Jonah reached for his brother's hand. Everyone else had left for, either home, or the bed and breakfast, at least an hour earlier. He and Owen had stayed behind, wanting to spend more time with their mother, and Daniel. Now, draped in dappled moonlight, and surrounded by silence, they were walking home.

"Are things okay between you n'me?" Jonah asked. "I'm talking about last night."

"What do you mean?"

"Last night was the first time either one of us actually saw the other have sex with someone." Jonah puffed a small laugh into the darkness and tightened his grip on Owen's hand. "At first, I thought it'd be cool. Then, when Corey and I were in the bedroom, with Bailey and Riley, and you were standin' there all alone, watching, I thought I might have done something to hurt you. Then, I wondered how I would feel if I ever saw you'n the guys having sex, and wondered if I would feel hurt, or somethin'."

Owen laughed, stopped walking, and hugged his brother. "Has anyone ever told you that maybe you overanalyze things?"

"Like my big brother?" Jonah asked, feeling a tingle of excitement, as well as relief, when Owen kissed his earlobe.

"Hmm, something like him." Owen chuckled, his voice almost a mirror image of his younger brother's. "I've had some pretty serious discussions with that guy, askin' him to worry less."

Jonah smiled, then decided to voice his thoughts. "There's something else I thought. I need to tell you, then I'll shut up, okay?"

"Sure," Owen murmured, holding Jonah close as they rested their head on one another's shoulder.

"I told myself that, no matter who I ever have sex with . . . No matter who I call my lover . . . It is you, who I will always love most."

"Ohhhh," Owen heaved a ragged sigh. "Thank you, Jonah. You always were able to say or do things which make me feel special. I hope you realize that I feel the same way about you."

When they parted from their lingering kiss, Jonah chuckled. "I also thought watching you'n the guys, later on, out there on the living room floor was about one of the hottest things I'd ever seen."

"You guys were watching? We thought, since everything was so quiet, that you all had probably fallen asleep . . . or else were very very quiet," he added, with a grin in his voice.

"No one . . . with ears . . . could ever accuse you of being quiet, when you're makin' love," Jonah said, imagining his brother's smile in the darkness.

"Yeah, I have been accused of being a little loud. Y'know, Lucas has taken to making sure the windows of the bedroom are closed at night. I didn't think I was that loud. Was I?"

"Well, Jonah laughed. "The living room windows were all closed, so I wouldn't worry any. There's no doubt that you're having a good time, that's for sure.

"I didn't know you guys were watching."

Jonah sighed, as Owen continued to nuzzle the crook of his neck. "Sam'n Lucas knew. I think they enjoyed putting on a show. And you were so involved in having both guys' dick up your butt, you weren't paying attention to anything else." Jonah tilted his head back as his brother kissed up and down his neck. "Y'know, you're not really so much of an exhibitionist as you'd like people to think . . . at least when it comes to sex. You like things more quiet, like out here, in the dark, or on our rock at the edge of the river."

Owen's soft puff of a laugh was warm against Jonah's neck. "Yeah, you're right, I guess. Bein' with three or four people is about my limit. Whenever I'm with more than that I sorta focus on one or two people. That way, I'm not overwhelmed. Of course, the only times I've ever been with more than a couple guys has been when I've been with either you and Corey, or Bailey. Havin' you all together, plus Sam and Lucas . . . geez." Owen stepped away, but kept an arm around his brother's waist.

"I really don't like being the focus of attention . . . like when I left for school." Owen shuddered. "That was awful, for more reasons than just 'cause I was leavin' Mama, and you, and Sammy. It was the same in a couple classes at school, too. People look at you, expecting you to do something memorable, or say something that'll change their lives, or something.

"Havin' sex can be sorta overpowering, but having sex in front of an audience!" Owen laughed. "I'd be worrying if my hair was combed, or something."

"Owen," Jonah said, in a droll voice. "Your hair is never combed."

