Story Title: Weekend At Longmeadow

Rating: M

Genre: Friendship/Romance

Pairing: Too many to count!

Total Word Count: 16, 376

Summary: Garrett & Jasper met as kids, left Texas as founders of Hill Country Outlaws. Edward, Emmett and Peter ramble along to a lakehouse party for grass and girls. Tune in, get turned on and smoke up. M/F/M.

Disclaimer: All copyrights, trademarked items, or recognizable characters, plots, etc. mentioned herein belong to their respective owners. No copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without their express written authorization.


In 1970, the outdoor music festival was summer. Throngs of half-naked, full on naked, and definitely outer-limits kids grooving and sweating, tripping and just getting down, man.

Yeah, I mean that way, too.

Jas and I hooked up as kids: Boerne, Texas. My father was re-assigned to Camp Bullis to help ramp-up medical ops for a little military exercise known as the Vietnamese conflict. Jasper was a rancher's kid from the plateau country, happier on a horse or strumming a six-string than cooped up in a desk at Boerne Senior High. He always had some foxy looking chick or two following him around, asking him to play "Michelle" or "Yesterday". Funny thing was, Jas was never a McCartney fan. Could take Lennon's preachy shit in small doses. Said, Ringo who? Respected Harrison.

The world according to Jasper Whitlock was divided into two separate but equal halves. You fell on The Beatles or the Stones side, and that one preference pretty much made the rest of your decisions for the rest of your life.

The first song Jas taught me was "Miss Amanda Jones". It was my coming out, too, just like her, but I had nothing to lose.

Once I learned enough to follow him, we played together around bonfires and on dusty limestone patios at our friends' houses. After graduation we managed to get a gig at an old roadhouse outside of town and even though we had to dodge a few flying bottles of Shiner, the old boy who owned the place asked us back.

High school graduates, masquerading as fine young Texas men until we could escape to Austin for college, the summer of 1968 gave us another kind of schooling. I'd already pissed the old man off by going II-S and enrolling at UT. He wrote me off, and Mom did what she was told. Her orders were simple: keep Garrett fed, keep him quiet, keep his hair at a respectable length until they could turn me over to dear old Dad's Uncle Sam to make a man out of me.

Blame Woodstock. Blame the brown acid, the mud, the naked hippies.

My old man blamed guys like me. Playing music and indulging in herbal recreation just iced that cake. He ranted, Mom wrung her hands, and I packed an old Army-issue duffel with everything that mattered, headed for the Whitlocks' ranch and a summer of rough living on the sly in their dusty old bunkhouse. We never saw eye to eye, and once I got away from home and his rule, I never saw my father again anyway.

I had better shit to do.

Austin was like another world. Everyone was playing music, swearing they knew Janis back when, grooving on blues and psychedelics, still looking over their shoulders for another dude with something to say shooting kids from the deck of the Admin Building clocktower. We had a six-string, a couple of bashed–up amps and an old Strat between us. Jas had music in his veins; I had a knack for showmanship and a big mouth.

Up in Austin, we found a quiet kid who could play the hell out of a Hammond organ, and another guy, Peter Lundsford from down in San Antonio, came in on bass. Standing bass, double bass, whatever – the dude was a youth symphony burn-out who dug mescaline more than Dragonetti. We called ourselves the Hill Country Outlaws.

Never mind that my birth certificate said Mystic, Connecticut.

The Outlaws culled blues, traditional Texan country, Zep-like lyrics and plenty of Jack Daniels. We had a sound. By '70 there was a Random Notes item in Rolling Stone proclaiming us Texas' answer to the Allmans. We hit the outdoor festival scene that summer, leaving 100-degree dust-laced heat down in Austin, and headed for cooler, greener hills along the East Coast.

Bands like us, with one or two recognizable hits, were filler for the rest of the gigs. Sure, most of the kids were waiting for John Sebastian or Creedence. To be honest, so were we. The Outlaws were big enough to get a late afternoon spot, so it wasn't bad; the kids had mellowed out after an afternoon passing Maui Wowie, and the temperature had cooled down just enough to make it bearable under the lights.

Not a bad way to spend the summer.

The best thing about that particular late June evening in Nowheresville, Massachusetts, was the golden-orange and violet twilight. Katie's light. From that night to forever. Katie dancing as Jas and I played for her – and for her – that silver blonde hair was lit up with vermillion-indigo fire and spreading in a sunset tinted cloud around her as her Indian skirt lifted and twirled around those damnable long, long legs of hers.

She knew the words to every song, even the old blues covers, waved her arms slow and graceful every time Jas and I harmonized or traded licks. When he slid on his beer bottle slide and played a solo, her eyes closed, and this smile… just… man, it was like someone turned her switch on.

She glowed, felt the music, down in her bones. Felt us playing just for her.

"Hey, Garrett, give Felix the nod on that tall blonde," Jasper called into my ear when we finished up our cover of "Whipping Post". As I went over to our behemoth roadie, known on the circuit as Felix the Fluffer, Jas ambled up to his stand, holding not his six-string but his battered old fiddle. "Let's take it on down, y'all," he drawled into the mic.

You could hear chicks' panties dropping all the way to the Connecticut state line when he pulled that shit.

Between the dust cloud from the kids dancing in the field and the harsh homegrown someone handed me before our set, my throat was on fire. I grabbed a cup of beer from Edward's riser and took a quick gulp of what turned out to be fucking lemonade.

Damn kid and his lemonade. Felix botched the mix, too, because it tasted like horse piss.

I made it back to Jas just as he finished informing the guys the set list was scrubbed, and we were going to show these rich-kid New England folkies what you got when you mixed a little Texas two-step and a little Acapulco Gold. I guess, really, it didn't matter who we were playing for, or why, I just liked to cop my share of intellectual superiority and impress anyone who'd listen to my opinions. Besides, whether the kids were astute enough to get the importance of Earnest Tubbs or Blind Lemon or just too stoned to care, we always took it back to our roots. That night – the night we met Katie – no one but Willie would do.

Jas raised his fiddle, I slung my old six-string across me and suddenly we were back at that old roadhouse, playing two-stepping psychedelic blues with Willie's words and our voices rolling out on top of the sultry stew of ganja and evaporating sweat that hung over the crowd.

When we dance together my world's in disguise

It's a fairyland tale that's come true.

And when you look at me

With those stars in your eyes

I could waltz across Texas with you.

And she knew every word. Sang it back to us with that coy Katie smile, even swung around her little brunette friend who called herself Meadow for a couple of verses.

Damn, man. We have to get it on with those chicks.

Felix was a good man, one of the best on the road, actually. Before the final chord of our biggest song, "Ride On to Freedom", faded out somewhere past the big speaker towers, he'd lifted Katie and Meadow over the wall separating us from them – a mystic gulf Pete called it – and ushered them backstage.

We took our bows as four, instead of five; Edward – never call that cat Ed – didn't hang out for the applause. He'd been a head case for six weeks working something over and not talking about it. At twenty-one he was way too young to be that bummed out.

"Be good to each other and groove on, y'all," Jasper drawled into his mic as Mac sent his sticks sailing into the audience.

"You're gonna take some chick's eye out with those things one day, Mac," I told our drummer, Emmett McCarty, as he rumbled down the stage stairs behind me. Mountain were waiting in the wings, bitching at a festival organizer who was insisting they use the generic equipment on stage instead of making their roadies break down and put back the wall of amps after their set.

Who would be together enough to re-wire that shit in the dark?

"Never their eyes, dude." Mac chuckled as he thrust his hand in a communal cooler for two longnecks. "I aim for their tits. Scored a direct hit once in Nashville, didn't you see it?"

"Oh man… do not bring up Bashed-ville." Jas stepped between us and fished a couple of beers from the slushy ice. "Doubt Gar can tell you what happened after halfway through our set. He woke up in some chick's pool wearin' her panties, remember?"

"Hey, fuck you, Whitlock, I was naked!" I snarled at him and shook ice water from my own bottle at his grinning face.

"Were you? Really?"

That honeyed lemon and sour mash voice didn't belong to Jas, and it sure as hell wasn't Mac. The three of us pivoted to it like we'd heard a siren's call… and we had. There stood Katie, still smiling, up close even prettier than she was twenty feet away. The way she planted her hands on her cocked hip, swaying just that little bit, made me think she could still feel that last chord I played pin-balling through her body. Whatever it was, the chick hummed with something more than a contact buzz from the copious haze of bad skunk hanging around backstage.

We all must have stared at her for twenty, maybe thirty seconds, until she looked at us like we were a trio of freaks and cleared her throat. What are you supposed to do when you're greeted with that much frosty-pale blond in that little halter top and no bra keeping those tits from swaying along with her?

"Well, hello there," Mac said with a soft whistle between his teeth, always the one to jump in first. He caught her hand and turned it over, kissed it like he was some damn chevalier, the ridiculous damn pussyhound. Katie shifted her eyes to us over his mess of sweat-soaked black hair, tweaking her eyebrows as her lips pursed playfully. "I'm -"

"You're Emmett McCarty. Drums and percussion. Good at pounding things, aren't you? Graduated cum laude from Princeton in '67, co-authored papers on altruism and the collective consciousness with Danny Batson during your one and only year of graduate work at Berkeley before you discovered the Sandoz lab's gift to mind expansion. Split for Texas with a chick, one of many I'm sure, worked as a lab rat in Austin until you found these boys at Threadgill's and, in your own version of an altruistic gesture, offered your talented hands as an alternative to the kid who sat in on drums between too many rides on the Old Brown Horse. Think that covers it?"

"Just about. I do appreciate a young lady who does her homework, ma'am." Fucker still hadn't let go of her hand, and she still hadn't stopped checking Jas and me out over Mac's steer-sized shoulder.

