“What’s about to happen? It sounds pretty mysterious,” Roger asked.
“More like another gift from Samichlaus.” Jerrod looked at his boyfriend and then David and Jackson. “That was Michael. He’s just getting on the train to Portland. His Christmas present from his parents and grandpa was a round trip ticket to come see Nate.”
“Exactly! Amazing, right? Now we’ve got to figure out a way to get Nate out of his house so we can coincidentally be down by Union Station around five o’clock when the train comes in, so he gets a Christmas present that totally blows his mind! How cool is that?”
Roger was wide eyed. “So, how are we going to make this work?” They looked at David and Jackson who were opening the kitchen door to let the dogs out. “Don’t look at us. How are we supposed to know how to make tiny miracles happen?”
Jerrod rolled his eyes, then turned back to Roger. “Didn’t we hear that there’s some kind of adopt a dog thing at Dove Lewis, the vet and animal rescue place?”
Roger nodded his head. “Yeah. I thought it was weird they’d be open on Christmas afternoon, but I guess when people aren’t working is a good time. But why would Nate care about that?”
“He probably wouldn’t, but we’ll just have to twist his arm.”
They were all standing on the back porch watching Kaiser and Chloe relieve their bladders in the flower beds and Jackson said, “I saw a flyer in the cafeteria at work that there’s some kind of ski swap thing this afternoon at the College of Art. That’s only a few blocks from Union Station.”
Jerrod grinned widely. “Jackson, you’re a genius. That’ll work because Nate’s ski equipment is kind of old and beat up. Even if we don’t buy anything, it’ll be a great excuse.”
When they were all back inside Jerrod picked up the kitchen phone and called Nate’s house. After a quick hello to his mom Nate came on the line.
“So, Nate, are you doing anything this afternoon?”
“No, why? What’s up?”
“What’s up is that we figure you need something to keep your mind off being alone for Christmas so we’re coming by in half an hour to pick you up.”
“Pick me up for what?”
“The dog therapy manager told us about a dog adoption thing at Dove Lewis downtown and asked if we’d check it out to see if there are any promising dogs, and there’s a ski equipment swap meet at the College of Art. I noticed your ski equipment isn’t in the best of shape.”
“Yeah, that’s true, but I can’t afford new equipment.”
“Nate. A ski swap meet is used equipment at lower prices. Plus, even if you don’t buy anything, we’ll look around, see what’s available and have fun. It’s better than moping around your house all afternoon, so we’ll be there in half an hour. No arguments. You’re coming with us.”
Jackson had his eyebrows raised as Jerrod turned back from hanging up the phone. “Well done, my man. That almost sounded totally believable, and you gave him no choice.”
“Well, he doesn’t know it yet, but he doesn’t have any choice, does he?” He looked at Roger. “Let’s give the dogs a quick walk around the block then load them up and head over to Nate’s.”
Nate was waiting on the front porch when they pulled up in front of his house, and trotted down to hop in the rear of the Cherokee. He greeted the dogs over the back seat, then gave Roger and Jerrod a quick hello as he settled back and buckled his seat belt. “So, tell me again why we’re doing this? As in, you two have nothing better to do on Christmas Day than look at adoptable dogs and used ski equipment? You could be fucking like rabbits, you know?”
Roger turned in his seat and smiled back at their friend in the rear seat. “We could, that’s true. We also know something about delayed gratification, and so we can fuck like rabbits tonight too! But thanks for sharing, because now we know what’s on your mind… like you must be totally horny, and thinking about Michael while you jack off isn’t cutting it anymore, right?” He grinned deviously.
“You know it, bro. But, as everyone told me yesterday, I need to quit whining about it ’cause there’s not that long to go. Right?”
Jerrod had pulled away from the curb and looked at Nate in the rearview mirror. “Right you are. And who knows, maybe you’ll find a puppy you fall in love with and that’ll help you get by.”
“Like my mom is going to be okay with a dog? Pets are non-negotiable because me and Matt are in school, and she works.”
