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Date with a Festival

Book Seven of the Rick&Jerry Series

By Karl Five

Copyright 2018 Karl Five

License Notes

Thank you for downloading this eBook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

Author’s Note

All characters depicted in sexual acts in this work of fiction are 18 years of age or older.

Well, here I am again, still studying MRI on the computer so I’ll be ready when I start training on the real thing come next Monday. The past weekend was my last night in CT, so over the last few days I’ve been changing my sleep schedule back to something that resembles normal. It’s not all that easy to go from the night shift to the morning shift, but it was very generous of my employers to give me this much time off. Not every hospital would do that.

I’m finally getting a handle on MRI physics, but it’s a lot more complex than CT, which is essentially a glorified x-ray machine. I’m looking forward to some hands-on training, instead of all this theoretical stuff.

So here I sit staring at the computer, trying to stay awake for a few more hours instead of hitting the sack, as I’d like to do just now. Rick left early this morning to help Mollie with her latest job, a new restaurant that’s about to open in downtown Asheville. This time, it’s an indoor mural, instead of the usual outside of the building. This could start a whole new fad, which may mean a lot more business for Murals By Mollie. I’ve seen some of it and it’s quite impressive. It covers an entire wall and has paintings of the more well-known buildings in Asheville, like the Biltmore Mansion and Pack Square, not to mention some of the old churches and civic buildings. It’s a bit surreal, with the background much smaller than the chosen buildings. But then again, Asheville itself is rather surreal, so why not?

On top of that activity, Rick was approved as an Associate Member of the local Rescue Squad a couple of weeks ago. He can only go on calls under the supervision of an Active Member for the next three months, but that doesn’t bother him. He’s been learning as much as he can, both through the Rescue Squad and the Red Cross classes that are available to the public. He’s really gotten into this, so he’s been very busy lately, between working with Mollie and taking all these classes. I think he’s just found his calling, which is a good thing.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that he’s now taking lessons in Tai Chi. I don’t know how he has the energy to do all that, but he seems to enjoy keeping busy.

I take off my glasses and rub my tired eyes. Maybe a short break is in order. Maybe I should just lie down on the couch for a few minutes. Yes, that would be a good idea.

As I make myself comfortable, my mind turns back toward Rick but in a different direction. In a few more weeks, we’ll take our third STD tests. If everything turns out negative, we’ll be able to dispense with the condoms. It seems as if we’ve been using them forever, but that’s not really true. Of course, I know Rick is having sex with Mollie now and then, but I also know she’s a devout believer in condoms and birth control pills, so they’re not having unprotected sex. Sure, there’s also the fact that it’s not 100% certain that condoms will stop infection, but after all, how careful is careful? To be absolutely and positively safe from sexually transmitted diseases, you would have to never have sex at all. Let’s face it: that’s not going to happen.

Am I just a little jealous of Mollie having access to Rick like that? Well, maybe. But we did decide on an open relationship. Perhaps if I had someone else also, I would feel better about it. Or would I just feel somehow guilty, even though I wouldn’t be cheating? Now and then, it crosses my mind that I could lose Rick to someone else. Not so much to Mollie as to another man, maybe someone on the Rescue Squad. After all, they’ve got to be more his type, more heroic. The kind of guys who’ll rush into danger, while the rest of us run away.

But enough of that. I’m probably just borrowing trouble when it’s not even there.

As for the condoms, it’s really not as if they totally spoil our enjoyment, but it sure would be nice to do without them. I suppose it will become commonplace for us soon enough, but is any orgasm ever really commonplace?

As usual, just thinking about Rick makes me horny, but I try to ignore that. It will feel so good to be able to fuck with nothing at all between us. Nothing to stop us from giving and accepting each other’s semen in any way we want. It’s a deeper intimacy, built on an even deeper trust. I can hardly wait to feel him shoot his load deep into me. Just the thought makes me —

Oh shit! I realize that my hand has strayed down to my crotch, rubbing my swelling cock through the fabric of my jeans. That’s what I get for letting my imagination go down that road. Too bad Rick’s not home yet. Oh well, I can take care of this myself.

I push my pants down over my hips, spit into my hand to get some lubrication, then wrap my fingers around my shaft, stroking gently as I go back to imagining Rick and me together with no rubbers.

We’ll be in no big hurry, just taking our time and wanting to savor every moment. We’re lying next to each other, with me behind him. I’ve already slathered lube over my cock and I’m ready to enter him. He reaches back, lifting his upper butt cheek to give me easier access to his ass.

“Take me, Jerry,” he whispers. “I want it so much.”

So I do. My cock slides into him easily. I take it slow, pushing in just a bit at a time. My sensitive cockhead feels the way opening up before its advance and I open him deeper. Back and forth, slowly at first and then faster, I begin to fuck him. His body tightens around me, increasing the friction between us, taking me to a higher level of sensation than ever before.

“Fill me, Jerry. Fill me,” I hear him whisper, his voice strained and urgent.

I’m more than ready. I push deep in and hold it there, my cock quivering with ecstasy as my cum is released into him in successive waves of pleasure.

As the feeling subsides, I relax and sigh.

That’s when I realize I’m just lying here on the couch, my hand grasping my softening cock and my cum splattered all over my belly.

Damn! I tell myself. Just jerking off shouldn’t be allowed to feel that good!

I almost laugh, since I have a tendency to say that almost every time we have sex.

On a sudden impulse, I let go of my cock and wipe up a gob of my cum, rubbing it between my fingers and looking at it up close.