"I've not had to do 'homework' since I was twelve, and you haven't either, I'd imagine. How's turning down that Brannaut-Bransheimer fellowship working out for you?"

"Mighty fine now that you're here, Sunshine. Lost my taste for the lab after Princeton, I prefer more experiential research these days." She still watched us, even though she was clearly enjoying the verbal two-step with Mac. He looked over his shoulder at us, then back to Katie, and shrugged. "Huh... I see. Alright... think I'll check out the next set. Later on, Sunny."

"Later days, Little Drummer Boy."

Mac gave her a swat on the ass as he rambled off to find another chick to charm. Turning her head a little so she could laugh over her shoulder, she threw her arm over her head and waved to Mac but never took her eyes off us. The throaty, very non-prim and prissy chick tenor of it climbed over Mountain's sound check, to-ing and fro-ing like dust motes climbing the shafts of last light peeking over the Berkshires behind the venue. I could almost see the colors in her laugh, all red and gold tumbling around orange and vermillion, sparking into points of blue and indigo and the most mellow butterscotch brown. It was beautiful. Like she was only... it was like…

Fuck… what was in those brownies?

"Gar… dude, you're rambling," Jasper nudged me with his bottle of Schlitz and nodded toward her.

"Damn… I said that out loud, didn't I?"

"Maybe a little. It's okay, though, I like those colors." She held out her hand to me, and for some reason I felt like I'd gotten a leg up on Jas in the battle for this blonde. Didn't happen often. "I'm Kate."


"Garrett. I know."

"Right." There was a tunnel of awareness going from me right into this chick Katie. She was no Kate, not some uptight chick with that easy vibe. Katie, yeah…Katie. She was old down deep, and absolutely right on.

"Gar, man... you have got to shut up." Jasper snaked his arm around me toward Katie. "Jasper Whitlock, ma'am. How-do."

"Do well." Her eyes left mine, traveling easily to Jas. I figured that was all she wrote. His mojo was real, like Morrison's, not bullshit rock-star posture. Hell, I was a man and fell under his sway half the time, a fact I'd smother with a pull of bourbon before I could question it.

He knew I was getting too heavy and pulled me away from Miss Katie-with-the-bee-stung-lips before I could try to make up more bad poetry about how she didn't reek of patchouli but was misty with noddy-headed Texas roses and cinnamon, and her hair looked like an ice-stilled waterfall in the moonlight.

"Moonlight and ice and wilting flowers? And my mojo? Dude, did you drink some of Pete's lemon cactus juice shit?"

Not Edward's lemonade but a potent brew of the prolific San Pedro cactus that traveled with us on our tour bus. Peter tended to the succulent like a fussy first-time mama, even sang to it and called it Charlotte. I'd noticed him pruning Charlotte this morning before sound check.

Ohhhh... shit.

"I'm still talking... not thinking it, but talking it, aren't I?" I laughed in his face at the sheer stupidity of it. Peter's damn mescaline lemonade had loosened my tongue in the worst way, and I was babbling like Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider.

Jas shook his head and chuckled silently. "This shit is gonna piss you off, Gar, but you've got to cool out."

Next thing I knew ice cubes were flying toward my open eyes, trailing gray and blue and the billowiest dove white I'd ever seen. They left my face wet and dripping sweat-salty ice in my eyes. I was sure I'd suffered enough, what with my burning eyes and mouthful of grungy cooler water, but the jackass sent me down again. Three more times.

"Alright, alright!" I jostled him off, staggering away to find a towel and a dry shirt in my duffle. Jasper was too much of a good friend to plan it that way, but all he needed was five minutes alone with Miss Cinnamon Roses, and, with that Whitlock mojo, she'd be his. For the night... the afternoon...

I kicked an empty across the tramped-down pasture grass, watching as it bounced and rolled over the rutted farmland turned grooveland - for the weekend, anyway - and felt a bad vibe crawling up my back. Just then the brown bottle crashed into a tent stake and broke apart into a million drops of amber sunset.

I have got to cool out...

That chick was getting under my skin, too much and too fast.


The festival promoters had scattered a few picnic tables around backstage, probably to either promote good-times and that kind of shit between the acts or keep everyone and their stash central in hopes they'd share. After all, Crosby had the best shit, and they were headlining tomorrow night.

Dried off and sufficiently chilled out, I found Jas and Pete conversing with the very intoxicating Miss Kate. Her little friend was a few steps away, watching her skirt twirl around her as she spun out of time to "Theme For an Imaginary Western".

"Ah, there he is. Feeling better, Garrett?" Most chicks with an expression like the one on Katie's face would come off as bitchy but there was just enough humor in it to make her look confident and unfazed, like everything and anything was just cool with her.

I watched for reactions from them. None. No more babbling, thank Christ. My thoughts were my own again.

"Getting there," I nodded and parked it on the narrow bench, keeping my eyes on hers as the weathered wood groaned under the combined weight of Pete and me. An easy smile welled up and spilled over her face, and she shook her head with a laugh.

"Um... hey, this scene isn't really my bag. Interested in a party?"

"Oh, we're always interested in soaking up some local color," Jasper answered, beating me by half a second. "You ladies feel like playin' tour guide to a bunch of old boys from Texas?"

"Old boys? C'mon, man, you sound like Brick Bennedict in Giant."

"Aaayup." Damn if he didn't even tip his imaginary Stetson at Katie as he sauntered over to her. "Part of my charm… ma'am."

She liked it. I could tell she was digging the Texas gentleman trip, even if she was calling bullshit on him. I got up so I didn't have to watch their vibe unfolding, making sure everyone could see me looking for another beer.

"Where's it happening?" I asked, clearing my throat, probably a little too loud.

"My aunt and uncle's lake cottage." Katie threw up her hand before we could get the groans out of our throats. Even Peter sat up, ready to join in. "No, it's not like that. They're cool. It's a really mellow space out there."

"Sounds good to me," Pete said, jumping up and swinging Meadow around to him in mid-twirl. "We were on the tour bus for six days driving up here. It'd be cool to get some fresh air and shit."

Jas and I looked at each other, deciding. Katie seemed very cool, and Pete was definitely digging her little friend.

I lowered my voice and shifted toward Jas. "Let me talk to Mac and Edward, see what they're up for?" We nodded at each other in agreement, and he turned toward the line of busses.

"I'm gonna clean up a little since we're meeting old people," Jas called over his shoulder as he moved toward the tour bus.

"They're not old!" Katie called after him. "Not like that!"

"Let's go find the guys. Hopefully Mac has gotten Edward to mellow out a little."

The two were easy to find, hanging behind the stage with Felix just where I thought they would be. Mac and Felix were burning one down while Edward leaned against the steel risers scowling. Katie accepted a joint from Felix, who greeted me with a slap of his huge, beaten-up hand.

"Into a party?"

Felix shook his head. "Got one lined up with Creedence's crew. They just rolled in from Boston two hours late. Gonna help them set up and hit their scene when it's over."

"Where?" Mac asked as he thumbed a piece of shake from his bottom lip.

"Porter Lake, downstate."

"Yeah? I know the place - Longmeadow, right? I knew a couple of chicks who went to Bay Path." Mac cocked an eyebrow at me and grinned. "Women's college. Heavy into self-directed majors and fine arts. Nice..." her stopped, aware of Katie, and tried to get it together. "Er... grounds. Really nice campus. You two go to school there or something?"

"Um... no, we're local - or I am. Meadow and I met at boarding school. My uncle teaches and my aunt makes pottery." She looked past Mac and her eyes lit up. "Oh! Would you excuse me?" Katie took off before we could answer, both of us watching her run through the dusky light toward a very, very nice bus. Mac turned back to me and took the smoldering roach from my fingers, extracted a couple of drum keys from his back pocket and sandwiched the stub between the metal discs.

"She a groupie or something? Don't get me wrong, the girl is a fox, but she seems like she's been around, you know?"

"Nah, I think she's just a mellow chick."

"A mellow chick who seems to be on kissing terms with Stephen Stills." Felix pointed between us and across the field where someone who indeed looked a lot like the S of CSNY looked pretty happy to see Katie. He released her from a hug and kissed her forehead and guided her toward the bus. A very familiar dude whose presence made me stare too long ambled over to her next and spun her around in his arms.

"A mellow chick who just hugged Neil Young." I added, souring. The chick I wanted, all friendly with one of my heroes. Fuck.

"Hi! Are we ready? Are you dudes coming, too? Oh you really should - the lake is so clear and there's such beautiful energy out there, and the water is really cleansing and Esme and Carlisle are just so right on." Meadow greeted us with big smiles as she handed all of us daisies. She'd wound some into her hair and held a circle of them in her hand. "Oh, there's Katie!" She skipped off toward that big, fancy bus and Neil - fucking Neil Young, man! - and handed Katie her little daisy crown when she reached her friend's side.

"That little girl exhausts me before she gets one sentence out." Mac smiled, watching her go with some kind of big brother indulgent look on his face. "Pete, you give her some of that jungle juice of yours?"

"No way man, she's a talker on weed, can you imagine her all loose on mesc?" he replied, still watching her go and obviously very into her. "She's a cool little girl, though. Sweet. So, y'all gonna make the scene down at this lakehouse? Meadow said Katie's folks were the real thing - her uncle's somebody famous or something, used to hang with some big thinkers until there was... um... she called it a fork in their rivers of consciousness or some shit like that." We all had to chuckle over that line. How many times had we all heard that shit over the past three years? "But seriously, sounds like the uncle is buddies with some of the acts here this weekend. Alan Ginsberg was up there last weekend, Meadow said he made potato salad for a picnic."

Kate and Meadow strolled back to us, arm in arm and giggling to each other.