“Okay, then. Maybe you find a cool pair of ski poles to upgrade your gear. Look on the bright side. Either way, it’s better than hanging around the house by yourself, right?”
The dog adoption open house at Dove Lewis was pleasant, and they’d staged the event to make it very appealing to visitors. There was mulled apple juice and peppermint cookies and the reception area was nicely decorated and it felt warm and comfortable. There were also a lot of nice dogs of all ages, though most were older and unlikely to work as therapy dogs since training usually had to start when they were younger. Jerrod and Roger had learned that Kaiser was an exception to the rule.
Still, they had a fun time and when they told the staff that they did dog therapy at Doernbecher and had their dogs out front in the car, it was made clear that they had to go get Kaiser and Chloe and introduce them to the staff. The dogs loved the attention and they also got to spend some time with a few of the dogs up for adoption. The visitors that came through while they were there also got a lesson in how therapy dogs worked and what was possible.
After an hour and a half, they begged off and headed for the ski swap. After they parked, it was about four o’clock when they walked into the auditorium where the event was taking place. There were lots of vendors with used equipment, ski rental companies selling older equipment and even individuals who looked like they’d collected gear from friends and neighbors to try and sell.
They cruised around admiring the range of equipment, taking in all the offerings. What caught Jerrod’s eye was little-used rental shop equipment like Super G skis at one third of retail. “Those are great buys, and probably because the shop only had a couple of pair like that for rent, but very few people want to rent a pair of long Super G’s. They’re too much work unless you’re on a racecourse.”
“Or, know how to handle them,” Roger added, smiling smugly.
Nate chimed in, “Matt told me how good you were on the racecourse. I bet you can ski the same skis off the course too, right?”
Roger grinned at him and said, “The day we found Matt knocked out? Me and Kim and Eric were skiing with Jerrod in the afternoon. He’d only brought one pair of skis that day, his Super G’s for the race.” He squeezed his boyfriend’s hand. “That’s what he was on in the afternoon. He’s pretty good on the boards!”
“Cut me some slack, you guys.” Jerrod looked down the aisle they were in and added, “Look, that booth has a lot of poles. Nate, one of your poles is bent. You know that, don’t you?”
Nate looked at him smugly. “It was bent, but I straightened it out.”
“Okay, I get that, but you know there’s still a slight bend and there’s a dimple where it originally bent, right? That’s a weak point. Perfect place for the pole to break just when you need it not to. Come on, let’s go look.”
A few minutes before five o’clock Jerrod gave Roger the high sign and they both started making for the door, pulling Nate along. “Had enough?”
Nate grinned. “Yeah. If I had more money, I’d buy more stuff and it’d be more fun. Still, though, it was cool. This pair of Scott poles you made me buy are pretty neat.”
Jerrod rubbed the top of Nate’s head and said, “You’ll be thanking us next time you’re on the mountain.”
As they walked the block to where the Cherokee was parked, Jerrod casually said, “Oh, look. See the top of the tower at Union Station. It’s just over on the next street. They’ve got a coffee shop in the lobby. Let’s walk over and get three coffees to go, and then head home.”
They placed their order and were standing in line waiting to pick up their brews when Roger saw Michael coming into the lobby from the platform. He nudged Jerrod and then waved at Michael. Nate was busy adjusting the straps on his new ski poles and didn’t notice Michael walk up, set down his pack and duffle bag and then silently step up behind him and slide his arms around his boyfriend’s waist.
“What? Who…?” Nate turned into the arms around his waist and momentarily looked like he’d seen a ghost, then like he couldn’t believe it. He shot a look at Jerrod and Roger, who demurely smiled at him with looks of pure innocence.
“What are you doing here? I mean, aren’t you supposed to be home in Pendleton? How did this…” The sentence died and he looked at Roger and Jerrod again. “This was all a set up wasn’t it, you fuckers? You played me all afternoon!”
“You’re not angry, are you?” Michael asked softly.
