Ebony. I saw the tractor-trailer pulled up to the back of the funeral home and caskets being unloaded. I kept moving closer, trying to see what was going on. I accidentally kicked a soda can, making a loud noise. The guys unloading the trailer dropped the casket they were carrying and started running toward me. One of them definitely had a gun out. I quickly hid in some bushes. I was hoping they would just look around and go back to work, but there was another noise right beside me. The fellow with the gun shot, hitting me in the shoulder. I was prepared for him to find me and finish his job, but I was saved by a huge orange tomcat. He had made the noise and when the guy shot, the cat let out a yowl and headed straight for for him. He took a couple shots at the cat as it ran away. "You be shootin' a mutherfuckin' cat, shithead." The four guys picked up the casket and started carrying it into the funeral home.

As soon as they were inside, I got up and started running. At the next block, I hid in some bushes to see if I could stop the bleeding from my wound. I was losing a lot of blood and I knew it. I was six or seven blocks from Miss Janie's, an easy walk under ordinary circumstances, but I could feel myself growing weaker. I tore strips from my T shirt and took the rest of it and made a compress. I couldn't do much with just my right hand, but I did get the strips tied, I hoped tight enough to stop the bleeding.

I didn't want to be found walking down the street, so I cut across backyards. As I cut across one, I realized I had made a mistake as a huge dog started barking. Fortunately he was tied up, but he did alarm the neighborhood. I finally realized I was going to pass out soon if I didn't get help. I decided I'd take a chance and take the most direct route to Miss Janie's. I was only a block away when I started having little blackouts. When I did, I'd wake up lying in the street. I started thinking about Andreas. "Man, if you don't get moving, you'll never make it and he'll never know. You'll never get that kiss you want so bad. Andreas, I need you, man. I need your help." I was going on blind will when I turned into the gate of Miss Janie's. I collapsed, not knowing whether I had made it or not.

When I came to, I was in a hospital bed. I could see a maze of wires and tubes, but little else. "You ok, Oscar?" It was Miss Janie's voice.

"I think so. I mean I'm not ok, but better than I expected."

"I didn't know what to do other than call the EMS. You walked up on the porch and promptly fell down. Son, you came very close to meeting your Maker. The police are outside, waiting to question you when you are conscious."

"Miss Janie, this is very important. I can't speak to them yet. I want you to call someone for me." I gave her Jake's home phone number. "Ask for Jake and tell him what happened. Tell him he needs to get here at once and to be ready to jump. Can you do that for me?"

"Sure. I'll tell the policeman you are still out."

"Ask the nurse to talk to Jake. He can tell her how to handle the police. But we are running out of time. Thanks a million, Miss Janie."

"You gonna tell me what this is all about?"

"You will be among the first to know."

Miss Janie left and I closed my eyes. Jake had to get here before the police started poking around.

The nurse came in shortly after Miss Janie had left. "I talked with Jake and you'll not be bothered by the officer outside."

"How am I doing?"

"You had a close call, but the wound was clean and damaged nothing serious. Once we got some blood in you, you started coming around. I'll send Miss Janie back in if you like."

"Please do."

Miss Janie came back into the room and took a seat by the bed. I closed my eyes and I guess dozed off because the next thing I knew, Jake and the Chief of Police came into the room. "You didn't have to get yourself wounded," Jake said. "But it is a good undercover trick."

"Yeah, good planning," I answered.

"Ok, we've got the troops ready. What do we do?"

"Do you have search warrants for the church and funeral home?"

"Sure do."

"I don't know where things are hidden, but I am positive I know how the whole system works. Seeing the truck being unloaded tonight should mean you are going to find all the evidence you need."

"The Cathedral of Tomorrow handles most of the transportation of the drugs. They purchase caskets directly from the manufacturer in Florida. That was the missing link. There are closer casket manufacturers, but Ebony goes to Florida. Ask yourself why. How many law enforcement officers are going to stop and search a truck loaded with caskets? Once they got the drugs here, they used a couple ways of shipping them to Atlanta, Savannah and Columbus. The choirs are a perfect cover. The luggage compartment on one side of the bus is loaded with drugs in suitcases identical to those provided to choir members. Should the bus be stopped and searched, the driver opens the side with luggage. If any of the suitcases are opened, they contain what is expected. If the second side is opened, who is going to open the suitcases identical to those just checked?"

