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    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 55 “I think he fell out of his shift.” Kellar said in response to Tobyn’s question. “Is he all right?” Kellar flickered as Fendral, laying on his side in human form, curled up into an almost fetal position. “He’s dead to the world, and he’s by no means healthy yet, but his colors are in balance. His aura is quite pale,” Kellar mused. “I have no doubt the man is suffering from the malaise. He’s been isolated a long time, so whatever residual benefits there were, from years of having an earth mate, are long gone.” “So that’s why he shifted? The malaise?” Tobyn asked from behind him, his warm breath floating along Kellar’s neck. The moon was directly above, full and bright. Kellar leaned back into his mate, and sighed. Weariness was letting itself be known. “Now that he has no excess burnt umber, his body’s not strong enough to hold a shift. Human form is back to being the dominant one, so yeah, the malaise is the reason.” “Cool. Right?” “Yeah, I think so. I hope he feels it’s a good thing, when he comes out of his sleep.” “Is he going to wake up like Connor did… all of a sudden?” “No. No way. He’s in a deep state, and he’s way too weak to do what Connor did. That still freaks me out. Fendral keeps sucking up our mate energy, though. I’m surprised we still have any.” “Why? I feel fine.” “Really? You’re not tired?” “Well, yeah. But not exhausted the way I’ve been in the past. So, what now?” “We carry him into the house. He can’t weigh more than a hundred and twenty pounds.” “There’s not much to him, is there? He used to be such a big guy.” “No, he doesn’t look like the man in his photos. But, we’ll get him back to the way he was.” “I knew you would do it. I could tell it was working because you were different when you began drawing energy from me again. It was smoother… steadier.” “I’m not surprised, because I was in a way better state of mind the second time. You were the reason it was successful. Not only did you calm me down, but your idea about getting the process started first, and then reversing it, was exactly right. It worked like a charm. I was about ready to give up.” “No you weren’t. You were frustrated, but you’d have figured it out. I’m your sounding board, doc, that’s all.” They both stood, staring down at the wizened old man. Kellar turned to face his mate, pulling him into a tight embrace. “You are so much more than a sounding board. Don’t ever say that again, okay?” “Okay.” “I’m being serious. I couldn’t face any of these healings without you.” “I know you’re being serious. I won’t say anything like that again. I promise.” “Good. Now let’s get my grandfather into a comfortable bed. I should be able to carry him by myself. Lead the way.” A hand on his arm stopped Kellar as he went to pick the frail man up. “I’ll do it. You’re exhausted.” “No, I can do this.” “Kellar, stop! I said I’ll carry him. You’re practically staggering. Let me do my part, all right? You’ve already done yours. You lead the way and open the door.” “Yes, dear.” “That’s more like it.” “Did he wake at all?” “No, just like you said, he stayed asleep.” “How long was I out for?” “Four hours. I napped a couple of times sitting up.” Tobyn proceeded to rub Kellar’s sock clad feet as he sat on the end of the couch. “Four hours? You were supposed to wake me after an hour.” “I didn’t see the point. You were worn out. How do you feel now?” “Fantastic. Damned hungry, though.” “Grilled cheese coming right up.” Tobyn stood. “You want coffee… or tea?” Kellar swung his feet onto the floor. “Sure. Tea would be good. I’ll help. Aren’t you tired?” “Nope. I told you I catnapped. I feel energized, and the sun will be up in a couple of hours.” “I’ll just check on my grandfather first.” Kellar went to the spare room, stopping at the doorway. The only light was from the hallway, but Kellar could see the still-sleeping man clearly. He looked small in his curled up position on the big bed. Flickering, he was satisfied with what he saw. His aura was about the same as those he’d seen at Morningstar upon his arrival. This man needed lots of mate energy, but physically, everything was back in order. How he’d be mentally, once he woke up, might be another story. Kellar was beginning to think Fendral had slept long enough. The sun had made its appearance, and he was getting antsy. His grandfather needed to eat and drink. As far as they knew, it’d been many years since he’d last been in human form, and the healer in him wanted to be assured all his systems were functioning. Should he go in there and…? Tobyn stirred, his head shifting in Kellar’s lap. His body went into a full-on stretch before his eyes opened. He smiled. “Hey, doc.” “Hey, yourself. Did I wake you?” “No, I don’t think so. I did feel your fingers in my hair, though, so maybe,” he answered, stretching once more. “I feel awesome. How is he?” “The same. I heard him shift around once, but his breathing hasn’t changed. I’m itching to wake him up, to be honest. If he was in a hospital, he’d be on an IV to counteract his depletion.” “You know I love when you talk all doctory.” Tobyn sat up, leaning against the back of the couch. “He needs fluids, and some food. I’d feel better if he got up and moved around.” “So, wake him then. The man’s been sleeping for ages. You started the healing in the afternoon.” “Yeah, but sleep is good too. All his vitals are strong. I’m just impatient because I want to talk to him and find out what he thinks about stuff.” “Like falling out of his shift and being in human form again?” “That’s the biggie. What if he didn’t understand what was going to happen with the healing? What if he’s pissed off, and freaks out? Oh, I think he’s awake. Yup, he is.” Kellar practically flew to the spare room, and Tobyn was close behind. “Good morning… Grandfather.” Fendral was sitting up, his weight braced on his arms. His eyes traveled from his stretched out legs under the thin sheet to the two men now just inside the door. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Frowning, his hand went to his throat. “Are you having trouble speaking,” an anxious Kellar asked. Fendral dropped his hand and stared at it, as if the sight of it was something alien. He turned it over and back before looking toward Kellar. He slowly nodded. “I’ll get you some cool water, sir,” Tobyn said before rushing away. Kellar found himself shifting his weight from one foot to the other, and willed himself to stop. “I don’t know if you remember our conversation, but the healing went well. I told you I would fix you up, and I have. Your colors… ah… I’ll explain all that later… so, yeah, your colors are back in balance, which is why you could regain your human form. Okay, I guess I should give you the basics. Every living thing has a signature pattern made up of hundreds of colors, and they’re all different, except for mates. They have matching patterns. That means, because I never forget a pattern once I’ve seen it, I can visit a pack and find mates for our own members, and that’s what happened with Vega, and why we have so many fated pairs now. There’s more, but it can wait.” Fendral’s jaw opened and closed, but no words came out. “It’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Ah, you might not be able to find your wolf any time you want for a week or two, and you probably won’t be able to stay shifted for long periods just yet, but it’ll come, I promise. Each day you’ll get healthier because of mate energy. Okay, so that’s an energy earth mates produce when they’re near someone who needs it, and other shifters absorb it. I can see it as well. It’s like a mist made up of hundreds of colors. It’s what cures our malaise and keeps us healthy.” Fendral gave no clue as to what he was thinking, but he was definitely listening. “I’m sorry. This is probably too much to get into right now.” What was going on in the old shifter’s mind right now? Tobyn appeared at Kellar’s back and handed him the water. He took it and walked slowly to the bed. “Do you want me to hold the glass while you drink?” Fendral nodded once more, his face still expressionless. When Kellar sat on the edge of the mattress, the elder man struggled to sit up straighter. Kellar was tempted to assist, but held off, raising the glass to his grandfather’s lips. He was thankful Tobyn had chosen a wide-rimmed, plastic one. The old man began choking right away, but when Kellar went to pull it away, he reached for it. Trembling hands grasped the glass, so Kellar let it go, and supported Fendral’s back with one hand. It was slow going, with water dribbling from his mouth onto the white sheet, but he managed to get more and more of the water down. Eventually he had his fill, and Kellar took the glass back from the heavily breathing man, pleased Fendral was now somewhat hydrated. He was also relieved there had been, as yet, no freak-out. He glanced up at his mate, who was standing next to him with eyebrows raised, concern quite evident. He gave him a reassuring smile he didn’t quite feel. “Would you like to sit back? I can pile the pillows up behind you?” Fendral’s breathing was calming down. He opened his mouth and this time a sound came out, but it was half-bark, half-croak. Swallowing a few times, his Adam’s apple bobbing, he tried again. “Piss,” turned out to be the first word he’d spoken in years, and Kellar’s little grin was met with a curl of his grandfather’s lip. It was a strange attempt at a smile, but Kellar knew what it meant. Mentally, his grandfather was doing just fine. There was no need to worry. “We’re over the hump, babe. There’ll be no episode like with Arthur’s wolf.” “That’s a relief.” Kellar fought the urge to laugh at the sigh Tobyn expelled. They both supported Fendral as he rose and walked to the bathroom, but he was essentially moving under his own steam. Other than a weakness one might associate with an elderly person, he had no real trouble, despite his shuffling gait. As with all shifters, nakedness didn’t bother Fendral, but the sight of his leanness in motion did affect Kellar. This man needed nourishment, sustained and healthy nourishment. A feeling of protectiveness washed over him. He wanted so much for his grandfather to survive and thrive; he was family, and represented his strongest connection to his mother. Not for the first time since learning of Miss Sybil’s vision, he wondered how his father must have felt the moment he realized he couldn’t save his own family. Roland died knowing his son was hidden in a ditch, alone and vulnerable. Kellar pushed the unsettling thought away. Moving over to wash his hands, Fendral seemed momentarily intrigued by the process, bringing the soap bar up close to his nose. Clearing his throat. “Still can’t smell much,” came out in a painful-sounding rasp, but he was easily understood. “Were your senses diminishing?” Fendral stopped his movements. “Was getting tough to hunt… Kellar.” “Is that why you’re so thin? How did you manage to survive?” Tobyn asked “Mice”—he cleared his throat again—“mice were about all I could catch, and they weren’t staying down most of the time.” Fendral looked at him, and his real smile made its first appearance. “Still with the questions, eh, Tobyn?” Tobyn smiled too. “I guess I used to ask a lot of them. Your voice is sounding way better.” “Just needed some oil. Good working order now. It sounds damn weird to my ears, though.” Tobyn laughed and Fendral grinned before his eyes focused on the mirror in front of him. He held up the copper necklace, rolling it in his fingers. “That’s for protection against hunters. Kellar’s brother figured out that silver—pure silver—pulses when a shifter is in the vicinity of it. If a human is paying attention, they can feel it against their skin, but wearing copper keeps the signal from happening. It’s the reason hunters could always find us so easily. Knowing this changes everything, sir. We all wear them now, so make sure you always have it on. That one should be the right size to fit your wolf.” Fendral grabbed the edges of the sink, looking stunned. “Gigi had two sons?” His gaze met Kellar’s in the mirror. Apparently he had taken news of the copper in stride. “Oh, no.” Kellar responded. “Sorry. Warren is my foster brother. He’s human, and it turned out he is Adelin’s earth mate.” “I see,” came out with a note of disappointment. “Little Adelin?” Kellar nodded, handing his grandfather a towel. “There’s a lot more to tell you, but it can wait. You need some clothes next, and then we have to figure out what to feed you.” “Eggs,” he responded immediately. “I miss scrambled eggs.” Tobyn chuckled. “Coming right up. I’ll go get us some breakfasts from the lodge. What else can you eat, sir?” “Sausage. I’d love some greasy sausage, and you’re too old now to call me sir.” Kellar nodded when Tobyn gave him a questioning look regarding the sausage. He was just happy to see the man had an appetite. It was a great sign about his state of mind. “It will do him good, babe.” “You’re the boss.” “Since when?” Tobyn ignored the smirk Kellar gave him, and turned his attention back to Fendral. “It might be a hard habit to break, but I’ll try, sir.” He returned the man’s little smile before he headed down the hallway. Alone with his grandfather again, Kellar swallowed down some nervousness. “We’ll have to figure out something for you to wear, sir, something that will fit you.” “Now you’re doing it.” “Ah, sorry. Fen… ah, what should I call you?” “You’re my grandson, aren’t you?” “Yes… I am.” “Then call me grandfather. Never been called that before.” He peered at Kellar’s face. “You don’t look like my Gisla. You don’t look like any of my relatives.” Despite realizing it was ridiculous, Kellar felt a little defensive. “I know. I mean, I’ve been told, and I’ve seen pictures of your family.” “It’s your family too, boy. You must take after your father’s side.” “Miss Sybil says in the vision she had, I look exactly like my dad. Grandfather? Are you happy about being back in your human form?” “I forgot how cold it can get wearing skin. Find me a robe or something, and I’ll think about whether I am or not.” “Is all this good food going to come back up on me?” Fendral was sitting at the kitchen table in a too-big tee-shirt, and a pair of Tobyn’s oversized sweat shorts that only stayed up because of the string ties tightly cinched at the waist. At least the socks fit. His grandfather had rebelled at the idea of covering his feet at first, but gave in when Kellar insisted. “No, Grandfather. Those cysts you had in your intestines are gone. They, and the inflammation they caused, were the reason for the vomiting. You should eat slow and stop before you feel full, though.” The man sighed after he swallowed the first forkful of fluffy scrambled eggs. He wasn’t long in putting a second one into his mouth, and a third…. Tobyn and Kellar shared a pleased look as they dug into their own food. “Did anyone ask who the extra breakfast was for?” “Nope,” Tobyn answered after he swallowed a mouthful. “Nobody knows Fendral’s here, but they’ll scent he’s around, for sure.” “Not up to that, just yet. Let me get my bearings first.” Fendral’s eyes stayed on his plate and his fork kept moving. “We expected that would be the way you would want it,” Kellar said, nodding his agreement. “It won’t hurt for you to rest a few days.” “Suppose a lot of members aren’t too happy with me anyway.” “You couldn’t be anymore wrong, Fendral. All the members….” The elder man stooped eating and looked up, cutting Tobyn off. “Just leave it alone, son. I’m not proud of what I’ve done, no matter what others feel about me. I’ve faced that I let a lot of people down, including those closest to me. Besides, I need to wrap my head around not being stuck in my wolf form. It’s like riding a bike, but it’s still strange.” He put down his fork. “It’s not easy for me to eat slowly either. I’ll answer that question now, Kellar. I think I am… happy to be a man again. So, not that I’m in a hurry, but if I was to try to shift, I wouldn’t be able to?” “Not necessarily. But, you are suffering from the effects of the malaise, so that is sometimes one of the symptoms as you probably already know… not being able to shift anytime you want to, or not being able to hold it. The longer you’re in the presence of earth mates, like Tobyn and I, the sooner you’ll get better. Your senses will return to optimum, and shifting will become matter-of-fact again.” Tobyn smiled. “He’s talking all doctory now. You’ll get used to it. He gets like this at least once a day.” “Fine by me,” Fendral said, pushing away his plate. “My grandson is a smart one.” Kellar couldn’t help being pleased at the comment. “You’re finished eating?” “I’m hungry as hell, but my stomach feels full.” “I’m not surprised. Do you want to lay down for a while?” “Not really. I’d rather talk.” He shifted in his seat. “It’s been a long time since I was able to, and I didn’t think I’d see much past today. Never expected I’d have a grandson either.” “You weren’t too far off in your assessment. Is that why you came back here… to say your goodbyes?” “Goodbyes? No, I couldn’t say any of those. I was looking for a place to lay down for the last time. Somewhere on these lands where I was born. My brain’s been getting foggy lately, but when I caught a bit of your scent, I thought I’d check on you boys first. Doesn’t feel foggy today, though. “And yes, Tobyn, in answer to your question yesterday, I suspected you two were mates, with the way your scents are combined, so I wasn’t surprised when you confirmed it. I only planned on a quick look before I picked out my spot. I thought it was right that it be known what happened to me, and I knew my old carcass would be found eventually.” “So you were giving up,” Tobyn said softly. He put his fork down and pushed his breakfast away. “No, son. I wasn’t giving up… I was dying, and my wolf knew it. I guess you could say I gave up once, but I would never do it again. I had a promise to keep, and wolfing out made that more difficult. I had to fight every day.” Kellar wondered about the promise, but left it alone when his mate spoke. “Why did you give up, sir, the first time? Sorry, that wasn’t fair,” Tobyn muttered, looking slightly ashamed. “I understand why you chose your wolf.” “I’m sure everyone thinks they understand, but I’m not sure they do. They all thought I was depressed over losing my family, right?” Tobyn appeared startled… and unsure. “I… that’s what was said. Weren’t you?” “Hell, yes, I was. But I was angry too, so angry that it even eclipsed the sadness. My wolf felt rage most of the time, and instead of controlling it, I let it take me over… first the anger, and then my wolf. It was easier, because then I could escape from what I’d done, at least for some of the time. Mistake after mistake after mistake. I certainly didn’t deserve to be alpha anymore.” “Why not? What do you mean, Grandfather?” Fendral studied the pair before looking away. “It doesn’t matter now,” he said in a tone that caused Kellar some concern. “It was a long time ago. I finally stopped hating myself, but by then it was too late.” “Too late?” Fendral had lowered his head, so Kellar answered for him. “I think he means he lost his ability to return to this form.” There was no response from his grandfather. “Am I right?” The old man reengaged with a startling, unexpected smile, and it took Kellar a second to recognize the bitterness in it. “Exactly right. It was a fitting punishment for alienating all my children, one after the other. First, I couldn’t save their mother, and then I couldn’t save them, and the pack was dying. I tried… for years I tried, but I lost faith. Regret ate away at me. I was a damn fool.” “You had a lot of things happen to you,” Tobyn said with compassion. “I’ve never heard anyone call you a fool, sir.” “What would you call a man who didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to his sons because he tried to control them? Because he tried to bully them. What would call an alpha who didn’t learn from that, and then did the same thing with the only child he had left?” “My mother?” Kellar hated seeing the man upset, but he was curious about what he meant. “That’s right. My little girl. My Gisla. I don’t blame her now… for leaving me, or for not forgiving me. She had no choice, and she was right to go. You’re the proof of that. I ignored what her mother asked of me, and deep down, I knew how wrong I was. It’s why I fought to keep going… I couldn’t let my Esther down again.” He held up his hand when Tobyn started to speak. The man was fighting some inner battle. “Do you know what he’s talking about, Tobyn?” “I have no clue. Should we stop this, doc? What if he gets depressed again?” “I won’t tell you I’m not worried, but he wanted to talk. Maybe he needs to get this out.” “Okay. At least he trusts us.” “I look at him and feel my mom. Maybe he looks at me and feels the same.” It was as if Fendral had heard their silent conversation when he spoke again. “No one controlled your mother, Kellar. And the truth of it is, of my three children, she was the real alpha.” This time, the smile he gave held no bitterness. “She was a lot smarter than her father was.” “Why do you say that?” “Because she didn’t listen to me. She didn’t let me keep her from her destiny. Now, that makes me proud. So, tell me about Miss Sybil’s vision.” “Okay, but first can you answer something for me?” “If I can.” “Why didn’t my mother keep in contact with the pack? I mean, I was four and a half years old when she died, so she was gone a lot of years. She must have had opportunities to call in all that time. Did you ever talk to her after she left?” A pained expression took over Fendral’s face. “It’s my fault she didn’t keep in touch. She didn’t call because I disowned her.” “You what?” Tobyn blurted out the question, but Kellar had the same reaction. “Why would you do that, Grandfather?” He tried to keep the accusation from his voice, but he wasn’t sure he succeeded. “I already told you. I was a fool. I knew she wasn’t safe out there, away from the pack, a young girl I still saw as a child. It terrified me that she wanted to go out in the world all by herself… a world filled with hunters. I was angry and desperate, so I went on the offensive. Nothing could convince me she wasn’t going to die if she went on a search for her mate, but none of the arguments I made got through to her. Her brothers had disappeared doing the same thing she planned to do. She was the only family I had left, and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her. I ordered my daughter, as her alpha, to stay. I told her if she left, she would be turning her back on Morningstar, and we’d no longer be her pack. I insisted she obey me, and I actually thought it had worked, my forbidding her. I was a fool to think I’d won.” He suddenly seemed to age ten more years. “She left anyway,” Kellar said. “Of course she did. If you knew her—her pride and her stubbornness—I should have gone with her, but alphas don’t desert their packs.” The words were bitter. “Ironic, isn’t it, because I did it anyway, in the end.” Kellar, flickering, became alarmed at the paleness of his aura. “We don’t have to talk about this now, Grandfather. If you’d rather, we can do it another time. You should rest now.” “No, you asked me a question, and you need to hear this.” Taking a deep breath, he rallied. “Gigi left without a word. She was just gone one morning. We hadn’t spoken in days. She left me a message, though, on the kitchen table. It was a note that said ‘I have to do this.’ That’s it… nothing else. She always left me notes, practically every day, and they all were addressed to ‘Dad’ and she’d draw little pictures on them, like hearts and flowers and stick figures. And she always signed them as ‘your favorite daughter, Gigi.’ She’d done it since she was a little girl, well, except she used to sign them with ‘Gisla’ back then. Not this time, though. Just that one damn line. She disowned me too.” He took another deep breath. “I can’t say I blame her. I thought of her as defiant and impulsive after she left, but the truth is, she was only being herself. I gained nothing with my threats… all I did was hurt us both. I would have given anything to be able to take back some of those words to your mother. Anything.” The remorse on his face echoed in his tone. “That’s when I started relying more on my wolf. I went through the motions after that… the pack needed their alpha. Each year that went by, my hope I would hear from her, or see her, got smaller, until I reached the point it disappeared altogether.” Fendral stalled for a few moments, and his hand rubbed at his eyes. “The malaise got worse, our pack numbers kept decreasing, and I held onto my anger. The anger wasn’t at Gisla, though. It was at myself.” “So, you wolfed out….” “Yes. I didn’t really intend to. I fought it, but every day, it beckoned. The only way to control my guilt and my shame was to shift and run. My wolf didn’t feel the pain the way I did, and that became my only relief. It’s an unbearable thing to face every day, believing your last child had died hating you.” “My mother didn’t hate you.” “You don’t know that, Kellar. You said it yourself when you asked why she didn’t keep on touch. She was alive all those years and she never called.” “I do know that. She and my dad were bringing me to meet my Grandpa Fendral. That’s what she said to me just before she was killed.” “By hunters, right?” “Yes. Three of them. They rammed her car, and she hit her head. She died instantly, from what Miss Sybil saw, and then they torched the Jeep my parents were driving. My father… he tried to fight, but he was trapped. Look, Grandfather, I don’t know why she never contacted you. Maybe she was angry, or maybe she was in danger and didn’t want to worry you, or give you hope… I’m certainly no expert on families.” Kellar hesitated, trying to calm himself. “I know my father was a healer, and he had some connection to a prophecy about a savior. They named me after the guy… a variation of it anyway. So, maybe they were in hiding because of that connection. All I know is my mother wanted me to meet my grandfather. She wouldn’t want that if she hated you.” Kellar felt out of breath when he was done. Maybe talking about this stuff would send his grandfather into a tailspin, and that thought scared the hell out of him. Silence settled in around the table. “Does anyone want tea?” Tobyn asked. “Tea can be a diuretic, babe, if you haven’t had caffeine for a long time. Fendral needs to keep drinking water to combat any dehydration.” “More doctory talk. I told you,” Tobyn said with a grin, but it seemed to go unnoticed by the old man. “You’re wrong,” the old man uttered. It took a few seconds for Kellar to clue in to what he must be referring to. “I don’t think so,” he responded. “You let go of being angry at my mom a long, long time ago. Why wouldn’t you believe she’d do the same?” “I don’t mean about that. I already knew about her wanting us to meet from what you said yesterday. It’s what made me change my mind about leaving. I’m sitting here for her… and for me… because this is what she would have wanted. You were right, and I couldn’t let her down again. And maybe you’re right about her not hating me. No, Grandson, I’m talking about you thinking your father had a connection to Cahlar. You’re mistaken about that.” Kellar raised his eyebrows in both surprise and question. “I am? You know about Cahlar… the prophecy?” Fendral sighed. “I should. My mate was the many times great granddaughter of the man… the savior.” “Esther? Holy crap! Why didn’t Morningstar know about the prophecy?” Tobyn asked. Fendral sighed again. “I can only tell you what Esther told me. It was spoken of by some, here and there as a part of our folklore, but the identity of Cahlar’s line was kept a closely guarded secret. It was a family pact passed down from the savior’s first daughter, to each successive daughter. She didn’t even tell me until we started having children, and neither of our sons were aware of their mother’s lineage. Esther had some… abilities… she knew things. She wasn’t a seer because she didn’t have visions, but she had… something. She knew from their early ages that neither of our sons were the one. “According to her, every daughter had to have a daughter until the prophecy was fulfilled. Some revered seer from the old highlands had a vision, and traveled far to reveal it to Cahlar. He was told he must send his daughter to the new world, and from her maternal line, he would be reborn when shifters needed him once more. But, the vision never said why he would be needed, or when it would be… only that the existence of our race would depend on it. That was the beginning of the prophecy, and his line took it very seriously. “Esther said it was Cahlar’s biggest sacrifice, to send his only child away, because his duty was to stay in the old world. She insisted it was her duty to have a daughter like all the daughters before her. She wasn’t satisfied until Gisla was born. To be honest, I found it hard to put much faith in the whole prophecy idea, because things had been bad for a long time. Hunters were picking us off every time we left pack lands, the birth rate getting lower and lower, and the malaise was kicking our ass. But Esther believed, and I believed in Esther. I was never comfortable with her saying Gisla had to search out her mate, though. I wanted to do right by my mate’s memory, but after our sons disappeared, I couldn’t bear the thought of my daughter going anywhere.” The man groaned, and Kellar expected he might have had enough, but he continued after mere seconds. “If Esther had lived, I would have handled it better, but she didn’t, and every single shifter who left to search out their mate, including our own sons, never returned. I thought if the prophecy was true, Gigi’s mate could just as well show up here. I was wrong to expect her to stay here and wait. I know that now, but losing your mate changes you. It… it distorts your whole world. If I hadn’t had our kids, I never would have survived losing Esther. I needed them, but I’m glad now that Gigi never listened to me, and I hope Esther somehow knows it was her daughter who produced the new savior.” “Please don’t call me….” “Doc, don’t even go there. No one is saying you are him, but you are his descendant.” “Everything points to it, though, doesn’t it?” he said with some resignation. “And everyone believes I’m him. The prophecy says he would be reborn. My grandfather just said he heard it from Cahlar’s descendant, my grandmother, and in that painting our wolves were identical. You saw it same as I did, Tobyn. So has all of Vega, and now I'm sure most of Morningstar has heard about it.” “You are not a reincarnation, so what does it matter what others think? In human form you look exactly like your dad—we know that now—so don’t take reborn so literally.” “There’s a painting? I’ve never seen a painting.” “Yes, Delia has it. She’s Vega’s keeper, now ours, and Hutch’s earth mate. You’ll like her. Anyway, it belongs to her pack, and it was one of their members who painted it from memory after he arrived in the new world. It shows a huge wolf with Kellar’s coat colors watching over an exodus of shifters who were boarding ships. It’s how we learned about Cahlar. About shining a bright light….” “Into the darkness,” Fendral finished. “Yes.” “So, Cahlar had that same strange pelt?” “Identical,” Kellar repeated in a tone that drew his grandfather’s curious gaze. “That cannot be a coincidence. I don’t think Esther knew about the coat. She would have told me something like that. Does it bother you, Grandson, to be considered the savior?” “I don’t know… yes… I’m just me. I accept I’m part of the prophecy, but every time I hear the reborn part, well, it doesn’t sit so well. Shifters treat me differently, especially Vega members, and they even call me Cahlar. I can handle that for the most part, but I really wish it would stop. All I want is to be thought of as a healer.” “Like your father.” “Yes.” “What’s the difference?” “What do you mean?” “I mean, what’s the difference who you take after? Cahlar is your many times great-grandfather, and your mother sacrificed God knows how much to make sure you were born. I see now, the burden of responsibility she bore… how much all the daughters bore. I don’t know all you’ve done, but from what I gather, you are the culmination of all that responsibility carried by generations of your ancestors.” Fendral took a few gulps of water, and Kellar noticed a slight tremble in his hands as he set the glass down. “Would you like to rest for a little while? We could continue this later if you want?” “No. I am making a point I think you need to hear, if you don’t mind?” “No, sir. I love talking to my grandfather. I just don’t want you to tax yourself.” “Being able to speak again is a blessing. Allow me to enjoy it.” Fendral smiled, picking up another sausage and taking a bite. “I want to hear whatever you have to say,” Kellar reassured him, relieved the man no longer seemed in anguish. “Good.” He chewed the rest of the sausage and swallowed. “You are a healer like your father. Maybe even a better one, because I’ve been around a long time and I’ve never heard of one seeing colors before. Anyway, that’s not the point here. Being a descendant of Cahlar doesn’t take away from who you are. It only adds, and you should be as proud of that as your mate appears to be… as your grandfather is. “You have given this old man new purpose. I lost everything, but it wasn’t for nothing. You’ve cured the malaise, and figured out how to keep shifters healthy, and my daughter gave me a grandson who appears to have saved us all… one I want to get to know. I lost and I gained. We both did, don’t you think so?” “I… yes. We both lost and we both gained.” “And my daughter giving you your name tells me she knew who you were… who you would turn out to be. She would have died knowing she was right in her decision to leave Morningstar. I’m thankful for that.” Kellar nodded. He pictured his mother running away from him, disappearing in the tall grass. Yes, she knew who her son was, and she had protected him at the ultimate cost. “Here’s something else for you to think about. Did this Vega keeper, Delia, tell you Cahlar was a healer?” “No, sir, she didn’t. She told us his story, but she never mentioned that.” “And neither did Esther. Not to me, she didn’t. She referred to him as a leader and a warrior... not once did she say he was a healer. So, maybe you should stop being hung up on this reborn stuff, and see that you’re a combination of both your parents’ lines. Could you have accomplished all the things you have without being this new and improved healer?” “No.” His gaze went to his mate. “It’s been the key to all of this, doc." “I guess it has.” “Well, that about says it all then, doesn’t it?” “Yes, Grandfather, it does.”