“Well, no. Of course not, I’m just like blown away.”
“You’re not so blown away that you can’t give me a kiss and a hug, are you?”
“No way, Jose!” And Nate jumped into Michael’s arms.
Jerrod started laughing and Roger said, “Good thing he doesn’t have his coffee yet, or it’d be all over the floor!”
When they were back in the Cherokee after Michael greeted Kaiser and Chloe, Nate’s shock and elation had quieted down and he started quizzing his boyfriend about how this had all happened.
Michael grinned at him. “My parents gave me the best Christmas present ever. They said we were acting very mature, not whining about being apart for Christmas after having Thanksgiving together… and this morning we opened presents after breakfast and grandpa slipped me an envelope with a big wink, and said they’d all agreed I’d earned a treat and it was a round trip train ticket!”
“Whoa! That’s rad.”
“It sure is. I called Jerrod and told him, and he said he’d figure out some way to make it a surprise Christmas present for you. Looks like he and Roger did a good job.”
“They totally had me. I figured it was just some lame way to keep me occupied and not be bummed out today… which it was. But, then this?” He leaned over and stroked Michael’s face as if to convince himself again it was real. “This is too much. I’ve missed you so much, you don’t know…” Nate’s fingertips came to rest on Michael’s lips.
“I do know,” Michael mumbled through his fingers, “and so did my folks and grandpa. That’s why they gave me the ticket. I love you too.”
He pulled Nate into a passionate kiss, and they both mutely heard Jerrod say from the front seat something like, “Can’t you two wait till we get you home?”
Jerrod called Nate’s house the next morning about nine o’clock. His mom answered the phone.
“Well, good morning to you too, Jerrod. Yes, they’re both up and right here having breakfast.”
As she listened to Jerrod’s reply her forehead furrowed, then she chuckled and said into the phone, “Well, you know, there are some things you’re not supposed to ask a mother. But I will tell you that they do look rested, although I can’t speak to how much sleep they actually got last night.”
Jerrod heard Nate say something about ‘give me the phone, mom’ but he just replied, “Laurie, tell them we’ll be there with the dogs to pick them up in half an hour. We’re going to meet Sean at the park.”
As Nate and Michael settled into the back seat after greeting Kaiser and Chloe, Nate said, “Like she said, there are some questions you’re not supposed to ask my mom. Or any mom!”
Jerrod looked at him in the rearview mirror and grinned. “I didn’t ask if you two fucked like rabbits last night,” he replied. “I just asked if you both got enough sleep.”
“I know what you meant, and so did she.”
Roger had turned in the passenger seat. “Well, did you get all caught up?” He looked pointedly at Michael. “Nate was asking us yesterday if we’d been fucking like rabbits, so we knew what was on his mind. I told him we knew something about delayed gratification!”
Michael laughed and then said, “We weren’t doing delayed gratification, I’ll tell you that! And Nate’s mom is so cool. She gets it and she knows the drill, and she barely razzes us at all. I mean my parents are totally quiet about the details, but Laurie is nothing compared to grandpa. He’s razzing me and working me for details all the time!” He paused and then quickly added, ‘It’ll be cool to see Sean again. How’s he been doing?”
Roger and Jerrod filled him in on the regular basketball work Jessica and Matt had been doing with him and how that had spilled over into other areas of development. Sean remembered Michael from Thanksgiving and the group had a lot of fun together. Jerrod pointed out the number of new mole piles and that the old ones had settled into depressions and to keep the dogs away from them. They then set to work on retrieving, and the dogs got a good workout in spite of the light rain.They wiped the dogs down with old towels after saying goodbye to Sean and his mom, and on the way back to Nate’s house Jerrod said, “You guys get the afternoon to yourself, but we’ve got plans for this evening.”
In response to the “What’s up?” from the back seat, he replied, “Michael, you’ve got to go home on the 31st, right?”
“Yeah. My folks said I have to be home before New Years Day so I can get caught up and organized for school.”
