Mike had learned a long time ago that it often paid to keep your ears open and your mouth shut. There was much he wished to learn about the folk he'd fallen in with, and he certainly wished to keep the sordid secrets of his own existence to himself.
So dinner around the Wilbur's table became a fact-finding mission. He found out that Hettie was a doctor and that for years she had devoted her services to the people of Fort Hall, and to the occasional wanderer whom fate washed up on her doorstep - usually teenagers in trouble. Mike did not count himself as such a fatebourne wanderer - the Wilbur's had the knack of making each one of their temporary charges feel like the only one ever.
Mike also learned that Jay was a freshman at Idaho State, and that he worked for U.P.S. between semesters so he could buy books and live more comfortably than he could on his allowance alone.
Dan? Well he had been a soldier in early life. And a cop. He had also seen action as a paramedic, a paralegal, a deep-sea fisherman and a roughneck on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico. He'd lived in just about every state in the U.S. and said of himself that he had looked all over for answers that were within himself all the time. What he actually said was 'Hell, I'd been all around the pan looking for the handle, and I couldn't find it 'cause it was stuck up my butt!' He punctuated this revelation with an apology to Hettie who was long past being shocked by his unique turn of phrase.
Mike found himself wondering if even old Dan was one of Hettie's wanderers. Maybe once, but since his mid thirties he had settled down and built himself a successful agricultural rig-hire company. Starting with a third-hand, decrepit tractor and trailer, he now owned a wide variety of farm machines and at harvest time he still enjoyed driving the big old combines and seeing the grain in for another season.
It was all very interesting, but Mike listened most intently to Johnny and to talk about Johnny. It had been the same with Scott, and now it was happening again. He was - what? Falling in love? No; too early for that; or was it? Was it that, wanting what someone had set up an inversion of jealousy: if you can't have what someone else has and you desperately need it, fall in love with them?
Mike had labeled himself as gay some months back. (Funnily enough it didn't automatically go with the job). He had always feared it. The feelings he had developed for Scott endorsed it and how he had felt when Scott left the Portland streets to live the high life confirmed it.
Then along came Nancy McAlister and the confirmation was shattered. Their brief affair left him confused, for while it lasted he felt on top of the world and great to be straight. But when she left it was, once again, Scotty he really missed.
Now it was happening again, but he would never tell. He would work at being a good buddy, he'd go through agonies playing at being straight. Slap the shoulder but never let the hand linger too long, catch the eye but follow up with a high-five. No; Johnny would never guess. He made that fatal mistake with Scott in the Idaho desert, just a few miles from here, when he had spoken his true feelings. Scott only did it for money: 'You do it for free and you get wings - like a fairy. Isn't that right Mikey?'
Johnny Hawk had his own garage. He was a qualified mechanic, picking up his early skills from Dan. He worked hard Monday through Friday and cruised in his sedan on Sundays - that's if he wasn't working on her. Her bodywork wouldn't bring a second look, but lift the hood without your shades only if you had good medical insurance - eye doctors didn't come cheap. Suddenly, Mike felt very enthusiastic about cars.