Is this all it is? Just a few blobs of slimy white gunk? Why am I so fascinated by this sticky stuff? What good is this bit of goop? There are times when it almost seems silly for men to fixate on it so much.

But it's not just that. Maybe it's more psychological than physical, but I love the idea of another man's cum being deposited inside my body, whether orally or anally. It's as if a small part of him is left with me. And it works the other way around also: I like to pump my cum into someone else. Sure, it may well be due to an innate drive toward procreation, even though we aren't really going to make babies. But somewhere in our ancient heritage, our bodies were driven to enter our sperm into the race against other men's sperm, in order to send our genes on into the future. Gay or straight, contraceptives or not, the urge is still there.

Or is it just that the sensation associated with expelling this stuff is so intense? That would be enough by itself to motivate us guys to do it as often as we can.

Then again, at least as far as a man is concerned, ejaculation is routinely taken as a proof of orgasm. Just watch a few porn videos and you’ll see that the actor almost always pulls his cock out of whatever hole it was in so the audience can see that he really is coming. Or if it’s a blowjob, the receiver usually opens his or her mouth to show their partner’s cum.

Of course, a woman can’t provide that sort of confirmation. She could be faking it, for all the watchers can tell for sure. But that’s just porn, not what usually happens in regular sex.

Hmm. Maybe one of the other reasons why a lot of men don’t want to use condoms is the fact that their precious semen ends up in a little latex bag that gets thrown in the trash, as if it were nothing but garbage.

Garbage. Maybe even dangerous garbage. Yeah, that thought is certainly a turnoff.

Semen may well help to create new life, but even though the AIDS epidemic is slacking off now, it’s still the potential carrier of a death sentence. Cum is the most dangerous of the so-called bodily fluids. It’s the thing that spreads AIDS more often than other fluids such as saliva. So do we both love it and fear it at the same time?

Now that I think of it, before modern medicine, many women died in childbirth, so our male ancestors must have realized that the precious seed that defines a man could very possibly condemn his beloved wife to death. How dreadful must that have been?

Damnation! Does it really need to be this complicated?

Enough psychologizing already!

I hear a distant rumbling noise coming from outside. It’s almost inaudible, but it gathers strength with each passing second. Now it’s right outside our kitchen window.

Since our apartment is alongside the railroad tracks that lead into the railyard, I’ve heard this sound many times before. I fully expect to hear the ear-splitting noise of the horn as the engine approaches the crossing.

When that doesn’t happen, the unexpected silence surprises me. Why no warning signal?

Then my tired brain catches up to reality. The town has just recently arranged for the trains not to sound their horns as they approach this particular intersection.

This is a good thing, since the blaring noise of the train horn has sometimes triggered flashbacks when it woke Rick up abruptly from a sound sleep. At least that won’t happen anymore.

I consider getting up and heading for bed, but it’s just so cozy lying here. My eyes drift closed again, despite the sunlight shining into our window.

The next thing I hear is Rick’s laughter. As I pry my eyes open, I see him standing over me with a wide grin on his face.

“Rise and shine, darlin’,” he says.

I glance down at my still half-naked body. Oh, shit! I completely forgot to clean up before I fell asleep. I get up off the couch and go to the sink to rinse off the incriminating evidence.

“Why don’t you take a quick shower and change clothes?” he suggests. “I’ll make us some dinner.”

“Sounds good to me.”

While we’re eating the heated-up roast beef, broccoli, and corn on the cob, we start talking about the upcoming weekend.

“Want to go to the Hendersonville Train Depot this Saturday ?” I ask. “It’s not in operation as a depot but it’s been turned into a train museum that houses a huge model railroad layout, among other things. I promised Lonnie to take him there.”

“I’d like to, but Mollie really needs to finish off that mural before this week is out, so we’ll probably have to work on Saturday. But after that, things will be a lot quieter for a while.”

I’m a bit disappointed, but I push that aside. After all, we can’t always do everything together.

“Hey,” Rick says, “ how about us going to the Gay Pride Festival the following Saturday?”

“What? You mean you’re actually going to be free to do something like that on a weekend?”

“Yeah, darlin’, it just so happens that I am. No murals to do, no classes, and I’m not on shift at the Rescue Squad.”

“Wow, I can’t believe it! But I thought all that was in June.”

“The parades usually are, but Asheville has a Gay Festival in the Fall.” He shrugs. “I saw it the other night on the computer. They’ve been doing it for years now.”

“In that case, it’s a date.”

Well, my days off went by pretty quickly. By the time Saturday comes around, I’ve been sleeping at night and awake during the day, like most folks. I’d almost forgotten just how wonderful it was to wake up with Rick lying next to me, instead of going to bed at the same time he’s getting up.

Right now, he’s on his side with his back toward me. I scoot over against him and drape an arm over his waist. Soon the alarm will go off and he’ll get up, since he and Mollie are going to put the finishing touches on her mural today. But until then, I can hold him. As always, I never could figure out how I managed to have such a wonderful man. If anything ever happened to him, I don’t know what I’d do. No, don’t even go there. He’s just fine and he loves me. What more could I ask?

Of course, now that he’s joined the Rescue Squad, I figure he’ll be on the night shift now and then at the station, but that’s way better than it was before.

The alarm goes off. Rick turns over, kisses me, and gets up. Time for breakfast.

This is the day Lonnie and I will be going to the Hendersonville Train Depot. It’s only open from 10-2 on Saturdays and 1-3 on Wednesdays, so we didn’t have too much choice, considering that Lonnie is in school during the week. Lonnie is far more interested in trains than his buddies are. They didn’t want to go with us.

