Looking for storiesThanks for visiting!

Description Maxfield has very mixed feelings about leaving the city and all his tech behind to spend the summer after graduation halfway up a mountain in the family’s backwoods cabin—just him, his dad, and a whole lot of secrets.

Updated20 Oct 2018


This story was commissioned via Patreon. For more information on commissions or to commission a story, visit the Support page or my Patreon page.


6 Parts tap bar to showtap bar to hide

Part 1

The graduation party at Owen’s was getting wild, and Maxfield Sheridan was fed up. He stood pressed against the wood-paneled far wall in the vast rec room, surveying the seething bacchanal with mounting dismay. Too much noise, too many people, and way too much alcohol. He was already talking himself into ducking out early—he was probably never going to see most of these people again anyway—when Natalie Shirker tripped over her feet trying to squeeze through the gap between where he stood and a knot of flailing dancers, with the result that she pitched forward and smashed right into Maxfield, breasts first; and as Maxfield was recoiling from an unwanted sensation that most of his male classmates would have tripped her themselves to make happen, she finished the move by upending the two red Solo cups of cheap beer she’d been carrying from the keg in the downstairs mini-kitchen all over his favorite black jeans.

That settled it. Natalie grimaced apologetically up at him, but, sloshed as she was, made no move to get off him, so Maxfield clasped her by both shoulders, pushed her into a more or less vertical position, and escaped. As he pushed through the crowd looking for Owen so he could make his goodbyes, he could feel warm beer trailed down his legs from his sopping jeans, collecting in his socks. It was unpleasant, but Maxfield was still shuddering from the extended contact with Natalie’s oversized mammaries. Beer, at least, he had a use for—though maybe not this beer.

Gee, he snarked to himself, maybe I’m gay.

There hadn’t really ever been a question. Maxfield had always known what turned him on: Tall, muscular, hairy guys. Men’s men. Brawny, broad-framed, bearded types who carried cut-down trees on their shoulders and quaffed tankards of beer in front of the fire. Guys who wrestled grizzlies and made snorting bulls back warily away from their wide, ferocious smiles, smart enough not to risk a fight. Handsome, huge, bright-eyed men who wore their virility like a badge of honor. Men like—

Maxfield shied away from completing that thought. There was a man in his life who met all those criteria in spades, but there were a million reasons he couldn’t go there. He spotted Owen, finally, in a group of fellow football idiots, and shouldered his way toward him. Owen was a big, brawny, hairy guy himself, tight-waisted but thick in the arms, legs, chest, and shoulders with a thatch of chest-hair he showed off frequently and a permanent five o’clock shadow, and Maxfield was under no illusions about why he’d cultivated the straight jock’s easygoing friendship back when the square-jawed proto-hunk had first started sporting muscle and stubble and smelling like a man back in freshman year.

Owen caught sight of him and tossed him a chin lift and a huge smile. “Max!” he crowed, turning from his posse to offer Maxfield his characteristic hand-clasp with the forearm straight up and down, the elbow at a right angle. Maxfield knew why Owen liked to greet other guys this way, and, sure enough, as their hands squeezed he watched Owen’s biceps jump and flex inside the heavy white tee he was wearing.

Maxfield met Owen’s gaze and smiled warmly back at him, ignoring the death glares of Owen’s jock buddies. Maxfield, being neither a jock himself nor someone with good enough grades to shanghai into writing papers for them, was a waste of space as far as these knuckle-heads were concerned. They never got why Owen indulged Maxfield, maybe because they were dense enough not to realize there were other ways a guy like Maxfield could be useful to a well-hung alpha male jock. Fortunately, somewhere along the way Owen had figured one or two of them out, and a mutually beneficial friendship was born.

“Hey, O,” he said as he let go of their clasp, and he noted with private amusement the spark that flared in Owen’s eyes at Maxfield’s special nickname for him. Unfortunately, there was zero chance of getting Owen alone tonight, and his cold, beer-soaked socks were telling him it was time to bolt. “I’m… gonna go ahead and head out,” he admitted, shoving his hands into his (damp) jeans pockets and instantly regretting it. “I’ll see you, okay?” It occurred to him that he actually might not, and for the first time he felt a pang of loss. Apart from how much he enjoyed bringing pleasure to the strong, powerful man in front of him, he was a blast to hang out with. Maxfield thought of the nights they’d had pizza and lager and played games on his console and talked irreverently about everything that had happened and could possibly ever happen in their urbanized little corner of Vermont, and he realized with some surprise that he was going to miss him.

“No, man, hang a while,” Owen pleaded, sounding genuinely distressed. “You can’t go already, Max!”

Maxfield felt a strange urge to grab Owen behind the neck and pull him in for a kiss—something they’d never done. His eyes flicked over Owen’s full lips and the dark stubble around them, and knew that he both wanted to feel it and envied it. He lifted his eyes in time to see recognition in Owen’s eyes of just what Maxfield was thinking, and Maxfield could see the conflicted desire mixed with unease Owen bore whenever things became too overtly carnal between them.

“Sorry, O, I gotta bail,” he said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. “I gotta get some sleep tonight, I’m firing on, like, one cylinder. Plus my socks are full of Lowenbrau, so—” He clicked his tongue and jerked his thumb backwards one more time, miming the idea of departure.

“Oh-okay,” Owen acceded, his disappointment obvious. “I’ll, uh, text you this summer, okay?”

Maxfield winced and ducked his head. “Can’t,” he said. “Dad’s taking me up to the cabin.” Maxfield didn’t need to say any more. The Sheridans’ cabin, halfway up Mill Mountain in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, was a back-of-beyond, no tech, no nothing kind of place, and Maxfield had told Owen all about the frequent week- or month-long trips up there with his father more or less every year up through middle school. Then Maxfield hit high school and the trips had suddenly stopped—until now.

“No way,” Owen protested. “For how long?”

Maxfield looked up, his expression grim. “The whole summer, man,” he said.

“No,” Owen said, aghast. Maxfield smiled tightly. The truth was, he had very mixed feelings about this excursion, but he really couldn’t tell Owen, or anyone else, the whole story. On the one hand, he loved being up in the mountains. Roaming the hardwood forests and climbing the many secret trails known only to the local wildlife felt natural to him, and times like this—when he was surrounded by his loud, obnoxious peers—made him want to be up a the cabin all year round, enjoying the crisp air and the peat musk of the earth. Hunting, fishing, reveling in an unspoiled alternate world of simple, natural beauty—he loved it all.

Then again… three whole months. The entire expanse of freedom he had between the end of high school and college in the fall. Twelve weeks with no phones, no TV, no wifi, no nothing to fall back on if he got colossally bored. Sure, he loved the outdoors, but he was enough a child of the twenty-first century to find a world without screens and internet unnerving, like a face without eyes. For three months, there would be nothing from human civilization. Just the cabin, the woods, the mountain—and his dad.

Maxfield felt a shiver up his spine at that last thought. A whole summer at the cabin with just him and his dad. The idea didn’t bear thinking about. The problem wasn’t that he and his dad didn’t get along—they were great together, naturally comfortable with each other and good at working together to get things like wood chopping or dinner prep done easily and efficiently.

And it wasn’t that he didn’t like his dad. No, that was definitely not the problem. If anything, that was the opposite of the problem, and it was a big, big problem. And his dad—his dad was not an idiot. Not even close.

Owen saw that Maxfield was chafing to get away from the noise and press of the graduation party, and probably sensed his buddies at his back, too, pointedly ignoring Owen’s conversation with the skinny nobody. “Well then, I’ll, uh, see you around, I guess,” Owen said lamely.

“Definitely,” Maxfield lied. He raised his right hand up, palm facing left, for one more handclasp, but Owen snatched him up in a tight hug instead, engulfing Maxfield in his powerful arms. He heard one of the other jock mutter a disgusted “Geez” at their soft-hearted alpha, but Maxfield was too taken by surprise to care. He patted Owen’s broad back gingerly. To his shock he felt Owen press a bristly secret kiss to the side of Maxfield’s neck.

They separated, eyes shearing away from each other. Maxfield turned and moved through the crowd, out of Owen’s house and out of his life.

Two days later he was in the passenger seat of his father’s hefty pickup truck, pulling off a New Hampshire state highway onto a side road that was now winding through the smallest town Maxfield had ever seen. Above them loomed the craggy peaks of the White Mountains, verdant with thick forest green this time of year and basking in the bright, clear day. The nearest, he knew, was Mill Mountain, and he fancied he could guess where their isolated cabin sat abreast its wide shoulder, halfway to the blunted peak.

They passed the sign that read “Welcome to Stark” and beneath that “Pop. 393”. Even that number seemed unduly generous, from what Maxfield remembered. They’d made this trip at least a dozen times when he was younger, and he was sure he’d never seen more than twenty or thirty people in the little village. As they entered the town Maxfield saw familiar sights he hadn’t seen in years: the old but pristinely maintained clapboard church with its pointed steeple; the one gas station; and the small bank of shops dominated by a large general store was straight out of a hundred historical novels. Up ahead, just beyond the cluster of shops, was a small, unassuming standalone bar and grill, probably the only watering hole for miles, and beyond that a ways hulked the abandoned brick mill where the road bent toward the burbling Kinney River. On either side, behind the commercial and civic structures abutting Main Street, were a few rows of houses connected by side streets—but not that many. Where did four hundred people even live around here?

Maxfield realized they were slowing down, and a moment later they were parked in front of the general store. The large weather-beaten sign mounted over the covered porch read “Wentworth’s Dry Goods”, even though Maxfield knew for a fact that they sold Snapple and other equally “wet” things there as well. Below the name was the smaller legend “Est. 1794”.

He looked over at his dad as he switched off the engine and took in an involuntary breath.

In the broad, clear, country daylight, the pure azure blue of the sky visible behind him through the passenger window, Glenn Sheridan looked like he was in his element. His shoulder-length hair was shaggy and dark, with no sign of silver despite having reached his fortieth birthday, and his beard was even thicker, though Maxfield knew, from the times he’d been allowed to touch it as a kid, that it was as soft and lush as an animal’s pelt. Below that, Glenn’s thick and powerful body was impossible to avoid. Once the weather got warm he seldom wore anything more up top than a short-sleeved flannel, the summer version of his cold-weather uniform, even going in for patterns like red and black plaid as if to play off his resemblance to a lumberjack. Except in weather like this he never kept it buttoned, and his eye sdanced between the way his powerful, hairy arms filled the sleeves and the sight exposed by the open shirt of his thick, hirsute chest dominating a flat but uncarved abdomen, dark hair leading a wide, dense trail down to his waistband and below where lay a heavy package that figured large in sweaty dreams Maxfield forced himself not to remember.

Maxfield snapped his eyes up to his father’s face just as Glenn turned to him with the kind of wide smile that did funny things to Maxfield’s heart. He’d always been an obedient son. In the beginning it was because Glenn was his dad, and Maxfield respected him and held him in no small amount of awe. Now that he was older, those feelings were still there, but he had developed other reasons alongside them for wanting to make sure Glenn Sheridan was happy to have him around. Like this trip. He’d agreed to it, despite the three months of internet and social deprivation, because his father said it was happening, and at a certain level that was all there was to it. But beyond that, Maxfield knew that in his own calculations his personal misgivings simply mattered less to him than pleasing his father.

Glenn’s honey-brown eyes seemed to read everything about him, but what he said was, “You ready for this?”

Maxfield gave him a twisted smirk. “Little late for that,” he scoffed playfully, reverting to his usual defense mechanism.

Glenn regarded him for a moment. The smile was still there, but Maxfield was sensing, to his surprise, a bit of uneasy nervousness in his dad. Maxfield hastened to add, “I’m glad to be back up here,” he said truthfully. “It’s great to get out of the city, Pop, really. I’m already more relaxed.”

Glenn eyed him another moment, then said, “It’s going to be good.” Maxfield had a weird feeling his dad was reassuring himself as much as Maxfield. “You won’t even miss your phone,” he added with a wink.

Maxfield groaned. “Don’t remind me,” he said, getting out of the truck. But his thoughts were drifting back to his dad’s earnest reassurances. Maybe this father-son bonding excursion meant more to Glenn than he’d thought. He turned the idea over in his head. It was true that he was a man now. Not just physically—an inch taller than his dad and defined enough to like what he saw in the mirror, if not nearly as packed with brawn, with a bit of hair on his chest these days for that extra masculinity boost—but legally, now, too. It occurred to him that Glenn might be worried about how that would change their relationship.

They walked up the wide wooden steps together, Maxfield casting a sidelong look at his dad. Perhaps he was even wondering if Maxfield would still need him, or even if he would still love him, now that he was standing on his own two feet and preparing to go out into the world on his own. Maxfield felt a bit of determination harden somewhere deep within him. He’d have to show his dad how much he mattered to him.

They entered the store together, shop bells tinkling merrily overhead.

It was like stepping into yesteryear. Wentworth’s Dry Goods sure was a far cry from the soulless chain stores he was used to. Tall ceilings with exposed beams and skylights to let in the friendly sun gave the impression of being in a neighbor’s barn, though gentle air-conditioning reminded Maxfield of past trips to the cabin where the cool, cozy store was a welcome respite from summer heat. The banks of shelves were low enough that you could chat with a friend in the next aisle over the tins of beef stew and sacks of rice. On the counter sat stacks of the local weekly and a large, glinting cylindrical jar of peppermint sticks. Maxfield wondered if the jar had been sitting there just like that since Old Man Wentworth started the place up two centuries back, cleaned every so often but otherwise the same. At least the peppermint sticks themselves weren’t that old—he knew from experience they were fresh every time, but he wondered how much else changed around here.

Certainly the kid behind the counter, a blond his own age or a little older completely immersed in whatever he was doing on his phone, was a modern addition to the quirky old store. Maxfield’s lips twitched wryly at the incongruity.

“I’m going to take a piss,” Glenn said in an undertone, nodding toward the back of the store. As Maxfield had been trying not to think about his dad’s hefty equipment, and especially not about its being freed from its current confinement, this announcement made Maxfield blush unexpectedly. He ducked his head to hide it, but Glenn seemed not to notice as he continued, “Pick us up some trail mix for the hike tomorrow, okay?”

“Sure thing,” Maxfield said. They had plenty of supplies for now, including a ton of meat, pasta, sandwich stuff and some snack indulgence, plus—Maxfield had been astonished to see—a couple of cases of his dad’s favorite beer, which he’d recently taken to sharing with Maxfield on nonschool nights. Packing up the truck and securing all that beer, it had suddenly occurred to Maxfield that a whole summer of nonschool nights lay ahead of him. With that thought Maxfield grinned. Glenn smiled back, glad his son’s mood had shifted toward the positive, even if he didn’t know why. He clapped Maxfield on the shoulder and headed for the restrooms.

Watching his dad stride confidently toward the back of the shop Maxfield was abruptly reminded of what was going to be causing him trouble on this trip. Don’t look at his ass, don’t look at his ass, Maxfield coached himself. But he couldn’t help it. He realized he was staring straight at Glenn’s thick, hard ass and groaned inwardly as his cock started to twitch in his pants. Why do you never listen? he chastised himself, shaking his head at himself as he finally turned away to take care of his dad’s request. He was looking forward to making the actual purchase—he only had twenties, and the old store had a weird tradition of giving out two-dollar bills in change.

Wentworth’s had an array of nuts, dried fruits, and other similar snackly comestibles in huge barrels near the wall at the opposite end of the long store from the front counter, and they were especially known for their savory, energy-packed trail mix. Scooping up a bag or two now made him feel all the more like he and his dad were resuming a strand of their relationship that lived here, in the mountains, after years of thinking it was closed and ended, a thing of the past. Maxfield felt a flutter of mixed anticipation and unease in his stomach as he retrieved a couple of the folded, empty paper sacks from the stack over the barrels and started shoveling a generous supply of the stuff into them.

“I know who you are,” growled a voice over his shoulder. Maxfield startled so badly he scattered half a scoop of nuts and dried fruit all over the floor and the barrel lids to either side. He turned quickly and felt a strange swell of fear as he looked up into the dark, coal-black eyes of a hulking beast of a man he was pretty sure he’d never seen before. Though not an unhandsome man by any means, his untamed hair and wild black beard gave him a feral, primeval look. His own messy-locked father look GQ-groomed by comparison, he thought. To Maxfield’s shock he was wearing nothing at all above the waist, as if his massive thick-pelted chest and arms and mountainous shoulders defied any type of clothing, and despite his impassive expression and granite-still stance he seemed to loom over Maxfield, as if there were something within him that, some subliminal and uncanny animus that blazed within him, its presence palpable beyond the confines of the man’s impossibly powerful physique.

The man-mountain stared down at him, his eyes as intense as the rest of him was still, as if offering access to what lay within. “You’re Glenn’s boy,” he intoned, his voice so low and grumbly it sounded to Maxfield like what a mountain would actually sound like if it spoke.

Glenn had raised Maxfield to be strong, and his natural response to intimidation, perceived or actual, was to rebuff it. He dropped the scoop into the barrel on top of the trail mix and turned to stand squarely before his interlocutor, grasping the sack he’d been filling tightly in his other hand. “That’s me,” Maxfield said defiantly. “What of it?” It felt like an affirmation, like he was Glenn’s boy and no one else’s.

The stranger looked him up and down, and Maxfield had another shock as he recognized one man’s appreciation for another man’s form. He’d seen that look before, in Owen’s eyes and in the intense, usually covert gazes of certain other guys at school. There was assessment in those eyes of Maxfield’s potential as a fuck buddy, a hot piece of ass. This time, though, it was deeper, more intense, like sound vibrations carried across multiple frequencies.

He couldn’t help but be acutely aware of the man’s towering, half-clothed form. Hormones seemed to flood through Maxfield—his own and the stranger’s, too, he thought—overwhelming him, threatening to swamp him, as the stranger’s eyes bore into him and his musk pervaded the close inches between them. Lust shot through him like a transformation. Involuntarily Maxfield found himself picturing himself doing to the beast-man the kinds of things he’d done with Owen, naked and primal, his hands pushing through the man-mountain’s heavy chest hair as he straddled him, the beast-man’s head thrown back… and Maxfield suddenly became aware that his treacherous cock, already awakened by the illicit carnal thoughts he’d had watching Glenn’s amazing muscle-ass as he’d sauntered away from him, started to swell and thicken toward full, painful erection. His cheeks and ears felt hot. He wanted to bolt, but his feet felt rooted to the boards beneath him.

“You grew up well,” the man said at last. “There’s a lot of potential in you, boy. A lot of potential.”

“My name is Maxfield,” Maxfield responded, keeping his voice as steady as he could. His heart was pounding, his pulse thudding in his ears. He was desperate to regain control—or, at least, to seem like he had. “Not ‘boy’.”

“No,” the beast agreed in his deep, guttural voice. “Not boy.” Suddenly his dark eyes lifted over Maxfield’s shoulder. “Glenn,” he acknowledged coldly.

Maxfield could feel the warm, reassuring presence of his father even before a strong hand came to rest on his shoulder. “Eamon,” Glenn responded, equally cool.

Eamon lifted his thick-bearded chin aggressively. “I was telling your son here—” the man-mountain started to say, but Glenn cut him off.

“I heard what you were telling him,” Glenn said, his tone even icier now. “His ‘potential’ is my concern, not yours.”

Eamon considered this, eyes glinting. At first Maxfield was afraid the other man would take offense, and he was acutely aware of how he stood more or less between the two powerful men. But his dad’s firm hand on his shoulder reassured him, and he met the man-mountain’s hard eyes resolutely, hoping he and Glenn were projecting the united front that his father’s physical presence behind him assured him they were.

For that matter, if it came down to it, he was sure his dad could take even a beast like Eamon. The man-mountain might be bigger, as much bigger than Glenn as Glenn was bigger than Maxfield himself—but he heard stories told around town, and even glimpsed one dust-up himself in the school parking lot. An asshole father had gone at his dad after Glenn had reported his equally assholish son for bullying Maxfield back in the fifth grade. He knew his dad knew a thing or two about winning a fight.

Eamon finally nodded, but instead of answering Glenn he spoke to Maxfield, though he kept his eyes on his father behind him. “Watch yourself in the wild, boy,” he growled. “You never know what’s out there… until it’s too late.” With that he turned and trundled off, his wide, hairy back making him look more like a beast than ever. He pushed through the doors and out into the sunshine.

Once he was gone, he turned toward his dad, who met his gaze with a reassuring twist of his lips that made Maxfield think all kinds of things he shouldn’t be thinking. Abruptly Glenn pulled Maxfield into a comforting embrace, wrapping his strong arms around him. “Geez, your heart is racing,” Glenn said. “Don’t worry about Eamon. Just keep away from him and you’ll be fine.”

Maxfield, of course, could not tell his father that his heart’s rapid tattoo was not just because of the encounter with the mountain-beast. Greatly daring, and making sure to keep his crotch away from his dad’s, Maxfield slid his own arms around Glenn’s torso… under the open shirt. As he rested his hands against Glenn’s powerful back, Glenn gave him a squeeze. “Don’t worry,” Glenn said again, his voice a little rougher, as if some access of emotion had come over him. “It’s going to be good. You’ll see.”

They held the embrace for a minute or two before Glenn separated them and held them apart at arm’s length for a moment, his hands on Maxfield’s shoulders. He favored Maxfield with a complicated smile and deep affection in his honey-colored eyes. “Don’t forget the trail mix,” he reminded him, his voice back in its usual deep cadence. He cocked his head toward the door and the street beyond. “I’ve got a quick errand to run, so I’ll meet you back at the car, okay?”

