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    AC Benus
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Campfires and Starlight - a novella - 5. Chapter 5

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Campfires and Starlight

Chapter 5

 

On a military reserve, camping on a stretch of restricted Hawaiian beach, a fire burns in a carefully constructed sand pit, and a tent glows with two figures silhouetted by a light from within.

The campfire filtering through the nylon sides of the shelter adds to the animated pool of shadows inside. The best friends are mostly illuminated by a lantern hanging from the central overlay of ribs at the top of the tent. They sit on their sleeping bags with legs folded under them, and bob heads slightly to the tunes playing on Chuck’s phone.

Lee’s still feeling tipsy and pleasantly buzzed, but now holds a water bottle; Chuck holds one of his own. Lee raises it to take a swig, saying beforehand, “Here’s to not wanting to drink to the point of feeling like shit the next day.”

Chuck nods and indulges in his own sip of H2O.

After he licks his lips and screws the cap back on, Lee tells his friend, “I guess this means we’re growing up.”

Chuck does a Cheshire cat impersonation. “Yeah, son. And for you it’s about time!”

The lantern sways a bit more, for Lee brushes it as he launches a breezy punch on his buddy’s arm. Chuck’s reaction is to clench his mouth, duck and latch onto Lee’s wrist. In another second, both are cracking up in hysterics, brushing the sides of the tent as they roll around, putting half-drunk wrestling moves on one another.

Lee’s portion of the laughter gradually lessens. He gets a little too far in his own head, and breaks it off, suddenly feeling exposed and self-conscious.

Equilibrium spinning somewhat from the drink, he roots around the top sleeping bag for a moment and locates his blue-capped water bottle. Sitting back down where he had been, Lee sheds dismayed glances at his buddy’s face.

Chuck’s somewhat emotional now, and it causes Lee confusion and concern. He wonders if he’s just hurt his friend.

“Hey, man,” Lee says, reaching for his phone. “Why don’t you give your battery a rest for a while. I’ve got something sure to lighten the mood.”

Chuck apathetically retrieves his mobile and taps off the playlist.

Lee’s screen comes to life and he scrolls down his saved tracks until he comes to one almost at the bottom. “This is our shit from camping. It was one of the first collections I put on this phone. Here.”

He hits play, turns up the volume and sets the device down to watch for a spark of amusement in his best friend’s eyes.

John Cleese’s voice comes on; Lee laughingly adds commentary.

 

“And now something entirely different. The naughty portions of an aircraft carrier….”

 

“Arrow points to the poop deck—”

 

“The naughty portions of Buckingham Palace….”

 

“Arrow points to the changing guards—”

 

“The naughty portions of Margaret Thatcher.”

 

“And the arrow points to her mouth!”

 

Lee loses it, cracking up and slapping his knee.

Chuck’s response is a tepid grimace.

“What’s wrong, buddy? The old classics not doing it for you tonight?” Lee’s not sure what’s going on. Monty Python’s Flying Circus has never failed to tickle his best friend’s funny bone before.

“Last time we heard that,” remarks Chuck softly, “was in my basement. Remember?”

Suddenly Chuck’s eyes are full-bore on Lee.

“Yeah, of course I remember. It was late May last year, a week or two before graduation. Still too cold at night to go out camping, so we did it in your bedroom.”

“Yeah.” Chuck gazes down at his fingers.

Lee, flustered, picks up his phone and clicks the volume down several notches. The next track in his camping playlist starts up. It’s Jackie Wilson’s Motown version of Danny Boy. It plays softly in the background as Lee gathers his emotions. He knows he has hurt his friend for sure now, but does not know how.

Lee swallows a lump and decides to offer something real to his buddy. He confesses in serious tones, “It’s been a really tough year.”

“You said that before, but why, exactly?”

“I’m sorry, Chuck.”

“Sorry for what?”

“For being a drunk-ass loser and coming out to you the way I did.”

Chuck’s silent. He sips his water.

“Look, I did it in a careless manner and put you in a rough spot. I might have messed up— Well, anyway, I was a crude SOB to do what I did to you.”

“You apologized for it already. Besides, that don’t matter.”

A pause follows.