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    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 56 Again, a lull occurred in the conversation. Kellar sat in quiet contemplation. He didn’t blame his grandfather for the contentious disconnect with his mother. According to Elinor, Miss Sybil, and now her own father, Gigi was a strong, independent, and maybe even willful individual. ‘As alpha as he was,’ Fendral had said about his daughter. Her determination had most assuredly been fueled by her own mother passing down the family prophecy, and the obligation that came with it. She’d had no choice but to follow her destiny, and his grandfather understood that now. As he’d confessed to Kellar and Tobyn, fear overrode everything else at what must have been a desolate time. Fendral had lost so much. Even to this day, without copper protection, it was an extremely dangerous world out there. Back then there was no hiding from hunters, and the paranoia surrounding departures from pack lands was warranted. He could see the rift from both sides, and in the end, they’d both been right. It was doubtful he would ever know what his mother had encountered after she left Morningstar. He could only hope she’d been happy in those years. There might be some more answers back in New Brunswick, but he didn’t feel driven to search for them. He was satisfied with the ones he already had. Would this feeling change? Maybe, but for now he would enjoy the peace he enjoyed in this moment. What his grandfather had just said, about being proud of who he was and where he came from, had gotten through to him. He was the product of a long line of heroes, from his mother all the way back to Cahlar. But his father, the healer, had played a big part too. He saw that clearly now. He was no reincarnation, but if some shifters chose to think otherwise, it didn’t make him any less Kellar. “Grandfather?” “Yes.” Fendral was looking weary, but Kellar would let him decide when he wanted to rest again. “Was it coincidence, or did something else bring you to my cabin?” “Yeah, I was wondering that too,” Tobyn said. “It was not a coincidence,” the older man said with conviction. “I didn’t have a clue where my wolf was headed, but there was a purpose to our journey south. I’m not sure how to explain it, but there was a period of time… years… where it seemed like we were waiting for something. We were being guided… I’m certain of it. I’d like to think it was Esther. She once told me I would have to hang on at some point in the future, at a time when I could find no reason to. She said I had to keep going every single day, no matter what, and no matter how long it took, but when I asked what she meant, she had no answer… only that I would be needed for something in my wolf form. She didn’t know for what or why, she just knew it. Your grandmother made me promise. She made me swear on our bond and the earth mother, and I did. It was a promise I didn’t break. I know it sounds cryptic, but that’s how Esther was. Like I told you, she knew things. She never doubted her ability, and neither did I.” “What does that have to do with showing up at my cabin, sir?” “It’s the only explanation I have. With the feelings I had before and after, it fits. Do you know you smell like clover most of the time?” Kellar was thrown by the question, but Tobyn reacted right away. “He’s right, doc. You do. Sometimes it’s strong, like when my wolf runs through a clover field after a rain. Other times it’s like the sunbaked red-clover hay I used to help stack every summer. We all have our subtle differences, but I’ve never smelled anything like that from another shifter.” “I have,” Fendral said. “Your mother and grandmother both carried the same one, exactly as Tobyn describes. I never would have come within a mile of you if not for that clover smell. It was such a comfort to experience that scent mixed with wolf again after all those years. It’s what drew me to you, and I didn’t want to leave it. Remember the day our wolves played?” “Of course. It was a new thing for me, and I loved it. You left when I shifted back.” “That’s right. It was a strange thing for me. I didn’t understand why I would even want to interact with you. My wolf went more on instinct than thought. Now I get it, but at the time I couldn’t fathom a connection. If you had looked like Gisla, or anyone else in our family, it might have been different, and I might have put something together because of the familiar scent. Or maybe if I could have shifted back, and had a clearer mind.” “So, my scent brought you there?” “No, certainly not. As I said, my wolf took us south for whatever reason, but your scent kept me around. Every time I tried to leave the area and head back to Morningstar, I would end up making my way back because it felt wrong, and it was a good job I did.” “Why do you say that?” “Because I came across two hunters headed towards your woods, and I led one of them away. My senses were great that day, and I heard them talking from far off. After what I heard, I showed myself, and the younger one ended up taking the bait. He followed me, but the other man went to catch the two-sided one. He said that pelt would be worth a fortune, and if it took days, he’d get that monster. I think he was referring to the size of your wolf,” Fendral said, taking a second to grin. “It’s funny how much clearer my human mind was that day. I knew he was talking about you and your coat, Grandson, so he must have already seen you at some time.” “You were there?” Tobyn asked, an incredulous look on his face. “We never scented you.” “I’m not surprised with all that elk stink. But no, I wasn’t there when you killed that hunter. I arrived after you left, and as soon as I saw your tracks leading away, I hightailed it out of there. I knew you were both fine. I think that’s when I suspected you were mates. Your scents had changed… combined. It was you who finished him, wasn’t it? I could smell you on the parts you tore off him,” he directed at Tobyn. Tobyn nodded, his eyes going to a dumbfounded Kellar. “So, if you hadn’t done that, Kellar would have been facing two.” “We would have been facing two, babe. So, you saved us… is that what you meant by Esther’s message? It was what you were meant to hold on for?” “At the time, I didn’t much think about the why. I’d never done anything like it before, but it just felt right to do it. Fear is a wolf’s friend, but I felt none the whole time I played with that killer. It was satisfying. I kept the bastard moving as far and as long as I could. It worked best when I traveled well off, and then came back from a different direction. I’d make a noise he could hear. He stopped a few times, but as soon as I moved away, he’d start following again, cursing the whole time. My hearing hasn’t been that good since,” he said with another grin. “He finally picked his spot, though, and set those damn traps, but by then he was a long way from your area. I kept moving in and out of range. It didn’t matter the direction of the wind… he always reacted when I closed the distance between us. I thought they could somehow smell us, but that’s where that pulse comes in, doesn’t it?” “Yes. It’s the silver they all wear that alerted him to your presence. It can work at a fair distance too.” “Great discovery, that. I’ve got to meet this brother of yours. If he’s your brother, that would make me his grandfather too, wouldn’t it?” “Yes, it would. He’d love that. Warren will like you, and you’ll like him.” “I’m sure I will… wee Adelin’s mate, eh? I’ve missed so much. Okay, so like I was saying, at that time I was surviving more on instinct than thought, but sitting here now, it all makes sense. It has to be the reason I finally stopped thinking about my promise to Esther. I was meant to find you, and I did.” “You were meant to save us.” “That’s another way of putting it.” Fendral acknowledged, but he hung his head. “I guess I should have given more credence to my mate back then. Losing her made me… less, and I let fear for Gisla override my mate’s wishes.” He visibly struggled for a few seconds and then mustered up a small smile. “Esther and I were so good together, but that woman was a challenge. She probably would have said the same about me.” “I think you did give her credence, Grandfather. You hung on for all these years because she asked you to… way longer than any other shifter ever heard of who chooses their wolf. The entire pack is astounded by your resilience, and that includes me. We don’t know how you managed, but Tobyn and I have learned the earth mother has her ways. My mom did what she had to do, and so did you. I’d love to hear more about my grandmother when you’re up to it.” “She was the perfect mate for an alpha. When I took on my responsibilities, she shared the load. I have a thousand stories for you.” Again, he looked wistful. Kellar glanced at his own mate, and they shared a look. His grandfather had just described Tobyn as well. “Should we tell him who those hunters were, doc?” “He should know. It might give him peace to hear the truth.” “I agree. It should come from you… I hate talking about them.” “I know you do, babe.” “Grandfather?” “Yes, Grandson?” The old man squeezed out a smile, fooling no one. He’d been lost in his memories of Esther. “That hunter you led away… and the other one….” “Yes?” “They were two of the three who murdered my parents.” “My Gisla? Are you sure?” “Yes, sir. They’re all dead now. Warren shot the one you led away that day. After we discovered the protection of copper, we hunted him down on pack lands, but he was a crafty son-of-a-bitch. My brother ended up saving my mate, but that’s a story that can wait till later. And you know Tobyn killed the other one, and saved me in the process. The third one, he was an older brother, the father of the young one. The one Tobyn rescued me from said shifters had murdered his older brother, so that’s the lot of them.” “How do you know they were the ones?” “Because of Miss Sybil’s vision. My father managed to slash the face of the one Tobyn later killed. It left a huge scar over his eye and on his cheek. Miss Sybil described some other details, and it had to be them. Their name was Reznick. If the bragging the older one did was accurate, they were responsible for the deaths of close to a thousand shifters over the years.” When Kellar finished speaking, Fendral looked away. He was about to ask the man if he was okay when he turned back to face him. “I saw that scar. I was close enough I could have got one of them.” “No, sir,” Tobyn said, shaking his head. “You couldn’t have. You would have been another notch on that old one’s walking stick if you’d tried. They’d have felt your presence, and would’ve been ready for anything. They were beyond dangerous.” “He’s right,” Kellar agreed. “As good as it might have felt to try, you would have died, and none of us would be here now, talking to each other. You did the best thing possible by splitting them up and leading one away. It allowed us to defeat old Reznick, and survive. And, it allowed us to eventually take out the younger one.” “I thought Warren did that.” “He did. You could say we were a one-two punch.” Kellar tried a little grin. “Please don’t regret anything. You didn’t know, and that was a good thing. It all turned out the way it was supposed to.” “Are you all right, sir? We thought you would want to know.” “Yes, Tobyn, I’m glad you guys told me, and I’m fine. If anything, I feel more satisfaction in the part my wolf played, and in knowing those shifter-killers no longer walk the earth.” A weak smile followed before he closed his eyes. “Grandfather?” Kellar asked after a minute had passed. Fendral came back from wherever his mind had gone. “Yes?” “Can I ask you one more thing? I know you’re tired.” “Ask me anything you want.” “Okay… I was just wondering. Now that your condition is improving, do you intend to take back your responsibilities one day?” “You mean as Alpha? God, no.” Fendral reaction was strong. “It was an honor I abused, and I would never try to reclaim it.” “Sir….” “I have no regrets, Kellar. I’ve changed. I lived and survived as a wolf, and I made it through my own darkness. I’m ready to move forward, not back. I may not want to be alone anymore, but being Alpha again holds no appeal for me.” “Well, that’s good, and I’m happy you no longer want to isolate yourself. We really want you in our lives. It’s just, once the pack members find out I’m your grandson….” “They’ll expect you to become Alpha. It is your birthright.” “He doesn’t want it,” Tobyn said, reaching over and giving Kellar’s hand a squeeze. He appreciated the show of solidarity from his mate. Fendral looked first at Tobyn, and then at his grandson. It was a piercing gaze he leveled. “Care to explain why not?” Kellar swallowed. “I get that it’s an honor, sir, but I’m a healer.” “Why can’t you be both?” “That’s what Miss Sybil said, that I could be both, and I know it’s true, but I… I don’t think alphas, ah… I think the leadership council is what Morningstar needs… not me. Tobyn and I plan on searching out as many packs as we can, and set up a network of communication. We’re doing well here, but shifters could still be dying out there.” “It sounds like you’re taking on a different responsibility. A bigger one.” “Exactly,” Tobyn interjected. “How much can we expect from one person? All Kellar does is give of himself, over and over again.” Fendral sighed. A deep long one. “I know I’m missing a lot of information about the pack and all that’s been going on. I’m tired, and I want to catch up, but before I go lay down, I want to say something. If you’re looking for support from me, you have it. I barely know you, but you’re my daughter’s son, so I’m in your corner no matter what.” “Thank you, Grandfather. So, you will understand if I decline the honor? You won’t be disappointed in me?” “Are you disappointed in me, after all the mistakes I’ve made?” “No, sir. I’m in awe of the man I’ve talked to today.” “Well, there’s your answer. I’m in awe of the men I’ve talked to today.” He smiled, and Kellar felt the warmth of it. “I’m sorry, but I can’t sit up any longer. My muscles are complaining so if I could use your bed again, I’d appreciate it.” “It’s your bed now, sir,” Tobyn said as Kellar assisted the man as he rose stiffly from the chair. “And I am thankful for that. You’re not going to stop calling me sir, are you?” Tobyn grinned. “Probably not.” Fendral chuckled. “Do you know if my home is still empty? It was a few years back when I approached it.” “Nothing’s been changed. It’s been maintained ever since you left it.” They all made their way down the hall, and Kellar and Tobyn exchanged looks over the elder man’s head. “I want him to stay with us, babe.” “So do I. He doesn’t need to be rambling around that big house of his. We’re his family now.” “You’re the best.” “I am, but you’re going to need to convince him.” “Grandfather,” Kellar said as they helped the man sit on the bed. “You don’t have to decide anything now, but we‘d really like it if you’d live here with us… with your family. We just want you to know that.” Fendral laid his upper body down, and Kellar helped him swing his legs up. It was easy to see he would be out like a light in minutes, possibly seconds. “Thank you, boys. I’ll give it some thought, and we’ll talk later.” He yawned before his eyes closed, and Kellar was proven right. His grandfather may have wanted to have their conversation, and take advantage of having a voice again, but it had taken its toll. Flickering, Kellar was reasonably pleased with what he saw. There was no need to be quiet leaving the room, but they were anyway. “I sure didn’t expect to hear all that,” Tobyn said once they returned to the kitchen. “Did it shake you up like it did me?” “Crap, Tobyn. I still don’t know where the man found the will to hang on all this time. He didn’t just lose his mate… hell, that’s enough to make a shifter wolf out all by itself. On top of that, he lost his three kids, and he carried all that guilt about how he handled their wanting to search out their mates. Fuck. I hope I have half his strength one day.” Tobyn looked up from clearing the table. ‘Sometimes you really are the dumb one.” “Why? What did I do?” “Nothing… it’s not what you did… it’s how you see yourself. Sometimes you piss me off.” “Really?” “No. Yes… sometimes, yes. I just wish you would give yourself the credit you deserve. You’ve gone through a lot too, with that shit childhood you had. You shifted, having no idea who you really were and what was going on, and you didn’t go bonkers. Fuck, the control you showed.” “Lots of kids lose their parents, Tobyn.” “See, there you go again. Yes, that’s true, but you’re a shifter… we’re pack animals. And you survived most of your life without one of your own.” “But….” “But, nothing. You built a life all by yourself, worked in the human world, developed your skills as a healer, and you didn’t suffer any depression. That takes strength… alpha strength.” “I only did what I had to.” Kellar didn’t like that Tobyn was so seriously annoyed. “God, you are so exasperating sometimes. You should see yourself when you’re healing. It’s like you’re giving every ounce of everything you have, and you wade in every time with no hesitation. You always do that, like you did with Vega. You accomplish miracle after miracle, and act like it’s no big deal. I know how hard that was for you, to stand in front of the entire Vega pack and make that speech… that’s fucking strength.” Tobyn dropped their cutlery into the sink with a loud clatter. “Are you mad at me, babe?” “No. God, no… I just… I’m sorry. I love you so much and sometimes….” “Sometimes, what?” Kellar joined his mate at the sink. “Are you okay?” “Yeah. Can we forget what I said? I didn’t mean to come off angry. What we heard from Fendral this morning was so sad, and… there’s no way I could survive losing you. I could never be that strong. As strong as you and Fendral are. I guess it’s an alpha thing.” “Tobyn, please. Don’t think like that, because it’s not true. I see you as the strongest, most determined person I know, and I’m not just saying it. Don’t worry… I get where this is coming from. Come on.” He took Tobyn’s hand. “Let’s go sit in the sunshine. This has been quite a day already.” “That’s a great idea,” Tobyn said with a sheepish smile. “I got a little carried away… sorry.” “Nothing to be sorry for. You just said you loved me so much it drove you crazy.” “I didn’t say it drove me crazy, I said you did.” “Semantics, babe. It’s the same thing,” Kellar said smugly as they walked out into the backyard. “You drive me crazy too, and it’s the best feeling ever.” Kellar led his mate to the picnic table where they sat across from each other, hands still entwined. It was a gorgeous day: peaceful, sunny, and warm. “You know what’s weird?” Kellar asked after they sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the peace only nature could bestow. “What?” “I feel content.” “Actually, that is weird. I would have thought you’d be anything but.” “You said it yourself. I had a shit childhood, and never really felt connected to anyone or any place. That’s all changed. I have you, and in any world I ever envisioned, that would be enough, but I have so much more. I’m sitting in this beautiful place with you, my grandfather is sleeping inside our house, and my brother is only a five minute walk away. I have a home, a family, a pack of amazing friends, and I have a real memory of my mother. Even if Miss Sybil is wrong, and I never recall anything of my father, it’s enough. I know he fought for my mother and me. I don’t even mind being considered the savior, not that I’m ever going to acknowledge it,” he said with a self-deprecating grin. “Okay, that’s more like it. And we have a new location to search.” “Yeah, we do, but about that?” “Oh. I think I know what you’re going to say. You don’t want to leave Fendral. Am I right?” “I can’t. Not till I’m sure he’s thriving, and that could be a month or even months away.” “Okay. I agree. We can wait as long as you want. This way, we’d be here for Warren if he wants to get things started.” “I was thinking the same thing. You’re not disappointed?” “Not in the least. I love that man in there, and he comes first in my eyes too. We quite possibly wouldn’t be here without him. I was shocked to hear he deliberately led the young one away. Facing two Reznicks back then would have been difficult for us, if not impossible.” Tobyn shuddered. “That was our first experience with a hunter.” “I agree. We had enough trouble with one of them. It surprised the hell out of me too, to hear what he did, but with all the earth mother’s done for us, it makes sense he was part of her plan. We’re right aren’t we, to think it’s a plan, and not just a string of coincidences?” “With the journey we’ve had so far, and from what we’ve learned in the last few days, plus all the gifts she’s given us, how can you even ask that, doc?” “My mind still regresses sometimes. I guess it’s from not being raised in a pack. I remember when I actually believed there was no magic in the world.” He shook his head at the thought. It seemed a lifetime ago. “Speaking of the earth mother’s plan, there may have been another purpose for Fendral being around your cabin.” “Such as?” “The only reason I ran in your woods the day we met was because I picked up his scent.” “Oh, hell. That’s right. You told me about that… about scenting the old grey, after I healed your head. Holy crap. We met because of my grandfather. Wait till we tell him. We have so much to thank that man for.” “Him and the earth mother… and Esther.” “That’s right. My grandmother too.” Kellar, in that moment, realized his family may have been missing for most of his life, but they were all responsible for what he had now. It gave him a warm feeling. “You okay, doc?” “Huh? Yeah. Why?” “You went real quiet.” “Oh, yeah, I was just counting my blessings. Tobyn?” Kellar squeezed the hand under his, and stared into sunlit hazel eyes. “Yeah? “I’ve been thinking.” “I know. I’ve been waiting.” “Oh, so you know what I’ve been thinking about then,” Kellar teased. “Yup. You’re thinking about your birthright, and what you should do.” “What… are you some kind of special seer now, like my grandmother was?” “No, doc. I just know you, so spit it out.” Kellar started tapping his fingers on the picnic table top, something he usually didn’t do. He had trouble saying what was on his mind, because once it was out there…. Tobyn reached his idle hand over and placed it on the nervous one. “Well?” Kellar sighed at his mate, and then began to let his tentatively-reached conclusions loose. “Being an alpha could come in handy when we start our search again. We have no idea what we might come up against, but other packs would surely take us seriously if an alpha was at their gate.” “Mm hmmm,” Tobyn agreed. “And our own members are going to expect it once they find out I’m Fendral’s grandson. If I don’t accept it, some, maybe all, are going to have a hard time understanding my reasons. I mean, think about your mom, Miss Sybil, and even Arthur’s reaction, when I said I didn’t want to be alpha. They thought I was nuts. I do want to respect pack traditions, I really do. Besides, my turning it down might put pressure on my grandfather, and while he’s doing all right for now, he’s far from a healthy man. He needs time.” “Right again.” “If I did it… accepted the… position… my heritage… whatever we call it, I wouldn’t want anything to change. I’d still want there to be our same leadership council, hopefully with the addition of Clarence.” “Makes sense.” “So, I would only act in an advisory role, if they needed me, like, if they were at a stalemate or something. I wouldn’t want any involvement in the day to day stuff… I’m a healer.” “Yes, you are.” “Well, how does all that sound to you? Do you think they’d all accept something like that, where I’m only partly involved now and again?” “Kellar, as Alpha, you wouldn’t be asking anyone to accept anything. You are Alpha until you say you’re not, so you’d be telling all of us the way it would work. But, if you’re asking me whether it’s a good solution, I’d say it’s about perfect.” “Yeah?” “Yeah.” “Cool. You know the only reason I can even consider it is because I have you at my side.” “I know.” Kellar grinned at Tobyn’s smug look. “Okay, maybe I’ll see what my grandfather thinks about it when he wakes up.” “Another great idea. I think you’ll make the man very happy. No matter what he says, I have no doubt he’d be proud if you continued to represent his and your family in this way.” “Oh, man. I feel better already. This has been weighing on me… a lot. So, do I really smell like clover?” “Uh huh. I thought you knew that.” “It was news to me.” “Hey, what do I smell like to you?” “Heaven… pure heaven.” Tobyn chuckled. “I definitely got me a romantic one.” “And I got me a bossy one… one who lets me think I’m in charge.” “And sometimes I actually let you be in charge. I was being serious, doc. Do I smell like anything to you?” “Oh yeah. You have your own unique blend, but the closest is a plant I use for ear infections.” “Eww… you’re kidding me, right?” Kellar laughed. “No, I’m not. It’s called Joe-Pye weed, and it was once used by natives who claimed it cured typhus fever.” “A weed.” Tobyn screwed his face up, making Kellar laugh harder. “It’s only called a weed because it grows wild. Its favorite place is along streams… I’ll show it to you someday, and you can smell it for yourself. It loses its aroma once I dry it. It’s also called Purple Boneset, and it smells kind of like vanilla, but better.” “Better than vanilla? I like that,” Tobyn said, finally smiling. “So, it’s purple then?” “Yup. Come to think of it, the color is identical to red clover blooms, right down to the two tones.” “Identical? See… we’re perfect for each other.” There was a seriousness behind the humor in those heart-stopping eyes that made Kellar’s breath catch. “Yes we are, babe, a match made by the earth mother. So… if I do happen to stand up in front of a crowd and make another one of those ‘alpha’ speeches, would it fire you up like last time?” Tobyn burst out laughing, eyes twinkling. “I’m not gonna lie, mountain man… there’s a good chance it would.” “I can’t ask for any more encouragement than that.” Losing himself in sunlit hazel, he leaned over the table and connected his lips to Tobyn’s. Kellar finally understood who he was, and that he was exactly where life had always meant him to be. He wasn’t some lone shifter. No, he and his mate had a destiny all their own. ~ The End of Book One? ~
  3. 64 likes
    March 2016 Spring break at George Mason Law School, Sidwell Friends School, and School Without Walls High School fell on different weeks in March. It meant CJ would not be taking any long trips with his boyfriend or brother this year. The law school’s vacation was first and Owen ended up spending a lot of time with Brett. “Thanks for inviting me, Captain.” Owen retrieved the ticket Brett handed him before they left Georgetown and held it out for the Verizon Center’s attendant to scan. “My pleasure, dude. It’s kinda fun to play hooky on a Tuesday afternoon.” The two men were at the sports arena for the opening round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. “How come you and César bought tickets for this? Neither one of the schools you guys went to is playing.” “We like to do different things. The concerts and plays are okay but I’d rather watch a sporting match anytime. We enjoy supporting events like this. They’re good for the DC economy if nothing else. And since CJ’s a fan of the University of Miami―even if he’s decided against going there―we thought he’d enjoy watching them play live.” “I still can’t believe he’s going to stay in town and go to the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown. I was sure he’d want to study architecture. He kept talking of UM or Yale as possibilities.” Brett pointed towards one of the concession stands. “It’s a little early, but let’s get a beer before we go find our seats. César and I were a bit surprised too. But hell if we aren’t happy with him staying in town. So thank you!” “You’re welcome. But I’m not sure I know what you’re thanking me for.” “He’s staying in Washington because of you. You and Ritchie. He could have gone anywhere he wanted to and we would have supported him. But he chose Georgetown so he wouldn’t have to be away from the two of you.” “Well, maybe I had a little to do with it. But I don’t think he wanted to leave you and César either.” “What about you, Ozzie? What do you want to do next year after you graduate? I know it’s a long way off, but you haven’t talked much about what you’d like to do.” Owen looked at the floor before replying. He was hesitant since he had not discussed his thoughts with anyone else yet. “I… I need to talk to my parents sometime soon. But I’m considering staying in school another year.” “So you wouldn’t graduate until what? Twenty-eighteen?” “No, no, I’d still graduate next year. But then I’d do a year of post-doctoral studies. After last year’s part-time summer internship at the Nature Conservancy, they invited me back for this year. I’ll be working full-time as soon as classes are over. I’d love to end up with them after graduation.” “Sounds to me like you’re on your way. I mean, if they asked you back it means they like you.” “But I’m not an American citizen. If I want to stay in the US after I’m done with school, I need a different visa. The easiest way would be for an employer to sponsor me.” “Have you talked to anyone at the Conservancy? Would they do something like that?” Owen glanced around the arena while sipping his beer. Players for Florida State University and Boston College were on the court warming up but over half the seats were empty. “I don’t think there’s going to be a big crowd in here today. Anyway, I haven’t talked to anyone yet. I need to get my parents’ approval to stay in school for another year and then I’ll start thinking about a job.” “After you discuss it with your parents, talk to us. We know enough people we may be able to help. Hell, you don’t even need us. Your boyfriend has enough movers and shakers wrapped around his finger. If he can’t find one to help you, nobody can.” “I know, right?” Owen’s soft chuckles matched Brett’s. “It’s so disconcerting to watch him on TV the times he’s been interviewed as a Clinton supporter. My sister told me she wasn’t surprised when we e-mailed back and forth. She claims she knew when she spent time with us last year. According to Liz, the way CJ deals with people, no matter the age or anything else, makes him a perfect candidate for office.” “Don’t you start with that shit too! He has enough people telling him he can run for office already. And it scares the crap out of me.” “Why? I’d think you’d be proud of him.” “I am. We are. But César and I worry. We have a feeling his appearances on TV and elsewhere will increase as the presidential campaign heats up. And that’s scary. What if some nut decides to go after him for being gay? Or for being Hispanic. I mean, the rhetoric hasn’t been friendly towards those who are different than the majority the past few months. Last year, César was mugged after someone stalked us and decided he'd be an easy target. That’s fresh enough on our minds. And we worry about CJ being caught up in a similar situation.” “CJ can defend himself, Captain. Don’t forget that. And if you asked him to back off, he would. Maybe you can suggest he not to do any more TV?” “Nah, we could never do that. We’ve encouraged him to stand up for what he believes in. To speak out and take action on behalf of others. To work for the common good. How would it look if we now told him to be scared? To back off? Bastard would probably laugh at us!” Brett’s head shaking reflected his conflict. “I think you’re right. We talked about his interviews. He wanted to know how I felt about it. And how I felt about the fact sooner or later my name would come up.” “That has to be a concern. I mean, if you’re identified as his boyfriend it means you’re out for good.” “That doesn’t bother me. I told him so. Maybe it would have at one point. But, after spending time with all of you, I’d be fine if the world finds out I’m gay. He needs to do what he thinks is right and forget about what anybody else thinks. His attitude is one of the things I love about him. And it’s why I’m so proud of him when he takes a stand.” • • • Tank turned around when CJ tapped him on the shoulder. “Owen! CJ! Damn, it’s good to see you guys.” He placed his beer on the bar top and hugged his friends. “Stop feeling up my boyfriend, mate. I’m the jealous type.” Owen slapped the muscular rugger on the back while trying to look serious. “Hey! Maybe I like him feeling me up, you know?” CJ took a step back while smirking and glanced around the room. Although he tried to attend as many of the Washington Scandals Rugby Football Club’s matches as he could, it was rare for him to socialize with the guys away from the pitch. Most of their gatherings were at bars and with CJ being underage, he’d begged off in the past when invited to go out drinking with them. “Bro, you’re such a fucking tease. I know how the two of you are about each other. And I know my chances of bedding either one of you are nil to none. So skip it. Let me buy you guys a drink. What do you want?” Tank motioned for the bartender and then pointed at the new arrivals. “Bacardi and coke for me. What about you, CJ?” Owen had dragged his boyfriend out this evening, reminding him the ID Sean had procured for him had passed muster in Chicago. He added he thought the same would happen at Uproar―the bar the Scandals were gathering at for a meet and greet. “Dos Equis Amber for me.” Owen lowered his voice so only CJ and Tank could hear him. “Mate, I think it’s funny you’re ordering what your dad always does. And I go and ask for what your grandfather drinks all the time.” “Speaking of your dads...” Tank reached in his pocket and withdrew several bills he handed the server. “This round’s on me. One of you can get the next one. So, have you asked about May?” “Thanks, Tank.” Owen grinned. “Maybe we’ll get CJ drunk tonight.” “Ummm, I haven’t brought it up yet. We have time.” CJ raised his bottle to clink with Tank’s and Owen’s cocktail glass before taking a big gulp. “I wanna make sure I do it when they’re both in a good mood. And, Ozzie, if you get me drunk you may not get any tonight.” Owen’s chuckling attracted the attention of some of the other guys who stared at the threesome for a moment. “Mate, really? No way you’ll hold out on me. And how can you even think the dads would say no?” “Yeah, CJ. From the short time I’ve spent with them, I don’t think they’d give you a hard time. You’re old enough anyway. You’re an adult.” Tank rested his elbows against the edge of the bar and leaned back against it. “Yeah, I might be an adult and all that, but I still live at home. I’m pretty sure it’ll be okay. But it’s still taking days off from school right before the end of the semester. Plus, I’d have to let the campaign know I won’t be available during that time.” “Why bother? Robbie Mook thinks you walk on water. He’ll be fine with whatever you want to do. And the damn candidate thinks so much of you she sends you a birthday present. What do you think he’ll say if you tell him you’re not available for a few days?” Owen finished his drink and motioned for another round. “Easy with the booze, Ozzie. I really don’t need to get drunk.” CJ raised his bottle, looked at what was left, and chugged it. “And why not? You’ve been so wound up you could use a good drunk to help you relax.” “I know, I know. Sorry. It’s just that between school, the Gay Straight Alliance, the dojo, and all the reading I’ve been doing for the campaign, there’s not enough hours in the day. At least not to have a lot of goof-off time.” Tank winked at Owen and saluted his drinking companions with the new beer bottle. “Sounds to me as if you’re trying to please everybody except yourself, buddy. Why can’t you do what you do here over there?” “You mean for the political stuff? Yeah… I guess… Maybe if they need me that week they could set up a remote. See, Tank, the problem’s I told them I didn’t want to do a lot before graduation because of school. If I tell them I’m blowing off a week to go fuck around with the two of you―” “So tell those people you’re taking time off from school and you’ll be able to do something for them if they want. Just not from Washington. You’d be more available during a time when they wouldn’t be thinking you’d have the time.” “Okay, enough already!” CJ chuckled, thinking Owen and Tank were not going to let up no matter how many barriers he erected. “I’ll e-mail Brooklyn tomorrow and I’ll ask the dads sometime soon.” “You know something, guys?” Tank rested his beer on the bar and threw an arm around each of his friends. “I’m sure glad I hooked up with you. I mentioned you both to my parents and they couldn’t believe what I told them concerning CJ.” CJ was confused. “What do you mean? What’d you tell them?” “Oh, I called them after our weekend in New York. I mentioned how people knew you everywhere we went. About you slipping off to Brooklyn for a meeting at Clinton headquarters. About you knowing so many famous people I’ve heard about. Hell, you and your little brother are the only ones I know who’ve been to the White House. And about you being on the ballot here in DC in June. They wanted to know if you were going to be Washington’s next mayor!” “Nah, mate. My boyfriend won’t be running for mayor. As soon as he’s old enough he’ll be running for President. And when he gets elected, we’ll invite you over to the White House.” CJ shook his head and punched his boyfriend’s shoulder. “Shut it, Ozzie. Don’t be making plans for me. I have at least four years of college ahead of me first. That’s what I need to concentrate on.” • • • “With three candidates left in the Republican Party field, can anyone stop the Trump juggernaut? Our next panel will discuss the possibility when we return from our break.” The image on the monitor flashed the MSNBC logo and went to commercials. “CJ, are you still with us?” “Yes, sir.” CJ was about to remove the earpiece when Thomas Roberts spoke. “Cut the sir crap. It’s Thomas. When will you be in New York next?” “I’m not sure. My boyfriend and I may go up mid-June after classes are over.” “Perfect! By then my husband and I will have opened up the Fire Island house for the summer. I have your e-mail address. We’ll send you a message and let’s plan on getting together when you guys come up. If we do it right, maybe you and your boyfriend can come spend a day or two with us at our place in The Pines.” After CJ was done speaking with the reporter, a technician helped him remove the microphone from his lapel and the transmitter attached to the back of his belt. CJ motioned for Patrick to follow him while he exited the microscopic stage in the network’s Nebraska Avenue studio in Washington. “Hey! What the hell are you doing?” Patrick giggled while sliding the phone back into his pants’ pocket. “Oh, I just wanted a picture of you with all that make-up on. You look funny as shit.” “Asshole! You better not be sharing that picture on social media, Kennedy. I hate this stuff whenever I have to wear it while doing interviews. Let me clean it off and we’ll head out. Okay?” “Take your time. I don’t have anything planned today.” Patrick stared around the studio while CJ stood in front of a mirror cleaning his face. Classes had ended on Friday and CJ had agreed to do some appearances on behalf of the Clinton campaign during spring break. With Owen and Ritchie in school, he’d asked Bradley and Patrick if they wanted to go with him to the network’s Washington studio on Monday morning. Bradley had lacrosse practice every morning but Patrick jumped at the chance of seeing what he called, “the magic of TV in action.” “Since you have nothing else to do, you want to run some errands with me? Or would you like me to drop you off at home instead?” CJ had removed his silk necktie and stuck it inside a pocket, and unbuttoned his shirt’s collar before removing the makeup. “I’ll hang with you, if that’s cool. Where are you headed to next?” “Neiman Marcus. I need to buy some new clothes so I made an appointment with Yousef.” The two walked outside and climbed aboard the Jeep. “You made an appointment to buy clothes?” Patrick’s surprise made CJ chuckle. “I know. Weird, right? But I need stuff that requires a tailor so I wanted to make sure the guy I like was there when I went in.” “Is this Yousef guy Mr. Rupple’s husband? I think I’ve met him before.” James Rupple was the Walls’ English teacher who also served as the faculty advisor for the school’s Gay Straight Alliance. “Yeah, that’s him. Real nice guy.” CJ steered Defiant towards Wisconsin Avenue and turned north at the intersection; the Neiman Marcus store was a ten minute drive away. “How come you shop here instead of Brooks Brothers? Isn’t that where Uncle César goes all the time?” “It is. And I do have clothes from there too. But Brooks Brothers’ a bit too conservative at times. I like more modern stuff.” “You mean like t-shirts and shorts?” There was a hint of teasing in Patrick’s comment. “Yeah, smart ass. I do prefer wearing tees and shorts but that won’t fly when I’m on TV. And from what Robbie Mook’s told me, I’ll be doing quite a few interviews and appearances this summer.” “So you’re definitely supporting Clinton? You’re gonna be working on her campaign all summer? Brad says he likes Trump. Says he’ll kick Muslim ass if he gets elected.” “Your brother’s a pain in my ass. You know that? I’m gonna spend the time between now and the election trying to educate him. And anyway, Secretary Clinton’s probably more of a hawk than The Donald. That woman has balls!” • • • The man was shorter than his two customers but the muscular body could be discerned beneath the tailored suit he wore. His salt and pepper hair was as usual cut close to the scalp and his face was freshly shaven―a different look from the scruff he sported while not at work. “Good morning, Yousef. Are you ready for me?” CJ shook the proffered hand. “Welcome back, CJ.” Yousef released CJ’s hand and turned to Patrick to shake his. “You look familiar. Are you one of my husband’s students also?” “Not yet. I’m Patrick. I do go to Walls but I’m a sophomore. I know Mr. Rupple from the Gay Straight Alliance. I met you once before at a GSA function.” “I knew I’d seen you before. So, what can we do for you guys today? You said you wanted to make sure Xanthos was working when you came in?” “Xanthos’ the tailor I like.” CJ spoke to Patrick before returning his attention to Yousef. “I thought he did a great job when he fitted me before so I’d like him to do it again.” “He’ll be happy to hear that. So what are you looking for today?” “Ummm, I need at least one suit, a couple of sport coats, and a few new ties. I think I’m going to be doing a bunch of appearances for one of the presidential candidates this summer and I don’t want to wear the same stuff all the time. Some of them will be on TV so I can wear jeans and a blazer since all people will see is from the waist up.” “We’ll get you set up so you look your best with no problem. Since it’s summer, how about we start with a light colored suit? Follow me, we have an Armani which should fit you very well.” After trying on the jacket, CJ agreed the suit would look good on him and followed Yousef to the dressing room. “Hey, Xanthos. I’m not sure if you remember Mr. Abelló. He liked your work so much he asked to come in while you were here. I’m going to leave him in your capable hands while I pick out a few more items for him.” The impeccably dressed, portly older man beamed at the praise. “I do remember you, young man. Thank you for the compliment. If I recall correctly, you were here with your brother when I met you before.” “Hi, Xanthos. Yep, I brought Ritchie in before and I’m going to do so again real soon. He’s outgrown what we picked up last time. My dad bought him a suit for a wedding we had recently, but he needs some more dressy clothes.” “We’ll be happy to take care of him when you do. Why don’t you step in the changing room and put on the trousers? I’m so happy you’re wearing dress shoes today. Most younger customers come in wearing athletic ones and I have to scramble when trying to measure them.” Patrick stood in the background while the tailor chalked the pants and suggested smaller cuffs than the ones on the pants he’d worn in since the cut of the suit was more modern. When he tried on the jacket, CJ asked for an extra pocket on the inside. “Do you mean here?” Xanthos indicated the lower, left-hand side of the coat. “To hold a pack of cigarettes?” “No, I don’t smoke those. It’s for my phone. And I’d like the same thing on whatever sport coats I end up getting. I wanna be able to reach it with ease.” “Why’s that, CJ? I’ve seen you looking at your phone a lot more than you used to.” Patrick’s question caught CJ by surprise. “Really? It’s noticeable? Anyway, I’m still getting used to checking my Twitter feed and I want the phone in an easier spot to reach than my pants’ back pocket.” “Twitter? Since when? You always claimed it was stupid!” “Yeah, I know. But all the damn candidates are using it and I need to keep track of all the stupid things they say. The dads always tell me if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. So, if I’m going to be a surrogate for Clinton, I’m doing it right. And as much as I dislike it, that means following them all on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. In case I’m called upon to respond to whatever outrageous things they post.” “So, is that all you’re going to do this summer? Work on the campaign?” “Pretty much. I’ll go down to Miami at least once. To see my grandparents. But otherwise… What about you? Going back up to Maine?” Patrick avoided looking at CJ when he replied. “I told the priest at Holy Trinity I wasn’t happy doing it last year. So I turned down the offer to go back.” “You never said anything about not liking it. What happened?” “Can we talk about it when we get done here?” Xanthos promised to have everything ready by Friday and CJ agreed to return then. When they left the store, he carried a bag with several shirts and ties he threw in the back seat of Defiant. “Hey, I’m in the mood for crab cakes. Wanna drive over to Baltimore for lunch?” A smiling Patrick buckled his seat belt and nodded. “Yeah! That sounds fun.” “Wanna talk about the camp thing now? Last summer you raved about how much fun you had with the kids. I’m surprised you don’t want to do it again.” “I loved working with the kids! They’re not the problem. The priest who runs the place and a few of the other counselors I didn’t like. That’s why I don’t want to go back.” “What’s wrong with them?” “Since the Church runs the place, there’s an hour of religious teaching every day. The priest and the other guys I didn’t like made it a point to talk bad about gay people. It seemed to happen every day. Although I’m sure it didn’t.” “You can’t let that bother you, Patrick. You have any idea how many times I’ve heard shit from strangers when Ozzie and I hold hands in public? Haters are gonna hate no matter what. I mean, you grew up with a homophobic grandfather. I’m surprised this bothered you so much.” Patrick didn’t reply right away. He stared out the window for a minute or two and then at his hands when he spoke again. “It’s a little different, CJ. Grandfather badmouthed gays in general and a father I didn’t know. Living with Dad and Pops and Ozzie, and with you and your dads right next door has changed me. I realize gay people aren’t the monsters Grandfather, the priest at camp, and other people say we are.” CJ was stunned. He wasn’t certain he’d heard correctly. Without realizing he was doing it, he took pressure off the accelerator and the Jeep slowed down. “Did you just say we?” “Yeah…” It was almost a whisper and was followed by a quiet sob. “I think I’ve known I’m gay for a long time. But I didn’t want to be. It’s why I fought back when those assholes in Boston said I was like my father. And it’s why I didn’t want anyone calling me Paddy. You… you’re the first person I've told.” CJ reached for the bandana hanging from the rearview mirror and handed it to his friend. “Here, dry your eyes.” It was a delaying move while he tried to figure out what to say next. “I’m sorry…” “For what?” “For being a cry baby. For bothering you. For not admitting it before.” “Dude, don’t be an asshole. Do you have any idea how much I cried when Dickhead threw me out of my house in Miami and my fucking mother didn’t lift a finger to defend me? Talk about being a crybaby. “And there’s no way you’re bothering me! You’re one of my best friends. I’m just glad you feel comfortable enough with me to talk about this. “And as for not doing it before, that’s bullshit. I wish every gay person would come out. As soon as they figure it out. But each one of us has to do it when it’s right for us. I’m proud of you. For having the guts to accept who you are. You just took a giant step and I’ll do everything I can to make sure things go right for you from now on. Don’t forget you have an awesome support system at home and with our friends. Trust me on this. You’re going to be fine.” CJ kept glancing at Patrick and gave him his best smile. “Sooo, can I start calling you Paddy now?”