Maxfield realized his hands were still lightly holding Glenn’s waist under the loose tails of the red and black shirt. He hastily dropped them to his sides. “Sure thing,” he said automatically, consciously willing his dad not to glance down at Maxfield’s crotch and his obvious erection. Do not look down… do NOT look down… Maxfield thought, holding his father’s gaze firmly.

To his relief, Glenn just smiled and then turned away and strolled down the aisle and out of the store. Maxfield was so relieved he forgot to worry about staring at Glenn’s ass as he left.

He was still feeling the after-vibrations of everything that had just happened, and he was starting to get that niggling feeling again that there was a lot more going on here than his own internal conflicts. This trip, he thought. This trip is going to be the fucking death of me. He sighed and, checking to make sure the young clerk was still buried in his phone, surreptitiously adjusted his erection and turned back to scooping out the trail mix. His dick remained hard, pulsing against his hip, for a long, long time.

Part 2

Maxfield left the store and stepped down the wide wooden steps to where the truck was parked in the street out front, gripping the folded-over-and-stapled tops of the paper bags with several hikes’ worth of trail mix tightly enough to crumple them. He felt exposed out here in this little mountain town under the wide country sky, and his hard-on, pulsing relentlessly in his pants, felt like a fucking beacon. Now he wished he’d grabbed his older, looser jeans, or at least a shirt with tails instead of the snug half-sleeved baseball tee he was wearing; but he’d wanted to look good for… Shit.

He tried to find something to focus on that might put Glenn Sheridan, whom he’d just hugged under his shirt, right out of his head, only to have that thought replaced by a worse one: that man-mountain, Eamon, might still be lurking around here somewhere.

His dad had chased him out of Wentworth’s, but the truth was he could be anywhere, waiting to pounce on him with more cryptic pronouncements and flip weird switches in Maxfield’s gonads. And Glenn had vanished on some mysterious “errand,” though god knew what that could be. If they were anywhere else he’d guess it was something to do with the cabin, but there was nothing about the cabin that required any kind of setup—no power to turn on (what electric power the cabin had was from the generator, and it used propane tanks like the spare they had tied down in the truck bed); no phone to reconnect. In fact there was nothing much at all to link it to town other than the two or three back roads it took to get there, if you knew where you were going. The cabin was there in the forest, and you lived in it, and that was it. It was almost like camping without a tent, though there was a stove and an old fridge, at least, the latter more a concession than an amenity.

It was a place apart, nestled in the mountain forest and more a part of it than an outpost of man. At least, that was how Maxfield remembered it. Maybe they’d go bow-and-arrow hunting like they’d used to when they’d come up here before, back when Maxfield was in middle school. Almost certainly they would, if they were up here for the summer. He wondered what kind of game was in season. It had been a long time. He hadn’t even touched a bow in four years, and as for tracking—Christ, did he remember anything his father had taught him?

The thought of tracking game reminded him he’d wanted to look around for the beastly stranger, Eamon. Maxfield walked around the truck to the back, his eyes raking the shops and businesses lining the town’s wide Main Street. Glancing down long enough to lift the lid to the small cooler, he stuffed the bags of trail mix in and closed it up tight, returning his gaze to the local downtown businesses. No sign of Eamon in the outdoor gear shop, the bank, the post office, or around the dark stone tavern that stood apart just beyond the main row of shops. None of the other trucks parked abutting that side of the road had anyone in them, though most were heavy-duty enough to accommodate anyone from Glenn’s size up to Eamon’s and beyond. You needed serious axles to live up here.

He turned to examine the other side of the street. His eye caught on the old-fashioned butcher’s shop that sat more-or-less opposite the dry goods store. Laramie’s, the sign over the doors said. Maxfield had forgotten it was there, though he knew Mr. Laramie was a pillar of the community, his red, smiling face the center of every barbecue and the first to lead volunteers in any search and rescue. A sign in the window promised Venison, choice cuts!, so maybe it was deer season, at least. At any rate the place was doing as good a business as the ice cream shop next door, with two or three older ladies inside perusing the meat on display and gossiping with the counter boy and each other. And that wasn’t counting the hale-looking and unnervingly broad-shouldered old timer eyeing him attentively from a bench situated directly under the butcher’s wide plate-glass window. Maxfield looked quickly away and resumed his search, but there was nothing much else to see on that side of the main drag, either.

The shops accounted for, Maxfield checked the road itself, first down-mountain, the way they’d come, and then up-mountain. As soon as he looked far enough up Main Street he caught sight of his quarry at last: a bulky, dark figure against the faded pavement stalking straight up the center of the road at a surprising pace, almost a lope. That had to be him. He’d already reached the abandoned mill and was soon past it, heading straight up the mountain on his own booted feet, as if cars and trucks were for the weak and feeble. Then, just as he was getting too far away even for Maxfield’s exceptional vision to make out, it seemed as though Eamon’s tiny, dark figure suddenly turned off the road and started right up the slope into wild country, vanishing into the trees.

“Whatcha looking at?” came a voice from behind him, causing Maxfield nearly to jump out of his skin. He whirled to find his father standing a foot behind him, loose shirt tails flapping in the light breeze.

Maxfield grabbed his chest. “Jesus, Pop, you scared the fuck out of me!” he said, glaring at him accusingly. He hadn’t heard his father creep up behind him at all. Was he that much of a rube after four years in the city?

Glenn seemed surprised and more than a little amused at having spooked his son, but he clapped Maxfield’s upper arm reassuringly. “Relax,” he said. “I’ve snuck up on a lot better than the likes of you. What held your attention so tight?” he asked.

Maxfield glanced over his shoulder at the now-empty road, then back at his dad. “Just making sure that Eamon guy was on his way,” he said darkly.

Glenn nodded, biting his lip. “Good,” he said, looking up the road past Maxfield. “Though I know where he’s headed, this time of year and this time of day.” He met Maxfield’s eyes again. “It’s a good instinct, though, keeping track of potential… conflicts.”

Maxfield mulled this over and decided to file his dad’s rivalry with Eamon away for later. “You finish your ‘errands’?” he asked.

Glenn’s eyes twinkled. “Matter of fact I did,” he said. “My old friend Clement down the road was keeping a certain item safe for me, until I needed it again.” He reached behind him and pulled something out of his back pocket, holding it up for Maxfield to see. Maxfield drew in a breath—it was a wood-gripped fixed-blade hunting knife in a black leather sheath. As he watched, Glenn pulled off the sheath, revealing a wide, gleaming steel blade that had to be a good seven inches in length from crossbar to tip. The top third or so of the unedged side dipped inward a shallow but elegant clip point.

Maxfield whistled—it was a thing of beauty. “‘Now that’s a knoife’,” he drawled.

Glen wiggled his dark eyebrows. “That it is,” he said, eyeing the blade with something like affection before sheathing it again. “This is my grandpappy’s knife. He killed his first buck with it, back when… well, he was barely older than you are. And it’s seen a few things since then,” he added. He presented the knife, grip first, to his son. “It’s yours,” he said.

Maxfield eyes widened in alarm. He actually took a step back. “What? No!” he said, holding up his hands as if to ward off such a momentous transfer of a family heirloom. “I couldn’t take your grandfather’s—”

Glenn held him pinned with his gaze, and Maxfield stopped, staring hard between the knife and his father. “It’s a tradition, Max,” Glenn said softly. “You’re going to be finding out about a lot of traditions on this trip.”

Maxfield’s heard thudded in his chest, and not because of the knife.

Though guys at school tended to call him by the shortened version of his name, his father had never done so. He’d asked him about it in tears, long ago, when Maxfield was still in grade school and some kids had teased him for having a silly name. His father had told him then, when he was just a child, that Maxfield was his father’s name and his own middle name, and he would never call him “Max”—not, he added when Maxfield kept pleading with him, until he had grown up and become a man. So he’d accepted his father’s words, as he always would, and he’d clung to Maxfield from then on, because it was the only name his father called him by. Even moments ago, he’d named himself Maxfield to Eamon, defiantly and proudly. And now, here, in the middle of the street in the no-stoplight, back-of-beyond mountain town of Stark, New Hampshire, the place where more than anywhere else Maxfield felt his blood run deep and the land spread wide around him for him to run in, his father had finally called him Max… and he was offering him his great grandfather’s deerkiller knife.

He met Glenn’s clear, honey-brown eyes, and saw nothing but serious intent, almost blinding pride, and love more intense than he could bear. “Take the knife, Max,” Glenn prompted with the ghost of a smile, affection bleeding into his voice.

Max licked his lips and nodded. Willing his hand not to shake, he reached out and took the knife. Not knowing what to do with it he stowed it behind him in his back pocket, as Glenn had done. Glenn nodded. “You ready to head up the mountain?” he asked, eyes still glinting.

“Sure thing,” Max managed to say, trying very hard to present himself as the man Glenn had just recognized him to be.

“Then let’s git,” Glenn said with a sudden grin, moving around Max with a swat on his ass. He was gone before Max even had time to react, and only now, in this moment, with the heat of Glenn’s handprint still burning on his cheek even through his jeans, did Max remember the still-raging boner laying pertly against his hip. Fuck! Did he see? Glenn, who’d already climbed into the driver’s seat, tapped the horn, making Max jump. All thoughts of decorum gone, he scuttled around his side of the truck and darted into the passenger seat, pulling the door close behind him and making sure to drop his hands into his lap at the earliest possible moment. Glenn grinned and put the truck into gear, reversing out into the road before shifting back into drive for the last leg of their trip together. Max had known that this trip would be transitional, but he now had a distinct sense that he’d already left his old life behind, back there by the truck in front of Wentworth’s Dry Goods.

They drove in silence for a while. When the town was left far behind, Glenn pulled onto first one private road and then another, this one with a gate that had to be opened and closed behind them, which Max jumped out to take care of without being asked. When he got back in they started moving again, moving slowly along the side of the mountain on what felt to Max like a gentle switchback. The tall hardwood trees were dark and silent overhead, the sunlight dappling through them to warm the cool underbrush and paint the truck with welcoming light as they passed.

At last Glenn cleared his throat. “So, Max,” he said. “You ready to live it rough for a few weeks?”

Max grinned. “I think we already established it’s already too late to ask me that, Gl—Pop,” he said, catching himself almost in time.

“Glenn’s fine,” his father said off-handedly. It was all Max could do not to turn and stare at him bug-eyed. Instead he kept his eye on the dirt track ahead, half-hidden with patches of long grass as it was. He was looking out for animals and obstructions like he’d been taught to do out here since he was little. Yeah, that was going to happen. Glenn. Uh huh, sure. His heartrate sped up again, and his still-hard cock twitched in his jeans. Fuck, how was he going to get rid of this god-damned boner? For some reason he thought of Owen, and how Max had been working his alpha jock up to being willing to return the favor and not leave Max to finish himself off moments after he had got done expertly blowing the beefy football hunk. He hadn’t quite made the sale, and now here he was, still painfully ignorant of the taste of a man’s mouth around his hefty, man-sized tool. Max imagined Owen up here on the mountain, interacting with the wild, and he couldn’t quite picture it, though he came closest out of anyone he knew back at school. Maybe a few days running through the trees with him and his dad, chasing after a proud buck or a wily red fox, his blood really coursing through his veins for the first time like it was supposed to, would be enough to turn party-boy Owen into a real man. Max shook his head.

“My point is, we’re going to do this right, this time,” Glenn was saying, his tone playful. “No half measures. We’re two men, living in the wild. And just to bring that home for you, there’s going to be a few hard and fast rules.”

“I know, no cell phones, no electronics, no nothing,” Max recited.

“Kid stuff,” Glenn scoffed. “I’m talking the real deal. You live in the wild, you respect the wild. You make gestures that show you understand being here, communing with the powers and forces of the world beyond men.”

Max turned to look at Glenn, intrigued. Glenn’s comments were meshing closely with Max’s own musings about being out here, being a part of what was around them. “Like what?” he asked. “What kind of rules?”

Glenn counted off on his right hand, starting with his thumb, while keeping his left hand on the wheel as he watched the track ahead. “First,” he said, “no shaving.”

Max huffed. He could barely grow the ghost of a beard in a week. “No problem,” he said. “I’m not a frickin’ bear like you are.”

Glenn looked sharply over at him. “What?” he asked, sounding alarmed.

“Jesus, watch the road, Pop!” Max exclaimed, grabbing Glenn’s shoulder instinctively. Blinking, Glenn turned quickly back to the narrow road. “Christ!” Max said, taking his hand back reluctantly. “If you plow the truck into a birch tree it’s going to be a fuck of a walk back to the Sunoco in town.”

Glenn let out a laugh that sounded relieved. “Right,” he said. “Sorry. Okay.” He held up his hand again, extending the thumb. “So: rules for committing to living in the wild. First, no shaving.” He extended the index finger. “Second: no shirts. We’re men, and—”

“I know how you feel about shirts,” Max broke in, amused. “They’re a conspiracy to prevent real men from showing off their raw, alpha potency.”

Glenn grinned at Max’s teasing. “You say that like you’re joking,” Glenn shot back, “but it’s the god’s honest truth, I heard it from Clive Standen himself.”

“Ugh,” Max said. “Don’t start about him again. You and your obsession with Vikings. Rule two, no shirts, got it.” He took a deep breath, glad he’d filled out enough to be less self-conscious than he might have been a few years ago. At least they were keeping their pants on. That, at least, was critical. “What else?”

Glenn glanced over at him for a second, that mischievous glint back in his eyes. He extended his next finger. “Third rule: you must have a stein of beer at nightfall every night.” He tossed another glance over at Max, and he could see the corners of his lips were twitching. “No exceptions.”

Max eyed him dubiously. “You’re sure these are the rules for what we’re supposed to do, right?” he asked. “Not what we’re not supposed to do?”

Glenn didn’t answer, though he still seemed to be suppressing a smile. Suddenly the cabin appeared, on the shoulder of the next rise beyond the one they were on—the brief switchback had given way to a more direct track up the uneven mountainside. They both saw it at the same time, but instead of commenting, Glenn extended one more finger. He was serious now, the suppressed smile gone. “Fourth rule,” he said. “No leaving the camp after dark.” Without warning he stopped the truck, and though they weren’t going very fast, and Max had his seat belt on, Glenn still reach across with “rules hand” and pressed his palm against Max’s chest. Without the noise of their tires biting into the dirt and leaves of the track it was eerily quiet, and Max heard his heartbeat and the sound of his breathing as he stared into Glenn’s hard, intent haze. “I’m serious, Max. Unless and until I say otherwise, once night falls we do not leave the camp. Are we clear on that?”

Max felt almost like Glenn was literally holding his heart in his hand. He didn’t dare move. These “rules” had seemed like goofy bonding stuff, but now it was very clear that something more was going on, with these rules, with this trip, with the decision to come up here straight from graduation and spend his first summer as an adult away from everything but the primeval wilderness. “Pop,” he began, “what’s—”

“Are we clear?” Glenn insisted, interrupting.

Glenn’s honey-brown eyes bore into him. Agonizingly, the word “kiss” floated through his mind, and the word “fuck” close behind it. His achingly hard dick strained against his jeans in his lap, only inches from the hand Glenn had pressed against his chest. “Yeah,” he said, roughly. “Yes. Sure thing, um—”

Glenn’s eyes did not waver. “What’s my name?” he asked, low and quiet this time, his affection revealed as they gazed into each other, and though it was still penned, held back like a caged beast, what Max saw now was so patently carnal it was melting things deep inside him.

“Gl—Glenn,” Max said. Christ, Max thought, struggling to hide his own feelings and admiring his father’s reserve. If he only knew what he was doing to me.

Glenn nodded. Then, abruptly, the moment was over. Glenn turned away, retrieving his “rules hand” back to the steering wheel, and got the truck moving again, up the rise toward the cabin. Max began to wonder how much of the preceding few moments he had imagined, and how much of it was real.

A short while later they were parked a little behind the cabin by the equipment shed, which also housed the propane generator. Max got out of the truck and walked a long arc around past the back of the truck to get a good look at his new home for the next couple of months.

It wasn’t a shack, and it wasn’t a primitive shelter knocked together out of a few dovetailed logs and a bit of mortar, like the Abe Lincoln’s birthplace type places he’d seen pictures of out in the midwest. This was a basic, handmade house, sturdy enough for New England blizzards and nor’easters, captivating in its simplicity. They were high enough up now that the hardwoods had largely given way to the fir, spruce, and hemlock characteristic of this part of the White Mountains, but the one-story cabin’s outer walls were round boles of oak, regular and tightly fitted, though the raised deck and railing that embraced the front and sides of the building was solid pine. Everything but the windows and the modern shingled roof spoke of being knocked together here, in this place, in the midst of the wide, grassy clearing they were standing in. He could feel the forest around them, smell the bite of needles and the heady musk of loam. Somewhere nearby he could hear the cold mountain creek babbling, waiting to greet them on its way down the windy slopes. He was alone out here, him and Glenn. No Owen, no brothers to share this with, no one but them.

“Look like you remember it?” Glenn asked, walking over to him, his boots crunching on the dried bank and grass underneath. He’d already shed his shirt and tossed it into the cab, and was now striding toward him, shirtless and manly, looking like a citizen of the forest.

Max averted his eyes and instead stared fondly at the sturdy, familiar-looking cabin in the mid-afternoon light, Glenn moving to stand beside him and doing the same, wrapping an arm around Max’s shoulder. Max nodded in answer to Glenn’s question, but what he said was, “How come you and Mom didn’t have any other kids besides me?”

Glenn looked at him in surprise. As he often did of late when they were standing close, Glenn seemed to have to remind himself that Max was now slightly taller than he was. Max withheld a smirk. After a beat Glenn said quietly, “Your mother and I didn’t think we’d be able to have kids. You were… unexpected.” Max tore his eyes away from the cabin to meet Glenn’s eyes, not having heard this before. Glenn gave him a tender smile. “You were also a gift,” he added.

Impulsively, maybe because he already had Glenn’s arm around his shoulder, Max pulled his bare-chested dad into a tight hug. His emotions were all over the place, and he wasn’t sure what it would take to sort them out, but he let himself have this. He felt Glenn’s soft beard against his neck, and was shocked to feel a hint of burning behind his eyes. He squeezed tight and let go. He told himself he’d kept his crotch and his troublemaking erection enough away from Glenn’s tightly-packed junk to avoid detection, but if he was honest with himself he wasn’t so sure of that.

Glenn clapped him twice on the upper arm. “I’ll tell you the whole story sometime,” he said shortly. “Now, why don’t you go check out the generator and see if you can get it up and running.”

“Got it,” Max said, making to head for the equipment shed, but Glenn pulled him up short.

“Wait,” Glenn said, and Max turned back around to see that Glenn had his “rule hand” up again, three fingers and a thumb extended. “Don’t forget the rules,” he said, nodding meaningfully down at Max’s favorite blue and white baseball tee, the one he’d worn just for this trip because he thought he looked halfway decent in it.

Max had decided to make the whole scary first-name-basis thing easier by turning it into a joke, and now seemed like the right time to implement that plan. “Sure thing, Glenn,” he said archly. In one swift move he grabbed the opposite hems of his tee and hauled it straight off over his head, exposing his defined, not-very-hairy torso for all the birds, beasts, and Glenn to see. Then he stood there in front of Glenn as square shouldered as he could, the balled-up tee in one hand, and faced his dad like he’d fucking invented shirtlessness.

Glenn looked him over, lips curving, and when he met Max’s eyes again his were twinkling in the clear blue mountain daylight. “Better,” he affirmed. With a tilt of his head toward the equipment shed Glenn dismissed him to resume his chores, and Max, smiling and shaking his head, trotted off, tossing the shirt onto the seat of the truck cab alongside his dad’s flannel as he passed.

The rest of the afternoon passed quickly. He and Glenn unloaded the truck and laid in the supplies. Before he started hailing Max was careful to set his new knife aside on the table by the door—he was already petrified of losing it and needed to find a belt sheath or other secure way to carry it before it could become part of his life. The cabin wasn’t too big inside, but it was large enough for a main room with an old couch and the two extra-long twin beds opposite a stone hearth and fireplace; a kitchen with the old stove and fridge, a chest freezer, a sink, and a hand-crafted table with three chairs obviously made by the same hand (Glenn, or someone further back in his family tree?); a musty, decent-sized pantry; and a linen closet with a cedar chest. Though there was pumpable water at the sink there were no facilities—the outhouse was lower down in the clearing (downwind), and the manually operated shower pump was outside behind the house. The pipes had been vacated to prevent freezing, and it took a good bit of labor at the kitchen pump before they had clean, clear mountain water available on demand.

Once everything was stowed and the house swept and opened up for some cool, refreshing cross-ventilation they got started on dinner. Their choice of first meal was a no-brainer: the beloved chili mac recipe Glenn had promised him every time they’d come up here when Max was younger. They didn’t talk much while they cooked, but they didn’t have to. Max was starting to relax a little, his hard-on even partly relenting, as he got into the groove of moving around the cabin and working together with Glenn, sharing space with him like they sometimes had back home, when Glenn wasn’t busy working, though it was even better and easier up here. Max marveled at how the simple, symbolic act of both of them doffing their shirts and working together without them made him feel at ease with his dad, like they were both just men who were doing this trip together. He knew it was not quite that simple, but there was truth in it regardless.

They sat down to eat as night started to close in, a simple lamp mounted on the wall their only source of illumination beyond the reds of sunset painting the cabin rooms through the wide windows. They talked about the daylong hike they had planned for the next day to reacquaint them both with the areas around the camp. They’d also be looking for tracks and other signs of local fauna, hoping to get a good idea not only of what kind of game was out there but the general sense of what animals were around here now and how they were doing. Max told him he couldn’t wait, and he meant it.