Shit. Both of them were playing in the big leagues.

"Why don't you go gather up whatever you might need for the evening? Meadow and I will get our shit moved around in my bus to make room for the trip down to the lake. You won't need much - my aunt takes good care of her family."

Mac elbowed Edward, who stepped forward reluctantly, his hands shoved deep in his pockets.

"I think me and Ed here are gonna catch Creedence. I remember how to get to Longmeadow, just leave me directions to your um... family's pad on the dash in the bus and we'll make it down there later, Sunshine."

As Katie and Meadow headed off Edward sighed heavily and kicked at a rock lodged in the hard pack ground. Mac was the only person who could get away with calling him Ed.

"Maybe I'll just hang here," he mumbled.

"Absolutely not, my good man." Mac hooked his big arm around Edward's neck and grinned over at us. "We'll catch you on the lake, boys. Save some girls and grass for us, yeah?" The two ambled off, Mac steering Edward toward a cooler full of longnecks.

"Right. Let's head out and go visit the guru or whatever kind of scene they've got goin' on down at this lakehouse." Jas sounded about as into meeting some chick's family as I was, but Katie was looking like she might be worth the hassle.


Kate's VW bus was minimally rusted out, red with a white roof. The spare tire was mounted on the front, covered in grubby white canvas. As we walked around to get it, Meadow proudly pointed out the words encircling the perimeter of the tire cover, "Summer 1970". She had made the zero into a peace sign.

Peter stopped and admired it with more enthusiasm than he even put into singing to Charlotte the Cactus; the dude was definitely gonna ball pretty Meadow tonight.

Being gentlemen, or, in reality, being horny-assed guys who wanted to make good impressions, we climbed into the back without complaint, letting the ladies have the bucket seats in the front. The front seats had been covered in purple velvet; the leather must have been split pretty bad. The back seats were only ripped in the corners. Between stalling as she put it gear, riding the brake and cussing her way out through the crowd heading into the concert grounds to catch the evening's headliner, Kate didn't have much time for flirting anyway. Meadow pivoted up on her knees and chatted with us over her seat about the concerts the girls had been to last summer. All Jas and I could do was nod and listen: little mama could talk.

"We missed Denver Pop - I was so bummed, the last performance of the Experience, y'know - but after we read about Jimi and the way everyone ran at him and the police and the teargas, I guess it was a good thing we couldn't find enough freaks to fill the bus and split on gas for the trip. Of course, we made it to Woodstock! Did you guys go? Yeah? Where were you? We spent Saturday by the big tower on the right. Wasn't Janis right on? I'm sorry we didn't meet then, but it's karma that we've met now, don't you think? Like we're all meant to be together on this part of our journey. Yeah… pretty far out."

Damn, she really was adorable, all pink cheeked and glowing. Settling down and facing forward at last, she started to braid her hair as she scanned the crowd, throwing the peace sign at anyone who caught her eye. Suddenly she grabbed Katie's arm.

"Oh God, Kate, look. Stop, please stop the bus, right now." Meadow's big brown eyes were suddenly full of tears and wide with fear. "No one is helping him... nonono! Stop, please!"

The change in her demeanor brought us all to attention, watching in mass confusion as Meadow started sobbing and fumbled with the door handle. Before the bus came to a complete stop she was out, running into the slow-moving crowd of cars and groups of high-spirited concert goers, none of whom seemed interested in what she was saying or doing as she pounded on car windows and grabbed blindly at passing people by the arms. She kept pointing to the side of the dirt road, where there was a drainage ditch.

Kate stopped the van in the middle of the road, flung open her door, and we flew after her, leaving Jasper to deal with Pete and his mesc buzz in the stalled bus. Finally catching Meadow by the arm, Katie clutched her tear-streaked face in her hands, turning her focus on her. Poor little girl was sobbing and hiccoughing; her face had gone all splotchy and red - and a little snotty, too.

"Meadow… Meadow?... Bella - breathe... come on, sister, what did you see?"

"Down in the ditch - there's a man in a wheelchair! He's fallen over, and no one's stopped to help him." Meadow broke free of Katie's hands and ran toward the dude, and I took off behind her, suddenly feeling pretty protective of the tiny girl who struck me as too big-hearted for the world she was living in. As I caught up to her I spied the side of a wheelchair and a crumpled man. I would have rather been anywhere but here, looking at a pretty damn ugly picture.

"Garrett, please. We have to do something. Where's Kate?" The situation with Meadow was already pretty intense, and we'd lost Katie in the crowd. Behind us a couple of voices rose over the din of conversations and far-off music.

"What's happening down there?"

"Some junkie vet in a ditch, man."

"Fuckin' baby-killer, serves you right, G.I. My Lai!"

"What would you do? Anything different if they sent you there and made you carry out their orders? He's just a guy, like you!" Kate screeched. "Move on, asshole!"

I turned to her voice, scanning the crowd for her blond hair and found her face to face with some dude in a tie-dyed t-shirt and a shiny leather headband decorated with peace signs. He looked like he was dressed up for a costume party, not someone really into the scene. One of Katie's hands fisted the collar of his brand-new shirt, the other curled at her side like she was about to punch the dude.

"C'mon, sweetheart... it's all good, okay?" I whispered against her blond hair as I pulled her away from the idiotic kid. Katie was trembling, almost crackling like a live wire of fury. "Deep breaths, Katie."

We pushed back to where Meadow was pointing, and Kate let out a low, agonized groan at the sight of him: a crippled dude, lank hair in a ponytail, wearing an Army jacket with the sleeves cut off. He was in a tipped-over wheelchair, on the slant of the ditch, unable to pull himself back up but looking too fucked-up to care. Jasper left Peter to comfort Meadow, and we slithered through the scrub to where the chair was stuck.

"Lea' me 'lone," he snarled wetly at us over and over. This was one sad old vet, both of his lower legs gone, and the tracks of his habit evident as he fought us off with his twitching bare arms. From the sweat breaking through on the collar of his fatigue jacket, it was obvious he was jonesing hard.

Meadow bounced down the embankment to kneel beside him, "Now just let us help you, brother. You came to see the concert tonight? All that righteousness and joy is just what you need. Let us help you back to the road. Please?" Meadow took his hand, all sweetness and light in her hopeful smile. It was almost too much to watch; the girl had no idea what she was looking at.

"Geh the fuck off, bitch... not y' f-in' brother!"

"Hey now, man, watch that shit." Jasper snarled and beat me by half a second to little Meadow's side. Bad luck in Nam or not, that shit was not cool.

Poor girl, her efforts were greeted by a shove and a retch. The shove was too late, and the dude heaved with dope sickness, spattering puke at Meadow's feet and sandals. She looked up and around, frantic, her big brown Bambi eyes wide and searching, looking between Jas and me for something. An explanation, maybe? I gulped hard and looked at the kids passing by, oblivious or just fucking ignoring the sad dude.

Pete made it to us, his face contorted with anger, and he swung the sobbing Meadow into his arms.

"Man, that was uncool - she was trying to help you, dude. She's on your side, man."

"You don't fuckin' know shit, kid." The vet's eyes lolled around, searching for Pete. His gaze found mine and blazed with rage. "You kids don't fuckin' know..."

"Alright man, we need to get you up." Ignoring everything the vet said or did from that moment on, Jas and I hoisted him gingerly into his chair and lugged it up to the road. Meadow followed leaning on Katie's arm, with Peter's hand in hers. We got our reluctant new friend a drink of water from Katie's big thermos, and the last we saw of him, he was rolling off to hear Creedence.

Katie took the last of the thermos and rinsed off Meadow's vomit drenched, now bare feet as best she could. Once back in the van and headed toward the road, she switched on the radio.

Some folks are born made to wave the flag

Ooh, they're red, white and blue

And when the band plays "Hail to the chief"

Ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord

It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no senator's son, son

It ain't me, it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate one, no

"No way, man, not that fucking song this fucking afternoon."

Slapping at the knob, Katie visibly fumed. "Ya know, the Founding Fathers wouldn't even fart at the politicians we've got these days. My dad fought in France, watched his men blown to pieces all around him. He fought to free innocent people from a crazy-assed monster. And we have a government intruding on an indigenous population in Asia who has done nothing to us here. Fucking police action - they don't dare even call it a war. We lost the only man who could stop Nixon. When we lost Bobby... and before him, Dr. King."

"And poor Sharon Tate and her baby. I just don't understand, Katie." The little brunette sighed and gnawed at her lip like she was trying to make sense of it all. Poor kid didn't understand yet that there was no simple solution. It was gonna be a real bummer for her when she came on to the way the shit really was; hopefully, it wouldn't be too much of a drag for this little flower child. She really believed in peace and love, and it was sort of cool to see. "All this hatred and coldness toward each other where there should be love and warmth for our brothers and sisters. I guess I better rap with your uncle when we get to the Lake. I just don't understand." Meadow leaned her head back and let the tears flow. Something about this kid hit me hard, and I had to reach forward and wipe at one of the tears rolling across her cheek. "Thank you, Garrett. You're a good soul."

I leant back against the bench, expecting to see Jas ready to ride my ass over it, but he was looking away, out the window, biting one of the callouses on his fret hand and staring hard into the early summer evening.

We all fell into an uneasy silence as we made our way out to the main road, too wrapped up in our own thoughts. The mellow vibe from before was gone, and we were all coming down hard.

Finally reaching the state route, we headed east. With the wooded drive up to the festival behind us, our mood in general lifted. Katie was able to shift the bus into 4th gear and get up to speed. A breeze moved through the van, shifting the bad air through the open windows. Suddenly, Meadow's eyes flew open, and she grabbed her blue suede fringed bag.