"Atlanta could handle more drugs than Savannah or Columbus so more than the choir bus is often needed. That's the reason Ebony started sending bodies to Atlanta. An unmarked van took the bodies to an Atlanta embalming concern. A hearse followed with a shipping casket, but it was filled with drugs. Again, who's going to stop a hearse? After the body was embalmed, it was placed in the hearse and returned to Macon. It was a clever scheme. What really cinched it for me were those bargain basement prices for an uptown funeral."

"And Chattanooga?" the chief asked.

"An eighteen wheeler can transport an awful lot of dope. And there is a casket company there. Bet that's another place where caskets get purchased."

"Good job, Aaron, very good job. At this very moment the church and the funeral home are being searched. Sister Rose, Jason Stanley Story and Willie Brown, along with drivers of the buses and the tractor-trailer driver, have all been picked up and are in jail. Now all you have to do is just take care of yourself. We'll come back when the fun is over."

As soon as the two had gone, Miss Janie said, "I told you you didn't act like a convict. Now you want to tell Miss Janie what this is all about."

I told Miss Janie the whole story, but I didn't mention Andreas. I knew Miss Janie well enough to know she would not be sympathetic.

The chief came by Thursday and told me the superintendent was coming down Friday morning. That afternoon, the doctor told me I could go back to Atlanta Friday if I would get my wound checked out, "at Grady where they know about gunshot wounds," if I wanted to. They were not breaking the story until Friday since there was just too much evidence to be taken care of.

Friday morning the chief and superintendent came in the room. "Damn good job, Aaron," the superintendent said, "damn good job".

"Yeah, we are still discovering things. Late last night we got a blueprint of the Cathedral of Tomorrow and found a bunker-type room in the basement stacked full of cocaine. There was a safe in the room as well. Aaron, there was four million, that's f-o-u-r, four million, in bills in it. Too bad you aren't a private citizen. If you weren't working as a police officer, you'd stand to get 10% of the money and all other assets. A cool four hundred thousand for starters," the chief said with a smile.

"Whoa," the superintendent said. "All this was done by Aaron under an assumed name, but that was not the extent of the identity switch. We got worried and actually had Aaron declared dead. In order to give his ward money, I gave him money out of my discretionary fund, not from Aaron's salary or insurance. It's funny, but legally Aaron was functioning as a private citizen. He got no money from my department or yours. He worked for a living. I think you could save us all a lot of time and effort by just giving Aaron the reward."

"You are one clever devil, Superintendent. Lucky this is a small town and can work things out without a whole lot of red tape. I'll get a judge to rule on this as quickly as possible."

"Chief, I didn't expect anything except my salary, but I'll take whatever comes my way. If there is enough, Miss Janie's house is to be insulated, a new furnace and air conditioning installed."

"I'll see that is done," the chief said.

"Also, set up a fund to pay Simon to go back to school. He's to get a couple hundred a week, so long as he is in school and passing."

"I'll take care of that as well," the chief said.

"Then I am out of here!"

I had thought about calling Andreas, but that was more shock than he needed. The superintendent told me he had called Ralph about the wrap-up of the Macon drug business. "He said Jerry had the weekend off and he and Andreas were going to north Georgia. He thought they were planning on going camping."

I didn't know the best way to approach Andreas. I did know one thing: I loved him, no question about that, absolutely no question.

I was surprised how beat I was when we got back to Atlanta. The superintendent took me by Grady to get my wound checked out. It was doing fine, but I was given some more pain pills since I was in considerable pain.

Ralph was waiting for me at the apartment. He gave me a big hug, poured me a beer. I had to decide whether to have a beer or a pain pill. The beer won hands down. "I guess you need to be brought up to date since you have been gone six weeks" -- remember the Macon business would take only a few weeks. He told me Jerry had been living with Andreas. "I was really glad he moved in. Andreas was talking suicide for a while. I thought Andreas was falling for Edward and worried about how he and you would handle that when you came back, but I was definitely off base. Edward has been a strong arm for him to lean on, but that's it." Ralph talked a while longer then, asked, "What are you going to do?".