“Then what does? Come on, Chuck, it’s me here. I can tell something’s eating you.”

Lee’s playlist rolls over to Garth Brooks singing The Dance.

“Please, Chuck. Tell me something.”

“You hurt me.”

“Man, I’m sorry—”

“Let me try and get this out. I was hurt thinking how you hadn’t trusted me with this information earlier.” Again, he looks up and holds his buddy’s eyes unflinchingly. “You think it’d change things between us? Seriously?”

“God, Chuck. I am sorry, but you gotta understand, coming out is not something fixed on a timetable, like you hit 18, or 20, or 35—or whatever—and bam, you’re out.”

“I know.”

“Everyone’s on their own path, and some are quicker, and some take a longer time.”

“Hey, my bad.” Chuck gathers himself a bit, and continues rationally, “I didn’t mean to dump on you right now. I accepted your apology earlier, and I was serious when I said it’s OK. But it’s like logically I get what you’re saying; I get it. You came out when you were ready. I accept that in my brain, no problem.”

“But….”

“But what?”

“Come on, man.”

Chuck groans, becoming a bit pissed. “Fuck. You gonna make me say it?”

“Um—not if you don’t want to.”

Lee withstands the silent, piercing inspection of Chuck’s eyes through the shadowy thicket of his own.

“As I said, my brain, no problem. My heart—that you might not have trusted me; thought maybe I’d react in a way to hurt you because of it—quite frankly, that sucks.” Chuck’s near tears.

“Oh, shit,” Lee sighs. “See? I told you I went about it the wrong way and screwed up royally.”

“Did you ever really consider what it was like on my end?”

Now it’s time for Lee’s silence. He slowly shakes his head while a new song plays: James Taylor You Can Close Your Eyes.

“I was in the barracks, room full of guys, Skyping with earbuds in. And how could I react? Other than make sure you were all right, that you could close the session not having to worry about me, but I had to hold my emotions in. I couldn’t let my Army buddies see. After we hung up, I went out doors for a run. It didn’t help. I wound up stopping by a road sign and punching it over and over again.”

“Fuck, I’m sorry—”

“Lemme finish, cuz this ain’t easy to say.”

“OK.”

“It took me a while to figure out where the anger was coming from. I don’t know—but at last, that sorta became clear to me too.”

Chuck hesitates, and then doesn’t go on, confusing Lee. The soldier simply places his head in his hands.

Lee bites down on his fear and goes over to sit next to his best friend. After a minute or two of indecision, with only the music keeping them company, Lee puts his arm around Chuck’s shoulder.

He chuckles, raising a finger to his buddy’s ear. “The naughty portions of a military fairy—”

Chuck spontaneously erupts in laughter and play-shoves his friend down to the sleeping bags. “Bastard!” he says, gripping his crotch. “I got your naughty portions for you right here.”

“Tease.” Lee gets up and unzips the door, saying happily, “Fuck the hangover. Time for a top-up!”

Lee goes out by himself, considerately redoing the flap in case any stray mosquitoes have wondered their way down the beach this calm night.

And it is calm; breakers roll in smoothly, bearing their living crests of blue light nobly; and the wispy overcast in the sky appears to be breaking up.

Once he gets to the cooler, he scans back across the sand. The tent is not only bathed in orange firelight, but clearly lit from within.

He opens the lid of the plastic chest and finds cans and bottles floating in a frigid pool of melted ice. Lee reaches in, grabs for and catches two bottles of Bartles and Jaymes by the neck. The teenager hates the way he can act dumb sometimes. That’s how he feels now concerning the shit-faced way he’d sprung ‘the news’ on his best friend.

Absentmindedly, his gaze tracks to the horizon over the sea, and then upwards. Those clouds have become lighter still, and now, right above his head, a small twinkle holds steadily behind the moving slips of cloud.

The truth is, Lee had been lonely and desperate for human contact at school. It’s always been there between these two best friends, so he’d made that video call.

Movement draws his eye. Chuck’s outline in the tent shifts a bit, and Lee marvels how clear the definition is. As slowly as the vapors parting overhead, a new reality breaks in Lee’s mind. He watches Chuck, letting the biting cold of the glass on his fingers make him uncomfortable.