"Y'know, I think we all worry too much. Here, you guys, let's mellow out." Meadow reached across the back of the purple velvet seat and passed me a strawberry pink joint. Gotta love chicks and their fondness for flavored papers. This one was loose and barely smokable, had a second paper around it to try to smooth the lumps. If Meadow had rolled this, the pretty baby couldn't roll a joint even if the Ohio National Guard had her in their sights.

I fumbled around on the floor by my seat and came up with a library book, On the Beach. Nuclear fall-out as summer reading? Heavy. Breaking open the joint, I shook it into the crevice of the open pages in the center of the novel. She'd rolled a couple of full buds and a shit load of stems and seeds into that baby-pink paper of hers, but I couldn't bring myself to laugh at her. It was just... well, it seemed like something she would do: sort of clumsy and awkward but real well-meaning. I pushed the pot up and back on the propped open page, revealing the words "...eccentricity that verged on madness, born of the times they lived in." Yep, Nevil Shute was a prescient dude. I crushed the buds, herded the seeds down into the crack, palmed Jasper's Zig Zags from him and rolled it up tight and even, one-handed. There was enough left over for an extra which I tucked behind my ear for later.

I brushed seeds and shake from the book, lit the new joint, and passed it back to Meadow. She didn't seem to notice the change in papers.

"There, Katie, see, that's a good one. I'm getting better at it!" Meadow grinned proudly, and then blushed as she struggled to keep down her hit.

Her friend smiled over at her like she was a cute little puppy, right down to the ribbon around her neck, a Christmas morning present.

"Beautiful, Bella. See, I told you you'd learn. All things come to us when we're open and ready to embrace them, right?"

"Ye- " Meadow, or Bella, or whatever her name was, sputtered and coughed out a cloud of thick smoke. "Yeah," she gasped, nodding, and passed the burning doob back to Jas, who hit it and nudged Katie's shoulder.

"No, thanks, I don't smoke and drive. I can barely keep this thing between the lines as it is. The VW bus is a great way to get a lot of good people from one place to another, but the damn things drive like fucking Sherman tanks."

Leaving the Berkshires behind us, we bumped along the Mass Pike, then headed south to Longmeadow. Soon the van wheezed through a pair of vine-covered stone pillars onto an endless gravel lane.

"So this is your uncle's pad?"

"Yeah, well, it's my mom's and my Aunt Esme's really. Porter Lake's been in my family for generations. Kind of a famous artists' retreat at one point, then it was the family's summer place. My sisters and I have lived with them since Daddy died, and our mom left in search of a Theosophy teacher or the Lost Chord or a new lay. Now that Uncle Carlisle's lecturing at Hampshire College, he and my aunt are living here full time. It'll be a cool scene this weekend; no one to bring us down. My straight sisters are off shopping for debutante dresses. My aunt has one unbreakable rule though. Absolutely no hard drugs, so if you're holding, leave it in my bus when we get to the house."

"Wait, back up. Did you say Uncle Carlisle?" Jasper almost shouted, leaning forward with more interest than I think I'd ever seen from the dude – and I'd known Jas since we were twelve years old. He didn't get that turned on over a fence-clearing homer he hit in tenth grade. "That's a pretty way out name. Your uncle isn't that dude who..."

"The Rev. Dr. Carlisle Cullen? Yeah, man - that's him." Katie replied like it wasn't remotely heavy that she was taking us to see one of the finest figures of the anti-establishment movement.

"Did you know he spoke at the Human Be-In, right before Timothy Leary? I was there - Katie and I went! They took us out of school to go with them to California. Oh like... wow... the energy was sparkling; it was so full of peace and good intentions! Katie's uncle and Leary - they worked together on the League for Spiritual Discovery. But Reverend Carlisle quit tripping because he feels using pot is revelatory enough for most seekers. And... well, he and Leary disagreed on other stuff too, especially Leary's book, Start Your Own Religion, and that stuff with the cops was a bad scene." Meadow chirped.

"Lisle's pretty much still down with the good parts of Christianity, has even given a sermon or two recently at the local Unitarian church." Katie added, smiling over at Meadow like an indulgent big sister. She turned the bus down a dirt and gravel driveway, working her arms and shoulders hard to get the big VW around the corner. In the distance a huge old-fashioned house, from way back - like at the turn of the century from the looks of it - glowed inside with lamplight and under the deep porches with twinkling lanterns hanging from the eaves.

"But the dude smokes weed?" I asked, still staring at the house and the groups of people milling around. Katie shrugged as she parked the bus beside an old apple tree, straining under the weight of the hard little green-globed fruit it bore.

"Sure, why not?"

"It's from the Earth, doesn't have any pesticides or freaky chemicals on it, it's a cash crop that supports independent farmers, and because it isn't regulated by The Man, you're not contributing to the universal corporate war-machine juggernaut," Meadow added. By the time she finished rambling off her little speech she was practically bouncing in the seat.

"That is so right on," Peter's trip-happy voice floated from behind me and Jas. I turned around and found him on the floor, his bare feet propped up in the open slider window and glasses tucked through a belt loop on his olive drab cut-offs.

"Where the fuck did you come from, Lundsford?"

"Uhhhhh… San Antonio?"

Jas twisted around, too, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Pete was tripping his balls off, and there was nothing better than messing with his head when that cactus juice really kicked in. He knew it was coming, too.

"Hey, man," I started in a whisper, barely able to contain the snickering as Jas put his hands inches from the sides of Pete's face and whiffed them back and forth. "You're runnin' down a hall… you're runnin'… faster… faster…" Jas sped up, his hands lifting Pete's hair with the breeze they stirred up.

"Guys… Jas… mannnnn…" Pete squeaked, giggling too hard to move and too into it to close his eyes.

"And you… Turn a corner! And you're runnin'… aaaaannnddd… faster," I snorted, and Jas moved his hands diagonally, then straight again. Pete's big feet hit the grooved floorboard and stamped in time with Jasper's fluttering hands.

"Gar… you fucker… lay off!"

I winked at Jas. Time for the big finish.

"You're goin' faster… turn the corner… aaaannndddd…" Jas slapped Pete's forehead.

"You run into a wall!" we shouted together, cackling like Texas Grackles and trading high-fives. Behind us, Katie cleared her throat.

"How old are you two?" she asked, eyeing us dubiously.

"Twenty-one, ma'am," I answered with a half-assed salute as I looked her over. Jas settled down facing her, and his legs fell open like he'd been in the saddle all day.

"Old enough." He raised his eyebrows, slid a stick of gum in his mouth, the smooth-assed fucker, and offered the yellow pack to Katie. "Want some Juicy Fruit to chew on, darlin'?"

Katie rolled her eyes but did crack a smile at his bullshit scene.

"Uh, no thanks, darlin', it sticks to my fillings. Why don't you come up to the house and meet the Reverend." She shrugged. "Unless you two would like to sit here in the twilight and hold hands."

"Can I get up? It's hot back here," Peter mumbled.

"Oh my golly, he's lying in front of the engine!" Little Meadow hopped from the front seat and slung the bus' side door open, scurrying past me in a streak of muddy, wet blue skirt. "You poor boy! Here, take my hand, we'll go down to the lake and cool off. I could use some cleansing anyway, you know, after that poor man... You're Peter, right - like Pete like Pete Townsend or Peter like Peter Max?"

Pete grinned and flashed us his middle finger as he headed out into the long light of the summer evening with the tiny brunette, her voice still echoing over the dewy lawn.

"Meadow's a big fan of skinny dipping. They'll be very close and very clean by the time they get up to the house. C'mon dudes, let's go find my folks." Jas and I exchanged the universal meet the folks grimace and followed Katie as she swayed up the stone path to the porch.

Pulled up on the side of the house, in front of what must have been stables at one point, was an old school bus, beautifully and realistically painted to represent the Garden of Eden. One of the tires was flat, and the windows were too dirty to see much inside.

It was like passing a war memorial or, more likely, an anti-war memorial.

The rest of the house lived up to Meadow's praises. The porch was lined with Adirondack chairs and low tables; several of those chairs and the steps facing the lake were occupied by people I recognized from the evening news and Time magazine. I elbowed Jasper; both of us stopped dead in our tracks and desperately tried to act like this scene was no big deal. We were small town Texas boys, but we were cool... or trying to be.

"Magic Carpet Ride" poured out of the open windows and screened doors along with a tall cat with dark blond hair, pulled into a short ponytail, followed by a woman in a short embroidered dress covered with an apron smeared with clay. In the glow of the candles and tiki torches her hair glowed like ancient brass.

Katie turned, expecting us at her back. Her face screwed up, a little annoyed, and she glanced back toward us, crooking her finger at us as she mouthed the words along with Steppenwolf.

"You don't know what we can find, why don't you come with me little girl on a magic carpet ride?" She gave us a couple of seconds to move, then huffed with exasperation and stuck her hands on her hips. "Guys... they don't bite. C'mon."

When we caught up to Katie she introduced us to her uncle, and his wife, Esme.

"Boys, I'm sorry not to offer my hand, but I've been at the wheel all afternoon, and I'm covered in muck. Are you hungry?"

"Yes, ma'am," Jas and I answered in unison, already salivating at the idea of real food, not to mention feeling some serious munchies taking over.

"I thought you would be. Kate will show you to the kitchen. There's a platter of fried chicken and some potato salad in the icebox. First summer tomatoes and cukes from my garden on the windowsill, and I think there's still a lemon bundt cake in the breadbox if Tanya and the girls haven't finished it off." Her eyes widened, and she gasped a little. "Oh, dear. You boys do eat meat don't you?"

"Yes, ma'am!" we repeated, sounding like fucking Beaver Cleaver. Fuck it - I'd had more than my share of soy cutlets after leaving home. The notion of real fried chicken and summer fixin's almost made me want to cry with joy.