“That’s what I thought you said yesterday. So, no partying with all of us on New Years. Instead, we’re going partying tonight.”
“Really? I didn’t know you guys were party animals.”
Jerrod looked at his boyfriend. “Tell him, Roger.”
Roger turned in his seat and said, “Well, we both joined the LGB clubs. Meaning Jerrod at Lewis and Clark and me at Portland State. Anyhow, we found out there’s a cool gay club in Portland that we’ve gone to a couple of times. It’s called Club Elysian.”
“What does that mean? Gay club? None of us are twenty-one.”
“Well, first off,” Roger continued, “Elysian is a Greek word that means happy or blissful or delightful. Isn’t it great that there’s a club that caters to LGB people so they can feel that way? And they have a teen night twice a month with no alcohol, and the minimum age is sixteen, so Nate can go too.”
“That’s super. And you’ve been before? It’s cool?”
“Yeah, we’ve been twice with Eric and Kim. The first time Jackson insisted on meeting us there to check it out and make sure it was safe, and he said it was.
Eric and Kim were riding with Matt and Jessica, and Jerrod and Roger picked Michael and Nate up after dinner. They arrived at Club Elysian about eight o’clock, and as they walked the half block from parking the Cherokee, they could see a few parents dropping their teenage kids off at the front door. Michael was amazed. “That’s not something you’d see in Pendleton, I can tell you that.”
“Maybe someday,” Roger responded. “We can only hope, right?”
The club was in what looked to have been a retail store once upon a time. It had large glass windows that were painted black and a wide entryway that led to the front doors that were set back from the street. As they walked in Jerrod said, “This used to be a Woolworths back in the day, that’s why it looks like this from the outside. But you’ll see it has lots of floor space inside.”
Immediately inside the door was a table where teenagers were being carded, and behind the table stood a couple of bouncers. They were immediately swept over with music coming from the stage that was on one side wall. Along the other wall was a bar and along the back wall were booths with an assortment of tables in front of them. The rest of the interior was dance floor, and it was full of people dancing. Most were teenagers or young adults, through there was a sprinkling of older folks too. Most of the couples dancing were gay or lesbian and appeared to be having a terrific time.
They walked toward the back and stood watching till a small table opened up with four seats. As they took it over, Nate asked, “How’s this going to work? There’s only four chairs and there’s eight of us.”
Jerrod looked at him and grinned. “Most of us are going to be dancing most of the time. This is mainly a place to dump our coats and set down some drinks or water. Unless, of course, you and Michael want to just sit and watch the rest of us.”
“No way,” Michael interjected. “We’re going to be dancing too.”
“I’m not very good,” his boyfriend said, looking plaintive.
“Who cares. Neither am I, but we’ll do just fine.” He looked at Jerrod. “Do they take drink orders or what?”
“You have to order at the bar. There’s no waitresses. I’ll make a run while you two warm up. What do you want?”
“Two diet cokes and two waters. It’s already warm in here.” He slipped Jerrod five dollars and grabbed Nate’s hand. “Come on, boyfriend, let’s get going.” They walked out to the dance floor with Matt and Jessica while Jerrod and Roger headed to the bar. When they got back with all the drinks and handed Eric and Kim theirs, Jerrod saw Eric nod his head over his shoulder. It was a slow tune, and he followed the line of sight to see Michael and Nate in each other’s arms.
“That looks pretty romantic. You guys want to go, and we’ll hold the table for a while?”
“No, you guys got the drinks. You go and we’ll hang out here till Matt and Jessica or Michael and Nate need a break.”
The dance rotation continued like that, and the second time Michael and Nate sat down for a break and some water Roger leaned over and asked what they thought.
“It’s amazing. I mean, it’s just a bunch of people dancing, right,” Nate said. “But most are gay couples and it’s no big deal.”
“Yeah, coming from Pendleton where we still have to be on the lookout all the time, this is mind blowing. It’s so free and accepting.”
