Joseph woke from his sleep and stretched lazily. The wooden bench was hard under his body, but fortunately his head rested on his lumpy pack. He sat up and looked around Union Station. It was empty. No one was there. Maybe they’re closed, he thought.
His memory was hazy and he put his hand to his face. He felt no pain. Maybe it was a dream. He suddenly remembered something he wished he had forgotten for good. He remembered a man, who he trusted to help him, and he remembered the same man hitting him. Then he remembered what seemed like days of abuse by many others. He looked at his wrists where he remembered being bound, but there were no marks or no pain. He felt his cheek where he had been hit and his eyes and mouth that were covered with a sticky tape, but there were no signs of pain or any indication that anything had happened to him at all.
He sat up on the wooden bench and looked down at himself. He was wearing Jon’s boots, the black leather ones that were a little too tight and crunched his toes slightly on his right foot. The other one seems to fit well, he thought curiously. He brushed his hands over the white t-shirt that he was wearing, smoothing it out along his chest and stomach. Feeling the softness of the fabric against the palms of his hands reminded him of how it felt when his hands were on Jon. Jon… there was something about Jon that he couldn’t quite remember. He spoke to Jon… no, he told Jon… no wait.
He remembered his prayer to Jon and then…
He looked around panicking. Where are all the people? He got up and ran to the door leading outside, and with all his might he threw open the door and stumbled through into exactly the same room he had been in a fraction of a thought earlier. He looked back at the door as it closed behind him and saw the same room behind him. He looked across the building, overwhelming in its enormity and ran again for the door at the opposite end of the huge hall. He slowed as he approached and stopped with his hand on the bar across the door that reminded him so much of the doors at school when he was younger. He pushed hesitantly and looked through the door and into the same room he was standing in. He shut the door quietly and turned back to look into the room.
On the bench that he occupied when he woke, and the same one he ran past a few seconds ago sat a man – a very old man. A man who, even though he was far enough away that Joe couldn’t work out all of the details of his features, radiated both power and love to such an extreme that it was difficult to look directly at him. He almost glowed in it. He approached the bench and it’s occupant tentatively, and noticed the man was looking at him with an expression of admiration and gentleness.
"Who are you?" Joseph asked, but knew the answer already.
The man smiled a kindly smile and said, "Who do you think I am, Joseph?"
Joseph swallowed and started to cry. He reached the far end of the bench and slid to his knees, pushing his chin toward his chest and said in deference, "I think your God." The tears slid down his face, ran off his cheeks and splashed on the marble floor beneath him.
"You're a very smart boy Joseph. I have been called many things, and some do call me God. Come here and sit beside me." He patted the wooden seat beside him and Joseph obeyed by moving off the floor, approaching the old man and sitting beside Him. He noticed the hand that had patted the bench, that was now resting comfortably on the lap of the old man. It was gnarled, and the skin looked paper thin and covered with spots of age. He couldn’t bare to bring himself to meet the man’s eyes.
"Did you bring me here?" he asked
"Yes Joseph, I did. I heard your prayer, and I knew that you needed me… and in truth, I needed you as well."
“You saved me.” Joseph said in awe, “and you healed my wounds – even the one in my heart.”
The man was silent, thinking to himself. “I granted your request Joseph.” He signed deeply and looked at Joseph through sad, tired eyes.
“Does that mean……?”
“Yes Joseph… it means that you died that day in the shed, behind this very building.” He looked around the empty space and up to the stone ceiling. “It’s been almost three months time in the world since I heard you.”
“Three months!” Joseph was shocked,and he heard his own voice inside his head. God… if you can hear me, please… let me die now. I can’t go through this any longer. “Three months," he repeated, "but what about Jon?”
“Jonathon knows that something is wrong, but he doesn’t know what, and he is hurting very much right now.”
“Can I go to him? Just once... to tell him that everything is okay?”
“That would be very difficult Joseph. You see, those people that are living have a very hard time when they realize that they are with those that have died.”
Joe thought hard about his situation. “Sir?”
"You said earlier that you had need of me. Why would you have need of me?"