"Wonderful. I also have pans of eggplant parmigiana in the oven for my vegetarian guests - you're welcome to that, too. Please help yourselves...oh - and feel freedom to drop into my studio if you need to get away from all these stuffy stoners," winking at her husband through her granny glasses as she swished her soft, waist-length braid over her shoulder and stood on her toes to give him a quick peck on the lips. "Later, Reverend."

Jas and I mumbled and nodded politely, trying to remember the manners our mothers taught us.

"Well, let's not stand outside all night, please do come in, won't you?"

Once inside the expansive entry, the Reverend... Dr... Mr... fuck - Carlisle, like he told us... Carlisle broke off and headed back to the big double parlor, just like the one at Jasper's parent's ranch house, and Katie took us into the modern kitchen.

"Okay, plates... beer or soda? Lemonade..." she called out the contents of the refrigerator as she bent further and shifted things around. It would have been impossible not to notice the swell of her ass sticking up in the air toward us, not to mention the perfect view of her bare tits through the drooping neckline of her halter top. Jas and I stared, our heads tilted at the same angle for maximum vantage. "Guys... um... guys?" Before we could shake it off, Katie turned and caught both of us checking her out. She smirked, all coy and not even pissed like most chicks would be, and walked up to us. "I think you two can figure the rest out. Come find me, I'll be in the sunroom with Lisle."

She pushed herself up on her toes and planted a long and very hot-looking kiss right on Jas' mouth. The dude didn't even look surprised, just wound his arms around her and kneaded her ass as they kissed.

At least I'd get a decent meal, even if a decent lay weren't happening. I started toward the pine cabinets for a plate and felt a hand close around my wrist.

"And where are you going, Garrett?" she pursed her lips as she twisted my t-shirt around her fingers and yanked me down to her. I could taste cherry gloss and weed on her lips, and when her tongue swept against mine the sight of her doing the same to my best friend, not ten seconds before, evaporated from my memory. She nudged me back against the kitchen sink, letting go of my collar so she could slide her hands around my neck. The Indian cotton skirt she wore had sunk low on her hips, and I couldn't resist tracing my thumbs along the waistband, riding the smooth little swell of belly and hip peeking out from under her yellow tank top.

Katie pulled away, grabbed a grape soda from the fridge and sauntered from the kitchen without another word, leaving two guys, speechless and hard, in her wake.

"What the -?" Jas mumbled.

I avoided his eyes and grabbed a plate. Food first. We'd figure that shit out when we got up from the table.

"Dude, better hide some of that chicken if you want more later. Once Mac sniffs it out, it's all but gone."

Katie was already deep in a discussion with her uncle about a seminar he was planning for the fall on Rudolf Otto's The Idea of the Holy. At the sound of that title, we both looked longingly towards Esme's sanctuary down the hall. She was one foxy old lady and could cook better than my own mother. The good Reverend had it made.

The conversation veered off into Katie and Meadow's day at the concert, which acts had lived up to their expectations. Her uncle expressed his appreciation for Muddy Waters; Kate countered with Miles Davis, both of whom they had seen at the Newport Jazz Festival. This chick was deep, man, and choice; every time she said something, I spun deeper under her spell.

"Let's leave them to get this shit out of the way. I'm way too buzzed and way too full to keep up." With that Jas nudged me out to the porch. Of course, the open area was packed with guests balancing plates and glasses, and the conversations we caught clips of were no less challenging than the one we left in the house. When we reached the far end of the porch, where there was another set of steps, Jasper sat and pulled his boots and socks off with a groan, "Daaaammmn, that feels good!"

"Shit, Jas, glad you did that away from the crowd. That's some funk you got going, man - good way to clear a room."

We sat together in silence, not the easy kind. I knew I was not comfortable with what I was going to say next.

"Jas, I'm really into Katie, and I think she's feeling the same vibe - for...uh, tonight at least. Trouble is, I'm seeing the same thing with you." Our eyes met for the first time since we'd left the kitchen, and I saw more than I'd expected.

"Yeah, she's got a message for me, and I need to hear what she's sayin', man."

"Okay, let's settle it like we used to."

Immediately, Jas and I stood up tall at the end of that porch and had it out like men. We were friendly but determined, both wanting to stake a claim.

Rock paper scissors.

For what could have been fifteen seconds or thirty years - who knew with grass this good - we kept tying and kept trying again.

"Hey, fucker, quit copying me!"

When Jas, in frustration, dug in his pocket for a quarter, so we could flip for her, a cool pair of blue eyes appeared at his shoulder. I figured that was the end of any hope either of us had for getting to know more about Miss Katie.

"I'm not a prize to be awarded, but who says I have to choose, boys?" she whispered, sauntering away to where her uncle had sat down with some of the famous faces.

Ask any boy with a guitar and a turntable why he really learned to play, and the answer was to get it on with as many chicks as he could. Jasper had been successfully working that line since we turned fifteen, hit growth spurts, and bought guitars. He taught me everything I knew. But this here was not a rock star moment, as both of us gaped and coughed, looked down at our feet or out on the lawn-anywhere but at each other or back at her. I focused wonderingly at the image of a ménage à trois.

We were straight, so how would this work?

We both wanted Katie, and apparently she wanted both of us. My dick didn't want to go anywhere near another dick, and judging by the sweat coming off Jasper's palms as he wiped them on his jeans, his didn't either.

"Okay, um... I think... well, new experiences are enlightening, right, Gar? Maybe if we could just try not to... if she..."

We were saved from utter dweebhood by the arrival of Mac and Edward. Our bandmates were taken inside by Katie and Carlisle, away from the great and good personalities mellowing out on the porch. When Jas and I slunk back into the room, still unable to look at each other, Mac and Carlisle were beaming.

"How's Danny Batson?"

"Excellent, last I heard."

"Wait, Mac, you two know each other?"

"It's a small brotherhood, man."

"Excuse me, how about the sisters?" Katie growled as she made herself known from the wing chair by the fireplace.

"My apologies, Sunny." Mac gave her a little flourish with his hand, earning the finger and a giggle from Katie. "Listen, Carlisle, before Ed and I settle in, I need to tell you something. My man here is going through some serious psychic blockage, and I've offered to accompany him on a little journey. I know it's not your thing anymore, but I'll be with him all the way. I know where the tabs came from, totally reputable and pure, an accurate dosage, too." Mac's face glowed with sincerity and concern, while Edward gazed at his hands mournfully.

"You took it while driving?" The Reverend Doctor did not look pleased.

"Aw, no - no way, man. We dropped once we parked the tour bus at the bottom of your drive - didn't want to block in any guests who might want to leave - and walked up to the house. Carlisle, I respect your domain, dude. If you're not cool with this, I'll take him back to the bus and handle it there."

"Emmett, I'm holding you responsible, and only because I have such faith in you and your spiritual work over the years will I make this exception. But," he looked at Mac with the same fire in his eyes I'd seen from Katie earlier. "Do not make me have to hit this boy with Thorazine if your trip goes bad."

Mac settled in between Edward and Carlisle on the sofa and produced a very fat plastic bag from his pocket. He handed the grass to Carlisle with a huge grin. "You have my word as a man of science, sir. Oh, and uh, by the way - from Cros, with his compliments."

Carlisle chuckled and shook Mac's hand; obviously both were eager to put the awkward moment behind them.

"Thanks, son. Nice of him to remember us. He is quite the connoisseur." The guy actually waved the open bag under his nose like he was evaluating wine or some shit. He pulled out two fat buds coated in whiteish resin and sniffed them appreciatively. "Lovely. Care for a smoke?"

"Uh..." Mac looked down a little sheepishly and picked at his ankle. "Um... I had a sample on the way down, but yeah - I could use a little top-up." Carlisle pulled a three-foot tall water bong from behind the rocking chair in the corner and loaded up, offering to Mac. "Oh, no, it's cool, man. I did sample from your stash after all."

"Please, guests first."

"Oh, jeez, Lisle, pass it here and lose the etiquette," Katie grumbled and reached for the bong, moving to the floor between Jas and me. She worked the speed hole like a damn professional, lifting the bowl slightly and dropping it back in as she fogged and cleared it - twice.

The circle of men she sat in was silent - and awed.

"Gawd damn..." Mac drawled, his eyes wide. "That girl could suck a golf ball through twenty foot of garden hose."

Katie snorted a little, struggling to keep her hit in as she glared mischievously at Mac. Once the coughing started she gave up and let the smoke billow from her lungs as she laughed heartily.

"Fucker," she laughed as she flipped Mac off again. She leaned down for another quick hit and passed the bong and lighter to Jas. Once again, she crooked that damn sexy finger of hers at me and choked out "C'mere," without letting any air escape her lungs.

"Wha -" Before I could finish, she'd pulled me to her and pressed her lips against mine. Her tongue flicked against my mouth, and I opened, inhaling as she exhaled, and the sweet smoke and taste of her danced across my tongue. She watched as I held her hit in my lungs and then exhaled over her head. "Thanks," I may have mumbled, or something just as profound, pretty much entranced with her so close to my face and watching me with her heavy-lidded blue eyes.

"I like to share," she breathed and leaned back into Jas's shoulder with a lazy smile. "I think everyone is entitled to partake equally in whatever is going around." The way her eyebrows lifted when she said equally sent a surge of energy right to my cock just before her legs stretched across my lap. Jas shifted her so they were facing, and he repeated the same action, cupping her chin and leaning down to shotgun his hit into her waiting mouth. As their lips joined, her toes brushed against my arm, sliding down to my hip, and she followed with her ankle, pressing into me and toward her. Jas settled her against his chest, barely looking at her damn uncle who watched with a smile that could only be called indulgent and loving. It freaked me out, more than a little.