Roger grinned at them. “Well, this is Portland, you know. Meaning it’s basically LGB friendly, but there are still plenty of homophobes around and parts of town you don’t want to be walking in if you’re holding your boyfriend’s hand or kissing. But in here nobody cares if you’ve got colored hair, lots of tattoos, are LBG or not. It’s so great because you can be yourself and not be afraid of anyone. No one is going to judge you or bully you or ridicule you ’cause you’re hugging or kissing your boyfriend. Look around… everyone feels exactly the same, even the straight people who are here. It’s kind of like a safe zone where it’s fun to be because you can be exactly you. Just like at home.”
“You’ve got that right. I wondered what going to a gay club would be like, especially with Matt and Jessica coming along, but it’s totally cool.”
Jerrod leaned over. “I bet it’s not quite like this on most nights. This is teen night, remember. I’m betting on regular nights when they’re serving drinks and its mainly adults there’s a lot more stuff going on, like guys cruising and looking for pickups. But on nights like these it’s just fun and freeing.”
They danced until ten thirty and then Matt and Jessica gave them the high sign. “Time to go, lover boys. Mom made me promise I wouldn’t let you two stay out all night, and we’ve got stuff to do in the morning and then we’re working with Sean in the afternoon while these four go skiing.
“Sean was telling me about the basketball coaching. He thinks it’s the best thing in the world,” Michael said.
Matt smiled at him. “Mainly because of his coach here.” He raised Jessica’s hand and kissed it. “Aren’t you guys going skiing tomorrow?”
“No, I don’t ski.”
Nate immediately added, “And I’m not going skiing while my boyfriend’s here. He’s got to go home on Sunday, so we’ve got tomorrow together.”
“That’s so romantic,” Jessica said, leaning in. “If you guys want to come do some basketball drills with us and Sean, you’re welcome. I know he’d think it was great.”
Nate looked at Michael and then back. “Can we tell you in the morning?”
“You mean after you figure out how tired you are and if you get enough sleep tonight?”
Jerrod and Roger had a power nap followed by a shower after they got home from skiing. David and Jackson had invited Laurie, Michael and Nate as well as Matt and Jessica over for dinner on Saturday night. Jackson took drink orders, which meant pouring the young adults a glass of white wine, and then Laurie followed him into the kitchen to help with dinner, leaving the young people on their own. Roger had Hootie and the Blowfish on the stereo, and they all settled in the living room talking about skiing and then Sean and basketball.
Jerrod looked at Michael and Nate. “So, what did you think?”
“You mean beyond the fact that he’s addicted to basketball and loves Jessica and Matt, and thinks you and Roger are okay?” Michael said that with a mischievous grin as he looked toward his boyfriend’s older brother and his girlfriend.
“Well, yeah. That’s a good place to start.”
“The kid is amazing. I mean he’s got the most positive attitude I’ve ever seen, and he’s so committed. Like he’d do drills for hours if these guys didn’t tell him to stop.” He looked at Jessica. “Right?”
“You’re right. He’s got singular focus, and that can be good and bad. The bad part is he doesn’t know when to stop and can hurt himself. We have to be really specific about how much time he can spend on dribbling or shooting free throws, or whatever, or he’d be at it all night. He could hurt himself or wear out his tennis shoes faster than he already does.”
“What?” Michael looked confused.
“He’s got palsy in one leg, right? He limps on that leg and kind of drags that foot,” Jessica replied. “So, when he runs, he’s dragging the toe and he burns through the sneakers.”
“But his mom is right there,” Matt added. “She makes sure she knows what we tell him about how much he should be doing, and then she’s the enforcer.”
“If basketball didn’t involve teams and dribbling and moving up and down court,” Nate added, “he’d be a star. That dude can shoot.”
“Well, yeah,” Matt replied. “He’s real accurate within a certain distance when he’s stationary. Less so when he’s moving, and he can’t shoot three pointers. He doesn’t have the body strength.”
“Is that right? I noticed most of his shots were closer,” Michael commented.