"I would like to ask you to do a favour for me."
"Me? But I can't do anything," and Joseph looked down as he felt the same shame that he had for felt for many years. His father's voice rang out in his memories. You're good for nothing, you hear me? You’re good for nothing!
God smiled down at Joseph. Something that made him feel much better than he thought possible. "Do you know that I once knew someone else named Joseph,” he said. “He was very dear to me, and you remind me of him. Like you he was always thinking of others, and like you, he had a gift for bringing people together."
"But I don't know how to bring people together, Sir."
"You may not think you have this gift Joseph, but trust me when I say to you that you have it. All it needs is a little encouragement to come out.”
“What do I have to do… to make it come out?”
“Well that’s the best part of this gift Joseph. You don’t have to do anything at all. You just be yourself. The way you were created. If you do that, then you will do just fine. You see Joseph, your father was wrong. You can do something very special that no one else can do. This is why I need you.”
“What can I do?” Joseph asked God.
“You can make two people open their eyes."
"And what will they see when their eyes are open?"
The old man smiled at him. "That’s a very good question Joseph. They'll see the greatest thing that they could ever hope to see. They'll see love, like they’ve never seen it before."
“I saw love once.”
“Yes you did, my dear boy, and I believe you will see it again.”
“I don’t want to see it again, Sir. Not if it means that I can’t see Jon.”
God nodded thoughtfully. “Hmmm... well then, I guess that I will have to promise to do a favour for you, if you do this favour for me.”
Joe saw his opportunity to see Jon again. “Then I will do this for you, but where do I start?”
“You will take the journey that you were meant to take, and you will meet a boy. His name is Charles. Be his friend, just by being who you are Joseph. By being all that you were created to be. When you reach your destination, you will return to me and I will have one more task for you. After your second task is finished, you will stay with me, and then …”
“Well, then we will have to bring to back to Jonathon, because he is waiting for you, and by the time you see him again, he will need to see you very much.”
Joe felt his hope return suddenly, and with it the tears welled in his eyes again. “God?”
“You can call me Joe. Jonathon calls me Joe, and I don’t think he’d mind.”
God smiled at Joseph. “Thank you Joe, I’d like that very much. Sleep now, and when you wake, everything will feel much better, and you will remember that you have a task to accomplish before we see each other again.”
An overwhelming sense of exhaustion came over Joe and he moved back down the bench to where his pack was waiting for him, and settled his head once more on top of it’s lumpy surface and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. The old man sat and watched over Joe for some time before fading away, and with his disappearance came the noise of hundreds of people as they made their way to and from the trains of Union Station.
Joe woke and was surrounded by many people. He stretched and felt better than he had in a long time. He made his way to the counter to buy his ticket to Vancouver, and headed out to the train, which was waiting to leave in fifteen minutes. He checked his boarding pass and made his way onto the train and to the small cabin. He opened the door and his eyes settled on a tall, skinny boy with light colored hair and an amazing smile.
“Hey there,” the boy said, getting up from the small chair in the cabin, “are you my bunk mate?”
“I guess so,” said Joe.
“The name’s Charles Bowman,” he stuck his hand out toward Joe.
“Joseph Sterling,” Joe offered his own hand in return. “Call me Joe.”
“Call me Charles,” they both laughed as they shook hands. “You going far?” Charles asked.
“The end of the line apparently.”
“Great, me too!” Charles responded enthusiastically, which got him a big smile from Joe. His face colored slightly before he continued in a rush. “I’ve never been on a train before, and now I got stuck on this thing going across the entire country and for four provinces there was hardly a soul aboard. Now I get a room mate, kind of exciting really!”
Joe laughed and Charles kept talking. Slowly, Joe became enamored with the bubbly boy that talked faster than anyone that Joe had met before, and invited himself to sit on Joe’s bunk when he climbed up to the second bed to get out of the way in the small cabin.