"Hey, Katie, who are they?" Mac asked as he jerked his head toward three or four very bored Tricia Nixon clones sitting around the big farmhouse dining table playing cards. "You people babysitting for the Young Republicans or something?"

I pointed my temple, to Mac and back to my temple. We laughed much louder than necessary, which visibly offended the ladies in question.

"Oh, the Pappagallo Princesses? My dear older sister, her room mate, at Smith College, my baby sister and a friend." Katie yawned dismissively. "Smithies. Probably playing Old Maid and dreaming of the day they can join the country club with Skippy or Biffy or Vanny."

"At least we have futures with men who bathe regularly and can get a job that doesn't include offering fries with your order," a pretty but frigid-looking redhead sang between her teeth as she laid down a pair of cards.

"Go stuff your bra, Tanya."

"At least I'm wearing one, Katherine."

"Girls," a pretty feminine voice called from the kitchen. "Women support each other's choices."

"Yes, ma'am, Auntie." Katie replied and smiled toward her sister. "Tanya, I support your right to turn yourself into a waste of intellect and education, major in Art History and live your life as a reproductive slave to a man who will discard you like a spent ball of Kleenex when your looks and newness fade."

"And Katherine, I support your right to live like a filthy hippie and act like a druggie whore. Daddy would be so proud."

Both spoke with so much venom I almost shivered. The guys shifted nervously, even Carlisle, who must have been used to this kind of warfare. My brothers and I usually just pounded each other senseless in the back yard until my dad opened the garden hose up on us.

Man, chicks fought dirty.

"Tanya Elizabeth. Katherine Anne. Kitchen - now."

We watched the two pick their way across bodies, some alert and some zoned out, and disappear into the kitchen. One of the other Smithies, a frosty but very fine blond, tossed her hair over her shoulder and huffed impatiently with a roll of her eyes. She caught me staring and glared in return, but not before she looked me over. Twice.

"So, Johnny Bench is having a hell of a season, eh?" Carlisle said easily as he exhaled a heavy white cloud and passed the bong to Edward. He narrowed his eyes at it like he always did. For some reason I always thought of a pissed-off hawk ready to snap up small animals when he pulled his eyebrows together like that. Lately Edward was such a downer; maybe Emmett was on to something with the acid trip. Unfortunately, someone had put Jefferson Airplane on the turntable. Great, the Voice that Launched a Thousand Trips.

That shit certainly wouldn't help his mood.

And if you go chasing rabbits

And you know you're going to fall

Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar

Has given you the call

"Oh, fine..." Edward grumbled as he gave in. He hit the bong, exhaled, and hit again.

"That's my man," Mac bellowed, clapping the kid on the shoulder and sending a plume of smoke from Edward. "Again, dude. You've got some catching up to do, and it will ease your pathway tonight."

"You think Bench is gonna go MVP this year…" Carlisle mused.

"He's got a good chance – the dude's not bad for an Oakie," Jas agreed, grinning, a Texan down to the soles of his feet. "You hear that story about Maloney shaking him off..."

I sighed and turned away. Baseball and Grace Slick just didn't turn me on.

Katie and Tanya appeared again, thank God, fresh from their visit with their aunt in the kitchen. The older sister strode out the back door, pouting, and Kate returned to our circle, then stopped abruptly.

"I hate this song," she groaned, shaking her head. Mac looked up at her and wagged his eyebrows, then glanced at the frozen Smithie, and back to Katie.

"Me, too. Hey Sunny, wanna help a brother out?"

Her face lit up at the prospect of a project, probably because it would piss her sister off. Or maybe at the prospect of heading off with Mac. The chick was unreadable or... just cool with everybody. Who knew?

"Sure thing."

Mac stood up and offered his arm to her, which she accepted with a giggle.

"Come with me, m'lady."

"Dude, what the fuck?" Jasper yelled in my ear, tilting his head toward Mac and Katie's backs as they bent over a stack of LPs.

"Keep it down, Jas, fuck - I'm right here." I growled at him as I rubbed at my ear. "I don't know - the chick's a fuckin' mystery, man. I can't tell if she runs hot and cold or really digs that free-love, love-the-one-you're-with shit." I tried to be quiet, but damned if her uncle didn't hear me.

"Gentlemen, Katherine is a very straightforward young woman." The dude smiled at us like some Hindu sage and took the bong from Edward. He rambled on about Zero Population Growth and Esme's strong views on contraception as he tapped ashes in one of the big potted houseplants and re-loaded the bowl. "Kate makes her choices quite clear, as unorthodox as they may appear."

"Carlisle? Please don't drop ashes in my philodendron! It's too acidic for them!"

Damn, that woman was good.

"Lads, pardon me," Carlisle muttered, passing the fresh bowl to Edward as he scurried toward the kitchen.

The lull that threatened to drag the party under ended with the scratch of a record needle and a chorus of protests from all corners of the room.

"Up! This is a party!" Katie's voice rang out over the groans. "Mr. McCarty, if you will?"

A recorded rush of chords played on piano replaced the silence, shifting bodies and earning a few rounds of applause. In the center of the room Mac twirled Katie around in a dance that could best be called a clumsy jitterbug, both of them laughing and singing along with The Chiffons. I stood up before I realized what I was doing, moving through a sea of dancing kids, too stoned to be steady on their feet and too free to care. Mac and Katie kept moving further away, and I had to pick up little twirling Meadow and set her behind me to clear the path.

"Oh, excuse me, did I step on your foot?" I heard her laugh and turned to say something about not to worry, it wasn't me, but I found her looking up at Edward. And the cat was smiling, with his arms around her waist.

I looked back to Katie and Mac just in time to see him spin her around and let go, sending her off like a top right toward me. She landed against my chest hard, making me stagger a little as I tried to catch her, and her arms draped around my neck as she steadied herself.

"One fine day, you're gonna want me for your girl," Katie sang with a wide smile as she raised her eyes to mine. Just past us Mac was extending his hand to the frozen blond Smithie, grinning and hitting her with every bit of charm in his arsenal. It was taking years, centuries, fucking eons for it all to play out. I could see it all happening like I was watching, but the freaky thing was I was participating, too. Maybe someone even started the record over because we danced forever to that stupid, girl-group little record, not the Stones or Creedence, and it was fucking outer-limits. Katie's hips swayed right against mine, and she sang every word of "One Fine Day" and "My Boyfriend's Back" and even "He's So Fine", never taking her eyes off of me. "We got to get together, the sooner the better..."

"Oh my God, take your hand off of me!" A smart crack followed, and we stopped dancing, Katie and I both glancing around the room for the trouble going down. Not too surprisingly, Mac was at the center of it. Katie's sister's roommate, the chick who'd solidified in my mind as the frozen Smithie, was scowling up at our drummer who rubbed his cheek and chuckled in his usual good-natured way.

"Alright... alright, Mama. I thought you were giving me a vibe." he held up his hands and moved away from her. "You've got a sweet ass, but I'll leave it alone, ma'am. You have a good evenin', now."

The frozen Smithie glared at his face, but the minute Mac's back turned to her, and he ambled off, still rubbing his cheek, she looked pretty bummed out. Katie watched the whole thing with an ironic grin. Once the little scene was through, she turned back to me, shaking her head.

"The bullshit games women have been taught to play are so dishonest. We want to make men want it from us, but we are supposed to refuse it because only whores like it, right? Why can't people just be real with each other, y'know?"

Given the 'it' I was pretty sure Katie was talking about, it was the worst possible time for the call of nature to hit. Suddenly, I had to find the head, right fucking then.

"Hey, Katie, hold that thought, I'll be back."

When I got back, Jasper and Katie were nowhere to be found, although the rest of the party was still rocking to more girl group oldies. This was definitely not a good sign. Then I found them: in the kitchen, lips together and hands entwined as they stood in front of the open refrigerator. Jas had lost his t-shirt and the old vest he'd swiped from one of his granddad's Sunday suits, Katie's yellow top had ridden dangerously close to the bottom curve of her tits.

Well, fuck.

I split quickly, hoping they missed me leering at them like I was Charlie Manson or some freaky shit like that, and headed for the porch in search of Mac. I passed Meadow, who was trying her best to talk to the frozen Smithie. The chick was eyeing her like something you'd find in a petri dish.

"You're a Mademoiselle magazine Top Ten College Woman of the year? Oh my golly, just like Sylvia Plath!" Meadow exclaimed. Miss Long Tall Blondie narrowed her eyes at little Meadow and sneered.

"I'm sorry, who?"

Poor kid looked like she was going to cry.

"Hey, Meadow, let's find Edward and Mac, yeah?" I steered her away from the blonde's icy glare and looked back over my shoulder at her. "That was harsh."

"The world's a harsh place," she all but purred at me. "Don't you think?" Her eyes glimmered with interest, and she tossed her ponytail over her shoulder without breaking eye contact.

"Maybe. But I think you could use a little more sweet and a lot less sour, Mama." I crossed my arms and stood my ground, waiting for the Smithie's cold shell to crack. She swallowed hard and looked like she was fighting with herself, making up a thousand excuses, only to find good reasons contradicting every bullshit line she'd ever been fed. "C'mon, Princess, it's a big, brave new world out here. Why don't you see how the other half lives - y'might like it."

She did crack... but not like I hoped. Her deep blue eyes softened, just for one instant, and showed me her insides.

The chick was terrified.

"I'm sorry," she replied, her voice barely a whisper. "I can't. People... my parents... they expect..." She straightened her shoulders and froze up again, right before my eyes. "If you'll excuse me." With that, the icy Smithie was gone in a flash of her little pink Tricia Nixon dress and honey blond flip.

I didn't care for baseball, but even I knew I had just had two strikes and my swing was off.