“Missing your phone yet?” Glenn needled him.

“I’m still too excited to be back up here,” Max admitted. “Ask me again next week and I’ll probably bite your head off.” Glenn laughed and stood up, collecting the plates. Max followed suit, grabbing the chili pot and re-covering it to stow in the fridge—there was still enough for another meal or so. When Glenn cooked, he prepared for the present and the future, as Max well knew.

Max moved to help with the washing up, but Glenn held up his rule hand with the four fingers. “Uh uh uh,” he said, tipping his head toward the sunset just visible through the trees, leaving a sky of purple, indigo, and black in its wake. “Almost nightfall,” he said. “Time for your daily dose of my… special brew.” Glenn wiggled his eyebrows playfully.

Max laughed outright. “Christ, Glenn,” he exclaimed, leaning on the name to keep it supposedly sarcastic. “It’s Kinsman Mountain IPA! They sell it in Hannaford’s back home! Heck, I bet even the Walmart has it.”

Glenn shrugged, smile crooked behind his beard. “Still special,” he said placidly. “Go out on the deck and I’ll bring you yours, and we’ll watch the stars wake up.”

Still chuckling, Max went out and headed for the side of the deck where there were a couple of weather-worn but apparently indomitable deck chairs. Max eased himself into one, feeling the work he’d done that afternoon hauling boxes and pumping water. He felt the first urge in a while to check his phone, even starting to reach for it to pull it out of his pocket, but he forced himself to relax. His games and his twitter feed might make a useful barrier between him and his too-distracting dad—they certainly had in the past—but this trip, seemingly, was the end of that. He stared out at the darkening forest, already shifted most of the way from towering greens and browns to shadowed silhouette against an increasingly starlit sky, and worried about an uncertain future, alone with a man who could never find out just how much he loved him in all the wrong ways.

It took Glenn longer to come out on the deck than Max had expected, though he suspected he himself had kind of lost track of time out here in the deepening twilight. Glenn came out carrying two glass steins of beer, one of which he handed to Max. The glass was unexpectedly cold. Max remembered seeing the steins in the freezer, before they’d started loading it up with the meat, ice, and other provisions they’d brought with them—soon to be added to, Max hoped, by the meat they caught themselves. He vaguely remembered his dad drinking beer from one of these, on earlier trips. Now he was drinking with him. Another rite of passage.

Glenn eased into the other chair, carefully keeping the stein level, and then started drinking his beer without preamble, looking not at Max but out at the inky forest and the slowly emerging stars as he drank. Okay, maybe not a rite of passage. Max began drinking his. He frowned, looking down at the beer, though there was not much to see in this light. Glenn had let him have a few glasses of this beer before here and there, and he knew the IPA’s taste. Normally it was bitter but smooth, but now the taste was subtly altered; not a lot, and not in a bad way, but enough for Max, who’d always been good with tastes and smells, to notice. He almost asked if Kinsman had changed their formula or come out with a new line, but Glenn seemed wrapped in quiet contemplation, and Max decided not to disturb him. He drank his beer, and so did Glenn.

Max had the idea that if it was a “rule” he was supposed to have a beer at the end of every day, he should do the thing properly and drink the whole thing. It was a comfortable night, an agreeable coolness settling in with the dark, and Max was in no mood to disrupt anything. So he drank. As he was someone who didn’t drink often, the buzz came quickly—a nice buzz, as reassuring as the night sounds of the forest and the three-quarters moon just starting to climb past the trees in the east. He thought of all the drunk guests at Owen’s party. He remembered Natalie Shirker spilling two cups of piss beer down his pants and snorted. If they’d had this stuff at Owen’s party, Max thought, he might have stayed.

As he got close to the bottom of the glass stein Max was feeling a weird combination of very relaxed and strangely stimulated. The stimulation, though, wasn’t really like the stimulants he was used to—it didn’t feel like caffeine or anything that acted on your mind or sped your pulse. If anything his pulse was slow and steady as a universal clock. But it felt like his skin was softly prickling, like the edge of some faint, barely discernible process was percolating in him just below the surface, hardly there at all. What was most obvious about it was how it was amping up his own natural horniness, even as the buzz melted away inhibitions and fears. His cock thickened and returned to its full hardness in his jeans like it belonged that way. Without thinking he reached up and felt his own bare chest.

“If you need to take care of that,” came a calm, matter-of-fact voice from his right, “you can.” Max nodded. Made sense. He tossed back the last of his beer and set the stein down on the deck. His cock was all the way hard. The beer said it was okay. The beer, and the voice.

Slowly, Max pulled his hand down from his chest, across his taut but undefined, mostly hairless abs, to his crotch where his raging cock waited for release. His hand touched the zipper, his fingers grasping the key and ready to pull it down, before some part of his brain remembered where he was. “Fuck!” he spat, sitting up. The world around him swam.

“Anything wrong?” Glenn said from somewhere beside him.

Without answering, Max jumped out of his chair and bolted unsteadily into the house. He ran into the bedroom and closed the door behind him—softly, not wanting to alarm his dad.

Now it was a race. He had to get rid of this thing before Glenn came back inside.

He yanked open his zipper and hauled his fat, uncut erection out with some difficulty, until it stood before him, tall and defiant. He wrapped his hand around it and began stroking. He was buzzed, though, and his mind was wandering, and his skin and body felt very slightly weird. He needed something to focus on. Not for the first time he used his vivid imagination to picture an eager, stubble-jawed Owen kneeling before him, hairy chest bare like Max’s, eyes wide at the sight of Max’s erection. Max drew in a breath as his fantasy Owen wrapped his mouth around Max’s big tool, and Max was almost instantly close, verging along an edge he’d been riding all day. Max closed his eyes, reveling in the sensation of near bliss, and when he opened them, the fantasy man kneeling between his legs wasn’t Owen. Not even close.

Max came so hard he had to clap his free hand over his mouth to stifle the sounds he was making. His release came again, and again, flooding him with pleasure, and Max fell back on the bed close to passing out from the wild intensity of it. He lay there for a long time, trying not to think about how impossible it would be to make it through the week, much less the summer.

Out on the deck, Glenn Sheridan nodded to himself. Slowly he pulled his own prodigious erection from his pants and began methodically stroking. He began picturing his own fantasies… fantasies he would very soon see converted into real life. They had to. He had to make this work out the way it was supposed to, or things could go wrong—very wrong.

He put the thought out of his mind. Patience was the key. It would be another month before Max would have to choose. And it was Glenn’s job to make sure Max was ready.

Part 3

Max didn’t know if he could stand being this turned on all the time.

They were around each other constantly, from sunup to long past sunset, when they took their beer together on the wide porch under the stars. They hiked endlessly through pathless forests, fished the deep, rushing streams that seemed alive with trout, took turns in the pump shower, cooked and ate together… and every moment Max was acutely conscious of how this man—Glenn Sheridan, his goddamned dad—was every inch the ideal man.

Glenn wasn’t just hairy, he was alive with hair from face to ankles, every inch seeming to attest to his father’s raw, incomparable virility. It was like he had so much manliness it was bursting through his skin in the form of endless lush swaths of short, dark brown hair. Max had had a dream once—well, more than once—where some brutish divinity, half beast and half god, had taken a young, naked Glenn somewhere deep into the woods until they found a depression filled with rich, wet, mossy mud, and the beast-god had smeared almost every inch of him with the mud—only the mud sank into his skin like it was absorbing its potency, and in moments everywhere the mud had been was springing forth with dark, thick, curling hair, while Glenn himself roared with delight. Max had awoken from the fantasy cumming violently all over his own mostly hairless torso. He hadn’t been able to shake the imagery ever since. His father was so manly he could almost believe his hairy masculinity was a gift from the forces of nature itself.

And it wasn’t just the hair that turned Max on. Glenn looked like his muscles were made to tear things apart. His shoulders were broad and thick, his chest was hard and packed with muscle, and his arms looked ready to grasp any object with an iron grip and rip it to pieces. Unhidden by clothes thanks to the no-shirts rule, his torso was a positive distraction at all times. His legs were almost as distracting. Usually Glenn wore only abbreviated cargo shorts that barely reached halfway to his knees, and between his calves and his mighty thighs he looked ready to run a thousand miles without breaking a sweat.

He didn’t just look powerful, either. Max was sure that he was even stronger than he looked. Once, on the third day, they were hiking one of the marked trails for a change (the one they were on led to a large field of wildflowers his dad wanted him to see) when they encountered a decent-sized boulder that must have crashed down the side of the mountain and landed smack in the the middle of the narrow trail, effectively obstructing their passage and everyone else’s. He and Glenn could have climbed over it easily enough, of course, but they decided the right thing to do was to be considerate to the other hikers and try to shift the rick to one side if they could. Max moved in to help, but before he could get into position Glenn had his hands under the boulder and was lifting it without any apparent effort. Suddenly he gave a mighty heave and basically hurled the rock end over end all of the way off the path toward the downhill side of the trail. Gravity added to momentum and the boulder started to pick up speed as it barreled down the slope, carving a swath of destruction as it smashed heedlessly through trees and brush and setting birds panicked flight, until at last it stilled somewhere below them, the sun-dappled forest suddenly quiet and at peace once more.

Max gaped after the boulder in disbelief. When he turned to look at Glenn in amazement, though, he was surprised to see Glenn’s eyes were as wide as his, and when Glenn looked over to meet Max’s gaze he saw an unnerving hint of trepidation in them, as if he was worried how Max would react. Max knew one thing in that moment: he never wanted his dad to worry about him like that. He decided to play it off like it was no big thing. “Now you done it,” he admonished, giving Glenn’s hairy, rock-hard shoulder a playful shove. “You probably just blocked a totally different trail down there. Nice job, Glenn.”

Glenn grinned and shoved him back just as playfully, and Max barely kept to his feet. “Hey, all I care about the path I’m taking,” he said in a sort of tough-guy, Stallone-esque tone. Max knew this as the voice his dad used to make fun of thick-necked brutes only seemed to care about themselves. For Glenn, being manly very much included not being an asshole to other people, and he seemed genuinely mystified by jerks who didn’t feel the same way. Max was a little more cynical. People, he figured, were basically no good; Glenn was the exception.

“You’re a poster boy for altruism,” Max snarked. He gestured to the now-cleared path ahead of them. “You going to hike or what?” He was desperate for Glenn to turn around and start walking again so he could adjust the massive boner he’d just sprung from his father’s display of strength; but when Glenn winkled at him and turned around at last, Max was reminded of why he’d been half-hard this whole hike: Glenn’s round, hard muscle ass in those snug cargo shorts. An ass he’d now have to look at with a full-blown, giant, unrelenting hard-on all the way to the high mountain meadow they were aiming for, and possibly all the way back and all the way through dinner, too, he couldn’t contrive a way to deal with it before then.

The boner thing was becoming a serious problem. He was throwing them all the time, forcing him to walk around with a huge erection throbbing again his hip like he had all that first afternoon. Back home he’d been aware of how hot his dad was and how badly he lusted after him. But back home there’d been a million distractions, and his dad had been busy and even distant at times, and Max had Owen to get his rocks off with. Here, it was just them. No phone, no school, no video games, and no one to help him find release when he’d driven himself nuts with dad-lust. This whole experience was like immersion therapy for someone who needed to discover how hot a man could be, only Max already knew that already. He knew in spades, and he was fucking drowning in it.

If anything it was getting worse, because the more days they spent together up here the more aware he was that Glenn’s manliness wasn’t limited to how amazing he looked, or the way he moved, or the strength he had locked away in those corded, powerful muscles. He was starting to notice Glenn’s scent. Or more accurately, his scents, because there were differences. Glenn after a long day roaming the mountains with him, earthy and sharp with sweat, was different from the clean manly smell he had fresh from the pump shower; and it was different yet again when he first awoke. All of them were distinctively Glenn, different sides of the same manly odor, and all of them went straight to his dick.

Fuck, everything about him went straight to his dick. The smallest thing seemed to flip his switch and give him sudden, painful insta-boners. Glenn smiling at the beauty of nature, then turning abruptly that bearded smile on him. His hard-muscled silhouette against the early, half-risen sun as he stood, his back to the cabin, sipping the one mug of morning coffee he allowed himself. Or, anything, really. He was done for. He was toast, and there was no way out.

He caught his dad humming to himself as Glenn kneaded bread dough on a rainy late morning two weeks into their trip, and stood in the doorway, arrested. His shoulder and arm muscles rippled as he pushed the heels of his hands into the yeasty mass in a relentless rhythm, folding the dough over and kneading it anew, again and again. Finally, satisfied, he straightened, rolling his shoulders and smiling up at Max, who’d been watching him, lips parted, the whole time.

“Looks good, right?” Glenn said. He turned and found a metal bowl and dropped the dough in it, covering it with a cloth.

Max gulped. “What kind of bread is that going to be?” he made himself ask. His hands twitched, wanting to touch… something. Himself, Glenn… anything.

“Actually, it’s pizza dough,” Glenn admitted. “The oven on that old stove still works, and with the rain and all I figured we’d do the the cookout I had planned for tonight another time and try this instead.”

Max was momentarily distracted from his own all-pervading arousal. “Pizza? Do we have stuff for that?”

Glenn shrugged his wide shoulders. “Some,” he said. “We’ve got the spices, and the dough’ll be ready in time. I set out some sausage from the freezer that will go well with it. You can go into town and pick up tomato sauce and cheese.” Glenn’s eyes seemed to glint as he added, “We can have it with our beer tonight.”

Oh, god, the beer. Max was awash in his own hormones again at the very mention of it. There was something about that nightly ritual that was doing him in. It was like the beer did something to him, amping up his lust while dulling his inhibitions. But there was something more to it, something he couldn’t explain. Every night they’d shared that beer together, and every night he wanted to grab his iron-hard erection and flog it, right there under the stars, Glenn sitting right there, eyes alight, his erection freed as well, standing tall and proud in his own hand…

To keep his hand away from his crotch he lifted it up and scratched along his breastbone idly. Glenn’s eyes followed the motion. “Country cooking putting some hair on your chest?” he teased.

“I have hair on my chest already, you dick,” he shot back, immediately dropping his hand. And he did, even if the beast-god from Max’s dream had seen fit to daub a thumb’s worth of the mud he’s covered his father with in a single smear along his sternum. Well, it had been itchy lately—maybe his hair was having babies and starting to multiply at last. It did feel like his chest hair might be growing out a little. His head hair was feeling long, for that matter, and he’d noticed his dad’s hair was growing out too. Any longer and it would start merging with the hair on his shoulders. Max still had a long way to go before he could even hold a candle to his dad’s hairiness.

Of course, Glenn knew this. He smirked at Max. “Yeah, okay,” Max said. “Not all of us can be big old black bears like you.”

Glenn’s smirk only widened. “Give it time,” he said easily. He slid his eyes across the rest of Max’s exposed shoulders and torso, which were, as Max had admitted to himself that morning with no small amount of wonder, already more defined and even slightly developed after only a couple weeks of exertion and constant physical activity. “Mountain life is agreeing with you,” Glenn added, with unmistakable appreciation in his voice.

Max actually blushed. Quickly he looked down, embarrassed. He caught sight of the bulge in his own cutoffs formed by his fat, unrelenting erection and felt his embarrassment triple. He turned away and mutely grabbed the keys from the hook by the door, slipped his knife in his back pocket and headed out into the warm, wet morning, his dad’s chuckles following him as he closed the door behind him.

The ride into town was long and lonely. Max was on edge. He’d spent the past few days getting increasingly riled up over spending all of his time with Glenn, morning, noon, and night. And yet now that he was on his own for basically the first time since they’d gotten up here, Max felt like he didn’t know how to be by himself. He tried distracting himself by fiddling with the radio, but he couldn’t find a station that wasn’t half static. He switched it off in frustration and focused on the road down the mountain and listened to the steady patter of the storm on the roof of the truck.

After what felt like twice as long a trip as it should have been he finally got off the private road and onto the little highway that led through town, and a few moments later he was rolling through the empty streets of Stark, New Hampshire, population… himself and that German shepherd snoozing on the sidewalk under the awning for the bar and grill, apparently. There were plenty of rain-dappled cars, pickups, and SUVs parked here and there along the street, just like before; but no people were in evidence anywhere, not even the bull-shouldered old-timers he’d seen parked in front of the butcher shop the last time.

Max pulled into a spot in front of the dry goods store and looked around as he flicked off his lights and ignition, feeling like he was missing something. Did the whole town of Stark stay in and Netflix on rainy days? Was the entire citizenry secretly made of sugar and liable to melt when it got a bit wet out? Somehow an outdoorsy town like this was the last place he’d have figured for being afraid of a little drizzle.

If he had his cell phone—which is to say, if he were allowed to have his cell phone—he’d text his dad and ask him if he knew what was up. But… no, it was probably a good thing he didn’t have his phone. He wasn’t a kid any more. He needed to show his dad that he was a man, capable of standing alone in his own boots and moving through the world, stolid and confident, without Glenn Sheridan as his shield and protector. He wasn’t weird little Maxfield anymore: he was Max, his father’s son.

He got out of the truck, looking around him warily. The storm had lessened considerably as he’d driven down from the cabin but a gentle rain was still coming down, and as he slammed the driver’s side door he realized he was feeling those cold raindrops on his bare, shirtless shoulders. He did a mental facepalm. Had he really driven into town just to walk into the store completely bare-chested like some kind of tool? Forget being a grown-up, he wasn’t even fit to be seen in public. Maybe, Max snarked to himself, there was no one out here on the streets because somehow advance word had spread through the village that he was coming down the mountain fixing to point his hairless nipples at them, and they’d all fled indoors and battened the hatches in disgusted terror.

He stood in the gentle rain a second dithering, uncertain what to do. Contemplating jumping into the truck and fleeing, though, made him remember the blue baseball tee he’d worn the first day, which he’d pulled off and tossed in the cab. He’d never retrieved it, and as far as he knew his dad hadn’t either.

For that matter, Glenn’s shirt was still in the cab, too.

A moment later, Max stepped up onto the covered porch in front of Wentworth’s, the dry goods store, wearing a red and black plaid summer flannel that smelled intoxicatingly like his dad. He wore it open, like Glenn did, and for the first time he was glad he was actually starting to look, if not buff, at least the beginnings of cut and defined after a couple weeks of hard work and hard fun on the mountain. He’d already had a bit of a six-pack, thanks to a fast metabolism and a longstanding, weird affinity for sit-ups (weird because he otherwise had no jock tendencies at all, but he liked the idea of showing tight ab muscles to whoever might be willing to suck his dick); now wearing Glenn’s shirt all unbuttoned and open made him feel like even if he didn’t measure up to his dad’s lush hair and hard, thick muscles he at least had something to show off he could be proud of.

He was about to pull open the glass door to the store when he paused, hand on the door pull, feeling unaccountably like he was being watched. He turned to his left, half expecting to see Eamon staring ominously at him, but it wasn’t Eamon. It was the dog. Max froze, uncertain what to do.

When he’d pulled into town, Max had spotted the brown and black German shepherd curled up outside the tavern, apparently asleep. Now, though, the dog was crouching low in front, ears up and hackles raised, teeth bared like Max was a predator come to kill the dog’s entire family. No, that wasn’t quite it. It was more like Max had strayed into a place he didn’t belong, a place that dog would protect and defend with his life from dangerous interlopers like Max. There was some distance between them—the bar and grill was five doors down from Wentworth’s, putting a good fifty feet of space between them—but Max knew you didn’t ignore an infuriated dog who had a bead on you.

Fuck, was that why everyone was off the streets—everyone was scared of the crazy alpha dog with a chip on its shoulder? That… didn’t seem right either. Not for this town. Something else was going on.

Max remembered his earlier thoughts about being a man and standing on his own two feet. Anger filled him. He had a right to be here, just as much as that ragey cur. “Fuck you, dog,” Max muttered, letting his lip curl like a movie badass. Heart thumping, he turned and planted his feet squarely to stared down the dog. The dog’s lips peeled back further, exposing more of his long, sharp teeth. Max took a step toward it. His hand moved back, ready to grab his knife if needed. He stood his ground and bared his own teeth, letting out a low, vicious growl.

The dog barked once at him, and then backed away—one step, then another, then another, never taking its eyes off Max. “Yeah,” Max sneered. “I thought so.” He held his stare a minute longer, then turned his head deliberately away and walked into the store, bells jingling overhead as the door closed behind him.

Max stood there a moment, his hands shivering with adrenaline and the shop’s unexpected chill, and let himself calm down a bit. A hundred conflicting thoughts and feelings swirled in his head without resolution. What the hell was that? Why had that dog decided to challenge him—and where on earth had that impulse to growl back at it come from? Criminy, what the hell was up with him? One minute he’s getting all turned on because he’s wearing Glenn’s shirt, and the next he’s facing down a goddamned German shepherd!

Max became aware of more eyes on him, and surfaced from his thoughts to see that a cluster of three middle-aged men were standing by the counter staring at him. Even the buff blond kid working the counter, the same one from when he’d first come to town, was gaping at him, his ever-present phone forgotten in his hand.