Lonnie shows up promptly at 9 AM. It’s only about half an hour’s drive, but I know there’s been some construction going on in Hendersonville lately, so there may be detours.

“Thanks for offering to take me to the Train Museum, Mr. Jerry!” he greets me. “I’ve been wanting to go for a long time.”

“You really don’t have to call me Mister, you know. I’m okay with just Jerry.”

“My Mom says it’s disrespectful for me to call an adult by his first name.”

“Oh. I see. Some kind of Southern thing, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Well, anyway, you don’t have to thank me. I’m looking forward to it as much as you are. C’mon, let’s hit the road.”

We drive for a while in silence. He glances at me out of the corner of his eyes now and then. He seems a bit anxious, but maybe I’m wrong.

“So, Lonnie, how’s everything been going lately?”

“Uh — fine. I guess. I’m just starting high school this year, so it’s a bit nerve-wracking.”

That surprises me, since he doesn’t look old enough to be out of middle school.

“Got any plans for after you graduate?”

“Well, if I can keep my grades up, I’d like to go to the local community college. Mom can’t afford much more than that.”

“Any idea what you’d like to study?”

He shrugs. “Not really sure yet. But I don’t want to end up waiting on tables like Mom does.”

“How about your father? What does he do?” I ask casually.

“I don’t have a father. I mean, I do, but he deserted us when I was 5 years old.”

“Sorry. Guess I shouldn’t have asked, huh?”

“That’s okay. It’s not a big secret. Can’t say I miss him a lot either. He drank too much and wasn’t a very nice guy anyway.”

I don’t know what to say about that, so I just keep quiet for a while.

Neither of us are very talkative on the rest of the drive.

The Depot was once an active passenger train depot. Nowadays it’s a museum run and maintained by the Apple Valley Model RR Club, Asheville Division. Admission is free.

The first thing you see as you come in the door is a big screen that’s running a video of a view from one of the model trains running on the tracks.

We sit down and watch it for a while.

“It feels as if we’re in the train itself!” Lonnie whispers to me. “Awesome!”

When the video is over, we head for the next exhibit. There are several rooms full of model train set-ups, mostly freight trains, with a lot of emphasis on mountainous terrain. There are rustic towns, mostly old-fashioned in style. While most of the trains date from the near past, there are a few steam engines also.

A lot of the layouts depict real towns from both the past and the present alongside the RR tracks. Many of them are real businesses, some from the past and some that are still in existence. There are many tunnels through the mountainous areas.

I’m not surprised to see that most of the folks operating the trains are old men and boys.

I was so busy watching the trains going by and admiring the scenery that I lost track of Lonnie.

I had to go back to one of the other rooms in order to find him. He’s standing next to a little old dude who’s barely as tall as he is. He has a mustache and is wearing a RR style cap, so I figure he’s one of the guys who runs the trains.

They seem to be deep in conversation, with Lonnie asking all sorts of questions about the layout and how realistic it is, geography-wise. I don’t want to interfere with them, since Lonnie seems to be enjoying his conversation, so I just stand there and watch them.

Lonnie’s barely 5 feet tall. Obviously, he hasn’t reached his growth spurt as yet. He’s not even at that awkward gangly stage. He has straight brown hair with just a slight reddish tint and it’s in a shaggy cut with bangs that reach his eyebrows. I wonder if he mother cuts it for him. His hazel eyes right now are sparkling with excitement, instead of his usual imploring look, half-frightened and anxious.

Damn! Why does he have to be so cute?

Yes, of course, young folks can be very attractive to adults. Only a few generations ago, a boy Lonnie’s age would very likely be married and a father. The equipment is there, and probably already in working order. But things are different nowadays, and young teens aren’t considered to be adults.

Would I like to have sex with him? Yes. But what you might *want* to do isn’t always something you *should* do.

I dismiss the thought.

Eventually he ends the conversation and we stroll around the rest of the museum together.

“A lot of these trains have a caboose, but I’ve never seen that on the trains that run near us,” he says.

“They’re not in use anymore. I kind of miss them too. You know, there’s a caboose outside. We can take a look at that before we go.”

Do I really need to say how much he enjoyed going inside the caboose? You don’t get to see them these days, much less from the inside.

There’s also a Thomas the Tank Engine layout outside, but Lonnie and I are both far too old to be interested in that.

Having seen all the exhibits, we head back to the car and start for home.

“That was great, Mr. Jerry!” he says. “Thanks so much for taking me there.”

“My pleasure.”

“I wish I could have my own model railroad, but that’s not going to happen. My Mom just can’t afford it.”

“I had one when I was a kid, and it was pretty nice. It was one of the few things that my Dad liked to work on with me. But I was just as interested in the real trains that ran` behind our house. By the way, my Dad was a single parent also, like your Mom.”

“Oh, I just assumed — I’m sorry.”

“No problem. There are lots of single parents out there these days.”

I steer the conversation back to the Depot, and we talk about it for most of the way home. At first I thought it was my imagination, but as we get closer to Asheville, Lonnie gets quiet and seems uncomfortable. I wonder if something is wrong.

I must admit that I’m a bit on edge also. Unwanted thoughts run through my head.

I really like this kid. I never felt this way about a youngster before. What’s the matter with me? Maybe it’s because I haven’t known many teens? Or maybe because I saved him from getting hit by a train some months ago? Or could it be that we both have a lot in common? This is just plain weird! Maybe I’m becoming a sort of father-figure to the boy?