Once a secret thing’s revealed, it’s hard to even remember it was once hidden, and so Lee wonders how he could have been so blind. That last night they’d spent together, only a little more than a year ago, camping in Chuck’s basement bedroom had been one of “Henry V”, Monty Python, and…and of Lee’s stupidity.

He looks up, finds that star, and makes a wish.

 

· ~-~ · ~-~ · ~-~ · ~-~ · ~-~ · ~-~ · ~-~ · ~-~ ·

 

Canned laughter streamed out of Chuck’s laptop, but it couldn’t match the uproarious guffaws from the two best friends. More than tipsy, the sitcom was barely more than a prompt for Lee and Chuck to share in good times.

“Shuuuush!” Chuck smacked his buddy’s shoulder, not able to stifle his own giggles. At last, he gulped in some air and said, “Rents are upstairs, so settle it, son.”

They were sitting on the mattress in Chuck’s basement room, where the bed was pulled longways against an exterior wall. A high window stood above it, but it was dark now at about 8 pm. Against the other long wall, Chuck’s stereo and a desk with a PC on it stood. The laptop was sitting here too, while across the divide from them, the floor was carpeted with a pair of sleeping bags opened up and turned into rustic bedding and comforter.

“Your parents?” Lee said, slowly getting choked up. “They know this is our…our—”

His buddy couldn’t bring himself to say it, so Chuck did. “Our final night.”

“Yeah.”

The comedy show’s laughter pealed again, but went ignored.

So”—Lee raised his plastic cup—“let’s make the most of this last time we can squeeze in.”

“Cheers, man.”

They drained their Spanish champagne while holding one another’s gaze. Chuck was on edge, preparing to execute his plan. Would it pay off? And then again, what if it did; was Chuck ready for success? So far, he thought he was doing a good job of hiding his nerves.

“Fuck the weather,” Chuck suddenly said. “May ain’t supposed to be rainy and cold.”

“Yeah. It’s too bad we couldn’t camp out beneath the stars at the lake, or even in your back yard. But your room is fine, except that old-sock smell in here.”

Lee’s holding his nose made Chuck bust up, forgetting his own ‘quiet rule’ as he tried to lift a be-socked foot to his buddy’s face.

Lee smacked it away easily and wound up laughing just as hard while sliding down onto the sleeping bags.

Chuck joined him, and they sat using the bed as a backrest with knees drawn up as arm and elbow rests.

“You said squeeze in before,” said Chuck. “That’s about the truth, huh? Two weeks to graduation, and lots of family obligations for both of us.”

Chuck took a drink and let Lee inspect his profile.

“You nervous about boot camp? It sucks you have to report just a couple days after our graduation ceremony.”

“I’ll miss spending the summer goofing off, but I know you’ll act foolish enough for two.”

Lee bumped his best friend’s shoulder with his own. “What summer? I won’t be having one either. Not with you in Texas. Besides, I’ll just be prepping to start school on the East Coast. It’s only a matter of weeks anyway till the middle of August rolls around.”

“Yeah. From what I hear, after the first two weeks of Basic, I’ll be able to get my phone back so we can stay in touch.”

“Except email, that you can do right away?”

“Yeah. Recruits get time to use base PCs—if we’re good—so we’ll see. We won’t be completely cut off.”

“So, Chuck, you can’t avoid what I asked. You nervous, scared, or whatever to head out to boot camp?”

Chuck fast weighed his options. He wanted to brush off the question, but then wound up slumping a bit against his bed. He decided to tell the truth. “Only a fool stays unafraid of the unknown, but I know I’ll be all right. And you know what? So will you.”

Lee cast a dark glance over his cup. “I wish I had your confidence.”

Now it was Chuck’s turn to study his buddy’s profile. It wasn’t bluster. If Chuck knew anything, it was that his friend was going places in life. So much so in fact, Chuck hoped he wouldn’t become forgotten; a pleasant yet distant memory his buddy would sometimes think back upon, maybe on quiet summer days.

Chuck forced a smile on himself, grabbed the bottle and topped both of them off. “Drink up, Lee. Time’s short—I want us to go out with a bang!”