“So I just came from Halifax. Have you ever been to Halifax? It’s a great city. It reminds me of a city all of the way across the country. Have you been to Victoria, it’s on Vancouver Island, you know the big island off the coast of BC? Well of course you know that. I live in Vancouver, but my brother moved to Halifax when he was 21, so sometimes in the summer, we would go and visit him there. He’s nearly 12 years older than me so he’s more like an uncle than a brother…”
Joe interrupted the flow of streaming words coming at him with a smile. “Are you gonna breath Charlie?”
Charles stopped, and didn’t really pick up the intention of Joe’s question. “Call me Charles. I don’t really like the name Charlie, it makes me sound like a kid again, and I just turned 16. How old are you? You look a little older than me. You must be like 17?”
Listening to Charles, Joe didn’t stop smiling. He couldn’t help himself. He was lulled into Charles’ world as he heard about the dog he had back home, his mother and father, who he really liked, his older brother who he really looked up to, and his school and the friends he had at school. On and on Charles spoke about his life, and then started asking questions about Joe’s life. He didn’t have the heart to talk about the negative aspects of his life, he didn’t want to see any pain in the eyes of this boy who looked at the world with such wonder. He had never met anyone like Charles before. He was completely different from everyone.
Late the second night, after a full day of non-stop talking and laughing, when they were stopped for a few minutes to pick up passengers, Joe and Charles decided to step off the train, stretch their legs and get some air. It was cold and dark, and they walked along the concrete platform that ran beside the train and curved it’s way around the now-closed station. As they walked their way out of sight of the train, Joe’s thought’s turned to a very dark and not too distant memory. He shivered as images flashed into his mind.
Charles noticed a sudden change in his friend’s mood and watched him shiver from the cold. He unzipped his coat and put it over Joe’s shoulders. Joe stopped and looked at him intently, hugging Charles’ coat to himself.
“Why did you give me your coat Charles?”
“Because you were cold, and I didn’t want you to be cold.”
“Why would you care about how cold I am?”
Charles blushed, and was thankful it was dark outside, the only light came from a street lamp that hung from a short pole on the platform. “I just noticed you shiver, and thought that since you only had a t-shirt on, and I had a sweater, that you could use my coat.”
Joe smiled. “You’re a sweet guy Charlie.”
Charles blushed furiously, and hung his head. “Call me Charles,” he laughed and Joe laughed along with him.
When their laughter died they stayed rooted to their spots and slowly met each other’s eyes. Joe swallowed, and looked very serious suddenly. He moved forward and breathing out a cool cloud of air in the night, he slowly brought his lips toward Charles.
Charles backed up a step and looked at Joe in fear. Joe moved forward again, very slowly and very gently and brought his face only an inch away from Charles' and stopped.
“I’d like to kiss you Charles,” he whispered.
Charles, very nervously, nodded and closed his eyes and met Joe’s kiss with an eagerness of a lifetime of held back feelings. Joe retreated a little and watched Charles’ dreamy expression, he still had his eyes closed.
“What do you see Charles?” Joe whispered.
“I see stars, Joseph, and their beautiful.” He slowly opened his eyes and stared intently at Joe who was struck by his innocent beauty. Tears formed in Charles’ eyes and Joe did the only thing he knew to comfort another human being. He brought his palm up to Charles’ cheek and felt the warmth of his skin.
Charles responded by bringing his hand up to cover Joe’s and slowly brought his gaze up to look into the large blue orbs that Joe looked at the world through. “You really are cold." Charles said, looking at him in concern. "Thank you,” he whispered to Joe.
“For being you Joseph, and letting me be who I am.”
The train let out a loud gush of air indicating it was time to leave. The boys broke their stare at each other, and ran back to hop aboard.
After that first kiss on the platform they locked themselves in their cabin for the rest of their journey and explored who they were even further. The morning came when they knew they would have to part, and Charles was desperate for a way to hang on to his new friendship.
“Joseph?” He shook Joe slightly and watched him bring himself out of sleep. He marveled at the way his blond hair hung over his eyes and when he opened them, the light filtered through his hair and made the blue even brighter.
Joseph sighed with a content smile and then stretched against the naked body of his friend. He brought his arms around Charles and pulled him into a tight hug.
