It was almost noon by the time they finally left the apartment and climbed into Dan's Jeep. The backpack Stevie had loaded with sandwiches, chips, apples, and a bottle of local Riesling sat between his feet on the floorboard as they drove through town and out into the countryside. Stevie's spirits rose higher with every mile of winding road they traveled.
After nearly an hour of climbing higher into the mountains, Dan eased the Jeep onto a rutted dirt lane that twisted deep into the red-orange autumn forest. Stevie gazed curiously around him as Dan parked the Jeep on a flat spot by the side of the road.
"Wow, cool." Stevie climbed out and hefted the backpack. The day was unseasonably warm, perfect for hiking.
"Trailhead"s just up the road, around that curve there." Dan pointed a few yards ahead. "Here, give me that backpack."
"I can carry it," Stevie protested as Dan lifted it right off of his shoulder.
"It"s gonna get heavy before we get there." Dan slipped his arms through the straps and grinned. "Besides, I want to watch you."
"Watch me what?" Stevie laughed as they started up the road.
"Watch you walk."
"Oh, I get it. You want to stare at my ass the whole time."
"I can understand that. I mean, it's not like you've seen much of it lately."
"I plan on seeing lots more of that fine ass." Dan leaned down and licked Stevie's ear. "When we get to where we"re going, first thing I'm gonna do is get you naked and fuck you raw."
Stevie's knees almost went at that. He looked up into Dan's eyes, and the heat there made him burn all over. He pulled Dan's face down and kissed him hard. "In that case, mister, you better start walking really, really fast, 'cause I need it pretty damn soon."
"You may as well settle down. We got about a half hour"s hike ahead, and some of it's a little rough."
"Oh, man. You trying to wear me out?"
"Not by walking. Don"t worry, you can handle it, it's not that hard."
Stevie gave Dan an evil grin. "Yeah, it is."
"Boy, you have a one-track mind." Dan popped him on the butt. "And am I ever glad you do. Now, shake a leg. You"ve got me needing it, too."
It actually took them closer to forty-five minutes to get to the end of the trail, mostly because Stevie kept veering off to investigate the shadowed hollows between boulders, or a sunlit clearing, or a tiny waterfall trickling over mossy rocks. He rapidly forgot all about sex in the thrill of discovery. This was the first time he'd been outside the city since he came to Asheville, and the forest enchanted him at every turn. Red, yellow, and orange leaves covered the forest floor, and the air smelled like rich earth and fast-flowing rivers. The half-bare trees sighed in the breeze overhead, dappling the world in an ever changing pattern of light and shade. Stevie felt like a little boy again, exploring the wilds and inventing adventures in his head.
Dan followed him, long legs pacing slow and steady while Stevie scampered around like a squirrel, exclaiming over this and that as he went. When they reached a bend in the trail, rounding a boulder that towered over their heads and overhung the path, Dan stopped Stevie from bounding ahead with a hand on his shoulder.
"Wait," Dan said. "Let's go together. I want to see your face."
Stevie's eyes widened. "Oh, are we there? Is this it?"
Dan nodded, and held out his hand. "C'mon."
Stevie intertwined his fingers with Dan's. Dan smiled at him, dark eyes sparkling with excitement. Stevie followed him around the bend, under the rock overhang, and out into brilliant sunshine. His mouth fell open and he stared, speechless.
They were standing on a wide rock ledge, with the big boulder at their backs. To the left, the mountain rose straight up, scraggly grasses clinging to the bare rock. To the right, the trail continued for a few yards before disappearing into a wide stretch of knee-high yellow grass.
It was the view directly ahead, though, that stole Stevie's breath. The mountain dropped away no more than five feet from where they stood, sheer and dizzying. A carpet of red, orange, and gold blanketed the valley far below and climbed the rounded peaks on the other side.
Stevie thought he'd never in his life seen anything so beautiful. The Rockies where he'd grown up had their own sweeping, clean-lined beauty. But this was something else again, all lush curves and bursting with life. Stevie shook his head.
"Oh, my God, Dan," he said, his voice soft and reverent. "This is ... amazing." He leaned back against Dan's solid warmth.
Dan put both arms around Stevie's waist and kissed his neck. "Gorgeous, huh?"
"Incredible." Stevie twisted around, lifting his face to receive Dan's kiss.
Dan patted Stevie's ass, then pulled away, tugging on his hand. "Come on, let's go to the meadow."
Stevie eyed the sheer drop-off to his left with a mix of awe and trepidation as he followed Dan down the rock path. He kept Dan's hand clutched in his. "How'd you find this place?"
"My cousins and I used to come here when we were kids. My uncle Rollin's house wasn't far from here. Just a little ways down the road from where we turned off, matter of fact. My mom and dad came to visit a lot. My mom's family was always real close."
Stevie watched Dan's back thoughtfully. "It must've been great. Wandering around the woods, I mean. Finding places like this. It sounds like so much fun."
"It was." Dan squeezed his hand, turned and smiled at him. "We had some good times."
"Do you still get together with your cousins?"
"Naw. Uncle Rollin died when I was fifteen, and Aunt Sarah couldn"t keep up with the taxes on the land after that. She sold it the year after he died, and they all moved to Charlotte." Dan turned and gave him a sad little smile as they entered the meadow. "I miss them sometimes."
"I bet." Stevie reached up to wind his arms around Dan's neck. "I wish I'd known you then. I wish I could"ve seen you running around up here when you were a kid."
Dan grinned. "I wanna see you running around up here now. Bare." He tugged on Stevie's shirt. "Strip."
Stevie laughed, stood on tiptoe, and brushed a light kiss across Dan's lips. "You know what? I never saw a place I'd rather be naked in than this."
Stevie headed into the swaying golden grasses, shedding his shirt as he went. He could hear Dan's slow, measured footsteps right behind him. He turned and held Dan's gaze as he pulled off his sneakers and shimmied out of his jeans.
Dan raked molten eyes down Stevie's naked body. "You sure look good like that."
Stevie took Dan's hand, turned, and waded deeper into the meadow, pulling Dan with him. He smiled over his shoulder. "Let's make love, Dan. Here in the grass."