They drank, and Lee sputtered into his cup at the end, “No more peach schnapps, huh?”

“Fuck no,” joked Chuck. “Don’t want you hurling on my mom’s fluffy toilet seat cover in the middle of the night.”

“Gee, thanks for the compassion.”

“No problem. Anytime, buddy.” Chuck tried on a Cheshire-grin for his friend and refilled his cup. He wanted to make sure they were both good and lit. “Let’s start the movie you picked out.”

Without hesitation, Lee jumped up to his feet. Then the device’s screen glowed on his face while he searched for the video on Chuck’s laptop. After the opening credits started to roll, he turned to his buddy with concern. “You sure you’re OK with this?”

“That Kenneth Branagh guy's Henry V?"

“Yeah. It’s Shakespeare, you know.”

“Sit down and stop blocking my view!”

Lee paused another second, then pasted on a grin and sat.

As the film rolled on, Chuck was surprised at how easy the story was to follow. The second major scene, set in a grubby bar with dirty-faced, ordinary people talking about going to war, struck a chord with him. The intensity of action that followed made both teens a little uncomfortable: the king rooted out treachery and confronted one of the perpetrators by slamming him on top of a table.

Once the scene cut away to the next segment, Lee quoted the play, “Like another fall of man. That’s pretty heavy hitting.”

“Yeah, no doubt. But I get why it’s so intense. The king and this guy were partners, and it’s Scroop’s betrayal that hurts Henry’s heart, as well as his pride and sense of duty.”

Lee simply nodded and pretended to go back and watch the movie.

For the remainder of the picture, Chuck tried to tamp down his nerves again. Distracted by his own stratagems for the night, he couldn’t shake off the nagging sensation this might be the final chance he’d get to act on a realization gained after their early-morning skinny dip in Lake of the Bays.

As the scenes marched on, Chuck slowed his own drinking, but made sure to top off Lee’s cup every time his buddy took a big sip.

During the blood-and-guts sections of the battle, Chuck hammed up the I’m so wasted vibe with loud catcalls and several “Oh, man!”

When Lee reminded him to tone it down, Chuck assured him his parents wouldn’t come to bother them.

“That was a pretty good flick, Lee. I’m glad you wanted to see it.”

“What’ll we watch now?”

“Something funny.”

The boys matched John Cleese’s mangled speech, chirping and hissing in unison with him: “Monty Pie-thin’s Flying Cir-kiss.”

Lee went to start an episode, and Chuck rubbed sweaty palms over his jeans.

A few minutes later, Lee’s Python video playlist rolled over to the Naughty portions sketch. Various funny people, plants and animals had their so-called dirty parts singled out by huge arrows, and the whole time Chuck’s cool was under serious assault. He took a deep drink to try and catch his breath; he knew his breathing just that little bit too hard.

As Lee laughed his ass off, Chuck pretended to join him, and added at the end of their guffaws, “Man, this sure beats that lame-ass camping we did in my back yard.”

Lee shot him a quizzical head-tilt, but it vanished in an instant as the sketch changed to a new one. Again, Chuck left his buddy basically alone to watch and get lost in it. Chuck’s focus was on Lee.

At the next laugh storm, centered on ‘Bruce’ visiting his native Australia, Chuck tagged on at the end, “I’m so shit-faced, man. As out of it as my buddies making out—you should have seen ‘em!”

That got his attention, but instead of Lee asking Chuck to re-tell the story, his best friend simply shifted uncomfortably in his sitting position and took a slow sip.

The skit changed once more, and now a military man in an officer’s uniform said, “All right. Stop that. That’s silly. Now let’s observe some real men in action.”

Chuck watched as soldiers lined up for drill. They came to attention, shouldered their rifles and chanted in unison, “Oooh, get her!”

From there, Close Order Swanning About only got funnier and both boys wound up howling in mirth, rolling around on their sleeping bags. After several minutes of this, they lay on their backs, gasping, smiling and staring up to the ceiling.

As the giggles died down, inch by inch, Chuck slipped his hand into Lee’s. He found no resistance, so gazed down to where they were conjoined. He gradually began to play with his best friend’s fingers, and his heart skipped a beat when Lee started doing the same with his.