  4. 63 likes
    Raymond and Joe had spent the morning fielding calls that typically started with a wife calling to express her thanks for the good time they shared last night. That would soon meld into their husband, who just happened to be standing there, wanting to talk with Joe. Mellie would switch the call into Joe's office and Joe and Raymond would then listen to several reasons why Joe should consider running for Mayor. Raymond simply grinned and winked and occasionally nodded each time someone expressed another sound reason. Most of the reasons first given had to do with the fact that Joe was not that “expletive deleted” the current Mayor. After they shared their disgust with their current elected representative, they would go on to express relief that a decent man was willing to consider the job. By the time Raymond texted Daniel and left for their lunch date, he was convinced that Joe would be their candidate. While not enthusiastic, Joe seemed resigned to being a mayoral candidate. Raymond had no doubt that his Uncle and Aunt would do well for the town. Aunt Mellie was already enumerating several topics for discussion with the various women's groups around town. Raymond knew it fell to him to bring in some new employment opportunities. That shouldn't be too hard since they held controlling interest in a couple of high tech companies that needed desperately to expand. The construction jobs alone would make a major dent in the local number of unemployed. The town was situated on an expressway and it's municipal airport could easily be expanded if necessary. It’s landing strip could already accommodate smaller corporate jets. Relocating the operations sector from Dallas would be accomplished within a matter of weeks. There was an entire downtown area that begged to be occupied and restored. The Adams family was about to make some local real estate broker very happy. Raymond drove to the Firehouse to make his cash donation. He first asked for the Assistant Fire Chief, Bill Jordan. Taking him aside Raymond asked how cash donations were accepted and what precautions were in place to prevent theft. Bill explained that recipients were designated by schools, churches and local charities such as food banks and the like. By this time, most other donations of food, toys, etc. would have already been delivered. The cash donations required two signatures on every receipt. This receipted cash was logged in and then locked inside the safe to which only he and Chief Bumpkis held the combination. At five o’clock on Christmas Eve, each year, he and the Chief would total the cash and divide it by the number of intended recipients. They tried to balance it so a family of four would receive a little more cash than what a family of two would get and so on. Bill had tried to get the cash delivery date moved back so families could actually have cash to spend for Christmas. That idea was squashed by the Chief who rightfully claimed that a lot of the cash donations came in on Christmas Eve. Once the amount was determined, envelopes would be sealed with the appropriate amount inside. The properly addressed envelope would be signed across the sealed lip by both Bill and the Chief. Once that was completed the envelopes would be divided so that the Chief and another fireman, usually the Chief’s cousin by marriage, would deliver half and Bill, accompanied by another available fireman, would deliver the other half. When asked about the split, Bill said the Chief was usually determined who would deliver to what addresses. Bill never questioned the number of envelopes he was given to deliver, though he was sure the Chief delivered a lot more than half. With a clearer understanding of the procedures in place. Raymond recorded himself donating the cash to Chief Bumpkis and Bill Jordan. He made sure to record the serial numbers alongside the receipt. He assured both Bill and the Chief it was for tax purposes. He also told them other members of his family would soon show up with like amounts to donate and would also record the donation. Bill was most appreciative, he assured Raymond the money would go to some really needy families. Bumpkis was busy calculating and salivating when he realized how much cash was actually promised. Raymond had texted Daniel and they agreed to meet at the diner. He saw Daniel waiting in his patrol car, talking on his radio, when he pulled into the parking lot. Daniel cut short his chat and got out to greet Raymond as he approached. The warm smiles and enthusiastic handshake the big men shared were only small outward manifestations of the gushing warmth that charged through their bodies. Raymond knew he was not the only one to feel an actual jolt of energy when he grasped Daniel's hand. The glint in the Sheriff's eyes said so many good things. It seemed like forever that they simply stared into each other's eyes, but it was only moments before they interrupted by a man clearing his throat. “Sorry to interrupt. Raymond, it's been a few years but I remember you quite clearly. My name is J. L. Livingston, we played football together, back in high school. You were a year ahead of me. I own the local real estate company.” Raymond remembered Jerry Lee as having been some twenty pounds lighter, but with the same contagious grin. Back then he insisted on being called J.L. Instead of Jerry Lee. Kids insisted on calling him Jerry Lee and unfailingly inquired if his “great balls” were on fire? “Julie told me to meet y’all here for lunch, along with Bill Slidesdale. She insisted we all had business to discuss. I understand, you're looking to move back here and settle down. You know, Bill has just put your Daddy’s old ranch on the market. He built a house near y’all’s old ranch house for his son and daughter-in-law. It would make a fine rental, if you don't mind having neighbors that close. Bill junior got killed in Afghanistan, a while back and now the wife wants to take the two boys and live near her folks in Houston. They’re the only family Bill and Sarah have left and they want to retire and move to be close to the grandkids. But, if you're looking to live in town, well I got a good range of available homes. If you need office space, I can show you plenty of office spaces right down on Courthouse Square. Just need to figure out what best suits your needs, both personal and professional.” Raymond wasn't sure if he should thank Julie or choke the living shit out of her for messing up his time with Daniel. Before he could decide on a plan of action, they were joined by an older cowboy. Bill Slidesdale looked exactly like a mature rancher should, from his stirrups and faded jeans up to his worn Stetson. It was obvious the man had interrupted his workday to be here. Raymond thought he looked like an older Marlboro man. Raymond had only known the man by name. He had never revisited the ranch after his mother had it sold. He’d only found out about the sale two days before they were to move. One more thing he never forgave her for. He thought he had schooled his expression, until he saw a look of concern flash across Daniel's face. The other two hadn't noticed. Bill exchanged greetings, saving Raymond for last. The man’s grip was strong. “Welcome home son, I knew your Daddy real well. He was a fine man. I always half expected you to come around and maybe collect up some of his gear that your ma saw fit to leave behind. I let her know you would always be welcomed out there. I held onto your’s and his horses for the first five years, thinking you might come out to ride ‘em again. Left that old Willys Jeep of his in the tractor shed. Used to drive it around a bit. Junior got a kick out of riding in it. After he, uh, well I just left it there. You might want to come on out soon and collect it along with the rest of his stuff. Jerry Lee might have told you I’m moving to Houston as soon as I can get a buyer. I promised Julie, I’d give you first refusal. She was a godsend when we lost Junior. Truth is, we already bought a small place outside of Houston, close to the grandkids. We’re pretty much all moved out of the ranch house. We were back here just to make sure the boys had things well in hand. It's a miracle Julie caught us while we were here. I was working with the boys on some fencing. It took a bit of jawing to get me to break away, but like I said, we owe her.” Raymond focused in on what Bill said about his Father's stuff. He was never told anything belonging to his father had been left at the ranch. She had discarded, sold or destroyed everything that had been a reminder of his Father. He had, for years, thought it was a sign of her profound, but hidden grief. Once he learned the undeniable truth, he saw it more as her purging forced choices and unpleasant memories from her past. He had tried to be understanding and never confronted her with what he knew. Bill’s revelations today showed how she systematically tried to destroy and deny his memories of the only real Father Raymond had ever known. For the first time ever, a totally disrespectful adjective describing his mother came to mind, “Bitch”. “Fucking Bitch”! Guiltily he glanced over at Daniel. There it was again, that look of sincere concern. He tried to offer a reassuring smile. For the first time in many years, he wasn't sure it worked. For a moment, he thought Daniel was about to hug him in front of God and everybody. Raymond knew he would welcome the comfort such an act would bring. He shook his head and addressed the group, “Well gentlemen, I think we best get inside before all the meatloaf is gone and we’re forced to eat one of Miss Julie’s delicious ribeyes.” They moved quickly toward the entrance. Their companionable chatter had them agreeing that eating anything Julie offered was never a hardship. Julie greeted them just inside the door. Grabbing four menus she led the way over to the left leg of the horseshoe that wrapped around the kitchen. She didn't stop until she sat them at the table farthest from and out of sight of the front door. She signaled for a server. Leaning down she patted Raymond on the shoulder and quietly observed, “Personally, I’ve always thought of her as a bitch. Listen carefully to Bill. Your Daddy would be so pleased to know you were back living on the ranch.” Their server, Melissa, turned in their orders and quickly came back with their drinks. Bill wasted no time in asking flat out if Raymond was interested in buying the ranch. Raymond, for some unknown reason searched Daniel's face for a reaction. Seeing only schooled indifference, he focused on Bill and nodded. Bill, using pictures on Jerry Lee’s tablet, carefully enumerated the ranches dimensions and assets as well as pointing out several shortcomings that would soon have to be addressed. The house and outbuildings were pretty much as he remembered. It was clear that some things were in need of repair. Bill admitted that he had not kept on top of things since Junior died. He only had two full time hands and they lived together in the foreman’s cottage. He praised them as hardworking and very competent cowboys. They had been with him since they graduated from high school together. He had already let them know about the impending sale. He had promised them three months wages as a bonus if they stayed through the closing. Bill stated he would encourage the new owners to keep them on as they knew the place very well and you weren't likely to find better workers or more honest cowboys. By the time the main course was finished, Raymond had made his decision. He excused himself to the men's room and once there made a the necessary phone calls. Once he rejoined the group he told Bill he had men on the way to inspect the ranch. If things checked out, as he felt sure they would, those men were authorized to discuss an equitable price. Melissa soon appeared with pie and coffee. She gave apple to Bill, cheery to Jerry Lee and mincemeat to both Raymond and Daniel. When Raymond asked who ordered dessert for him, Melissa quickly volunteered, “Oh, Miss Julie sent it out as a celebration for you moving back to town and getting your ranch back.” “Fine, but who ordered mincemeat pie with whipped cream for me. I don't even like mincemeat and I usually avoid whipped cream.” Melissa laughed softly, “She said you’d say that. She said I should tell you “It won't choke you. You will like it and you owe her a hug.” Raymond blushed at his earlier thought of possibly choking Julie. He then glared at one of the few foods he had refused to eat since early childhood. He eyed Daniel suspiciously as the Sheriff heartily dug in with obvious delight. If the umms and goofy smiles were any indication, both Bill and Jerry Lee were lost in some gastronomic nirvana. With a heavy sigh and great trepidation, Raymond brought a forkful of mostly whipped cream to his mouth. He had done it just to be sociable. It wasn't until he caught himself scrapping the last crumbs and smudges off his plate that he realized how much he had truly enjoyed Julie's magnificent mincemeat pie. Bill tried to get the check, but Raymond refused. Bill insisted on leaving a tip and dropped a twenty dollar bill by his plate. Jerry Lee noticed Raymond's curiosity at such a large tip. He explained, “Melissa, is saving money for college. She works hard and is the first and likely the only child in her family to even graduate high school. So most everybody leaves a little extra when she is their server. It's a win, win. The money goes to a great cause and it leaves us with a warm sense of giving back. Don't let on, but some of us local merchants are trying to raise enough to fund a scholarship for her. I remember college, every little bit helps.” Jerry Lee winked as he slipped a twenty under his own plate. When Melissa presented the check, Raymond sent it back insisting that if Julie wanted to eventually collect on her hug, she would add the pies and coffee to the bill. The bill came back amended accordingly. Sheriff Lovan thanked Raymond for lunch and headed back to his office. Raymond was miffed that he didn't get so much as a parting handshake. Raymond smiled as Daniel tried not to let anyone see him slip a twenty under his own plate. One more reason to like the man. Raymond left a tip almost equal to the total bill, on his card. Careful, so no one would notice he slipped a fifty underneath his plate. It was the smallest he had and like the man said, “it was for a good cause”. Raymond had Jerry Lee followed him to the motel where his partial staff was holed up. Raymond turned him over to the appropriate individuals who would select the best suited commercial properties in town. They would present their options and recommendations for Raymond's final approval. Once his decisions were made the final price would be negotiated and Raymond would sign at the closing. In this case, time was short and the price would reflect the urgency. Raymond smiled when he realized they could probably buy the whole of Courthouse Square, several times over, for the price of their cheapest high rise building in Dallas, Houston, L A or New York. Now he had to get their construction company in Dallas onboard for a fast turnaround on the ranch and any other properties they might acquire here. Though he would buy the ranch as a private purchase, it just made sense to use a construction team whom he knew and trusted. Without even realizing it was Christmas Eve, he made the calls that connected the construction company engineers and architects with the production consultants from the first two of their companies needing to expand. In turn, he connected them to the acquisition team here in town. By the time he got all concerned parties talking, it was late in the day. Instead of feeling tired he felt a sense of contentment in knowing that he had accomplished a great deal in a short span of time. Once he realized there were no more calls to be made, he thought of Daniel. Suddenly his mild euphoria vanished as he realized he had hoped to have a quiet lunch and set the stage for perhaps something more intimate. At the least, he’d hoped to share dinner tonight. He had sure shot the hell out of that plan. Thank you Miss Julie. He was definitely, this time, embracing the idea of choking her. Raymond, again, picked up his phone. Hoping the man wasn't pissed off over lunch, he texted Daniel, “I should have texted sooner. Sorry, lunch didn't go as I had hoped.” As he waited, Raymond chewed lightly on his lower lip. He was staring at the phone in his hand, almost dropping it when it rang. Even as he put it to his ear, he silently cursed whoever was interfering with his texting conversation with Daniel. “Hello.” He said flatly. “Oh, sorry. Am I interrupting something.” Raymond could hear the hesitation in Daniel's voice. Suddenly cheered, he sputtered, “No, No, Not at all! I was disappointed that someone was disrupting my texting with you. I was surprised by your call. I really am sorry about having company for our first lunch together.” “Don't worry about that. If I was going to blame anyone it would be Miss Julie. She blindsided us. I wasn't really too upset. I got to know a little more about you and that made it worthwhile. Actually, I should have called sooner to thank you again for a great lunch. I have to go to my Dad’s for dinner tonight and I hope I can eat enough to keep them from worrying about me. Mom still treats me like I was still a teenager, living at home. She refuses to accept that I am a grown man, living on my own. She is in total denial that my metabolism has changed and I don't stuff my face 24/7 like I used to. It's amazing Dad doesn't look like the Pilsbury Dough Boy. Switching topics and dropping his voice to a more serious tone, Daniel admitted, “Raymond, I agreed to have Christmas dinner at your Uncle Joe's. I was hoping you were planning on being there. I know you most likely already have plans with friends in Dallas or maybe you're gonna fly off to some exotic place to celebrate the New Year.” Raymond gave half hearted chuckle. “I spend most of my holidays working. I have a few friends both gay and straight. Most of them have families with whom they spend the holidays. Any holidays, during which I am not working, I spend with Uncle Joe and Aunt Mellie. This is the first Christmas in almost four years when Jeff will be home. So come hell or high water, I will be there.” “That's good to hear. Christmas always makes me think of family. Even when I was in the middle of a dry, hot desert in hostile, foreign country, my thoughts were with my family. It makes me appreciate actually being near the ones I care about all the more special. I’m glad I’ll get to see you tomorrow. Shifting into a more formal, somewhat distant tone, “Anyway, I was hoping we could get some time alone to discuss your role as my campaign manager. There is already talk about pressuring the mayor to step down. If they do that, they my call for a joint election for Mayor and Sheriff. Depends on if the County wants to share the cost of a special election.” Trying to restrain his enthusiasm, Raymond replied, “That sounds great. I’ll be there all day. Why don't you come out early and we can spend some time getting to know each other better. Brunch will be served starting at ten. If you come before, it will be coffee and cold cereal, but I would appreciate the company. Besides the campaign, we need to discuss some issues relating to our Fire Chief Bumpkis. Nothing critical just some things we think you’d want to know about.” At Daniel's urging, Raymond took a few minutes to inform the Sheriff of the cash donations. Sheriff Lovan added fuel to the fire by suggesting they get a copy of the recipients, especially those provided by the Chief’s preacher. He suggested the Chief and the preacher might be working together to divert funds from the poor into their own pockets. Daniel described the slimy preacher as the kind of man who, after you let him shake your hand, you felt like you ought to count your fingers to be sure he didn't take one. Raymond took notes and before long they changed the topic back to Christmas morning. “Jeff, Paul and Maria are planning to arrive as soon as she wades through all the gifts Jeff and Paul will drown her in. Of course, Uncle Joe and Aunt Mellie refuse to be out done. They both act like little kids at Christmas time and go all out. And uh, I may have bought a couple of gifts for Maria, myself. You should know if you're invited to share Christmas, there will be gifts with your name on them. Nothing fancy, just something to show you were remembered. I, uh, I may have put something with your name on it under the tree. I hope that's alright.” Daniel chuckled, “No that just means I can bring the gift I have for you in with me instead of waiting until we could be alone.” The silence seemed to magnify the physical distance between them. After several moments, Raymond was the first to speak, “Daniel, I can't begin to express my gratitude to you for giving me another chance. I wanted to use the time today to get to know you better. I know it seemed like I wasn't paying attention to you today, but I was. I saw your concern a couple of times when Bill and I were talking about my parents. It made me feel warm inside to think you understood and cared about my feelings for my Daddy and that heartless bitch of a mother. I know she married him without loving him. He was a good man and deserved so much more than she ever gave. Especially more than the casual disregard she displayed after his death. I remember thinking I was the only one who loved him and missed him. That's a pretty heavy load to lay on a little kid. It made me feel closer to Uncle Joe when he used to talk about what a good and decent man my father was. I needed to hear that from someone who knew and understood how much I missed him. Even today, he helps keep my Dad’s memory alive. Together we funded a law school scholarship, in my Dad’s name, at Stanford.” The silence returned. Daniel had heard the edginess build in Raymond's voice. Interrogations had taught him that Raymond was about to clam up and withdraw. He didn't want Raymond to ever regret sharing even the most intimate thoughts or memories with him. He sputtered out the most embarrassing thing about himself he could remember, “Jeff's father once caught us naked and daring each other to fuck a calf.” The silence echoed through his cell phone. Daniel looked to see if Raymond had hung up. It was a good thing the phone was away from his ear because the sudden roar of Raymond's laughter would have surely deafened him. A kaleidoscope of emotion washed over him as Raymond's laughter seemed to never end. Embarrassment, anger, humiliation and finally humor as Daniel relaxed and laughed along with Raymond. It was much funnier in hindsight than it had been in real life. The image of two naked and obviously aroused twelve year old boys caught sprawled on a blanket in a barn loft, struck him as God awfully funny. They had scrambled at supersonic speed to get dressed while hiding their privates. Jeff's dad had ignored their dissembling pleas and simply collapsed in peals of laughter. By the time he retrieved his handkerchief, dried his eyes and blew his nose the boys were again dressed. Looking back Daniel wasn't too sure why they had felt so humiliated, angry and embarrassed. Once dressed, Jeff's Dad had pulled them both into a three way hug and assured them that what they were doing was a normal part of growing up. He and his friends had done some of the same stuff. Only difference being, they were smart enough not to get caught with their pants down or worse yet… with their boots off. His last words on the subject had been, “Forget about those hard cocks for now. Your Mother wants you two to go shopping for school clothes. Which means you both should put on some underwear unless you want to flash the store clerk and your Mamma. If you two have any questions about any of this stuff, don't hesitate to ask me. Otherwise, this will be our secret, just between us cowboys.” Raymond had calmed down and was surprised at how moved he was at hearing Jeff's Father was such an understanding and caring parent. He had often wondered. He had spent enough time in the man's presence to know he was a good man, a great boss and a devoted family man. In the last years of the man’s life he had tried to get to know him better and it was almost like losing a second father when he was killed. “Well, I don't need to know if you committed an act against nature. I’m not sure if the statute of limitations runs out after the victim is made into hamburger or not. But, it does make it sound like the man was a very understanding and accepting father.” “Yes, he was a good man. I think he was hurt that Jeff was gay mostly because he wanted grandchildren. As it turned out, he probably wouldn't have lived long enough to have seen them, even if Jeff had been straight. It was his acceptance that inspired me to tell my parents. I think he half expected Jeff and I would become seriously committed to each other. I think we were just too much like brothers to ever be serious lovers.” “Sounds like you two got up to more mischief than I ever heard about. But, I’m glad I don't have to compete with him for your affection. Are you sure you don't have someone lusting after you that I need to know about? Daniel, you’re a handsome man. Women and men must be falling at your feet. Surely you know that.” Daniel chuckled, “Look who’s talking. You could be Tom Selleck’s clone. Tall, dark, handsome and those sparkling green eyes. I bet ol’ Tom would give anything to have your eyes. I remember being surprised when I found out you weren't really Jeff's Uncle. I mean you gotta admit your eyes are exactly like his, his daddy's and his Uncle Joe's. He told me, you couldn't be any better as an uncle if you were blood kin. It’d made no difference to him. He couldn't love you more.” “If I didn't think it disrespectful to my Father's memory I would have changed my name to Adams years ago. They have truly been my real family for most of my life. I will be forever grateful for my Uncle Joe. He’ the only one who tried to make a difference after my real Father died. “Daniel, I don't want to be too pushy… but you know you're welcome to come by after you have dinner with your folks. I mean, you don't have to spend the night, we could just talk and have a drink. If you wanted to stay the night we have plenty of spare rooms. You wouldn't have to sl...” Daniel cut him off. “I’m not so sure I would be able to sleep knowing you were in the same house and not in my arms.” Daniel continued, “I’ll most likely stay the night with my folks. Daddy’ll want me to have some of his homemade eggnog and after a couple, three of those, well, I might not pass a breathalyzer test. If I drive, I’m gonna have to arrest myself”. The two men chuckled together at the joke. Raymond’s phone signaled a text. After reading it, he explained to Daniel, “I just got a text. Looks like I just bought my Dad's ranch back. The keys will be dropped off shortly by Bill and his wife on their way to Houston to surprise their grandsons. Come out early and go with me to look over the place. If you're not too hung over.” “After last night it should come as no surprise that I am not much of a drinker. Two is usually my limit. Daddy's eggnog is a real knee knocker to be sure. Even with that, I expect I can get up well before some city slicker attorney type, with or without a hangover. How about I meet you there at eight o’clock.” “If it's a challenge you're after, how about we make it seven? I’ll be bright eyed and bushy tailed.” “Why don't we split the difference and make it six even? Though at that hour you will have to have coffee ready for me at the front door.” “Coffee and toast at six it is. Don't wimp out. I’d hate to think I’m managing the campaign of a man who couldn't meet his obligations. This is only the first of many early morning meetings at which you have too have to appear bright eyed and bushy-tailed. Don't let me down.” “I’ll be there. I’ll even have a mag mounted flashing light. You can ride me in your Tesla and show me if it's as fast as I’ve heard. Be warned, I sometimes get a chubby at high speeds.” “If high speed gives you a chubby, you better bring a cum rag. My buddy “Chiron” will make you shot your wad. He does zero to sixty in 2.9 seconds, handles like the finest cutting horse and has top speed of 155 mph. And he is as quiet as death.” Daniel laughed out loud, “You named your car? Are you serious? Right now, you sound more like a high school prom queen than a skilled attorney and a highly respected business man.” The chuckling continued even as Raymond offered, “Laugh it up fur ball. Just get it all out of your system before you meet Chiron. He’s pretty tough, but I don't want you unintentionally hurting his feelings.” The silence was suddenly deafening. “Are you serious”? “Of course… I… Am… Not!... Gotcha! “I had the opportunity to name the car and I always liked the idea of Chiron, the Centaur, Zeus’s half brother. The falcon wing doors make others think of Pegasus, but I just always thought Chiron was more handsome and definitely more intelligent. He was the mythological father of medicine. “Ok, just don't ever let me be cross examined at your sanity hearing. What I first thought when you talked like your car was alive, would not make you look good. As much as I have enjoyed conversing with you, I need to get home, shower and head out to my folks. I will see you at Joe's at six. Just make sure you have coffee in hand when you open the door.” “I, uh, don't, uh, know…” The hesitation made Daniel think he had pushed too far. “You don't know… what?” “I don't know how you like your coffee.” Raymond couldn't help snickering, knowing he gotten Daniel's goat once again. “Ok smartass. I can see it now. If you greet me at the door with other than medium brown coffee, no sugar, I may have to pull down your wranglers, no underwear, lay you across your own frunk and spank your bare ass till it's rosey red, in front of god and everybody.” Raymond wasn't sure how to respond to virtually the same words that had almost ended any chance he had of building a lasting relationship with Daniel. Raymond let go every trace of humor, “I haven't been spanked since I was a child, in public or private. But, if that is what it takes to earn a place by your side, name the time and place and I will do my best to accommodate your needs.” Daniel was overwhelmed by the severity of Raymond's words and tone. “After that, I’d be a fool not to forgive you anything. Wow! Just, Wow! I hate to say, have a nice evening, or enjoy your dinner, or good night. Everything seems so trite after that. The best I can do is… I’ll see you in the morning. I can't wait.” “I can't wait either. And Daniel?” “Yes Raymond?” “Merry Christmas”. “Merry Christmas to you too.” There were a couple of moments of silence before either hung up. Neither was sure who did it first.
  5. 61 likes
    December 2015 • Part II Although there were plenty of non-stop flights between Washington and Denver, César and Brett booked one with a stop at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. The short layover allowed Randy and Tyler to join them. Traveling together avoided the possibility of weather related delays leaving part of the group stranded. As soon as Randy walked into the Business Class section, CJ―sitting in the last row next to Owen―began humming “Here Comes The Bride.” Brett, Rod, and a couple of the other guys joined in, making Tyler who was right behind his boyfriend start laughing. Randy looked around the cabin and smiled at the flight attendant standing nearby. Glaring at his younger cousin, he dropped his backpack in the first open seat he came to, and gave CJ a double one-finger salute while mouthing “fuck you” in an exaggerated manner. “I’ll get you for that one, you insignificant insect. I don’t care if the trip’s to celebrate your birthday. After I’m done, there may not be a nineteenth for you.” “Aw, come on, cuz.” CJ was trying very hard not to laugh but maintaining an innocent expression was getting tougher with every second. “You’re engaged. Ty proposed on one knee on national TV. That makes you the woman and we all know it. See? Your husband-to-be’s nodding.” Randy whirled around and glared at Tyler. He picked up his backpack and walked the few steps to the back of the section. He stowed it in the overhead compartment along with Ty’s and the Chicago couple claimed the seats right in front of Owen and CJ. Once they’d cleared the aisle to allow other passengers to board, Randy knelt on the seat, looked over the backrest, and stared at CJ. “Fuck you, cuz. You better watch your back when we’re on top of the mountain.” Owen had been leaning against the side of the plane but moved closer and threw a protective arm around CJ. “Hey! No threatening my boyfriend. You know he has a couple of black belts. Don’t make me tell him to beat you up.” “Yeah? You think so, Aussie? My boyfriend can beat up your boyfriend. He has bigger muscles!” “That’s ’cause he’s short and has to compensate.” CJ’s whispered aside wasn’t much of a whisper. The fourteen men traveling together were in a good mood. The verbal sparring between them elicited laughter from all, none louder than César’s. “Children… how about we settle this when we land? People are staring.” “That’s just ’cause we’re so good looking, Dad. 'Specially my boyfriend!” CJ accompanied his retort with a kiss to Owen’s cheek. “Crap, gag me!” Randy couldn’t stop smirking when he pulled off CJ’s knit cap and threw it across the aisle at Rod who in turn passed it to Harley sitting in front of him. The group occupied most of the section and the few other passengers in it seemed to enjoy the high-spirited antics and not one of them complained. The banter and games didn’t stop until the door was closed and they were ready for takeoff. Some three hours later their flight landed in Denver. “Wow! It’s really cold.” Ritchie’s words as they deplaned made CJ pull his phone out and turn it on. “Wait ’til we get outside, bro. You’re gonna freeze your butt off. It’s thirty degrees chillier here than it was in Washington. And it’s going to get even colder by the time the sun sets.” “I’m wearing my long underwear all weekend. I don’t care how smelly they get. I’m not used to this.” The boy shivered and pulled his black and yellow jacket closed. Earlier in the month, CJ had taken his brother to the Patagonia store they’d shopped at when Ritchie first visited Washington and bought proper skiing clothes for both of them. Brett remained behind in the baggage claim area as César walked over to the car rental area to check on their reservations. The retired marine stared at the suitcases on the carousel while draping an arm around Ritchie’s shoulders. “Dude, we have a washer and dryer at the house. I think we’ll be doing a load or two every day. No need to smell like stale ball sweat.” Ritchie giggled. “How long’s the drive to this place, Captain?” “That’s one of ours, Ritchie. Grab it.” Brett pointed at a black bag with a rainbow ribbon on the handle. They had tied a similar one to each of their suitcases back in Washington for easy identification. “About two hours. Vail’s 100 miles west of Denver. Since the weather’s clear it should be a nice drive. Real pretty too, the mountains are a hell of a lot bigger than what you’ve seen back in Virginia when we’ve gone on motorcycle rides. And they’re all covered in snow. We’re gonna have a blast this week, dude.” “Your turn, Jarhead.” César clamped a hand on his husband’s shoulder and handed him his driver’s license. “Go sign the contract. Guys!” He stared at CJ, Owen, Randy, and Tyler who were once again arguing over which boyfriend could beat up the other one. “Are we gonna have to separate you? Stop fucking around and go get us a couple of luggage carts.” Approaching Vail, Brett asked for quiet in the van and called the management company to let them know where they were. Arriving at the house, the doors to both garage bays were open and a young man stood inside waiting for them. Brett jumped out as soon as he’d turned off the engine, signed for the envelope he was handed, and opened it to retrieve the keys. “Okay, everyone, let’s get the bags inside. I’ll give you a quick tour, and we can figure out the sleeping arrangements. Fair warning, there are two master bedrooms. César and I get one and CJ and Ozzie have the other one.” “Not fair, Uncle Brett. I can understand you and Uncle César getting one of them but we should flip for the other. The little idiot has been picking on me since we got on the plane in Chicago.” “Shut up, bro!” Rod punched Randy on the shoulder before hurrying inside. “Stop whining.” Ritchie’s giggles let everyone know he was enjoying the twins’ antics. “Mr. A won’t like it, Randy. Whining’s not allowed.” “Out of the mouths of babes…” Ethan dropped his suitcase on the living room floor and walked towards the large glass windows facing the mountains. “This place’s awesome. I can’t believe you’ve never been here, CJ.” “I know, right? Check it out, there’s a giant hot tub on the deck! I know where I’ll be tonight after dinner.” Owen had followed his classmate and stood staring at the view when CJ walked up behind him and clamped his arms around him. “Hell, this is the furthest west I’ve ever been except for Australia. What number is this, Ozzie?” “Twelve. Colorado makes it an even dozen.” He turned around in the cage CJ had enclosed him in and kissed his boyfriend. “Thank you.” “You’re welcome. Come on, let’s go upstairs. Our room’s on the third floor.” “How many bedrooms in this place again?” “Five. Two masters on the top floor and two junior masters―that’s what they’re called on the management company’s website―on the second floor. One has a queen sized bed and the other one, two doubles.” “Who gets those?” “The dads said Randy and Ty get the queen bed and Rod and Ritchie share the other room.” “And the others?” “They’re all in the bunk room. It’s in between the other two rooms and sleeps eight. They can fight it out for who gets to be on top and who gets the bottom. The den also has two couches that open up. But I guess we won’t be using those.” “So we have room for even more people?” “Yeah, Sean and Chatri would have made sixteen of us. I originally wanted eighteen people for my eighteenth birthday, but Tom and JP said they couldn’t make it. And I didn’t want to have to choose between the dads’ other friends.” “Aren’t bunk beds small? Most of our friends are tall.” “Yeah, but I don’t think it’ll matter. Papa told us he used to come here with a bunch of friends when he was in college at Berkeley. He said after a day skiing and drinking, everyone was so tired all they cared about was a place to crash.” “Ritchie’s gonna share a room with Rod?” “I don’t think the dads want Ritchie in with the others. They trust Rod not to try and get him drunk or high.” “All you have to do is tell your brother not to drink or smoke. Ritchie will listen to anything you say.” “He’s a good kid, isn’t he?” CJ’s pride in his brother was not something he was shy about sharing with his friends; he bragged about Ritchie often enough. “Okay, here we are. I think the dads want the one on the left so this is ours.” “Mate, this is awesome.” Owen dropped his suitcase on the floor, stripped off his jacket, tossed it on the bed, and walked towards the windows. Opening the curtains, he stared at the landscape. The snow-capped mountains seemed close enough to touch. “What a bloody great view.” “Yes it is. Great fucking sight,” CJ added, staring at his boyfriend’s backside. • • • Included in Brett's envelope from the management company were lift tickets for the week. “Okay, guys, listen up.” They’d finished breakfast at the house and the anticipation to hit the slopes was palpable. “Attach these to your jackets now. Those of you skiing are Team César. Snow boarders―the cool kids―are with me. And Team Brett rocks!” “Fuck you, Papa!” “Yeah, fuck off, Uncle Brett.” “Hey! Stop picking on Cap.” “Sorry, CJ, I wanna learn how to board. Is it okay if I go with the captain?” “Traitor! Come on, Ozzie, let’s get in the skiers van.” Owen sounded apologetic. “I’m sorry too, CJ, but I’m going with Brett and the other boarders.” “Fine! Go ahead and leave me alone with a bunch of hunky skiers. I’ll try to behave.” CJ’s comment and eyebrow wiggling earned him a slap to the back of the head from César. The large group split between skiers and boarders with Ethan, Patrick, and Harley―the only one who’d brought his own boots and snowboard―joining Brett, Owen, and Ritchie. The rest of them crammed into one of the vehicles with César. “I know this is the first time CJ and Thiago have skied so they’re signed up for a morning lesson. How about the rest of you? What’s the experience?” “Patrick and I have been skiing a bunch of times in Massachusetts and Vermont,” Brad replied. “Same with me and Ty.” Randy turned around to look at Rod sitting in the last row of seats. “And Rod’s pretty good. Although the mountains the three of us are used to aren’t as tall as these.” “Brett and I booked a private family morning lesson for skiers and one for the boarders. I haven’t been skiing in a couple of years so I’ll stick with CJ and Thiago today. Depending on how the day goes, we might book an instructor for tomorrow too. Any of you feel free to join us on the bunny slope if you want.” Since Harley had his board, he stayed outside the shop while the others went inside to be fitted with boots and skis or boards; César and Brett made it clear they didn’t want anyone on the mountain alone. CJ and Thiago watched Harley team up with Ethan and rush towards the lift as soon as the law student exited with a board over his shoulders. “I’ll meet you back here at lunch time, CJ!” “So, which one of you is CJ and which one’s Thiago?” Both guys turned to look at the man who’d spoken. He extended a hand to shake while displaying a perfect row of bright white teeth. The guy wore a USA knit cap and iridescent orange goggles rested atop it. The rest of his outfit was a riot of red, white, and blue splashes of color but CJ couldn’t stop looking at the blue eyes partially hidden behind eyelashes any woman would be jealous of. The man was hot. “I’m Travis. I’ll be your instructor this morning.” “Hi, I’m Thiago.” “Hey, Travis, I’m CJ. Nice to meet you, man.” “Same here, dude. The form says neither one of you has ever skied before, that right?” “Nope, neither one of us has. Hey, Dad, over here!” CJ motioned for his father when he saw César stand outside the door looking around. “My dad’s joining us for the lesson but he’s skied before.” “Hey, guys. Hi, I’m César, and you are?” “Your friendly neighborhood ski bum impersonating an instructor.” The guy bowed and waved his hand in a flourish. His easy smile earned him a return one from the older man as they shook hands. “Travis here, nice to meet you, sir. Why don’t you guys follow me and we’ll get this show on the road.” About an hour and a half later, while they took a break to guzzle down water, César announced he felt confident enough to hit the real slopes and left CJ and Thiago with Travis after whispering in his son’s ear and getting a nod in response. “You know what, guys? The two of you are pretty athletic. I can tell you don’t just sit around watching TV and eating Doritos.” Travis’ infectious smile was back and the praise made his two students grin. “And, CJ, your Dad’s a cool dude. How’d you like to try one of the easy slopes? Since you’re with me we move to the front and don’t have to wait in line for the lift. I’ll pick a gentle one and see how you do.” “I’m in!” Thiago looked at CJ for agreement. “Let’s do it, man. By the way, Travis, Dad said to invite you to lunch after we’re done. We have a large group of friends and we’re all meeting back here around 12:30.” “That’d be cool. I have to sign out after we’re done but I have the afternoon free. Maybe I’ll hang out and ski with you and your friends.” A couple of hours later, CJ and Thiago walked into the restaurant and scanned the crowd for any of their traveling companions. Randy raised an arm and called out to them, motioning for the younger guys to join him and Tyler at their table. “Hey, boys, how was it?” “Awesome!” “Fantastic!” CJ removed his cap and sunglasses, opened up his jacket, and flapped the sides to create a little air current. The day’s exertions had heated him up even though the temperature outside was below freezing; in addition, the roaring flames in the fireplace had the room warmed to a comfortable temperature. “We spent half the morning on the bunny slope and then did some runs on one of the easier courses.” Thiago rubbed his neck after taking off his jacket and draping it over the back of the chair. “That was sick! But I took some spectacular spills. My damn shoulder’s gonna be hurting big time later on.” CJ rubbed his behind before sitting down. “You? Me! That last time I fell I hit my ass so hard I probably have a bruise. We didn’t use the hot tub last night but as soon as we get back to the house…” “So, are you planning any more lessons?” Tyler raised a clear mug to his lips and sipped the steaming liquid. Thiago shrugged when CJ looked at him. “I don’t care. Whatever you want.” “I think we should. We can skip the bunny and start with the green runs. And I like being able to jump to the front of the line. What are you drinking, Ty?” “Hot apple cider and Yukon Jack. Wanna taste?” CJ accepted the proffered mug and took a tentative sip. “Damn, that’s good. Here, Thiago, taste. You guys gotta order me one of those.” “Now, now, cuz. You know you ain’t old enough to drink.” “Fuck that! They don’t need to know my age. Travis! Over here!” CJ stood and waved at their instructor as he walked in the side door. Travis approached them with his bright smile shining. “Hey, guys.” The man seemed to be in a happy mood all the time. He dropped his knit hat and gloves on the table and removed his jacket before taking a seat. “Hmmm, no wonder you want another lesson with the cute instructor.” A smirking Randy stared at CJ and winked. “What’s up, Travis? I’m CJ’s cousin, Randy and this is my other half, Tyler.” “Hey man, just call me Ty. Our cousin and Thiago were telling us they had a blast with you this morning.” “I had fun with them. They’re athletic enough it was easy work. So, how big’s this group of yours and what made you come to Vail?” “Ummm, fourteen of us. My dads own a place here and we decided to celebrate my eighteenth birthday skiing since I’d never been before.” A flash of a frown crossed the ski instructor’s face. “You just said your dads and before that Randy introduced Ty as his other half. Are all of you gay?” “Nope, like half of us are.” CJ’s tone had grown defensive and he tensed up in case the good looking guy turned out to be homophobic. “Is that a problem?” Travis looked around the room for a moment before lowering his voice. “Definitely not a problem, dude. I’m not out to the world but I’m family too. I guess you and Thiago didn’t notice me checking you out.” “You are? You were?” CJ relaxed and smirked. “Well, waddaya know?” Thiago glanced up from the menu he was perusing and laughed. “Sorry, homie, but I’m one of the straight ones so don’t get any ideas.” “I won’t hold it against you, dude!” The instructor was now laughing out loud. “So, Thiago’s straight, Randy and Tyler are a couple, and your dads are obviously taken. That leaves you, eh, CJ?” “CJ!” Owen’s appearance at their side and the kiss he gave CJ on the cheek elicited chuckles from the Chicago cousins and Thiago. “Perfect timing, Ozzie. Join us.” Randy motioned toward the empty seat next to him. “This is Travis. He was the instructor assigned to CJ and Thiago this morning. He wants to spend time with us this afternoon.” “G’day, mate.” The cheerful smile on Owen’s lips faded when he saw the guy frown. “Hey! Nice to meetcha man. I’m guessing CJ’s also taken. Damn!” “What’s going on?” Owen ignored the offered seat and took the one next to his boyfriend instead. “You may have just interrupted my attempt to pick up CJ. He was telling me about your group and that half of you were gay. I thought I’d put the moves on him but I’m guessing the two of you are a couple.” Owen draped a possessive arm around CJ’s shoulders and pulled him into his body. “You better believe it, mate. He’s mine! But you may have a chance with Ethan. He’s kinda single.” “Kinda?” CJ couldn’t hold back his chuckles any longer. “Sorry, Travis, but Owen’s my boyfriend. We’ve been together for over a year and I don’t see that changing. And about Ethan? Our friend Sean may have something to say about that.” “Those two can’t figure out what the bloody hell they are.” Owen shook his head and reached for a menu. “Anyway, I don’t think anyone else is joining us for lunch. I saw a couple of the guys munching on power bars ready to stay outside. I think Harley may want to eat real food but that boy’s not stopped since his board hit the snow.” “CJ!” “Speak of the devil.” CJ recognized Harley’s voice. He nudged Travis with an elbow and turned around to watch his friend approach. “Get ready, Travis. This is another one of our friends and he’s known for talking.” Harley bent over and wrapped his arms around CJ, giving him a warm hug. “Bruh! This is frickin’ insane. Thank you! I haven’t had this much fun since the trip to Sturgis with my Dad. And your little brother’s sick! He’s out there carving snow like he’s been doing it all his life. He said to tell you he loves you but he’s skipping lunch and staying on the mountain. Said not to worry and that he’d see you later. And that Thiago, Chipper and I were to take our spot as your brothers until tonight. Ha! Oh, oh, oh, and you should have seen the spill Ethan took. He wouldn’t move at first. We thought he’d snapped something. But Cap helped him up and nothing was broke. You should have heard your dad: ‘Come on, pussy. Get up! Stop being a wimp! Broken bones heal. Guys dig scars. Glory’s forever.’ We were all laughing so hard and―” “HARLEY!” A couple of the other guys came in and joined them for lunch before they all returned to the slopes. But not before Owen grabbed CJ and laid a kiss on him which left the younger guy smiling and feeling his cheeks flush. The Aussie shot Travis a look right before he locked lips with his boyfriend. The ski instructor smiled, there was no mistaking the possessive way Owen mauled CJ in front of everyone saying he didn’t give a “bloody fuck” if the entire world found out they were gay and together. • • • Feeding fourteen men, half of them teenagers, was not an easy task. Their first night's meal was several store-bought rotisserie chickens the management company had purchased for them along with a variety of pre-made salads. For their second meal together, Brett planned to grill burgers and hot dogs to go along with canned tomato soup. In the parking lot behind the lodge, the group divided amongst those with an urge to get back to the house and those wanting to stop at the grocery store to pick up odds and ends they couldn’t live without. Ethan wanted unflavored gelatin and small cardboard cups. CJ had a few things he’d failed to request but needed in order to make breakfast one morning, and Brett, Owen, and Rod slipped into the liquor store next door with their own list of things to buy. Back at the house, there was a lot of pointing, laughing, and rude remarks about shrinkage when each man stripped naked in the freezing air before stumbling into the hot tub later that evening. CJ sat between Brad and Chipper, still talking about their day, when Harley walked outside, stripped and joined them. He slipped in next to Thiago and sat facing the other three guys. “What the fuck, homie? When the hell did you get this?” Thiago placed a hand on his friend’s back and pushed him around so the other guys could see. “Check it out. The fucker got inked and didn’t tell us about it!” Harley chuckled but allowed himself to rotate so the tattoo across his shoulders could be seen. In bold, Old English letters, he’d had his name tattooed above the outline of the Harley-Davidson company bar and shield logo. “I did it on Saturday. It’s still tender and I’m probably not supposed to be in this water with all the chemicals. But fuck it, the hot water feels real good on my sore legs.” “Can I touch it?” Owen had slipped into the tub on the other side of Harley, and after receiving a nod ran a hand over the still puffy design. “Mate, how bad did it hurt?” “Bruh, it was a bitch! I know I want more but it’s going to be a while. I don’t know how Cap has made it through all the tats he has. I want to talk to him and maybe get some suggestions about what to get next.” CJ shook his head in disbelief. “Damn, Harley, I’m jealous. And here I thought I’d be the only one out of the group getting inked. What with one of my dads having so much of it.” “I wouldn’t bet on it, CJ. My dad has even more ink than Uncle Brett and I plan on getting some.” Brad reached over and fingered the art on his friend’s back. “What are you putting inside the HD logo?” Harley was shivering, his body half in the tub, half outside. “Can I get back in? It’s frickin’ freezing out here. It’s colder than a Packers game at Lambeau Field in December.” He slid under the water until just his nose and the top of his head were visible. He blew bubbles in the water before raising his head and leaning back. “Not sure yet. I’m gonna wait until it’s healed and then decide.” • • • The following morning, the guys were a tad slower getting up but after breakfast they were all itching to get back out on the snow. Owen decided he wanted to try skiing instead of snowboarding and spent the morning with CJ, Thiago, and Travis. The instructor had other students in the afternoon so he left the travelers when they broke for lunch. As they said goodbye, CJ palmed a one hundred dollar bill and pressed it into the man’s hand. “That’s a tip from all of us, Travis. Thanks for being so great.” “What’d you slip the stud, cuz? Your phone number?” Randy’s comment made CJ swivel around so fast he almost slipped on the icy surface. “Don’t be a dipshit, Randy. Dad told me to tip him so I gave him some money, okay? Don’t go starting any trouble.” “Stop picking on my boyfriend, mate.” Owen had walked behind CJ and wrapped his arms around his guy. “He doesn’t need to give out his number to anyone, he has me.” Thiago stood with his arms crossed, watching his buddy smile as he leaned back against the Aussie. “Okay, time to break it up! None of these public displays in front of the straight boy.” The five chuckling men walked into the restaurant, spotted Brett and Chipper sitting at a table, and joined them for lunch. Randy and Tyler asked for the keys to one of the vans and explained they wanted to run an errand in the afternoon and planned on skipping the slopes. They said something about visiting the Native Roots Dispensary located outside the city’s limits and looking for herbs to help them all relax and reduce aches and pains. In the evening, demand for a spot in the hot tub was higher than the previous night. Complaints about sore muscles were heard from most of the guys and they ended up taking turns in the warm, bubbling water. Even so, it was crowded later on and Tyler ended up sitting between Randy’s legs while CJ did the same with Owen. “My cousins have a surprise for you, Harley.” CJ winked at the couple from Chicago and chuckled. “They skipped skiing this afternoon and went shopping instead.” “Yeah? Did you buy me something?” Harley’s innocent question made CJ and Owen laugh. “Yeah, we have something for you to suck on!” Tyler’s suggestive comment elicited groans from the other guys. Harley was silent. No response came from the verbose guy who seemed lost as he glanced back and forth between CJ and his cousin. He was definitely freaking out a little. “Don’t be an ass, Ty. That’s my buddy you’re picking on.” CJ somehow managed to get the words out between bouts of laughter. “Give him the damn lollipop.” Ty reached for the sweatpants he’d dropped on the deck and retrieved a plastic sandwich bag with several items in it. “Here you go, bud.” He handed Harley a cellophane wrapped sucker while trying to hide the bag’s remaining contents behind his hand. “Hope you like THC-infused lime.” “A weed lolli? Mate, that’s awesome. No smoke to give away what’s going on.” “You’re right, Ozzie.” Tyler dangled the bag he’d been concealing above the guys, all of them looking up trying to figure out what it contained. “We have more candy but we also have stuff to perfume the air. What do you guys wanna try first: Pineapple Kush or Durban Haze?” • • • “Morning, CJ.” Ritchie walked in the kitchen yawning and rubbing his eyes. He walked around the counter, went to give his brother a kiss, and came to an abrupt halt. He looked CJ up and down and shook his head. “What are you wearing?” CJ looked at himself, plucking the fabric of the red, one-piece garment. “This? It’s called a Union Suit. Ozzie gave it to me for Christmas.” CJ twirled around; the rear panel of his apparel flapping where he’d failed to button one corner. “You like?” “Oh my god, your butt’s showing! And you have hair all over it!” “Yep, that’s me. Hairy butt. But that’s okay ’cause Ozzie likes it.” “Well, I’m glad someone does. Yuck! What are you doing? Need any help?” “Yeah! I can use a hand. You remember the Paula Deen cookbook I bought last summer in Savannah?” “Yeah, you cooked something from it before.” “I’m using it again. I scanned the recipe before we left home.” CJ pointed at his tablet’s screen sitting atop the counter. “I’m making breakfast for everyone. French toast casserole and praline bacon. You could peel and slice fruit if you want to pitch in.” Over the next hour, while CJ assembled three separate pans of the breakfast concoction, others drifted in while he worked. Some grumbled about waking up too early or their sore muscles; others were ready to go and wanted to hurry the meal. Rod stood behind the counter, sipping coffee and watching his cousin prep. “I haven’t been around all of you like this in a while. I think the last time we were all together was when we went out on the boat.” “That was fun!” “We always have a good time whenever we go out on the PP.” “I’m hoping we get to do it again next year.” Rod listened to the reactions with a smile. “One of the things we talked about then was what plans you guys had for after graduation. At least now we know CJ will be at Georgetown. Fucker was all secretive back in September.” “Hey! Not fair! I wasn’t even sure back then.” “Sure you were. So what made you decide?” “Ozzie and Ritchie.” CJ looked at his brother and boyfriend in turn. “First, I discarded Yale and Miami because they were too far away. Then I thought about Penn in Philadelphia and Columbia in New York since they’re both close enough to DC. But figured I wouldn’t get to go home every weekend and I didn’t want to be away from either one.” “Awww, ain’t that sweet?” “Cough, dick whipped, cough.” “CJ’s like: Screw the parents, I don’t care about them. It’s just Ozzie and Ritchie I’d miss.” CJ looked up and smiled before raising his middle finger. “Assholes.” Rod waited until the ribbing died down before continuing. “Are you going to live in the dorms?” “Fuck no! Why would I want to live in the dorms? I’d have to share a room with who-knows-what type of guy. You know I’m going to be out. No way I’m hiding in the closet. And if the guy’s a homophobe, I may have to beat the crap out of him. Plus, having a roommate means I may get sexiled if he wants to get laid.” “Yeah, right. He’d probably be the one getting kicked out of the room every night so Ozzie can visit.” César and Brett shared frequent looks while the conversation flowed; they remained quiet and appeared to enjoy the banter until Brett asked a question. “What about you, Chipper? Still planning on Juilliard?” “Maybe… Application’s been sent in including my audition tape. Now I need to wait and see if they schedule me for a live one. But the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami may be where I end up.” CJ was surprised. “Really? You hadn’t mentioned that before.” “I did a lot of research and Miami may be a better match for me. Juilliard’s jazz program is instrumental only―no voice. And it’s pretty old-school. Think Wynton Marsalis if you know who that is. He actually directs the Juilliard jazz program. Plus, they would want me to concentrate on just one instrument for the entire time. The fact that I play several would probably be considered a negative. I spoke with somebody who suggested that might be seen as a sign I’m not serious enough about one instrument to focus and achieve the highest levels of artistry.” “Are you playing for us this week?” Ritchie asked. “You brought your guitar but it’s still in the case.” “Yeah, I’ll whip it out tonight.” Rod finished chewing the mouthful of French toast he’d shoved in his mouth before picking up the conversation again. “Cool, I enjoy listening to you. Maybe Thiago can sing while you play. What about you, Brad? You made up your mind about what you going to do yet?” “Yeah, kinda…” The redhead glanced around the table smirking; so far his brother, dads, and CJ were the only ones aware of his plans. “I’m going to bum around the whole summer. I want to go to Boston for a week or so. But then I plan on being in Washington the rest of the time.” “Yeah, but that’s only a couple of months. What about after?” “I’m enlisting. I wanna join the Army.” “What?” “Really?” “Why?” “Because I can’t see myself going to school right away. Because I want to do the same thing my dad did. And because it seems like the right thing to do anyway. Maybe I’ll be the one to put a bullet in a Muslim who wants to blow up a plane or something.” Rod nodded at Bradley while chewing away at his food. “You may end up stationed in the US, Brad. Just because you enlist doesn’t mean you’ll go to the Middle East. And the US has men and women stationed all over the world. You could wind up in Korea, Germany, or who knows where. What about you, Harley? What’s your plan?” “I’m moving to Florida.” Harley’s smile was big enough its brightness could have lit up a dark room. “If Chipper ends up in Miami we’ll be able to see each other all the time.” “What?” “When?” “Where?” “Why?” Still smiling, Harley looked at CJ, who once again was the only one who knew his plans. “Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando. I want to be a bike tech and work for a Harley dealership. As for when, I’m going to Wisconsin over spring break and bringing my bike back to Washington. I’ll spend the summer there and ride to school in the fall. It’ll be like two years and then I want to go back to DC.” “Did you hear that, Ozzie?” CJ asked. “Once Harley’s down there we’re gonna have to do stopovers in Orlando whenever we go to Miami. And if Chipper does go to UM we’ll see him even more!” “Hell, when Harley moves back we’ll have our own mechanic to work on the bikes. You’ll take care of them for us, right, mate?” “You bet! And you and CJ have to come visit in March when I’m there. We’ll be able to hit Daytona Bike Week!” Once breakfast was finished and the kitchen cleaned, the guys got ready for the day. The dads had made reservations for the entire group to go snowmobiling. With snow falling, the men ventured out from the rental place with two guides bracketing them. They rode to the top of a nearby mountain where they posed for pictures in front of a sign for the Continental Divide indicating the altitude. “What’s the big deal with this divide thing, Mr. A?” Ritchie’s question made César grin but before he could answer Brett jumped in. “It means rivers flowing in one direction empty into the Atlantic and the ones going the opposite way end up in the Pacific. So if you pee up in the air right here, half will end up in one ocean and the other half in the other one.” “Jarhead! You’re such an asshole.” César shook his head while the others roared. In a quieter voice he added, “But he’s right, buddy.” • • • Thursday was the last day of the year and the guys woke up excited about the upcoming celebration. They hit the slopes early but by lunchtime most of them were ready to quit for the day. Some wanted a nap, others time in the hot tub. César and Ethan wanted time in the kitchen to prepare. “Okay, we’re out. The pot heads can take over the hot tub.” Patrick’s comment made Ritchie giggle as both ran inside and huddled in front of the fireplace. The two youngest members of the group had called dibs on the hot bubbling waters as soon as they’d returned. “Harley! Let’s go, bud, we’re up. Ty already rolled a couple for us.” Randy strolled towards the sliding glass doors as his boyfriend, Chipper, and Harley followed him. When Ritchie returned from getting dressed, the four guys outside were enveloped in a cloud of smoke. He sat next to his brother at the kitchen table and they both stared at their friends. “I wonder how much of that is frozen breath and how much is smoke from the joints going around.” CJ elbowed his brother while smirking. “Thanks for being so cool about this, bro.” “No problem. Patrick and I don’t like the smell and you did ask me not to try the stuff.” César looked up from the onions he was slicing for the pot of chili on the stove. “Just for now, Ritchie. CJ asked you on behalf of me and Brett. We’d prefer if you didn’t start just quite yet. Once you’re a little older, you can make a decision on your own.” “It’s okay, Mr. A. I know you and the captain are looking out for me. I know a couple of kids at school who smoke pot and they’re kinda funny. I think they smoke too much. Sometimes you can tell they’re a little high.” “The dads always say moderation’s the key, bro. Like, I’m not allowed to smoke during the week when I have school the next day. And that’s cool. I like the feeling when I do, but I think it’d be boring if I did it every day.” “What are you making, Ethan?” Ritchie wiggled in his seat and adjusted his groin watching the man stir powder from a stack of envelopes into the pot he had on the burner. “Champagne Jell-O shots for tonight.” “What’s in them? Can I try one when they’re ready?” Ritchie once again adjusted himself as he asked the question. Ethan glanced at César and received a nod from the man. “As long as your dads say it’s okay. But they won’t be ready for a couple of hours. They need to chill and get hard first.” The emphasis on hard earned him a whack on the butt by César. “Anyway, it’s unflavored gelatin, ginger ale, champagne, and vodka. Once they’re set I’ll take them out of the cups, put them on a plate, and sprinkle them with sugar.” “Hey, Ritchie, why do you keep groping yourself?” Owen sat on CJ’s other side, sipping champagne; he and CJ had poured themselves a glass when Ethan started opening bottles. “You know something? Just ’cause you keep pulling on it doesn’t mean it’s gonna get bigger, mate.” “Fuck you, Ozzie,” the boy replied, glancing at César who ignored the cussing and chuckled. “These long johns are uncomfortable when you sit down. And I don’t need it to grow, it’s big enough already. You’re gonna pay for that crack.” CJ almost fell from the stool he was laughing so hard. “You tell him, bro!” Five minutes before 10:00 p.m., Ethan walked into the den where the group had gathered to watch TV after devouring their meal. He carried a tray with fourteen of the Jell-O shots he had prepared earlier. “Okay guys, round one. It’s almost midnight on the east coast. You get one each when the ball drops in Times Square.” “What if I want more than one?” Brad’s question earned him a head slap from Patrick. “Stop being a lush, Bradley. I thought you were done with the getting drunk shit.” “Hey! Just because I don’t drink all the time doesn’t mean I can’t get a little tipsy on special occasions.” “Relax, Red, I made plenty.” Ethan placed the tray on the large coffee table and sat on the floor next to it. “Figured we’d do a round now, another one when it’s midnight in the Central Time Zone, and then I’ll bring the rest out when it gets close to twelve here.” At the stroke of midnight in New York, a shout of Happy New Year echoed throughout the house. CJ bit into the concoction he was holding and then held it in his mouth until Owen lowered his head and their lips met. They passed it back and forth while getting heckled by their friends. The process was repeated an hour later as the broadcast from New Orleans showed partiers on Bourbon Street and then again as the TV network broadcast images from Denver. CJ didn’t think the amount of vodka and champagne in the dessert-like things were enough to get any of them drunk but he noticed Ritchie wouldn’t stop grinning. After kissing Owen, he leaned in to whisper in his brother’s ear. “Happy New Year, bro. I’m glad we get to celebrate together.” While everyone else hugged and cheered, Ritchie turned towards his brother. “Me too, CJ. At least this year we didn’t get bad phone calls and you get to be with Ozzie.” There was an evil look on the boy’s face when he hugged the Aussie. “I think you might get lucky tonight, Ozzie. Careful you don’t get pregnant.” Thiago was hugging CJ at that point and started choking on his shot. “Damn, Ritchie. You shouldn’t say things like that when I’m trying to eat my drink. And you may have missed class the day they explained where babies come from. No chance these two can produce one.” “Sure they can! They can have a butt sex baby. Problem’s they always grow up to become lawyers.” Ritchie might have been a little extra happy and sharp-witted because of the shots. The laughter and cheering increased while Owen shook his head. “Go fuck a roo, Ritchie.” “Nah, that’s okay, big brother. I’m too old to wear Underoos.” “Okay, stop picking on my boyfriend, bro.” CJ leaned in to give a Ozzie a kiss. “I love you, mate. Don’t let them bother you.” He stopped before their lips made contact. The sudden silence was deafening. He looked around the room; his dads were smiling and his brother covered his mouth with a napkin, partially muffling his giggles. “What? I can’t help it if a little Oztrayan’s gotten in me. You spend all your time around Ozzie like I do and you’ll be saying mate too.” “A little Oztrayan, mate? You’ve never complained before.” Owen’s grin and comment elicited peals of laughter from the other guys. “TMI, TMI!” “I don’t think mate’s what surprised everybody, CJ. You just used the L word.” Ritchie was still giggling. CJ stared at him in disbelief. “Yeah? I guess I did. You know something? It’s the truth. I think I fell in love with him the moment I met him. Even if it took me forever to admit it and get my shit together. Y’all can go to hell if you can’t deal with it, okay? And if you think it’s all going to be glitter, rainbows, and unicorn farts from here on out, you’re sadly mistaken. This ain’t a Harlequin romance, you know?” CJ stared into Owen’s eyes and spoke to him while the rest of the group stared, some with their mouths hanging open. “I don’t want this to end, Ozzie. You give off this energy, this electricity that turns my switches on. Baby, you’re everything I need!”
  6. 58 likes
    February 2016 “CJ!” “Bloody hell. Again?” Owen smirked before closing his eyes and shaking his head. He and CJ were at The Tombs, having dinner with Levi and Ezra. “Is he in trouble?” Ezra spoke perfect English with what CJ had already described as a sexy accent. The Israeli man was in the United States for a month visiting Levi. “I don’t think so. More like he’s popular.” This was the first time Levi socialized with CJ and Owen outside a large group. “Every time he’s been to our office he seems to know everyone and they all know him by name. And the comments I’ve heard from Dr. Harding, Dr. Calhoun, and our head nurse, Helen, make it sound as if it’s the same wherever he goes.” Owen leaned back in his chair and watched CJ stand. “You have no idea, mate. We were in New York and went to a gym down in Chelsea. We show up to work out, and the owner of the place and one of his personal trainers did the same thing. Whenever CJ walks in, somebody knows him and yells out his name.” “Shut it, Ozzie. It ain’t that bad, Ezra. Plus, my boyfriend happens to know this guy too.” CJ hugged the good looking young man who had shouted his name. The guy dressed conservatively in khakis and a button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up half-way up his muscular forearms. “How the hell are you, Spike? I haven’t seen you in ages. Sit down. Wanna join us for dinner?” “Sorry, can’t. I’m meeting friends for drinks. How are you, Owen? Did I hear CJ call you his boyfriend? Have you finally made an honest man out of him?” “Hey, mate. Not sure about the honest part but I’m trying.” Spike glanced at the other two guys at the table and extended his hand. “Sorry for interrupting, guys. I’m Jacob Cruz but everyone calls me Spike. What’s―” “My bad! I’m being rude.” CJ shook his head and then pointed at the couple sitting across from him and Owen. Spike, this is Levi Olken, a friend of ours. The good looking guy is Ezra, he’s visiting from Israel.” “Oh, wow. I’ve always wanted to visit Israel. Mom has talked enough about the summer she spent in a kibbutz while she was in high school. One of these days—” “You’re Jewish? I didn’t know that.” CJ was surprised he’d never heard about Spike’s mother before. He knew Spike was half-Cuban but had no idea his family was Jewish. Spike reached for an empty chair from a nearby table and pulled it close. “May as well sit with you guys to wait. So yeah, Dad’s Cuban and I guess Catholic. And Mom’s Jewish. But neither one’s religious. Anyway, that’s how I got my nickname.” “What do you mean?” Owen looked confused. “Well, I’m half-spic and half-kike so I became Spike. A teammate in high school started it and it stuck.” “Geez, Spike, not the most politically correct nickname.” CJ may have shaken his head in disbelief but he couldn’t stop chuckling. “Dude, you’re not going to believe this but I’ll be a freshman at the School of Foreign Service next fall. I took your advice!” “Fuck, that’s awesome!” Spike raised a hand and high-fived CJ. “I have your e-mail address. I’ll send you some info on professors. There’s a couple you should try and avoid.” “Cool! That would be great. So, how’s the State Department treating you?” Spike stood and waved in the direction of the entrance. “Gotta go, my friends are here. I’m not with the State Department, CJ. Here’s my card. I’ll email you and we’ll make plans to get together. I may have some thoughts about where you can work after graduation. Owen, great seeing you again. Levi, Ezra, good meeting you guys. Hope you enjoy your time in Washington, Ezra.” “Damn!” CJ stared at the business card as Spike walked away, his eyes wide open in surprise. “Fucker’s at the CIA!” “Great! First he talks you into going to Georgetown and the SFS, now he’s going to convince you to become a spy.” Owen’s comment and eye roll earned him an elbow from CJ. “Don’t start, Ozzie. I don’t want to hear it. I haven’t even registered for classes yet!” Ezra’s eyes jumped back and forth between CJ and Owen, a confused look on his face. “How old are you, CJ?” “Eighteen. My birthday was last month.” “Wow! I thought you were older. That’s how old Levi and I were when we joined the IDF.” “What’s that?” Owen opened the menu and peered at Ezra across the top of it. “The Israeli Defense Force. Our military.” CJ looked at the dark-haired guy in surprise. “You served in the army with Levi? But I thought you were Palestinian and Christian.” “I am. But I’m an Israeli citizen. Arabs make up twenty percent of the country’s population.” “I didn’t know that.” CJ waited for their server to take their order before continuing. “So tell me about Israel. I’d love to visit one day.” “You would like my country. It’s old and modern at the same time. There’s history, there’s great beaches, the architecture―” “Ha! If you say there’s good architecture, my boyfriend’s going to book a bloody flight tonight.” “Hush! No razzing allowed. Go on, Ezra. Ozzie picks on me because I love architecture. I dragged him around all over Australia looking at buildings.” “I live in Tel Aviv. It’s a modern city with beautiful high rises and modern architecture. Jerusalem’s over 3,000 years old and some of the buildings are almost as old. Although there’s a lot of new construction, Old Jerusalem has streets and alleys paved in stones from Roman days. And of course there’s lots of old churches. Some built during the crusades, some even older.” “I’m not religious so the churches would only interest me from a historical point of view.” “Well, you should come visit. Levi goes back every summer to see his family and you could go with him. I work as a tour guide for American and European tourists. I would be happy to show you around.” • • • Two days later on Super Bowl Sunday, the house on Prospect Street was filled with young men ready to enjoy the game. CJ’s Squad was out in full force, and he and Owen had invited a handful of the Aussie’s fellow George Mason School of Law students and some of his teammates on the Washington Scandals Rugby Football Club. César and Brett had also invited their group of friends and all but Danno and Trip―who were busy with the crowd at Rogo’s Bar & Grill―showed up. CJ had convinced his fathers to host the party instead of going to Rogo’s. He even offered to pay for the catering; he had accumulated a healthy balance in his checking account which he did not need in December since his dads footed the bill for the trip to Colorado. “Stop it, dads!” He’d walked upstairs to fill an ice bucket and found Tank sitting between his dads on the living room couch, with the pre-game show muted on the TV. “You’ve met him already. You don’t have to interrogate my friends, you know? Sorry, Tank. They get a little over protective now and then and insist on playing twenty questions with anyone my brother or I invite to the house.” “It’s okay, CJ. I don’t mind. Your dads were just trying to find out if I was really gay and if I wanted to spend the night with them.” “WHAT?” Brett was the first one to crack and start laughing with César and Tank quickly joining in. CJ stared at them, closed his mouth, and shook his head. “Papa put you up to that, didn’t he?” “Sorry, bud. But he did say you'd react just the way you did. And anyway, he’s an officer so I had to obey him.” “Not bad, swabbie. Not bad at all.” Brett high-fived the young man sitting next to him. “Too bad you had to join a secondary service. I get the feeling you would have made a kick-ass marine.” Forgetting about his errand, a smirking CJ approached the men on the couch. “And why would he want to be a marine instead of a sailor, Papa?” Knowing his father, CJ was certain to elicit a smart assed remark from him. “Well, you know what they say: ‘the United States Marine Corps, when it absolutely, positively must be destroyed overnight.’ Or something to that effect.” “Yeah, right. Sure. Anyway, leave my friend alone. Tank, Brad was looking for you. He wants to ask you some questions.” “Me? About what?” “You’re the one around here who went through basic training most recently. He’s enlisting after high school and wants an idea of what to expect.” CJ gave Brett an evil look while a pleasant smile formed on his face. “His dad and mine are so old they prolly don’t even remember what the heck they went through.” “Hey! Tom’s old but I’m not. I remember it all!” “Whatever, Papa. What… ever.” The golden anniversary edition of the National Football League’s championship was being held at Levi’s Stadium, home to the San Francisco 49ers, in Santa Clara, California. At half-time, the Denver Broncos―the American Football Conference champions―led the National Football Conference representatives, the Carolina Panthers, by a score of 13-7. Moments before the break in play after the second quarter, there was a mad rush to use the bathrooms. All seven were used but the half-bath with the urinal downstairs proved to be the most popular one. “Check it out, Chipper! Chris Martin’s wearing a Global Citizen shirt.” CJ pumped his arm in the air while shouting. The lead singer for British band Coldplay started the show on one knee to the side of the mid-field stage and had jumped on it while hundreds of people stormed the field and surrounded the band. “Oh, man. If we’d known that we could have worn ours.” Chipper had rushed over to bump fists with CJ when his name was called. “We should totally go back for this year’s.” Ritchie, sitting on the floor next to his brother, looked up at the two older teens. “What’s Global Citizen, guys?” “It’s a music festival organized by a great non-profit organization, bro”―CJ draped an arm around his brother while moving to the beat of the music―“dedicated to fighting all sorta problems facing the world.” “They work on improving the environment, equality for women and girls, better educational opportunities, and a bunch of other projects.” Chipper was still up, dancing to “Viva La Vida,” singing along when not talking to Ritchie. “They have this yuuuge concert in Central Park every year. You can’t buy tickets. You have to earn them by completing projects to help their programs.” “So have you guys been to it?” Ritchie’s head swiveled back and forth between CJ, Chipper, and the TV. “Chipper’s been there a couple of times. We went with a few friends a couple of years ago. I’ll have to look at my schedule and figure out if we can make it this year. I’m gonna be busy with political stuff around that time. Plus starting school. So I’m not sure if I can make it this fall.” Although the TV upstairs was tuned to the game, the majority of guests congregated in the basement to watch the show. When Bruno Mars took the stage and was then joined by Beyoncé in a duet of his song “Uptown Funk,” the younger set was up and dancing. “You can tell they’re in the Bay area.” César elbowed JP to get his attention. “Check out all the rainbow flags, tie-dye shirts, and flowers. It’s like a 1960’s flashback.” “Mate, I just can’t believe how far we’ve come. Those are actual rainbow flags, not just the colors, at a bloody Super Bowl. Way to go, NFL!” César grew quiet when clips from previous half-time performances began scrolling on the screen. One of the first ones was of Bruce Springsteen sliding across the stage and CJ immediately looked at his father. When moments later the screen showed Springsteen and the late Clarence Clemons back-to-back silhouetted against a white background, CJ knew it was a bittersweet moment for his father. César had raved often enough about the chemistry between The Boss and The Big Man. When he looked around again, his dad wasn’t standing in the same spot any longer. CJ realized where his father had gone when a fraction of a second after the show ended and commercials came on, the sound system in the house blared the opening bars of “Thunder Road” at maximum volume. • • • “Campeón!” Sebastián Abelló stood in front of the restaurant with his arms open, inviting CJ in for a hug. “Hi, Abuelo. Where’s everyone else?” “Inside. Drinking.” The man had already fixed his sight on Ritchie when he replied, holding his arms open once again. “Come here, Ritchie. How about a hug for me?” The boy smiled and wrapped his arms around the much taller man’s torso. “Hi, Mr. Abelló.” “It’s great to see you, buddy. But we need to do something about this Mr. Abelló thing. You make me feel like a stranger when you call me that.” “I… I…” The boy looked at his brother and received a wink from a grinning CJ. “Would it be okay if I call you abuelo too?” “Of course it’s okay. And I think you better start calling Rosario abuela. We’d both really like that. You too, Owen. You’re as much a part of this family as Ritchie. I mean, you’re still around even though I’m not sure how you put up with CJ.” CJ put his hands on his waist and glared at his grandfather. “Hey! Don’t you start picking on me, old man.” “I’ll give you old man. Where are Rod and that beautiful girl of his?” “He drove us from the airport and since our luggage’s in the rental car, he didn’t want to valet. He and Taisha went to park and the dads went with them. There they are.” CJ pointed down the sidewalk towards the two couples approaching them. The group now surrounding the elder Abelló left Washington in late afternoon and after landing in Chicago, had driven to the restaurant were both grooms’ families were gathering for dinner. “Hi, Papi. Is everyone else inside?” César gave his father a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Yes. Let me say hello to my other grandson and his girlfriend and I’ll be in.” The man grasped Brett’s hand and pulled him in for a hug too. “How the hell are you, rubio?” “Doing well, Sebastián. Doing well.” CJ followed his brother and boyfriend inside the restaurant and was quickly enveloped in his uncle Rico’s arms. He had a feeling the evening was going to be a hugfest. Rico repeated the greeting with Owen but he held Ritchie by the shoulders and stared him up and down. “You’ve grown, buddy! What the heck are they feeding you? You’re taller than you were when we last saw you over Thanksgiving.” Ritchie blushed and giggled. “Yeah, I’ve gotten taller. The dads had to buy me a new suit for this weekend. The other one looked real funny when I put it on. The pants and the sleeves were real short.” “Damn, it’s cold outside!” Brett was removing his overcoat, standing in front of the coat check area. “Why couldn’t these two get married in summer? Like normal people.” César was behind him and smacked the back of his head. “Quit bitching, Jarhead. Although you have a point. It’s colder here than it was in Colorado back in December. At least it isn’t snowing.” “That’s coming, Dad. Forecast says it’ll snow most of the day tomorrow. So where’s everybody else?” CJ peeked into the main dining room but didn’t recognize anyone. “They’re all upstairs. We have twenty people here tonight so we have a private room.” Rico offered his arm to Taisha after kissing her on both cheeks. “Come on, follow me.” Even though the temperature was frigid and it was a weeknight, Carmine’s was crowded. Its location on Chicago’s Rush Street may have had something to do with it. From previous visits to the city, CJ knew the street and surrounding ones were a haven for tourists and locals alike looking for nightlife. With a high concentration of bars and restaurants, the area attracted people year round. “CJ! Ozzie!” Randy and Tyler both shot out of their chairs when the new arrivals entered the room. CJ wasn’t sure which one called out to him and which one shouted Owen’s name. He and his boyfriend were smothered by the grooms before Randy and Tyler moved on to greet the rest of the group. An arm draped across CJ’s shoulders, Tyler steered him towards a group of people CJ had never met. “Hey, guys, I want you to meet CJ. You all know he’s Randy’s cousin and he’s one of my favorite Abellós.” “And what? The rest of us are chopped liver?” César stood behind his son, extending his arm to shake hands. “Hi, I’m César.” Introductions took a while to complete while a server walked around taking drink orders. Tyler’s parents, two grandfathers, one grandmother, a sister, and a younger brother had all heard about the Washington branch of the Abelló family and appeared to enjoy meeting the people they had been told about. CJ ended up sitting between Owen and Wesley Scott―Ty’s brother and one of two best men at the upcoming wedding―talking to them while trying to pay attention to the other conversations going on around him. César was talking with Tyler’s parents while Taisha and the groom’s sister apparently hit it off. Snippets of their comments about the Scotts and Abellós reached his ears and he assumed they were gossiping about the two families. “How’s your lamb chop?” CJ used a napkin to wipe his mouth before replying to Wes. “Awesome! But my favorite’s the roasted potatoes, carrots, and onions. I could eat a plate of the stuff by itself.” “Are you a closet vegetarian?” “Dude, really? You’re asking me if I’m in the closet about anything? I blew the hinges off the damn doors when I was fifteen!” Next to him, Owen started coughing and CJ reached over to pat his back. “You okay, Ozzie?” “Give me a minute, mate. Last bite went down the wrong way.” Owen leaned forward and looked at Wesley with a grin on his face. “CJ and closet don’t belong together in the same sentence, mate. I wasn’t around at the time but I’ve heard stories. My boyfriend came out to his entire high school a short time after he started his tenth grade. And he’s not looked back. When we were in Colorado in December, he made it a point to tell anyone who even smiled at me I was his boyfriend. Didn’t matter if it was a guy or a girl. He made sure they knew we were a couple.” “Jealous much, CJ?” Wesley’s laughter made a few of the relatives glance at him for a moment. “And speaking of Colorado, I’m pissed I wasn’t invited to your birthday party.” “Dude, I just met you! How the fuck was I supposed to invite you?” CJ shook his head and chuckled. He realized the three of them seemed to be having as much or more fun as the other guests. Their laughter was definitely louder. “I don’t give a shit! Hell, you should be inviting me to Washington and Miami too. Every time Ty goes anywhere you guys are, he comes back raving about what a great time he had.” “You do realize you’d end up hanging out with mostly gay men if you came to Washington, right?” “Really, CJ?’ Wesley looked around the table and you could tell he was counting the way he kept folding fingers over. “The way I see it, there’s at least six gay men at this table. That means over twenty-five percent. Tomorrow, my brother marries your male cousin and I’m Ty’s best man. Why the fuck do you think I’d care about how many gay guys went to Colorado or hang around your place in Washington.” “I… I don’t know.” CJ felt embarrassed and upset with himself. “I guess that was pretty stupid. I keep saying people shouldn’t care and here I am making a big deal because you’re willing to do exactly what I wish everyone would do. Sorry.” “Screw sorry. You make it up to me by inviting me to hang out sometime soon.” “How about we start tomorrow night? I hear a few of Randy’s and Ty’s friends are planning an outing to Boystown. It’ll prolly be all gay bars.” “Too late, bud. That invite doesn’t count. I’m already planning on going. And I understand you and your boyfriend won’t mind me bringing a little something something to smoke.” CJ’s face lit up and he raised his fist to bump with Wesley. “Fucking A!” • • • Brett pressed the elevator button for their floor and rested his head against the door after it closed. “I’m exhausted!” “What’s the problem, Papa? Old age catching up with you?” CJ’s snarky grin and comment earned him a pinch to the butt from Owen and elicited giggles from Ritchie. César just rolled his eyes and sighed. “Don’t pick on your father, mate.” Owen lowered his voice to a stage whisper. “He must have drunk at least a bottle by himself. He was pounding the wine like it was water.” “Screw both of you! You too, Ritchie. For giggling.” Brett jumped back when the doors to their floor opened. His surprised expression broke the dam and the rest of the guys gave in to laughter. The Park Hyatt on Michigan Avenue―a luxury boutique hotel―offered breathtaking views of Chicago and Ritchie couldn’t stop staring out the window of the sitting area. He and the dads were sharing a two bedroom suite while CJ and Owen had a separate room across the hallway. “Everything okay, buddy?” Brett stood behind the boy, staring at the twinkling city lights over Ritchie’s head. “Yes, sir. But I’m tired too.” “Well then, I guess it’s time to call it a night. Come knock on our door if you need anything, okay?” “Yes, sir. Good night, Captain.” Brett kissed the top of the kid’s head and walked to his own room, closing the door while taking off his shirt―the overcoat and jacket had already been discarded atop an armchair the moment they’d walked into the room. “How are you doing, Jarhead?” César was already stripped and in the process of carrying their toiletry bags to the bathroom. “Tired, very tired. I’m ready for sleep. Hey, what were you and Ty’s father talking about there at the end?” “He was complimenting me―us really―on how well behaved CJ and Ritchie are. And how much he’d enjoyed talking to them. He wanted to know how we’d gotten two teenagers to be so comfortable dealing with adults.” “So what’d you tell him?” “The usual… We treat them with respect. We’re always honest with them. And we make it clear we expect the same in return. And I admitted we couldn’t take all the credit. Although Lourdes and Rich may not have been the best of parents, they did some things right. Even though I’ve been part of CJ’s life since I found out about him, I wasn’t there on a day-to-day basis. His mother and step-father deserve a little praise.” “Not too much though. The guy was a dick.” “I’m going to take a shower, wanna join me?” “Yeah, give me a minute.” Brett was taking their suits out of the garment bag and hanging them in the closet. “We’re gonna have to iron out a few wrinkles on these suckers before the wedding.” “You can iron if you want. I suck at it. I’d rather have the hotel press them for us. Anyway, the other thing Mr. Scott mentioned was how mature CJ was for his age.” “You mean our curse? Having a kid who’s barely legal but acts like he’s our age?” “Yeah. I told him about how we’ve allowed CJ to travel alone. How we felt it was good for him to experience other people and places on his own. And how we would be doing the same with Ritchie as he gets older.” “That’s the way it should be. It’s a big planet out there, full of adventure. Being helicopter parents would leave the kids unprepared to face real world issues. Too many people put things on the shelf and wait to explore until they’re old. We’re lucky money’s not an issue with us. We can have our sons travel and experience things.” “I think even if we had no money we’d be doing the same, Jarhead. You don’t need to fly off to Australia or South Florida. As long as we get them out there, even day trips around Washington, dealing with different people is the best way for them to learn.” • • • Cold winds, snow, and single digit temperatures on Friday limited the amount of time the guys spent outdoors. The one thing Ritchie expressed an interest in doing was seeing Wrigley Field and Owen concurred. He had enjoyed the tour of Fenway Park in Boston and the games he had attended at Nationals Park in Washington. The Aussie had become a baseball fan in his short time in the United States. César and Brett decided to hang out with their sons and were joined by Rod and Taisha for the excursion to Boystown and the iconic baseball stadium. This was Taisha’s first trip to Chicago and she wanted to get a feel for the city. The visitors from Washington enjoyed lunch at The Signature Room at the 95th in the John Hancock Center but missed out on the customary great views due to an overcast sky and falling snow. “What are you doing tonight when the boys go out, Taisha?” César had come to like the woman a lot over the time she’d been working as Brett’s assistant. And the way she and his nephew related to each other made him think there would be another Abelló wedding in the foreseeable future. CJ listened to his father’s conversation while trying to also pay attention to Owen and Rod bringing up the rear. “I’m going out with Ty’s sister and a few of their girlfriends. What about you and the captain? Are you guys going out bar hopping with the boys?” “Nah… We don’t want Ritchie thinking we’re stuck with him and unable to party because of it.” CJ was walking behind his father and Taisha and smiled when he heard how concerned César was about not making Ritchie feel left out. “So we made it clear tonight was for the younger crowd. We’ll go out to dinner with Lynne, Rico, and my parents and then we’ll figure something out.” In the early evening, CJ and Owen caught the L back to Boystown and the house owned by Randy and Tyler. Rod and Wes, along with a handful of friends of the grooms met them there and the group braved the cold heading out to dinner. They returned to the brownstone to pre-party and someone broke out a couple of joints. Before heading out again to hit the bars, CJ texted his fathers, letting them know he and Owen might crash at his cousin’s place. In an exuberant mood, the group headed out an hour before midnight. They bar hopped until closing time with CJ’s fake ID passing muster without problem. By the end of the evening, even the straight guys had removed their shirts and were on the dance floor, gyrating to the music and enjoying themselves. When they at last called it a night, Owen collapsed on the bed and was asleep, still wearing his jeans and sweatshirt, before CJ had taken his clothes off. The younger man snuggled next to his boyfriend and was asleep before he realized it. • • • Ritchie tugged on CJ’s suit sleeve until his brother lowered his head close to his own. “This is weird. The weddings I went to with Mom and Dad were real different.” “How so?” “They have all these tables in here and I guess we get to sit first?” CJ glanced at the small cards in his hand, each one had a table number below their names. “Yep. And there’s our spot.” He pointed to where his dads and Taisha were already sitting. “But there’s like no aisle for the bride to walk down!” Ritchie’s innocent, surprised comment made CJ laugh. “For real, bro? And which one of them’s supposed to be the bride?” “Oh…” “That’s right, kiddo. No bride. Here, you can sit between me and Ozzie.” CJ pulled back a chair motioning with his head for his brother to take it. “Anyway, Randy and Ty explained what they were planning last night. They want their wedding to be different. Having the bride walk down the aisle with her dad’s an old tradition. Dating back to when a father gave his daughter away to another man. They said since neither one of them was a piece of property to be handed over, they didn’t want to do anything implying one of them was inferior to the other one. Like when a woman admits she belongs to her dad and accepts being passed to her husband-to-be.” “Watch it, buster! I may want to walk down the aisle the day I get married but that doesn’t mean I belong to either my father or the groom.” No doubt Taisha was listening to the conversation. “But now you got me thinking I may want to do it by myself.” Brett chuckled at her comment. “Crap! Now your family’s going to think we screwed up your mind.” “I don’t think so, Captain. They already know I have a mind of my own. You should have seen their reaction when I cussed out one of my cousins at a family gathering. The jerk made a comment about me being a traitor ’cause I’m dating Rod and he’s not black.” “Jeez! In this day and age? My friend Thiago had a similar problem with his old girlfriend. She complained all his friends were white. So, what did you say?” CJ shook his head in disbelief. “CJ, you’re growing up in a family that doesn’t care about skin color, social standing, or sexual orientation. You’re lucky. But prejudice’s alive and well in America. You hear it from political candidates, hidden in generic comments. All you have to do’s pay attention to the crap coming out of the orange Teletubby’s mouth or some of his fellow Republicans. You hear it straight forward from people like my cousin. And don’t even get me started on social media. Anyway, I said I wanted an apology on the spot or I was walking out. And I swore I’d never go back if the rest of the family allowed racists like my cousin around.” CJ extended his arm in front of his dads to bump fists with the woman. “Way to go, Taisha!” The actual ceremony was short, Randy and Tyler had written a joint vow and the minister from the Metropolitan Community Church guided them through it. Wesley and Rodney stood with their brothers serving as best men. After pronouncing them married, but before inviting the grooms to kiss, the minister asked everyone in the room to stand and raise a glass in a toast to the newly wedded couple. While loud applause and cheering rang throughout the banquet hall, the sound of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” coming from the speakers placed around the room brought even larger smiles to the two men. It was the song they’d selected for their first dance. • • • “How you feeling, Oz?” CJ kicked off his shoes and hung up his coat while Owen headed for the bathroom. They’d decided to skip the after-hours club most of the gay men at the ceremony had headed to when the party was over. “Pretty good. I noticed you didn’t do a lot of drinking tonight either.” Owen shouted to be heard above the toilet flushing. “Last night was enough for me. What’d you think of the whole thing?” “I liked it. And I liked the way you explained the differences from traditional weddings to Ritchie. I agree with you. It’s silly for gay men to follow conventions which make no sense for them.” “Hell, even Taisha agreed with me. I think when she and Rod get married it’ll be a different type of event too.” “You think they’ll end up getting married?” “Oh, please. Those two will be married and she’ll be spitting out kids before the end of the year.” “I sure hope so! It’ll be fun to have a baby in the family.”