"Oh . . . oh yeah. Well, maybe I'd lose my erection."

"Hmmm. Again . . . not likely."

"Well . . ." Owen returned an amused huff. "You know what I mean. When I'm faced by a crowd, and am expected to do something, I freeze up."

* * *

"So, you're the person who owns that old building," Mayor Hurst smiled, as he shook Bailey's hand. "Sam told me you'd bought it, but he couldn't . . . or wouldn't give me a clue what you're planning on doing it with. The workers knew even less than Sam." He gestured to a chair, inviting Bailey to sit.

"May I assume that you and your parents being in Riverton means that we'll soon have this mystery resolved?"

"Yes." Bailey settled himself into the chair. "Mayor Hurst, may I tell you a short story? It'll explain many things.

Alan Hurst nodded and rocked back, prepared to listen. Bailey took a deep breath and launched into the series of events which resulted in him sitting in the Mayor's office.

"So, you see," Bailey concluded, a short time later. "I feel a personal obligation to him. I am alive because of Owen's kindness. The building is a gift to him, from me. The contents are a gift to him from my parents and those of Lucas Horton, as gratitude for all the ways Owen has helped their son.

"I want you to know that you shouldn't be concerned about future expenses. Everything has been taken care of. Riverton is responsible for nothing, concerning the building's maintenance, taxes, or whatever, not now . . . not ever. I don't want to you fear that I've somehow obligated you or your citizens to anything, other than enjoying what is Owen is responsible for.

"Mysterious young man, you are, Mister Wilkins."

"Bailey grinned and shrugged. "I want everything to be a complete surprise. Sam Bridgers has been my agent during the past months, overseeing everything. We'd like to unveil the building during Independence Day celebrations, and I would appreciate it, sir, if you would introduce me and my father, so we can do the presentation. It shouldn't take but a couple minutes.

"All you need talk about, other than introducing us, is to welcome everyone to the party. There's going to be food afterward, and since it's Independence Day, there'll be fireworks." Bailey grinned. "I understand from Owen, that you enjoy lighting them."

Mayor Hurst grinned. "I'm just a child at heart, and, as a politician, I like to be in the limelight."

"Outstanding! Of course, we'd like to include you in the photographs we're planning on taking."

"Thank you, Mister Wilkins, for your invitation, and for being so kind to Owen. He's . . . had a difficult time of it, growing up. It's nice to see someone doing something to acknowledge his kind heart."

* * *

"Well stupid-me," Owen laughed. "There I was in what had to be the coldest city in North America in what was later called, by those in the know, the worst winter storm of the century, and I was wearing a denim jacket! A jacket! No gloves, no hat, no scarf . . . nothing . . . nada . . . zilch." he almost shouted, as he related his first experience with snow, which happened to be a fierce blizzard.

He, his mother, Daniel, Corey, Lucas, and Jonah, along with Lucas' parents, Olivia and Neil, and were leisurely returning to town, at Owen's insistence, afraid he might miss the barbecue.

Everyone laughed, as Owen, in rare form, pretended to be staggering through the blinding snow, reaching out his hands, as if searching for something, then appearing to be leaning into a strong wind, hugging himself to keep warm. "And, I thought all snow storms were like pictures on Christmas cards, or something!" He stopped, held out his arms and shouted to the sky. "What was I thinking?"

He put an arm around Lucas' waist. "I probably would have been found, in the Spring laying on the ground someplace . . . an Owen popsicle . . . if Lucas, here, hadn't held on to me and gotten me to his apartment. Geez, I was shivering so bad I couldn't talk!" He turned toward his audience and lowered his voice. "That is something which has never happened before . . . truly." He glanced toward Lucas, in time to see him roll his eyes skyward.