I pull into our parking lot and turn off the engine. Lonnie doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get out of the car. I glance at him. “Is something wrong?”

“Uh — could I talk to you about something, Mr. Jerry?”

“Sure. But it’s going to get hot sitting in the car out here in the sun. C’mon inside. Mollie’s truck isn’t here, so she and Rick are still off working on her latest mural, but there’s always a pitcher of lemonade in the fridge in her studio. I’m sure she won’t mind if we help ourselves to some of it.”

I’m not sure what this is all about, but if it has anything to do with sex, I figure it would be best to choose a more neutral place than our apartment.

Lonnie nods, but he’s still anxious.

We go inside. He looks around at the drawings on the wall while I get us some lemonade.

“What are all these pictures of buildings for?” he asks as he sips his drink.

“Mollie’s using them for her latest mural. It's a sort of montage of famous historical places in Asheville. Rick is working with her, doing much of the grunt work and simple background painting, while Mollie does the fancy stuff.”

“She’s got a lot of stuff about the Biltmore Estate.”

“Yep. The Biltmore is the central focus, even though it’s above and behind the others, up on a mountain.”

“I’d like to see the final product. I’ll bet it will be gorgeous.”

We sit there for a while in silence, sipping our lemonade.

“Now then, what is it that you want to ask me?” I finally say.

"I — uh — I'm — I mean —"

He can't seem to make up his mind, so I encourage him. "Spit it out, son. I'm not going to bite you.”

"I think I'm gay.”

"Whoa! Wait a minute there. How do you know and why are you telling me?"

"I kind of got the feeling you and Rick were, you know, lovers."

I'm a bit taken aback by how easily we registered on this boy’s nascent gaydar.

When I don't answer right away he goes on. "You are, aren't you?"

"Yes. But tell me, why do you think you're gay? Have you had any experience with it?"

"No. That's what I wanted to talk to you about. Maybe we could — you know?"

Yeah. I know all too well. If only the kid were a few years older. But he isn't. I'm not going to claim that I'm not tempted and I sure wouldn't mind having him in bed with me. Of course, I can’t. But, damn, I sure do wish I could! He’s so cute. Those soulful eyes — And it would be kind of nice to show him what sex between men can be like.

"Lonnie, I could get in a lot of trouble if we became sexually involved. I’m pretty sure you’re below the age of consent.”

“I’ll be 15 next month,” he offers.

“Um-hmm. And the age of consent here in North Carolina is 16.”

Would it be so awful if I just gave him a quick blow job? I could take him into my mouth and show him how it feels when a man sucks him off. Pleasure him with my tongue. Take him deep and swallow his sweet innocent cum. No, Jerry, you idiot, don’t even think about it!

Lonnie considers what I said, while I take a few more sips of my lemonade, wondering where this conversation is going to go from here.

“So how am I supposed to know if I’m gay or not if I haven’t tried it?”

Good question. If I don’t dare to touch him, what can I do?

Well, there's no law against teaching the younger generation about the facts of life, is there?

"For one thing, do you find men sexually attractive?"

"I'm not sure."

"Okay, let's take a step back. Do you masturbate?"

"I like to jerk off, if that's what you mean."

"What do you think about while you're doing it? Girls or boys?"

"Well, there's this friend of mine —"

"Male or female?"

"Male. I imagine I'm touching his dick, playing with it until he comes."

"Have you actually done that with him?"

"No. But me and my friends sometimes do a circle jerk. That's not illegal, is it?"

"Nope. So it's just thoughts, as far as touching your friend goes, right?"

He nods.

"How about girls?"

He shrugs. "Sometimes I think about them too. How they'd look undressed. But not as often as I think about boys.”

Maybe just a handjob? What harm could that do? He already knows what that feels like, since he just said he’d done it himself. Then he could do it for me in return. It’s not like I would be traumatizing him. No, that’s still sex. Damnation!

“You know, it isn’t always a case of gay or straight. It could be both."

“You mean like bisexual?”

“Yep. There’s a wide range of possibilities when it comes to sex. As your body grows and changes, your feelings can change also. Don't be in a rush to put a label on yourself."

I’m getting hard just talking about all this. It’s a good thing I sat down behind the table so he can’t see the bulge in my pants.

"There's a lot of stuff online," Lonnie says hesitantly.

"Yep. And lots of kids look at porn, if that’s why you’re blushing. After all, how easy is it to click on a button that says you’re eighteen?”

He blushes even brighter.

“You needn’t be embarrassed. If you weren’t curious, there would be something wrong with you. But keep in mind that a lot of what you can find online is bullshit, or something meant for experienced adults, not young folks who are still in the process of sorting themselves out. Don't get me wrong. Sex can be the most beautiful thing in your life, but it can also go terribly wrong. There are diseases out there —"

"I know. AIDS and all that other stuff."

“Yep. So if you’re going to start playing around with your peers, male or female, make sure you use condoms every time.”

“Why? None of us has done anything risky.”

“Not yet maybe, but someday you will. Practice with them, get used to how it feels, train yourself to be able to come using them. It will make it easier and safer later on.”

Yeah. Do what I say, not what I do. Or to be more accurate, what I used to do when I was younger.

“You’ve heard about safer sex, haven’t you?”

“Yes, Mr. Jerry. I’ve looked it up on my laptop.”

“So you’re familiar with using condoms and all?”

He looks a bit embarrassed. “I know what they are and how they work, but I’ve never used one for real.” He shrugs. “After all, I haven’t had any reason to do that.”