I went back out to the porch, in search of succor and smoke. A bouncing light caught my attention, and I squinted into the night as I moved down the porch steps. Once my eyes adjusted to the dim moonlight, I could just make out Carlisle standing way down by the lake gesturing wildly at a stand of trees, waving a flashlight. I might have been good and stoned, but I recognized Mac's laughter echoing off the lake. I headed across the lawn and stopped cold when I realized just what had Mac cackling and Carlisle acting like he was waving in a 707.


The dude had scaled a huge pine tree and was swaying precariously over the lake below him.

"Mac! I see! I see, man! It's all stuff and nonsense, a mortal coil… the light, man, it connects all of us and... and it's beautiful! Live for today - no one knows about tomorrow. No one! "

"Ed... dude!"

I made it to Mac's side just as he straightened up, trying -like the generally valiant guy he was - to be cool and get Edward chilled out. "C'mon down, Ed. Really, man, you're gonna hurt yourself."

Most of the house's inhabitants were spilling out across the porch and onto the lawn, eager to take in the late-night sideshow.

"Aw, hell..." Mac muttered and started off for the tree, swinging himself up on the lowest branch. "Stay there, Ed! Don't move."

Of course Edward decided that was the perfect time to treat the swaying pine tree like his own personal jungle gym.

"I can hear the Earth breathe, man! I feel beautiful! Look at the moon, man, look at it – it's like diamonds on my skin, refracting into tiny universes, all on my body! All these flashes of light." Fucker didn't realize Carlisle had the flashlight trained on him as he started stripping and dropping his clothes to the ground. He moved from branch to branch. "It's like I've discovered my own missing link, man! I'm… dude, look at me, I'm like a spider monkey!"

Just then he fell from the tree, tumbling into the lake at least fifteen feet under him.

"Oh my golly!" Meadow and Peter rushed down the lawn, shedding their clothes as they ran, and splashed into the water after him.

Mac dropped to the ground and came back to my side, laughing heartily with me as we watched Edward spin and splash water in arcs around him as he giggled like a maniac. Meadow and Pete waded through the shallows to Edward, joining in with him and splashing around like little kids let loose for the first time.

"Jesus, poor Edward, all that talent, brains, parents who don't hassle him... not to mention a face every chick wants to shove between her tits. Dude has it made, and he can't see beyond July 1st," Mac mused as he wiped tears of laughter from his eyes. "I tried to guide him, give him some things to think about as we started to peak...I dunno, I hope we broke through. We'll see how he feels tomorrow."

"Wait, what's the deal with July 1st?" I asked as Jas and Katie appeared beside us.

"It's been all over the news, man, where's your head? It's when the Draft Lottery numbers are announced for dudes born in 1951. Ed is terrified he'll get a low number and be called up."

A little noise caught in Katie's throat and Jas groaned.

"What do you mean born in '51? Hell, I had no idea he was underage!" How did I miss that? I thought for sure he was over 21. In fact, I made it a point to ask him when he joined us. Touring was much easier when everyone was legal, not to mention signing contracts if we ever made it really big. "Shit, no wonder he's been so freaky lately."

"Poor bastard couldn't even enjoy his birthday week before last. Turning 19 fucked him up totally. Well, my brothers and sister," nodding to Katie with that cheesy grin of his, "I think I am going to sit out on the grass and enjoy re-entering reality from this little altruistic trip of mine. Looks like our Pete and Miss Meadow have Edward uh... heh... well in hand."

"If I know Meadow she'll probably spend the rest of the night listening to Peter's life story, stroking Edward's forehead and composing free verse at the same time," Katie agreed. "They're definitely partied out." She brushed the last bits of her daisy petals crown from her hair and shoulders, and stood on her toes to kiss Mac's cheek. "Good night, good Sir Knight."

"Fare thee well, Lady Sunshine." He bowed and ambled off into the dark depths of the lawn.

Katie turned to Jas and me and hitched her head toward a little house perched over the lake.

"Let's go," she said with a wink and started off across the lawn, pausing to take a couple of bedspreads from a clothesline strung between two old trees. Jas and I both stood still, watching her, halfway watching each other, and figuring out how the hell this was going to go down.

We got our answer when Katie's yellow top sailed out through a shaft of moonlight and landed near our feet.

"I thought we'd feel more comfortable here in the boathouse," she told us as we stepped through the open doorway. A couple of fat safety candles stuck into old wine bottles flickered on a windowsill, and Katie busied herself wrapping a bedspread around long cushions she'd pulled from a couple of old lawn chairs. The sight of her hair glinting in the mix of moon and candlelight and spilling down her shoulder and cheek was too fucking witchy to resist. Apparently, Jas couldn't turn it down, either. He walked to her and filled his hands with her tits, raising her back to his chest. She inhaled and smiled lazily as a little hum passed her lips. "Garrett?" She stretched her hand out toward me, wiggling against Jas when he bowed his head to her neck and tasted her. His eyes opened, wrinkling and he raised his eyebrows at me a couple of times, turning Katie slightly so I could see him kneading and plucking at the pale pink nipples between his fingers.

Fuck it.

I couldn't debate it anymore. She had me under her spell, and Jas was basically offering me a share of this thing that was going to happen. I walked toward them, pulling my t-shirt over my head and dropping it behind me. When I leaned down to kiss her, I felt his hands working her breasts and groaned hard at the sensation of two different stretches of skin pressed into mine. "You sure you're cool with this?" she whispered, pulling back a little into Jas' shoulder. He watched intently, still stroking Katie's milky skin as his chin rested on her shoulder.

My eyes bounced between theirs and I swallowed the last of my awkward and questioning fear, threading my fingers through hers.


Katie's tongue darted across my neck, and I shifted my head to the side, allowing her to bury her mouth behind my ear, a spot that had been known to make my knees loose and useless. I couldn't stop my eyes from drifting closed, nor could I stop the moan I made when Katie's lips brushed just barely across mine. The chick was pretty good with her mouth, able to make me feel her on my neck and lips at the same time.

That wasn't talent. It was impossible. It was physically impossible.

Those were Jasper's lips, not Katie's.

I opened my eyes and found my best friend, not this woman who'd beguiled and bewitched us, so close I could feel the warmth of his breath on my cheek. As we stared at each other impassively, I felt his index finger leave one of Katie's nipples and trail across my stomach. Looking at him and feeling her against me was almost too much, I had to shift my jaw and inhale to keep from taking off in the other direction. I wanted to see her and him together, their legs and arms tangled into one indiscriminate mass, wanted to watch them touching and tasting each other.

I wanted them to make me part of all of it.

"Yeah," I repeated, meeting Jasper squarely in the eye. He looked down at my mouth and back quick into my eyes with a short nod.

"Yeah." The single point of heated connection between us expanded into five, then fused into one as Jasper's hand slid across my stomach and settled along the waistband of my jeans.

"I can't fuckin' take this anymore, man," I groaned and crashed my mouth into his, finding his teeth and tongue waiting for mine. Katie's fingers squeezed my own, just as Jasper's eased along my hip, flirting with the rise of my ass.

"Oh… God…" she sighed against my neck. Just as she said it, I knew why. Jasper's other hand had traveled from her breast, past the little cord holding her skirt up, and brushed across the swell of skin between her hips. We were so close together, when his fingers moved across her, his knuckles and the defined veins on his picking hand brushed me: hips, groin, and fucking aching dick, all just sensing Jasper's two-thirds time stroking. Katie tucked a calf behind mine, opening herself for him and when his fingers slid between her legs, his thumb stayed behind, circling the base of my cock as it strained against the thick denim holding it back.

There were nimble fingers pulling and pushing at buttons and zippers and silken cords, and there were soft-sounding collisions of denim and filmy cotton collapsing onto the wooden decking beneath out feet. I reached for Jasper, taking him in my hand carefully, working on what I'd do with myself and a hard-on quite like the one bobbing along under my fingers.

"Goddamn," he moaned and moved his mouth from mine to Katie's. Her hand linked with mine again, this time with Jasper's cock between our fingers. "Wait… hold up," Jas all but groaned in a heavy, froggy voice. "You two are too good at that. Slow down." He looked over at me and raised his eyebrows and inclined his head toward Katie.

"Yeah," I grinned back at him, and we both turned our attention to the lady, being raised as gentlemen and all. "Lie down, Katie."

"Oh… well," she had that happy surprised look on her face like a kid at a birthday party. "I wasn't sure how this was gonna work."

"Just do what feels good, right?" Jas had propped himself up on the pile of cushions and old bedspreads, stretched out and fucking naked as the day he was born and very, very hard. Nothing could have prepared me to feel so turned on at the sight of my best friend – a dude - and thank Christ and the Apostles I was high, because I never would have passed that barrier if I were lucid. I hit my knees beside him, felt the coarse hair on his thighs trail across mine, and the hand that circled my hard-on was too big and too calloused to be Katie's. Her hands were soft and pale and small, and I knew they had just slid across my hipbones and down my thighs because they felt like they belonged there. Their hands played and tumbled together over my groin; the pulls and flicks and little tickles and twisting fingers became impossible to discern from their owners, and finally I just gave up trying. It was too dark to make out much more than a tumble of Katie's blond hair or the tanned skin on Jasper's shoulder.

I reached for both of them, finding the soft wet place between her legs and the points of his nipples shrouded in the nest of dark hair on his chest. Even the musk of our bodies mingled, joining Katie's spicy rose with the tang of two dudes who played music on stage and were too much small-town Texas to parade around in cut-offs like Pete and Edward did.

I found myself behind her, tasting the narrow crevices and deep canyons of her warm pussy as she bobbed her head over Jasper's cock. Her breath puffed from her in little gasps, echoing the deep grunts rumbling in Jasper's chest.