"I don't know. I know what I'd like to do. I'd like to go straight to north Georgia and make mad, passionate love to that beautiful man."

"How about me calling Jerry -- he gave me his cell phone number -- and telling him to hold off going camping, and you go up and get resurrected at the Coghills? Think anything else would be too traumatic for the whole bunch."

"You do the calling, I'm on my way -- that is if I have transportation." The Jeep was in my slot, and in minutes I had thrown things in a bag and was on my way to be united with my love.

I felt as if I was driving in cold molasses. I finally set my cruise control because without it, my speed crept up until I was speeding big time. I left Atlanta at 5:00 and walked into the Coghills at 7:30, really good time in light of my leaving at rush hour on Friday. When I walked in, the Coghills were all sitting on the deck. I learned later Ralph had called and said they needed to be together at 7:00-7:30 to share in an important event. They all had their backs to me except Edward, who was leaning against the banister of the deck. I put my finger to my lips as he started to speak. He didn't speak, but the smile on his face was a dead give-away something was up. I stood still and said softly, "Andreas Jackson, I love you, man, I love you".

Andreas stood slowly and then turned to face me. His mouth fell open and he turned pale and his knees started buckling. In two steps I had my arms around him. He had fainted. I eased him into a chair, put his head between his knees and started bathing his face with a cold cloth Edward brought me. Gradually Andreas came around. When he did, he said nothing. His hands started tracking my features. I took his hands into mine and kissed his palms. Finally he whispered, "Aaron, is this real? Are you really here? Alive? God, tell me I'm not dreaming again. Please, tell me you are real!"

I lifted Andreas to his feet and answered with a smile as I said, "Andreas, there is no-one in the world more real, more alive, than I am right now". My arms were around him as I raised my face to his and pressed my lips to his in a passionate kiss. Suddenly he was devouring me with kisses. He put his arms around me and hugged me tight. I couldn't help crying out in pain and, when I did, he released me, looked at my bandaged shoulder and said, "I'm sorry, Aaron".

"Don't be, it means this is not a dream." Edward brought me a chair and I sat down and Andreas sat in my lap, his arms around me. He kept kissing me and I kept reassuring him that I was real.

He finally just sat on my lap and with that shy smile of his said, "Aaron, you have a lot of explaining to do."

"Yeah, I sure do."

"Jerry, why didn't you tell me Aaron was alive. You must have known."

"No, he didn't know, Andreas. Only Ralph and the Superintendent of Detectives in Atlanta and the Chief of Police in Macon knew."

Mrs. Coghill brought me a cup of coffee and asked if I had eaten. I told her I hadn't. "I wanted only one thing, that's to be where I am with who I'm with."

"You wanted to be with at least one of us," she laughed. "Your story can wait until you have eaten."

When I finished the food, she brought me another cup of coffee and I told everyone the whole story.

"I know it has been hard on everyone who cared anything about me but, in the end, I know that it was best. Had I ever been identified, I would be a dead man sure enough."

After a lot of questions, I was just about talked out. "That's it. I may be coming into money because technically I was a private citizen in Macon, then again I may not. If I don't, I guess I'll get back pay at least. But that's not important right now."

"Aaron, the tent is all set up and everything, ready for overnight camping. If you hurry, you can make it to the camp site while there is enough light. I think Edward and I will spend the night here and leave the camp to you and Andreas," Jerry said.

"What are we waiting for?" I asked Andreas.

Andreas hopped off my lap, grabbed my hand and we went down the stairs from the deck. We walked along the stream until it joined the trail to the cliffs above the river. I doubted we would reach the tent before it was pitch-black dark unless I could get Andreas under control as our progress was slowed as, again and again, he stopped us for a passionate kiss. After one passionate, tongue-in-the-mouth, kiss I said, "You keep that up and we'll never reach the camp site."

Andreas laughed, a laugh that made me catch my breath, and said, "I haven't noticed you resisting!" He gave me another quick kiss and, hand-in-hand, we walked up the increasingly steep trail, finally reaching the camp site.