"Lucas revived me, got me warmed up, and made sure I never went out without a heavy coat, gloves, a scarf, a hat, long underwear . . . You name it, whenever I went outside, I was wearing it. Made me sorta look like one of those astronaut guys in their spacesuits. I could barely move!" He held up a finger and smiled. "But, I was warm. 'Course, it never snowed like that again, all winter. After that, all we had was ice, sleet, hail, wind. Did I mention ice, or the cold?"

He suddenly sobered. "During that snowstorm was when my apartment burned down, and the police arrested poor Bailey, thinking he set the fire." Owen bowed his head. "I've never seen someone as frightened, as he was, when Lucas and I went down to the jail to talk to him."

Owen stopped. "Is that Mayor Hurst . . . using a microphone?" He glanced toward his mother, then Daniel. "The Mayor's voice is loud enough to never need a microphone. I wonder what's going on.

"Tuck your t-shirt in, Sweetheart," Bea said, giving her son a critical glance.


"Humor me," she grinned, pausing a moment to run her fingers through his short blond hair in an attempt to impart a semblance of neatness.

He scrutinized his mother and everyone who suddenly seemed to be watching him for some clue to his mother's sudden request for a tucked in t-shirt and combed hair, and received nothing more than a slight shrug of Jonah's shoulders, as an answer. He received even less than that from Olivia and Neil Horton, both of whom suddenly found something very interesting in the distance.

"What's going on?" Owen asked, as he grudgingly tucked his t-shirt in and submitted to his mother's ministrations.

When they turned the corner, onto Main Street, Owen's little sister, Opie, saw them and came running. Sam jogged up, a moment later, his face flushed with excitement

"Mama! The Mayor says we're gonna have a party! Everyone was wonderin' when you all were going to show up."

"Party?" Owen asked, turning to Sam. "You know something," he accused, turning when Abigail arrived, followed, a step behind, by Clyde, looking like a puppy, eager to please.

"C'mon, everyone. Hurry up!" She seemed consumed by excitement. "C'mon, Clyde," she said, grabbing one of his hands. "Let's get back and see if we can find out what's happening."

"Clyde?" Jonah muttered, drawing a stern look from his mother.

"But . . . why?" Owen looked around as they approached what appeared to be the entire population of Riverton, all gathered around the mystery building. "What's goin' on? Why's everyone got this I-know-something-you-don't look?"

Bea motioned for Owen to be quiet, as the crowd seemed to miraculously part for the Carver and Horton family and friends to move to the front of the crowd. "What is this all about?" Owen muttered, looking at Sam. Owen took some comfort that Lucas, Corey, and Jonah, seemed as puzzled by everything, as he.

As they reached the front of the crowd, Mayor Hurst finished welcoming everyone, then turned to Bailey and Mister Wilkins.

"Are we gonna get to find out what the building is?" Owen murmured, nudging Sam, who only shrugged, never taking his eyes off of Bailey and his father, who were standing on the building's porch. Bailey acknowledged the attentive applause, with a poise Owen marveled at. When he turned to Lucas, he saw Lucas' was thinking the same thing. Louise Wilkins, Bailey's mother had joined them and was watching her son with maternal pride.

"Today is a day of celebration," Bailey began, "Both for our country, and for me, personally. Today, I am finally able to pay back a kindness and acknowledge someone who saved my life."

"Oh, geez," Owen muttered. "Sammmm . . . "

"I understand that he's changed the lives of many of you as well. I've known him for less than a year, but have seen him have an impact wherever he goes and on whomever he befriends."

Owen glanced, panic stricken, toward his brother, who merely smiled, and motioned for him to run his fingers through his hair, to straighten it, then gave him a thumbs' up signal and a brilliant smile. Corey swiped at his watery eyes with a hand.

Bailey continued. "I've asked him what I could do to possibly pay me back for all he did for me," Bailey smiled, making eye contact with Owen, "and he always told me that there was nothing he needed. He had the love of his family and friends, and that was enough. He claimed that he did nothing to help me, but extend a hand of friendship." Bailey paused a moment, as his emotions threatened to overwhelm him.