“Okay, I can fix that.” I pull out my wallet and take out a condom, then hold it out to him.

“You keep one in your wallet?”

“Yeah. Like the Boy Scouts. You know, Be Prepared.”

He grins at me as he takes it.

“Open the package and look at it, if you want to. Or wait until you’re alone and try it on. Nowadays you can buy them in grocery stores right off the shelf.”

Damn! It would be so much easier to just show him how it’s done. I could lower my pants and slide it on. Or better yet, use his cock for the demonstration. Of course, he’d have to be nice and hard. I could make sure of that. Then after it’s in place, I could — Aw, hell! There I go again.

If only there was an off button that a man could use in a situation like this. It would make life a whole lot easier. Think of something else. Rick, maybe. No. That will just make me hotter. How about being in prison for statutory rape and being constantly abused by my fellow prisoners? That would be pain, not pleasure. And it would be my own damn fault for not being able to keep my prick in my pants where it belongs.

Lonnie puts the package in his pocket, then looks at me.

"Do you and Rick use these things?"


"For real?"

"For real. Ever since we started having sex.”

But we may be able to stop soon, if our next round of STD tests comes out negative. But I don’t think that’s really relevant right now.

We both empty our lemonade glasses then look at each other in silence.

“Well, I guess we ought to break this up. Unless you’ve got more questions?”

He shakes his head. “You won’t tell my Mom what we talked about, will you?”

“Of course not. This is just between us guys.”

He smiles. I stand up and he follows my example.

“Maybe someday you’ll be lucky enough to find someone like Rick.”

“Well, to tell you the truth, I’m actually hoping to find someone like you. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Rick’s a great guy and I totally respect him. But I think I’d get along better with someone like you as a partner.”

Much to my surprise, he hugs me.

Omigod, can he feel my erection against him? Yes, of course he can. He feels so good in my arms. How much better would it feel to have my cock in his mouth? It would be so easy. We could go on from here. I could be the first — Jerry, no! Don’t even go there, you fucking pervert! He’s a kid. Just a kid.

“Thanks for being someone I can talk to about this,” Lonnie says, his face still pressed against my shoulder.

I take a deep breath and step back out of his arms.

“You’re very welcome. And if you or your friends have any questions, feel free to ask. I'll answer as honestly as I can.”

He smiles and heads for the door. I sit there staring at the wall for a few minutes, then I wash out the empty glasses and climb up the stairs to our apartment.

Rick isn’t home yet. That’s just as well. There’s something else I have to take care of before he gets home.

I go into the bedroom and jerk myself off, imagining how it would feel if my cock were in Lonnie’s sweet little virgin ass, without a condom, fucking him gently until he comes and I pump my cum into him. After all, imagining something isn’t the same as doing it.

Maybe someday, when he’s gotten a little older, he’ll still want to — oh fuck, Jerry! Don’t fool yourself. By then he’ll have found someone closer to his own age. And that’s assuming he really is gay. Maybe he’ll find out otherwise.

I get up off the bed and go into the bathroom to wash my hands.

Now how am I going to tell Rick what happened today? Wait a minute, why should I have to explain it to him at all? It’s none of his business. And Lonnie may not even want me to tell anyone else, so it’s better if I just keep this to myself. After all, nothing really happened, did it? So there’s nothing to explain.

Life goes on, and I start my cross-training in MRI, 7AM to 3PM, Monday through Friday. It’s quite fascinating to actually learn how it’s done. I’ve got a really good lead tech as a teacher. By the end of the first week, I’m already getting the knack of using the computer to set up the most common scans, with her leaning over my shoulder. By the following week, she’s no longer watching me so closely. Of course, this is just for the basic scans, not the more difficult exams, but I’m making progress. All of that theoretical info that I stuffed into my head really helps a lot.

Mollie’s mural is finished by now, so Rick is around more often. Sure, he’s still taking classes, but at least now he has more free time to hang out with me.

A few days before the Gay Pride Festival, I decide to look it up and see what it’s been like in previous years. I’m still scrolling my way through past photos when Rick comes back from food shopping. He glances down at the computer screen, then starts putting away the groceries.

“Looks like fun, huh?” he says.

“Yeah.” Then an idea hits me. I swivel my desk chair around so that I can see Rick’s back, as he puts the cans up on the shelf. “You know, I’ll bet Lonnie would get a kick out of it.”

“Your little buddy? Why? Do you know something about him that I don’t know?”

“Actually, yes. He and I had a talk after we went to the Train Depot. He thinks he’s gay, but he’s not sure just yet.”

“Really?” He turns to face me. “ Maybe the Festival would be an interesting thing for him to experience. Might help him make up his mind.”

“His mother would have to okay it though. After all, we don’t want to be accused of corrupting a minor.”

“Heaven forbid.” He comes over to me and wraps his arms around my neck. “Sure, invite him along.” He nuzzles my neck and whispers in my ear, “How about I do a little corrupting of my new MRI tech?”

“Sounds good to me.”

I get up and we head into the bedroom, leaving the rest of the groceries to wait for a little while.

Rick and I pick up Lonnie shortly before the Festival is slated to begin. We take my car, since Rick’s truck doesn’t have a back seat. Lonnie doesn’t live very far from us. He’s waiting for us on the sidewalk as we drive up, so we head in to downtown Asheville.

It takes us quite a while to find a parking space. I guess we should have started out earlier.

It’s a longish walk to North Pack Square with the Vance Memorial poking its head high up into the air and that fountain a little further on with rocks in it.

We pick up a map of what’s going on where and when from the Information booth.

