Jacob was already gone by the time Alex woke up the next morning.
For a moment, Alex had forgotten what had happened between the two of them the day before. What he'd seen with Brad and Chris had temporarily taken up the majority of his thinking as he tried to figure out his next move.
But when he walked into the kitchen and saw Jacob sitting alone glumly eating a bowl of cheerios, he couldn't help but feel sorry for the man. He wished that he could ease Jacob's pain. In the meantime, however, he wouldn't push it. He'd be there whenever Jacob was ready to talk.
Jacob had had a terrible night's sleep the night before, tossing and turning all night from the guilt over his feelings for Alex. It also didn't help that when he did sleep, he'd dreamt of Alex.
In his dream, the two of them were sitting together on a bench in the park near his home. It was the same park where he would frequently take his son on walks.
Alex was holding Jacob's son Ethan, bouncing him on one knee. Jacob was holding Alex's hand, watching as Alex made funny faces to make his son laugh. He felt completely at peace.
Jacob had never held a man's hand before. As he rubbed Alex's fingers with his thumb in the dream, it almost felt real.
He'd woken up from the dream crying. He'd felt so happy, happier than he had ever felt in his life. What did that mean, that he had never experienced that kind of happiness outside of a dream?
Especially when he knew that that feeling was false. It was impossible. That could never be his life.
It would be best to just forget it, to forget Alex and to try to salvage what was left of this retreat. There was still hope for his recovery--there had to be.
As they gathered in the parlor for the day, Jacob noticed a certain buzz of excitement in the room. He walked over to Chris and Wesley, who were chatting animatedly.
"What's going on?" he asked Chris.
"Today's the walkabout! I've already lathered myself in suntan lotion. No way I'm having a repeat of last year's fiasco," Chris said.
Jacob had forgotten all about the walkabout. The exercises they'd done up until then had been most of the same stuff he'd done in his regular meetings at Brothers Who Surrender. Perhaps the walkabout would be the thing he'd need to help trigger a breakthrough.
"Good morning, gentleman," said Ezekiel as he took his place at the head of the room. "Today is the most important day of the retreat: the walkabout. No doubt those of you who are first timers have heard a bit about what to expect. A walkabout requires you to leave behind childish things and take up your manhood. It asks you to survive with nothing but your wits about you, to adapt to your environment and depend on your own skills for survival. But most of all, it requires you to work with your fellow man to achieve a common goal."
He looked around the room at the men, his eyes landing on Jacob. Jacob felt that same unsettling feeling he did whenever Ezekiel looked at him. It was almost like Ezekiel knew he'd kissed Alex the day before. But he couldn't have, right? Jacob closed his eyes, trying to keep his head from spinning.
"Friendship. Camaraderie. These are the cornerstones of male relationships," Ezekiel continued. "Same sex attraction is but a blurring of the lines. Well, gentleman: it's time to set the record straight. To forge a bond of brotherhood with another man and to prove to yourself that you are not defined by weakness."
"All right, guys," said Brad as he passed a cardboard box around the room. "Everything goes in the box: keys, wallet, phone. Each pair gets one survival kit to help you make it through the night. Matches, a canteen, a knife, and a tent. Nothing else. It's up to you to find food and water. Forage, scavenge, hunt, whatever you have to do. We'll be expecting you back here by tomorrow at 9 am."
Jacob took a deep breath. He was nervous, having never been so much as camping before. His parents had tried to enroll him in the Boy Scouts, but he'd been so resistant that they'd let him quit within the first week. He just hoped that whoever he was partnered with would be able to pick up some of the slack.
"Now, your bunkmate is gonna be your walkabout partner, so I hope you've been spending these last few days getting to know each other. You're going to need to be able to work together to get through the night."
Jacob's face went pale. Fuck! He had been trying to avoid Alex as much as possible since he had kissed him the day before. Now he would have to spend the next 24 hours with him.
What was Alex going to say? Would he be uncomfortable sharing a tent with Jacob after what he had done? Maybe he should go to Ezekiel and ask to be paired with someone else.
But it was already too late. Everyone was picking up their survival kit from Brad and heading out the door.
"Come on, Jacob!" said Alex. holding one of the survival kits in his hand. "Let's get going."
"Now, we should probably stick pretty close to the road," said Alex as Jacob followed him outside. "I've read some articles about people going missing in Joshua Tree and I'm not looking forward to joining them."