"Nothing, but friendship!" he said in a voice rough with emotion. "He was the life preserver tossed to a drowning man. Without Owen's unceasing friendship, I would not be alive today."

Owen flinched when Lucas, who was standing close, ran a hand over his back.

"Owen's always saying that he wants to do something meaningful with his life. He wants to help people understand what the world is like and what a wonderful place Riverton is. That's why he left Riverton in the first place . . . to search for a way of fulfilling his dream."

Bailey smiled. "Well, Owen, I believe that this building and its contents will allow you to realize your dreams. It will allow you to stay in Riverton . . . your home . . . with the people who love you."

Bailey tugged on a cord and pulled a canvas cover off of a carved stone sign above the door to the building. "Welcome, everyone," Bailey announced, "to the Owen Carver Library and School. It is a gift from Owen to all of you, and your wonderful town."

"Sammy?" Owen turned to his lifelong friend as the crowd wildly applauded. "You knew about this?"

Sam nodded. "Don't say I can't keep a secret," he beamed, hugging Owen, before turning him over to Lucas, then Jonah, and finally Abigail, Daniel and Bea, who apologized for her tears.

"I'm so happy for you, Sweetheart," she said, for his ears alone.

"Ohhhh, Mama," he murmured, his arms tight around her waist. "This place should have your name on it, not mine."

Bailey continued speaking, "Owen's always saying that he feels like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Well, Owen, this is the place where you can finally feel at home, it is a place of learning, the thing you have always sought most. It is a place of learning about the world . . . and . . . ourselves."

"That's Owen's building?" Opie asked, tugging at her mother. "They're giving a whole building to Owen?"

"It's a library, Little One," Corey laughed. "It's for everyone. Owen's name is on it 'cause of what a great guy he is. He's gonna work there. And there's a school, too, so you won't have to ride that ol' bus all the way to Evanston every day."

Bailey held out a hand for Owen, asking that he join him on the porch.

As he walked through the crowd, shaking people's hands, and accepting pats on the back, Owen couldn't help but recall the last time the town had gathered. That time, he was leaving to go to school, looking for his place in the world. This time, he realized that he had found it, in the place where his journey had begun. His place in the world had always had been Riverton. This place, its people, the land and smell of things growing, the billowing clouds of summer, the meadow at the river's edge, and the waves of honey-scented flowers were what it meant to be . . . home.

"I . . . I . . . don't know what to say. He turned and looked over his shoulder. "I am overwhelmed." He held his arms out to his sides. "A library and a school? Oh, Bailey . . . Mister and Mrs. Wilkins . . . Mister and Mrs. Horton, what can I say?"

"Try thanks," Lucas shouted. "Then we can all party!"

Owen smiled, at the smattering of laughter, and shook his head, gesturing toward the building. "This calls for more than just a thanks." Owen stared into the distance, organizing his thoughts. Bailey and Mister Wilkins stood on his left, a tub of butter-yellow flowers sat on the porch, on his right. When he looked up, it was as if he saw the size of his audience for the first time. If he had ever doubted that staying in Riverton might be the wrong thing to do, they were banished. All he saw were friends . . . smiling faces of all the people who meant something to him. And, from the look on their faces, he realized how much he meant to them. For an emotional person, such as Owen, it verged on being too much to handle. He gulped a breath of air, and swallowed, willing his voice not to shake. He grasped the white-painted porch rail, seeming to take strength from its support.

"Y'know . . ." he began, then licked his lips, standing straighter, and releasing his grip on the railing, "One of the things I remember most about growing up was Mama telling all of us kids that sometimes the world wouldn't treat us as we would wish. But, no matter how bad things were, she taught us that even though we might be suffering, we couldn't let the world win.