  7. 57 likes
    Ripped—Part 3 Chapter 13 —Declan— "What do you want, Declan?" Bailey had demanded. Declan tried to think of what he could say to Bailey after all the selfish things he'd said, thought, and imagined after their first 'meeting' in the weight room. 'I'm sorry' didn't seem like the right thing, so he ended up standing there staring at Bailey instead. Apparently, Bailey didn't think Declan was worth his time, as he yanked off the sweatbands from his wrists with a shake of his head and swiped up the leather things from the floor. Bailey stalked over to a bag near the wall and shoved the chalky items into it. Declan couldn't help but admire the other teen's lean form. Hell, he'd been thinking about Bailey all fucking weekend, but he hadn't even realized just how gorgeous the guy really was. And now he really felt like an asshole, perving on the guy he let Chris single out for torment. "What do you want?" Bailey asked again as he sighed heavily. "I already let Chris drag a video a 'confession' out of me so he'd leave me alone. What more do you guys want?" That jerked Declan from his ogling. "What? No! I'm not here for anything like that!" "Oh, really? What are you here for then?" Bailey's voice barely reined in his sarcasm. "To watch me 'dance around' the gym? Would you find that amusing?" Declan visibly winced as Bailey threw back the words Declan had said so callously at the track. Either Justin had told Bailey what he'd said, or Bailey had still been around and heard him. Yeah, he'd been pissed that morning, and he'd said things he shouldn't have. Hell, he knew better than to judge someone like that, didn't he? His parents would kick his ass for thinking the way he had lately. He'd let himself get too isolated with the team, letting Chris's machismo dogma seep into his brain. Even though he had never before voiced it out loud, especially around his roommate and suitemates, he had been letting himself be sucked into to Chris's elitist attitude since this semester began a couple months ago. Damn, it was no wonder Logan, Micah, and Evan were pissed with him. Declan rubbed his face. This was so not going the way he'd thought it would. "God, Bailey, you know, I don't think that." Bailey's sharp eyes snapped up to him, his arms crossing across his solid chest. "Really? So you don't think we just flip and dance around here? Declan, you're full of shit, you know that? I heard you on the track that morning." Declan was sure his face turned bright red. "I didn't mean that. I was just pissed." "Why? Because of the pushup thing?" Bailey challenged. Declan dropped his head back as he sighed. "Yes, damn it," he admitted reluctantly. "I was angry as hell that you beat me. Everyone was teasing, calling us 'girls' for being beaten in a pushup contest. And then you were outrunning me on the track that morning, like you were just trying to show me up again." Bailey blinked in surprise. "What? I wasn't trying to do anything like that. I just thought you might want to run together, but then you took off..." Bailey's posture softened. "I'm sorry you're getting harassed about that stupid contest. I didn't want that. I wouldn't want that. Not for anyone." "Chris chewed my ass out about it. We're supposed to be the best, said I'd disgraced the whole team by losing to a—" Declan wisely snapped his mouth shut. But Bailey cocked his head, narrowing his eyes. "A what?" "Flyboy wimp," Declan muttered out. Of course, that wasn't as bad as what Declan had called him. Bailey actually chuckled as he walked towards the door, surprising Declan. "Flyboy. I like that actually. But wimp? Just shows how big a sports bigot you actually are. Funny, I hadn't thought you were like that before, just from seeing you around classes and all." Declan's jaw dropped. Sports bigot? What the hell? Had Bailey really just called him a bigot? The click of the door closing snapped him out of his shock enough to chase Bailey out into the hallway. "What the fuck did you just call me?" Declan demanded to Bailey's back. Apparently, his tone didn't faze Bailey at all. He just looked calmly over his shoulder. "You know, a sports bigot." "What the hell is that?" Bailey stopped, putting his hands on his hips, as if having to suffer explaining things to a toddler. "You know what a bigot is, right?" Declan just glared back, his own arms crossed defensively over his broad chest as he stared down at the smaller teen. "Then it should be easy to understand," Bailey waved. "You sports bigots are intolerant of any sport that you don't consider to be manly enough. Bet Chris thinks the track, golf, and swim guys are wimps too." Declan felt like he'd been slapped, or maybe jolted with a zap of electricity. Fuck. He was a sports bigot. He had thought those things about not only gymnastics but some of the other sports as well. He'd never admitted it out loud, especially around his roommate and suitemates, but hell if those thoughts hadn't been floating in the back of his head. But he wasn't an egotistical dick about it like Chris was either, at least not usually. Not until he'd let Chris get under his skin that day, ripping open his pride and throwing salt in the wound. "I'm nothing like Chris or Eric, not usually anyway. Neither are most of the guys." Declan called out to Bailey's back as he headed towards the locker room. Bailey didn't stop, but he did slow just enough for Declan to catch up—which meant he was willing to listen. Declan felt the need to defend those on the team who really were great guys. It was just a few who made the rest of them look bad. And unfortunately, Declan knew he was currently one of those. "But a lot of the team, the younger ones especially, really look up to Chris as the captain. He has a certain charisma that really hypes them up for games, makes us feel unbeatable." "Sounds like you need a new team captain." Declan froze at the flippant comment as he watched Bailey stepped over to the water fountain outside the locker room and take a long drink. Declan had actually had that same thought just this weekend—that maybe Lachlan would make a better starting quarterback... Bailey turned, wiping his arm across his mouth, and Declan couldn't help staring. "I may be new here this year, but Justin—well, everyone—warned me about Chris. And, look, honestly, I don't give a shit what Chris, you, or anyone else thinks of me as long as it doesn't affect my schoolwork or my gymnastics. I've got more important things to deal with than Chris's ego." "That's why you did the video he wanted," Declan surmised. Bailey just nodded. "But you let him win." "Yeah, well, so did you." Declan gaped at him. "What?" Bailey just smiled. "Look, sometimes it's easier not to fight it, to just let it go, not disturb the status quo—you know, 'chalk it up'..." He rubbed his white, chalky hands together for emphasis, "...as done and over. Trust me, I know." Declan's gut started to churn, knowing Bailey was right. It was easier just to let things slide, rather than stand up against stronger people. But then, he'd always considered himself one of those strong people. Why the hell was he backing down to Chris and Eric? "You shouldn't have to let Chris call you a cheater just to appease him. He's told everyone. You'll never have peace," Declan added. Strangely, Bailey's eyes flicked away from him, blinking several times before staring at the floor. "I'll never have that anyway." Declan frowned at the cryptic comment. "Just go. You got your reputation back. You're a hero to your team now. Let Chris show his stupid video to everyone. I don't care." The question is: do I? Declan pondered as Bailey pulled open the locker room door. "Chris deleted the video," Declan blurted out. For some reason, he thought Bailey deserved to know that Chris wasn't showing it around to anyone anymore. "Just so you know. He made Eric do it too. So there is no copy of it anymore. I think he knew if too many people actually looked at it hard, they'd know it was a fake." Bailey just shrugged. "Probably smart on his part. No evidence other than my word against his. Again, just another reason to just let it all go." Declan watched Bailey's slight form started to slip through the door to Locker Room B. "Hey!" he called impulsively. Bailey paused, holding the door open, the noise beyond nearly drowning out his voice. "Yeah?" Declan glanced at the floor, uncertain for a moment. "Do you think, uh, maybe we could talk again? Later maybe?" Bailey cocked a brow in surprise, his mouth dropping open. "About?" Declan shrugged. "Trigonometry?" Bailey barked out a laugh. "Trig? Really?" Declan let out a small smile of hope. "Or maybe you can tell me what you were talking about when you said you'd been a cornerback?" "Football, huh?" Bailey pursed his lips, obviously considering Declan's motives. He finally huffed out a sigh. "Fine." When Bailey started to turn into the locker room again, Declan panicked. "Wait. When?" "What do you mean, 'when'?" "I mean, when do you want to hang out?" Declan pressed. He was sure if he didn't pin Bailey down to a time now, he'd never catch up with him. Bailey appeared uncertain before he tucked his bag under his arm and held out his hand. "You have a phone?" "Yeah." Declan pulled it out and handed it over to Bailey. Bailey punched in some numbers. "There. You have my number. We can figure it out later when I'm less sweaty... and chalky." He smiled, holding up his white powdered hands. Declan felt his breath catch, realizing he hadn't ever seen Bailey smile before. It was beautiful. Bailey slapped the phone back into Declan's hand, but Declan swiped open the camera and snapped a picture of Bailey before he could disappear. When Bailey frowned at him, Declan gestured with the phone. "To put a picture with your contact info." Bailey's features softened as he rolled his eyes, another small smile lighting up his face, making his ethereally silver eyes shine. "Goodbye, Declan." "See ya." He waved, feeling better than he had in almost a week. He glanced down at his phone as Bailey turned to finally enter the locker room, swiping at the trace of white chalk on the screen. "Yo, Bailey, what took you so long?" a familiar voice echoed over the boisterousness of the locker room filtering out into the hall. Declan glanced up to see Justin and Mateo sliding past Bailey as he held open the door. "Just stretching. Having a little talk," Bailey said evasively as he disappeared. Declan nearly cringed as the two gymnasts turned to glare at him. Mateo glanced down at the phone Declan had in his hand. "What's going on?" "Nothing, we were just talking. He gave me his number is all." Declan shrugged and started to turn away, not interested in another fight with Justin. "Woah, wait a minute!" A hand tugged on his bicep, turning him around. "Bailey gave you his number?" Justin seemed shocked. "Yeah, why?" Mateo and Justin exchanged glances before Justin stepped closer. "Look, I don't know what you two talked about, but you need to know that Bailey's not someone who trusts a lot of people. He barely talks to us. So if he gave you his number, he's given you a huge amount of faith. Don't screw it up, if you know what I mean." Declan stared at the two teens, wondering if they were messing with him. It was just a phone number. A way to contact each other. But then it dawned on him that Justin and Mateo expected the worst of him. Probably thinking he'd run off and hand over Bailey's number to Chris or Eric who would do who-knows-what with it. Declan's fingers tightened around his phone protectively. "Yeah. Yeah, I know what you mean. Don't worry." Declan waited while Justin and Mateo stared him down—Justin seemed to be processing, but Mateo radiated suspicion. They finally nodded, reluctantly satisfied with his response for now, before they walked off. Declan hurried off before he could be accosted by any more of the gym team as they came out of the locker room. As he rounded the corner, he paused to type out a quick text to Bailey, ensuring that Bailey would have his number. Hopefully the younger boy would not back out of meeting up. Once he finished, Declan grinned as he headed toward the dining hall. He had Bailey's number. And his picture. That simple information shouldn't make him so giddy. He cleared his throat as he headed through the Colonnades, trying to tamp down his exuberance. He couldn't walk into the dining hall grinning like an idiot; Evan would harass him until he told, and Declan had no intention of talking about his interest in Bailey in the middle of the dining hall—assuming Evan would meet him there. He paused as he reached the Colonnades when his phone vibrated. He had a momentary surge of hope that it was Bailey texting him back already, but it was just Alex asking him if he wanted to study later tonight. Apparently, Ben, Jaime and he were getting together and wanted to know if he wanted to join them. While he didn't feel he needed the extra study time, he accepted anyway. Before continuing on to the dining hall, Declan figured he should check that Evan was actually going to the dining hall. He clicked on the group text message for Evan, Logan, and Micah. D: <Hey guys, what's the plan?> E: <heading towards dining hall now> M: <just finished in computer lab, heading over> L: <I'm beat. I'll eat later> E: <you meeting us there, Dec?> D: <yeah, be there in a min> Declan shoved off the column and turned toward the Rotunda. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and turned back to the front lawns and gate. A hunched figure buried in a hoodie and sweats trudged across the lawn, lugging a backpack and duffle bag. Bailey. Declan's heart rate spiked, and instead of heading into the building, he impulsively started at a jog across the lawn. "Hey, Bailey!" he called out as he got closer. Bailey jerked, obviously startled, but his shoulders relaxed slightly when he'd realized it was Declan and he paused. Declan felt a small swell of victory that Bailey hadn't ignored him and rushed on. "Hey," Declan said lamely, "guess you're, what, heading home?" "Yeah." Those silvery eyes barely peeked up at him, and Declan could see him gripping his phone. "Did ya get my text?" Bailey nodded, and Declan felt himself frowning slightly. If he'd seen it, why hadn't he responded? "Oh, okay." He shoved his hands in his pockets, suddenly feeling awkward. "I just... I'm in a bit of a hurry," Bailey explained, starting to walk again toward the guard gate. At first, Declan thought Bailey was just making excuses to get away from him, but Bailey continued talking over his shoulder. "My mom texted and wants to take me to get my hair cut." He shoved at a lock of hair falling over his eyes. "It needs to be done before the meet Saturday." Declan brightened a little. "Oh, cool." He hurried to catch up the few steps between them. "Can I... can I walk with you a little? You know, just to say I'm sorry again." Declan was sure his face was flaming. That sounded so lame. But Bailey just quirked a brow at him and shrugged. "I guess, but you've already apologized. We're good." Declan fell into step with Bailey as they fished out their IDs for the guard to scan them as leaving campus. "I know. I'm... " he fished for something to say, "I'm just bored, could use a little walk." Bailey hitched his backpack a little more up onto his shoulder. "Couldn't wait until tomorrow to talk football?" Declan smiled at the teasing lilt in Bailey's tone. "Yeah, well, this sports bigot needs some educating," he joked. Bailey grimaced. "Sorry I said that. It was probably a little harsh." "No, no, it was actually a bit of a wake-up call. I've been having an enlightening few days lately." They headed towards Heritage Square, Bailey shifting his duffle bag. Declan felt like an ass not offering to carry one of Bailey's bags—would that be weird, offering to carry another guy's stuff? A little like offering to carry a girl's books for her? Fuck it, Declan thought, as he stepped closer and reached for Bailey's duffle bag. "Here let me help—" "No!" Bailey jerked away from him. Declan's hand had brushed against Bailey's when he made to grab the bag, their shoulders grazing as well before Bailey practically jumped away from him. Declan stared at him in shock. He hadn't expected such a dramatic reaction. Bailey's grip tightened on the handles as he ran his other hand over his face, rubbing at his mouth. "I'm—I'm sorry. I j-just don't like being surprised. Or touched for that matter." Declan couldn't read Bailey's expression: fear, maybe? Sadness? "I'm sorry. I didn't mean—" "No, it's not you. I don't usually over-react like that. I've managed to... control it. Just... you surprised me, I didn't expect... and then I thought... and you're so..." Declan couldn't understand all of what Bailey was saying, his words falling out in a babbling mess. He wondered if Chris and Eric's little stunt had traumatized Bailey more than he'd let on that night. "Well, anyway, sorry about that," Bailey finished in a final rush of breath. "Hey, no problem. I'm sure that thing with Chris... you know... didn't help..." Declan offered sympathetically. Bailey's eyes darted to the side. "Yeah." "Hey, tomorrow why don't we plan to meet up at the deli over there?" Declan said quickly to help clear away the cloud descending over their conversation. "Uh, sure, why not?" Bailey agreed, as they reached the far side of the Square. "Assuming my practice lets out at normal time." "Why wouldn't it?" "Oh, Coach Richards was being all cryptic and stuff about practice tomorrow." Bailey stopped and turned, facing Declan. "Did your coach say anything? Richards said him and Coach Reed had gotten together to talk about it. Sounded like they had something planned." Declan shook his head, surprised. "No, Coach didn't say anything to us." Bailey just shrugged. "Hmmm." "You don't think they'd make us practice together, do you?" Declan wondered absently, glancing over Bailey's shoulder. Declan knew from following Bailey home that one night that he'd have to turn to head up the next street. Bailey shook his head. "Nah, we have a meet this weekend. And what would be the point in that anyway? We do totally different—" A buzzing from Declan's pocket cut him off. Declan yanked out his phone to see a text message from Evan. E: <Where the hell are you!> "Oh shit," Declan chuckled, realizing he'd totally forgotten his roommate in his effort to chase down Bailey. Bailey cocked his head. "Everything okay?" "Oh, um, yeah. Just my roommate wondering where I am. We'd talked about meeting for dinner in the dining hall." "Ahh, well, you should head back then. I'm just up this way anyway." Bailey pointed up the hill. "I'll, uh, see you tomorrow?" "Yeah, yeah, of course." Declan stepped back awkwardly, almost tripping over the uneven bricks in the walkway. "Have a good night." "Yeah. You too." For a second, Declan thought Bailey was going to offer his hand in a handshake, but he just lifted it in a wave. Declan smiled and waved back, enjoying the way Bailey ducked his head bashfully before darting away. "Well, that could have gone worse," he mused. "Could have gone better, too." He turned back toward Heritage Academy, texting Evan back. D: <Sorry. Went for a walk.> E: <A walk? WTF> D: <needed to clear my head for a min> E: <did ya get it out of your ass yet?> Declan's snort of laughter in the middle of the Square earned him a few odd looks, but he grinned madly with contentment as he texted back. D: <Yeah. I think I finally did.> **** —Bailey— Why did I give him my number? Bailey thunked his head against the side of the shower stall, berating himself for his moment of weakness. Because you're a glutton for punishment, that's why, he told himself. Bailey let the cool water run over his heated body, rinsing away the fine hairs that seemed to be everywhere after his haircut. He was still reeling from what he'd done. What was he thinking, giving Declan his phone number? Hell, letting him walk with him across the Square? He'd been sure at first that Declan's offer to hang out and talk was simply part of an apologetic gesture. The huge football player couldn't really want to meet up with him. He'd always hung out with his own crew. But then, during their walk, he had looked rather... bashful? Awkward? Hell, they both had been. Bailey felt his body starting to shiver, and he wasn't sure it was just the cooling water. The idea of meeting with Declan tomorrow—to eat dinner together—both intrigued and terrified him. Sure, the guy was hot, but he was also a huge football player. Was Declan like Chris? Was he like the guys on the Pitbulls, his old high school team, who had slandered, harassed, and driven him from the team because he was gay. Like Mason... Declan had seemed nice today, really apologetic and sincere. Bailey wanted to believe Declan was the guy he'd thought he was, but those words he'd spouted that morning on the track were hard to forget. Bailey huffed in frustration at his thoughts. There was no way of figuring any of that out right now, and he had a test to study for in history. He didn't have time to let thoughts of Declan and what ulterior motives he might have crowd his mind. Bailey quickly dried off and threw on a pair of pajama pants. He dropped his backpack on his desk chair, opening it to pull out his history notebook when he saw the notification light blinking on his phone from the edge of the desk. He thumbed open his messages to see another message from the same number as earlier—the one Declan had sent while Bailey had been in the locker room. D: <thanks for talking to me. I'll see you tomorrow at the deli. Declan> B: <Thanks for walking with me. The company was nice.> He'd hit send before he thought about how stupid that sounded. God, Declan was going to think he was an idiot. D: <I thought so too ;)> He couldn't help but feel a moment of lightness, something he hadn't felt for a long while. He felt a giggle bubble up out of his throat, which morphed into a full out laugh. He wasn't even sure what was so funny, except that it felt good to let go. "You okay, honey?" His mom poked her head in from the door. "Yeah." He settled down, glancing at his phone with a small smile. "Yeah, just a text from a friend I walked home with." Her eyebrows hitched up nearly into her hairline. "A friend? You've never talked about walking home with someone." He shrugged. "He just sort of caught up with me and, well, we talked a little and... you know." Her lips pursed, but a small smile quirked the corner. "Just make sure your 'friend' doesn't cause distractions." "It's not—" Bailey bit his lip. "He just wants to hang out a little bit. Talk, you know." She nodded as she headed on down the hall. Bailey turned back to his desk, settling in with his notes. Even with the Wall of a Champion looming nearby and the stress of doing well on his next test, he didn't have the urge to reach for it. He stared at Declan's text messages. For once, he didn't have the urge to rub at the semi-healing scars on his hip to distract him from the aching loneliness and loss that had left a hole in his chest.
  8. 56 likes
    January 2016 CJ was glad his brother had been slightly drunk the previous night. He suspected the dads had allowed Ritchie to drink more than the usual half-a-glass of wine and eat as many of the Champagne Jello-O shots as he did on purpose. He’d have to ask them later. But the result was the kid had a good time—even if the following morning he had a headache—and was so busy enjoying himself he did not dwell on his parents death the previous year. He smiled thinking of his own experience. The alcohol and pot had lowered his inhibitions enough to admit he loved Owen in front of their friends. He suspected he would be getting abuse all day long. New Year’s Day was their last full one in Vail and the guys wanted to get back out on the slopes. It was a little later in the morning than the other days, but none of them seemed to be suffering excessively due to the alcohol consumption. CJ stuck to skis and spent most of the day with Randy and Tyler. The Chicago men would be flying out separately the next day and the three wouldn’t see each other again until late February. Patrick decided to try snowboarding and left with Ozzie and Ritchie, who promised to help him since he was skipping lessons. Late in the afternoon before the sun set, the guys turned in the rented equipment and returned to the house, exhilarated from the week on the mountains; their comments were tinged with sadness about flying home the next day. “So, y’all know I spent a lot of time last summer playing at a bar in Buenos Aires.” Chipper sat on the arm of a sofa, his guitar in hand. They were all lounging in the main room with the fire crackling in the background. “It was a jazz club so I had to learn a bunch of new songs. Well… new to me at least. And I fell in love with the style and lyrics of a lot of them.” “Me too! I’ve heard most of the songs before but it’s been cool listening to them while trying to figure out if I could sing them.” Thiago stood behind the couch, leaning forward, his hands on the backrest. After the pizzas had been devoured, a few of them had stepped outside to smoke but the entire group was now together. CJ and Owen sat next to each other on a loveseat by the fireplace with Ritchie on top of them using a leg from each to make a seat for himself. The rest of the guys were sprawled on the furniture or floor. Everyone seemed to enjoy the mellow time listening to Chipper and Thiago talk, the notes plucked from the guitar serving as the soundtrack for the evening. “Anyway, I downloaded a bunch of music―iTunes’ got a lot of my money right now―amongst them the soundtrack for When Harry Met Sally, which has old music with Harry Connick, Jr. singing. Thiago and I practiced a bit over the past few days and there’s a couple of songs we want to play for you guys.” Chipper glanced up from his strumming and stared at Owen and CJ. Smirking, he hitched his chin up towards his two friends. “This one’s for the two love birds.” “I know that song!” Brett’s comment when the first few bars of “It Had To Be You” rang out earned him a soft tap on the head from his husband. “Hush, Jarhead.” César pulled Brett closer and gave him a kiss. “Listen to the kids and be quiet. If you behave, I’ll put out tonight.” “I don’t want to hear that stuff, Dad. And you’re going to traumatize Ritchie and the other straight boys.” CJ wrapped his arms around his brother and pulled him onto his lap while tickling him. “Stop it, CJ!” The boy wriggled atop his brother and ended up laying sideways across the loveseat, his back on his brother and his legs atop Owen. “And I’m not going to be traumatized. Heck, if they have butt sex maybe we’ll end up with a brother who becomes a lawyer!” “Hey! You better quit before I join your brother and tickle you until you pee.” Owen’s evil grin and raised fingers made Ritchie clamp a hand over his own mouth and shake his head. Once the banter and laughing stopped, Chipper placed the guitar on his lap again and started playing. He and Thiago performed while CJ and Owen held hands and now and then leaned in for a kiss. The end of the song brought applause and cheers which the performers acknowledged with a bow before transitioning to a different song. They ran through a few before Chipper needed a bathroom break. He promised more music after he took care of business and his audience encouraged him to return quickly while some of them rose to stretch. “I guess this is like intermission, right?” Harley stood, retrieved a joint from behind his ear, and held it out for everyone to see. “I’m going outside for a bit, anyone want to join me?” Randy, Tyler, and CJ raised their hands. CJ lifted his brother up and let him take over his place next to Owen. Donning their coats, the three of them followed their friend out the sliding glass doors. Chipper performed for a long time. A couple of old Beatles tunes everyone knew and sang along to. A handful in Spanish, and he even tried his hand at a Justin Timberlake number. “Okay, my fingers are done in for the night. One last song with Thiago. While listening to music on YouTube, trying to decide which ones to learn, I came across a duet between Frank Sinatra and Bono. Homie and I are gonna try to imitate them. This is for CJ and Ozzie again. But also for Randy and Ty in celebration of their wedding.” At a nod from Thiago, Chipper strummed his guitar and sang the first two lines of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” His airy, sweet tones were followed by Thiago’s deep bass with the subsequent verse. The two alternated lines and joined together on several while CJ stared in disbelief. He’d heard the song before and the two sounded better to him than the recording. The round of applause and cheers went on for quite a while after they finished. • • • Tanix looked at the basement game room and whistled. “Damn! If I had a setup like this at home I don’t think I’d ever leave. No wonder it’s so rare for you guys to come out with us.” The muscle-bound blonde had just stepped into CJ’s lair for the first time ever. Owen looked up from the pool table’s felt and smiled at his Washington Scandals Rugby Football Club teammate. “Mate, you made it! Good to see ya.” “Thanks for inviting me. Hey, CJ.” The handsome man ran a hand through his hair as he approached the guys in the back room. “A guy with tats told me to come downstairs. He said he’s one of your dads?” “What up, Tank? Yeah, that’s Papa. Can I get you something to drink? A Coke? A beer?” They’d returned from Colorado the previous day and crashed early. This was the last Sunday of their vacation as school started the following day for CJ and Ritchie. “Nah, I’m good.” “Your shot, CJ. Hi, I’m Ritchie, CJ’s brother. And that’s Patrick, Ozzie’s cousin. Is your name really Tank?” “Hey, guys, nice to meetcha. Tank’s a nickname, Ritchie. My real name’s Tanix, Tanix Janda. I was the biggest guy on the first ship I was on and the crew started calling me Tank.” “You were in the Navy?” “Yep. Enlisted right after high school, served my time, and got out last year.” “So what do you do now? I mean, I know you play rugby with Ozzie but I mean for work.” “Ritchie! What the hell is this, an interrogation? Excuse my little brother, Tank. He seems to have forgotten his manners.” CJ shook his head while picking up a cue stick and moving closer to the pool table. “Sooo-rry. I was just curious. Man you have even more muscles than our cousin Ty. Are you a bodybuilder?” The muscular stud laughed and ruffled Ritchie’s hair. “It’s okay, CJ. I don’t mind the questions. But it means I get to ask just as many. I work as a bartender right now, Ritchie. But I’m going to school to become a Licensed Massage Therapist. What about you? What do you do for a living?” The kid giggled while staring at the man. “I go to school. I’m in seventh grade at Sidwell Friends.” “Isn’t that the school President Obama’s daughters go to?” “Yeah! Sasha’s a friend of mine but I also know Malia. They’re both real nice and so are President and Mrs. Obama.” “Wow, you’ve met the president?” “CJ and I went to the White House twice last year.” “Owen keeps telling us his boyfriend’s going to be President of the United States one day. Maybe I’ll get invited to the White House then. What about you, Patrick? Where do you go to school?” “Same one as CJ and my brother: School Without Walls High School. But I’m two years younger than Brad and CJ. I’m only a sophomore.” “I’m gonna take a wild guess and say Brad’s your bother. Were all of you part of the group that went skiing?” “Yeah! We had a blast. But I didn’t ski at all. I spent all my time snowboarding.” Ritchie moved towards the table when his brother missed the shot. “I wanna hear all about it. Maybe next time I’ll be able to afford it and invite myself along.” Tank had texted Owen the previous day, wondering if he was back in town and asking if he wanted to hang out on Sunday. CJ suggested inviting him to come by the house for a while and then join them at the movies. They’d promised to take Ritchie to go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. CJ attended all the Scandals’ matches he was able to but rarely socialized with the team members afterwards. The ruggers were all older and their outings were for the most part pub crawls he wasn’t able to participate in because of his age. He had been invited to join the club. A couple of the guys told him he was the perfect size to play, but he had turned them down. He thought he and Owen should each have their own hobbies and since he was committed to practice at the dojo Friday nights, he left the rugby to his boyfriend. The one player he’d become friendly with was Tank. Maybe because at twenty-one the guy was closer in age and very easy going. Owen had given him crap about liking his teammate because he was blonde, blue eyed, and a bodybuilder. Through the joking tone CJ thought there was a hint of jealousy; he made it a point to hold Owen’s hand as much as possible and be extra affectionate to his boyfriend whenever Tank was around them. After the afternoon movie, CJ invited Tank to have dinner with the family. Ritchie’s love of Chinese food made the Abelló-Davenport household popular with the restaurant personnel. It had become a ritual for CJ to call in an order and then stop by the restaurant to pick it up. When after the movie, the guys stopped in on their way home to pick up the order they’d had placed earlier, he was greeted by name. Owen shook shake his head, Ritchie giggled, Patrick chuckled, and Tank looked lost. “Mr. CJ! Welcome back! Your order’s ready.” The young Chinese man smiled as the person he claimed to be his favorite customer walked in. “Uang, how many times do I have to tell you to drop the mister? It’s just CJ.” After the food had been paid for, Tank grabbed Owen’s arm and held him back so the two trailed the younger guys. “How come they know CJ’s name? The same thing happened with the girl at the theatre’s ticket booth.” “Mate, I already told you this is what I live with all the time. My boyfriend has a way of ingratiating himself with people. He calls them by name and they all seem to remember him. I get a nod if I’m lucky. He gets all the attention. And CJ’s the ultimate attention whore if you ask me.” “I heard that!” • • • “Damn! You’re as big as a house!” CJ hoped any sting the words may have carried was obliterated by the warm embrace and affectionate kiss he gave Helen. “CJ!” Owen looked horrified while shaking hands with Chatri. “That’s a horrible thing to say.” The smack to the head surprised CJ, but Chatri’s laughter made him smirk. “Yeah, twerp, that’s my wife you’re calling fat.” “That wasn’t your most eloquent statement ever, CJ. But you’re right, I am as big as a house. I want this damn kid out of me already.” Helen and her husband had met CJ and his boyfriend at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and N Street, in front of Martin’s Tavern. It was a chilly Saturday night and the two couples had agreed to meet for dinner at Washington’s oldest family owned restaurant and Georgetown landmark. “Fine, fine, I’m a jerk. Can we continue this conversation in the restaurant? It’s kinda chilly and all I’m wearing’s my blazer.” Inside, they were greeted warmly―CJ and Owen were frequent visitors―and shown to a booth. CJ grinned when he realized where they were about to be seated. “Cool, we get Nixon’s Booth.” “You slide in first, Chatri. Your son’s kicking up a storm right now and I know I’m going to have to visit the ladies room soon. I’m thinking he wasn’t happy with the back pains he caused last night. Darn kid wants to make sure I know he’s coming soon.” “Really? He’s awake and moving?” CJ was enthralled with the idea his friends’ kid was ready to come out and greet the world―Helen was due the following weekend. “Here, give me your hand.” Helen didn’t wait for CJ to comply, she grabbed his hand and placed it on her stomach. “Oh, I can feel him. That’s so cool.” This was a new experience for CJ; the first time someone close to him in age carried a child. The intermittent bumping he guessed was the kid banging against Helen’s insides. He couldn’t imagine what it felt like to her. “Not so cool when you’re the one being kicked.” Helen took the end of the bench while Owen and CJ slid in across from her and Chatri. “So what’s this Nixon’s Booth thing? I’ve never been here before.” “I can’t believe that! And you’ve been in Washington for over two years? Look behind you. There’s a bronze plaque proclaiming this as The Richard Nixon Booth. He used to come here all the time when he was a senator back in the fifties and while he was Vice-President. This place’s been around forever. It’s the fourth generation of the family running it now. See that booth over there? They call that one the Proposal Booth. It’s were JFK proposed to Jackie.” Helen glanced in the direction CJ pointed while rubbing her stomach in gentle circles. “As in President John F. Kennedy? How the hell do you know so much about the restaurant?” “Yes, as in President Kennedy. And Ozzie knows just as much about this place as I do. We came here for dinner one night and spent a long time talking to Billy Martin, the owner.” CJ could have ordered a beer when Chatri and Owen did―the server was surprised when he asked for a Sprite like Helen had―but he liked the restaurant and its owner and didn’t want to risk getting them in trouble. The restaurant’s American fare wasn’t fancy, but it was tasty, plentiful, and reasonably priced, which CJ thought was one of the main reasons for its popularity and longevity. Over dinner, Chatri had funny stories from his residency at George Washington University Hospital. Owen told a few about their recent trip to Colorado. Helen shared some of the weird events which took place at Harding and Calhoun, and CJ finally revealed to his friends where he was going to school in the fall. “That’s old news, kiddo.” They had finished their meal and the men were enjoying a cup of coffee as Helen struggled out of her seat. “I have to go to the restroom. You forget I work for Dr. Calhoun. We get daily updates on the lives of Chipper, you, and the rest of your friends. As soon as you told your boys where you are going to school, we heard about it in the office. I’ll be right back.” CJ and Chatri placed credit cards atop the bill when the server dropped it off at their table. The two agreed beforehand to split the check in order to avoid fighting over it. The three men were still talking, Owen rolling a cigar between his fingers―his desire to get out of the place so he could light it obvious―when Helen returned looking a little agitated. She gave them a small smile and looked at her husband. “Honey, we have to go.” “Are you okay? Everything alright?” Chatri looked and sounded worried as he started to slide out of his seat. “Yeah… Well… Not really. My water broke. We need to get to the hospital.” “Shit, shit, shit. He’s early.” Chatri was frazzled. He couldn’t stop moving or talking. “We’re not ready. I knew we should have driven being this close to the date.” He glanced at his wife standing before them and her demeanor must have calmed him down a bit: Helen was not freaking out. “It’ll be fine, babe. I’ll get an Uber. Crap, we don’t have what we need. Damn, the timing, sorry, guys but―” “Chatri, relax. It’s going to be fine.” CJ and Owen stood and started walking towards the door, following the couple. “Before you call Uber, let’s walk outside. It’s Saturday night and I’m sure we can get you a taxi right out front. What is it you need you don’t have?” “It’s a suitcase we have packed, sitting by the front door.” The father-to-be took a breath and slowed down but still sounded agitated. “It’s stuff Helen’s going to need.” “Give me the key to your apartment. Ozzie and I will jog home and get my Jeep. Look! There’s a taxi. Flag it down, Ozzie. We’ll go pick up the suitcase and bring it to the hospital. Which one by the way? Georgetown or George Washington?” Chatri removed a key from the ring and placed it on CJ’s palm. “GW. Thanks, buddy! Congratulations, by the way, you’re about to become an uncle. Ozzie, bring me one of those cigars when you guys come over. I plan on lighting up as soon as the kid’s born.” The taxi sped off towards the hospital while CJ and Owen rushed back to the Prospect Street house. The black metal gate in front of the side courtyard was open and they found César, Brett, JP, and Tom sitting around the fire pit smoking cigars. “Hey, guys, how was dinner? How are Chatri and Helen?” Brett waved toward two empty chairs, inviting the younger men to join them. “Good and good, Papa, but we can’t hang. Helen’s water broke at dinner and they left for the hospital. I’m gonna get a better coat and then Ozzie and I need to go to their apartment, pick up a bag for Helen, and take it to the hospital.” “Her water broke at the restaurant? What a mess!” Tom’s half grin surprised CJ. “I remember from when my kids were born.” “Never saw it, Uncle Tom. Happened when she went to the bathroom after we’d finished eating. Hey, I’m not sure what time I’ll be back. I’m gonna stick with Chatri until the baby’s born. Ozzie might bring the Jeep back if he doesn’t want to stay.” “Forget it, mate. If you stay, so do I.” “You two be careful, okay?” César stood and walked towards his son and Ozzie and placed an arm around each one. “The bag probably has clothes and makeup and stuff like that. She won’t need any of it right away. Take your time and don’t drive crazy. Oh, your brother and Patrick are downstairs playing pool. Let Ritchie know you might not be around in the morning in case we don’t see him before he calls it a night.” “Okay, Dad.” “Tell Chatri and Helen we’ll check with them after we talk to you. And if she’s up for visitors, we’ll come see them tomorrow.” Gamon Arthur Mookjai was born in the early hours of Sunday, January 17, 2016. CJ and Owen were the first to hold the newborn after the nurses and parents. Chatri’s genes had been the victors of any battle with Helen’s. The kid looked like his father, with almond shaped eyes and a full head of black hair. It was near sunrise when CJ and Ozzie left the hospital and returned home. • • • CJ left a note on the kitchen counter letting his dads know what time he and Owen had returned from the hospital and asking them not to let anyone wake them unless the house was burning down. The two men slept until noon and awoke to find a Post-it attached to the basement door letting them know the dads had taken Ritchie to the hospital to meet Gamon. They had a lazy day at home. In the afternoon, friends started dropping by to play pool and watch the National Football League’s playoff games. Owen invited Tank and the burly rugby player got along well with everyone. He helped clean more than his share before leaving and profusely thanked CJ and Owen before repeating the process with César and Brett. On Thursday, District of Columbia schools opened two hours late due to a little snow falling overnight. “This town would die if it ever got as much snow as we did back in Boston. Ain’t that right, Patrick?” Brad, CJ, and Chipper waited at the bus stop outside School Without Walls High School, stomping their feet to warm up. “I think DC would have more equipment to clear the snow if they got that much.” Patrick giggled as they climbed aboard the bus headed to Georgetown. “I remember when I was like in fourth grade and we had so much snow even Boston closed down.” Chipper took the first seat available and slid towards the window. “Same thing happened in New York! I remember that year. So, guys, with more snow predicted and school already canceled tomorrow and Monday, what are we gonna do this weekend?” CJ fished the phone out of his pocket when the message chime sounded and after reading the message showed it to his friends. “I think my boyfriend has the right idea.” Owen’s short text read: ***snow days=nyc?***. “Hell, yeah. I’m game. Let me text my sister.” Chipper was already in the process of retrieving his own phone as he turned in his seat and looked at the Kennedy brothers. “You guys in?” “I can’t, man. Fuck! Since practice was called off today and tomorrow, the lacrosse team made plans to hit the gym together in the morning. And on Saturday all the guys are meeting to go over plays and stuff. We’re gonna win a championship for Walls this year if I have anything to say.” Brad proved to be an asset to the team the prior season and was elected as a captain for his senior year. He was constantly bragging about how good they were and how they were going to mop the floor with the competition. CJ was happy to see his friend take on the responsibility and redirect his efforts away from partying and towards his sport. “That’s a shame, Red. What about you, Patrick? Wanna come with? I’m sure Uncle Tom would let you go with me and Ozzie.” “Nah, thanks, CJ. I feel kinda funny when I’m the youngest one.” “You shouldn’t, bud. We don’t mind you hanging with us.” “I know, but still… You guys go and have a good time.” When CJ arrived home, he found Owen in the basement sitting at the game table writing furiously on a legal pad, several open books and a laptop in front of him. César and Brett had given the Aussie a key to the house and his own access number for the security system months before. He turned and smiled, hearing the usual assault on the staircase his boyfriend was often accused of. “Hey!” “What up, Ozzie? Studying?” CJ dropped his backpack and hugged the man from behind. “Trying to finish something up in case we go away. So what’s the plan? Ethan’s in if we decide to go.” “So’s Chipper, but Brad and Patrick are a no go.” “That sucks. Are you going to invite Harley?” “I was actually thinking of Tank. You think he might wanna go?” Owen gave CJ a questioning look. “Tank instead of Harley? How come?” “Well, Cristina’s going out of town so we won’t be going out with her. I’m sure Sean and Ajax will join us at some point and you know how it is when it’s only the gay crowd. I don’t want Harley feeling out of place. I’ll plan another trip to the City later and invite him.” “Yeah, but Tank? Why? Do you have the hots for him now?” “Don’t be an ass! Of course not. But I like the guy. And when we took Ethan with us last year it gave us a chance to get to know him better. I figured we could do the same with Mr. Bodybuilder.” “I’ll call and invite him. But he may have to work. And if he doesn’t, money may be an issue.” “Tell him all he has to pay for is the train. Free place to stay. We’ll eat in the apartment most of the time, and if we go to the gym I’ll make sure Colt doesn’t charge him. Oh, one other thing. Not sure when and the weather may be a bitch, but I promised Robbie Mook you and I would meet up with him next time we went to New York. I think he wants to show us around campaign headquarters in Brooklyn.” “That works, mate. If we go over there, the other guys can hang out on their own for a while. But you and I may have to discreetly cover some things if we decide to go out. Tank watches his pennies.” CJ’s mouth hung open while Owen dialed their friend. What a long way to come for the man who didn’t want CJ to pay for things at the beginning. He was definitely happy his boyfriend had changed his attitude. • • • CJ pocketed the credit card receipt the cab driver handed him and reached for the backpack between his legs in the foot well. When the taxi’s door was pulled open, he stared into a pair of bright, shimmering blue eyes. “Ajax!” “Welcome back, CJ. Hey, guys.” The dark-haired doorman for the building on the corner of Lexington Avenue and Seventy-Sixth Street smiled when Ozzie, Chipper, and Ethan bumped fists with him. “You're all nuts, you know that?” “Why’s that?” CJ walked inside the lobby with the rest of the guys following him. “Because we expect a storm tomorrow. You may be stuck inside most of the day.” “I’m sure we’ll find a way to keep ourselves occupied. Hey, Tank. This is Ajax Karalis. He’s our favorite doorman and a friend. Ajax, this is our buddy, Tanix Janda. Better known as Tank. It’s his first time in the City.” “Welcome to New York, Tank. Sorry about the weather. You may not get a lot of sightseeing in this weekend. But I hope you enjoy your stay.” “Thanks! I’m sure I’ll have a good time.” CJ was retrieving papers from the mailbox when he looked back at the group milling inside the entrance. “So, Ajax, you working this weekend? Or can you and your girlfriend join us for dinner?” “Not tonight. I need to go home. I’m working tomorrow and they’ve already told us to bring a bag with clothes in case we get stranded.” “If you do, you’re staying with us.” Inside the apartment, CJ’s first stop was the kitchen. He made a list of what he thought they’d need for the weekend and handed it to Chipper. “Dude, you and Ethan show Tank around while Ozzie and I head to Brooklyn, okay?” “You’re meeting your friend today?” “Yeah, Robbie suggested this afternoon would be best. On your way back from wherever you guys go, stop and pick up the shit on the list. Make sure you pay and we’ll settle later. I’ll text you when we’re done and then we’ll meet back here.” On the way to Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Headquarters, he and Owen called Sean Brody to check in and figure out when they could see the redhead. They made plans to meet in Chelsea in the early evening. CJ and Owen were the first to return to the apartment. They’d enjoyed their late lunch with Robbie and Owen was even able to meet Secretary Clinton who’d stopped in for a little while before heading home to await the storm. The guys showered and changed and once their friends returned from their own adventures and cleaned up, the five headed out. “Chipper and Ethan told me a little about Sean while we were running around.” Tank had his face glued to the window of the Uber taking them from the Upper East Side down to Chelsea. “We’re meeting him at his work?” “Yep. He’s a personal trainer at a gym and a bartender at a place called PRIME. That’s where we’re headed.” CJ tapped Owen on the leg and grinned. “Tank reminds me of you during your first trip to New York. He can’t stop gawking.” Tank tore his eyes away from the cityscape flowing by for a moment. “That’s ’cause I’m not used to all these big buildings. Ain’t nothing like this back in Lafayette, Louisiana. This Sean sounds like me. Half my time at the gym and half working at a bar.” “I think you’ll like him. He’s a cool dude. And he’s in good shape, but he ain’t as jacked as you, bud.” “No need for him to be unless he’s competing. So we’re going to a bar? How’re you getting in?” “I’m eighteen now. I’ll get in but I won’t get a wristband to let me buy drinks. Plus, we know the owner anyway. Tony won’t make a big deal about my age anymore.” “You know the owner?” Tank’s surprise at CJ knowing a bar owner in New York City grew as the rest of the group filled the vehicle with laughter. “Mate, welcome to my world! My boyfriend knows everybody. You should have seen Secretary Clinton fawning over him when she stopped in at her campaign headquarters while we were in there.” “Shut it, Ozzie! He’s exaggerating. I don’t know everybody as he claims.” “Of course you don’t. Only the bloody important ones.” The car dropped them off on Ninth Avenue in front of their destination and CJ led them towards the entrance. He smiled at the hulking man bundled up against the cold, working security. “Hey, Vlad.” “CJ, my man. Sean told me to expect you and your friends.” The thick Russian accent made the muscular bouncer sound intimidating. “You remember my boyfriend Ozzie, right? And the other guys are Ethan, Chipper, and Tank. I’m sure you can figure out who the last one is based on his size.” CJ and Owen had met Vladimir before, when they’d worked out at WOOF on previous trips. “Welcome to PRIME, guys. Let’s get these on you.” He ripped individual strips from the lime-green sheet he pulled from his pocket and attached a wristband to each of the proffered forearms, winking while doing CJ’s. “Sean also gave me this for you. You forgot your driver’s license at the gym last time you were there.” CJ looked at the New York State driver’s license with his picture on it and raised a questioning eyebrow. “You boys go in now and have a good time. Don’t get too drunk, okay?” They dropped their jackets off at the coat check as soon as they were inside before heading towards the back bar where Vlad had told them Sean was working. CJ smiled as they approached their friend who was busy mixing cocktails and failed to notice them. Seeing the redhead, CJ turned to his group with an evil grin and put a finger to his lips. They approached the bar and before Sean noticed, CJ reached across and tweaked a nipple on the furry man. “Hey, sexy. Wanna come home with me and fuck?” Sean fumbled the bottle he was pouring from and almost dropped it. “Asshole! I can’t believe you pulled that shit on me. You were gonna be paying for that bottle if I’d dropped it.