There’s a secondary stage set up at the opposite end from the main stage, and that catches Rick’s eye immediately. It’s a demo of some kind of martial arts called Krav Maga. I’ve never heard of that, but then again, why would I?

“You mind if we watch this for a while, guys?” Rick says. “I’ve read about it, but I never saw it in action.”

“Sure. We have all day to look around. Might as well start here. Okay with you, Lonnie?”

“Yeah. It looks exciting, but what is it?”

“It’s not so much a sport as it is a kind of realistic fight training. It combines a lot of techniques from boxing, wrestling, aikido, judo, and karate.”

It looks very brutal to me. I look around at the vendors and the booths giving out info about local companies and organizations that are lined up all along the way. And this is just the edge of the Festival grounds.

It’s been many years since I’ve been at a Gay Pride celebration of any kind. Haven’t even thought about such things. I’m beginning to wonder why not. I used to go to the Pride Parades all the time. Now that I think about it, it may be that I just started to take it for granted that it was okay to be gay, so why all the demonstrations. Maybe I was wrong. We’ve made a lot of advances as far as gay equality is concerned. And now there are new and even more challenging things, like transsexuality and gender identity. Here in Asheville, we don’t have to be afraid. We’re pretty much accepted. But what about the rest of the country? Not to mention the rest of the world.

Since I’m not all that excited about the martial arts demo, my eyes wander around the crowd.

A lot of the other guys are wearing bright colorful outfits that pretty much scream that they’re gay. But then again, why not?

Compared to many of the folks here, we’re dressed pretty plainly, in just jeans and ordinary shirts.

I feel rather shabby compared to the colorful and sometimes rather outrageous outfits others are wearing. Maybe I should have worn something a little more obviously gay.

When the demonstration is over, we notice a food truck that sells hot dogs and such, so we decide to make this our lunch.

While we’re eating, a frenzied beating of drums from the stage catches our attention.

Roughly a dozen women of all ages, but mostly older and mostly wearing very colorful outfits are beating enthusiastically on what looks to me like all kinds of bongo drums, not to mention other rhythmic items that I can’t even begin to name. Very catchy rhythms. The ladies all seem to be having a great time with it.

We sit down and watch them while we eat. Lonnie glances around, wide-eyed and fascinated by all the people strolling by. And we still haven’t even gotten to the main part of the Festival.

We finish eating and start making our way further into the crowd. Everywhere we go, there are booths of all kinds: businesses, churches, support organizations, healthcare, food, and, of course a huge abundance of vendors selling their wares, mostly clothing.

My eye is drawn to one of the booths as we walk by. This one offers a wide variety of hats along with the usual round buttons with slogans or symbols. One of those buttons just seems to jump out at me.

“How about we look around at this stuff? I see something I may want to buy.”

“Sure. We’re not in any hurry. Go for it.”

Rick just stands there and watches while Lonnie and I peruse the merchandise.

Most of the buttons have designs or slogans that I’ve seen many times before, but one of them is somewhat different. Yes, it has a rainbow, but this rainbow arches over a dark and threatening cloud. I don’t know just why it appeals to me so much, but I like it.

While I’m paying the vendor, I notice Lonnie looking at the display of hats. I’m about to offer to buy him one when Rick beats me to it.

“You want a cap, Lonnie? It’s on me.”

“Uh – gee – yeah.”

“Take your choice.”

He tries on a few of the hats, then he puts on a blue denim cap with a rainbow on it.

“What do you think?” he asks me.

“It suits you. Not too fancy but also not too plain.”

Lonnie grins while Rick gets out his wallet.

I fasten my pin to my shirt and we continue weaving our way toward the main part of the park. As we cross over Market Street, we walk past a man with a bullhorn haranguing the crowd. His T-shirt has a big cross on the front, so it’s not very hard to figure out that he’s a Christian.

He’s screaming at us, saying that we’ll all end up in hell unless we find Jesus and change our evil ways. Some folks are trying to argue with him, but we just walk by as if he wasn’t there. Even Lonnie knows better than to argue with someone like that. We can no more change their minds than they can change ours, but at least we don’t heckle them by preaching to them outside their churches. Of course, not all Christians feel the same way about us, but those are mostly from the more liberal denominations.

We continue our stroll through the crowd.

As we get close to the Main Stage, Rick says, “I’d like to take a look at the Veterans Memorial while we’re here. It’s just a little further beyond the Main Stage, practically next to it.”

“The Drag Show is going to start pretty soon,” I remind him. “Maybe we could go there afterwards?”

“Sure. I’m not in any great hurry.” Rick glances around. “Hey, look, there’s an ice cream truck. How about we go over there for a snack?”

“Yeah!” Lonnie replies enthusiastically.

“Sounds good to me, but I need to hit the restroom first. There are some Porta Potties over there. You guys go ahead. I’ll catch up with you at the truck and we can head over to the Main Stage.”

As I approach the Porta Potties, I notice a pile of boards stacked up neatly behind the three portable toilets. Maybe someone didn’t pick up after himself. Oh well, it’s out of the way.

There’s a man going into the toilet at the far end, carrying a large back pack. The middle one is occupied so I head for the one on this side of the row and step inside to do my thing.

As I zip up my fly, I hear what sounds like a burst of rapid gunfire, then a loud voice screaming, “You goddamned cock-sucking fags! You think you can celebrate your perversions in public like this? I’m gonna take you all down!”

More gunshots, followed by more vile insults and threats. The shooter is clearly close by, maybe even just in front of the toilets. The first thing that enters my mind is to just squat down in a corner and stay right here, where I’d likely be safe.