Bea stepped closer to her husband, welcoming his arm around her shoulders. "Oh, Daniel," she murmured, taking comfort from his touch. "I am so proud." She sniffed, and gave him a watery-eyed smile, as he handed her a handkerchief.

Opposite Daniel, Abigail held her mother close, with a hand around her waist, while Opie, standing in front of her mother looked up and smiled.

Across the crowd, Jonah wiped his eyes on a sleeve of his crisply pressed white shirt, then smiled his thanks when a person standing nearby offered a handkerchief.

"Mama," Owen continued, "taught us about strength of character, and about showing the world, and everyone around us, that we can overcome those things which are giving us trouble." Owen bowed his head. "Mama knew what she was talking about, and all of us, Opie, Abigail, Jonah . . . and I . . . we learned what bein' strong meant, by watchin' her.

"Every day, in everything she did, she was making a contribution toward making the world a better place. She'd sit out on the porch of our house, late at night, and talk to us about . . . life . . . and love . . . and helping others. She taught us to read, to love learning, to respect those around us, and . . . to be good people. Then, during the day, she . . . endured, demonstrating to us with strength is." He ruefully laughed. "Geez, but sometimes bein' strong is . . . rough."

The crowd had gone absolutely still. Almost everyone was aware what Owen's mother, and his brother and sisters had lived with, but it had been someone one never spoke of. It was a "family" thing.

"Mama would tell each of us kids that we had to think beyond ourselves, and seek ways to help others, and learn from them as they grow.

"That's all I did with Bailey, here." Owen turned to his friend, resting a hand on his shoulder. "I told him that he was stronger than he thought he was, and that he could overcome things in his life which he thought insurmountable. I let Bailey know that he wasn't alone, that someone cared about him, and would do their best to help out, if he ever needed it.

"I learned from Bailey. I was so proud when he brushed himself off and stood straight. He realized that he had the strength to change himself, and others, sometimes merely by holdin' out a hand to someone who was suffering. All he had to do was sit and listen to the person talk about the things they're facing, and to be a friend.

"Y'see, none of us realizes what we're capable of, and we'll never know until we're challenged, by someone, or something. Then, once we do learn what we're capable of, we can't just sit around being pleased with ourselves. Our task isn't finished. In fact, it's only just begun. The world is full of people who need to hear a friendly voice, or feel a comforting hug. The world is full of people who have a story to tell and only lack someone to listen to them, and take their hand, to make their lives better.

"Like Mama says, we have to start with ourselves, but then, one by one, by our actions, all of us can begin to make the world a better place."

"He thought for a moment, then raised his shoulders and shrugged. "I guess that's all I have to say. Thanks for listenin' to me ramble on, and thank you Bailey, Mister and Mrs. Wilkins, and Mister and Mrs. Horton. Thanks to Jonah . . . and my sisters, Abigail, and Opie, and all the people I love: little Nicky, Sammy, Lucas, Corey, Bailey, Riley, Daniel, Millie, Art, our barber, Sally at the restaurant, and Scott, her husband, and Nicky's folks, and Sam's folks." He shook his head in amazement. "Geez, there are just too many. Thanks to all of you. You've all made my life so wonderful my heart's almost burstin'.

"But, most of all, thank you Mama, for showin' me what it means to be strong, and how our smallest acts can change the world. I love you."

The crowd was silent for a moment, then burst into applause, and suddenly Owen found himself in his mother's arms. Abigail pushed her way through the crowd, Opie in hand, and kissed her brother's cheek, then hoisted Opie up so she could do the same thing.

"Way to go, Owen," Opie said, quickly kissing him a second time, then seeming embarrassed by the show of affection, blushed and allowed Daniel to hold her. Once the family had had their chance to congratulate Owen, the rest of the townsfolk, surged forward, led by Jonah, Sam, Lucas, Corey, and Riley, all of whom hugged him.

"And, you said you froze up when facing a crowd," Jonah teased, as he hugged his brother close. "Have I ever told you how much I love you?" he asked, before backing away, followed by Owen's wide-eyed look of surprise.

