"This totally sucks! Why can't I stay here for the summer?"
"You're going and that's final. Your dad and I have already discussed it and made the decision."
"Why is it that whenever there is a decision about my life, that there is never any discussion with me? This is totally unfair, mom!"
"I don't see what the big deal is. You've been there before and your grandfather really needs you there this summer to do some things around the yard."
"You wouldn't see what the big deal is because you are never there! And the so-called yard! It's a forest mom, not a yard, and he mows it with a lawnmower! The dude is crazy!"
"Charlie really, stop over reacting. It's been decided."
"But what about hanging out with my friends this summer?"
"We both know you have no friends Charlie."
And there, in all its brutality, was the truth. And she chose to slap him across the face with it.
That was three days ago, but really the conversation ended years earlier. Charlie Bowman knew that when it was first brought up. His parents were leaving for the summer - again. Another trip that he wasn't welcome on. It sucked when your parents didn't really care about you and just left with you relatives whenever they went anywhere. Sure they always talked about taking a trip to Disneyland for a week, but it never happened. He just gave up eventually when he'd been heartbroken over and over again. They tried to prevent him from knowing what they were doing, telling him that it was a business trip for his dad, but when they came home they would tell their friends stories of the trip they were on and Charlie would listen at the top of the stairs, no one knowing he was there.
When he was eight was the only time his parents agreed to take him camping. Charlie had spent two months doing chores and saving up his money to buy a fishing rod and tackle. He spent what he had left over on marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers and he was going to make his parents s'mores over the fire; whenever he watched a movie where the kids went to camp for the summer, they would always make s'mores. They arrived at a lake and his parents started fighting about how to put up the tent. An hour later, when his dad couldn't get the fire started, they got into the car, left everything behind, and ended up in some fancy hotel where his mom could drink by the pool and his dad hung around the hotel business center waiting for another conference call for work. He never got to put the thin gleaming blue fishing line on the spool that he so wanted to do. That trip was supposed to be different, but it was never different.
Charlie was on his bed thinking how horrible his life was. He had no friends; on that point his mom was right. He moved so many times in his life that he never really attached to anyone or anyplace. Charlie was almost sixteen, and he'd never been kissed. He'd never had so much as anyone look at him in a way that they seemed interested in wanting to even be his friend. He was alone, and his parents sucked, and summer would suck, and in three weeks he would spend another birthday with some old guy that he barely knew, and as usual his mom and dad would forget that they even had a son for two months of the year.
He put his headphones on and shut the world out. Listening to Paramore he couldn't hold back the tears, and they slid silently down the sides of his face. Deciding he needed a break from his misery, he picked up the tune in his headphones mid song and sang softly.
"Maybe I know, somewhere deep in my soul"
"That love never lasts"
"And we've got to find other ways to make it alone"
"Or keep a straight face"
"And I've always lived like this"
"Keeping a comfortable distance"
"And up until now I had sworn to myself that I'm content"
"Because none of it was ever worth the risk"
"But you are the only exception"
"You are the only exception"
"You are the only ….."
He was in the stands of the competing team's gymnasium. He saw the perfect features, the soft pink lips, and the round green eyes. He saw the way his hair bounced when he ran. The way he moved. The way he jumped. He saw how he dominated on the basketball court, and the congratulations from the team offered him when the final basket was in. He saw James. He saw him look right at him and knew this would be the day. James called his name as he came up to Charlie with a look of pure love. He started shaking Charlie and calling out to him …
"Charlie… Charlie!" He woke up with his mom taking off his headphones. "It's almost time to leave, and you haven't even packed anything for your trip. There's a suitcase that your father brought up from the garage, he left it in front of your door. We're leaving in 30 minutes, so hurry up. And wash your face, you're a mess."
Charlie reached up and wiped at the dried tearstains streaked down both of his cheeks.