"Oh… Garrett… mmmm – wai-" the alto of her voice had climbed on up to a very breezy little soprano. Her hips squirmed under my fingers and she shifted away, sitting back on her knees. Jas followed her, like they had some sort of line strung between them, and he mirrored her movement.

"You taste like me," he whispered as he kissed her and bit at her lips.

"Taste Garrett," she laughed in little gasps. "He tastes like me."

I didn't need directions for that and leaned over Katie's shoulder to find Jasper's mouth waiting for mine. As our lips touched, my dick bobbed against the crevice of Katie's round, squirming ass, and I moaned into Jasper's mouth. He pulled at my tongue with his lips, sucking the flavor of Katie from me, and I had to push harder at that ass of hers .

"Up, Katie," Jas directed her as he tapped her thigh, not too much unlike the compliant mare named Maggie they had down on their ranch. I saw what he was going for immediately. She was in the perfect position to spread, just that little bit more, and sink down on my cock. I put my mouth beside her ear, tonguing at her pink bud of an earlobe and scraped my teeth across it.

"Hey, baby, you okay to do it?"

"Yeah, I'm on the pill," she agreed and dragged my lips toward hers. "And I need one of you inside of me. I can't wait anymore."

"Help the lady out, then, Gar." Jas laid it on thick, even for him, that time, and we all laughed a little as I eased Katie open and across my thighs. He followed her, grunting as her fingers wrapped around his cock, her thumb trailing over his tight balls, and he held on to her hips to steady her. "I got you, darlin', sit down easy, now."

She did and I couldn't help but cry out against her shoulder. Fuck this was too good and too forbidden to be anything but over-the-top eroticism, pushed further and eased by that fine sticky bud we'd been hitting all night. I was gonna get off big, and then I knew I was gonna sleep deep and good in the comfort of arms and legs and sweet Katie-smell.

We had to get there, first.

"Garrett, help me with Jasper, baby."

I hooked my arm around her, cupping one of those heavy tits in mine and settled her back against my chest. We enclosed our hands around his dick, pumping him in time with her riding me. Jas was right against her, kneading her free breast in slow pulls as his other hand moved between her thighs. When his fingers ghosted from her clit down to me as I slid into her I almost freaked and shot off too early, which would have been highly uncool.

We were grown men, after all.

"Oh God… can't," Katie sighed as her head tossed. Her thighs were tense and trembling against mine, and she let out this high whine that did me in.

"Fuck… can't, God damn!" The second I said it, I felt her clench against my cock and shout in rapid little gasps all kinds of unintelligible shit that only intensified when Jasper came hard in our hand. I felt him, as much as I felt her: his fingers working her clit and the hot spray of his come landing on Katie's and my wrists and her stomach. He growled, low and feral, and sunk his mouth against hers as we all came hard around and in and over each other.

I know it was the good grass, but, damn, it felt like we were coming for… forever.

Eventually we slowed and stopped. Katie hissed a little as she pulled away, kneading at the inside of her thighs.

"Let's swim a little," she suggested, as she stood and stretched like a lazy cat in a patch of sunshine. "And nap, and do it again."

We did. All night we touched and fucked and swam in the lake. That little doob I'd tucked behind my ear earlier came in handy when we came down a little too much and started to get the nods. Between the cool lake water and the kind herb we made it through another round, this time me watching as Katie lay back with her head resting in my lap and took Jasper slow and lazy.

Sometime before dawn, but not too much before, because I could hear the craziest birds calling out to each other across the water, we finally slept. Katie nestled up against me, her head fitting just right into the dip below my shoulder. Jas spooned right up behind her with his arm slung over her hip – and mine.

Best rest I'd had since I left home with my old man's sneers still ringing in my ears. I guess I'd well and truly become my own man.


In the morning, or I guess it was closer to noon, I woke up alone, wrapped in one of the old-fashioned white bedspreads that still smelled of us together. I rolled over, feeling a good stretch through my legs and back, and found a piece of paper under my cheek.

Good Morning, Garrett.

Wash off and come up to the house when you're ready. I left some of Esme's sandalwood soap and a towel for you by the end of the dock and some of Lisle's threads for you to put on.

There's breakfast when you want it.


She'd decorated the 'K' with little stars and hearts, and I had to chuckle a little over the girlishness of it.

Once I'd cleaned up, pulled the homemade linen tunic over my head and fastened the old denim cut-offs around my waist, I made it on up to the back porch. Edward was on the steps, settled between Meadow's legs, his eyes closed in something that could only be called bliss as she fingered the wild shock of red-brown hair falling across her thighs. Pete was behind her, brushing her hair and whistling as she sang.

Freedom's just another word for nothin'left to lose:

Nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free.

Feeling good was easy, Lord, when Bobby sang the blues.

Feeling good was good enough for me;

Good enough for me and Bobby McGee.

The power of it shocked the hell out of me. She definitely sounded lighter and more hopeful than Lady Janis ever could from her broken soul and the words took on another turn in Meadow's sweet girl's voice. That chick could go places with that sound.

Suddenly I had a feeling, certain and down deep in me, that she would, and Edward and Peter would be right there with her.

Pete offered me a shake as I moved up the porch steps, and we grinned at each other as I passed. Mac was slung out in one of the big Adirondack chairs, strumming someone's old six-string, taking it all in as he always did with a good-natured smile and a loaded pipe at his side.

"Mornin', my man," he greeted as he nodded toward the glass pipe. "Little wake up there if you need it."

"Naw, man, I think I'm cool."

"Miss Esme's got a helluva spread put out in there. Eat up – we gotta hit the road."

The big pine-board table almost sagged under platters of waffles, bacon, dishes of preserves I had no doubt the lady of the house had put up last summer, and real fucking maple syrup. The smells mingled together like a witches' brew, and I couldn't stop a happy groan welling up and spilling out of me.

"Hello, there." The husky voice and long, pale arms looping around my waist could've only belonged to one chick: the one I wanted to see more than anyone, and, surprisingly, for many mornings to come.

"Morning, beauty," I murmured against her mouth and leant in to give her a real damn proper good morning kiss. Behind us, I heard more people rattling in, some faces known and others just familiar figures from the night before.

"Just gotta tap into those moments when the doors of perception are open, and everything is clear, Ed." Mac was still cheerfully determined to get the boy into a good space.

"Thanks, Emmett. I think I'll be okay."

"He's gonna be more than okay, right Peter?" Bella smiled up at Edward and linked her arms through his – and Pete's.

"Yeah, no worries." Peter nodded amiably and picked up a plate as he surveyed the spread. "Fuck, how could anyone be anything else here? This place is like some kind of magic, man."

"Well, thank you, Peter." Esme beamed behind her little round glasses. "You boys always have a home here. The Reverend and I love having good people around, and the doors are always open."

Meadow sat down on the floor with her plate, interestingly dressed in what looked to be an Indian print bedspread and nothing else. Jas followed her, checking out her ass as he balanced his food and coffee.

"It smells so good when it's frying, but I just can't bring myself to eat bacon anymore."

Jasper leaned into her ear, "Sometimes a bite of animal protein is good for you, Mama." She flashed an impudent little smirk up at him, snagged the bacon off his plate and stuffed all into her mouth at once.

"There you go, darlin'. No tiny bites, either – take your bacon like life – in one big mouthful after another." Jas nodded his approval and flashed a big grin over at Katie and me.

"C'mon, Ed. Scooby's still on the tube." Mac balanced two heaping plates of food in one hand and a big cup – one of Esme's hand thrown creations, of course – of steaming coffee. The two, our own Shaggy and Scoob, wandered off toward the back parlor, chuckling between themselves.

"Oh, Reverend, turn this song up,, it's my favorite of Bobby and Jerry's," Esme called out as she dabbed peach preserves over her waffles.

"For you, anything, my good lady-love. Oh, Jerry may be dropping in later this summer, I meant to tell you I'd heard from him last week, darling." Carlisle called out and the tune became clear.

"Another guest," Esme giggled to herself. "And another big eater, too. Well … all is well, I say, when the ones at your table are good ones, right, Kate?"

"Yes, ma'am, Auntie."

Miss Esme touched her niece's cheek and swayed toward the parlor, singing along to herself as she went.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,

If your cup is full may it be again,

Let it be known there is a fountain,

That was not made by the hands of men.

Katie and Jasper chimed in on the la dee da da da's, and I knew I would remember this weekend, with Katie's arms around me and everything good for - and between - me and my boys, for the rest of my life.

The girl I wasn't ready to leave behind sauntered up to me, with that damn coy grin of hers, and took my plate from me.

"Garrett, where are you going to next this summer?"

"Ah, I can't really say, Katie. Here and there. Everywhere."

"I'll follow you. Here and there and everywhere." She looked up at me, a little vulnerable for the first time since I saw her spinning in that bright red-gold light that was all her own. "If you want?"

"Yeah. I want, baby. Come on along this summer. We'll see where this path takes us."

There was nothing more I could have asked for. Here she was, ready to walk the good Earth with me, and I was ready for her to be my home.

We wrapped our arms around each other's waists and joined our mashed-up, made-up, but right on and right for us family, singing la dee da as we went along.

Songs cited:

"Miss Amanda Jones", performed by The Rolling Stones


"Whipping Post", performed by the Allman Brothers Band

http:/www(.)youtube(.)com/watch?v=Kv3RWqFlvJs"Waltz Across Texas", performed by Ernest Tubb, Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels & Charlie McCoy


"Fortunate Son", performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival


"Magic Carpet Ride", performed by Steppenwolf


"White Rabbit", performed by Jefferson Airplane


"One Fine Day", performed by The Chiffons


"He's So Fine", performed by The Chiffons


"Me and Bobby McGee", performed by Janis Joplin


"Ripple" performed by The Grateful Dead