Sam was pleased to see how many people lined up to shake Bailey, his folks', and Lucas' parents' hands. 'Owen is the person we're honoring,' he thought, 'but, none of this would have been possible without their generosity. They may have named the building after Owen, but I'm gonna make sure there's a plaque, that thanks them, by name.'

"Good goin', Owen!" Nicky cried, in his childish voice, as he rushed onto the porch with his arms wide, silently asking to be held. "Now we'll have lots a books to read, huh?" he asked, as Owen hoisted him to his shoulders.

"And computers, too," Bailey added, from where he stood, at Owen's side.

Nicky's eyes widened. "Oh, cool!" He turned to Bailey. "You did all this for Owen?" he asked.

Bailey nodded. "Me, my parents, and Lucas' mom and dad, yes."

"Thank you," Nicky said, solemnly holding out a hand for Bailey to shake. "Owen's a good guy. It's nice he's got friends like you lookin' out for him."

"He is indeed a good guy," Bailey answered, moved by the young boy's words. "He helped me out when I was really . . . sick."

"He helped me out too . . . when I was sick," Nicky said, seriously, then leaned forward, from where he sat perched on Owen's shoulders, and kissed the top of Owen's head.

A moment later, the young boy turned, his attention captured by a series of trucks which had pulled up in front of the building. "Look! Lotsa trucks!" Nicky squirmed, slapping the side of Owen's shoulder. "Put me down, Owen! I wanna go see what's happening."

"Bailey?" Owen asked, standing up, after the young boy scampered away to join the crowd filling the library's front porch. "What is this?"

"The stuff to fill this building, of course," Bailey grinned, courtesy of Lucas' folks. "You didn't think we were going to leave you with an empty building, did you, as lovely as it is." He gestured to the empty, sun filled room. "Well, you wanted a job. You've got one."

"Oh . . . Bailey," Owen managed, in a husky voice, looking from his friend, to the trucks and the men who were beginning to unload crates of . . . everything, surrounded by family and townsfolk, excitedly speculating on what could be in each of the boxes. Amidst the general conversation, Nicky's voice could be heard.

"Mama," he said, excitedly. "Owen's friend, told me Owen's library is going to have computers, and lots n'lots of books!"

Both Bailey and Owen smiled at the childish voice.

"I'm in heaven, Bailey. How can I ever possibly thank you?"

"There is no need. The look on your face, and your young friend's was enough for me. Besides, it is I who am thanking you. You gave me my life, Owen. You gave me happiness. In a sense, you gave me Corey and Riley, and a relationship with my parents. You gave me self-respect. But . . . Owen . . . most importantly, you gave me your friendship. You gave me everything."

~ The End ~

Owen - A New Beginning, will continue the story of Owen and his friends.

No one who seeks to create something, does so in a vacuum. This story is the result of a collaboration of a group of friends, each of whom contributed in some way to the creation of the tale of Owen and those he loves.

Carey, in Missouri, is my mentor, and my friend. In the early days of my first story, Phalen, he encouraged me to continue writing, with his tough love approach to telling a story. I am indebted to him for all he has taught me.

Bill, in Michigan, brought critical insight into the characters' behavior through the many emails we have exchanged, and by our conversations. I am grateful for all he has done to make Owen a better story, and for his friendship.

Jere, in Tennessee, through his proofreading, made my sometimes ham-fingered typing, presentable.

Gwynne, in New Mexico, kept me on track. Our daily email messages, discussing the story, were enough to fill a computer hard drive. Her contributions and insights have been invaluable, as has her friendship.

These individuals, each in their own way, influenced Owen, and made it story of which I am very proud.

Thanks, all of you.

Thanks also, to all of you, Owen's readers, both for taking a few minutes every now and then, to read what I've had to say, and for your wonderful email messages.

Roy Reinikainen