Now each teenage boy was breathing hard and splitting quiet, expectant glances between their linked hands and sad-looking eyes.

Chuck said at last, “Lee, come up here a second.” He kneeled, refusing to let his best friend go, and pulled him up gently too.

A moment later, they were face to face. Chuck drew his buddy by the hand so their heads inched together.

Chuck swallowed, murmuring “I’m so wasted,” before he brought his lips together and closed his eyes. He knew Lee was doing the same.

Chuck leaned a bit closer, and…and then, nothing.

When he opened his eyes, Lee had pulled away, looking green in the gills.

He dropped Chuck’s hand a second before he stood. “I gotta…piss, man. Back in a bit.”

Lee opened the bedroom door and walked out, leaving Chuck crushed.

Several emotions crowded him at once: he was truly sad—hurt by the rejection—confused by Lee’s reaction, and lastly, ashamed he had tried to force a moment. Perhaps he’d been wrong after all.

He felt stupid.

 

_

Copyright © 2018 AC Benus; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Some more music and videos:

 

Jackie Wilson’s Motown version of Danny Boy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sS9xhiudphU

 

Garth Brooks singing The Dance

 

James Taylor You Can Close Your Eyes

 

Kenneth Branagh Henry V “…like a another fall of man…”

 

Monty “Pie-thin” Close Order Swanning About

 

Edited by AC Benus
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6 hours ago, Starrynight22 said:

Oh.   

 

So.   Both of them are dancing round this big ass elephant in a tent?

yes, I think you've put it very well 

 

Edited by AC Benus
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So Chuck was hurt because Lee didn't tell him sooner?  Or, hurt because of months or years that could be looked at, as being wasted, when they could have been together?  Would they have known then when they were younger ... some things, need time to marinate and come together.

 

Very nice story AC.. of a beautiful and strong friendship. Something that is the basis of a strong closer relationship.

 

Great stuff AC xo

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6 hours ago, Mikiesboy said:

Beautiful chapter. Let's hope these two end up on the same page sometime soon.

Thank you for reading, Tim. Yes...to mangle a well-known expression, I think the pages are aligning...

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5 hours ago, Puppilull said:

They really excel at missing those chances. Maybe a little less drinking isn't a bad idea. Bottle courage is not very reliable. I would suggest action of another kind, scary as it is. Time to be brave!

I like these comments a great deal :) Their bottle-courage is flagging so maybe some fact-facing is called for. Thanks for reading; only one more chapter to go. 

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On 7/2/2018 at 6:55 PM, MichaelS36 said:

So Chuck was hurt because Lee didn't tell him sooner?  Or, hurt because of months or years that could be looked at, as being wasted, when they could have been together?  Would they have known then when they were younger ... some things, need time to marinate and come together.

 

Very nice story AC.. of a beautiful and strong friendship. Something that is the basis of a strong closer relationship.

 

Great stuff AC xo

Without giving too much away (I think :) ),  we've probably just witnessed a dawning of awareness in Lee.  He's figured out exactly the nature of the hurt he caused in his friend. Now the only question remains, what will Lee do about it. Please stay tuned, but I guarantee we will find out. 

Thank you, Mike, for reading and leaving these beautiful comments. You've made my evening :yes: 

 

 

Edited by AC Benus
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Missed opportunities, mixed signals. Seems like they are well in their way to that lightbulb moment.  

Beautiful chapter, AC. 

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On 7/3/2018 at 10:04 AM, Parker Owens said:

... so many things fit, yet all is out of joint ...

Maybe there’s only a single thing still left out of joint ;)

More later. 

 

Edited by AC Benus
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On 7/3/2018 at 10:04 AM, Parker Owens said:

What a marvelous chapter, a turn-of-screw chapter, that chapter when things get turned inside out. You do it deftly and expertly, and now, like Chuck, I feel as if so many things fit, yet all is out of joint. Bravo.

Thank you for reading and commenting, Parker. But remember, there were two puzzles building. Let's hope Lee just had his personal final piece fall into place.