The tent was set well back from the cliff edge. A fire had been laid in a fire pit in front of the tent, waiting to be started. Andreas put a match to the tinder and soon there was a small, glowing fire, its flames making our shadows dance around the camp.

Andreas took a sleeping bag from the tent, folded it and spread it by the fire and motioned for me to sit down. When I did, he straddled my legs, his butt on the sleeping bag, his legs around my waist.

"Andreas, I know I can never make up for the pain you suffered believing I was dead. I thought about that a long time before I took the assignment. I'll confess that if I had known what I now know about myself and my love for you, I don't think I could have done it. I guess I can say that in the time I was gone, I accomplished what I hoped to accomplish with my whole life. I have to think that way, believing I saved an awful lot of people from dying of drugs."

"But, right now, what is more important is the time I was away from you I learned something, accepted something. I'm still not sure whether I am gay or not... that's not true, I am very sure at least part of me, a major part, is gay. But that really doesn't matter. What really matters is that gay or straight, I love you more than life itself. I don't know what the future holds, but I do know if it doesn't hold you, us together, then I just as well should have stayed dead."

Andreas was silent for what seemed a very long time, his head resting on my shoulder. "Aaron, I told Ralph I had nothing to live for when I was told you were dead. I meant that. I don't think I would have done myself in, but I think I would have been a walking dead man. I think the only thing that kept me going was remembering that prom night kiss. I guess I saw in it a lot more than you ever admitted."

"Andreas, you felt like you were made to be held in my arms when we danced. Our kiss felt exactly right. I never doubted that."

"I have, recently, thought I needed to see someone because the longer you were away, the more I believed you weren't dead, the exact opposite of what I thought I should be thinking. One Sunday afternoon I was sitting on the balcony, half asleep, when as clear as anything, I heard your voice say, "Andreas, I never told you I loved you, so I am telling you now."

"Andreas Jackson, I love you with every breath I take. I am breathing because of you. I didn't tell anyone because they would come up with why it wasn't real, but I knew it was real."

"Then, two nights ago, I knew you were in trouble. I was panicking. Jerry didn't know what to do. I mean he would wake me up when I had a nightmare, but I was wide awake and panicking. Finally I went out on the balcony and tried to give you my strength, then suddenly I knew everything was ok with you."

"Andreas, I knew I was dying from loss of blood and I really needed help then, suddenly, I had the willpower to go on, blindly and finally unconsciously. There is no question in my mind you saved my life."

Andreas laughed, kissed me and said, "Old African custom, Aaron, I saved your life now you belong to me!"

"Yassa, sir Massa, what you want this black boy to do?"

"You don't be no black boy, yo' my man!" Andreas laughed and leaned forward to kiss me. Playfully, I started leaning away from him. I finally fell over backwards, Andreas was immediately on top of me. "I got you where I want you," he said, "You are under my power!".

"Well, at least I am under you."

"Now I'm going to have my way with you!" Andreas started kissing me, long, deep, hard. Then he started grinding his hips into mine, pressing our hard cocks between us. I reached up and slipped his shirt over his head. He unbuttoned my shirt and, when my chest was exposed, suddenly stopped playing. He was staring at the bandage on my shoulder. Huge tears formed in his eyes and then he started crying in earnest, crying in great body-shaking sobs.

I was confused. "Andreas, Babe, what's wrong?"

He didn't answer. He couldn't answer he was crying so hard, his face buried in my chest, his hands clutching my shirt. I didn't know what to do other than what I was doing, holding Andreas tight and saying over and over, "Andreas, it's all right, everything's all right. It's all right, babe."

It seemed hours before Andreas regained control of himself, but I suspect it was just a few minutes. When he did, he started kissing me madly, wildly, my mouth, my eyes, my neck, my chest. When he kissed a nipple I felt as though an electric charge shot through my body.

Andreas eventually calmed down enough for me to ask again, "Andreas, Babe, what's wrong?".

"Aaron, so many, many times I have dreamed you were alive, holding me in your arms, that I was kinda holding my breath, hoping the dream would last. Then, when I saw your shoulder, I finally, completely, really knew you were alive and here and real and... and..." Andreas was talking so fast he finally just ran out of words. "Aaron, Aaron, you are real and alive and I'm with you and you said you loved me and you kissed me and... and..." He again ran out of words and I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes.