Rocking back and forth as it slid between its tracks, the noise of the steel welds eventually blended into the scenery. Endless trees, endless fence posts, endless roads, endless lights, all slipped by as Charlie's train made it's way out of Toronto. He had been onboard for nearly thirty minutes and was reading the book that he had read sixty-three times before. The Cat From Outer Space started as necessity for Charlie when he was eight years old and took out his first ever library book on the mandate of his homeroom teacher. He needed a book to read in class when he was finished his work and waiting for the bell to ring. The book had seen better days, almost every page had a bent dog-ear on the corner where he had stopped reading at one time, and the art on the cover was worn and faded. But Charlie would never part with this particular book, no matter how beat up it was. Now, eight years later, he had started it for the sixty-forth time, and felt as lost as it's main character. His ship had crashed on an alien world, and all he wanted was to go home. That's all Charlie ever wanted his whole life, just a place to call home.
He was in one of the many cabins aboard The Canadian, a Via Rail passenger train that made its way from Toronto to Vancouver where his grandfather lived. They left in the late evening, and although Charlie could make out some of the features of the landscape beyond the small windows, he mostly saw his own reflection as the lights were on in his cabin. Charlie had demanded to go by train, as it would take almost four days for the journey versus five hours on a plane, and he wanted the time to be alone and dreaded meeting his grandfather again. He also wanted to make his parents pay for the fact that they were shipping him off for the summer while they were going on a vacation, and this was the most expensive fare he could find to the West Coast.
He was lying on his back in the top of the two bunks that occupied his cabin, smiling to himself as he read on about the plight of a talking cat, when his door opened suddenly, and a young man no older than he, stepped in and looked up at him. He was strikingly pale, but had intense blue eyes, and his lips were the color of delicious, red apples. His blond hair hung loosely over his eyes and he was dressed plainly in jeans and a white t-shirt that hugged his chest. Charlie could see the outline of the boy's muscles beneath the white fabric. He carried a bulging knapsack over his right shoulder.
"Guess we're bunkmates," the newcomer stated matter-of-factly, shouldering the bag off onto the bunk below Charlie. "What're ya reading?" he asked looking at the book in Charlie's hands.
Charlie shook his head to clear his thoughts away from where they wandered. "Ah… nothing much, just a book for school." Charlie couldn't imagine telling him that he was reading a children's book, which happened to be his favorite book of all time.
"I hate school. I don't go much." The boy said with a shrug, and climbed into the bottom bunk where he had thrown his bag.
Charlie was apprehensive, but didn't want the conversation to end so abruptly. "Don't your parents mind that you don't go to school?" he asked to the boy below.
"Don't really care if they do."
Charlie didn't know why, but he wanted to talk more to this boy. He put his book to the side of the bunk by the slim window that looked out at the passing world and leaned over the edge of his bunk to look down at the boy as he lay there with his hands behind his head and his feet crossed at the ankle. His eyes were closed, and Charlie felt a slight pang of remorse that he couldn't see the perfect blue color that he had looked into only seconds before. He let his eyes wander down the length of this boys body and felt his own pulse quicken. When he returned his gaze to the boy's face he was being watched silently. Charlie colored fiercely having been caught and cleared his throat to try and recover. "I'm Charlie," he said weakly.
The boy looked back at him, a slow smile spreading on his apple-red 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." The boy's eyes looked off into a memory. "I'm Joseph; Joe for short."
Charlie reached down to take Joseph's hand and was immediately struck at how cold Joe was. His manners took over and wouldn't allow Joe to see his surprise. "Where are you going?" Charlie asked him.
"Wherever I end up really."
It wasn't really what Charlie was expecting, but it seemed to fit this very attractive character that Charlie had met. He smiled and blushed at the same time, scolding himself for not being cooler. "Ya, I wish I was going to anywhere other than where I'm going. I got stuck with my grandpa for the summer."