“Yes, Charles?” he moaned sleepily.
“Will you come and see me soon?”
Joe looked away from his hopeful eyes and felt tears come up to his own.
Charles knew what it meant, and it almost broke his heart. “Please don’t cry Joseph, I don’t want to see your beautiful eyes shed any tears today.”
Joseph looked back toward Charles and held his tears at bay. “How do you do that?” he asked with a smile.
“Make me feel like the most important person in the world.”
Charles smiled, “Well… you are the most important person in my world.” Charles lost any insecurity he had with Joe after their first kiss, and he brought his mouth to Joe’s and kissed him with a passion that he had never felt in his life.
They dressed in silence and packed their things. After the train stopped at the station, and after waiting for everyone else to get off so they could stay together for as long as possible, they kissed one last time in the privacy of their cabin, and then made their way off the train and onto the platform. The platform was almost empty and Charles set his bag down and asked Joe to watch it for him. He ran over to one of the Porters that was busy unpacking bags from a luggage cart and spoke with him briefly, pointing back to where Joe stood. The Porter nodded and came back with Charles who was wearing a big grin.
Confused, Joe watched Charles pull out a large case from his bag, and out of the case he brought a very expensive camera.
“This is suppose to be my dad’s gift from my brother, but I don’t think he would mind if I took a picture of me and a new friend.”
Joe smiled and posed in front of the run down building that was the back of the train station in Vancouver. They had their arms over each other’s shoulders. Joe wearing his big smile, and Charles was smiling lovingly at his friend. Charles thanked the Porter and told Joe he had to go and get a cab. He walked around the corner to the front of the building and Joe felt the world dissolve around him as he disappeared.
When Charles returned, he saw his bag sitting on the platform, and Joseph was nowhere to be seen. The tears came as he realized that he would never see his friend again. He looked down at the case inside his bag that held his dad’s camera, and sighed knowing that at least he would have that to remember Joseph. That picture would stay with Charles for the rest of his life. Fifty years from this day it will have made it’s way into a frame and will sit within a group of other photos on the wall of a small room, in a moss covered house in Horseshoe Bay, and will be discovered by a very excited young man.
The old man was sitting beside him, humming softly. They were sitting on a wooden bench inside a deserted Union Station in Toronto.
“What’s that song?” Joseph asked.
“Oh it’s a very popular song today Joe, a woman named Pink sings it, you may hear it as you go about your next task.”
“Pink?” Joe asked confused. “But that’s not a name Sir, it’s a color.”
“So it is, so it is,” the old man nodded and began humming once more.
“What will I do next, Sir?”
The man stopped humming and turned to Joe. “The same thing you did on your last task Joe. You will board the train going to your destination, and you will meet a young man name Charlie Bowman.”
Joe looked at him curiously, “But I just met Charlie Bowman.”
“No, you met Charles Bowman, this is Charlie Bowman, but they’re very similar.”
“Charles was nice.”
“Yes, he is nice, and so is Charlie. When you arrive at your destination, just like before, you will find yourself back here with me, and then our work will be done.”
“Will I get to see Jon then, Sir?” Joe asked eagerly.
God laughed, “Yes Joe, then you will get to see Jon. Oh, and one final thing Joe. Time has passed some since you and I have been sitting here talking, don’t be afraid of what you see when you step into the world again, everything will be okay.”
Joe felt all the love that the old man radiated, and closed his eyes to sway in its warmth.
When he opened his eyes again, Joe was standing with his pack on his shoulder, in front of a door, aboard a moving train. He opened the door and looked at the boy that was lying in the top bunk reading. “Guess we’re bunkmates,” he said and threw his bag into the lower bunk. “What’re ya reading?” he asked looking at the book in the boy’s hands.
“Ah… nothing much, just a book for school.”
“I hate school. I don’t go much,” Joe lied as he climbed into the bottom bunk. He felt an old shame, but dismissed it quickly as he lay back in his bunk and shut his eyes.
“Don’t your parents mind that you don’t go to school?” he heard the question from above.