Jacob followed him silently down the road. He watched as the other men spread out in opposite directions. Chris and Wesley were practically skipping, gabbing excitedly to each other as they headed out into the desert.
Pretty soon it was just him and Alex, walking along in the desert heat. Jacob wished he had thought to put on suntan lotion like Chris.
They walked along for a while in silence before Alex broke the ice.
"So, what do you do for work, Jacob?" Alex asked.
"It's boring. I'm a tax lawyer, so I deal with tax law, writing contracts and stuff. What about you?"
"I'm a writer," he said.
"What kind of writing?" asked Jacob.
Alex paused for a moment. "Oh, just for this one website. Boring stuff, like you said."
They chatted as they walked along, passing the time by getting to know each other better. Jacob told Alex all about his family, his church, how he'd first been introduced to Brothers Who Surrender and invited to go on this retreat. He found himself easily opening up to Alex. Alex never seemed to judge anything Jacob said. If anything, he seemed acutely interested in Jacob's life.
Alex himself talked to Jacob about his own journey towards Voyage Into Manhood. He'd gotten sober in Alcoholics Anonymous six years before, and through working the steps with his sponsor he'd come to identify his same sex attraction as something else that he was powerless over.
"That's so true!" Jacob said excitedly. "I've always felt that way. It's so cool that you found your way here through recovery. You must have plenty of tools for dealing with cravings that would be helpful with SSA."
Alex looked at him strangely. "Not really," he said.
He didn't say much after that. Jacob grew silent, worried that he'd offended Alex somehow.
Finally, Jacob could feel himself growing thirsty.
"Can I see the canteen?" Jacob asked.
"It's empty," said Alex.
"Why would they give us an empty canteen?"
"I think they want us to find our own source of water."
"Where do you even find water in a desert?" asked Jacob.
"Why don't we just cut open a cactus or something?" said Alex.
Jacob stopped in his tracks. "Really? Do you think we could?"
"No. I was thinking maybe we could just fill it up here," said Alex.
He pointed at the small, dilapidated looking building at the end of the street. Having followed the road, they had reached the gas station outside of town.
"You coming?" Alex asked as he set off toward the station.
"But... that's cheating," said Jacob.
Alex stopped. He turned to look at Jacob, raising an eyebrow.
"They told us to survive the night. No one said we couldn't ask for help."
"But you know that's not what they meant. You're defeating the purpose of the walkabout," Jacob said, annoyed. "How are we going to learn if we don't even try?
Alex laughed. "What do you think this is supposed to teach us, Jacob?" he said. He took off his glasses, lifting his shirt to clean them.
As annoyed as he was with Alex's flippant attitude, Jacob couldn't help but notice the bottom of Alex's stomach from where he'd lifted his shirt. Fuck, Alex was ripped! Jacob traced the line of his V down to his waistband with his eyes, salivating over the little treasure trail of hair underneath Alex's belly button.
Jacob forced himself to look up at Alex's face. "It's like Ezekiel said. We're building the bond of brotherhood with another man," he said.
"What the fuck does that even mean?" Alex asked.
Jacob looked at him, shocked. "What are you talking about?" he asked.
"I'm serious. 'Building the bond of brotherhood.' What does that have to do with same-sex attraction? How is spending a night camping and finding our own food and water going to stop us from wanting to fuck men?"
"I don't know!" Jacob yelled. "But Ezekiel knows what he's doing."
Alex scoffed. "Ezekiel, right. Cause he's the kind of guy you wanna trust."
"Why are you even here? If you think this is all bullshit?" asked Jacob.
Alex stared at him silently. "I'm going to get some water from the gas station," he said after a moment. "I brought my wallet, so I'll get us some snacks too. Are you coming?"
Jacob shook his head. Alex walked past him towards the gas station. Jacob watched as Alex disappeared inside, his mind racing.
What was Alex doing? He didn't seem to be taking this seriously at all. How was Jacob going to quell his same-sex urges if his walkabout partner wasn't even trying?
Still, he had to admit that Alex was making a lot of sense. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that this walkabout didn't seem to have any real purpose. Other than to give them something to do, of course. It was almost like Ezekiel was just trying to give them their money's worth.
But if this wasn't the solution, what was? How else was Jacob going to be the husband and father that he so desperately wanted to be?