Joe didn't respond and Charlie felt very young compared to the mature boy below him. Joe closed his eyes again, and Charlie felt like he wanted to keep watching him even if it meant watching him sleep, but he also didn't want Joe to think he was some perv just interested in staring at him. He would be silently grateful that Joe was in his cabin, and as he went back to a talking cat finding a bumbling but brilliant scientist to assist him in his plight to leave earth before his mothership left the area, he wasn't really reading the words because he already knew them, he was thinking about a boy with beautiful blue eyes.
Charlie woke up as the train noticeably began to slow, and a few seconds later he looked out and saw a lit sign in the darkness that announced their arrival at Sioux Lookout. Charlie assumed they would be stopping briefly to let on passengers, and then continue on their way. He didn't know what time it was, but they had left Toronto at 10 pm so he knew it was late. He remembered Joe with a skip of his heart and slowly leaned over the edge of his bunk to look into the empty bed below. He quickly dug out his cell phone from his pack and checked the time - 2:10 am. Where would Joe have gone at 2 in the morning? Maybe he went to the bathroom, as the room didn't have one, it only had a small shower stall and communal bathrooms down the hall - the hazards of train travel. He waited for 10 minutes and his curiosity got the better of him, so he hopped down off his bunk. He had a brief panicked thought that maybe Joe had got off the train while he was sleeping, but a quick glance at the end of his bed confirmed that his bag was still there. He quickly dismissed the idea of going through the bag to find out more about the mysterious boy. He got into his runners and headed out of the cabin.
Where to start? He thought to himself. Well, let's try the bathroom, and if I run into him there, then I have the excuse that I needed to go anyway. He made his way down the dark hall, naturally compensating for the rock of the train. The noise wasn't any less loud at this time of night, but it felt like he needed to be quite regardless, so he crept along silently. At the end of the car were two bathrooms, both unoccupied according to the little green tab by the handle. He pushed one of the doors open and then the other. Both empty he slipped into the second one. A few minutes later he was moving through the train again, this time through the dining car, which was deserted, and up onto the observation car. Although it was mostly dark, when Charlie stepped into the car with the glass ceiling, he could see better due to the light of the moon. One seat was occupied and as he drew closer he saw Joe, his head on the back of the seat, closed eyes staring into the night above them. His body swayed back and forth with the movement of the train. Charlie stared at his features in the moonlight, marveling at how still he was and how defined Joe's jawbone was as it ran down the underside of his face, and met his neck. Charlie swallowed.
"You gonna sit down?" Joe spoke and startled Charlie, who jumped and gave a small yelp.
Charlie instantly hated himself for being such a stupid kid and thought furiously about what to say. He knew he had been caught staring at Joe again, but at least Joe didn't seem to get offended.
"Oh hey, I didn't know if that was you or not." Once again he sounded so young to his own ears.
Joe smiled, still with his eyes closed. "So you gonna sit down?" Joe repeated.
"Ah, ya, okay." Charlie slipped into the 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.
"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 didn't know what to say, but he blushed again, and was glad for the darkness. He 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's voice trailed off.
Charlie opened his eyes and saw Joe closing in on his lips with his own. Frozen in both fear and anticipation, he stayed perfectly still and let Joe's cool lips touched his own. Charlie's breath caught in his throat and he allowed Joe to press into him, forgetting the coolness of his new friends body, he pushed back slightly with his mouth and met Joe eagerly. He felt Joe's tongue tentatively searching for his own, and he willingly allowed his own tongue to join with Joe's. Charlie was on fire and felt his body respond to being kissed for the first time. He wanted more and didn't know what to do, but he wasn't going anywhere so long as Joe wasn't. They kissed for some time, before Joe sat back and looked at Charlie in the darkness.
"Did you like that Charlie?"
"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.
"Hey, what are you two doing up here?" A light switched on and shattered the moment between the two boys. "You're not suppose to be up here at this hour, the observation car is closed at midnight." The man made his way to where they were sitting and looked at them suspiciously, although Charlie doubted he could have seen anything, he was frightened none-the-less. Thoughts raced through his head. What if he had seen, would he tell someone? What if he got kicked off the train and sent home to his parents? What if they hauled them both off the train and told his grandfather and Joe's parents?