Joe didn’t want to pursue the line of conversation. “Don’t really care if they do.”
Joe heard the boy quietly lean over the edge of the upper bunk. When he opened his eyes, the boy was looking him up and down. He felt his pulse begin to race.
“I’m Charlie,” the boy said weakly.
Joe looked back at him, a slow smile spreading on his lips. He sat up using both his arms behind him to hold himself up. “I knew a guy named Charlie once, although he didn’t like being called Charlie, but he was nice.” He remembered his last train-ride fondly. “I’m Joseph, Joe for short.”
They talked into the night and eventually Charlie fell asleep above Joe, and Joe lay in his bunk thinking on the one boy that he was desperate to see again. God had promised him that Joe would be able to see Jon when he was finished this last task. He had no doubt he could make good on that promise, given that Joe knew that he had already died, and here he was travelling it seemed forward in time, as the gadgets that Charlie had were nothing like he’d ever seen before. Four days, and he would see Jon. His heart beat faster, just thinking about him. His sorrow rose, as well as his anger, as he remembered the last time he had seen his best friend.
Jon’s legs had been badly hurt by Joe’s brother’s when he had distracted them from Joe, and gave him the opportunity to escape from being hunted down and beaten by his own father. Joe wasn’t sure that he would have been able to survive another beating from his father, and although he loved Jon for the sacrifice that he’d made, he hated his family for what they had done to the one he loved most in this world. Growing restless, Joe decided he needed to get out of the tiny cabin and got up silently. He watched the sleeping Charlie in his top bunk. He smiled as he watched and discovered just how attractive the boy was under his dark hair and pale skin. Poor fellow looks like a vampire that has never seen the light, Joe thought to himself affectionately as he slipped out of the cabin and shut the door behind him.
Joe walked aimlessly down the corridor of the train, swaying slightly back and forth with the rhythm of the tracks and the noise as the cars rolled over the seams in the steel. He passed through a number of cars until he came to one that had a glass ceiling. Joe was stunned by the thought of a glass ceiling on a train, and grinned to himself as he made his way almost to the front of the car. No one was in the car and there were no lights on this late, so he found one of the empty seats, slunk down in it’s softness and stared at the stars that were shining ever so brightly through the glass ceiling. Seeing them reminded him of Charles and how he turned his head to the sky and saw stars after being kissed for the first time by another boy. Joe enjoyed knowing he had sent Charles on a path of discovering who he was, and he would always love him as a result. It didn’t feel at all like he was betraying the trust of the one he loved the most. Jon would agree that he needed to help Charles in that moment, and the time they shared had naturally developed a love between them, but it couldn’t hold a candle to what he had with Jon.
Joe didn’t know how long he had stayed there with his eyes closed, but as he was pondering the question he sensed a presence behind him, and knew it could only be one bundle of nervous energy.
“You gonna sit down?” Joe spoke and startled Charlie, who jumped and gave a small yelp. Joe smiled knowing he had caught Charlie looking at him again. He rather liked the longing that Charlie obviously had for him.
“Oh hey, I didn’t know if that was you or not.”
“So you gonna sit down?” Joe repeated, keeping his eyes closed.
“Ah, ya, okay.” Charlie slipped into a seat, not next to Joe, but the one over from that.
Joe smiled again, opened his eyes and looked at Charlie intensely. He got up from his seat and took the empty seat between them and resumed his previous position with his head back on the seat and his eyes closed.
“What are you doin?” Charlie asked.
“Looking at the stars.” Joe replied thinking of Charles again.
“But your eyes are closed.”
Joe smiled ever so slightly. It would have been missed if Charlie hadn’t been staring intently at his lips. He took a deep breath and looked at Charlie again. “You don’t need to open your eyes to see the beautiful things in life Charlie.”
Charlie smiled and gave a small laugh, “Ya, I guess so,” he stammered. He leaned back in the same position that Joe had resumed and joined him with closed eyes, staring at the stars.
“Can you see them, Charlie?” Joe asked quietly.