Alex came out of the gas station a few moments later, carrying the survival kit and a small bag of snacks. He pulled the canteen out of the kit and took a swig from it, then offered it to Jacob. Jacob shook his head.
"Come on, man, you've got to stay hydrated."
"No thanks. I think I'll just find a cactus instead," said Jacob as he turned away, walking into the desert.
Alex trailed behind him. "Don't be like that, Jacob. We've got to stick together."
"Do we?" asked Jacob as he kept walking, not looking back. "Because it seems like you don't care about any of this. But maybe you don't need to care. I mean, it's not like you have a wife and kid depending on you. You don't have anyone, so who cares if you're a homosexual?"
He kept walking for a moment before realizing that Alex was no longer following him. He turned around to see Alex staring at him, wounded.
"You're the one who kissed me, you know. Don't act like I'm the bad influence," Alex said.
Jacob's face was burning. He could barely look Alex in the eye. But he knew that Alex was right--he was ashamed of himself. He was taking it out on Alex because if he didn't...
He couldn't let this weakness get the better of him.
"Come on," said Alex as he pushed past Jacob, walking further into the desert. "Let's just find a place to get some shade and set up camp."
They continued hiking for a couple of hours, walking along in silence as Alex led the way and Jacob followed. Jacob was starting to feel seriously dehydrated. He was being sarcastic about the cactus before, but now he was starting to wonder if that was actually possible. Unfortunately, Alex had the knife in his survival kit, and Jacob would rather die of thirst than ask him for it.
Once it began to get dark, they found a small place to pitch their tent underneath a rocky outcrop. Jacob watched as Alex expertly set up the tent in a matter of minutes, positioning the little metal rods and fitting them into the holes in the fabric.
"How do you know how to do that?" Jacob asked, stupefied.
"My dad used to take me camping when I was a kid," he said, not looking at Jacob. He ducked into the tent. Jacob looked around for a moment at the setting sun before following him in.
Jacob watched as Alex pulled out a packet of beef jerky and tore it open, chewing the salty beef and drinking from the canteen. His stomach began to growl from the smell of the jerky. He tried to distract himself by inspecting his nails but quickly realized that this was not very masculine and stopped.
Finally, Alex snapped, "Would you just eat some goddamn jerky?"
He threw the bag of jerky at Jacob, who caught it in surprise. Jacob looked at him for a moment, then looked at the jerky.
"Can... can I have some water first?" he asked tentatively.
Alex's face softened. He handed Jacob the canteen. Jacob opened it and took a deep swig, chugging the cool water with blessed relief. He quickly emptied the canteen before tearing into the jerky, his teeth hurting from trying to chew it too quickly.
"Slow down, buddy. There's plenty to eat here. I've also got more drinks too," Alex said, pulling out a bottle of soda water and a couple of sandwiches.
Jacob scooted over to Alex as Alex handed him one of the sandwiches. They ate their sandwiches hungrily.
"Why is it that nothing tastes better than gas station food?" asked Alex.
"I think that's only true when you haven't eaten anything else all day," said Jacob, his mouth full. He finished his sandwich and looked at Alex hesitantly.
"You want something more?" asked Alex, reaching for the bag.
"No," said Jacob. "I just... I wanted to apologize."
"For doubting my survival skills? I told you I was right," said Alex, smirking.
"No, for... for kissing you." Jacob looked away guiltily.
"You don't have to-"
"I do. I put your soul in danger. You're here to get better too and I jeopardized that. I'm sorry."
Alex let out a small laugh.
"What?" asked Jacob.
"Putting my soul in danger, it's just... it reminds me of something my dad used to say to me," said Alex, smiling sadly.
Jacob watched him silently as Alex took a sip from the bottle of soda water. After a moment, Alex said, "You know, when I was in high school he would take me on these camping trips, just the two of us. None of my brothers and sisters got to go, not even my mom. It was just me and him. And all of my siblings were so jealous, like I had this special bond with dad."
Alex stared at the wall of the tent, his eyes fixed. "He would take me out in the woods for these... I don't even know what to call them. Lessons? He'd teach me how to hunt, how to build a fire... he would read me all these verses from the Bible, make me memorize every word."
Alex paused as his eyes became glassy. "He would tell me that I was sick, that it wasn't my fault that I was this way, but it was still wrong. That God wouldn't love me if I didn't learn how to man up. But no matter what I did, no matter how good I was at building a fire or pitching a tent, no matter how many verses I could repeat back to him, it was never enough. I was still a sissy."