"We're sorry sir," said Joe, taking on the voice of a young child, not one that Charlie had heard before, "we'll go back to our cabin, if that's okay?"
The man looked at the two of them considering, then softened. "Alright then, be off with the two of you. And don't let me catch you two up here again, you hear me?"
"Yes sir," they replied in unison, and both Charlie and Joe scrambled out of their seats and quickly left the observation car. As they were making their way back to the cabin in the quiet darkness, Joe reached behind him and took Charlie's hand in his. Charlie's heart almost exploded from the gesture. He had feared that they would never mention what they had just done; he thought that maybe Joe felt like they made a big mistake. He felt the shame associated with being discovered together, and he was sure that Joe would be feeling it as well. But he wasn't, and holding his hand while they walked in silence back to their cabin confirmed this. Charlie almost cried in the hallway thinking what this meant. Someone actually cared about him. Someone actually cared about who Charlie was. It was almost too much and when he hesitated in the hall, Joe turned to see what was wrong.
There in the darkness of the hallway, lit only by the small lights running along the bottom of the wall guiding people to their destinations, Joe took his hands, placed them on both sides of Charlie's face, looked deep into his eyes, and said, "Charlie, never regret love when it happens, because you never know how long you'll have it." And he kissed Charlie for the second time that night, and allowed Charlie to feel loved like he had never felt before.
The rest of the night had been a right off for Charlie, he lay in his bed, his book forgotten, and thought of the boy that slept silently beneath him. Joe had kissed Charlie once more when they had arrived in their cabin and then crawled into bed and went to sleep. Charlie stayed up and watched him sleeping for almost an hour and then started to get a headache from looking down from the top bunk. So instead he lay back in his bunk and replayed each kiss over and over in his head, and slowly as the sun began to rise behind the train as it wound its way further and further west toward the pacific, Charlie Bowman began to fall deeper and deeper in love with a boy named Joe.
The next morning saw the boys get up together and Charlie saw Joe strip off his clothes and walk naked into the small shower with the glass front. He didn't hide from Charlie, he didn't appear afraid, or self-conscious, he was just Joe. It was like they were at the same school in gym class, and it was just what you did. Inspired, Charlie found his bravery and watched Joe openly through the glass. He knew Joe purposefully took his time, and he knew that when Joe opened the shower door and asked Charlie to hand him a towel that he was teasing him with his dripping body. Next it was Charlie's turn and after his blushing subsided, Charlie discovered something about himself as Joe sat and watched him through the glass. He discovered that he liked the feeling of being desired, that he enjoyed washing himself knowing that he was quickening the pulse of his new friend, and he discovered that there was a part of him that wanted to be open and not ashamed of who he was on the inside.
Their showers done, and needing to eat, they made their way to the dining car, and when they were seated they were asked for their tickets. Charlie pulled his out quickly and showed the lady and Joe searched frantically, but came up empty.
"I must have left it in the cabin, you go ahead Charlie, I'll be back." Charlie watched his friend leave and sensed something was wrong, but he wasn't sure what.
"Would you like to order now," the lady asked him.
"No… thank you, I'll go with my friend and come back later." He left hurrying after Joe.
He found him back in the cabin lying on his bed looking up at the top bunk. He didn't turn to look at Charlie as he came through the door.
"Joe? Don't you want to get something to eat? You must be as hungry as I am."
Joe didn't respond.
"You don't have a ticket do you?" Joe looked at him, shaking his head. "How did you get onboard?" Joe shrugged. "Okay well, let's order room service and it will be billed to the room, you don't need a ticket for that."