“No, all I see is the blackness inside my own head.”
Joe chuckled. “No Charlie, you have to look beyond your own blind spots and imagine the stars in the night sky. Look at them Charlie, they’re there just waiting for you.” Joe watched Charlie, and was overcome with the need to kiss him. He leaned over and pressed his lips against Charlie’s and felt him respond hesitantly. Joe’s heart responded to Charlie’s lips and he searched tentatively with his tongue. Joe could feel Charlie respond as well and knew his body was beginning to feel the fire of desire deep down. They continued their kiss for some time, tasting and worshiping each other. Eventually, they broke their connection and Joe sat back and looked at Charlie in the darkness.
“Did you like that Charlie?” he asked
“Very much.” Charlie breathed quietly.
“I liked it very much too.” Joe spoke softly and brought his fingers up to brush them lightly against Charlie’s cheek and down the side of his jawline. Charlie trembled and moved forward to meet Joe’s lips again.
Someone that worked on the train interrupted them and he wanted them to leave the car they were in. Apparently, after a certain hour this car was off limits to the passengers. They headed back to their cabin, and Joe felt like he wanted Charlie to know that he cared about him. He reached back and took his hand in his.
Joe loved holding Charlie’s hand. It gave Joe a sense of purpose and meaning to be with Charlie, and holding his hand felt like he was guiding Charlie to somewhere where he needed to be. Joe could tell that their experience on the observation car had been the first time Charlie had kissed someone, and Joe knew that it couldn’t be the last. He took every opportunity to look into Charlie’s eyes, to hold his hand, and to press their lips together when they weren’t doing anything else with them.
Their time together had almost come to an abrupt end, but Charlie had saved his skin from being thrown off the train by actually purchasing the ticket he needed to be on the train. Later that evening when Charlie was off in the bathroom, Joe looked at the price of the ticket and nearly had a heart attack. It was far more than Joe could have ever afforded!
Their trip secure once again, they had taken to walking around the cars while holding hands, and in this regard at least, it seemed Charlie was the more comfortable of the two boys. Once Charlie discovered an outlet for the love that he had inside, he took every opportunity to express it, even if they were around others. Although Joe felt somewhat uneasy, he knew this was what Charlie needed, and he cared about him enough that he hung onto Charlie regardless of who was around. Some people whispered quietly to each other about the two boys holding hands, but to Joe’s surprise no one ever confronted them. In fact, when they were holding hands on top of the table in the dining car, the woman serving them actually smiled and told them they made a cute couple. Joe looked to see Charlie beaming up at her and he couldn’t have been happier for his friend.
Both boys were in complete bliss and Joe found himself falling for Charlie the way he did with Charles. He loved Charlie in a way that was separate from both Jon and Charles. He was special in his own unique way, and he realized that helping Charlie to love him, was helping Charlie to discover himself and to love himself. Joe felt a freedom that he had rarely felt in his life on the farm, and began to consider what that meant. Here he was helping two people discover something about themselves, that they each shared the same name, and the same attraction to other boys, and the same problem of not knowing themselves; and yet, how was Joe any different? He hid who he was from his family, and from his community, and how was that helping him discover who he was?
Three days later, Joe untangled himself from the grasp on his new friend, while he was still fast asleep. He knew Charlie would be upset when he realized that Joe was gone, but Joe was careful not to make Charlie any promises. He had someone that was waiting for him, and he planned on making it back in time for that meeting. He left Charlie a note, shrugged on his backpack and felt his surroundings fade into nothing.
Union Station was empty. The big clock that hung in the middle of the ceiling with the times of various locations around the world all sat still in mid-tick. Not even the dust moved across the floor. Time suspended Joseph Sterling sat and waited for the one he knew would appear shortly.
Joe was nervous. He knew the time was drawing near when he would see Jon, but he didn’t know what he would say to explain his absence, or how Jon would react when he saw him.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about what Jon will think. He’s waiting for you and he needs you close.” The old man was sitting beside Joe, who didn’t even see him appear. He was just there.
“Is he alright, Sir?”