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like you’ve never been felt up by a customer before. Hey, Sean.” Sean wiped his hands dry on a rag, reached over and placed one behind CJ’s head, and pulled him halfway across the bar before planting a torrid kiss on his younger friend’s lips. “I should take you to the bathroom and just fuck you silly in there. But your boyfriend might object. How the hell ya doing, Ozzie? Ethan, Chipper, welcome back.” While the guys greeted Sean and introduced him to Tank, CJ glanced around the room, trying to locate Tony. PRIME’s owner was nowhere to be found but he would probably make an appearance sometime during the evening. “Hey, Sean. What’s the deal with that driver’s license Vlad gave me?” The redhead smirked while pouring some sort of milky concoction into shot glasses. He looked around for a moment and winked at CJ. “Here, guys. White Russian shooters to celebrate our friend’s twenty-first birthday.” He pushed the drinks towards his customers before leaning in and lowering his voice. “Consider it my birthday present, okay? I know Chipper has one already and thought you might be able to put it to good use. Cheers, men!” “But, but, how?” “Hey, I have my sources. The picture I downloaded from your Facebook page. Sent it to my guy along with your name and your address here in the City. He did the rest.” By the time Sean’s shift ended at nine, word had spread through the bar the mayor had called for a citywide travel ban which extended from 2:30 p.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Sunday. His personal training clients the next morning had canceled already so he grabbed his gym bag and followed the guys outside. They stopped at a falafel spot to grab a bite to eat and headed back to the Upper East Side apartment. The temperature did not climb above the freezing mark all day, but the apartment was warm thanks to Owen turning up the thermostat before going out for the evening. The guys changed into shorts and sweatshirts as soon as they returned, raided the liquor cabinet, and then sat around talking while drinking. Although a light snow was falling, the worst of the storm wasn’t expected until around lunch the next day so they decided to call it an early night and go out for breakfast and a little sightseeing in the morning. Ethan and Sean were in the kitchen, rinsing glasses and putting them in the dishwasher when CJ sent Owen to their bedroom to fetch extra pillows and blankets for Tank. “Okay, bud. Let’s open up the sofa and get you set up. I’ll make breakfast in the morning and then we can run out until it starts snowing hard. I think we should go to the Empire State Building. You get to see one of the top attractions and the view should be pretty good.” “CJ?” Chipper looked at his friend while putting away liquor bottles and winked. “If Tank doesn’t mind, he can just sleep with me. We can help keep each other warm.” The bodybuilder stopped what he was doing and smiled. “That sounds good to me. Since you and I are the single guys in the group we gotta help each other out.” “We’re single!” Sean and Ethan shouted simultaneously from the kitchen. “Yeah, but you’re like friends with benefits.” Tank stared at Chipper and frowned. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’m a bottom.” • • • CJ was in the kitchen the following morning, washing baby spinach leaves for omelets, when Chipper stumbled in looking for coffee. It was early and the two of them were the only ones awake so far. The laughter came out of nowhere as CJ ripped a paper towel from the roll, moistened it, and handed it to his friend. “I think you have a little dried cum on your goatee, bud.” Chipper looked at CJ while dabbing at his face and joined in the laughter. “Damn! I thought we’d licked it all up last night.” “Pig! I can’t believe you just went and propositioned that man last night. Was it worth it?” “Hell, yeah! You wouldn’t believe what he can do with all those muscles. I thought his ass was gonna rip my dick off. That boy can take a fuck!” “Yeah? Figures, the bigger they are, the faster their legs get spread. And what are you going to do tonight? If Ajax does spend the night?” “Hopefully he will. And hopefully I’ll end up in my favorite position: the middle.” “You think he’ll go for it?” “Yep.” Chipper sipped his coffee slowly and smiled without further elaboration. “What can I do to help?” “Don’t go changing the subject, dude. How do you know Tank will be interested in a threesome?” “Because I asked him? I explained about me and Ajax and Marina. He says he’s not interested in pussy at all but he’s down for playing with me an Ajax if there’s no girls involved. And since it sounds like Marina won’t be here and Ajax may be stranded…” For being the city that never sleeps, New York was a somnolent town when the guys walked outside after breakfast. CJ was the first one on the sidewalk, and after seeing the snow covered streets and cars, shook his head while slipping an arm through Owen’s. “This don’t look good, guys. Do you hear that?” “Hear what, mate? I don’t hear anything.” “Exactly! That’s the sound of silence. No engines revving. No horns blaring. No pedestrians talking. Hell, almost no cars or pedestrians anywhere.” Chipper stood in front of the couple and smirked. “I think the place’s shutting down early. Even if that travel ban won’t go in effect until later.” “The Empire State Building may not be a good idea, Tank.” CJ turned his head to look at their new friend. “Sorry about it, bud. I think your sightseeing may have to wait until the next trip.” “It’s okay, CJ. I’m having a good time anyway.” “Yeah, I heard all about it this morning.” CJ’s laughter made the big guy blush. “How about we walk a couple of blocks and checkout Central Park instead? It looks real pretty when it’s covered in fresh snow.” Their excursion was short-lived. The snowball fight and snow-wrestling was fun but the cold got to them. After stopping at a Starbucks―one of the few shops they found open―they returned to the apartment building and spent the rest of the day watching movies on cable. • • • CJ tried to make as little noise as possible when he closed the bedroom door but he could not stop chuckling. Owen turned on the bedside lamp and stared at his boyfriend. “What are you doing, CJ? What time is it?” “Go back to sleep, babe. The damn heat has me dehydrated. I went to get a glass of water.” “What time is it?” “About three, I think.” “And what are you chuckling about at this hour?” “Chipper, Ajax, and Tank. They’re going at it again. I could hear the moaning and whispers as soon as I walked in the hallway. Damn whispers weren’t so whispery. I think they’re tag-teaming Tank again.”
  9. 54 likes
    Chapter 19 Liam waited nervously for Corey and Jason by the doors of the arena. Alek would likely have arrived earlier and would now be ensconced in the locker room with the rest of his team. Corey had agreed immediately to attend, and since Jason was a hockey fan, it didn’t take much convincing to get him to come to the men’s league game. Liam bit back a smile as he thought of his conversation with Bryce before leaving the apartment. Bryce tried to convince him to wear his flashiest outfit, and wave pompoms. Just the idea of it still filled him with amusement. Liam pulled away from the wall he’d been leaning against, and waved as Jason’s truck pulled into the lot. “Hey, guys,” Liam greeted them as they approached. “Thanks for doing this. I didn’t really want to come alone.” “No problem,” Jason replied with a pat on the shoulder. “I’m looking forward to this.” Corey chuckled, bumping hips with his husband. “Jason’s actually thinking of joining next year.” “I didn’t realize you played.” “Well, baseball is more my thing, but I did play a bit in high school and college. It’s been years, though, so I’d probably be crucified out there.” The men entered the arena, paid their entry fee, and made their way to the stands. “Maybe you can talk to Alek about joining when we go out later,” Corey said as they found seats near the centre line. “He’d probably have some great tips.” Liam lost track of the couple’s conversation when the teams skated into the rink. He didn’t know why, but he always found the sight of Alek in his uniform arousing. Alek appeared to be scanning the seats until his brown eyes met Liam’s. The man looked both relieved and happy as his mouth widened into a grin before moving into formation to take warm-up shots against the goalie. Soon, the referees called for the game to start, and Liam, Corey and Jason sat forward, ready to cheer. The pace was quick, and the men glided over the ice as is they were born with skates strapped to their feet. Since his first game over a year ago, Liam had learned a lot more about the rules, and he cheered and cat-called with the most devout fans. The teams were evenly matched and the play intense, but Alek’s team finally won after a highlight worthy pass from Alek to Rene, resulting in a goal in the final seconds of the third period. Liam leapt from his seat, cheering and whistling as Alek celebrated on the ice. Distantly, Liam was aware of Corey and Jason cheering beside him. Liam looked down at the ice and found Alek watching him with a happy smile lighting up his face. With a responding grin, Liam waved as the players acknowledged their fans. “Come on,” Jason said, drawing Liam’s attention. “Let’s head out to the lobby to wait for Alek.” The outer room was crowded with people chattering and laughing as they finished their drinks. Liam’s group found a quiet corner and watched a handful of kids who’d started an impromptu game with rolled up hockey tape and mini-sticks. “Liam.” Alek’s voice immediately caught Liam’s attention. Alek’s hair was still damp and he looked delicious in snug jeans and a form fitting long sleeve shirt. The smile on the man’s face only added to his appeal. “Alek,” Liam replied as the taller man approached them. “Great game!” “Thanks. For a while there, I wasn’t sure we were going to pull it off. I thought we’d have to go into overtime.” “That was a great pass. Highlight quality stuff,” Jason interjected, sounding enthusiastic. Alek looked startled, as if just realizing they weren’t alone. “Jason, Corey,” he greeted and shook their hands. “I’m glad you could make it.” “It was fun,” Corey replied. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been to a game.” “Aleksei, man. We’re headed out. You coming?” A couple of men approached from the direction of the change rooms. Alek’s body stiffened as he turned to face his teammates. “I’m not sure.” When he looked over his shoulder at Liam, the apprehension in his eyes faded. With a smile and a subtle nod, Alek turned back to the other men. “I’m taking Liam out to celebrate.” “Liam?” a stocky blonde inquired, hitching his hockey bag higher onto his shoulder. Moving to stand closer to Liam, Alek placed a hand on his shoulder. “Liam, these are a few of my teammates: Rene, John and Lee. Guys, this is my ex-boyfriend, Liam, and those two”–he pointed his thumb to Corey and Jason–“are Liam’s boss, Corey, and his husband, Jason.” Liam stared up at Alek. Shocked barely touched the surface of how he was feeling. Alek winked before turning back to the players with a smile. John’s face hardened and with a sound of disgust, and he stalked off, not looking back. “Tabernak,” Rene swore in his Quebecois French. “I knew that guy was a prick.” “You didn’t react much better when I first told you,” Alek pointed out with a chuckle. “Maybe,” Rene agree. “But I smartened up, non?” “So...,” Lee broke in with a low whistle. “Gay? I never would have guessed. Good thing I don’t gamble.” “You don’t seem bothered by it,” Alek said, raising an eyebrow. Lee shrugged his shoulder. “Meh. My uncle’s gay. Doesn’t matter to me.” “Well then,” Rene said, slapping Alek on the bicep. “Are you and your friends coming to Raxx’s Bar with the rest of us, or what?” Alek focused on Liam. “It’s up to you. This was supposed to be your celebration.” Liam fidgeted from one foot to another. “I think it’s important for you to go out with your teammates, but I don’t want to cause any trouble.” “Hey, man,” Lee said, stepping closer and lowering his voice. “Don’t let John scare you off. He’s an asshole to everybody.” “I don’t know….” One by one, Liam met Corey’s, Jason’s and then Alek’s gazes. Alek’s expression was understanding, if a little nervous. “Okay. Let’s go. We can celebrate Queen’s and your win at the same time.” “Queen’s?” Rene’s eyes widened comically. Alek sputtered a laugh before smacking his friend lightly on the head. “Not that kind of queen, idiot. Liam got accepted to Queen’s University.” Everyone laughed as Rene grinned sheepishly. After a quick strategy meeting, they decided to follow Alek to his place to drop off his truck and then drive to the bar in Jason’s vehicle. “I’m impressed Alek was so open with his two friends,” Jason commented as they drove. “He looked like he might pass out for a second, but he did it,” Corey agreed with a chuckle. “It’s too bad about John, but there always seems to be a bad apple in every batch.” “I don’t think that’s the last bad reaction he’s going to have to deal with.” Liam stared out at the passing scenery. “Alek told me one of his employees quit.” “We’ve all had people who reacted badly.” Corey turned in his seat to face Liam. “One of my roommates requested a transfer to another dorm when he found out.” Jason shook his head and made a disgruntled noise. “Sounds like the guy was an asshole anyways. Good riddance.” Corey laughed softly and leaned over the console to kiss his husband’s cheek. “Always the protector.” Jason pulled into the driveway behind Alek, and they waited for the man to take his equipment into his garage before hopping in the back seat with Liam. “I never understood why you don’t park in the garage,” Liam commented with a smile. “You’ve seen the inside. My truck would never fit in there.” “There’s a joke there somewhere,” Corey interjected, laughing when Liam playfully swatted the back of his head. The bar was crowded by the time they finally arrived, and Liam recognized several players from the team. Looking around the dimly lit space, he spotted John sitting with a few other men. John glared before ducking his head and speaking furiously with his companions. The group looked over with varying expressions of surprise and disgust. “Don’t look now,” Jason said to Alek, “but your buddy, Johnny, might be stirring up trouble.” Alek didn’t even look in his teammate’s direction. “He’s an asshole. Not worth it.” “Just be careful. All bigots can be dangerous: stupid bigots are even more so. Their hatred makes them brave.” Liam nodded. Although he hadn’t had to deal with the physical side of hatred, he’d known men who’d been attacked. One college acquaintance was beaten so badly he still needed the assistance of a cane to walk. It was a scary world when people feared you. “Don’t worry, I always watch my back; on and off the ice.” Dropping the heavy conversation for now, they made their way through the crowd to the bar. Jason offered to buy the first round and disappeared through the throng. They were scouting for available seats when Rene appeared beside them. “A bunch of us are sitting over there.” The man pointed to a large group sprawled over several tables pushed together. “We saved some seats for you and your friends.” Alek looked surprised but pleased. He looked to Liam who nodded his agreement. “Sure. Sounds good.” “Why don’t you two head over, and I’ll help Jase bring with the drinks,” Corey offered. Liam thanked his boss, and then followed Alek to the boisterous group of hockey players, their wives and girlfriends. “Hey guys,” Rene said, reclaiming a chair. “Look who I found.” “Alek,” one of the guys called out. “Who’s your friend?” Liam looked sideways, gauging Alek’s reaction. Although he seemed uncomfortable, he didn’t flinch from anyone’s gaze. “Guys, this is Liam… my ex-boyfriend.” The sudden silence at the table was deafening, but Alek didn’t look away. “Ex-boyfriend?” a tall lanky blonde commented with a smirk. “No wonder you’ve been grouchy as fuck this season. You’ve stopped getting laid on the regular.” The rest of the group burst into loud laughter, and the discomfort seemed to dissipate as the questions started: How long has Alek been gay? How did they meet? Why didn’t he tell anyone sooner? To his credit, Alek tried to answer as honestly as he could, and even admitted the reason for the breakup. “I don’t know if I could’ve done it,” a man, introduced as Don, commented. “You’re gonna be in for a lot of shit, and from what I remember, your dad’s kind of a hard ass.” “Oh we’ve had it out already,” Alek replied with a loud exhalation of breath. “... A few times. He even caused a scene at the shop.” “That must’ve gone over like a lead balloon.” “Had one guy quit, but the others have stayed on so far.” Liam listened to the conversation, still feeling like he was watching a scene from a movie. This was not the Alek he remembered. That Alek would never in a million years be having a frank conversation about his sexuality with members of his hockey team. Liam was startled when he felt a large hand cover his and warm breath tickle over his skin. “Hey, are you okay?” Alek asked. “You seem distracted.” “I’m good.” Liam looked up with a small smile. Alek’s brow furrowed, but he nodded. “If you’re sure?” “I’m sure.” Alek’s concern brought a real smile to his face as he squeezed the man’s hand. “Overthinker, remember?” As the night wore on, Liam managed to stop comparing this Alek to his ex-boyfriend, and enjoyed getting to know Alek’s friends. Some appeared to be ignoring his relationship with Alek, but they were at least friendly, if a little distant. Rene was great, and drew Liam into conversation several times. Even Corey and Jason seemed to be welcomed warmly by most everyone. Jason was currently deep in discussion with a young woman who was planning on attending law school in the fall. At one point, Liam realized Alek’s arm was resting across the back of his chair and he was leaning into the bigger man’s body. He peered up to find Alek laughing and looking more relaxed than he’d ever remembered him being, except maybe when they were alone together. The sight made Liam’s heart warm. It was good to see Alek so happy. A little before last call, Liam offered to go to the bar to order another round of drinks. Rene hopped up with an offer to help and they wove their way through the crowd. Before reaching their destination, someone called out to Rene. Liam gestured he would meet Rene at the bar and continued on. He hadn’t even made it a few feet, when he felt a presence behind him. “You’re one of those fags that came to the game.” The vitriol in the man’s voice startled Liam. He had been subject to homophobic slurs before, but he’d felt safe here, and the taunt caught him by surprise. “The name is Liam,” he replied, to the tall man hovering beside him. He recognized the guy as one of the group Alek’s teammate, John, had been with. “So, you take it up the ass?” Liam huffed and stopped trying to find a path the bartender. “Do you really want to know about my sex life?” He turned to face the man fully, pasting a wide smile on his face. “How much detail do you want? Feeling a little curious? Do you want to know exactly how good it feels to have a nice thick cock up your ass?” Liam knew he was playing with fire, but the alcohol in his system had loosened his tongue, and his sense of self-preservation. He didn’t even see the fist coming before it hit him. Pain exploded in his right eye as he fell backwards into the crowd. He ended up on the floor with a heavy body coming down hard on top of him. People were yelling as he raised his arms to defend himself. Before a punch connected, someone yanked his attacker back, and Alek appeared in his line of sight. “Li, baby, are you okay?” “Fuck, my eye hurts,” he answered, reaching up to touch the sensitive area. “That motherfucker,” Alek said with a growl, turning to jump up from his crouched position. “Where is that asshole? I’m gonna fucking kill him.” “Rene’s got him,” someone replied over the din. “He dragged him over to the bouncers.” “He’s fucking lucky Rene got to him before I did.” “Alek,” Liam called out, wanting to draw Alek’s attention before he got himself into trouble. It worked as Alek immediately knelt back down beside him. “What hurts? I should take you to the emergency room. Shit. I can’t believe this happened. Fucking asshole.” “I’m fine,” Liam replied. He reached his hand to cup Alek’s face. “Now help me up off this sticky, disgusting floor.” “Oh, yeah. Right. Sorry.” Alek helped him to slowly rise, keeping a hand on him even after Liam was on his own two feet. When he was finally standing, he realized they’d gathered a crowd, including Corey and Jason who stood close by looking concerned. They stayed close as Liam was led back to the table. Several people offered their support and expressed their disgust over what happened. Apparently, the jackass was known for his short temper. One of the bouncers even came by to see if Liam wanted to press charges. “No,” he replied, gratefully accepting an ice-filled cloth someone handed him for his eye. “I just want to go home and forget about all of this.” “Li,” Corey interjected, crouching in front of his chair. “You can’t let that guy get away with this. He hit you.” Out of the corner of his eye, Liam saw Alek nodding in agreement. “I kind of taunted him.” “That doesn’t give him the right to hit you,” Alek replied, his eyes flashing in anger. “No, it doesn’t, but I just want to go home.” “Okay,” the bouncer said with a sympathetic smile on his face. “Our owner will still have us call the police and file a report. Think about it tonight, and if you change your mind, call the station in the morning.” “Thank you.” Liam watched the bar employee leave before facing his friends again. “I’ll respect your wishes on this, but I don’t think you should be home alone tonight,” Corey said, reaching up to gently touch his sore eye. “You had a pretty bad concussion, and who knows what this will do to aggravate it. Maybe you should come home with me and Jason?” Liam was shaking his head before Corey finished speaking. “I don’t want to impose on you guys.” “It’s not an imposition,” Jason said from his position behind his husband. “Corey’s right; you really shouldn’t be alone.” Liam was about to decline again when Alek spoke. “Why don’t you come home with me?” Liam’s eyes met Alek’s worried brown ones. “What? Are you serious?” Alek held up his hands. “Only so you’re not by yourself. I know we’re not together, and I won’t try anything. I just don’t want you to be alone in that apartment, or having to worry about all of those stairs. I have a spare bedroom, and my place is closer to the hospital if anything happens.” A headache that had been building steam since he’d been hit took that moment to spike, so Liam knew Alek had a good point, even if he wasn’t sure how smart it was to spend the night in his ex-boyfriend’s house. “Okay. Just for tonight.” “Then it’s settled,” Corey said, clapping his hands together as he rose from his seat. Alek held out a hand to help him to stand, and Liam gratefully accepted the assistance as he wobbled slightly. “Don’t worry,” Alek whispered in his ear as he led him through to the exit. “I promise to take care of you.”
  10. 52 likes
    Chapter 14 —Bailey— He hadn't felt so energetic in a long time. His mom had been waiting for him when he'd arrived home yesterday afternoon, ready to take him for his haircut. He really hadn't thought she'd remember, let alone follow through with her comment that morning. She'd actually been rather... affectionate and almost chipper the whole afternoon. Between her smiles and thinking about Declan, their walk, and the texts, Bailey found himself feeling unusually content. When he woke that Tuesday morning, he was glad to see his mother hadn't fallen asleep on the couch again. In fact, she seemed to be sleeping peacefully when he peeked in on her in her room to make sure she was okay. In fact, he was surprised to see that her bedroom was picked up and in perfect order. Neatness hadn't been much of a priority for her after the funeral. Bailey himself had slept fitfully, wondering about meeting up with Declan again today. He was both excited and a little scared. He knew, of course, there was the possibility that this was all some sort of trap. A way of getting him to lower his guard. But he really didn't think that was true. It didn't stop him from exercising some caution though. Meeting this afternoon at the deli was a safe enough bet. Being off-campus meant they would be out in the general public, so there was less of a chance, theoretically, of being ambushed. If he had to be honest, he'd felt a flutter of excitement when Declan responded almost immediately to his text last night. He imagined Declan sitting around anxiously awaiting his reply. At least, that's what he let himself dream anyway. As he ran on the track that morning, he had to admit he'd had just a tiny hope that maybe Declan would show up again. When he didn't, Bailey had to grant that Declan probably had no idea Bailey ran out here on the track every morning. They'd only run into each other that one disastrous time—when Declan apparently thought Bailey was trying to show him up. Bailey laughed out loud at the thought. He sobered, though, as he thought about how little he knew about anyone on campus other than his own team. That probably hadn't helped Declan's perception of him—or anyone else's for that matter. He had kept to himself. He did try to bury his frame in clothes a size or two too big. And he hadn't made any effort to talk to anyone else other than in passing. For all the whispers and side-long glances he'd received yesterday, today wasn't much different. He did notice that a few of the football players seemed to look away when they noticed him, almost as if they were ashamed. It was as if they weren't sure what to make of Chris's claim of Bailey's confession, maybe even a little suspicious of its authenticity, but they weren't willing to outright dispute him either. Hell, they'd been there; unless they had been buried in the back of the crowd, it was likely they knew that Bailey had never cheated. Other than a few of Chris and Eric's close friends though, most of the students were more curious than anything else. It made for good gossip and speculation on an otherwise regular week. At lunch, Bailey scooted through the lunch line as quickly as he could before making his way to a corner table where he could have his back to the wall. It was a habit he'd developed in the last couple years, as he was able to avoid anyone sneaking up behind him. He had his head down, buried in a science fiction fantasy, when a tray clattered to the table across from him. His eyes shot up to see Declan dropping his backpack in a chair as he was saying something to the guy who'd set the tray down. "... sure? You usually sit, you know, more out in the middle," the other guy was saying. "This is good, Ev," Declan said easily. "Hey, Bailey, you don't mind if we sit here, do ya?" Bailey actually thought Declan's eyes twinkled a little with amusement, and Bailey barely managed to hold back a smile. Damn, the guy was being persistent. "Sure." He shrugged as if it didn't matter, even as he was secretly warmed by the fact Declan appeared to have sought him out. "This is my roommate, Evan. Evan, you know Bailey, right?" Declan said in the way of introductions. "Yeah, sort of, we've seen each other around." Evan pulled out his chair, sitting, as Declan headed off to get his own food. "So you're the one who put Declan in his place, huh?" Bailey nearly choked on the milk he'd been drinking. Evan just smirked knowingly. "He deserved it. He's been full of himself all semester; the whole damn football team has." "Evan!" a voiced called from across the cafeteria, sparing Bailey a response as Evan turned to wave at a tall lanky red-head. The guy was sporting a cast on his arm as he attempted to juggle his tray and backpack. He nearly didn't make it. The tray crashed noisily on the tabletop, and he sighed heavily. "Fuck, I didn't think having a broken arm was going to be so damn frustrating!" Evan laughed. "Dude, just wait another couple of weeks when it starts really itching, too." The guy groaned. "You're not helping." He flopped down, sprawling in the seat, before finally looking over at Bailey. "Oh, hey, I'm Ian, by the way. I don't think we've met." "Bailey McIntyre," Bailey responded softly. "You okay?" He nodded towards Ian's bright blue fiberglass casted arm. It was black with all the signatures scribbled on it in Sharpie. "Oh, yeah, just a hazard of playing lacrosse, or any sport for that matter, I suppose. Broke it when I tripped over Carson's stick practicing faceoffs. Sucks, but it should be fine before the actual season starts." Bailey just nodded, still a little stunned by these new people at his table. Usually, if anyone bothered to sit with him it was his teammates. And... speak of the devils... "Hey, Bailey." Cameron came up and sat his tray down in the empty seat between him and Ian. He watched Justin silently edge around the table, eyeing Evan and Ian warily. Bailey could tell his team captain was assessing the motives of the two guys who had obviously chosen to sit at Bailey's table, because Justin knew Bailey wouldn't have chosen the seat if they had already been there. Justin pulled out a chair and flanked him on his other side. He found it kind of sweet that his teammates were protecting him in the only way they could, without outright telling Evan and Ian to leave. "So," Justin drawled, taking in the whole table, "what's up everybody?" "Not much," Evan shrugged, blithely unaware of Justin's watchfulness. "Just the same as everyone else I suppose: study, practice, sleep. And then do it all over again tomorrow!" The others laughed, and Bailey felt Justin relax slightly. It only lasted a moment though because apparently Justin spotted Declan making his way towards them. Bailey would have laughed out loud at the way Justin was shooting daggers at Declan, but Declan wasn't even paying attention to Justin. His dark eyes were focused solely on Bailey. Bailey almost shivered at the emotions roiling in those molten brown eyes. Declan dumped his backpack on the floor next to his chair and settled in to eat. "How's your day going?" Declan's deep voice intruded on his wandering thoughts, and Bailey focused enough to realize Declan was talking to him. "It's fine." "Nobody being... you know?" Declan asked vaguely, and Bailey guessed he was asking if anyone was harassing him because of the 'confession' Chris was spreading around. All eyes turned to him at that question, apparently each of them wondering the same thing. "No, not really. No one's really saying anything to me, but then I don't really give 'em a chance to either—just ignoring whatever whispers or comments, that's all." Declan and Justin nodded at the same time, causing Justin to glare back at the lineman. Declan just chuckled, taking a bite of a fry. "That's good." "So, Declan, do you know anything about what our coaches are planning?" Cameron asked, changing the subject for Bailey. "Nah, I didn't even know they were planning something until Bailey mentioned it yesterday. Guess we'll find out this afternoon." Conversation broke out across the table as everyone speculated and joked about what might be going on. Talk also turned to various tests or papers had been assigned. Bailey mostly sat back and watched as he usually did, even when he was sitting with just his teammates. Owen, Mateo, and Luke had taken the table next to them along with a couple people Bailey thought were their roommates, but Bailey had been horrible about allowing himself to get attached and hadn't remembered their names. "So, what's this, Foster? Slummin' now, are we?" Bailey looked up to see Chris hovering behind Declan, his eyes shooting contempt across everyone at the table. Bailey sensed Justin already attempting to rise, but a subtle shake of Declan's chiseled jaw had him settling back down. Declan calmly ate another fry, shrugging. "Just picked a good seat, seemed better than any other I saw." Chris cocked his head. "So you didn't see us sitting over there?" "Nope. Saw my friends sitting here." Declan continued to ignore Chris practically looming over him. Bailey ducked his head to hide his smirk of laughter. Evan and Ian snickered, hands covering their mouths, making only a half-hearted attempt to hide their amusement. Justin and Mateo gaped at Declan for a moment long moment before it hit them what Declan had actually said. Slow grins lit their faces. Chris Vasser's face flushed bright red. "You think you're so funny, Foster. Just wait." Bailey looked back up to see Chris glaring at him, before eyeing each person at the table. Funny how it looked a lot like the way Justin had been staring down Declan earlier. —Declan— "Excuse me, sir, but what are we doing here?" the sneer in Chris's voice was barely disguised as they entered the Auxiliary gym. Declan maneuvered his way in, his team fanning out just inside the doorway behind their coach and team captain. When their coach had informed them that they were going on a 'field trip' at the beginning of practice and to leave their gear in their lockers for now, Declan wasn't as surprised as the rest of the team. Bailey had hinted there might be something going on, and now Declan was getting an idea of what that might be. And it didn't look promising. Especially as they stared across the small gym at the six guys in form-fitting tank tops and gym shorts. Declan noticed Bailey and Luke seemed to be the only ones not trying to kill the football team with laser beam glares. Strangely, most of the guys around him didn't seem angry or upset by the turn of events, just curious and a little bit in awe as they looked around at the equipment. "Well, Mr. Vasser, this is Enlightening 101," the football coach, Coach Reed, informed with a sly smirk. "Coach Richards, they are all yours." Gasps erupted from around him, and Declan even found his mouth dropping open. The gym boys whipped their heads toward their coach, obviously just as surprised as the football team. "Slip off your shoes and spread out on the floor here," Richards ordered, as he gestured for his own team to join them. There was a lot of grumbling as they kicked off their shoes against the wall, slowing making their way to the slightly bouncy blue floor. He noticed a few of the guys testing out the springyness of the floor with amused smiles. They still crowded to one side as Justin and his team edged onto the other side. The two coaches exchanged amused smiles as they stood together. Coach Richards clapped his hands together. "Okay, boys, spread out, you're going to need room to do the warm-ups and conditioning exercises." Declan moved a little more towards the center, along with several others like Alex and Ben who seemed game to try whatever their coach had in mind. Declan found himself gravitating towards Bailey standing off to the side, nervously rubbing at his hipbone. Declan noticed Bailey's occasional wince and wondered at the cause. He frowned. But his attention was quickly drawn away when his team captain opened his mouth. "Wait, wait." Chris stepped forward, holding up his hand. "What's going on? Why do we have to warm up with the—" he caught himself before he said something that would get himself in trouble, "...with the gymnastics team?" Chris was staring across at Justin, who had his arms folded defensively. It reminded Declan of the day they faced off in the weight room. Justin looked just as unenthusiastic to have his space invaded as the Chris was to be there at all. Coach Reed stepped closer to Chris, almost in his face. "Because, Mr. Vasser, it seems there is some misconception about what being a champion means. It means more than just winning a few games or meets. It entails hard work, respectfulness, a willingness to try new things, and good sportsmanship towards all athletes," Coach Reed intoned meaningfully. "We, and I mean all the coaches, are beginning to see a little too much snobbery in the various teams—some more than others. So, Coach Richards and I have chosen to test a new idea that will probably be implemented with all the teams. The idea is for differing teams to experience a little bit of what another team does in their practices, and maybe even interact with students outside of your own team." "So basically," Chris clarified, "we're going to do some of their conditioning and practice, and then they're going to come do ours?" Both coaches nodded. "That's the idea," Reed confirmed. Eric nudged Chris's side. "This should be fuckin' easy," he whispered to Chris with a wicked grin, eliciting a chuckle of agreement from Eddie as well. "The team captains will lead," Richards stated, ready to get the practice moving. "Justin and Chris... " He waved the two teens to the front. Declan nearly groaned. He was quite sure, after having witnessed some of the gymnastics practice before that they were about to have their asses handed to them. Reed and Richards exchanged a knowing smile, and Declan could just see Chris and Eric falling directly into their spider web. Chris just turned to Justin, raising mockingly innocent brows, flourishing his hands out in a 'please proceed' gesture. Declan swore he could see Chris already calculating what torture he could inflict on the gymnastics team when it was his turn. Of course, by the look on Justin's face now, he had the same plan for the football team, so maybe it would work out evenly. "Okay, let's go, boys, time's a wasting," Richards said with a clap. To say it was humiliating would be an understatement. Mortifying... Chastening... Of course, Justin was reminded that he needed to lead them through a fairly normal routine, which did actually include several of the same exercises that the football team used as well. The basic jumping jacks had Chris rolling his eyes, along with the push-ups, crunches, planks, pike stretches, etc. Declan heard several of his teammates mumbling about how it seemed like they were in their own practice right now. But the next exercises Justin led them through, though, tended to have the larger size of most of the football team working against them. Handstands... yeah, right. Most of them didn't even get up into one before crashing down into the guys around him—and it was worse watching the gym guys pressing up into one from a sitting position on the floor. Hell, Declan couldn't even kick up into one, let alone hold the damn thing. Pancakes (some sort of split with your legs out to the sides and you try to flatten your chest to the floor)... so not happening; several of the guys pulled groin muscles trying to force it. Declan thought he knew flexibility; hell, they did stretches every practice, but this was a whole new level of bendy. There were several of the bending hands, shoulders, back, everything in ways they didn't normally go. Declan was sure he'd never stretched some of the muscles he stretched today in that way. Some of the guys did better than others; Lachlan managed pretty well and got some congratulatory pats on the back for a successful handstand that he actually held longer than any of the other football players. But Chris and Eric's cocky attitude from the beginning wore off quickly when Justin told them to get flatter, or to 'see if they could at least get almost vertical' for the handstand they never managed. Declan had to give Justin credit; the guy kept up a professional air the whole time, obviously very aware of the coaches watching. He was extremely careful not to deride or demean anyone, especially Chris or Eric. He kept his comments to advice that sounded helpful, even though some of the team could take it badly, as if Justin were trying to point out just how inept they were at some of the skills. When Justin finally stopped and looked back to the coaches for further instructions, everyone flopped back on the springy blue floor groaning. "That's about it, Coach," Justin announced. "We'd normally head to the equipment now..." Justin gestured around the gym, and several eyes widened with horror at that thought of having to get on the gymnastics equipment. "We don't have to do any of that, do we?" Nick squeaked out from behind Declan, echoing the sentiment of most of his teammates. Coach Richards chuckled. "No, of course not—" "But I think it wouldn't hurt for them to see a routine or two," Coach Reed added, then turned to address the team. "I think it might give you a little more appreciation of what it takes to be a gymnast." "I think I get it already," Jaime muttered from next to Declan, rubbing at his groin muscle. Alex and Ben grunted their agreement. Nick just flopped onto his back dramatically. Richards nodded. "Fair enough. How about a quick demonstration on rings and floor before we head out to the field? Justin, figure out who's demonstrating," he called to his team. Justin nodded, immediately pointing at Bailey. "You got rings; I'll take the floor." Justin grinned broadly, apparently excited to be showing off a little in front of the other team. "Show 'em what real strength means, Bay." As the gymnasts smacked hands and bumped fists, Bailey moved to the side wall to grab up a small bag without joining in. Declan noticed Chris and Eric rolling their eyes at each other, mimicking dancing around with their fingers. The rest of his own team was shaking out their various limbs from the intense flexibility and stamina workout they'd just done. They moved to the side of the blue carpeted floor and spread out along the edge. Declan snuck a peek over at Bailey slipping on his leather grips, admiring the defined shoulder muscles rippling with his movements. When his gaze swept back over the line of football players and he noticed several of his teammates watching Bailey, he felt a momentary pang of jealousy. It caused him blink quickly at the thought. What the hell? He had no right to be jealous. Bailey wasn't his. But it sort of felt like he was. Because none of these guys had Bailey's phone number. None of them knew he didn't like to be surprised. None of them knew that Bailey had played football before. He wondered vaguely as he turned to Justin taking a stance on the floor if Justin even knew about Bailey's football past. A small smile played at the corner of his lips at the thought. "Where's your fru-fru dance music?" Eric called out to Justin, earning several groans from his teammates. Declan rolled his eyes. Sometimes Eric was such a dumbass. "Mr. Olander," Coach Reed said sharply, "you'll show respect or you'll be sidelined." Eric flushed, his lips tightening. "Yes, sir." Chris was nudging him, leaning in to whisper, but he was smart enough not to say anything. "Idiot," someone muttered, Declan couldn't tell who though. The comment didn't even faze Justin, he was that focused. He stepped to the corner of floor and took off. Gasps erupted from around Declan as Justin completed a round-off back handspring, back tuck, back layout series. A few steps with exaggerated straight legs led to a handstand full pirouette, lowering into a straddle where he balanced for several seconds on just his hands. Pressing back into a handstand, Justin lowered one leg until he was in a 180 degree split. A front handspring into a flyspring took him to the far corner where he took a quick breath before rising on his toes and angled for the opposite corner in a double back Arabian stretched front layout. He flipped and twisted, landing with a solid thunk. When he finished, raising his arms in the standard salute, applause erupted. Murmurs of admiration flitted around him, and Declan noticed Reed and Richards nod at each other. "Thank you, Mr. Greene," Richards acknowledged. When he turned his attention to the rings, everyone else followed his lead. Bailey had his hands in a bin, rubbing them together. Chalk, Declan realized when a small white cloud floated around him. Bailey walked over to stand just under the rings, and Mateo stepped up behind him. Declan frowned as Mateo put his hands on Bailey's waist. It wasn't until Bailey jumped and grabbed the rings that Declan realized Mateo was aiding Bailey to mount the rings like Declan had seen their coach do once before. He heard a snicker of laughter and looked down the line to see Eddie leaning into say something to Chris and Eric. He just shook his head, watching Bailey's fluid routine instead. It looked just as amazing as it had before. The muscles bulging as Bailey held incredible strength poses, the long lean line of his body, the way Bailey seemed to float mid-air and stop his momentum instantaneously completely awed him. How he could swing around on those rings, holding vertical and then horizontal, straddling, flipping forwards then backwards, and keep the rings so still as if they were never touched was incredible. Bailey's lean form seemed even longer as he made several giant rotations, building up speed for his dismount. He solidly landed a double back on the mat, his thump echoing in the stunned silence. "Holy shit," someone finally muttered, breaking the silence. "Did you see that? He fucking held himself in a T, horizontally!" "That's called the Maltese," Justin's voice said from behind them, his arms crossed over his chest. "Bailey's the only one of us that can do it." Declan grinned proudly, even though he had no idea why he should feel that way. Mateo held out his hand to Bailey, and Declan noticed Bailey's hesitation before accepting the congratulatory hand-slap. Abruptly, clapping and whistling broke out around him. Declan joined in enthusiastically, proud of his teammates. Bailey had ducked his head, his cheeks tinged pink at the praise. As the noise died down, Coach Reed clapped his hands to get everyone's attention. "That was very impressive Mr. Greene and Mr. McIntyre. Thank you for the demonstrations. I'm sure everyone here can acknowledge the strength and talent it takes to do such complex skills. Strength comes in many forms, right, gentlemen?" A series of 'yes, sir's echoed around the gym. While Declan didn't think his entire team had dismissed the gymnasts as weak 'fly-boys', a few of them most definitely had—until now. Hell, it was only a few days ago that Declan admitted it to himself. "Okay, how about we head out onto the field?" Reed said. "Do we have to? Can't we just say we know they are good at whatever they do?" Owen asked. "No," Richards said curtly, "this is an exchange of skills and expertise. It's their turn to share with you." "Hell, yeah!" a couple of guys shouted as the football team jumped to their feet, obviously ready to show off a little themselves. "Grab your gear and head to the field," Reed ordered before turning with a nod to the gymnastics team. "We'll see you guys on the field in a few minutes. Great job, by the way." Declan surreptitiously waited to the side as his team shoved through the doors into the hall. He watched Bailey slowly walking over, making his way across the gym to join the rest of his team. "Hey." Declan was surprised at how husky his voice came out, but Bailey looked up at him, those gray eyes wide and guileless. "We still on after practice?" Bailey ducked his head slightly, nodding. "Yeah, sure." "Good. Can't wait."