Max gave them a brief, uneasy wave. He thought about what he might say to these strangers, maybe to explain his presence in town (since it seemed to be unexpected, if not actually unwelcome?), but nothing came to him. The knot of men by the counter didn’t say anything, either, just watched him with the same unreadable expression. They were, oddly enough, all dressed for fishing, complete with thigh-waders, plaid flannels, and soft fishing hats—one even had a few colorful lures pinned to his, like he thought he was that colonel from M*A*S*H, not the hardass one but the first one that bit it over the Sea of Japan. Did people go fishing in the rain? Probably. He knew his dad liked being out in the wild in any weather, and maybe town folk here were like that, too.

Apart from the similar attire and a shared, watchful expression the three men could not be more different. The middle one was gangly and a little too tall, maybe around forty, with short, messy hair mostly hidden under his pristine hat. He looked to Max like someone who liked to keep to himself, mostly out of social incompetence. The one next to him near the counter was a bit older, with a craggy face and a bit of steel gray seeded through his dark, well-trimmed hair; below he was showing a bit of a spread, but he still looked hardy and capable. The third man was older still, his curly hair gone almost gray and receding in the center; his green and brown plaid was straining across a pronounced belly, and he had what could only the kind of bulbous, red-tinted drinker’s nose he had only seen in old screwball comedies. He looked like he laughed a lot, though he sure wasn’t laughing now. He didn’t remember any of them from his previous visits (not that he’d paid much attention to the town when he was up here as a boy), and he wondered very much who they were.

They all stared at each other for another beat, Max getting more and more uncomfortable. I should just… get what I need and go, he thought as the three older men and the cashier continued to watch him, as if for signs of sudden violence. Now… what the fuck did I actually come here for again? Between the dog and the townsmen’s staredown he was downright flummoxed. He searched his brain frantically. Right. Pizza stuff. Cheese and tomatoes. He still hadn’t thought of anything to say, so he just cocked his head in the direction of the dairy coolers on the other side of the store. Getting no reaction, he just turned and walked away, leaving their stares behind as he headed down one of the taller aisles.

Unfortunately it didn’t take him long to collect the things he needed, even with a few impulse grabs of some jerky and a few other small things he thought Glenn might like. When he came up to the counter the trio of older men moved back a few feet to let him lay down his stiff to the kid—he was maybe, what eighteen? Nineteen?—could start ringing up his purchases.

“Enjoying being back up the mountain again, young Sheridan?” the fat one said abruptly.

Max looked at him sidelong as he set his stuff on the counter. His interlocutor was favoring him with a jovial smile, as if determined to befriend someone he didn’t much care for. “I love it,” he said truthfully, without changing his own expression.

“Good, good,” the fat one said. That seemed to empty his supply of conversation, and no one said anything for a moment as the kid tallied his things on a cash register that, while electronic and not an old manual antique like he might have expected in a store like this, was easily a good twenty or thirty years old at minimum.

Finally, out of curiosity, Max asked, “You all going fishing today?”

“Yep,” the craggy-faced one said immediately. “Today’s town fishing day. Two weeks before the full moon, like clockwork,” he explained. “All the families in town head out to Crystal Lake today. To fish,” he added, as if to make their intentions transparently clear.

Max nodded. Something was very weird about all of this. “You know, my dad and I like fishing, too,” he probed. “Maybe we should come.”

“Maybe another time,” the fat one said genially.

“All the arrangements have already been made,” the craggy-faced one elaborated. “Spots assigned, bait parceled out—you understand.”

“It’s really for the town folk, anyway,” said the tall one, speaking for the first time. “Not, you know… the mountain folk.”

The fat one gave his tall friend a quick glance, then added in a friendly tone, “From what I hear, you’ve got great fishing up there anyway. Fish practically jumping into your hands,” he added, resuming that pleasant smile.

Max smiled widely back at him. It felt a little like baring his teeth again, like he had for the dog. “Sure thing,” he said. “It’s crazy. Say, I never caught your names.” He stuck out his hand toward the fat man. “Max Sheridan.”

The fat one seemed to hesitate fractionally before taking his hand in what felt like an effort at a firm grip. “Joshua Abbott,” he said. “Town doctor.”

Max shook hands with the other two men. The craggy-faced man turned out to be Jesse Fairchild, who ran the tavern down the way, and the tall, awkward one was Noah Paxton, who acted as the town’s lawyer and also served as the regional postmaster. “Glad to meet you,” Max said. “I’m here for the summer, so I’m sure I’ll see you around.”

This piece of information seemed to be news to the three townsmen, and they exchanged looks. Max was pretty much done with their mysterious exclusivity. He turned on the country boy, who started on receiving Max’s full attention. He looked strong and fit, with something approaching the defined, nicely proportioned swimmer’s build Max himself was sporting under his open shirt, but between his pallid skin, longish blond-white hair, and pale cornflower-blue eyes he seemed almost completely washed out, like someone had diluted all the colors out of him.

Stammering, the kid told Max the total. Max tried handing over his debit card, but the kid shook his head. “Eftpos is down today, sorry,” he said, with a quick, almost imperceptible glance at the three men. “Gotta be cash.”

“Is that right,” Max said evenly. They’d brought enough cash with them to last a while anyway, and he remembered his dad saying one of those storefronts along the main drag was a credit union or something similar, so they’d probably be able to get more if they needed. He handed over some bills from his wallet. As the kid fished out his change from the cash drawer Max said, “Hey, can I borrow your phone for a minute?” When the kid looked up at him in surprise he explained, “I didn’t bring my phone with me, and I haven’t seen my email in a couple weeks. I promise I won’t troll through your pics or anything.”

“Uh, sure,” handing Max his change. He pocketed it and then watched as the kid keyed his phone open and handed it over before busying himself bagging Max’s purchases.

Max thumbed open the web browser and opened up gmail, having to think a second to remember his password. It felt like a relief just to see email again, even if it was all junk. Wait—there was something in his “important” folder. He shifted to that window and felt his eyebrows jump in surprise. An email from Owen!

Hey, dude, it said. I know you don’t have your phone or anything, but I figured you probably were checking your email every once in a while if you got the chance, so I thought I’d say hey. So… hey. Ha ha, lame, I know. Hope your summer up in Stark started off great and that you’re having fun and everything. You can say hey back sometime if you want, or not, it’s cool. Anyway, have fun and I’ll see you sometime, or whatever.

Max was grinning by the time he finished reading. Owen missed him. He might as well have come out and said it. The thick, hairy man’s man was bored as fuck back in Vermont, probably working at his father’s drug store for college money and looking like a store-polo-shirted gorilla among all the ordinary-sized associates and cashiers, and missing their regular, secret happy times.

It occurred to Max that Owen would be completely at home up here, which wold be kind of fun to see. He didn’t really want to fuck Owen, not anymore, or even exchange blowjobs the way they used to—Max’s mind and libido had become completely saturated with Glenn Sheridan from the moment they’d embarked on this trip together, and Max’s obsession had gotten so bad that even just standing here in the dry goods store and thinking about his dad, hard-muscled, shirtless, sweat glistening on his thick shoulders from a long hike or naked and streaming with water in the little pump shower out back, was threatening to take him from mostly soft to stiff as a board in under three seconds.

And yet Glenn was off limits to him. Totally and completely unattainable. That combined with constant exposure relentlessly jangling his libido was going to drive him positively nuts, no joke.

Maybe what he needed was a buffer. Something to disrupt the sex vibes he was drowning in up at the cabin. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a friendly face here in town, too, if today was any indication of how things lay down here. He thumbed out a quick reply to his best friend and former fuckbuddy. Hey back, he wrote. I’ll bet things are exciting back there, too, right? (smiley emoji) If things ever get too crazy you can always see how you like it up here some weekend—I’d love to have some relief on the wood-chopping detail

Max smiled at his own deviousness. It sounded like a joke, and would read as one too, but Owen loved physical activity of any kind, including chores that got his blood moving and gave him an honest sweat. No funny stuff, of course—my dad’s around 24/7—and he’ll make you obey his crazy rules, but could make for a change from toting boxes of saline solution at the strip mall (wink emoji). He made a few more jokes about their underwhelming hometown, sent the email, and signed out of gmail before handing the phone back to the blond kid. “Thanks,” he said, offering him a genuine smile. The kid smiled back at him, a little surprised, like a tree had just waved hello at him.

Max picked up his bag of purchases and turned to the three men, who were still there, watching him, like they had nothing better to do. “It was nice meeting you,” he said, and he found he meant that, too. However strange this town was, and whatever the secrets that were swirling around him, this was his home for the next two and a half months. That said, he was damn glad was one of the “mountain folk”, whatever Postmaster Paxton had mean by that. Weird folk like this were best taken in small doses—though, he thought with amusement, these men probably felt the same about him and his dad. He wondered what they thought of Eamon Conroy, if they were so leery of mountain folk, and found himself grinning widely as he strode out of the shop.

The dog was still out there, more or less where Max had left him. He stood stiff and alert, watching Max attentively as he climbed into the truck and drove slowly out of town.

Part 4

Max was preoccupied on his drive back up the mountain. This was itself slightly dangerous as the storm had started to pick up again, blotting out the day and battering the truck with hard, heavy rain. But Max’s thoughts wouldn’t slow down. Too much had happened on this simple food run for him to make sense of. All he knew for sure was that there was more going on in this town than he was meant to be aware of, and the more he thought about that, the more it got under his skin. Criminy, even the dog seemed to know more about what was going on than he did.

But when Max got back to the cabin, what he saw there made his mind go completely, blessedly blank. He sat in the car, engine running, and gaped through the windshield as all thoughts of angry dogs, cryptically hostile town folk, jumpy, laconic cashier dudes, and lonesome hometown jocks fled from his brain. His dick, never completely asleep these days, stirred rapidly to instant hardness in his cutoffs. He heard his own breath loud in his ears as if he were huffing into a microphone.

His dad was out in the storm, in the middle of the lush, close-cropped clearing that surrounded their little homestead. That wasn’t too unusual—Glenn loved the rain as much as he did the sun, maybe even more. “Love” wasn’t even the right word—he reveled in it, as if the forces of nature recharged him somehow.

No, the thing that was strange, the thing that arrested Max and swelled his dick to a helpless, rock-hard tree-trunk in his cutoffs, was what Glenn was doing out here in the storm. Out there in the field under a dark, glowering sky, the cold rain beating down on him, Glenn was doing push-ups, absolutely and completely naked.

Max switched off the car and doused the headlights. He half expected to see Glenn jump up with a grin from his endeavors as Max’s return, his seldom-seen soft cock wagging as Glenn waved to his son in greeting and started striding across the clearing to him. Max could picture it, the rain sliding along his muscles like a million fingers carding through the hair that covered him neck to foot, caressing the tawny skin beneath, and Max’s commando hard-on bucked against the denim of his cutoffs at the thought.

But Glenn didn’t stop. As Max watched he continued his storm-washed push-ups, his head closest to where Max sat in the truck thirty feet away at the edge of the wet, grassy expanse, and Max couldn’t decide whether to stare at the powerful shoulders, or the bunching, relentless biceps, or the round, hairy, well-tanned, rain-pelted muscle ass that hove into view, begging for attention, every time Glenn lowered himself close to the ground like a steel piston, rising and lowering unstoppably.

Max could not have wrenched his eyes away from the sight if he’d wanted to. His vision filled with primevally strong shoulder muscles, sinewy back, strapping legs, perfect ass. His imagination made him wonder what it would be like if he were the rain, and Max shuddered, his coursing blood feeling like it was on fire.

He put himself in the place of the rain. Countless droplets smacking against that hard muscled body, each one feeling the impact, each one tasting that skin as it slid along his masculine contours, follicles of dark body hair bristling all around him, barely bent by the deluge of him. He washed over Glenn, touching him everywhere all at once, feeling his corded thews as he worked himself with relentless discipline. Max realized he was rivuleting not just over the muscles he was used to seeing these days, and studying, when he could get away with it, so that he knew them a little too well by now, but over secret places, too. He was sliding along the mounds of Glenn’s fantastic glutes, feeling curves he’d seldom even seen except through clothes, caressing the flesh with a thousand tongues. And more. He was slipping down, between them, into the hairy crack, cleansing with his countless tongues a place he’d never even dared to imagine…

Max suddenly grabbed the base of his dick through his cutoffs, squeezing it tight in a vice-like grip. Fuck, he’d almost cum in his shorts. Panting, he felt his climax reluctantly subside, but his dick remained indomitably hard, like a bout in the pantry with his hands and a bit of lotion wouldn’t even be close to enough.

Somewhere up the mountain there was a lick of light, and a moment later a roll of thunder. Max blinked. He couldn’t just sit here. His dad would know he was staring, and—fuck, he needed to move.

Leaving the bag of groceries on the seat beside him he retrieved the keys from the ignition and pocketed them as he got out of the truck. He was instantly soaked, but he barely noticed. At some level he recognized that it felt kind of good, a wash, scrub, and massage all at once. But he wasn’t really thinking about the storm. He stalked over to his father and stood near him a couple of feet away. It was like approaching a furnace, only the heat he was feeling was all inside of him, in his very core, and most of it was in his churning balls and the rigid, quivering erection trapped in his rain-drenched cutoffs.

Glenn glanced up at him with a grin, not breaking his rhythm in the slightest. “You’re wearing a shirt,” he observed genially over the battering noise of the storm.

Max glanced down at the dripping red flannel, still open in the front and exposing his defined, mountain-built swimmer’s pecs, his own proudly carved abs, and the smudges of wet hair that formed a line seeming to point downward toward his crotch. “Sorry,” he said. “Forgot I was wearing it.”

Glenn nodded. Carefully he repositioned himself so that he was balancing on one hand, his other folded behind his impressive back. His balance reestablished, he lowered himself and began doing one-armed pushups. Max’s dick strained against the denim, fighting to get even harder. Fuck, he thought, is he doing that to impress me? Or is he just so strong that a thousand regular push-ups barely do anything for him?

“Go take it off and come join me,” Glenn said, and Max, his thoughts on his own dick, almost choked at the words. Shirt, he thought, he means the shirt. “It’s important to go out and push your body every day, no matter what the weather’s like,” Glenn went on. “Every day, understand?”

It was oddly gratifying for his dad to be saying things like this in the middle of such a bizarre spectacle. Glenn was still Glenn. “Is that a new rule?” Max asked, needling him a little.

Glenn didn’t look up at him this time, but he could hear the smile in his voice as he said, “Sure, why not.”

Max blinked down at his dad as he continued pistoning up and down. Shit. He’d turned this thing into a rule. He was going to have to come out here and… “Just let me put the groceries away,” he said.

Glenn grunted his agreement, and Max slowly retreated, walking backward the first few steps before turning and running back to the truck. He retrieved the groceries, pushed the truck door closed, and hurried inside. He leaned against the door a second, newly conscious he was soaking wet, then put it out of his mind. Fishing the keys out and hanging them on the little hook, dropping his knife on the table beneath it by the door. He set the bag down on the table near the cloth-covered bowl that held the rising dough and took off Glenn’s shirt, draping it across the back of a kitchen chair. As he did so he found himself wondering if it would still smell like Glenn when it dried, or if there might be a little of his scent on it now too.

Did he have a scent, the way Glenn did? A scent that Glenn might… notice, like Max did his?

Max shook his head. He put the cheese away in the old fridge, set the rest of the stuff out on the counter and trashed the plastic bag, then he turned slowly back to the fridge. He opened the door and stared inside. On the top shelf were three of the large 22-ounce “bomber”-size bottles of Kinsman Mountain IPA they’d brought with them. Seeing them made his stomach flutter a little.

The nightly ritual of a beer out on the porch had become a welcome closer to the day, and thanks to the boner he always got while downing his it was closely associated in his mind with Glenn and with the slowly mounting arousal he’d been fighting since the days of his very first confusing erections, but especially in the last two weeks since they’d started life up here on the mountain. The beer calmed him even as it seemed to feed his dick, and in that moment the latter seemed like an acceptable consequence of the former.

Without letting himself debate it any further he reached in and snatched the nearest bottle. Letting the door close itself he stalked over to the sink and checked out the window. Through the rain he could just see his dad, this time in a side view, his body and round ass a sort of reverse silhouette against the darker grass and the blur of rain beyond. He’d switched to the other arm and was pumping methodically up and down like a machine. Max’s dick kicked in his cutoffs. Staring hard at Glenn’s form Max twisted the cap off the bottle and slowly started downing the bittersweet brew, thinking as he chugged that even straight from the bottle it still didn’t taste much like what he remembered Kinsman Mountain tasting like.

He downed the whole thing in one go, slammed the bottle down on the counter, and then turned toward the door.

He paused, wondering if he was really going to do this and discovering he couldn’t not do it. It was a rule now, he rationalized. He imagined him ands Glenn progressing from the strenuous things they’d been doing—hiking, wood-chopping—and adding on sessions of deliberate exercise. Push-ups in the rain might be only the first day. Tomorrow might be swimming in the lake, or pull-ups on tree-boughs, or wrestling…

Max put that thought aside, knowing he’d return to it in the dark of night when he was sure Glenn was fast sleep. Now was just push-ups in the rain. He could do that—he was damn good at push-ups. He looked down at himself, now clad only in wet denim cutoffs and his boots. For a crazy moment he actually considered the idea that he really should be naked like his dad. Weirdly the idea of walking out there naked didn’t appall him so much as striding out there with this unyielding erection bobbing in front of him. The boots would have to go, though. Adjusting his erection more along his hip so he could sit down without stabbing himself in the guts, he lowered himself into the same chair he’d draped the shirt on and quickly divested himself of his boots. This was something of a relief, as they’d been feeling a bit tight the last couple of days. He studied his now-naked feet, looking for anything unusual, but they looked the same as ever—no blisters or calluses, just a dusting of dark hair along the very crest. His dad had a lot more, of course, but he was glad to have any at all.

Go out there, his dick said, twitching against his wet, heated skin. Go out there and be near him. Max obeyed. It was, bottom line, what he wanted.

He didn’t even remember leaving the cabin. It was like he sitting in the kitchen one moment, his warm, stiff cock wedged along his hip demanding action, and the next he was out in the summer torrent, standing near his dad in his cutoffs and bare feet and slowly climbing down to position himself alongside him on the flats of his hands and his bent toes, feeling the rain—which seemed warm and welcoming now—pattering incessantly on the bare muscles of his back, legs, and arms.

Consciously, he began matching Glenn’s rhythm, his two-armed push-ups exactly mirroring the cadence of the one-armed ones his workout partner was making look absolutely effortless.

For a while there was no sound by the percussion of rain beating on the cabin, the truck, and the world around them, a susurrus of the gentle wind moving among the trees a steady counterpoint. A soft grumble of distant thunder sounded, though there was no more lightning to be seen. The sky was still dark, though, horizon to horizon, the sun a forgotten memory. This storm was going to be here a while.

Max found himself enjoying the burn in his shoulders and arms. Maybe it was working out alongside the indefatigable potently muscled Glenn, but he was finding the exertion a lot less than he was used to compared to doing push-ups back home. Maybe it was the rain, he thought wryly. His hard-on wasn’t going away—maybe not ever, after this level of stimulation—but he and it seemed to came come to a detente. It liked when he tested his muscles, after all, at least lately. And it definitely liked when Glenn drove his own body to all it was capable of. He just had to keep himself from thinking about all the ways Glenn could be doing that besides push-ups in the rain.

“You should do videos of this,” Max said after a while, having to raise his voice only slightly over the clatter. “Glenn Sheridan’s Mountain Workout.”

A glance to the side told him Glenn was smiling as he worked. “Yeah? You want to film me, Max?” Glenn teased.

Criminy, why does he say things like that? “Uh—sure,” he said. Then he admitted, “I was actually thinking… if I had my phone up here, I could totally Instagram you walking around the woods all… you know, shirtless and stuff. Stills, videos… you’d have, like, a million followers.”

Glenn smirked, and Max goggled inwardly at himself as he effortlessly kept pace with Glenn. Had he actually said that? Fuck, he might as well admit he was following him around with a boner all day, assuming there was any chance that his dad hadn’t noticed. And he wanted to say more, come clean—fuck, he wanted to do more. His thoughts swam, and he remembered the bomber of IPA he’d chugged. What was in that stuff, anyway? Max was no stranger to beer, but no ordinary lager had every affected him quite like this, though Max knew the beer was only a part of the whole experience of him getting more and more used to being up here, alone, with the man he dreamt of whenever he jacked his needy, high-maintenance fucker of a cock.

“Think how many would watch if it was both of us,” Glenn said, and though he must have meant it innocently he might as well have said it directly to Max’s aching, pleading dick. “Too bad you don’t have your phone,” he added, and his honey-gold eyes met Max’s long enough for a wink that went straight to Max’s groin.

Oh, jeez-o-pete—if Glenn pushed him over the edge out here, there was no way he could grab himself and hold off an explosion like he did in the truck. Of course, thinking about the humiliation of clamping his hand around the base of his tool right in front of his dad was humiliating enough to stave off a climax for a while, though his dick stubbornly remained almost unbearably hard.

Glenn repositioned himself again, switching back to his left arm. He glanced over at Max. “Try it like this,” he urged, poised in the up position with his arm extended.

Max paused, both his arms extended and hands flat on the damp grass. “I’m not as strong as you are,” he said, willing his eyes not to skitter along his dad’s naked, powerful form.

“You’re stronger than you think you are,” Glenn assured him. He nodded at Max’s right arm. Reluctantly, Max balanced himself on his left arm and awkwardly bent his right arm behind his back, matching Glenn’s position. “Good,” Glenn said encouragingly. “Now, we’ll start slow and see if we can’t work back up to the rhythm we had before.”