“Oh yes, he’s fine. He’s missing you and he’s waiting for you.”
“Thank you for letting me see him one last time.” Joseph hung his head and wanted to cry. He knew that he asked for an opportunity to see Jon again, but once it happened, he would still be dead and he would go elsewhere. Where he would go he didn’t know, but he didn’t really care right now either, he wouldn’t be with Jon.
“Joe,” the old man said quietly, “do remember when you asked me to allow you to die?”
“Yes Sir… I regret that now, because what I really wanted was release from the pain that I was in. I should have thought of that and prayed for something different.”
God nodded thoughtfully. “Perhaps, but I granted you your prayer and you died. I fulfilled my duty to you. Now you must fulfill your duty to me and to Jon.”
Joe looked at the old man and felt his confusion begin to rise. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that it’s not your job to figure out how to die Joe, it’s your job to figure out how to live.”
“I’d like to be able to do that, Sir.” Joe said humbly.
“I know Joe, and I am going to give you that chance.” Joe’s tears began to stream down his cheeks. “We will see each other again Joe, but not for many years. Do you know what you have to do when you return?”
Joe thought about the question asked of him. “I have to live my life for me and for the one person I love more than anything in this world.”
God smiled. “You see Joe, your task, although it will help two people see themselves and each other clearly for the first time, also showed you what it meant to live the way you are meant to live.”
Joe couldn’t stop sobbing and buried his face in his hands. As his tears spilled out, so with them spilled the shame that he had carried around for too many years. He became exhausted, and lay his head gently in the lap of God, who soothed him with an old hand stroking his hair softly, and telling him that he was loved.
Joe woke as if from a very deep sleep, and was disoriented. He was cold and could see his breath in the morning sun that was streaming through a window. He slowly rose from his hard bed and looked around the small shed that was at the back of his family property. He heard a loon calling on the pond behind the shed, and it made him feel good. He had been sleeping under a horse blanket and had a lumpy bag of oats for a pillow. Joe thought back over his experiences over the last days, and he realized that God had given him a second chance. Jon. The name surged into his thoughts.
He threw the blankets off of himself and raced out of the shed running the path to the edge of the property and up toward the neighbor’s house - Jon’s house. It took him a couple of hours of steady running, and walking to catch his breath, to make it to the back of his boyfriend’s home. It was just passed noon by the look of the sun, and he was breathing hard. He tried to figure out how many days he was gone. It had taken him two days to get to Toronto, he was stuck behind Union Station for maybe four days he guessed, the old man told him that it had been almost three months before he was brought back to the train station, and then he had gone on two four-day trips. 100 days by his reckoning. Jon had told him he would be out of the casts in a couple of months – he felt his anger rise at the thought of seeing Jon’s legs the last time he was here. He felt an anxiety rise within him as well. What if Jon had moved on? What if he found someone else at school, or was angry with him for not writing? How would he explain that he had died, been resurrected, helped two people find themselves, and had taken the same train trip twice since he had left? Even Joe had a hard time believing it.
He made his way to the tree behind the house, easily hopped up to the first floor roof, and made his way along the roof until he crouched beside Jon’s window. It was open slightly, and he heard music drifting out. He peered through the window and saw Jon lying on his bed. He was on his stomach and had himself propped up on his elbows and his nose was in a book resting on his pillow. He legs were bent behind him, his feet crossed at the ankles. He was perfect, and he crouched there for a minute just watching the boy he loved.
He tapped lightly on the window and got the attention of the one he wanted most to see in the world. Jon looked up and spotted him, a large grin instantly caught his mouth and he flew off of the bed and opened the window.
“Christ Joe, where the hell have you been?” He grabbed Joe and pulled him through the window, embracing him in a crushing hug. Joe squeezed back just as hard and felt his tears stream down his face.
Jon noticed immediately that Joe was crying and held him tight. “It’s okay babe, I’m so glad you’re okay, I was worried sick.” He stepped back and looked Joe up and down. “Damn you look good in my clothes Joe!”
Joe laughed through his tears, “Well you’ve seen me in them before.”