  11. 52 likes
    Chapter 18 Liam fidgeted nervously as he surveyed the other patrons of the restaurant. He took a sip of water, and then wrapped his overly warm fingers around the cold glass, trying hard to settle down. Although he tried to assure himself there was no reason to be so tense, he couldn’t seem to tame the butterflies fluttering around in his stomach. “Li?” Liam’s head shot up at the sound of Alek’s voice. “Hey, you made it.” “It sounded important. Is everything all right?” Liam gestured for Alek to sit. The waiter came over immediately to take Alek’s drink order, quickly leaving them alone again. “Are you okay? You seem on edge?” Alek asked again. The concern in his expression was touching. “Yeah, I’m fine... just overthinking.” “Oh? About school?” Alek’s body visibly relaxed. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about. You’re smart as hell, and Corey will make sure you know the material backwards and forwards.” Liam managed a weak smile. It was sweet that Alek had so much faith in him. “No, it’s not about school. I was thinking about us… you and me.” “You were?” Alek appeared uncomfortable as he unfolded and refolded the napkin beside him. “Elena told me she talked to you. I hope she didn’t try to make you feel bad. She can be a little over-protective.” This time Liam managed a genuine smile. “Elena is fierce for such a little thing, but no, she didn’t make me feel bad.” “Good. I gave her hell for bothering you. She didn’t have a right to do that. I know our breakup was completely my fault.” “That’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about.” Alek’s eyes widened, but he didn’t speak, seemingly waiting for Liam to continue. “I would like us to try to… umm, hang around each other more.” “Oh… kay,” Alek replied, drawing the word out. “You did say you wanted to try to stay friends.” Liam nodded. “I’m not guaranteeing anything, and I have no idea what will come of any of this, but I would like to give it a try.” “Not that I’m not happy for the chance to spend more time with you, but why? Honestly, I thought the friendship offer was just you trying to be nice. You made it clear you wanted to move on, and I respect that. How would the two of us spending time together help you?” “I miss you,” Liam responded, his voice soft. “I haven’t let myself get close to very many people. You weren’t just my boyfriend, you were one of my best friends.” “And you were mine.” Alek gave him a sad smile. “I hate how much I fucked up with you. If I had done what you’d asked maybe we’d still be together. I can’t tell you how much I regret what happened, but I can’t go back and change it.” The big man took a deep breath and appeared to steel himself. “Don’t do this because you feel I deserve some sort of reward for finally coming out to my parents. It was something I had to do, for me, not because I was trying to make myself look good or make amends.” “I know that, and I’m so proud of you, but this isn’t about a reward.” An irritated sound escaped from Liam before he continued. “I’m not saying any of this right.” “What are you trying to say?” “I was jealous, okay? I saw that blonde guy hitting on you in the parking lot and wanted to scratch his eyes out.” Alek jolted as if stung. “Seriously? Why? He was a customer.” “I know, but it got me thinking. You’re eventually going to start dating again.” A slow nod met his observation. “I think it’s still too soon, but sure. Eventually.” “Like I said, I can’t guarantee anything, but I don’t want to shut the door on us completely.” Liam’s heart was beating rapidly, and the butterflies were back with a vengeance as he waited to hear what Alek had to say. “You’re serious.” “I am. This isn’t going to be easy, and I may realize I can’t go back again, but if you’re willing, I would like to at least give us a shot.” “You have to know I would love that, Li. What do you need from me? What would make this easier for you?” “Honestly, I’m not sure. I’ll need to take things slow… at least for now. Maybe we can start with coffee dates, lunches, that sort of thing, and see where we go from there. I’m not ready for anything physical, and I don’t want to lead you on, so for the time being it will be two friends getting to know each other again.” “I can live with that.” Alek, although his tone was serious, seemed to glow with pleasure, and Liam worried he might be giving more hope than was realistic. “This may make me sound like an asshole, but you have to be prepared for me to step back if it gets too much, or if I find I can’t deal with things. You really hurt me, and that’s not going to be easy for me to forgive or forget.” Some of Alek’s obvious joy faded, but he still looked happy. “The fact you’re willing to let me back into your life in any way is enough right now. I know I don’t deserve another chance, not after everything, but I’ll try my damnedest not to let you down again.” “Don’t promise anything you can’t give me, Alek. This won’t work if we’re not completely honest with one another. I know you came out to your mom and dad, and that had to have been very difficult, but it’s not easy being out in public too.” “I’m not too worried about that,” Alek replied with a smile. “I know it’s not going to be a walk in the park, and I haven’t exactly gone around telling everyone I’m gay, but I did tell Rene and Jerome. Jerome was great. He didn’t even bat an eye when I told him. Rene had a hard time with it for a while. He didn’t say anything outright, but he wouldn’t shower at the arena after hockey practice for weeks. We finally had it out a couple of weeks ago, and he’s been better. At least he’s trying. I told him I wasn’t interested in his skinny ass.” Liam laughed, but sobered quickly. “I’m sure Rene loved that.” “It broke the tension and got him laughing. I haven’t said anything directly to the rest of the team, but I don’t plan on denying it if anyone asks.” “That’s quite a change from this time last year.” “I told you… I’m tired of living a lie.” “Elena said some of the guys at the garage might be clued in.” Alek rolled his eyes and shook his head. “That was all Dad. For a guy who doesn’t want a gay son, he was loud enough to make sure the whole damned shop heard him. I think all of the guys know by now.” “How are they taking it?” “So far only one driver quit. The rest of them have stayed on, although there were a few awkward days after the blow-up. Even if they have a problem working for a ‘fag,’ I pay well. Money can be a strong motivator to keep your opinions to yourself.” “It all seems so hard to believe.” “I can imagine.” Alek reached across the table and cupped Liam’s cheek. “I should have done it a long time ago. It took almost having you die in that accident for me to get my head out of my ass, and I will regret that for the rest of my life.” “I do wish you had done it a long time ago, but better late than never, right?” The waiter approached to take their orders, and both men laughed, realizing they had been so caught up in their conversation that they’d forgotten to open their menus. After quickly scanning the options, they ordered, and the young server left with an amused smile. He returned in no time with their appetizers. “What are you doing this weekend?” Liam asked as he dug into his complimentary salad. “Maybe we could meet up for lunch or coffee or something?” “I would love to, but I have a hockey tournament this weekend. It’s the last one of the season.” “That’s right. I remember it from last year. You were away the whole weekend with games and functions.” This particular tournament had been a bone of contention with Liam the winter before. Alek had essentially disappeared for the weekend, hanging out with his buddies and going to the bar in the evenings. Although he hadn’t forbidden Liam from attending, the man had appeared uncomfortable with the idea. Alek looked thoughtful for a moment before meeting his gaze. “Would you like to come to the games?” “Are you sure?” Liam asked, surprised. “Very sure. I know you used to like to watch me play, and it would be great to have you there cheering me on. If you’re able to come on Friday, I can take you out after, and we can celebrate your acceptance at Queen’s.” He stared at the other man, trying to gauge how serious he was. “Okay. That sounds like fun. Maybe Corey and Jason will be around and can come with me.” “Sure. The more the merrier. I bet Corey wouldn’t mind celebrating your acceptance again.” Both men chuckled, as Liam nodded in agreement. “I swear he hasn’t stopped talking about it since he heard.” “He’s just happy for you.” “I know, and I do appreciate how supportive he’s been. Did you know he even offered to help me cover the cost of school?” “He did? I knew he was a great guy, but that must have shocked you.” “You have no idea,” Liam snorted a laugh. “I tried to turn him down, but he insisted.” “Corey seems pretty insistent. I don’t think you stood a chance.” Out of the corner of his eye, Liam saw the waiter approaching with their steaks and thanked the young man. The two men tucked into their meals and had made a significant dent before anyone spoke again. “This is great, but your steak is still the best,” Liam said, chewing the flavourful meat. Alek’s eyes were bright as he smiled. “Maybe I’ll have a chance to make it for you again sometime?” “Maybe.” Liam couldn’t help his smile as he took another bite. The rest of the meal was spent catching up on Liam’s return to work, Marty’s impending move, and Alek’s continued hunt for qualified mechanics. It was… comfortable. Liam missed hanging out with Alek and talking about their respective days. Throwing his napkin on the table, Alek asked Liam if he would be interested in a walk along the boardwalk. It was a chilly night, but Liam readily agreed. They strolled quietly for several minutes before Liam broke the silence. “I know you’ve made a lot of changes, but this feels surreal.” “I know,” Alek responded, peering sideways at Liam. “I took me a long time to get the courage to come out of the closet, and I let you walk away.” “That hurt more than anything I’ve ever felt before. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t important enough….” Alek stopped and turned to face Liam. “None of that was about you. It was all me. I loved you… I still love you, but I was scared. My parents have never been shy about their opinions, and I knew telling them I was gay would mean being disowned.” Walking a few feet away he stared at the water and took a deep breath. “This is going to sound bad, but I kept stalling because I thought I had plenty of time. Even after we broke up, I felt like you would always be there. It’s awful to admit, but I took you for granted. I was an idiot.” Liam blinked away the moisture in his eyes. “You thought I would wait for you.” “Part of me did, yes. I know that makes me sound like an asshole, and I was. You deserved better than that.” “What if Nathan had been more than just a friend? I had a chance with him, you know.” Alek sighed and looked over his shoulder at Liam. “I know, and he would have been damned lucky to have you. If your accident showed me anything, it’s that you can lose everything in a second. No one has the luxury of infinity.” “It’s incredible you did it, even thinking I was with Nathan.” “The lying was destroying me and everything I ever cared about. So what if my parents were proud. They were proud of someone they didn’t know. Now they know me, and they can choose to have me in their life, or not.” “Do you still think you can just win me back?” Alek took Liam’s hand in his larger, warm one. “I won’t lie. I want you back, but I know it’s a miracle you’re even speaking to me after the way I treated you. If the shoe was on the other foot, I don’t know if I could’ve been as patient or forgiving.” “I don’t know if I am that forgiving,” Liam replied softly. “This may not go anywhere. You know that, right?” “Believe me,” Alek responded, squeezing his hand. “I know I have a lot to prove.” “We should head back.” Liam felt bad when he saw a flicker of disappointment on Alek’s face, but he needed time and space to process what they’d talked about tonight. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” They’d made it to the parking lot before Liam realized they were still holding hands. Sheepish, he quickly released his grip and stepped back. “Sorry about that. I don’t think anyone saw.” With a soft kiss against Liam’s temple Alek whispered, “I don’t care if they did,” before walking across the lot to his truck. Stunned, he could only stare as Alek waved and drove away. Who the hell was that man, and what did he do with skittish Alek? This would take some getting used to, but Liam felt suddenly warm in the cold of the evening. May it wasn’t Alek’s hope he should be worrying about?
  12. 51 likes
    With fury in his eyes, Raymond bounded down the steps with Daniel right behind him. His voice was almost at a normal volume now, but clearly projected so that everyone in the crowd could hear. “Just remember, dear mother, I have stayed out of your life, even avoided you and yours. It is you who have falsely accused, maligned, and assaulted my real family. You brought this upon yourself, you have no one else to blame. “You talk about degenerates! How about your sanctimonious husband who enjoyed literally getting fucked in the ass by the old Sheriff and sucking cocks at the same time. I have received an email that is to be sent to every member of your congregation with that video attached. They will also see the video of Fire chief Bumpkis sharing with your husband and bragging about the money they stole from the needy children of this community, some were even members of his own congregation. Jeffrey Adams has never met your husband, let alone handed him money. But, I have met him, dear mother, I have. Do these blind followers of his and yours not suspect he has been skimming from their offerings. Do they not know that the missionaries they support in Ethiopia, don't even exist? How about his offshore bank account that has more of the church's building fund money in it, than the actual building fund account itself. Do they know that he laughs his ass off at how easily fooled they have been all these years? Do they not find it strange that he feigns poverty, yet drives a nicer car and lives in a better neighborhood than anyone in the congregation? I do, yes dear mother, I do. “And you, my dear, sainted, mother have you told them why I went to live with the Adams? The real reason? Or did you lie to them as well. You didn't want them to know that bastard was angry because I refused his sexual advances. When he learned I was gay, he decided to send me to a camp in Idaho that starved, beat and psychologically tortured children, just because they were different. He made sure I understood what was facing me. Oh, he made it clear, dear mother, if I had sex with him he would be happy for me to stay. “Do these fine people know that he married you only to hide his own so-called deviant activities. He had been spotted coming out of a gay bar in Dallas. He married you to quell those rumors. Just ask some of the older congregants. Why didn't you have more children after you married him? Because you were frigid. Because a teenage pregnancy left you distrustful of and despising all men. Yes, I know you got pregnant. I know you found out after my sperm donor broke up with you. You told no one of your shame, graduated high school and moved to California to live with a widowed Aunt. You met a young lawyer. You convinced him you were pregnant with his child. I was born “premature” at 8 pounds, 7 ounces, a chunky little premi, wouldn't you agree? Oh and just so you know, my father knew I wasn't his. He knew he was sterile long before he met you. I have copies of all his medical records. I learned the truth through DNA tests in law school. He married you so he could have a child and I thank god he did. You were a cold hearted bitch to both of us. A cow that won't tend her calf is sent to slaughter and dear mother you should have been. My father loved me and I loved, and still love him dearly. You never cared for either of us. I am sure the preacher appreciated the fact that you and he had separate bedrooms from the beginning. God knows he tried more than once to get me into his. I suspect he likes women even less than you like men. Before you ask why I didn't tell you, it was clear to me, even as a child, dear mother, you wouldn't have cared. Oh yes, clutch your bosom as if all this is news to you and is so hurtful. Put on a show for these fine folks, maybe they'll believe it, but I won’t, no I won't, you miserable fucking excuse for a human being.” The woman was at first shocked as anyone to see and hear her son express such contempt and in such foul language. As he drew nearer and began to speak, her whole world began to crumble. Her inner most secrets were laid bare. Even as he spoke she could see the misspelled placards that had been enthusiastically dancing in the air began to lower as if deflated. The people who had rallied to offer her moral support, now were distancing themselves physically as well as mentally. Those that stood ready to cheer her courageous stand against these faggots, were now looking at her as if seeing some abhorrent creature. They looked at her as if she were the sinner, the unclean, the faggot. Her anger rose again to the fore. The hand that had clutched her bosom in despair reached out to slap her offending, even now, burdensome child. Unlike the Adams faggot this one did not attempt to block her assault. In fact, he laughed loudly. “You stupid fucking bitch! Do you think you can really hurt me more than you did as a cold hearted fish of a mother? “This.” Raymond rubbed the red handprint on his cheek. “This is nothing compared to the pain I suffered, as a child, trying to figure out what I had done to be unworthy of even my own mother’s love.” Raymond had not reacted, but Sheriff Lovan did. “Deputy Jones, arrest this woman for attempted assault of a high and aggravated nature, an attempted simple assault and one count of simple assault.” Deputy Jones stepped forward and puffed his chest out. “I ain't about to arrest her, she's my preacher's wife. It’d be going against god. Besides, you ain't gonna be acting Sheriff for long. The preacher and the Mayor both done told me they was backing me for Sheriff in the next election. You ain't no kind of Sheriff. Since you ain't in uniform, you don't even look to be a Deputy.” Daniel extended his hand palm up. “Fine, give me your handcuffs, keys, badge and gun. If that man is still your preacher after what you heard here just now, you don't have the brains to be a Deputy, much less Sheriff. Consider yourself fired.” In a last act of defiance, the now former Deputy, Jones dropped the requested items at the Sheriff's feet. Only after the little man turned his back and walked away did Daniel retrieve the items. He then handcuff the woman, announced the charges she faced, recited the Miranda warning and turned her over to another Deputy. He then took Raymond by the arm and said, “You need to come with me, Mr. Cargill”. Before heading back inside with Daniel, Raymond scanned the faces of his family. Jeff was clearly in a state of shock. Joe and Mellie both, for some reason, appeared to be genuinely happy. Paul vacillated between a smugly satisfied smile and serious concern for Jeff. Raymond thought it could have gone better. Soon the two were safely locked in Daniel's office. Daniel had given directions they were not to be disturbed. He knelt beside Raymond who was seated in one of two fake leather chairs, in front of Daniel's desk. He gently touched Raymond's still red cheek. “Are you ok”? Raymond took a deep breath. “I will be. I just, when I saw her attack Jeff, it brought back memories. I guess I wanted to protect him from all the pain she had caused me all those years. I should have told you, I would have told you. I just, the time wasn't right. I want you to know all my secrets. I didn't want you or anybody to find out like that. “Uncle Joe insisted I start seeing a therapist soon after I moved in with them. She helped a lot. She always insisted I deserved the chance to confront them both, the preacher and my mother. God, I still want to gag when I use that honorific toward her. She, the therapist, helped me realize a lot of things were wrong in my life. Once I had the resources and learned the particulars, I loved my father even more. Today it all came out. I feel like I just ran a marathon and the endorphins are all sparking in my brain at once.” Daniel grasped Raymond's bicep and met his eye. “It is a surprise, but not a shock. I mean the eyes and sometimes you and Jeff make the same face. You really do look like brothers, of course you are more handsome and sexy…” They we're interrupted by someone pounding on the door and a rather loud feminine voice demanded, “Daniel Lovan, you open this door immediately. That boy needs his family, er, uh, the rest of his family. Let us in there now, or I’ll take my gun and shoot the lock off.” This was followed by a loud shuffling noise from the outer office. Daniel figured it was his staff taking cover. “Ok, Aunt Mellie, I’m coming, don’t shoot.” He unlocked the door and immediately his office was filled with members of the Adams family. Everyone was determined to reassure Raymond, all at the same time. The cacophonous din that resulted showed no sign of diminishing until Uncle Joe put his fingers to his lips and blew an ear piercing whistle. Silence echoed around the room just as everyone’s chatter had moments before. Joe grinned as he approached Raymond. “I always wanted to do that inside. Daddy would have strapped my beehind and Mellie would have me sleeping in a guest room, if not the bunkhouse. Another thing I wanted to do for years is to hug my nephew. Come here son.” Raymond stepped into his Uncle's warm embrace. “We’ve known for years. We didn't want to stain the memories of your real father. I am certain my brother never knew. David would have been proud to call you son. I should know. He praised you often enough in my presence. Mellie and I got to talking years ago when we were reviewing our wills. We felt you were as much family, to us, as Jeff was. What with the eyes and a few traits peculiar to the Adams, that you just happen to share, well, we decided to do a DNA test. I knew David had dated your mother but as close as we were, we never would “kiss and tell”. Not even to tell each other. I sent the samples from your’s and David's hairbrushes. Joe turned to his younger nephew, “Jeff, son, we have left personal letters explaining what we knew. One for each of you. We hoped that you two would celebrate you brotherhood.” Turning back to Raymond he added, “We figured, the way you revered you Daddy, you didn't know. We spent many sleepless nights before we decided you needed to understand why we were leaving you just as much of our estate as Jeff was getting. We figured, if we didn't acknowledge your lineage, you would reject any bequest you felt should have gone to blood kin. I wish we had all been more upfront with the truth. I’ve really glad we're here at last.” Raymond was summarily pulled from Joe's arms and into a smaller, but just as welcoming hug. “My boy, I was so afraid I would die, never being able to tell what a very real and deserving member of this family you are. I am insisting that you have your children call me grandma. As soon as I leave here I am going to Jeff's and stay until our little Maria also knows I am grandma from now on. Y’all can decide who Joe is on your own. Just know I will consider it my right as matron of this family to be called grandma by one and all.” Releasing Raymond she turned to Joe. “You can call me grandma too, except in the bedroom. I can't see myself getting frisky as a grandma. So unless you want to be left to your own devices, best not be sweet talking me and calling me grandma at the same time.” Joe opened his arms in invitation. “Ah, Honey Bun, you know in my eye you haven't aged a day since we first met in grade school.” Everyone watched as Mellie melted into Joe's embrace after hearing his sincere sweet talk. As their lips met Joe's hand slid down and cupped her ample ass cheek. Mellie pushed him away, “I suwannee, Josephus Septimus Adams, you will never change. You horney old devil.” The uproarious laughter that accompanied their exchange let those in the outer office it was ok to finally relax. From the time of Raymond's revelation until now Paul had a hold, in some way, of his mate. He had watched him go from utter shock to dazed and confused to simply questioning. Now, he freed him and gave him a gentle nudge toward his brother. Jeff took the hint and moved to Raymond. Jeff took a deep shuddering breath. With his hands stuffed into his pockets he searched Raymond's face. “You know I’ve always looked up to you. So many times Dad would use you as an example of not letting circumstances determine the kind of man I would become. He made it easy to look up to you as my Uncle. It was just natural to love and respect you. Right now, my mind is racing, digging up all the little clues and tells that should have marked you as an Adams, as my brother. Truth is, you’ve always been an Adams. And you’ve always been my brother. Today is like the universe is confirming what I’ve known to be true for years. I love you big brother”. They embraced tightly in an effort to become as physically close to each other as they felt in their hearts. By this time every man in the room was choked up and had moisture in their eyes. Even Mellie had to reach in her purse, push her pistol aside and withdraw a tissue. Once the statements had been documented, everyone reconvened, over bad coffee, in the Sheriff's office. Once assembled, Daniel, having been advised of Jones unprofessional conduct, made sure that no one had had an unpleasant experience in providing their statements. Joe was the last to enter, with coffee in hand. He took a sip and got a look of disgust on his face. “Raymond you got to get your man a decent coffee maker. This stuff will eat his guts out before he hits thirty.” He quickly sat the cup on a nearby credenza and just as quickly forgot it. Joe cleared his throat and began speaking, “As head of the Adams family…” At which point Daniel and Paul went, Snap, snap… Snap, snap. Joe snarled, “If you two weren't already family members, I’d have you both adopted out. Now knock that sh.. stuff. Knock that stuff off. We should have a celebration dinner welcoming Raymond as a certified blood member of the Ad.., of the, er, uh our family. And we will, at our place tomorrow night. Right now, I’m feeling rather peckish and I know your grandma is. So let's all meet over at the diner for a celebratory lunch, as a family. My treat. The idea met with immediate and unanimous approval. Daniel insisted Raymond ride with him in his patrol car. Raymond's security duo, rather than ride locked in the backseat, followed closely behind. Jeff, Paul, Sam, with Dave driving brought up the rear of the caravan. Jeff turned to his partner, “You weren't really surprised were you, I mean that Unc…, I mean Raymond and I are brothers”? “I suspected a biological relationship from the moment I saw he had the same green eyes as you and Uncle Joe. I decided, I would bide my time and once I got to know Uncle Raymond, er, I mean Raymond, I was going to discuss the rarity of that particular shade of green. Green is actually the most uncommon eye color. The distinctive shade y’all share must surely have common genetic link.” “It's pretty well accepted that the Adams men have all had that same eye color all the way back to Winston Adams’ father. I think women find it attractive, my mother said it was my best feature.” “I mean no offense to your mother but anyone can see you are handsome, hot and hung. Well, I don't want everyone to see that you're hung, but the rest is, just plain obvious. Your green eyes are just icing on the cake. And you cowboy, are my own private slice of beefcake.” Jeff's face took on a serious expression. Paul asked, what's the matter? Have I got something on my face? “No, no. It's just that I figured your lips would naturally have a really tight pucker after they passed that much bullshit.” Sam and Dave guffawed at Jeff's jibe. Jeff chuckled right along with them. Paul glared at them all, in turn. “I don't think that was a damn bit funny. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I pay you another compliment Mr. Adams. And I won’t forget that you two up there was busting a gut at my expense. Just remember payback's a bitch. Where I come from, we don't get even we get ahead.” Jeff, still snickering, tried to take Paul's hand. Paul rebuffed him by folding his arms across his chest. “Keep your hands to yourself. Right now you should be afraid, be very afraid. I could, as professional, I have a license to conduct a none too gentle testicular examination on you before you even had time to cross your legs and beg for mercy.” The front seat occupants got suddenly quiet. They weren't sure if they were about to witness an assault or foreplay. Jeff raised his hands in front of his face and made his fingers shake. With a frightened look, he insisted, “I’m askeered Doctor Wilson. I’m werwy askeered. I’m plumb near skeered ta deaf. The last time y’all done that ta me sir, I cum so hard I thought the head of my cock was gonna blow plum off. No tellin what would happen if’n you do that agin, sir.” Sam leaned over and whispered in Dave's ear. Dave simply nodded. Like a hungry copperhead striking at his supper, Paul’s hand was crushing Jeff's balls in a fraction of a second. Jeff's response whether intentionally slower or not, allowed Paul to get a werwy, werwy firm grip. His hands wrapped around Paul's forearm, but he was suddenly afraid to push the offending limb away. He wasn't sure his balls wouldn't go with the hand. Paul's grip grew tighter. “What do you say now Mr. Adams?” A little tighter. “Are you enjoying the examination”? The first response was honest, “Yes, werwy much”! But, an obvious mistake... in hindsight. Paul's grip crushed Jeff's balls even harder. “Are we still having fun, Mr. Adams? Before you answer, I suggest you lose the accent. You sound like Elmer Fudd on acid.” A firm squeeze, then a slight relaxation of the grip. “Well, are you still enjoying the examination.” Jeff knew, damn good and well, Paul could see his rock hard cock stretched alongside his left leg. But, in his normal, yet, pained voice he played along. “No sir Doc. It stopped being fun a squeeze or two ago. Please let go of my balls. You know I was kidding. And besides, I love both your puckers, don't I prove that to you every day and every night? I swear, I’ll make sweet love to both of them tonight, anyway you want.” “You’ll agree to be my sex slave once we’re in our bedroom tonight”? “I can't do that. You could make me do anything… YEEOUUCH! I mean, Yes sir! Doc, I’ll do anything. Just don't crush my balls no more.” Jeff could feel his cock spit out a gob of precum with that last squeeze. He hoped Paul would release him soon. He was werwy close to cumming. “Now, say you're sorry for not just accepting my sincere compliment.” Jeff didn't dare risk one more squeeze. But, it actually took him a moment to recall what had started this seriously fucking HOT! ballplay. He could feel Paul beginning to really crush his nutz. “NO! NO! I mean, YES! I will accept your compliments, without making a joke. I promise! Honest! No lie! I cross my heart and hope to die! Anything! Just let go my nutz. Please!” “Tonight, when I tell you to, you will go shave, take a shower and wait for me nekkid in our bedroom. You will be on your knees, on the goatskin rug, with your hands clasped behind your back. Is that clear”? Jeff felt one more gob of cum spit forth. He was tempted to argue, just so he could cum now. But, tonight would be so much better if he waited. If, he could wait! “Yes Sir”! He barked. Paul reluctantly released, what was quickly becoming his second most favorite and third most favorite toys. He hoped his erection wasn't as obvious as his lover's. He glanced at his own crotch. ‘Damn! They looked like twins’. It was too late to do anything but think unsexy thoughts. Both men tried… both men failed. As they gathered at the front of Paul's new Tahoe, Dave offered the only possible solution, as he handed Sam a twenty dollar bill. “You guys need to hold your jackets in front of yourselves until the swelling goes down. And for future reference, we’re professionally trained not to look into the backseat when we hear heavy breathing or moaning unless, ‘precipitated by or accompanied by gunshots’”. Sam cracked up at his partner's joke. Jeff and Paul laughed along nervously. Each man wondering if there would come a day in which they tested that facet of Sam and Dave’s professional training. If it was real. They dutifully held their jackets in front of their crotches. Raymond met them at the front door as he was returning from the men’s room. He took one look at the two and asked, sotto voce, “Were you two playing with each other on the drive over? Little brother, how many times do I have to tell you. The grownups, in the front seat, are gonna catch you.” He directed his next comment to Sam and Dave. “I know you boys are professionally trained to not look back when things get heavy. But, as your boss's, boss, I hereby authorize the use of cold water to separate these two dogs in heat so they don't get knotted. Especially, if they are going to appear in public. You can easily explain a water stain. But, nobody wants to have to explain an accidental cum stain.” Raymond burst out laughing and Sam and Dave heartily joined in. Suddenly, playing games in the backseat didn't seem as alluring to Jeff and Paul. As the guys made their way through the diner, they couldn't help but notice the, intended to be surreptitious, glances. They were surprised to see several smart phones and a couple of tablets brazenly displaying some gay porn as if it were an everyday occurrence. Jeff pulled Raymond to his side and said, “Cowboy up big brother, this ain't no hill for a climber. Me and Paul, your brothers, are right beside you. We aren't about to let nothing get you down, if we can help it. You’ve always been there for me when I needed you, just like a good big brother should be. Just like you came to my rescue this morning. I know you did all that to protect me and I love you more for having done it. Now, lean on your little brothers if you need to. I swear you can count on us.” Raymond returned his little brother's hug. “You know I actually feel like a real weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I don't mind the stares. There’re just curious. There much more interested in the gay porn starring the Sheriff and the preacher. Besides, I feel ten years younger. My real regrets are concerning you, Uncle Joe and Aunt Mellie. I found out you were my brother when I was in law school. I felt it would be a betrayal of all my father did for me if I said anything to anyone. It was like I couldn't tell my real family without destroying the loving, adopted family I was blessed to have had. Now, I know I can gave both.” The free flowing light hearted conversation around the central table belied the tumultuous exchange they had all witnessed, earlier in the day. Melissa waited on the family table and immediately asked about Maria. The flanking security force tables had separate waiters. No one questioned Ilya and Tink’s presence at the family table. Ilya made sure his two soldaty watching the vehicles were well fed also. Miss Julie came by to offer her congratulations to Raymond for putting to rest demons that had plagued him for years. “Hon, I am truly happy for you. You grew up a lot today. You’ve found that love can realize its full potential without leaving anyone behind. You’ll soon be starting your own branch of the Adams family tree.” A harsh glance at Daniel and Paul immediately quelled any thoughts of snapping fingers. “I think Raymond Cargill Adams junior is waiting to become the first of his several siblings. Little RC is only too happy to lord it over his cousin JG that he is always going to be the oldest.” Raymond mused about having a son and giving that son his name. Accepting his father's surname as his middle name seemed like the perfect idea. Both families would be represented. He certainly would not object to being called “R. C. Adams”. It certainly sounded like a strong, trustworthy name… especially for his son. He stared at his mate. He was lost in those warm brown eyes until a thought solidified in his mind and established permanent residence, ‘our son’.