There was a loud knock, and as Charlie was right in front of the door, it startled him, not from the noise, but from the implication of what he had just discovered, and what he knew was coming. He looked at Joe and pushed his panic aside. Turning around he opened the door a crack and looked to see who it was. It was the man that they had seen in the observation car last night.
"Yes?" Charlie asked the man.
"Son, I need your friend to come out here and answer some questions."
"He's not here."
"I know he's here son, and I know that he isn't suppose to be on this train. We'll be stopping soon and turning your friend over to the police."
Charlie's mind went into overdrive and he moved outside pulling the door behind him. "Please sir, there's been a huge misunderstanding that is all my fault. My dad had purchased the tickets for both of us, and Joe thought that I had his, but it turns out that we must have left it at home. Can't you let him stay?"
"I'm sorry son, no ticket, no ride."
Charlie saw his answer. "How much for the ticket?"
The man looked at him curiously. "Too much for you to pay."
"How much for the ticket?" Charlie raised his voice enough to tell the man he was serious.
"To add another person to the cabin is an additional $1134.00 plus tax."
Charlie swallowed at the amount, but didn't allow it to sway him. He pulled his wallet out from his back pocket, opened it and pulled out the credit card his mother had given him. For the first time ever he thanked his parents in his head for having more money that they would ever need. He knew the credit card was connected to his dad's account and the amount wouldn't even be noticed. He handed the card to the man who looked at it suspiciously.
"I'm sorry son we don't accept a parents credit card."
"That's my card. My mom gave it to me, and it has my name on it." Charlie pulled out his picture id and handed it to the man to confirm the name. "Now then, you can throw my friend off this train, and then deal with both of our parents, who have just left on vacation together to Europe. Or you can explain to my grandfather, why he will have to pay to have his grandson's friend, who is suppose to be staying with him in Vancouver, flown to the West Coast. Either way, my parents or my grandfather will not be pleased. Or… we can pay for this ticket, and end this misunderstanding." Charlie felt a confidence that he had never felt before. He was fighting to stay with Joe.
The man looked at Charlie searching for some answer to what he was going to do. Finally, he sighed, "Alright, come with me," and he headed off carrying Charlie's id and credit card. Charlie followed.
Ten minutes later, Charlie entered the cabin, and closed the door behind him. He peered to Joe who was sitting on the bed looking nervous.
Joe looked up and saw the grin on Charlie's face. "What did you do?" he asked.
Charlie just grinned and pulled a ticket out from his back pocket and handed it to Joe.
"Charlie, you didn't!" Joe almost shouted, but his words were lost in the hug he strangled around Charlie's neck, and the kiss that followed. "I wont have to leave you?"
"I couldn't bare that." Charlie said and knew he meant it. He looked into Joe's bottomless blue eyes and asked a question he didn't want the answer to. "Joe, how will we be able to see each other when we finally arrive in Vancouver?"
Joe turned away and was quiet. Turning back he took Charlie's hands in his. "Charlie, let's not think about that, we have two days and two nights together. Let's just pretend that we have the rest of time."
Charlie could tell that there was something that Joe wasn't telling him, but he also wanted things to get back to normal with Joe, and so he did the thing that was beginning to feel very natural to Charlie, he hugged Joe and the world seemed so much better.
"Let's get something to eat!" Charlie grinned again and dragged Joe behind him all of the way to the dining car and sat down in the same two spots that they had occupied a little earlier. The same woman also approached them.
"So boys, you're back. Could I see your tickets please?"
Charlie and Joe pulled their tickets out and couldn't stop smiling at each other.
"Alright then, what would the both of you like this morning?"