Max expected to fall on his face after a few of these, especially after having already been at it for—how long? Fifteen minutes? Twenty? It felt like more, except his muscles told him he’d barely started. To his amazement, however, as he mirrored his dad’s slightly slowed pace he found the level of exertion barely felt like an advance on the easy-as-pie two-armed version. He looked over at Glenn, smiling, and his dad took this as a sign to increase the pace. Soon they were back at the pistoning rate of up and down Glenn had been doing when he’d returned from town.

Fuck, Max thought, this is easy! He couldn’t quite believe it. How did I get strong? He’d never be as mighty as his boulder-hurling dad, but he’d also never thought he’d be anywhere close to being able to keep up with him. It was exhilarating and, he was amused to realize, it was also a huge turn-on. Like he needed any more of that, though it was kind of cool that there was something amping his arousal that came from him, and not his ultra-masculine paragon of a dad.

After a while—Max wasn’t sure how long—Glenn stopped to switch back to his left arm, and Max followed suit. His left was his nondominant arm, and this time Max was feeling the burn more, but he soldiered through, determined to match Glenn as long as he possibly could. After a while the steady ache felt reassuring, like he putting in the effort it took to even out his strength. Fuck, he kind of wanted to keep doing this until he felt strong enough to hurl a few boulders himself.

It was noticeably darker, though the rain had subsided to a simple steady downpour, by the time Glenn finally wrapped up their workout, first slipping his knees forward as he straightened his torso and then climbing to his feet. Max did the same. His shoulders, arms, and chest felt like they were on fire, but it felt good, honestly, and the pattering rain seemed to want to ease his aches.

He must have been looking at Glenn with some kind of astonishment; anyway, Glenn reacted with a fond smile. “C’mere,” he said, beckoning. “I’m proud of you.” And before he knew it Glenn had wrapped his arms around him and pulled him close.

Just hug him back, he thought. It’s what he wants. He slid his own sore arms around Glenn’s naked back and held him, letting the rain wash over him. He felt Glenn’s damp, soft beard press against his neck and shoulder and, used to mimicking his movements, he pressed his own bristly cheek against Glenn’s hairy neck and round, firm traps.

His cock surged helplessly under wet denim. He tried to keep his heated groin and troublesome cock an inch or two away at least, but Glenn pressed them together head to toe, holding him tight. Max felt lightning-struck, and he wondered if he had been, and this embrace was the afterlife. He could live with that, he thought.

They were pressed close, no space between them, for a long moment. “You know, when I was your age,” Glenn said at last, slipping one hand comfortingly along Max’s spine, “I couldn’t control mine either.” Max stiffened and tried to pull back, but Glenn wouldn’t let him. “Relax,” he said, and after a moment Max did, letting himself settle into Glenn’s embrace. “That’s my point,” Glenn went on, his tone light. “Just let ’em happen. And don’t worry about it. Guys your age sport wood.” Max was amused—it was the appropriate term for a mountain man to use. “It’s what they do.”

Max sighed into his dad’s neck. “All the time, thought” he whined, admitting his now-obvious problem at last.

“All the time,” Glenn insisted with a chuckle. “I think I was sporting wood pretty much 24/7 from age 15 up till I was a little older than you.”

“Yeah? What happened then?” Max teased. “You stop being horny all the time?”

“Nope, not at all,” he said easily. “I just learned how to control my body better.” Max was aware of their crotches pressed together, his denim-covered erection pushing against Glenn’s hip, Glenn’s thick, mostly flaccid cock just perceptible through one layer of wet fabric, and Max tried not to think about how maybe Glenn was only soft right now because he chose to be.

Max held Glenn. He thought about letting his hands move, aping the reassuring caresses Glenn was giving him, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep his hands from veering off into dangerous places. He spent his daring instead on a single audacious act: he placed his lips gently against Glenn’s muscular neck and just barely pressed them there for a few seconds. It wasn’t a kiss, not really, but it might be as close as he ever got.

“This is nice, right?” Glenn said as they held each other, the gentle rain beating down on them. It sounded like it was a genuine question.

There was belated rumble of far-off thunder, and then it was just the rain again. It felt soothingly melodic around them, like music, and Max could almost imagine they were dancing as they held each other. Then his mind took him there: a jazz club, low light, live music, other couples dressed to the nines—men with women, men with men, women with women—and in the middle, softly spotlit, the two of them, storm-drenched, naked, dancing, heads on each other’s shoulders.

Jeez, Max thought. Jeez-o-pete, what sweet madness is this.

Max felt like he needed to clear his throat, but he just let out a hoarse “Yeah.” Like it was no big deal, hugging Glenn, not wanting to let go.

“Good,” Glenn said, still holding him. “Then we’ll do this.”

Max wasn’t quite sure how to deal with this without making a joke out of it, so he snorted, blurting out, “Another rule?”

“Definitely,” Glenn laughed, and Max couldn’t believe he’d set himself up for the same trap twice in one afternoon.

After another moment they pulled apart, Glenn clasping Max’s shoulders. “How are these feeling?” he asked, squeezing Max’s abused delts before sliding his hands down to Max’s upper arms.

“Sore as fuck!” Max exclaimed with a smile, rolling his shoulders. “I think I killed myself keeping up with you.”

“You’ll live,” Glenn said, his honey-brown eyes glinting as Max stared into them. Damn, Max thought, he is proud of me.

Breaking his gaze away from his dad’s, Max instead looked him over for a second, though he was careful not to look down too far. “You know,” he confessed, looking back up at him, “I can’t really picture you my age.”

Glenn pushed his lips up in the middle in what someone had once called an mouth-shrug. “Eh. I looked pretty much like this,” he said, letting go of Max’s arms so that he could inspect his own rain-dappled body, the rivulets of the still-pouring rain sliding through the hair along thick, solid muscle. When he looked back up at Max it was to add with a wink, “Just a little less hairy. C’mon,” he said, slapping Max on a pumped-looking upper arm as he passed, “let’s go make pizza.”

“Oww,” Max said, grabbing his arm with his other hand as he followed Glenn into the cabin, his grin as irrepressible as his dick.

The pizza turned out pretty well. To Max’s way of thinking it was all the better for them having made it themselves. Though he did miss his phone and computer, and the easy conveniences of stopping by a sub shop whenever he felt hungry or even water he didn’t have to pump himself, a couple weeks up on the mountain were making him appreciate self-reliance. Sure, pizza with store-bought cheese and tomatoes couldn’t exactly count as self-sufficiency, but it was big advance on taking for granted being able to grab a slice at Emilio’s on the corner whenever he felt like it. And they were providing their own food—fishing now, and hunting soon. At this rate, he thought with a wry smile, by the end of the summer he’d be wondering why they even had towns and cities.

Thinking along those lines reminded him of what had happened earlier in the day, and as they ate Max filled Glenn in on the conversation he’d had with the three “town folk” he’d run into in Wentworth’s. Glenn’s expression darkened, and he chewed thoughtfully as Max told him about “town fishing day.” He found himself getting riled up all over again as he relived the townsmen’s patent hostility and what he’d pegged as a sort of cool disdain.

When his father didn’t respond right away he prompted, “They’re not really all getting together to go fishing, are they?”

“No,” Glenn said. “It’s a kind of… town meeting.”

“Only, at the lake,” Max added dubiously. He took a swig of the beer he’d taken from the fridge to have with dinner. That had earned him a raised eyebrow and a smirk from Glenn. He’d offered the remaining beer to him, but he’d demurred, opting for a warm bottle from the pantry.

Glenn nodded. “At the lake,” he agreed. “Paxton’s right, though. It’s not for… mountain folk.” He took another bite of his slice of pizza. The mildly crisp crust crunched gently in the otherwise quiet room, the storm outside now having given way to damp early evening enlivened only by distant frogs and crickets.

Max frowned. He’d bristled when he’d heard the postmaster use the phrase, knowing the man had meant something unsaid by it. Hearing his dad use it, though, with the same sense of unspoken code, was just annoying. Once again he was being made aware of an undercurrent of things he didn’t know about, bigger and older than his own existence, and that it was being kept from him. He was eighteen, and an honest-to-Pete, card-carrying adult. He shouldn’t be left in the cold, not like this. With how close he and Glenn were getting, it felt almost like a betrayal.

“I really think…” he began roughly, and his harsh tone made Glenn look up in surprise, still in the act of trying to separate gooey cheese from his pizza slice. Max gathered his thoughts and began again, moderating tone. “I know there are things you’re not telling me. I—” He felt another surge of anger as he remembered Eamon, who seemed in on it too, and—criminy, even the damn dog seemed to know more than he did. He consciously settled himself again. He managed to say calmly, “I would really like to know what’s going on.”

Glenn gave him a long, measured look. “Do you trust me, Max?” he said at last.

Max hesitated only a second. “Yes,” he said, without reservation. Then, feeling guilty for hesitating at all he reiterated, “Yes, absolutely.”

Glenn nodded, as if this was the answer he’d expected. “If I say that I’ll tell you everything, but not yet, will you accept that?” he asked. “There are… things that have to happen first.”

Max narrowed his eyes at him slightly. “That’s not cryptic at all,” he said doubtfully. It was so jarring for Glenn to be putting up walls now, when he’d practically been begging Max for the opposite earlier. He’d thought the long, heart-pounding workout together had been intense, a shared physicality that felt like a taste of something more; but then, the hug that came after…. Max thought about the almost-kiss he’d placed on Glenn’s neck before they’d finally separated. It had felt like a gift, a token of his need if Glenn only understood it. And now he felt irrationally like he was being spurned.

In a weird mental shift, Max abruptly remembered the little kiss on the neck Owen had given him when they said goodbye at the party, just before Max had walked away from everything they’d shared, not looking back. He hadn’t even thought of that moment in weeks, but now there was Owen’s email and the transparent hints that he was missing Max. For the first time he wondered if Owen had the same kind of yearnings for Max that he did for Glenn—wanting something more than what their roles made possible. But Max dismissed the thought. Owen wasn’t about to pine for anyone, least of all his high-school beejay partner.

Glenn kept his gaze steady on him, forcing Max to stare into those honey-brown eyes. “Do you trust me, Max?” he repeated.

“Of course,” Max said. “But—”

“Soon,” Glenn interrupted. “I promise.” He took the last bite of his slice, leaving the crust to be tossed onto his plate alongside the matching remains of its compatriots. Glenn had got through his half of the pie in record time—Max was still on his third slice.

Max had to accept a promise from his dad, though he almost growled in exasperation. “Will you at least tell me about the dog?”

Glenn’s brows shot up in surprise. “What dog?” he asked around a mouthful of food, confused.

“Big German shepherd,” Max said irritably. “He was parked outside the tavern when I got to town. Started barking at me and raising his hackles like I was the damn antichrist.”

Glenn swallowed, his face breaking into as broad grin. “What, Tyrant?” he asked, wiping his hands on a napkin. “He give you a hard time?” he goaded.

“Yes,” Max groused. His name is Tyrant? What kind of a name is that for a dog? “So, what, does he hate ‘mountain folk’ too?”

Glenn’s grin seemed to widen even further, as if pleased the town cur had almost torn him to pieces. Though, Max thought, remembering the effectiveness of his growl, maybe it wouldn’t have come to that. “Naw,” Glenn said, poaching the last slice. “Tyrant loves ‘mountain folk’. He was just playing.”

“Playing?” Max repeated incredulously.

“Sure, he loves to play. He must’a pegged you as a new cub,” Max said, taking a bite of his stolen slice.

There wasn’t much more conversation after that. They washed up the dishes with only a few functional words, Max withdrawn while Glenn seemed amused but thoughtful; and their nightly beer ritual on the porch was conducted in silence, though it was more contemplative than contrary. Max understood that they both had a lot on their minds, and reluctantly he let his dad be. They went to bed not long after, and for the first time Max didn’t try to deal with the recalcitrant erection that had barely flagged since the moment he’d arrived back from town.

Max lay in his bunk, staring up at the wooden roof above him. He was physically comfortable in a fresh, dry pair of boxer-briefs, and the burn of his upper body muscles was reassuring, the promise of future strength. His mind was disordered, though, and he was acutely aware of Glenn laying curled up but awake only a few feet away, muscular, hairy, and (for the first time) completely naked. He thought he might find sleep elusive, like a wily fox darting through the fields. To his surprise he succumbed before he’d even been thinking about the metaphor very long, though afterwards he might almost have wished he hadn’t. That night, Max had his first bear dream.

Max found himself standing in a shallow spot of the cold mountain stream that danced back and forth down the mountain a few minutes’ walk from their cabin. The chill water lapped as his thighs, wetting the hems of his charcoal boxer-briefs. It was night, but a full moon shone luminously overhead. It was tinged with red—a blood moon, Max thought.

With the kind of echoing voice over usually found in cheesy melodramas, he heard one of the townsmen talking about the full moon still being two weeks off. “Two weeks before the full moon, like clockwork,” he heard the craggy-faced old tavern-keeper say again. Max understood that he hadn’t wandered off in his sleep and gone wading in the creek. This was a dream.

A loud lowing roar came from the dark, old woods to his left. With a crash of trampled undergrowth and splintered trees a massive shape emerged: a huge black bear, half again the size of any bear he’d seen in photographs or movies. It pounded toward the creek, eyes fixed on Max. Max stood in the cavorting stream, horrified and unable to move, though the closer the monster got the more Max understood that it was not going to attack him—it was laying claim to him. It approached the bank, glassy black eyes never wavering from Max, and it seemed to snarl, as if discarding everything in the world but its own will.

It placed a paw in the stream. Max watched, petrified but fascinated, thinking that now doubt he would be just as engrossed when the bear lifted a paw full of razor-sharp claws to tear him apart.

Just then a furious roar erupted from the other direction. Max swiveled and saw, on the other bank, a huge brown bear, not quite as big as the other but somehow, he knew, fiercer and more powerful. It was baring its teeth not at Max but at the black bear, confronting him as a potential enemy should he step any further. Beyond it, in the woods, were more eyes, here and there, high and low, though what kinds of creatures they belonged to Max couldn’t guess—the moonlight revealed nothing of what lay in the forest’s black shadows.

That his back was to the black bear terrified Max, but he found he couldn’t take his eyes away from the brown bear. Against all human instinct he wanted to touch it, to be with it, to be one with it. He wanted intimacy… closeness… consummation.

He lifted a hand toward it, though it was well out of reach. The black bear growled menacingly behind him.

“Look out, son!” called a voice, and Max turned to see the three townsmen all standing in a knot right in the middle of the creek, about fifty feet downstream from him. They were all decked out in their fishing gear including the waders, and strings of fish were draped across their shoulders, alive and gasping. The fatter one, Doctor Abbott, had a double-barreled shotgun aimed right at the brown bear; Paxton had a shotgun too, trained on the huge black bear behind him. Max wondered if being shot would even slow down a creature that size. Maybe it would only be enraged.

Behind the three older men Max now noticed the jumpy, pallid cashier, standing in the stream with them but without waders, fish, or guns. In fact he was wearing only underwear, like Max, the moonlight making him resemble carved white marble come to life. His expression was hectic and concerned, flitting between Max, the bears, and the men. Max thought he looked like he wanted all this to stop but didn’t believe anyone would listen to him.

“Stay put, son, and don’t move,” Abbott said. “We’ll save ya.”

Max looked back at the brown bear. He met its honey-brown eyes and knew he could not stand to see any harm come to this beast. He turned back to the men long enough to call out, “I’m not your ‘son’!” Then he faced the brown bear and, finding he could move after all, he began sloshing his bare feet through the thin mud of the creek bed toward it. Come to me, the bear seemed to be saying. Hurry.

He took another step. Behind him, the black bear roared in fury, splashing into the shallow stream. There was a loud gunshot that seemed to report endlessly through the moonlit forest, scattering birds and shaking the trees. The brown bear screamed, the black bear roared in utter rage. Another report, and Max fell, his feet nowhere under him as pain ripped through his shoulder and back, though from claws or buckshot he couldn’t tell. He submerged into the blackness of the creek, his last sight the frenzied brown bear rushing into the water toward him.

Max woke up to find wide, honey-brown eyes staring into his in the dim light, and for a moment he was confused. “Wha—” he began.

A loud, angry roar came from somewhere outside. He knew that roar—it was the black bear’s roar, and, worse, he could tell it was close, maybe in their clearing. He glanced up, his eyes catching on the starry, moonless expanse of the night sky through the open window.

The roar came again. Still disoriented, he felt himself starting to panic. Glenn shook him. “Look at me, Max,” he said, and Max did, lighting again on those honey-brown eyes and finding strength and reassurance in them. “Listen,” he said. “I need you to do two things. I need you to lock the door after me—”

“Pop!” Max objected.

Glenn spoke over him. “—and make sure it’s locked, and the windows too. Do you understand?”


“Do you understand?!” Glenn barked. He was still clutching Max’s shoulder in a vice-like grip.

“Yes,” Max bit out. His heart was thumping. There was some kind of danger, and going out into it seemed like the most ridiculous choice imaginable.

Those eyes were drilling into him. “What’s my name?”

“This isn’t—”

“What’s my name?” he persisted, calm and steady.

Max gave an exasperated smile. “Glenn,” he said.

Glenn’s lips curved, but only for a moment. He knew how to defuse tension, Max had to give him that. “The second thing,” he said. “If I’m not back in thirty minutes—”

What??!” Max shouted. He would have jumped up, but Glenn was holding him so firmly in place he might as well have been strapped down.

“Listen!” Glenn commanded, and Max pursed his lips. “If I’m not back in thirty minutes, that doesn’t mean I’m dead. What it does mean is that I’ll need you to go into town and find a woman named Virginia Clement. Repeat the name.”

Max blinked, but before Glenn could demand it louder he repeated, “Virginia Clement.” A small process in the back of his brain delved for any scrap of memory that told him who this person was, and in doing so managed to connect this name with Glenn’s mention of another like it—the old friend named Clement who’d been keeping an eye on the heirloom knife that was now in Max’s possession. The process spun crazily about this connection, getting nowhere, while another process nearby expressed surprised relief that he hadn’t been told to go find Doctor Abbott or one of the other “town folk”.

The angry roar came again, loud and low enough for it to feel like vibrations passing through his every muscle and bone. Max looked up, his eyes going unfocused. The roar was from a slightly different direction—Max felt almost like he could see where the monstrous creature was, though he wasn’t sure how. See, but in a way that involved smell and taste and sound as well. It wasn’t closer, but that was no reassurance—if anything, it was stalking them, making a circuit of the cabin and its environs.

Glenn was watching him closely. “You can sense him, right?” he asked perceptively.

Max met his eyes again and nodded, almost as unnerved by this as by the creature’s fury and Glenn’s insane urge to go out and meet it, even if it was presumably to protect Max. He remembered his dream and had a weird thought that seemed to come from nowhere: that the black bear had come for him, not waiting for the full moon like it was supposed to. Was that… could his dream actually mean something?

Glenn smiled fiercely at him, and then, unbelievably, he dove in for a forceful, full-on kiss right on the mouth, brief but heart-stoppingly intense. Glenn’s soft, bristly beard was a perfect counterpoint to his sweet, sweet lips, and Max opened for him instinctively, giving himself without thought to the man he wanted more than anyone else on earth. The taste of him was seminal, reminding him of the times they’d spent together—the workout… the hug… the beers they’d shared. Max breathed in his scent as they kissed, reveling in the arousal he smelled winding through it. For a perfect moment they were sharing the most passionate kiss Max had ever imagined, a kiss that seemed to seep into him and take up residence in his soul, never to be expunged.

Then it was over, and Glenn was pulling back, rising to his feet. Max sat up and grabbed his arm. “Wait!” he said. Glenn looked at him, and though he meant to say Don’t go, what he actually heard himself saying was “Take me with you!”

Glenn smiled. “Not yet,” he said again, and Max was about to argue when it suddenly registered that Glenn was still without a stitch on, just as he’d been when he’d gone to bed.

“You’re naked!” he exclaimed, flummoxed. “You’re…you’re going out there, completely naked?” he said, the objection somehow becoming a question.

“I have what I need,” he said with a wink. Before Max could ask how that could possibly be—what, was his grandpappy’s other knife up his ass?—Glenn added seriously, “Come on, come lock the door after me.”

He turned for the cabin door. Frazzled and upset, his pulse racing but uneven, Max climbed out of bed and followed. Glenn opened the door, but turned and smiled at Max. “I’m just going to go and have a… chat, okay? I’ll be back, I promise.”

He moved to turn and go, but Max grabbed him by the back of the neck and pulled him in for a hard, ferocious kiss. He broke it just as abruptly, rolling his bruised lips together and wanting to run his fingers over all the places he could still feel Glenn’s beard against his skin. “You better,” he whispered.

Glenn’s smile made Max’s heard pound against his chest. “See you soon,” he said, and then he was gone into the night.

Max pushed the door closed and turned the locks. He fell against it, wondering if his heart would ever beat normally again.

Part 5

Max felt trapped and helpless as he waited, fretting, by the door, trying to keep his nerves from jangling. He knew his dad was strong and capable of handling practically anything, but something inside Max knew it was wrong for him to be boxed up inside the cabin while Glenn was out there, naked and alone, in the dark, wild, moonless night.

It wasn’t Glenn he was afraid for, not really. If the last two weeks had confirmed anything for him, it was that Glenn belonged out there. The ancient, grizzled mountain was his home, with its babbling streams and soaring primeval forests, not the ugly, impermanent dwellings of men. Glenn was literally in his element. What felt wrong to Max was for him to be in here, isolated in the cabin and unable to help.