“No I haven’t the last I saw you, you grabbed my pile of clothes and ran out the back of the barn, I only got to see your naked ass running! You’re lucky I grabbed everything of yours and made it out of there before your dad saw me!”
“What?” Joe was suddenly confused and grew quiet.
“Joe are you okay?” Jon was concerned and once again moved closer to him taking his hands and looking deeply into his eyes.
“Jon… how long have I been gone?”
“What do you mean?” Jon’s concern was deepening, but he could tell Joe needed to hear the answer. “Two nights babe. Your father must be shitting himself! But two nights ago we were in the barn … you know…” he blushed, “and when we heard your dad coming, you told me to run, and in your sprint out the door you accidently grabbed my shit! I had to pick yours up and hightail it outta there before your dad found me.”
Jon was stunned, “He didn’t catch you? Or my brothers?”
“No baby, they didn’t. I thought I was following you, but lost you in the woods somewhere. I didn't want to yell for you, so I just came back here and waited. Where have you been?”
“Ah… it’s a long story, but I was at the back of the property line in the shed where we keep the supplies.”
Jon nodded. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Joe didn’t know what to think. Had he dreamed the whole thing? It didn’t feel like a dream, but Jon certainly wasn’t missing him for over three months. “Ya babe,” he smiled, “I’m just fine, now that you and I are together again.” He took Jon’s face in his hands and lovingly kissed him.
“Wow,” Jon said dreamily, "apparently absence does make the heart grow fonder!”
They both laughed and continued to hang on to each other a little bit tighter than they ever had before.
The morning air was fresh, it had rained here the night before, and the drops of damp still hung in the morning air. Two pigeons were happily pecking away at the seed that an old man sitting at a bench was occasionally throwing on the ground from the bag that sat beside him. His old hands were like paper, and if you looked you could see the spots on them that denoted his age. He wasn’t looking at anything in particular. In fact, as he sat on the bench absently reaching into his bag of bird seed and strewing its contents on the path in front of him, he watched three scenes in his minds eye that were happening at that very moment.
On a porch in 2012, a grandfather who just discovered how much he had in common with his grandson, was reminiscing with himself about a train ride he had taken many years ago. On that train he had met the boy, who he now saw in the picture, that he held in his hand. He remembered the blue eyes, the tussled blond hair, and the way he wore his jeans with the cuffs folded up. As he was looking at the two young men in the picture, he thought about the look of love that each of them had in their eyes. Then he thought of his own grandson, who earlier in the evening had told him something very important that would bring the two of them together in their future, and offer them both something they needed in their lives – each other.
In that same moment, as his grandfather sits in his chair on the porch, the boy is in his bedroom upstairs. Lying on his bed, he is looking through the pictures that he took on his phone over the past four days. One is of a blond haired, blue-eyed boy in the observation car aboard a train, pretending to play air guitar with only one ear bud connected to the phone that was taking the picture. In the second, the boy was eating breakfast and trying to hide from the camera, not knowing that he had ketchup on his nose from the eggs that he had just taken a bite of, and the last picture was of that same boy sleeping peacefully in the bunk they shared on the last night that they were together. His eyes were closed, but he had a look of pure contentment on his peaceful face. He suspected, that like his grandfather, he would never see the boy again, but he was overjoyed that he had the opportunity to meet him for four amazing days.
Elsewhere, in a small room in 1962, just outside of Windsor, Ontario, two 16 year-old boys had just found each other again, and they spent time embracing, kissing each other and making plans in whispered voices about their future together. It would take them two more years to save the money that they needed to leave their homes and make one of their own, but they would settle down with each other eventually, and live the life they both deserved.
The old man focused his vision back on the two small pigeons that were pecking their way through the seed that he had thrown on the ground a few moments earlier. Both were male pigeons. He knew that they were together; he knew the day they met at the little pond, and the way that they had cared for each other over the past winter, and he knew that they had made a long journey together to get to this park, on this day. We all do what we are created to do he thought to himself as he smiled, and slowly as he had done countless times before, he faded from this world.