Every moment over the next two days were pure bliss for the two boys. They ate together, they walked through the train together, they listened to each other talk about their lives, and they both listened to Charlie's iPod together sharing the headphones - one ear each, their heads huddled together. They sat with each other in the observation car as the train did its thing and swayed gently through the prairies and into the mountains. They also decided silently with each other that they would hold hands for the rest of their journey together - like they didn't ever want to be too far apart. They held hands while they ate in the dining car, while they walked from one car to another, and they held hands while they sat watching the world go by. They were oblivious to the occasional look or whispered comment. They slept in the same bunk even though it was crowded they didn't mind, just spending time in each other's arms was enough. Charlie knew there were some things that he wasn't ready for, given that this was the first time he had ever really experienced this form of love, and he wasn't ready to cross some sexual boundaries until he knew he was going to be with someone over the long-term, but Joe never pushed him into anything or pressured him for more than Charlie was willing to give. It was enough to lay with each other, and hear each other breath.
Their last night together was spent as late as possible in the observation car, looking up at the passing stars together, as the train left the Rockies behind and made it's way South into the heart of British Columbia. They came to their cabin, stripped to their underwear, and crawled into bed with each other all in silence. Facing each other, Charlie looked into the blue eyes that he so cared for and suddenly felt the tears come to the surface and slide down his cheeks. Grief took hold of him, as he knew that tomorrow he would never see Joe again. Joe kissed his tears away in acknowledgement and although nothing was spoken, they both said goodbye.
Charlie was woken up by the knock on the door, and the call that disembarking would begin in 10 minutes. The train was coming to a stop. He and Joe had stayed up most of the night. Suddenly aware that Joe wasn't in the bed with him, he looked toward the shower, but the door was open and no one was inside. Charlie had a bad feeling and quickly got up to look in the upper bunk. All of Joe's things were gone, but leaned up against Charlie's pack was a note.
I couldn't bare the thought of saying good-bye to you after spending so much time with you over the past few days. So I left seeing you the way I will always remember you, sleeping quietly, with a smile on your face, watching you dream, and hoping it was about me.
All my love,
Charlie felt the heat creep into his face and the tears began to fall and splash quietly against the paper he was holding in his hands. The train had stopped fully now, and he could hear people making their way through the hallways. He slumped into the bottom bunk, buried his face in the pillow and cried like he hadn't for many years.
Charlie exited the train after almost all of the other passengers had gone and saw his grandfather waiting for him silently, holding a hat between his two hands and looking rather nervous. Their eyes met and Charlie approached the man who he had only met on two previous occasions. He didn't know him really, and he felt anger toward his parents for leaving him here.
"Hello Charlie," his grandfather said hesitantly.
"I hope your trip was good?" he asked.
Charlie thought back, but couldn't stray too far into his memories or he would start to cry again, and he wasn't going to do that in front of a total stranger. "Ya," he responded simply.
"Good, good. Well… let's get you home then." His grandfather led the way off of the platform and to the small car that waited in the almost empty parking lot.
Watching the city go by as they made their way through Vancouver and toward Horseshoe Bay where his Grandfather lived, Charlie felt the tears on the edge of his eyes threatening to spill over at any moment. Eventually, after a short ride on the highway, the car pulled up in front of his grandfather's home. He recognized the moss covered old house immediately. He could see the light up in the bedroom that he knew he would be staying in.
"Well Charlie, you know where your room is, why don't you go up and put your things away."
Charlie left the car quickly without saying anything and ran into the house. His grandfather looked after him concerned, but not sure what to do. He was probably tired from the trip. Four days alone on a train, he wasn't sure what his daughter and son-in-law were thinking leaving their son while they went away, and putting him on a train on his own. Shaking his head, he grabbed the rest of Charlie's things from the car and brought them inside.
Charlie had run through the house and up the stairs, knowing that he left in a way that was rude, but also knowing that he couldn't hold in what he was carrying any longer. He burst through the familiar door and recognized the room. It was set up in the same way as it was three years ago when he was here last. It had the same pictures on the wall over the small dresser, and it had the same patched quilt laying over the end of the bed. He flopped onto the bed on his stomach, grabbed the closest pillow and cried helplessly until he fell asleep clutching Joe's note in his hand.