But no, I can’t do that. I have to see what’s happening.

Carefully, I turn the latch, opening the door just a tiny bit and peeking out. Yes, I can see him off to my left, just beyond that last toilet. He’s sideways on to me as he fires at the crowd. He’s just an ordinary-looking white guy with a crewcut, but I can’t tell for sure what kind of a gun it is. It’s certainly not a hand gun or an ordinary rifle. It can fire very rapidly and it looks like a skeleton of a rifle that mated with a pistol and has a long forward-pointing curved erect cock underneath it. He’s swinging the rifle from right to left and back repeatedly, not aiming at anyone in particular. Walking slowly toward the fleeing crowd, he’s yelling insults and curses as he goes.

Meanwhile, all hell has broken loose. People are screaming, running, standing frozen with fear. Some of his victims are already on the ground. I see more people falling, but what can I do? I have no weapon. If I run toward the shooter to try to stop him, he’ll see me right away and I won’t get very far.

Wait a minute! That pile of lumber behind the toilets!

I open the metal door wide and duck quickly back behind it. Circling around the back of the Porta Potties, I head for the lumber, then grab up one of the 2x4’s that looks a bit longer than a baseball bat and continue along behind the toilets until I reach the end. I peek around. Yes, I’m behind him now, his attention still focused away from me. Here’s my chance to stop him.

Time seems to slow down as I run the few steps between him and me. He doesn’t notice me, still screaming obscenities at the crowd. I cock the board back over my shoulder and swing with all my adrenaline – enhanced strength at the side of his head.

He goes down. Just to make sure, I use the 2x4 to knock the rifle out of his hands.

I glance at his head. Lots of blood and pieces of his skull. He’s not going to get up any time soon, if ever.

Then it hits me. Omigod, I’ve killed a man! The first thing I can think of is to run away before the police get here. I toss the 2x4 aside and run back around the Porta Potties, heading toward the other end.

I peek around the side of the last toilet.

No one has yet realized the danger is over. By now, sirens are blaring, announcing the presence of the police and the Rescue Squad, and probably fire engines also.

Maybe I can just blend into the crowd without being noticed.

I step out into the open and start running like everyone else, searching desperately for Rick and Lonnie. Yes, I see them by the ice cream stand! Rick is lying face down on top of Lonnie.

No! Please no! Don’t let them both be dead!

It doesn’t take me long to get to them, but it seems like an eternity.

Then I see Rick raise his head cautiously, looking around for the sniper now that there’s no gunfire to be heard. He helps Lonnie up as I get closer.

Thank goodness! They’re both okay!

“Jerry, get Lonnie out of here! Take him home. I’ve got to go work with the Rescue Squad.”

“Go!” I say.

Lonnie looks terrified. I wrap my arms around him and hug him close. “It’s okay, kid. It’s all over. C’mon. We need to get out of here.”

Lonnie nods. I keep my arm around his shoulder as I guide him through the chaos that surrounds us, heading for the street along the side of the park where it seems less crowded.

By now, the rescuers are in action, trying to stop the stampede of people who are still running, seeking out the wounded and dead, and trying to stabilize the situation. I catch a glimpse of Rick with the Rescue Squad medics, where he should be.

Someone on the stage must have grabbed the microphone, since I hear a woman’s voice much louder than the surrounding noise proclaiming, “Shooter is down! Repeat, shooter is down! It’s over! Don’t panic!”

She repeats that over and over, trying to get through to the terrified crowd. Meanwhile, we’ve gotten away from most of the action.

“Do you have your cell phone?” I ask. “We need to tell your mother that you’re all right before she hears it on the news.”

“Yeah. She’s at work now, but I know her number.”

He takes out his phone. It’s one of those old flip phones.

As he talks to his mother, I finally have a chance to relax and pull myself together. It would appear that I’ve been able to successfully fade into the crowd. No one will remember me well enough to identify me as the one who killed the shooter. Even though I could hardly be considered a murderer, and may even be a hero, I neither need nor want the publicity that would come along with it.

I can hear Lonnie talking to his mother.

“Yeah, Mom. I’m fine. Take your time and finish your shift. Mr. Jerry is here with me and we’re on our way home.” He listens for a minute, then replies, “Yes, Mom. I’m sure I’ll be okay. See you later.”

Luckily for us, my car is parked at a fairly long distance from the Festival, so the traffic isn’t too bad, despite all the emergency vehicles arriving and departing.

Much of the River Arts District where we live has been renovated and it’s now a rather well-off area, but there are still a few places that aren’t. Lonnie lives in one of the less classy areas. The house is definitely in need of repair. It’s been made into two apartments, and Lonnie and his mother rent one of them. I haven’t been inside yet, but I don’t think it’s going to look much better than the outside does.

As I park in front of the house, I glance over at Lonnie. He’s looking somewhat freaked out despite his attempt at being cool.

“Would you like me to stay with you until your Mom gets home?”

“You don’t have to, Mr. Jerry.”

“I know I don’t, but I’d be glad to hang out for a little while. I’m kind of shaken up after what happened, so I wouldn’t mind some company.”

I’m really not all that bad off, but it gives him an excuse to invite me in.

“Okay, sure.”

He unlocks the door and lets us in. I’m right about the inside. It’s clean and neat, but it shows its age in the faded wallpaper and the scuffed floor. No big screen TV in the living room, just an old TV set. They’re getting by, but not by much.