Another intense, reverberating roar seemed to shake the cabin, the woods, everything in Max’s world. He froze, ice slithering through all his veins. His hand jerked toward the door’s low, round knob, and it was only with a singular effort of will that he stopped himself, mashing the flat of his palm hard against the door’s cool, smooth finish as if to root it there and keep it from further mischief. He ached to tear the door open and pelt out into the black night after his dad, but his deep-bred instincts about the wild were too strong to allow him to succumb to such irrational impulses. Glenn would need all his focus, all his skills, all his concentration. He wouldn’t thank his tenderfoot, city-bred son for rushing in and being an unpredictable distraction.

For the first time ever, Max wanted to curse whatever force had pulled him out of his father’s world and into the urban mundanity that had been his only normal for almost his whole life.

He sighed and tried to clear his mind of unhelpful thoughts. Resting his cheek against the steadying chill of the thick, solid cabin door, Max closed his eyes and attempted to recapture that strange, elusive moment he’d had before where it almost seemed like he could see, or sense, the intruder, even from inside the cabin. He’d been close to panic and the sensation had come to him unbidden and without conscious thought. Max’s brows drew together slightly, trying to make sense of it. Only… intuition was telling him that making sense of it was the wrong way to go. It was as if it came from someplace other than the reasoning mind, someplace where primitive nerve centers reacted to external stimuli as brainlessly as protozoa and as relentlessly as the beating a heart. It was… was it a sixth sense? But usually the sixth sense was something advanced and paranormal, a meta-capability that kicked someone to a higher level beyond what any human dullard could achieve. This was deeper than that, older, in the other direction. Primal, irrational, original—a zeroth sense.

He pushed his mind and thoughts away and focused on the endless, wild night outside the cabin, becoming one with it, the walls around him melting into meaninglessness. He heard the soft rustling of the trees in the gentle, imperceptible breeze. He felt the weight of the still-damp grass, roots digging deep in the wet earth after the afternoon’s long, hard rain. Overhead he sensed the vast, black sky, aware of the countless stars without being able to see them. He couldn’t see, but he could sense. He felt the woods, the clearing, the cabin and its outbuilding.

He sensed the intruder.

He couldn’t see it, except as a kind of dark shape against the darkness of the infinite night. He could feel it, though. He knew its strength, its heat, its intensity of purpose. What that purpose was remained hidden from him, but the intruder’s focus was in no doubt: it was here, this clearing, this cabin. It was him. Him and Glenn, maybe, but it could not be Glenn only. He could feel the intruder’s concentration as if it were pulsing outward from him, and it was divided, part of its purpose still fixed on the cabin where Max alone remained.

He held back from trying to push his sensations one way or another, chary of making the sensations vanish back into hidden recesses the id with unwanted direction from his bossy superego. This deep, animal ability felt almost alien to reason… though something told him that maybe with training he could learn to use it like a tool. He had no doubts that his dad would know all about this if he asked, and it was inconceivable that Glenn hadn’t learned to master whatever form of it he himself possessed.

He drew in a long, deep breath, trying to free his mind again, eyes closed but not squeezed tight. The vast, deep and dark world, momentarily buffeted into insubstantiality by his circling thoughts, reformed around him like a mantle. Endless wild. Cold mountain. Trees, tall and vibrantly alive. Damp, chill clearing under the infinite, moonless night.

Dark intruder.

He was in the clearing—their clearing, and Max wanted to growl deep in his throat at the violation. He was on the up-mountain side, north and a little west, the opposite direction from the little knot of humans, barely perceptible, far, far away down-mountain. Around them was nothing but untamed night: mountain, clearing, cabin. Intruder—and another. Dark being against dark night. Unseeable, almost, but sensed—powerfully sensed, much more powerfully than the intruder, like a heatsink in the cold night. It was moving with relentless determination toward the intruder in a wide, indirect arc meant to draw the creature’s attention away from the cabin and toward himself. Glenn, naked and alone, but far from helpless.

Max felt a warm thrill of pride and love rush through him. His dick had softened in all the anxiety and fear, but now, sensing Glenn in a way he’d never have imagined before, feeling his strength and purpose so much more potently than the intruder’s, aware now of a connection between them so strong and so powerful he could almost touch it, Max was unbearably aroused. His tongue and lips worked mindlessly, wanting to taste his father’s hard, muscled neck, his thick, hairy chest, his rampant, rigid, massively heavy cock. His hands, pressed almost painfully against the door, flexed spasmodically, dreaming of the bearded cheek he’d caress, the shoulders he’d squeeze, the hard, round ass-cheeks he’d grab. His dick swelled and hardened even more, twitching in his forgotten, unwanted boxer-briefs as it saw its home, its sheath, the tight, puckered, magma-hot ass that it was made to push deep, deep, impossibly deep into, all the way inside, into the innermost places reserved only for him.

This time, Max did growl, low and rasping, though he wasn’t even aware he was doing it.

As if in answer, the intruder roared again, and this time Max felt it through his primal senses, a disturbing vibration that shivered through every atom of his world. And then, unexpectedly, there came an answering roar. Higher-pitched than the other, but still loud, deep, and purposeful, it ripped through the night, a searing blast of strength, challenge, protection, defiance.

It echoed through Max as if it had erupted from within him, and his eyes flew open, wide and staring at the unlit blackness of the cabin around him. He pulled back from the door, pale and agape, his heart hammering in his chest. The connection with his primal senses was still there, nagging at his mind, now insistent where it had once been insistent, but Max didn’t want to feel the world outside anymore. He glared around at the solid walls of the cabin as if reprimanding them for any intangibility. He licked his lips, trying not to know what he knew.

The intruder’s roar. The black bear’s roar. Stalking them, holding some secret, a secret that related to him to Max and Glenn. His primal senses whispered hints of what he already knew. Smell. Shape. Intent.

The massive, growling, black-pelted bear—he was, he could only be, the massive, growling, black-haired man. Eamon, coal-eyed and blackbearded, the only other member of the “mountain folk” Max had been made aware of, and the only one whose attention was somehow focused on Max for reasons he didn’t want to know.

Worse, though, was the second roar. The other beast he’d sensed. Only—no. No. Not just a beast. Max squeezed his eyes shut, but he could not stop himself from understanding. Little clues were coming together, like swirling red and gold autumn leaves falling to the ground at a maple’s foot, carpeting the ground in color. Not just a beast. It was another… it was another massive, unstoppable, indomitable bear, stalking the wild and living night. The roar, too… he knew the roar. His primal senses tugged at him, but there was something even deeper in him that had already understood, unconsciously, inhumanly. The second roar he’d just heard was the roar of the brown bear that he had connected to in his dream. There was a song deep within that roar, a song about Max. About being bound to him, loving him. And from that deep-inside inhuman place it was drawing forth from Max a furious answering song raging with a fathomless, fiery love of his own, one that was both ardently devoted and darkly, ruthlessly carnal.

That indomitable brown-pelted bear—he was…

He could only be…

Max was standing by his bed, chilled and nearly naked in the darkened cabin, no longer hard, his skin tingling. He didn’t remember moving there from the door, but now he dropped down onto the end of the bed and sat there, hunched over, the hairs on his arms and chest feeling like they were standing on end. He dug his elbows into his knees and gripped his head in his hands, and tried not to listen to the night.

Max was still sitting there, unmoving, when Glenn slipped silently back into the cabin an unguessable amount of time later. Max heard the door close, heard the lock being turned, but it was mostly with his other senses that he tracked his father moving across the cabin toward him. Smell. Heat. Intent.

He was standing in front of Max, now. Max opened his eyes. No light had been turned on, but Max could see anyway, not just with his primal senses but with his own, night-attuned eyes. Still bend, hands clasped around his head, what he saw first was Glenn’s big, strong-looking feet. They were tanned and dark like the rest of him, with a brush of dark hair along the heights and dusting the knuckles of long toes Max guessed were adept at gripping soil and stone as they ran. He half expected to see some sign of claws, but the nails were normal, trimmed and innocuous, though pale and thick like clouded ivory.

He let his eyes climb slowly up Glenn’s powerful, hairy legs. They caught for a split second on a thin white scar that cut across his right shin at a downward angle and resumed, keeping the same diagonal trajectory, across the other, cutting a swath through the russet hair like a crashing airplane ripping through a vast and ancient remote forest. He’d seen the thin scars before, whenever his dad had worn shorts on this trip and before, but they hadn’t been there forever because he didn’t remember them from his childhood trips. Before, he’d wondered idly what had caused them—a bicycling accident, maybe, or a fall across sharp stone? Now… now, he didn’t want to guess.

Max knew he was feeding himself trouble as his eyes slid up Glenn’s firm, developed calves and along the contours of his strong runner’s thighs, his lusty, insatiable cock twitching rapidly awake even before he’d left the man’s feet, but something in him needed to do this, to see him as a man. And Glenn—Glenn was a hell of a man. He kept his eyes moving, slowly, the sight of Glenn’s thighs already kindling the fires banked inside him. He’d always loved these thighs, his eyes lingering on them countless times in not-so-innocent admiration. They were naturally thick, and a lifetime of exercise and an athletic disposition hadn’t so much built them as honed them. When he wore jeans they showed off the delicious curves of powerful interconnected muscle; naked, the sleek, hair-coated quads in front and the hamstring and femoral muscles in back looked like components of a human engine. They were the legs of a horse spoiling to race to the ends of the earth, of a tireless Olympian ready to sprint a marathon. The hair, the lines, the power of them drew Max to them, and a need to touch them, to draw his tongue along them, washed through him, leaving a yearning in its wake. The large, capable, lightly callused hands hanging at rest near them to either side, hands that Max wanted to send on a tour of his own firm, sensitive flesh, compounded his arousal. His mouth was dry, and his fat member was already fully hard and straining in his thin boxer-briefs.

He kept sliding his eyes slowly up Glenn’s body, barely breathing.

Glenn’s heavy, uncut cock was flaccid, a thick tube of musky potential pleasure resting against impressively sized balls, dominating them with its own size and heat. Max stared at it, aware of its presence, and he wasn’t sure if it was his primal senses or his own imagination that made it feel like a feral, animal presence. It was right in front of him, inches away, its smell so intense he could literally taste that heavy, wide cock on his tongue and lips. He knew he had to wrench his eyes away or he’d start moving toward it—his muscles were already tensing to do so. Not now. Not yet.

He wanted to will Glenn to turn around, so that he could admire the most beautiful ass of any man he’d ever seen, hard, round, and firm, and with a prize in the center his leaking cock had already developed a craving for. Instead he pushed his eyes up a long stretch of tightly defined and very hairy abs, and once again his hands and tongue wanted to touch and taste and caress. Dark nipples that served as gate wardens to an expanse of hard, ponderous, hairy chest—

Max heard his own gasp in the silent cabin as he drew in a sharp breath, his hands dropping suddenly from his head. There, across Glenn’s left pec, were two ugly, livid red gashes. They were one above the other, maybe five or six inches long and curved like shooting stars. The lower one was thinner than the upper. The hair around both was matted with dried blood, though for some reason neither slash seemed to be bleeding now.

Max’s eyes jumped to meet Glenn’s. His amber eyes were full of love and reassurance. “I’m okay,” Glenn said softly. Max started to rise, despite the unflagging hard-on that he knew would make him self-conscious, but Glenn quickly dropped to his knees in front of him, taking both of Max’s hands in his own. “I’m okay,” Glenn insisted, his tone as calm and placid as Max had ever heard it.

Max took in Glenn’s handsome face, wreathed in its dark, trimmed beard and lush, cascading, just-past-shoulder-length hair. Memories flooded him unbidden of the kiss Glenn had offered him before going out to meet the intruder, and the fiercer one Max had initiated before he’d gone out that door. His dick jumped in its soft cloth prison. In fact his whole body seemed aflame with arousal, as if the stroking of his flanks, or the lathing of a tongue along his neck, would be no different from that hand or mouth caressing his aching, weeping erection. He could lean forward right now, he knew, and give his mouth to Glenn’s. His body wanted it, and his senses and his reason told him Glenn was burning for it just as much as he was.

But the churning tempest of love and carnal need whipping through every fiber of Max’s being was darkened with anger and fear. The anger had been building up within him with the certain knowledge that Glenn was hiding things from him—things that were about Max as much as they were about Glenn. And now? Now it was worse. Now that he’d guessed some of it, and the implications of what he’d guessed was expanding the revelations outward like a sinkhole taking more and more of the surrounding land—now his anger was building to rage, because what had been hidden from him was nothing less than what he was. And that brought fear with it, too, because suddenly the most basic parts of his identity were vanishing beneath his feet.

He stared hard into Glenn’s amber eyes, and he could see the moment that Glenn understood. Max had seen part of the puzzle, and he was angry and upset about it. Most of all, Max could see Glenn’s greatest anxiety—that Max’s trust in him was compromised. He could see and sense the pain of that worry, and knowing it was there made Max ache inside.

Glenn gave him a small, almost imperceptible nod, gripping his hands tightly as he did so. We will talk, the nod said. Max said nothing, but his eyes told Glenn he’d received the message. There would be a lot to talk about. In their argument before—had it only been that afternoon?—Glenn had said that the time to explain everything was not yet, that certain things would have to happen first, and Max did not think that had changed. Somehow, though, he guessed that Glenn was not displeased that Max had seen and understood part of what was to come.

Glenn clicked his tongue. “I should let you get some more sleep,” he said quietly, nodding his head toward the other bed, a few feet away to Max’s right. He made to stand, but Max gripped his hands firmly, keeping him where he was.

Glenn’s brows lifted slightly. Max swallowed, then, in a single, small motion, he bobbed his head to his own left, toward the other side of his bed.

Glenn held his gaze, trying to see into him, brows still lifted. “You sure?” he asked after a beat. For an answer Max stood, drawing Glenn up with him, their hands still clasped. After another moment staring into Glenn’s eyes Max let go and turned, moving up the side of his bed and climbing in under the cool top-sheet. Glenn followed him, moving up the other side, and without further hesitation got into the bed on the other side. As he did so Max turned on his side so that his back was to him, and after a moment he felt the delicious warmth of Glenn’s hard-muscled, hairy body molding itself to his. He sank into it gratefully as Glenn’s strong arm wrapped around him from behind. Max half expected it to find his rigid, unflagging cock where it lay throbbing against his hip, and he wouldn’t even have been too surprised to feel Glenn’s massive erection nudging against his ass. Maybe Max not removing his boxer-briefs before getting into bed had sent enough of a message (though Max was already wishing he had), or more likely Glenn correctly read the tenor of the moment they were sharing. They both needed the reassurance of intimacy, but the time for fucking—for making love—was not now. Not yet.

So the cock that pressed against Max’s ass was heavy and thick but soft, or at least, as soft as it got. Max knew Glenn wanted him—he could feel and even taste Glenn’s desire as powerfully as his own—so Glenn’s current unrampant state was a testament to the control he’d learned to exert over his body that he’d bragged about before. And the long, muscular arm and manly hand that wrapped around Max didn’t seek out his uncontrollable, rampaging cock. Instead, Max drew in a breath as those long, adept fingers found the thickening crop of chest hair spreading across Max’s pumped, still-sore pecs, Glenn’s fingertips gently brushing through the little hairs until Max laid his own hand across his, stilling both so that their hands lay together pressed over Max’s pounding heart.

Max felt a little kiss at the nape of his neck, under the hair that was growing out in what seemed like a race to match Glenn’s traps-tickling locks. “G’night, Max,” Glenn said, fond and a little uncertain at the same time. Max said nothing, but he squeezed Glenn’s hand against his chest as he settled a little more deeply against Glenn’s comforting, brawny frame. He was protected, he was loved, he was strong, and he was changing. He could accept all of those. The rest could wait. After a few deep breaths he settled his mind and somehow willed himself to sleep.

Breakfast was mostly silent the next morning. It wasn’t uncomfortable, not exactly. It was more the silence of two men with a lot on their minds, most of which concerned each other.

After the meal and dishes were taken care of, Glenn glanced out the window at the clear, brightening sky and announced he was heading out, and wouldn’t be back until nightfall. When Max started to object, Glenn laid a hand on his bare shoulder. “You need to spend a day or two, just you and the mountain,” he said, lips curling slightly, eyes glinting.

“What does that mean?” Max said, eyeing him narrowly. His gaze dropped for a second, but only for a second, jumping quickly back to Glenn’s glinting, amber eyes. The red slashes across Glenn’s chest were already closed and healing, and Max kept his eyes on his dad’s face to avoid staring at them, and eliciting again the horror at Glenn getting hurt, and the confusion at how two vicious claw-swipes across his chest was something to shrug off.

Glenn seemed oblivious to Max’s conflicted emotional state. “It means whatever you want it to mean!” he said teasingly. Then he drew Max into a long, tight hug. Max reciprocated, wrapping his arms tightly around Glenn’s wide, hairy back as his hard-on, still untamed from the night before, seemed to try to stab Glenn in the guts. The hug felt good. Amazing, really, easily calming his doubts and fears. It felt so perfect, so natural. He wanted to laugh at his reservations about the hug from the day before. Now that he and Glenn had kissed each other with undeniable, equal passion, and had even slept together nestled in each other’s arms, the warm, heart-stoking intimacy of the shared embrace seemed easy and perfect. He almost let a giggle escape at the idea that this was one of the “rules” now—that this kind of close, sensual hug was just something that they did every day, like shirtlessness and working out and sharing that stein of beer at the end of the day on the porch under the stars.

“I should be back by sunset,” Glenn said softly. Max felt a brief kiss on the side of his neck, and then Glenn was pulling free of their embrace and heading right for the door. He didn’t take anything with him—no knife, no supplies, just him, his jeans, and his boots. Max followed him out, really for no other reason than his dick wanted him to. He hadn’t forgotten the anger at the secrets kept from him about himself. He hadn’t forgotten his fear, too, about what those secrets meant for him. His trust was bruised, and they both knew it, but it wasn’t broken. When it came down to it he wasn’t that conflicted about Glenn. In fact the encounter with the black bear, what he’d felt and sensed about Glenn’s power, strength, and love, and, more than anything, spending the rest of night nestled close in Glenn’s arms, had brought them closer together, especially physically. Besides—if he was changing, he was changing into something more like his dad, and that had to be a good thing.

Outside the sky was a panoply of vivid color, reds and yellows and oranges streaked with a few lines of cloudy white in the east, deep cobalt blue in the west where the night was still being chased away and a few stubborn stars lingered. The tiny sliver of a moon just past new, itself not long risen in the east, reminded him that the moment of decision hinted at in his dream—a dream he now knew not to discount out of hand—was still two weeks off. Only two weeks? Either way, something in him had decided to let himself be for now, and wait. Maybe that was what Glenn meant about being alone with the mountain, Max mused, as he followed his dad out into the dew-drenched grass of the wide, slightly sloped clearing.

Once they were a few yards from the buildings he watched as Glenn spread his arms and took a long, deep breath, as if the clean, fresh air on a mountainside was the only air men were meant to breathe. Max had to agree. It was already hard to imagine going back to the city, even to a city as insignificant as Rutland. He wanted to text Owen about how awesome it was up here, only he’d managed to forget that he didn’t have a phone. Damn, that was still weird. There was enough twenty-first-century teenager in him to feel some not-insignificant anxiety at being disconnected from everything, though it helped that he hadn’t been eager to be besties with the idiots and fuckers populating his school and the other circles of his life. He’d feel it today, though. Without Glenn to entertain him, left to himself for the day he’d probably have fallen to noodling at various games on his phone or tablet, but not only was there no phone, there was almost certainly no wifi up here. Maybe not even down in the one-horse town that was their only tenuous link to civilization sat the moment.

And of course without technology he was cut off from porn. Glenn had probably been smirking before the trip about what a hardship that would be, but it turned out that the only hardship would be his unrelenting dick.

Glenn turned around to face him, and, as if sensing Max’s thoughts, he let his piercing gaze drop to Max’s huge and very obvious hardon, the damp tip of which was just poking out at an angle over his low-rise waistband, before looking back up to meet Max’s eyes, obviously amused. Max had given up trying to hide his nonstop raging boner, but he still felt his cheeks heat a little as Glenn called attention to it. “Don’t spend the whole day jerking off,” Glenn admonished, lips twitching. “I know you’re still technically a teenager, but—”

“Fuck off and go already,” Max groused, the red on his cheeks deepening, though he was barely suppressing a smile himself. His erection shifted and flexed, preening under all the attention.

“Fine,” Glenn said equably, starting to turn away as if to stalk off then and there, making Max regret his words. Then he turned and suggested, “Maybe you can catch us something for dinner. Some fish, or…” He snapped his finger and smiled, pointing at Max’s chest. “Coneys.” He lifted his brows a little. “How does that sound?”

Max grinned. He knew there was a decent population of New England cottontail on the mountain, though other species were more prevalent lower down. Glenn had shown him how to set up rabbit snares and taught him a few other secrets to hunting the animals, but he hadn’t gotten to act on it yet. “Sounds like a plan,” he said. “I’ll have a nice stew of… something… waiting for you,” he added. They’d joked before about rabbit stew hiding a multiple of sins, including meat that wasn’t necessarily rabbit.

“I’ll leave it to you then,” he said, and then he turned and headed off. Max watched him go. He’d thought he might be wistful at Glenn leaving after having gotten so close lately, but there was a lot that appealed about Glenn leaving him to a day of freedom. And at the moment, one of those things was watching Glenn’s amazing ass in those soft, heavy jeans as he made his way across the clearing toward the dawn. No longer able to help himself, Max gripped his hard, begging rod through his own jeans, eyes riveted on the retreating ass he was determined to plow with the firm, steel shaft he held tight in his fist.