Charlie woke a few hours later, feeling bad. He was grieving and angry with Joe for leaving the way he did without saying goodbye, he was angry at this parents for leaving, and he was angry that he was too young to make a difference in his own life. He also felt bad knowing that his grandfather would be worried about him given how he had left the car earlier. He sat up in his bed and felt just how drained he was. He needed to go down and apologize. He got up from the bed, with his note in his hand still, and brought it to the small dresser where he placed it on the surface and smoothed it out. He glanced up and looked at all the pictures that his grandfather had on the wall and one in particular caught his attention.
Charlie's breath caught as he looked at two boys standing in front of a run down building. The one boy he didn't know, but the other was unmistakable. Joe looked out from the picture at him with the same smile that he had seen just last night. His heart racing with the possibilities, he grabbed the picture from the wall and raced out of the room and down the stairs taking them two at a time.
"Grandpa!" he yelled hurling himself into the living room at the bottom of the stairs. "Grandpa!" he called again.
"In here Charlie, on the porch."
Charlie ran out breathing heavy and saw his grandfather sitting in the same chair he always sat in on the porch at the back of the house. He had a tea in his hand and was looking out into the beautiful back yard that he had created over a lifetime of living in the house.
He approached his grandfather and held the picture out to him. "Who is this," he asked cautiously.
His grandfather looked at him with concern, but took the picture from his hand. He smiled as he looked down at the image. "Well… that's Joseph. A finer boy I have never met Charlie."
Charlie's heart soared. He didn't know how, but his grandfather knew Joe and if he knew Joe, he was sure he would see him again. But he wanted to know more. "Who's he with in the picture?"
His grandfather smiled again, "Well that's me Charlie. This picture was taken almost fifty years ago."
Charlie wasn't sure he heard his grandfather correctly. Stunned he asked quietly, "What?"
"Yes, I met Joseph on the train. In fact it was the same train that I picked you up from today. I was making my way home to my family after visiting my older brother back in Halifax. I met Joseph when he got on in Toronto." He looked past Charlie, swept up in a memory.
Charlie didn't know what to think, but he suddenly remembered what Joe had told him. I knew a guy named Charlie once, although he didn't like being called Charlie… Charlie looked at his grandfather. The grandfather he was named after. He remembered that Joe appeared after the train had already left Toronto, that he had no ticket, no place to go, and he disappeared as mysteriously as he appeared four days earlier.
"Charlie, are you okay?" His grandpa sounded concerned.
Charlie looked into his grandfather's eyes. "Grandpa Charles, are you gay?" Charlie didn't mean for it to drop like a bomb on the porch, but didn't know how to ask what he suspected.
His grandfather looked at him intently for a long time before answering, "Yes Charlie, I am." He said it with a quiet dignity that told Charlie that he knew just who he was.
"And Joe… Joseph, the one in the picture, were the two of you…?"
"Yes Charlie we were. Joseph was a very dear friend, and my first love." Charlie's grandfather looked very uncomfortable suddenly, and Charlie knew what he had to say.
"I'm gay too Grandpa." And there they were, the words that made the world look suddenly different.
Charlie's grandfather looked at him with tears in his eyes and nodded at Charlie. Opening his arms, Charlie fell into his grandfather's embrace and they both cried knowing that they found something about each other that would bring them closer. Charlie's grandfather hugged his grandson hard and looked at the picture that he still held in his hand - the picture of two boys in love, he and Joseph. Who would have thought Joseph, he said to himself that my own grandson would know me this well. He looked into the blue eyes and smiling face of the one he loved his whole life, but disappeared after that photo was taken so long ago.
Being hugged by his grandfather felt so right. For the second time in only a few days Charlie felt loved. In all the hours he had spent with Joe over the past four days, he missed the single most important thing that Joe had given him, and now that he found it, he would never again lose it. Charlie had found himself, and along the way, he found someone just like him who knew him in a way that no one else would, he found his grandfather Charles, or Charlie, as he would soon begin to call him.