Alex's voice began to shake. Jacob watched him, overwhelmed by an urge to reach out and touch his hand.
"Finally, I had enough and I told him I wouldn't go out there with him anymore," Alex said. "And he was fine with it, he didn't make me keep going or anything. But after that, it was like I didn't exist. It was like he'd given up on me. Like I wasn't even his son anymore."
Alex started to cry. He took off his glasses and put the back of his hand over his eyes, his breath trembling. Jacob took his other hand in his and held it. He rubbed the fingers of Alex's hand softly with his thumb. It felt exactly like he'd imagined it would in his dream.
Jacob put his hand out and touched the side of Alex's face. Alex looked up at him, his eyes full of tears. The two men stared into each other's eyes, both acknowledging the unspoken bond between them.
Suddenly Jacob leaned in and kissed Alex, placing his lips delicately on Alex's. His hand was still on Alex's face as he ran his fingers up through Alex's hair.
Alex put his hands on Jacob's waist and pulled him closer into him. The two men opened their lips as they began to explore each other's mouths with their tongues.
Jacob could feel an excitement growing within him like an electrical fire. Every inch of his body began to feel alive. He crushed his body against Alex's, grabbing Alex's hair with one hand while his other hand slipped underneath Alex's shirt to rub up and down his back.
He could feel Alex's mustache against his upper lip just like the first time. This time, however, he didn't let it deter him. In fact, the feeling of Alex's facial hair made Jacob's cock get rock hard. It reminded him that he was kissing a man.
Alex grabbed Jacob's shirt and pulled it over his head before ripping off his own shirt. Jacob took in a breath as he saw Alex fully shirtless for the first time. Alex's tan skin made his washboard abs really stand out. They were covered in a light dusting of black hair that covered Alex's chest.
Jacob reached out a hand and ran it through Alex's chest hair before running his fingers down Alex's abs.
"Fuck," Jacob whispered.
Alex reached out and squeezed Jacob's arms, feeling the wiry muscle that Jacob had grown from years of playing tennis. Jacob didn't have quite as developed a core as Alex, but his body was packed with lean muscle.
They admired each other's bodies, running their fingers lightly across each other and squeezing. Their lips found each other again as they kissed with renewed energy, both men inflamed with passion and desire.
Alex slid his hands into Jacob's pants, squeezing his butt tightly as they kissed. Jacob began to fumble with Alex's belt, pulling it off and unbuttoning the fly. He reached in and slid his hand underneath Alex's underwear before putting his hand on Alex's engorged cock. They moaned into each other's mouths: Alex in pleasure, Jacob in excitement at touching his very first cock.
Jacob had touched his own, of course, but he found the experience of wrapping his hand around another man's penis to be wildly different. The spongy flesh of Alex's cock felt warm and foreign in his hand. He was excited at how hard it felt when he squeezed it. He began to run his fingers up and down Alex's shaft, enjoying the feeling of Alex's soft foreskin in his fingers.
Alex pushed Jacob down onto the floor of the tent, climbing on top of him as he continued kissing him. He kissed his way down Jacob's smooth, lean body towards his pelvis and slowly pulled down Jacob's pants.
Jacob's cock was straining hard against his briefs, leaking precum through the fabric and forming a wet spot. Alex stuck his tongue out and licked the precum off of Jacob's briefs, making Jacob whimper.
"Please..." said Jacob as he looked down at Alex.
Alex looked up into Jacob's eyes. He could see the desperation in Jacob's eyes, the fear and trepidation combined with the intense need for release. He nodded and put his hand on Jacob's, squeezing it in an act of comfort. Alex took his other hand and pulled down Jacob's briefs, releasing his aching cock and letting it flop onto Jacob's stomach.
"Oh baby," Alex said as he took Jacob's member in his hand and began to stroke it. Jacob's cock was around 6" and quite girthy. Alex handled it lovingly as Jacob began to writhe in pleasure underneath him.
"Oh God," Jacob moaned as Alex put his mouth on the tip of Jacob's cock, rubbing his tongue around the head and tasting him.
This was better than any sexual experience he'd ever had with his wife. He'd always told her he didn't need blowjobs, that he wasn't really into them, but that was mostly because he had such a difficult time staying hard. As Alex began to take his cock further into his mouth, Jacob was so hard he already felt on the verge of cumming.