There was a wide stump in the clearing not far from where he was standing, nearly two feet across and level enough they’d been using it to chop firewood as a reserve of fuel to supplement the generator. Max moved over to it now and perched on the edge, not taking his eyes off the increasingly tiny form of the man of his dreams. Soon Glenn would disappear into the forest, but Max had a good memory and plenty of mental material, starting with the last couple of minutes watching Glenn walk away. He unbuttoned his jeans, not without some difficulty as his spasming shaft was pushing hard against his waistband, and slowly peeled down his zipper to free his wide, quivering, uncut erection. He was now deeply grateful he’d taken the few seconds to ditch the interfering boxer-briefs this morning before pulling on his jeans and padding into the kitchen area to start breakfast while Glenn was washing his face; now, reveling in how liberating it felt and how awesome it was watching his rigid dick spring free of his jeans, he was seriously considering never wearing underwear again. Fuck, he really was changing. Even a month ago he would have gaped at the idea. But then, a month ago he hadn’t had a constant erection.

He wrapped his right hand around the shaft and started moving it up and down, enjoying the raw pleasure of the foreskin slipping back and forth over the precum-lubricated head. He’d been amazed to discover that not all boys could experience such a simple gratification. Apparently cut guys like Owen needed lube—or a hot mouth—do to anything at all with their boners, and Max found himself newly grateful both that he was uncut and that he produced what seemed to be an unusual quantity of pre. His dick felt stiff and heavy in his hand as he jerked himself slowly, and weirdly thick, like it was somehow getting the same benefits from being up here on the mountain with all the fresh air and constant exercise that his chest and arms and shoulders and legs and ass were experiencing. Every day he felt tight but swole, weird for a fit but unmuscular kid who steered clear of jocks and sports, and it seemed as though his dick wanted in on the act.

He wondered if he was too big for Glenn’s tight ass. Just the thought made him hot all over. Reason told him that Glenn had probably been fucked by all kinds of guys—probably big guys, guys bigger than both of them. Guys like Eamon. But Max wasn’t so sure. What if Glenn wasn’t accustomed to big, wide dicks? What if his tight, hot ass craved a truly challenging cock? Max used his vivid imagination to picture them together, right here where Max was stroking himself harder an faster, only with Glenn bent over the tump, grasping the sides, his jeans pooled around his boots and that perfect, tanned ass out and ready for Max. Max stood behind him, his cock even bigger and wider and harder than it was now, sliding along Glenn’s crack, teasing him.

“Do it, Max,” Glenn commanded. “Do it now.”

He’d only fucked a guy once before—Owen had wanted to keep things restricted to pizza, beer, games, shooting the shit, and stellar mutual beejays, but there was that one night after a huge win where Owen had gotten a little sloshed and had actually fucking booty-called his beejay buddy Max, begging him to come over. Max had snuck out to Owen’s, and, letting himself in through the back door using the key under the second garden gnome, he’d gone down to Owen’s rec room only to be greeted with a sloppy kiss and a plea to let him feel a hot hard cock deep inside him, just this once, because he’d proven he was a stud on the field that night and he’d never get the guts to ask again. Max fucked him hard, busting the condom in what in his head he jokingly chalked up to an excess of personal virility, and Owen seemed to love it, though after that night the conflicted jock sheepishly went back to mutual blowjobs. He hadn’t told Owen about the condom because really, their only partners were each other and there was nothing to catch. Owen had sworn he’d managed to successfully avoid fucking girls, and given the way Owen’s lip curled whenever a girl flashed her boobs (much less anything more intimate) Max believed him.

This one encounter had taught him something about topping, though. He’d read somewhere that fucking was about the bottom, not the top; the logic of it, that the top would enjoy it regardless, but the bottom’s pleasure depended on the top treating him right, appealed to Max, and so when he’d had the opportunity, a.k.a. Owen’s ass, unexpectedly presented to him, Max had decided to try out this random theory of anal dynamics. It made him feel good about himself, paying attention to Owen’s pleasure, because he was certain most guys his age thought about getting off and nothing else. Owen, for his part, was over the fucking moon, telling Max what felt hot and what he wanted Max to do. The article he’d read said some tops resented the bottom being “in charge”, but once he was able to experience it first-hand Max loved being able to give pleasure to Owen, and that made his own climax twice as satisfying as it would have been if he’d been selfish. To be an alpha, like Owen, like Glenn, wasn’t to fuck, because, hell, anyone could shove it in. To be an alpha was to be strong enough to get fucked, and smart enough to know who to trust to make it good for both of you.

Now, out here in the clearing, Max was able to clearly visualize what he wanted. He wanted to fuck Glenn. Yes, because he wanted to feel his hard cock inside him; but also because he needed to drive Glenn to a screaming, earth-shaking orgasm. He’d do every thing Glenn asked, obey every request, to make that happen. He pictured his fantasy dick, lubed and ready, pressing at Glenn’s tight hole, ready to shove in, and then meeting Glenn’s beseeching amber eyes, making sure he was ready. “Now!” Glenn ordered him. “Fuck me now!” Max pushed in, slowly, firmly. He watched Glenn’s face, his reactions, knowing his massive, bigger-than-normal fantasy dick was more than a lot for Glenn to take. He used his primal senses to attune himself to Glenn’s pleasure, knowing his own would come with it. He slid in further, relishing the tight heat, and felt Glenn squeeze hard around him. Mastering his impulses he held himself in place, feeling Glenn adjusting to his hard, round girth as their senses twined around each other. “Yes,” Glenn groaned as he finally relaxed. “Keep going. I need to feel every damn inch of you.”

Max tried to follow his fantasy all the way through to mutual release, but it was just too intense. He couldn’t hold back. He came back to himself just as his pistoning hand drove him to a sudden, violent orgasm, and he released with a shout, blasting volleys of hot cum all over his face, chest, and shoulders. He kept cumming, over and over again, as if he hadn’t shot a load in weeks, and his orgasm only started to flag after what felt like several minutes of convulsive pleasure. He sat listening to his ragged breaths in dazed euphoria, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun on his skin and the feel of his thick, still-hard dick in his hand, and contemplated not moving at all for whatever portion of the universe remained.

The verdant, grassy green of the clearing around him came into focus, and the darker greens and shadows of the forest beyond, and the vivid, pale blue of the morning sky, all dawny reds and golds shed with the maturation of day, and Max grinned at it all, happy to be alive, happy to be a creature of nature, happy to have a dick and a man who might let him use it. A beautiful, hairy, hard-muscled wet dream of a man, a man he’d been lusting after for months and whose piercing golden eyes had finally pinned him with their gaze. And if there was something about him that was more than man—well, at the moment, with his chest and face splashed with his own cum, his rigid cock in his hand and visions of Glenn’s amazing ass dancing in his imagination, Max was inclined to think that was pretty fucking hot.

Max felt like there was something watching him—not threatening, just watching him. With his heightened senses he was reasonably sure he could trust this kind of abstract impression. It struck him as kind of funny, because there was nothing up here but himself and a lot of forest animals. He felt a grin spread on his face as he let his eyes roam the edge of the forest, looking for Bambi or Thumper. Shit, that would be pretty hilarious: a bunch of curious, slightly appalled woodland creatures gathering to watch the weird human rubbing his junk in the middle of nature until he painted himself with spunk. Now there was a Disney movie that would never—

He stopped, freezing as his gaze caught a face that was definitely not a woodland creature. Just inside the woods on the south side of the clearing, a pale young man was crouched, watching him with wide eyes. Max knew him immediately—it was the buff, blond country boy who worked the counter at the dry goods store. They hadn’t exchanged more than a couple words, and Max didn’t even know his name, but his distinctive, chiseled-alabaster look had inscribed itself on Max’s curiosity even before he’d made an unexpected cameo appearance in Max’s bear dream the night before.

It occurred to Max that someone his own age might tell him more about what was going on than the closed-mouthed, cryptic adults (Glenn included). Forgetting he was holding his big hard-on he stood up and called over to him. “Hey!” he said. “What’s your—”

But Max standing up and calling out to him broke the spell that had frozen the young man in place. He bolted, fast as any hare, and disappeared down the trail that led down out of the clearing. Max went to follow him, only belatedly remembering the dick in his hand and his open trousers, not to mention all the cooling jizz on his cheek and mingled into his burgeoning chest hair. “Fuck,” he cursed. He let go of his cock and managed to shove it against his hip long enough to zip up, muttering to himself as he did so. What the hell, anyway? What was this guy, a spy? A pervert? … Though he had to admit that, were their positions were reversed and he’d come up here on some innocent errand, only to come across the show he’d just been putting on—well, he’d have done exactly the same thing. Maybe with a little sympathetic action of his own below the waist, if he was as horny as he’d been lately.

He got his jeans refastened finally over his crowbar hardon of a dick and peered down into the woods, but the guy was long gone. The southern trail out of the clearing eventually led around to the road into Stark, so there was not much doubt where he was heading. They’d catch up eventually, and Max smiled as he pictured look on the guy’s face when he marched into Wentworth’s the next time he was in town.

He headed back to the cabin to wash up and start the day proper. Next stop… rabbit stew.

Part 6

Getting caught sitting around in the middle of the big clearing flogging his iron-hard constant companion had a sobering effect on Max, and after laying the snares in a few likely spots he spent the next hour or so trying to make himself useful around the cabin. He tidied up the kitchen area and then moved on to the beds, his stomach fluttering as he straightened the sheets where he and Glenn had curled up the night before, close and intimate, after the twin scares of his dream and the ferocious “chat” Glenn had gone and had with Eamon. He smoothed his hand across the smooth flannel blanket, wondering how much things had changed between him and his dad. They were there for three whole months, he reminded himself as he straightened up, staring down at the bed and worrying his lower lip. Sure, they’d kissed, and the more he thought about it the more it seemed like Glenn had been actively flirting with him over the last few days, if not longer. But—jeez-o-pete, if he took one wrong step, he could end up spending one excruciatingly awkward summer trapped in a two-room cabin with a man his whole body positively ached for.

Because it wasn’t just his rigid, throbbing, unsinkable uncut dick. His whole body felt like it was hard and throbbing for those thick muscles mostly covered in soft, strokable man-fur. His lips longed to meet Glenn’s again, and his eyes wanted nothing more than to stare into Glenn’s honey-brown orbs. His hands itched to cover every perfect inch of him—shoulders, chest, arms, hands, abs, ass, legs, feet. And—the cock. He’d never seen it fully hard, but he knew the sight would thrill him. His own member pushed and rubbed insistently against the rough, thick denim of his newest jeans. His mouth would have to fight his hands for that one. His ass wanted in, too, though cock clamored to act out for real the fantasy lovemaking that had made him spurt all over himself out in the field.

Max took in a shaky breath. He just needed to keep busy, or he’d be dousing himself with cum all morning. He chuckled abruptly, remembering Glenn’s amused warning not to spend the day stroking his pud.

Busy. He just had to keep busy. Laundry! That would keep him occupied for a little while.

Unfortunately for Max’s self-distraction strategy, Glenn’s rule number two—Max mimicked Glenn’s “rule-making hand” with a smile—meant that there was very little to wash. And what there was… the items that were most prominent to Max’s eyes in the small wood-and-wire basket in the corner by the beds were two pairs of Glenn’s shorts, one canvas and one cut-off denim, and Max wondered if he could pick either them up out of the pile without bringing them directly to his nose and drawing in Glenn’s primal, musky scent. Actually, the way his senses were sharpening up here on the mountain he didn’t even have to—he could catch Glenn’s distinctive scent from them without even having to bend over. Fuck, his awareness of what Glenn smelled like was so keen these days he was starting to think he could track his dad through the woods right now. Part of him longed to do just that—just drop everything and head after him up the mountain, unerringly trailing him through the dense, trackless forest even after a few hours’ head start. He shook his head at the ridiculous idea and bent to paw briefly through the basket. The small pile also contained a pair of his shorts and a few pairs of socks, with two pairs draped over the side where they’d been left to dry after their crazy-awesome workout in the thundering rain the day before. They were stuff, now, but mostly dry.

That, in turn, reminded him of the rest of their rain-soaked ensembles. Max grabbed one of the basket’s twisted-wire handles and rose easily to his feet, his muscles only a little sore from the previous day’s exertions, and headed over to the old-fashioned stove in the kitchen. It had been built with long bars mounted on either side a few inches out from the warmth of the stove proper. They were meant to hang towels and potholders, but they were also good places to dry wet clothes, what with the stove tending to stay warm even when it was dormant, as it was now. Max grabbed the cutoffs he’d been wearing in the rain when he’d gone to join Glenn in his storm-pummeled workout. The other rod was bare, because Glenn himself had been bare. He’d been proudly buck-naked as he pushed his straining body. Max shivered with arousal, and his cock, never shy about monitoring his most lascivious thoughts, gave a hard lurch in his jeans.

He stuffed the cutoffs into the basket, grabbed the enviro-friendly liquid soap from the pantry and dropped it in with the rest, and headed for the door, trying not to think about anything in particular. He spotted the red and black flannel shirt he’d worn back from town hanging on one of the thick, sturdy hooks by the entrance—somehow it had made it inside after he’d shed it in the storm. He looked it over, lifting his free hand to brush his knuckles over it. Like the cutoffs it was still slightly damp, like they were a little reluctant to let go of that moment in the storm.

Max felt a strange affection for this shirt. It was Glenn’s shirt, but yesterday he’d worn it, and there was something about that that made his heart thump. That memory, that moment, would never go away, not for him. He lifted the shirt from the hook and laid it in the basket carefully. He knew he was being silly—it was just a shirt, and he and Glenn weren’t even wearing shirts anyway up here. But he patted the old flannel anyway, letting a lopsided smile slip onto his face. Grabbing his knife from the table by the door and stuffing it in its usual place in his back pocket, he headed out of the cabin.

On the way past the truck he remembered the baseball tee and grabbed that, too, then kept walking. He was heading for the back of the cabin where they kept a big galvanized tub hanging on the wall nearest the outdoor pump for washing up clothes and other things. One summer the “other things” had included a dog, a big shaggy sheepdog named Maggie that Glenn had agreed to watch for a good friend in town while she was away. Max smiled wider as he remembered his dad teaching him how to wash and groom the happy canine and check it for ticks and other microbeasties. Ten years ago, that had been, and Maggie had been kind of old even then, so she probably wasn’t around for him to track down now and share another soapy afternoon with. He wondered fleetingly whether Tyrant, the growly brown and black German shepherd who supposedly was just playing with him, would conceivably let Max lather him up and rub him all over and rinse him with warm torrents fresh from the pump like he’d done with Shaggy Maggie (as the young Maxfield had insisted on calling him). Maybe he would, if only to get a chance at ferociously shaking himself off all over Max, covering him head to toe with doggy suds. No doubt staring at him and growling soft and deep the whole time, Max thought, vastly amused.

He’d stood there for a second, considering the tub and the pump with his laundry basked resting lightly against his hip. But when he moved, it was to turn toward the clearing, away from the cabin, and he quickly realized his feet were taking him to the cool, babbling, trout-filled stream a minutes’ walk from home. “Just you and the mountain”—that was the purpose of this enforced alone-time, Glenn had said, though Max didn’t doubt that Glenn wasn’t idle during his time away; and for his own part Max had other reasons for wanting to visit the stream besides simple communion with nature, away from his man-made dwelling.

The morning was waxing toward a blue and brilliant day, as sunny and pleasant as it had been stormy and dark the previous afternoon, and Max enjoyed both the warmth of the sun on his shoulders as he crossed the wide, sloping clearing and the dappled shade as he entered the trees and strolled the path toward the stream. The storm still resonated in the smells of the forest, its spruces, hemlocks, and firs still reveling in yesterday’s life-giving wet and sending their powerful scents far and wide. He drew in long, deep, happy breaths as he wound through the redolent woods, pondering for the first time how it wasn’t only animals that left distinctive smells the finely honed nose could track.

A few moments later he was at the banks of the dancing stream. Setting down the laundry basked he pulled off his boots and then, after a second’s hesitation, his jeans. Then, ignoring his exposed, stubborn erection, he stepped out in to the fast-moving water. The levels were high after the storm, and by the time he’d made his way slowly to the middle the water was lapping at his thighs and ass and tickling his balls as it rushed past him, the current just strong enough to carry him quietly downstream if he surrendered his footing and chose to float on the surface instead.

Alone in the middle of the stream in the midst of a vast, living forest, his dream felt like an immersive alternative to everything around him, like if he squeezed his eyes closed hard enough and opened them again he’d be in that moment instead, the night lit by the full moon now less than two weeks hence. To either side of him, massive, roaring bears, their scents filling his nostrils, his heart hammering as they confronted each other with Max, tall and strong but human, standing between them. Downstream, angry townspeople, guns in hand, eyes cold as flint, as insistent on claiming him as the primordial beasts on either side of him. And just beyond them, the carved-marble blond cashier, who now seemingly lurked on the edges not only of Max’s dreams but his real life, too.

Max frowned, enjoying the pleasant insistence of the cool current sweeping around and between his firm, round thighs. That had to be the part of the dream that confused him the most. He could understand the bears’ feral rivalry, and Max’s role as something between them was clear even if he didn’t understand how or why that had come to be. He could even understand the townspeople’s fear of the bears and the raw potential for destruction and death of which they were innately and inextricably capable. But what part was played by the pale, buff blond who looked like someone had brought an old Greek statue to life? And why was Max, literally, at the center of all of this?

And why did he feel like he belonged here, a place he hadn’t seen in years, a place far from everyone he knew, from video games and binge-watch streaming and any sense of connection to the rest of humanity? He knew there were, what, nearly eight billion people on this planet; but standing here naked in this stream, with the babbling of the water and the wafting of the spruce trees and the occasional chittering of sparrows and chickadees as his soundscape and no scent of any human for miles around, Max felt like this mountain was on some other Earth, one where this mountain was rose above an endless, infinite expanse of pure, unspoiled land. The mountain folk who lived here, connected by something deeper than social bonds, were the only true inhabitants, and even the men from the little town were somehow alien, intruders, maybe, from the other world. It was reassuring to feel that sense of belonging, while at the same time it was so different from what he’s known all his life, and so inexplicable, that Max was unnerved by it—and, for all that he felt that this place was deeply right, even a little afraid.

No humans for miles around, he thought again. Where was Glenn? What was he up to while he left Max to his communion with the mountain? Would he tell him more when he got back? Where was Eamon, and was he the only other “mountain folk” around? Why did he even care about Max? Why did any of them care?

Max looked up at the bright blue sky, framed by the soaring trees, as if expecting to see star-pricked blackness interrupted by a round, white moon. Something was going to happen under the full moon, he was sure of it—but what?

The water laughed and gamboled around his naked, lightly tanned form. He looked down at himself, taking in the hardening muscle, the gentle spread of still-sparse hair, his thick, relentless erection. He was subtly changing up here, and not just physically; and it now occurred to him that he might not have to depend solely on Glenn for enlightenment. Maybe, he thought, his growing awareness would guide him toward understanding who this man was who stood here, warm under the sun and washed by a playful stream, and what it truly meant for him to be of this mountain.

Laundering his and Glenn’s things in the stream was accomplished quickly and with little fuss, and before the sun had climbed much higher beyond the forest canopy he was sauntering back to the cabin, looking for the dead tree he’d spotted on the way out. He found it easily enough, a big old spruce a few feet off the path that must have fallen not in yesterday’s storm but sometime before then.

He set down his basket and considered it for a few moments. Thanks to him and his dad taking turns wood-chopping over the last two weeks, they had a decent supply of cut wood for the stove and logs for the fireplace, which they lit on the nights it got cool enough to enjoy a wood fire. (Max had been pleased to rediscover how it did get a bit cold at night this high up the mountain, even in summer), but Glenn liked to say that folks living on a mountain thought ahead and looked for opportunities. Problem was, the bole of the main trunk was too long and thick to drag back to the cabin; but there were several thick boughs that would saw to good medium-sized logs and would split to a good size for the stove.

Wishing he’d brought a hatchet, Max bent and grasped the nearest of these thick boughs, looking to test the wood’s firmness. It stood straight out from the tree, maybe angled up fifteen degrees or so from the vertical when the tree was standing. Yanking hard on the bough, to his surprise he felt it give slightly before the trunk itself shifted instead. Frowning, Max braced one boot firmly against the trunk and wrenched the bough toward him—only to have the bough snap off the trunk with a loud crack that reverberated through the forest like a rifle shot, sending birds scurrying from the trees above in outrage as Max fell hard on his ass onto the needle-strewn ground, the seven-foot, hand’s-breadth-wide bough clasped in his long-fingered hands.

Breathing a little hard, his muscles flushed and burning, Max clambered to his feet, examining the separated end of the bough and the ripped-apart trunk for signs of rot that might explain the unlikely break; but the wood looked solid and pristine white in both locations. Feeling slightly dazed, Max tossed the bough into the path near his laid-aside wet laundry, then turned back to the tree. There was another, similarly sized bough a foot down the bole and fifteen degrees around. It seemed to be daring him to do the same thing again. Not sure what he expected to happen, Max repeated the procedure: he grasped the bough firmly in both hands, planted his boot firmly on the trunk just below the base of the bough, and yanked back with all his strength. A second later another loud crack was echoing through the forest and his ass was smacking onto the hard-packed earth, this time impacting on a slightly raised tree root that cry out in pained annoyance.

He sat there a moment, breath heaving and butt hurting, feeling the burn in his shoulders, arms and chest, and even a little in the leg muscles he’d used to brace himself with, while he stared at the seriously impressive bough he was holding tight in both hands. Numbly he turned the bough so he could see the end where it had broken off from the trunk, and once again, from what he could tell it looked as clean and healthy as the other one.

