It was a two-and-a-half hour drive to the place where Johnny had planned to hold the event, the last forty minutes or so along a steep, bumpy dirt road. And there was a lot of work to do to get things ready. First, the two men set up a tent. Not a tee pee or anything like that, just a six-foot high dome tent. The tent would have no part in the ceremony, but out of place as it was, it had its role to play and it was the best Johnny could do.
Then they set about preparing the sweathouse. Digging a two-foot deep, six-foot wide hole; constructing a wickiup of supple canes and animal-skins over the hole, in the center of which they had made a raised fireplace.
Johnny called their first break when the sweathouse was done. He and Mike sat shirtless, sharing a boulder and an ice-cold beer. Mike flicked perspiration from his chest and belly using the edge of his hand. The leather of Johnny's belt was dark with it. 'Nothing compared to the sweating we'll be doing in there,' said Johnny pointing to the low dome of the sweathouse. Mike reached over and slicked the sweat off Johnny's back, running his hand from just below his neck to about level with his kidneys. Johnny didn't say anything, or react in any way, and as he wiped Johnny's sweat off onto his jeans-leg, Mike wondered if it had really happened. 'We'll set up a camp-fire over there,' said Johnny pointing to an outcrop that formed a half-circle about a flat, sandy piece of land, 'then we'll eat. After that, we'll clear any sharp stones lying between the rock-pool and the sweathouse - it'll be dark when we start the ceremony.'
'When are the others gonna be here?' asked Mike, hoping the answer was going to be that they had all cancelled.
'Jay, any time after noon. Cody and Danny, late afternoon or early evening. Before dark anyhow.'
As it was, Jay turned up early evening and Cody arrived alone just as the sun was setting. Danny didn't show at all. Mike sensed that Johnny was annoyed. They chowed down into the food Mike and Johnny prepared on the barbecue, and sat around the campfire, all sharing a feeling of anticipation. Nobody spoke of the ceremony - Johnny would know when the time was right, and he would give the signal. Until then, they were all happy to hang loose.
The four young men encircled the small fire - stared deep into the flames. A small fire in an Idaho desert; it triggered a feeling of deja vu in Mike. It had all happened before and Mike was warmed by the memory. An old saying came to him linked closely to the memory. It was appropriate to his present situation, but would it upset the guys? No, how could it? What the hell, Mikey, go for it.
'You guys have probably heard it before.'
'Heard what, Mike?' asked Johnny.
Mike hesitated for a few moments. ' "Red man make small fire - keep warm. White man make big fire - keep warm running around for firewood".'
Johnny smiled. So did Jay. Cody laughed so as you could see his shoulders move, but there was no sound. The main thing was, Mike's comment amused and was accepted generously by the others.
Mike's mind drifted back to that other time when he and Scott Favor had been alone in the desert - just them and their thoughts sharing the comfort of a small fire. They spoke quietly, Scott gentle and with confidence; Mike stilted, choked up with emotion. He told Scott what he really wanted, and, after a time, Scott acquiesced, put an arm around Mike and slowly lay down.
The two young men lay together on the dusty ground the warmth from their bodies hotter than anything that came from the fire. Mike's head spun - it was hard for him to tell if the Indian drums were still beating out a rhythm in the distance, or if it was just his heart. This was all he had ever wanted for nearly two years, and now here it was - or here it so imminently was.
Or was it? Scotty had only agreed to hold him - maybe that's all it would ever amount to. Maybe he would have an attack at the crucial moment to rob him of his love. Mike could smell the leather and tobacco smell of Scott, feel his hand at the back of his head, the caress of his breath against his cheek. No; it couldn't just stop here.
'Please Scotty. Let's do it. Please. I love you,' whispered Mike, but to speak those words took a mammoth effort. Scott pulled him a little closer.
'Okay Mikey. But this is it. Just this once and never again. You know it's not my scene,' whispered Scott in a gentle, reasoning tone, and then in a whispered aside to himself, 'Jeez, I'm going to grow wings.'
Scott led; didn't rush things but moved on slowly; undressing Mike like he was unwrapping a precious gift. That mattered to Mike, mattered that Scott made the effort, mattered that he at least acted like he enjoyed it too. Scott stripped off then finished helping Mike out of his clothes. It was too cold under the night sky to stay naked for long, so they made out under the blankets.