I was laughing at my Andreas, MY Andreas, because I was so happy: I loved him and he loved me and, yes, because I was alive and here and real.

Andreas was all out of breath and just lay his head on my chest, his arms beside me. "I know you are alive and real, Aaron, because I hear your heart."

"So you hear it calling your name?" I asked, "Because it is, it is calling the name of the man I love."

"It's saying Aa-ron An-dreas over and over."

He lay still, listening to my heart call our names and then raised his head, smiled his double-dimple smile and raised up and kissed my chin. "I think I started a job I didn't finish," he said as he rolled off my body and said, "Raise up". I did, and he removed my shirt, put his arms around me and kissed me on the mouth, then my eyes, my neck and, again, a nipple.

"You know, you know more about what comes next..."

"We both do!" Andreas giggled. "We both do!"

I was glad the fire had burned low, otherwise Andreas would have seen me blush. At least I thought I was safe until he laughed, "Aaron Johnson, you big bad policeman! You're blushing!"

From the way my face felt, I suspect he could have seen me blush in the pitch-black dark. I was finally able to say, "You're the one with all the magazines, so I guess you're the expert".

"You're the one with experience," he laughed and started tickling my ribs.

"Well, Mr. Know-it-all, in the first place she didn't turn me on the way you do and, in case you hadn't seen those OTHER magazines, she was put together differently."

"Hey, and Vive la diference, right?"


"I happen to know you saw me naked as a jaybird the first time we were here."

"I didn't!"

"Oh, yes you did! You gotta know bedrooms are like eighteen wheelers, 'If you can see my mirrors, I can see you!' I saw you sneaking a peek. Why did you think it took me so long to crawl into a pair of boxers? It took just long enough to show you what you had won -- and to get you good and hard!"

"You don't play fair, Andreas."

"ALL'S fair in love and war, and this is both -- I love you and I'm going to fight to get your clothes off!"

"No need, I surrender."

Andreas reached out for my left hand, but I pulled it back and offered my right one. He pulled me to my feet and wrapped his arms around me, taking care not to hurt the shoulder. While his lips, mouth and tongue kept me occupied, his hands worked on my jeans and soon they slid down my legs. As I stepped out of them, his thumbs in the waistband of my briefs released my hard, precum-streaming cock.

I wasn't quite as smooth in undressing my chocolate man. My left hand and arm were hampered by a bullet wound, but that was ok. That wound convinced Andreas I was alive and real and reminded me that, somehow or other, he was responsible for that, for my not taking advantage of my "pre-need plan" at Ebony Funeral Home.

Andreas placed his hands on my shoulders -- it was one of those times when it was easy to see why he was a basketball star as he stood four inches above my six-foot body, touching me with long beautiful fingers, hands and fingers which made mine look tiny. We stood, drinking in each other's body, both at full attention, ready for action. As I looked into his face, the moonlight caught the scar on his left cheek. It was not pretty, not sexy, it was a sign of what it had cost him to come to this moment. I owed him for that and for the pain he had suffered while I was gone. "But," I thought, "you have a lifetime to repay him."

Andreas kissed me, softly, gently, picked me up and laid me on the sleeping bag by the fire. We were both amateurs, but we did make love and it was perfect. After we were exhausted by it, we lay, facing each other, arms resting on our lover. "We are definitely amateurs at this," I smiled at Andreas.

"Yeah, but it ain't basketball, Bro. In this game, it's the practice I'm going to enjoy."

North Georgia nights can get pretty cool, even in the summer. I woke up in the night, cold. Andreas must have been as well, as he was as close to me as possible. I looked at him in the dim light of the moon and wondered what I had done in some other life to have this man love me. I kissed his cheek softly and covered the two of us.

The sunrise was spectacular, almost as spectacular as the feeling I had when Andreas and I greeted it by making love.

"Aaron, it's beautiful," Andreas said. "And it's special because it is our -- ours together -- first sunrise, a new day, a new life." I could only agree.