He stared at the bough, and then the tree. “Jeez-o-pete,” he whispered to himself. He got to his feet again and, tossing away the bough to join the other, he realized his hands were stinging a little. He looked them over, tsking to himself. They were seriously scraped up, though no actual blood was welling up anywhere. He really should be wearing work gloves when he was going around manhandling trees, he thought, somewhat bemused. The rest of the tree would have to wait for next time; and that would involve gloves and a hatchet and not a lot of extra thought. He returned to the path and, taking up the laundry basket in one hand and the two boughs under the other arm he made his way back to the cabin.

When he got back he cast the boughs against the side of the house near woodpile to saw down later. Setting down the basket he went about reattaching the spooled clotheslines built into the side of the shed to the hooks mounted on the side of the house, ignoring his smarting hands as best he could. Grabbing the the little bucket of clothespins from inside the shed he then set about hanging the jeans, shorts, socks, and shirts to dry, glad today was turning out sunny and not too windy. He had to admit that for all he missed the basic modern amenity of a washer and dryer—and he did miss them, make no mistake—he had to admit that washing his clothes in fresh mountain water, and smelling the mountain on them after they’d dried in the forest breeze, was something he could kind of get used to.

He was pinning up the last item, the baseball shirt he’d worn all the way back on the day they’d arrived here, when the calm susurration of the forest was split open by the roar of an approaching engine. Max grimaced, annoyed at the unnatural intrusion—especially as, since it wasn’t the truck (and Glenn had departed on foot in any case), the noise must presage the arrival of a stranger. And since Eamon seemed to travel on foot as well—he remembered the big man loping up the highway out of town before abruptly sheering away from the road and into the trees—it was most likely one of the town folk, most of whom were solidly in the category of people Max was in no hurry to see again.

The noise cut off abruptly as Max rounded the corner of the big cabin, and his frown evaporated in surprise as he took in the source of the disruption. Climbing off a very sexy Ducati motorcycle parked a few feet from Glenn’s truck was a brawny, leather-jacketed gorilla of a man, with long arms, wide shoulders, a tight waist, thick legs, and a leather-clad basket that all put together made up a shape that seemed very familiar. Max stared as gloved hands removed a candy-apple-red helmet to reveal a grinning, stubbled face Max knew all too well, mostly from looking up at it from a kneeling position while training himself to be the best cocksucker he could be.

Max stood frozen where he was, utterly astounded. “Owen!” he said.

Owen had set his helmet on the back of the bike and was striding toward him, grinning wide and arms open. “Max,” he called back. Max recovered the ability to move, quickly closing the distance between them and clasping his friend in a fierce hug, pulling in a deep breath as they mashed themselves against each other. Owen smelled like nice department-store after-shave, strong coffee, sweat, and the man’s own characteristic, masculine scent. His coarse two-day beard rubbed abrasively against his neck and jaw, a sharp contrast to Glenn’s softer, pelt-like beard.

Max quickly pulled back, but they remained close, hands loosely grasping each other’s waists. “Fuck, you look good,” Owen said. “What are you doing here, O?” Max demanded at the same time. They both grinned, and Owen finally took a step back, looking around at the open splendor of the mountain clearing and the large, cozy cabin beside them.

“I was going nuts in the city, man,” Owen said. Max smiled inwardly—it was funny to talk about their little urbanized corner of Vermont as if it were a sprawling, sky-scraping metropolis. “Dad was riding my ass, and then—well, I got your email, and I just… waved sayonara at the old man, got on my bike, and made my way here.” He grinned at Max, looking him up and down like he wanted a taste. Max elected to ignore the fact that his stiff, thick erection must be incredibly obvious where it lay along his hip in his jeans. “And here I am,” Owen finished, his blue eyes rising to meet Max’s.

“Pretty impulsive,” Max said, feeling very conflicted. He happened to know that Owen was pretty methodical and plan-oriented—except when it came to Max. Their first encounter had been so spur-of-the-moment, Owen had still been texting his buddies he’d be a few minutes late meeting them at the burger shack when Max had first wrapped his lips around Owen’s cut, torpedo-thick shaft. Everyone knew he was gay; and Owen, finding himself randomly alone with Max in the halls after school, had decided those lips must know something about bringing a guy pleasure and had recklessly propositioned him right there in the empty hallway without a second thought. Max had accepted just as quickly, and a moment later they were in the nearest bathroom stall making history.

A few months later Owen indulged another impulse—reciprocation. But even alone with Max, Owen had never let it show that he actually wanted to taste Max’s cock. He always made it seem like it was just returning the favor, like a good bro helping out a bro. And when they hung out, challenging each other on Owen’s endless supply of FPS video games or vocally enjoying the game over beer and pizza, they always hung out like Owen would do with any other bud.

Max had been mostly okay with getting to blow this big, brawny, hairy guy especially the one he was too scared to think about, especially since Owen was nice to him, knowing that Owen was offering his dick to suck, not sensual affection. That hug goodbye at the party had really been the first sign Owen might be capable of more. Then came the email, with words that dripped with wistful yearning for Max. And now, here he was, showing up out of the blue, with a glint in his eye and seemingly ready to pounce.

Max nodded to one side, toward the side porch that faced the forest, and the two of them started walking aimlessly around the front of the cabin. “I like you with long hair. And the beard,” Owen added. “I wouldn’t have thought it, but it really suits you.”

Max shrugged. “It’s kinda patchy,” he said. He wished he was allowed to shave, so he could start it over. “Not and thick and solid, like—um, like yours,” he amended hastily.

“Looks fine to me,” Owen said, and this time the lust in his voice was unmistakable.

Mex wasn’t used to such open interest from his supposedly straight beejay jock. He decided to shift the subject back to what had sent Owen biking into the hills. “Your old man have you working one of the stores?” Max asked.

“Worse, the office,” Owen moaned. Owen’s dad owned a small franchise of five local drug stores, and the management office took up the narrow second floor over the original, and smallest, store not far from their high school. Max imagined Owen, who looked kind of like he was wearing shoulder pads even when he wasn’t wedged into that space with Owen’s short, gruff dad and Owen’s even more diminutive aunt, who handled supplies and shipping. Owen dropped onto one of the steps leading up the the porch on the west side of the cabin. Max dropped down beside him. “I was filing and answering phones and shit so Millie could focus on the ledgers,” he said. “And every fuckin’ day there would be some asshole who got nowhere yelling at the cashiers or the pharmacists or whatever about an expired coupon or some shit, and so they decided to ‘call corporate’ and bitch at us instead.”

Max laughed. “You’re kidding,” he said.

“God’s honest truth, man,” Owen said with a pained expression. “Wall to wall douchecanoes for two solid weeks, and my old man grumping that I hadn’t gotten this three-foot stack of files done because I was too busy being yelled at on the phone. Man, being here, in this place—” He gestured wide to the open wilderness. “It feels amazing. Free, you know? It feels like—like I belong here, in a place like this. I sure as shit didn’t belong in that shitty place.”

“No wonder you ran away,” Max chuckled, slapping him on the back. Owen grinned boyishly. “Did you at least tell him you were taking a vacation day or something?”

“Fuck, are you kidding me? I told him I was fucking quitting,” Owen said. “I went from giving everything I had on the football field, surrounded by friends, even enjoying a lot of my classes, to—that? Fuck, I was dying inside, and I think my old man wanted me to be doing that forever, until he croaked and I got to take over the whole business. Can you imagine?”

“Not even a little bit,” Max said. With four years of college locked in after this summer was done, Max had been able to mostly defer thinking about his long-term career plans in any kind of detail. He wasn’t sure what direction his life would take, but he couldn’t imagine being trapped in a little office like Owen’s dad’s—especially now that he’d discovered the connection he had to the wilderness. “You’re definitely better than that,” he added, meaning it.

“A rat’s better than that,” Owen huffed, staring out toward the treeline. “A serial-killing rat who fucks around and gives his girlfriend-rats STDs and laughs about it is better than that.”

Max snorted. “No arguments from me.”

Owen turned and met Max’s eyes again. Owen was plenty handsome, and the combination of his messy, dark hair, his thick eyebrows and short, dark beard, and his smooth olive skin made those full, red lips and especially those soft blue eyes pop, drawing Max’s attention and making his traitorous erection twitch. He was very close—close enough for Max to finally steal the deep, perfect kiss he’d been wanting from Owen for months and months. He forced himself to lift his eyes from those sweet lips and return Owen’s gaze.

“Max,” Owen said seriously, “I need—well, there’s a lot of things, but mainly I need to get away from my old man. Do you think I could… stay here a day or two? Just ‘til I figure things out.”

Max squinted at him, trying to sort through a hundred warring emotions. The past two weeks had forced him to accept feelings he’d never been willing to admit about his dad. The shirtlessness, the hugging each other close and tight, the ribbing about erections… and last night—criminy, last night they’d even kissed, and then they’d curled up together in the same bed. This morning he’d opened up a fantasy about making love to Glenn that was born of something shared between them, like it was a fantasy they both shared between them.

And yet—what was between the two of them was complicated, wound up with whatever was going on on this mountain. Half of it was beautiful, but half of it felt like it was all drama and secrets. And here was Owen, who was unconsciously letting his own gaze drift down to Max’s mouth, no doubt remembering the simple, serene pleasure it had given him. His dick flexed hard, panting for release, and Max could sense, and smell, that Owen was hard, too. His whole body seemed to flare with roiling want in a visceral, instinctive reaction to Owen’s arousal, like his hormones were on simmer and someone had suddenly turned up the heat. His breathing was getting shallow.

“I mean,” Owen was murmuring distractedly, still staring at Max’s lips, “it’s amazing here, and you look—fuck, Max, you like you belong in a porn video.”

“Thanks,” Max said archly, but he was smiling, and so was Owen.

“You know what I mean,” Owen said. “You look…” he trailed off, raking his gaze down Max’s bare, very defined and lightly hairy torso before lighting on the obvious thick bulge that was eagerly tenting up Max’s left pocket. “…delicious,” he finished finally. Then, his eyes jumped up to Max’s, concerned. “Wait—is your dad, like, around?” He looked around quickly, but there no was sign of anyone. He looked back at Max.

“No,” Max said steadily. “Gone hiking for the day. Won’t be back ‘til dinner.”

A slow, friendly, slightly lascivious grin spread across Owen’s face. Max swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. Max had to get on top of this. “There’s rules,” he said, glancing down at Owen’s leather-concealed torso. “I told you.”

Owen nodded. He’d caught the glance down and his grin brightened, as if he’d figured out from the look and Max’s own shirtlessness what one of the rules might be. Max guessed Owen would have no trouble with that one, and the truth was Owen’s shirtless body was very, very nice to look at, especially if your tastes ran the way Max’s did.

His dick was practically pushing him toward Owen, and Max was finding himself increasingly unable to resist. Maybe he deserved simple pleasure, one last time, before he got too wound up in whatever the mountain had planned for him. This… this, he could be in control of, at least. He could stand up to Owen the way he couldn’t, yet, over Glenn. In the beginning their encounters had all been about taking care of Owen, and even when Owen did start reciprocating sometimes it was always a response to the primary imperative. Max had known he was being used, and he was no longer okay with it.

He shook his head. “I’m not going to blow you,” he said huskily.

The grin faltered, but only for a moment, and Max saw in Owen’s eyes that he’d interpreted Max’s declaration as a very specific exclusion. When he spoke, his voice was soft, almost submissive. “That’s okay,” Owen nodded, those blue eyes boring into his. “I’ve been thinking it’s time I… stopped pretending.”

Owen leaned in then and kissed him. Max let him, even letting himself kiss back. He tried to push all of what was going on out of his head. The other stuff… unnh, this was so much simpler.

He broke the kiss and stared into Owen’s wanton, dilated eyes. They watched each other for long moments, just breathing, as the forest beyond the clearing drifted lazily in the breeze. At levels below conscious thought Max’s mind turned over all the possibilities, and Owen waited, patiently, his muscular warmth palpable from a few inches away even without touch.

Finally Max knew he’d decided the path he was going to take. Owen seemed to sense it, his blue eyes bright and eager, and Max’s lips curved in a small smile. “So—want a beer?” he asked.

Max didn’t know what it was about the beer—but he knew it was something. In retrospect he knew he’d felt it from the beginning. Every night they had the ritual of the stein of beer in the chilled glasses Glenn had brought up with them, and every night as they drank on the porch as the million of stars flared in the blue-black sky Max felt his arousal deepen, curling into his inner being like hot, microscopic fingers. His blood pumped hot and strong, stimulating eager muscles in every part of his body and driving his balls and dick to the brink of release, and his skin prickled, like fertile soil being nourished of sown with seed. His mind seemed to deepen, tendrils of awareness with stone and forest and water and animal winding their way into his unconscious. And with that came awareness of another connection—the strengthening bond between him and the man of his dreams.

It might have all been just his imagination. He and his dad were getting so much closer, and more intimate, just from being up here alone together. The changes in his body could easily be tied just to the physical exertion that was a big part of their daily life on the mountain. And as for the heightened senses and awareness… well, that wouldn’t have much of a natural explanation anyway, and Max was finding himself oddly willing to believe that the mountain itself was involved, and all the things that Glenn wasn’t ready to tell him yet.

All that was probably true, but Max’s gut told him that this beer—this slightly reformulated Kinsman Mountain IPA that didn’t taste quite the way he remembered—was mixed up with it too. He’d been watching for it, and he knew he felt the effect of something within him, infiltrating muscle and flesh and bone and neuron, all while he was drinking the beer that made him so horny that four nights back he’d finally stopped running into the cabin to do what Glenn must have known he was doing and just wrenched his rigid, fat, desperate cock right out of his fly and started almost instantly spitting long streaks of hot, thick cum all over his hard chest and abs, pretending his dad wasn’t in the chair next to him, pretending he wasn’t doing exactly the same thing.

So now, an experiment. The deck chairs on the porch seemed sacred, so they were on the cozy old leather couch in the cabin that sat opposite the unlit hearth, a thin, simple chocolate rug marking out a square area that comprised the couch and the space in front of it as if it were a sort of unwalled room. Owen had already grinningly acceded to the Rules, shucking biker jacket, football jersey, and sweaty V-neck undershirt with almost unseemly alacrity and agreeing with an equally wide smile to not shaving, beer, exercise, hugging, and staying in after dark. Max had just shaken his head, smirking, as he’d parked Owen on the couch and fetched two of the big bombers from the steady supply in the fridge, knowing as he did that his beers always came from this source and not the backup supply in the pantry. He poured each into one of the chilled steins and brought them out to the the little pretend living room.

They sat together, drinking deep, talking about banal events from back home and the post-graduation plans of people Max knew only peripherally, all the time acutely conscious of Owen’s powerful, round, slightly hairy shoulders and thick, veined upper arms resting there the barest inch away from Max’s less impressive versions of same, Owen’s olive skin almost brushing Max’s sun-warmed flesh. Owen kept up a string of conversation, but it was obvious he was getting more and more distracted and increasingly aroused. The iron bar of his hefty, cut cock in his leather biking trousers was even more obvious now than Max’s had been when first he’d come around the house and drawn Owen’s eyes straight down to his crotch.

“Oh, get this,” Owen said, taking a long draft of the beer. He was almost to the bottom of the glass, and Max was not far behind, still eyeing Owen closely. His guest was a little flushed, like every inch of him was turned on, but he was trying to ignore it as he reeled off his own personal newsfeed. Max was genuinely grateful—he hadn’t heard anything from anyone since graduation. “Natalie Shirker is going to West Point! She got in months ago and didn’t tell a damn soul, ‘cause she was sure no one would believe her. Billy Z called her on it, though, and she showed him the letter. Totally legit. She’s gonna be a colonel or some shit!”

“Shit,” Max said, remembering the girl who’s poured beer all over him at that party that seemed like it had taken place years ago, on another planet. “I did not see that coming.”

“Yep,” Owen said. “She blew me once,” he added abruptly. “It—it wasn’t anything as good as yours.” He glanced furtively at Max.

“Thanks,” Max said dryly, watching him. He could feel the beer in him, like always, despite the deviation from the ritual. He thought Owen could feel it too. Certainly Owen, who’d arrived with wistful memories of Max getting him off, had blown way past horny and was rocketing toward urgent need, though he was trying like fuck to play it off. That big, fat bulge in his biker pants twitched and jumped uncontrollably, mimicking the maniacal copilot in Max’s own pants.

“Man, fuck, this beer,” Owen said edgily. He tossed the rest down and let out a sigh, slapping his tight, flat stomach and producing a small belch in response. “Fuck, this beer is wild,” he said. “It’s like… it puts hair on your chest or something.” He scratched his thick carpet of black chest hair as if he meant it literally.

“Like you need it,” Max said, allowing his appreciation into seep into his voice.

Owen gave him a slightly harried look. “Dude,” he said. Then he set the beer stein down on the rug and turned to face him. “Dude,” he said again. “You have to let me.”

Max was swimming with fierce, undeniable arousal, just like Owen, but Max was a little more used to it. He raised an eyebrow incrementally. “Let you what, O?”

“Suck your cock,” Owen panted, unashamed and full of desire.

Max licked his lips. He was already smiling. “What’s the magic word?” he asked.

This was an in-joke between them. The second time Owen had gotten Max alone and instructed him to suck his cock, Max had arched a brow at him and asked him what the magic word was.

Owen now replied with the same words he had then, only this time there was more hunger in his darkened blue eyes than Max had ever seen in them before. “The magic word,” Owen said, matching Max’s grin, “is ‘blowjob’.”

Max slowly set down his stein. It was his turn to be watched, Owen following his every move as he got to his feet and moved his hands to his waistband. Very deliberately, Max popped the button. Owen was leaning forward, his thick tongue was protruding past his full lips, and Max knew his crotch was all Owen saw now.

He grasped the zipper key and slid it down. It was actually a little difficult—his raging boner was stretching the zip a little bit. “Come on,” Owen coaxed in a whisper, sounding almost as if he was unaware he was speaking. Max got the zipper down and pushed his jeans down, freeing his dick as they fell to pool around his boots.

Owen gasped. “Fuck,” he said, reaching up to grasp the weeping, angry-red tool. Max hissed. “Fuck, Max, you’re huge,” Owen said wonderingly. “So thick. Thicker than me, fuck. Was it this big before?”

“Wrap your mouth around it and find out,” Max told him.

Owen needed no further instruction. In one swift movement he fell to his knees in front of Max and took Max’s steel-hard erection deep into his hot, eager mouth. Max almost came on the spot from the intensity of the sensation. “Criminy, O,” he whimpered, his head falling back. He slid his fingers through Owen’s thick, unruly hair, not driving him, just adding to the stimulation they were both feeling.

“I won’t last long,” he panted, then gasped as Owen slid his tongue deftly around the head as he sucked, mimicking a move Max had practiced on him more than a few times. “Unh, oh man,” Max said. “Get yours out, O,” he commanded. “Stroke yourself. You’re going to drive me—oh, fuck!”

Max was driven beyond words as Owen turned everything he’d learned about cocksucking back on his teacher. Wet sounds on hard flesh below told him Owen was bringing himself close to the edge, ready to explode with Max as soon as he was ready. Electric spasms shot through him, waves of head emanating from his groin and flooding through him again and again. “Fuck, O, yeah, like that! Oh, oh god, I’m going to—!”

Gripping Owen’s scalp hard he opened his mouth and let out a loud cry as torrents of hot spunk rocketed from deep inside him up his thick, hard dick and straight down Owen’s throat. Owen gagged, unused to the sensation, and Max pulled back, still shooting into Owen’s hot mouth. Owen was enthusiastically swallowing everything Max gave him, and looking down Max saw that Owen had indeed freed his torpedo cock from its leathery confines and was shooting considerable amounts of cum… all over Max’s jeans and boots. He wasn’t sure whether to laugh or freak out. But them Owen suckled intently at his post-orgasm-sensitive dick, looking up at him with wide, grinning eyes, and Max sucked in a hard breath, almost hurled unwilling into a whole new climax.

Moving his hands down to grasp Owen’s massive shoulders, Max guided him off his cock and up Max’s body. Owen eagerly complied, kissing and licking everything he passed. He didn’t neglect to nibble at Max’s nipple as he rose, causing Max to gasp once again. Then they were kissing hard and deep, Max enjoying the novel taste of his own spunk on Owen’s tongue. They stumbled blindly back onto the couch, unwilling to break free of their kiss, and it wasn’t long before Owen had driven Max so crazy with arousal that a repeat performance was necessary. The cycle then repeated at least once more before Max fell back against Owen’s sweaty, naked, hairy muscle-gorilla torso and dropped into a deep black sleep like a stone released into a fathomless midnight lake.

Owen snapped awake with a start. He sat up from where he’d been snuggling against the still-slumbering Owen and looked around anxiously, his instincts jangling with alarm. The room around them was completely dark: the afternoon was gone and night had fallen. His spinning brain first remembered guiltily the responsibilities he’d neglected. He’d forgotten the coneys, his brain told him. And the stew. He’d forgotten the dinner he’d promised he’d have ready. But it didn’t matter, because it was past dinner time now. Night had fallen, and Glenn hadn’t come home.

Description Maxfield has very mixed feelings about leaving the city and all his tech behind to spend the summer after graduation halfway up a mountain in the family’s backwoods cabin—just him, his dad, and a whole lot of secrets.

Updated20 Oct 2018



More stories like “Love/shift” by Brian Ramirez Kyle