“Can I get you something to drink, Mr. Jerry? There’s some iced tea in the fridge.”

“That would be fine.”

I sit down on the sagging couch and look around some more. A few framed photos of Lonnie and his mother decorate the walls. Some chairs that look as if they came from a thrift shop. Yep, they’re not exactly rich.

Lonnie comes back with two glasses of tea. He places them on paper napkins on a coffee table that has clearly seen better times.

He sits down beside me, looking up at me with his soulful brown eyes.

“Why do they hate us so much, Mr. Jerry? What have we done that’s so awful?”

I’m taken by surprise. I’m not sure what to say, but I’ve got to try.

“Good question, but I’m afraid there’s no simple answer. But keep in mind that if most folks hated us enough to kill us, like that shooter, we’d all be dead. Most straight folks in our country don’t hate us that much, and many of them are supportive of us. Sex and gender are complicated things, so it’s no wonder that there’s a lot of controversy about it.”

Now where can I go from here?

“There isn’t just one answer to your question. Religion, for instance: in some parts of the world, religions consider it a sin, sometimes even to the point of saying we should be put to death. But other religions don’t, so you can’t just condemn them all. At different times down through history, we’ve been accepted, and at other times not. Some cultures are okay with this and others are not.

“A little over fifty years ago in this country, we could have been put in jail for just being gay, or maybe in a mental hospital. Just like a lot of other minorities, we eventually organized and fought back, politically and culturally, but not by violence. Things have changed a lot since those days, but there are still people who are so bent out of shape by what we do in bed that they just can’t get over it. Unfortunately, the current government is not on our side. But things may change again.”

“But why can’t they just leave us alone?”

“That’s another good question. The only reason I can come up with is that we throw a monkey wrench into the idea of what a woman should be and what a man should be. And how about one of the newer things in the LGBTQ alphabet: transsexuals? That threatens the gender norms big time.”

“Yeah, I guess it does.”

“I’m ashamed to say it, but the ones who do us the most violence are men. Maybe they have to hurt us deviants to show the world what a big strong man should be like. Or maybe – Heaven forbid! – he feels attracted to other men but can’t accept it. Or maybe it’s just that men are simply more likely to resort to violence than women are, which doesn’t say much for our precious masculinity, does it?”

“Hell, no!” Lonnie replies.

He looks at me, somewhat shamefaced. “Mr. Jerry, remember when I tried to run in front of that train and you and Rick stopped me?”

“Yeah. But what does that matter now?”

“I was only trying to show my friends that I wasn’t a sissy. That’s kind of what you just said, isn’t it?”

Damn! He’s quick on the uptake for a boy of his age. Not only that, but he’s willing to be honest about it.

“Yes, sort of like that. But you only risked your own life, not the life of someone else, so that’s also very different.”

He tries for a smile. “I guess what you said before is true: there are lots of reasons for hatred, just as there are lots of reasons for love. And sex. But what makes a man crazy enough to try to kill as many people as he can? Doesn’t he know he’ll almost surely be killed while he’s doing it?”

“I wish I had an answer to that. Except in self-defense or to defend others, it’s way beyond my understanding of why anyone would murder other people.”

“I don’t either.”

And I sincerely hope you never do, my young friend. But I don’t say that out loud.

“Don’t let what happened today keep you from being whatever you decide you are, okay? It’s not worth it. There will always be violence and death for one reason or another.”

Lonnie glances down at the button I got at the Festival, with the rainbow and the dark clouds.

“Does that mean that the rainbow has triumphed over the clouds? Or is the black cloud about to cover the rainbow?”

I look down at it myself, seeking for an answer. There must have been a reason that I liked it so much, but what exactly is that meaning? And then I have it.

“I see it as a sort of symbolic warning. If we don’t stand together and raise up the rainbow despite the thunder and lightning of the storm, the hard-earned rainbow of gay freedom and love will be dissipated and destroyed.”

“I like that idea, Mr. Jerry. I like it very much.”

We both reach for our iced tea at the same time, and take a few mouthfuls. As we set down the glasses and settle back onto the couch, Lonnie leans over and hugs me, his head on my shoulder.

“Thanks, Mr. Jerry. For everything,” he murmurs.

Of course, his mother comes in the door just then.

I disengage myself from Lonnie and stand up, extending my hand and saying as calmly as I can, “You must be Lonnie’s mother. I’m very pleased to meet you, ma’am.”

She doesn’t miss a beat as she smiles and takes my hand. “Pleased to meet you also. Lonnie’s told me a lot about you and Rick. I’m very glad that Lonnie has someone he can trust and talk to about things.”

Can it be that she’s okay with him maybe being gay?

She releases my hand and sits down in one of the chairs.

“I’m sorry we took your son into danger.”

“Don’t be silly. How could you know? How could anyone know?”

She’s right, of course. But I do feel a bit guilty about it. After all, what if — No, don’t even go there.

We talk for a while about what happened. When we run out of words, I stand up and bid them good-bye.

I head out the door and into my car. It’s not a very long drive to our apartment, but an interesting idea occurs to me while I’m driving.

Maybe I could help this kid in the future. Maybe now it’s my turn to do for Lonnie what Alex, my first lover and my mentor, did for me when I was hardly much older than Lonnie. Not the sex, of course, but I could open a savings account to set aside money for Lonnie when it gets to be time for him to go to college. I won’t tell him about it until much closer to the time he needs it. Yeah, why not? After all, I now have a fairly decent income, so I can spare a bit of it. If it happens that he doesn’t get into college, he’ll still need something to start off with.

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