Only one chapter to go :)

 

Edited by AC Benus
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Chuck's strategy to tell Lee how he felt was even more disastrous than what Lee eventually did. He can't really complain about being hurt by Lee's lack of telling and his method of coming out, when he didn't have the courage to be honest himself. Of course, Lee did start the whole secrecy thing, so he can't complain either. 

Like my Swedish friend I also recommend less alcohol - and more balls.

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46 minutes ago, AC Benus said:

Only one chapter to go :)

 

But only one? I like these boys too much to let them go at one...

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On 7/3/2018 at 12:50 PM, Timothy M. said:

Chuck's strategy to tell Lee how he felt was even more disastrous than what Lee eventually did. He can't really complain about being hurt by Lee's lack of telling and his method of coming out, when he didn't have the courage to be honest himself. Of course, Lee did start the whole secrecy thing, so he can't complain either. 

Like my Swedish friend I also recommend less alcohol - and more balls.

Neither boy is a saint, that much is true - but then again, who among us is at age nineteen? Lee can still be hurt, but we may not know exactly how and why until the next chapter. 

I think we'll see some genuine courage from both boys before our tale is through :) Thanks for the comments, Tim. I appreciate them.

Edited by AC Benus
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1 hour ago, Parker Owens said:

 

But only one? I like these boys too much to let them go at one...

Awww, that's a very sweet thing you just said. Muah

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18 hours ago, Timothy M. said:

Chuck's strategy to tell Lee how he felt was even more disastrous than what Lee eventually did. He can't really complain about being hurt by Lee's lack of telling and his method of coming out, when he didn't have the courage to be honest himself. Of course, Lee did start the whole secrecy thing, so he can't complain either. 

Like my Swedish friend I also recommend less alcohol - and more balls.

I had almost the same thoughts. I even wondered if that why he went into the Service. Because he thought Lee could never feel the same? Hide from what he was feeling? Could be he’s more upset with himself than at Lee.  

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On 7/4/2018 at 7:23 AM, Defiance19 said:

I had almost the same thoughts. I even wondered if that why he went into the Service. Because he thought Lee could never feel the same? Hide from what he was feeling? Could be he’s more upset with himself than at Lee.  

Chuck joined the Army because he saw his older brother do the same, become a better person, and get money for college. This comes up as Chuck's goal -- to follow his brother Nate -- much earlier than the boys' last time together. I think it even comes out when they are camping at Jefferson Lake, age 16, but I'd have to check. 

Now, as for Chuck's feelings, I agree with you 100% that the night of Monty Python and Henry V threw him for a major, emotional loop. :) 

Edited by AC Benus
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Wait... only one more chapter?  But there’s SO much stuff still hanging around waiting to be resolved - finally.  They’ve both turned a corner, of sorts, and now seem to be finally facing each other, even though neither has yet looked up to realise it.  

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On a restricted beach in Hawaii , beneath his beloved stars , I believe Lee has had an epiphany ! Chucks  actions past and current collide .... drawing on the strength of their friendship , they need to have an honest conversation . 

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On 7/4/2018 at 11:40 AM, AC Benus said:

Chuck joined the Army because he saw his older brother do the same, become a better person, and get money for college. This comes up as Chuck's goal -- to follow his brother Nate -- much earlier than the boys' last time together. I think it even comes out when they are camping at Jefferson Lake, age 16, but I'd have to check. 

 

Now, as for Chuck's feelings, I agree with you 100% that the night of Monty Python and Henry V threw him for a major, emotional loop. :) 

Can you come out, when you yourself are not yet sure of who you truly are? For some, like myself, a couple of straight dates told me all I needed to know. For others those shoes need to be walked in for a few miles before the truth becomes comfortable. 

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On 7/4/2018 at 9:11 AM, Sam Wyer said:

Wait... only one more chapter?  But there’s SO much stuff still hanging around waiting to be resolved - finally.  They’ve both turned a corner, of sorts, and now seem to be finally facing each other, even though neither has yet looked up to realise it.  

Thank you, Sam. I like how you say they are finally facing one another; I think that's pretty accurate. And as for a resolution, a lot can happen in 3,000+ words ;) 

Thanks again, @Sam Wyer. I appreciate the comments :)

 

Edited by AC Benus
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