“Three points shots are not only harder to hit from an accuracy point of view because of the distance, but also because the shooter is usually being defended,” Jessica said. “On top of that, it takes a lot more strength in your whole body. You’ve got to jump higher, shoot harder, all that. Picture Michael Jordan, but he made it look easy.”
“All I know,” Nate added, “is how obvious it is that he’s not just trying hard, but he’s happy. He’s just such a neat and committed guy. If he didn’t have CP, he’d be an all star… meaning athletically and with all the girls, too… don’t you think?”
Jessica paused for just a moment and then replied. “Yeah, I think you’re right on both counts. What’s more amazing to me, given his handicap, is what a wonderful person he is, what a great attitude he has, how committed he is. If most of the people I work with had half as much it would be over the top.”
“I was thinking something like that,” Michael said pensively. “I had cancer and was lucky and got cured. Nate had a nightmare hip problem, but it was treated, and he’s cured. There’s no cure for CP, but in spite of that he’s Mr. Positive about everything. No whining, no complaining. Just love and hard work. If I was in his position, I don’t know if I’d even be close to that.”
Jessica smiled knowingly. “It’s what makes him so special. Why I like working with him so much. Matt feels the same way and if we can help him improve in different parts of his life so it’s easier for him, so he can fulfill his potential, then super.”
Jerrod caught her eye and said softly, “Do I detect an orientation to working with special needs kids? I mean that as a compliment, Jessica. I really do.”
Jessica smiled conspiratorially. “To be honest, I have found myself thinking about that. Being a regular coach and coaching normal kids is great and all, but you know how flaky most of them are. Kids like Sean not only need more attention and help, but ones like him bring so much to the table, it’s pretty astonishing.”
Before the conversation could continue Jackson walked into the living room beckoning them all in for dinner. Much of the dinner conversation was filling the adults in on the skiing and the time working with Sean, then turned to updating Michael on the pavilion project and what little progress they’d made during the holidays, but everyone recommitted to get back on it once school began.
After the kitchen was cleaned and dishes washed, Matt begged off to take Jessica home, and when Laurie, Nate and Michael were ready to go, Jerrod pulled Michael close and said, “We won’t see you tomorrow, since we’re doing dog therapy work in the afternoon. It’s been great to have you here for a few days.”
Michael hugged him back and agreed. “Maybe we can figure out a way for me to come down for spring break, or all you guys could come up to Pendleton, like last year.” He looked hopeful, and Roger picked on the vibe and said, “Yeah, I think it’s our turn to come your way. Also, I’m overdue to visit my grandpa, so there’s that too.”
“Yeah, but where would we sleep? On the twin beds?”
“Don’t go there! You know that was a one-time thing. Mom would be mortified to know you even still remember it. You could also stay with grandpa. He’d be cool with that. I’m pretty certain that bed in the guest room hasn’t been slept in since Nate was in it.” He grinned at his boyfriend and wiggled his eyebrows.
“Don’t even remind me,” Nate said. “I was being a jerk that week and deserved exactly what I got that night.”
“Still,” Michael said back to him, “about the nicest thing anyone ever did for me was what you did the next morning, sitting in the Scout waiting for me so you could apologize.”
“Had to be done,” Nate said softly, starting to blush. “Your grandpa made me do it, and he was right.”
“I need to meet your grandpa at some point,” Laurie said, “he sounds like an amazing person. Now, let’s get this show on the road.”
They all walked out to the driveway and said goodnight with a round of serious hugs. As they watched the Volvo wagon turn the corner at the end of the block, Jackson said, “Good people and great friends. What a combo, right?”
“That’s for sure,” Jerrod replied as he tightened his arm around Roger’s shoulder. “It was really great to have Michael visit for a few days. Those two sure seem solid, don’t you think?”
“They certainly do, and Laurie told us it’s not only the best thing that’s ever happened to Nate, but she’s pretty certain it’s a permanent relationship.”
Roger chuckled and then said, “Well, it better be if he’s moving down here next fall to go to college.”