  13. 51 likes
    Paul was really impressed with the horsehair mattress. He had expected it to be itchy and lumpy. Instead, it was firm and comfortable. Idly he wondered if they could get a sheepskin comforter to fit this half acre bed. For a moment he got lost trying to decide which side of that comforter would be exposed and which would caress his skin. Maybe he could get it silk lined. Then he decided he would simply sometimes put the rug on the bed and forego the comforter altogether. It was a strange sensation to realize he was no longer asleep. He couldn't really pinpoint the moment of transition… He had somehow surfaced from a deep, contented sleep, into being wide awake and aware. Aside from Jeff's warm breath on his neck, the strongest sensation was the pressure from his bladder. Gently he tried to slither and wiggle free from his lover's embrace, without awakening him. Jeff's response was simply to pull him closer. “You know”. He whispered into Paul's hair, “That first time I followed you into Uncle Joe's house, all I could think about, aside from your amazing ass, was how much I wanted to kiss this spot.” Jeff indicated the aforementioned spot with a series of kisses and nibbles just below Paul's hairline. “It might be the last spot on your body to be kissed by me. If I have missed any others, you have to point them out to me. I hate to play favorites. Every spot of your body deserves my attention. It's early yet, now would be a good time to kiss those spots that I might not yet have addressed.” Paul shivered and his cock throbbed at the sensations crawling up and down his spine due to Jeff's physical and verbal attention. Pissing was no longer urgent, but the pressure was still there. He carefully turned to face his lover. “It's not so much about missed spots as it is some spots just really need more attention than others. I could point them out to you if you really want me to.” “My lips await your command, my liege.” Paul, using his right index finger, feinted toward his lips, but rested the finger on his now closed right eyelid. Jeff used his teeth to pull the finger away, then ever so gently touched his lips to Paul's eyelid. Thus began a game that avoided all the spots Jeff had come to know and enjoy on Paul's body. Instead he was directed from eyelids to cheeks to Adam's apple. Then to biceps, elbows and fingertips, all ten. By that time both men were straining not to be the first to laugh. Though some spots seem to hold erogenous qualities. Jeff made a mental note to revisit those. Jeff was the first to break. Not to laugh, rather to express an urgent need to piss. Paul chuckled, “I feel like I held it so long, I’m not sure if I remember how to release it.” “Let's get in the shower. The warm water will help.” Once in the shower, Jeff was the first to release a stream. He pissed on Paul’s leg, on purpose. Paul wasn't far behind and soon it was a full out battle. Each warrior tried to decimate his opponent by covering as much of his body as possible with the supposedly deadly effluvient. Neither avoided being attacked, rather, each focused on covering the maximum area of his opponent with his own flow. Neither claimed victory nor admitted defeat. It was just that their ammunition, petered out. The rest of the shower would have passed without incident except Jeff insisted on kissing a few off his favorite spots on Paul's body. To Paul it was a long drawn out process that had him near the edge numerous times. It wasn't until he took Jeff's mouth forcefully that he was able to reach a supernova type finish. When he expressed his willingness to reciprocate Jeff was only to happy to point out the cum dripping down his chest and Paul's right leg. Positive proof that they shared massive and nearly simultaneous ejaculations. Paul made a mental note to torture Jeff with edging in the very near future. They were getting dressed when they heard a light knock on the door. Since they were both decent Paul called out, “Who is it?” “It's me Daddy and it's Christmas. Rosarita says it's up to you and Daddy Jeff if we open presents before or after breakfast. She said I had to mention breakfast is almost ready. But, I really don't mind cold bacon and eggs. Sides I’m not really hungry anyway.” “Just a minute, Honey.” Paul offered. Jeff and Paul quietly compared traditions and agreed, presents after breakfast, in an orderly fashion. A system that tortured, but might instill some appreciation for delayed gratification… not really. It was pure torture for a five, almost, six year old. Paul almost yielded to the disappointment clearly etched on his favorite face. He had invited her into their bedroom so she could see that they stood united in their resolve and there would be no appeal, once he rendered her Daddies’ decision. He stood firm in his conviction, knowing that Maria would get to torture her own children on some far distant Christmas morning. She too could then blame that age old nemesis of childhood joy… tradition. Reluctantly accepting breakfast as a prerequisite to gifts, she tried to “subtlety” hurry the process along. “Daddy Jeff, you’ got some lotion on your chin you forget to rub in. And you don't have to put your boots on, breakfast is getting cold.” Jeff's face glowed red enough to melt the “lotion”, as he hurried into the bathroom to check his face in the mirror. Turning to Paul, she directed, “Daddy, you don't have to brush your hair. It's so short, you can hardly tell you have bed hair. Did you back into something you have a bruise on the back of your neck. It looks red and irrigated. It must have hurt something awful.” Paul suddenly felt it necessary to wear a long sleeved shirt, with a collar, over his tee shirt. He silently prayed to god and Santa Claus that Maria wouldn't ask Nurse Rosarita to treat his owie. Rather than to hurry her Dads along Maria unknowingly hindered their exit from the bedroom. Taking each by the hand, she finally all but insisted on a double quick step. Everyone else was at the kitchen table having coffee, while Rosarita was up slicing strawberries. While ‘Merry Christmas’ echoed throughout the kitchen like a goodnight on Walton’s Mountain, Rosarita presented platters of crispy bacon, sizzling sausages and waffles along with bowls of strawberries and whipped cream. Paul glanced at his lover then addressed Rosarita, “Rosarita, we know you were scheduled to be off today, so this extra special breakfast is all that much more special. This, I think deserves a round of applause.” He then stood and began applauding. At first, Rosarita was sure the other shoe was about to drop in the form of some snide comment regarding the fact that she was here because she had spent the night with Fred and wanted to make him a special breakfast. Instead, everyone at the table rose as one and clapped, whistled, stomped their feet and yelled, “Bravo”! Her almost snarl merged seamlessly into an almost shy blush. Paul spread his hands in a calming motion and once everyone was seated and quiet, he again addressed Rosarita, “It would be especially nice if you could stay with the rest of our family while we exchange gifts. Jeff and I have something for you to show our gratitude for treating us like members of your family.” Rosarita was definitely intrigued. She was sure that the cash Jeff had given her after decorating the house was an all encompassing bonus. Considering the way she had trash talked Paul, just like she did her little brother, she wouldn't be expecting more than a gag gift. At least with Maria in the room it wouldn't be overtly sexual... Surely not. Everyone helped clear the table and load the dishwasher. Then collectively, most with fresh coffee in hand, they adjourned to the family room. Jeff asked Paul to hand out the presents. Paul demurred, insisting Jeff play host for the family. The gifts had obviously been staged so that everyone got one on the first round. After that, it seemed that most everything under the tree was for the Princess. Along with what Paul had saved from the burning house, Maria was inundated with toys, dolls, and stuffed animals. The security guys had gone in together and had bought “Frozen” themed gifts. That came along with plush toys, tee shirts, bracelets, a locket, and a tiara and of course the video. All packed inside a pull handle, rolling piece of “Frozen” luggage. Separately, but keeping with the “Frozen” theme, Rosarita gave her the stuffed moose and two nighties. Maria was overwhelmed, but not so much she couldn't remember to express her thanks to Rosarita and the guys with an exuberant hug and a kiss on the cheek. Jeff's gift was a kid friendly iPad loaded with games, some of them were educational. He also gave her two gift cards one for iTunes and one Visa. If Paul knew the amounts on either he would've slapped Jeff upside the head. Jeff made sure she understood whenever she wanted to shop online she was to go to him for help and not bother her Father. Jeff gave each of the three guards a gift certificate for a pair of custom made boots from one of the premier custom boot makers in Texas. Along with Rosarita they also received a Visa gift card. They would only learn the amount when they went to activate them. They would be pleasantly surprised. Paul handed a book shaped gift to Rosarita. Jeff stepped to her side as she unwrapped a new iPad. He helped her open it and unlock it to reveal a screen showing a cartoon Santa pulling presents from his bag. Santa turned, faced her and said, “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas, Rosarita! Your student loans have been in full and your tuition, books, room and board will be paid for so you can graduate debt free. Merry Christmas Rosarita! From Maria, Paul, Jeff and the rest of the Adams family.” The screen folded into a scene of late night snow falling on an alpine village. Rosarita was speechless. Her jaw dropped open and she stared blankly ahead. Paul gently nudged her jaw closed. “Might want to floss a little more often, I can see you’ve been eating spinach again.” Rosarita came to her senses. Grabbing Paul by the shoulders, quietly she quipped, “Better something green than hairy. God knows we’ve seen your maw gape enough to deduce that Jeff is either neatly trimmed or else shaves regularly, otherwise, heaven knows you’d have hairy gums.” Then she surprised the shit out of Paul by kissing him on the mouth. “Thank you! I know I come off as being a bitch at times, but you don't know what this means to me.” Turning to Jeff, “Thank you Jeff. I know Your love for Paul and our Princess must have inspired this tremendous act of generosity toward an almost complete stranger. Miss Julie told me that I would make some new friends and meet someone important for my future, if I took this job. At first, I thought she meant you… Then, well…” She glanced coyly at Fred, who blushed and smiled warmly. “I guess I need to learn to broaden my perspective.” Paul had a problem shopping for Jeff, until he talked to Raymond. As a result, Jeff would receive a 90 amp home charging station, with a 24 foot cable for his Tesla, not a cheap gift, by Paul's estimation. Jeff insisted Paul had solved a problem before he had even realized one existed. From Maria, Jeff received a tee shirt which read “Maria's Daddy” Jeff made a fuss over both gifts. He assured Maria this was now his most favorite tee shirt ever. He insisted he would wear it to his Uncle Joe's for Christmas. Maria thought that was “awesome” and she wanted to wear one of her new nighties under one of her new tee shirts. Paul stepped in and insisted Christmas dinner called for something a little more formal than tee shirts and nighties, no matter how awesome. Both relented, but Paul had to agree that Jeff could wear his tee shirt under his button down and Maria could take her wheeled luggage and change into one of her nighties should they stay past her bedtime. When it came to Paul, Jeff had to restrain himself. For the first time, since he was a kid, he was excited about what his money could buy. He wanted to spoil his lover and his lovely new daughter. He handed Paul his first gift, a fifteen inch Macbook Pro. Thanks to Tink it was already loaded with professional software used by T.R. and David, his new work associates. They had also provided the name of a medical supply firm they used, along with a list of equipment, Paul most likely didn't already have. Said equipment was to be delivered before the first of the year. The last gift for Paul was a wrist watch. Paul first thought was that, ‘it doesn't look new’. Jeff explained that it had been given to his Father, by his grandfather, upon graduation from the Air Force Academy in 1984. Paul made to hand it back. Jeff wrapped his hands around Paul's right hand holding the watch. “Paul, it's not worth a lot. It might make a down payment on a fancy new Rolex, but that's about all. It's only stainless steel. This one doesn't even have a date function. It was made to be worn and used everyday. My Dad wore it most everyday. He and Mom gave me mine when I graduated from high school. Paul, Babe, I know he would be pleased to see it was being used and appreciated by someone I love. Just like when the time comes, Maria will use and appreciate her grandmother’s jewelry. Please accept this gift as my token for becoming part of my family and for me becoming part of yours.” Jeff knew that if he had tried this in their bedroom there would have, most likely, been outright refusal. Here in front of everyone Paul had to at least pretend to consider accepting the gift. Paul searched Jeff's face, trying to find some chink in the sincerity with which the gift was proffered. ‘Damn it’! He thought to himself. ‘He wants me to wear it to honor his father and as a tie to his family. It's almost like an heirloom engagement ring. How can I refuse without disappointing him and looking like a jerk’? Paul drew a heavy breath. “Jeff, I don't feel comfortable accepting expensive gifts. I’ve never had to worry about that before now. I know this watch is worth a couple of those MacBook Pros. I also know refusing to accept this particular gift would be rejecting you and your family, and I could never do that. But! Be warned, I don't want to see you trying to spoil me and Maria, just because you can. No more gifts for me or Maria unless you talk to me first. I will accept this precious family heirloom, only if you agree to no more gifts without discussing it with me first.” Jeff, like any good attorney, saw a loophole as big as the Grand Canyon, he solemnly agreed. Both men smiled and shared a kiss. Each thinking they had won a major concession, concerning serious issue. Jeff pulled his lover in close and whispered, “Don't be surprised when you see more of those handed out today.” Rosarita agreed to help Maria dress and do her hair and makeup. Both Daddies heads snapped around to focus death rays upon she who would dare ‘tart up’ their baby girl with makeup. “Relax guys, it's just a little foundation.” Then with a wink, she added, “You won't be able to tell it's even there.” The wink implied that there wouldn't be any noticeable “make up” because there really wouldn't be any. Except in Maria's imagination. Both Daddies relaxed. Rosarita had invited Fred to her family's home for Christmas dinner. Sam and Dave ribbed him good naturedly. Paul refrained from saying any of the half dozen snide remarks that came to mind. His favorite was to remind Fred to always practice safe sex by strapping a 2X4 across his ass so he wouldn't fall in. Maybe he should ask Rosarita if she told Fred that the female of her species, has been known to eat her mate after copulating. Maybe he should warn Fred that Rosarita had personally nominated Loreena Bobbit for sainthood. Maybe a timely reminder that his visiting her family, especially on a holiday, would most likely activate his life insurance policy’s exclusionary clause regarding human sacrifice. Perhaps he could encourage Fred by pointing out that after meeting her family, it would be comforting to remember that a lot of inherited traits can be overcome by plastic surgery and heavy doses of medication, just look what it's done for Rosarita. Jeff was agog at Paul's gentlemanly restraint. He could hardly believe it when Paul simply wished them Merry Christmas and “see y’all later”. By the time the pair was gone, Sam and Dave were looking at Paul as if he had been hit on the head. After that Maria was busy putting her Christmas loot in her room and thus out of earshot, Jeff said, “Ok, Paul, out with it! How did you manage not to pounce on Rosarita and Fred’s relationship? Given your track record with her, you should have been all over that.” “Oh, I was, as you say, all over that, except only in my mind. I didn't really want to hurt her or Fred so I just thought up some really mean things to say and then, just didn't say them”. After having sworn the three men to secrecy, Paul related his devastating barbs. He didn't get the gut busting guffaws he thought they deserved. In fact Sam and Dave insisted they might have had to restrain Fred from attacking him. Paul countered by insisting that if Rosarita had said those things about him, they all would have laughed their asses off. Jeff agreed, it was probably a matter of perspective. Before the discussion could degrade further, Maria showed up dressed to the nines. Apparently Mellie had bought more than one dressup outfit. This one had a full, red skirt with green trim with white petticoats underneath. The bodice was a creamy silk with a lace overlay that looked like a series of large snowflakes knitted together. This was covered with a vest that was also red, trimmed in green. Paul thought the red slippers and red beret made her look festive and a little French. The whole outfit was topped off with a red hooded cape lined in green velvet. With her hair done in ringlets and rosy cheeks, she looked like a colorized version of Shirley Temple playing Little Red Riding Hood. Wait a minute! Rosy cheeks? Paul was going to have a talk with, make up artiste to the Stars, Miss Rosarita. Still Maria appeared as a rose among thorns, what with all the men dressed conservatively in slacks and dress shirts. Each man sported boots and leather blazers. Jeff and Paul’s were brown while Sam and Dave's were black. With gifts for Joe’s branch of the family packed up, they headed out. Once they were loaded into the Suburban, Paul texted Raymond that they were enroute. Paul was pleased to see that Ilya and Tink were celebrating with the Adams family. Ilya greeted them at the door with a shout of ‘s rah-zh-dee-st-VOHM! Which he followed up with the traditional American season’s greeting. He insisted on carrying Maria into the house. The Princess was delighted. Jeff, Paul, Sam and Dave followed them into the family room. Joe and Mellie fussed over the new arrivals like they hadn't seen them in months. Mellie insisted that Maria show off her outfit, proclaiming her to be dressed for a red carpet walk. Paul could almost believe she had never seen Maria's outfit, except he knew she had picked it out AND paid for it. Paul wasn't sure if the original room was this large or if it was the ‘two room’ version. It was definitely smaller than the ‘four room’ version used for the get together. The tree was just as imposing as he remembered. Beneath and around it lay a very impressive array of wrapped presents. It wouldn't have looked out of place in a large department store. Paul knew that unlike the “display” version, these presents weren't props, these held gifts chosen by individuals for folks they cared about. This was what family and Christmas was really all about. It was a time to show your love and caring… it really was the thought that counts. Tink was more reserved, but repeated Ilya's greeting. Which, by the stilted pronouncement, he had, obviously, been practicing. Mellie let them know that a cold buffet was set up, but cautioned that dinner would be served at 2:00. After that, leftovers would have to suffice. Looking over the buffet made Paul almost wish he hadn't filled up on Rosarita’s scrumptious waffles… almost. Joe encouraged his family and guests to help themselves to food and drink. Everyone soon settled into seats near the tree and mostly watched Maria. Her brown eyes went wide with wonder as Joe assured her, there were presents under the tree for her. She looked to her Daddy Jeff for confirmation, he nodded reassuringly. Maria had believed that Santa and Christmas… well, the getting gifts part, only really happened at home. She had accepted that the gifts under this tree, just like at home, were for those who lived here. As realization dawned, her jaw dropped as she eyed the tree in renewed wonder and expectation. Her wheeled suitcase was still in her grip, but the anticipation as to what waited for her under the tree was fighting for her full attention. Shortly after Jeff and his team settled in, Raymond and Daniel arrived. Daniel presented Mellie with a poinsettia and Joe with a bottle of Bookers Rye. Mellie graciously accepted the flower, but Joe practically slobbered over the whiskey. Raymond had been right when he assured Daniel his choices would be well received. Mellie took the flower into the dining room while Joe cradled his whiskey and led the boys into the family room. Once he was assured that his family and guests were comfortable, Joe began to pass out the presents. This is when the ‘professional’ cell phone photographers pulled out their high quality cell phone/cameras. The first gift was for Maria. Seated on her Daddy Jeff's lap, she accepted the gift with a polite, “Thank you Uncle Joe.” Even with the gift in hand, she appeared hesitant. Jeff coached her, “Let’s see who this nice gift is from.” He helped her read the tag, which garnered him a reprimanding glare. “Sorry Princess, I forgot you can read.” She tore into the wrapping to reveal a set of ‘Matryoshka’ or Russian nesting dolls. Tink stepped to her side and as he revealed each of six dolls, Maria greeted and examined each one with giggles of delight. Jeff noticed Tink was almost bubbling with joy at the child’s reaction to his gift. Once she had reassembled his gift, she gifted him with an enthusiastic hug and a kiss on the cheek. And just like that, the princess had another servant. The scene was repeated with Ilya's gift of a Teddy Bear dressed as a Cossack with a Russian flag sewn onto his fur hat. Ilya told her the Russian Bear would protect her sleep, keeping bad dreams away, just as he would keep bad people away. The “Frozen” luggage was forgotten as she hugged the bear and the nesting dolls to her heart. There was a present from Mr. Tom for Maria. It was a “Frozen” Build a Bear. Maria was so pleased she had to hug and kiss someone. Daddy Jeff was happy to receive kisses meant for Tom, but he would not be passing them on to their rightful owner. Uncle Joe handed her another gift. The tag said, “from your Aunt Mellie and Uncle Joe”. This one proved to be a photograph. It was of her favorite horse, Bluebell. Bluebell was in her stall with her head sticking out over the gate. Hung on the gate was a professionally painted sign that read, “Maria's Bluebell”. Joe and Mellie had given her her favorite horse for Christmas. Mellie was quick to point out, before Paul or Jeff could object, that Bluebell would keep on living with her friends and family. She would be very lonely if she had to move to Maria's home. Maria nodded in serious agreement. She then proceeded to reward them both with lavish hugs and kisses. Raymond had slipped down the hall and brought back a custom made saddle and tack. The cantle proclaimed in big letters “Maria”. It seemed that every available surface had stalks or individual blossoms of bluebells. She would still need her special stirrups, but it was a saddle just for her and she loved it. Paul figured it cost as much as his used Explorer. Her Uncle Raymond may have stolen the show with his gift. Getting her own horse and saddle! How could Christmas be any better… if only “Frozen” made saddle bags. The gifts for the adults began to appear. Ilya received a three volume set, first edition copy of “War and Peace”, in Russian. Tink got the gamers equivalent of a bullet proof laptop. Joe emphasized, this was for recreation not work. Sam, Dave and Fred each received a Chiappa, White Rhino, 40 caliber, revolver. Each was heavily engraved, including their names, definitely showpieces. Paul felt a twinge of nausea as he recalled the shooting. In almost the same instant, Jeff pulled him close in a comforting embrace as if he could read Paul’s mind. The gifts were really too numerous to accurately list. Jeff got free window tinting, from Raymond, for his Tesla when it got to Texas. A much needed and appreciated amenity. Daniel gave Raymond a Tesla ball cap. That started Daniel's exuberant recollection of his first Tesla ride and drive. Raymond gave Daniel a bronze desk plaque that featured a sculpture of a rearing stallion having been roped by a cowboy on foot. The engraving across the base proclaimed, “Sheriff Daniel T. Lovan”. Joe and Mellie gave Daniel a gift card to an exclusive men's shop in Dallas. Daniel suspected this gift might be of an amount that might raise questions for an elected official. He’d have to talk to Raymond. Joe and Mellie presented Jeff with a portrait of him with his parents. It was sourced from a photograph taken in San Francisco shortly before they were killed. Paul was impressed with how much Jeff resembled his father. He was also impressed with the way his man talked about the love he had always felt from his parents as he looked at the portrait. Jeff also acknowledged the love his Uncle Joe and Aunt Mellie had always shown him. No one cried, but all four got choked up. Joe explained that their gift for Paul was too bulky to put under the tree. He assured him it was in keeping with his professional needs. Paul wanted to object… he just didn't know to what. Daniel was amazed when Jeff presented Joe and Mellie with a week long stay at a Galveston BnB. Seems that Jeff and he had some mutual acquaintances from other than high school. Idley he wondered if Miss Julie was getting a booking commission. It didn't matter to him, it really was a good deal. When he confessed to giving his parents the same gift there was talk about his and Jeff's folks all vacationing together. Moving back to the tree, Joe pulled out four identical small boxes. He read off the names Ilya, Tink, Sam and Dave and asked each man to come forward. Joe handed them the appropriate box and had them remain standing together. Joe cleared his throat, “Gentlemen, a few days ago a member of our family was kidnapped. It was through your efforts, collectively and as individuals, that he was able to return to us unharmed. While each of you have received a bonus for your heroic actions on our behalf, we wanted to give you a reminder of our gratitude for your selfless service in our time of need. In the box you hold, you will find a watch engraved with your name, the date of which I speak, followed by the words, ‘Thank You from the AFT’. On behalf of the Adams Family...” It was at this point that both Jeff and Raymond reached to prevent Daniel from snapping his fingers. The effort had not gone unnoticed. Joe turned with a snarl, “Goddamnit Lovan, how many times do I have to tell you to knock off that silly tv series theme song shit. You might have grown up, but not so much that I can't take my belt to you if I need to.” Daniel looked for the world like the teenager who had inadvertently annoyed a bigger, more powerful adult male. “But… Uncle Joe, I wasn't gonna do nothing. If these two yahoos hadn't tried to grab me, for no reason, your speech would not have been interrupted. It's them that deserve the belt. I was just sitting here listening to you.” Jeff and Raymond had the decency to look chagrined. Even Joe appeared humbled by Daniel's expression of innocence. He apologized to the ladies for his crude language. Only Paul saw the gleam in Daniel's eyes. His doubts were confirmed when Daniel noticed his suspicious glare and surreptitiously winked at him. Paul couldn't help but burst out laughing. Everyone looked at him as if waiting to be let in on the joke. A couple of the guys offered nervous chuckles. But Maria just stared at her father as if she would soon be shopping for a nursing home. Once Paul settled down, Joe continued, only with a lot less formality. “Look guys, we just want you to know that when you wear these watches it will be with the gratitude of the entire Adams family.” At which point Daniel looked at Paul, who nodded slightly in reply, and together they snapped their fingers in perfect synchronization, “Snap, snap!… Snap, snap”! Joe was livid. He pointed to Paul, “When you two get married you're changing your name to Adams!” Then turning to Daniel, “And that goes for you too, smarta.. smarty pants. Let's see how the two of you like it.” Then for the perfect punctuation he snapped his fingers. Snap,snap!… Snap, snap! It was completely anticlimactic, but the four men still standing opened their gifts to reveal identical Rolex Submariner watches. Paul couldn't help himself, later as he thanked the men and complimented their watches as he covertly compared theirs to his and was pleased that while theirs were nearly identical to his, his had a patina of love and history. He wouldn't swap it for all of theirs put together. Plus, his had been worn by a handsome fighter pilot. No way would he swap. First Paul and then Daniel individually apologized to Joe. He embraced each man and whispered in each man’s ear, “I don't care, you’re still changing your name”. Then released them with a warm pat on the back. Paul had seemed rather pleased at the prospect. Daniel drifted away muttering, “Adams, Daniel Adams. Sheriff, Daniel Adams.” Suddenly it dawned on him, He spun around and almost shouted, “But, he’s not an Adams!” Joe just winked at him. The rest of the day went very smoothly. Maria convinced her Uncle Raymond to take her to visit her new horse and to take her an apple for Christmas. Daniel went along to help with the saddle and tack. Jeff and Paul along with Joe and Mellie watched “Christmas in Connecticut”. Dinner was too good and too much. Prime rib two days in a row was a bit more than Paul expected, but in his mind, it sure beat turkey. The flavor was excellent, maybe even better than Rosarita’s. The Au jus and horseradish sauce were perfect compliments. Roasted root vegetables, sautéed green beans and in deference to Maria asparagus with a new twist for her “gravy”, better known as hollandaise sauce. Dessert was spiced pumpkin pie with bourbon flavored whipped cream. When Daniel asked about the spices in the pie Mellie told him it was a family secret, chipotle powder. Maria opted for a hot fudge sundae. The conversation drifted up and down the table with everyone contributing comments on the food as well as Christmas memories. Everyone was enthralled to hear Ilya describe holiday traditions from his homeland. There Christmas was quietly observed with family, while gifts were exchanged at the boisterous New Year's celebrations. During a lull in the conversation, Raymond tapped his spoon against his glass to get everyone’s attention. He scooted his chair back and stood. “I’m not sure there is a good time to announce something like this, given the particulars. But, I would like the people closest to me, those I consider family, to know that our family will increase before the end of next year. I have contracted with a surrogate and, god willing, I will be a father, by this time next year. I have discussed this at some length with Uncle Joe and Aunt Mellie. They have encouraged me and pledged their continued love and support in this endeavor, just as they have through most of my life.” Everyone seemed stunned by Raymond’s announcement, except Maria. She enthusiastically asked, before he could even sit down, “Uncle Raymond, does this mean you found a tempairy mommy?” Raymond grinned at her obvious delight at his intention of becoming a Daddy. “Yes Princess, I found a very nice temporary mommy.” Shifting her gaze to Paul she instructed, “Did you hear that? Daddy, Uncle Raymond found a tempairy mommy. He can help you and Daddy Jeff find one and I can get my little brother here.” “I am very happy that Uncle Raymond is going to have, uh, get, er, make, uh… I’m happy that Uncle Raymond is going to become a father. We have told you that a baby is something that your Daddies have to decide about. You will be the first to know, but it will be our decision. Besides, Uncle Raymond’s baby will be your cousin and that's almost like a baby brother or sister.” Jeff chimed in, “Princess, having a baby is not something you decide overnight. Even after we decide, it takes nine months for it to be born. In this situation, you're going to have to be patient and trust your Daddies to make the right choice, at the right time. We promise, as soon as we decide to have a baby, we will tell you right away. In the meantime, we know how you feel and that will be considered as we make our decision. You need to understand, it may be years before we choose to have a baby.” Daniel felt a segue was sorely needed. “Uncle Joe, if I may?” Joe nodded, and Daniel stood and continued, “I want to propose a toast to the fortunate boy or girl who will soon be born into this wonderful family and who gets to call such a fine man, Daddy. Ladies and gentlemen, raise your glass to... Daddy”. Everyone stood and toasted, “To Daddy”! Including Maria, who copied Ilya and clinked her water glass with all those in reach. Raymond leaned in and whispered in Daniel’s ear, “I thought you refused to call me Daddy?” “We’re not having sex!” Daniel whispered back. Raymond chuckled softly, “Oh yes we are. Just, not right now.” Daniel rolled his eyes in exasperation. Once everyone was again seated, Paul began to shift his focus between Raymond and Daniel as the former answered questions regarding his impending fatherhood. He knew the instant Raymond's hand landed in Daniel's crotch. Raymond seemed engrossed in the discussion about the factors leading up to his decision regarding surrogacy. Daniel snapped his head around. With eyes as big as saucers, he glared at the apparently oblivious Raymond. Paul could also tell when Daniel reciprocated. Daniel's face took on a suddenly smug look, while Raymond audibly gulped and began to stutter. Daniel had him, game, set, match. Paul wanted to cheer. After dinner, most either watched Christmas movies and specials or snuck of, most likely for a nap or something more intimate. Maria was the first casualty. When Jeff and Paul went to check on her, they found she had carefully hung up her Christmas clothes, thanks to child level closet racks, and was now dressed in a “Frozen” nightie and tee shirt. Clutched in her arms were the nesting dolls and her Russian Teddy Bear. On her nightstand was her “Frozen” Build a Bear and her picture of Bluebell. On the floor, almost within reach, was her luggage. Jeff snapped a picture to show Ilya and Tink. It was relatively early in the evening when Jeff and Paul took their leave. Joe was explaining the finer points of good whiskey to Ilya who steadfastly defended vodka from Mother Russia. Tink was teaching Mellie all about social media. Jeff and Paul both thanked god and gods they had always kept their Facebook accounts strictly “G” rated. There would be no hesitation in accepting Aunt Mellie’s friend request. Raymond and Daniel had left shortly after Maria awakened from her nap. They appeared in the family room, moving rather hurriedly, saying their goodbyes and something about taking “Sharon” for a ride, discussing campaign strategy and getting a better look at Raymond's new property. That last was a little suspect since it was already well after dark. They were in such haste they had been talking over each other. Paul assured Jeff it was just their way of saying they needed to find a bed in which they could be noisy and nasty without disturbing anyone else. All the way home Maria kept a tight grip on her new bears. While the rest of her loot was fine in the back of the Suburban, she insisted on having her “traveling bag” at her feet. As soon as they pulled out of the drive, a quiet calm settled around them. Paul watched as Sam rested his hand, palm up, on the center console. Then Dave, who was driving, laid his hand gently on top of Sam’s. As they pulled into the drive Paul realized why his present was “too bulky to put under the tree”. There in the drive was a brand new, white, Chevy Tahoe. It had a big red bow on top and a banner along the side that read, “Merry Xmas Paul” below that in a smaller font, “Love, your Uncle Joe and Aunt Mellie”. Paul noticed his rusty, old Explorer had disappeared. Jeff was clearly surprised by the gift. That didn't stop Paul from glaring at him as if ‘all this’ was his fault. Paul didn't say a word he just freed himself and Maria from the seatbelts, moved to the back of the Suburban and waited for the release of the lift gate. He then silently gathered Maria’s presents and with a minimum of words directed her to her room. He glared at both Fred and Rosarita, convinced that they had colluded with the Adams family in ‘all this’. Fortunately, Maria was content to spend her time in her room arranging each of her acquisitions in it's perfect place. Minutes later Paul found himself staring at the paintings on either side of the fireplace in the master bedroom. He wasn't sure how long he had been there. Minutes maybe. Definitely not an hour. His anger had subsided to the point that he was no longer shaking. He was certain he could now talk without fear of destroying his relationships with his vitriol. Jeff whispered in his ear, “They had their problems too you know. Winston was a big city lawyer who happened to be a skilled gambler and fast on the draw and accurate when he shot. John Grant was a cowboy with a checkered past. Nearly got himself hung in Colorado over a gunfight in which he killed a mining boss. Seems the boss was fond of beating Chinese immigrants for no reason. When they got together it was Winston who had won the brand and the grease pot cattle operation in a high stakes poker match. John had been working for the fellow with the losing hand. Turns out that waddie had the cowboy know how Winston needed. Together they made a solid start on building what the Adams Family Trust is today. They were both tough, hard headed men. You have to know they were a lot like you and I. We’re tough and sometimes hard headed. If we help each other, we can stand together and achieve what they had, a life well lived… together. “How about we let our troubles rest for now. Let me hold you, while you soak in a nice hot bath. Then when you're so relaxed your bones feel like jello, I’ll tuck you in and wrap you up in my arms and we'll fall asleep, in our bed, together.” Paul was in an almost fugue state as Jeff helped him undress and then into the tub. The nearly too hot water did, eventually, relax him completely. Jeff gently dried him and put him to bed. Then he held him close through the night. Paul wasn't ‘out of it’. It was that Jeff needed to spoil him in a way that didn't involve money. And Paul needed to know that, even without money, Jeff loved him deeply and desperately needed his love in return. The next time, maybe he would bathe Jeff. This ‘hot bath’ would become a ceremony that was repeated, as needed, throughout their years together.
  14. 51 likes
    Over the following two months, Marcus almost managed to avoid seeing Tom altogether. Truth be told, Tom laying his emotions on the line had unsettled Marcus. Of course he had always found Tom attractive—a lot of people knew that, even Raine—but as his best friend’s husband, the man had always been comfortingly off limits. Forbidden fruit, so to speak. Yes, he’d had molten private fantasies about the unobtainable husband, but for some reason hearing that Tom had been having carnal thoughts about him had not only thrown him for a loop, but frightened the bejesus out of him. What the hell was that all about? So over time, the distance Tom asked for had worked both ways and Marcus made a point of sticking tightly to schedules. Occasionally he and Tom would pass each other as one took responsibility for the girls from the other, but then they only had time to share a curt nod or a brief pleasantry. Without him asking, Moira or the girls filled Marcus in on Tom’s dates which, thankfully, no longer included Christine. In an ideal world, that should have made Marcus feel better, maybe even have given him an incentive to get out there himself. But he didn’t live in an ideal world. Far from it. Even so, eventually Marcus turned off the green-eyed monster in his head taunting him with the notion that Tom was out there somewhere with his arm around some random woman or another. One consequence of the arrangement was that Marcus had his Sundays back again, no more family outings, and could lie-in or do whatever he wanted—which was usually nothing. Or worse still, spend time at home stewing over his predicament. At least next week, he would have the distraction of a business trip to Birmingham with Tina to sign the lease and get the fit-out started on his new restaurant. This particular Sunday, however, the special complimentary hotel brunch with Daniel had finally come around. Marcus arrived early and had the pleasure of watching his handsome friend saunter in smiling, turning heads as he descended the three shallow stairs to the reception lectern. He’d chosen to wear a navy suit with an open necked pale blue shirt. Together with his mop of blond hair he looked more than ever the movie star. After chatting to a clearly smitten waitress, he was led over to Marcus’ table. Barely an hour into the brunch, after they had covered the usual pleasantries and each had brought the other up to date on their recent career dramas, Daniel put down his fork. Decisively. “Okay. What’s going on with you? If that cloud over your head gets any bigger, I’m getting the waiter to bring over an umbrella. Spill the beans, Fryne.” Although nothing was ever going to happen between them, Daniel had become a firm friend. Of all people, Marcus could open up to him and be himself. For a fleeting moment, he thought about telling him the source of his moodiness, but then relented because he felt that wouldn’t be fair to Tom. As the thoughts passed through him, Daniel eyed him coolly. “Let me guess. It has something to do with Tom Bradford?” Marcus put down his champagne glass and stared at Daniel in disbelief. “How the hell could you possibly know that?” “Pretty bloody obvious. And I’m guessing that after you tried to restore his trust in his wife’s faithfulness with that picture of Stone and his partner, he either didn’t believe you or didn’t take it so well?” “I haven’t even had the opportunity to tell him yet.” “Why? What has he done?” Somewhat dramatically, Marcus threw himself back in his seat and let out a big sigh, staring at the huge crystal chandelier above their table, hoping for a Phantom of the Opera moment. “He told me he had feelings for me. Ever since I came back from New York. Told me he wanted to take me upstairs and fuck me senseless.” “I see.” Marcus lowered his gaze to meet Daniel’s. “You don’t sound surprised?” “You two have been spending a lot of time together. So what did you do?” “What do you mean, ‘what did I do?’ I ran a bloody mile, of course.” Daniel laughed, before taking a sip of champagne. “Congratulations, Mr Fryne. You’ve managed a conversion.” “Not funny, Dan. In fact, it’s killing me. What am I supposed to do with that?” “The million dollar question.” “I’ve told you what I’m usually like. Everyone’s fair game. Dare me enough, and I’d take that waiter over there into the toilets right now and blow him,” said Marcus, nodding at a young man serving a family of four. “Heavens, you’re making me feel really special today.” “But the thought of doing anything with Tom. Well. I can’t even bring myself to think about it.” “What? You don’t fancy him?” “Of course I bloody fancy him.” “Then I don’t see what the problem is.” “That is the problem. He’s as good as family, Dan. And not only was he horrified about having had those thoughts, he’s fundamentally straight.” “Well, clearly that’s not the case. Sounds like he might swing both ways.” “And, more to the point, I told him I’d back off. So that he could get out there in the real world and meet some of the fairer sex.” “Very noble of you. And is he?” “Don’t want to think about it.” This time Daniel let out a deep sigh. “I didn’t realise quite how fucked up you are, Fryne,” he said, getting up from the table to deliver his lecture. “Look, if he’s bi, and he’s out there trying other women on for size, then chances are he’ll either put himself back on the straight and narrow—good expression that—or if he really can’t live without you, you’ll have to play the waiting game, give him time to come around. In the meantime, you’re just going to have to man up and get on with your life. I’m going to get some more lobster. You need anything?” “Yeah, a lobotomy, apparently.” “Want a side of Thousand Island with that?” “Ha-bloody-ha.” While Daniel headed off, Marcus thought about what his friend had said. Yes, he needed to get this stupid notion out of his head and get on with his life. Maybe he could ask Moira and the girls to stop giving him updates on Tom’s dating life. Given enough time, he’d be able to cool off and get a grip. The Blue Royal Hotel had a strict policy about phones being switched to silent during their sumptuous Sunday brunch session, but Marcus had purposely put his on silent mode, in case any of his staff needed to contact him. Just as Daniel sat back down, his phone buzzed. He turned the display over to see the name ‘Moira’ fill the screen. “You got to be fucking kidding me.” “What is it?” “Tom’s mother.” “Ignore it.” Marcus stared shocked at Daniel as though he had committed treason. “I can’t. I would never forgive myself if something had happened,” he said, thumbing the call button. “Hi Moira. Is everything okay?” “Everything’s fine. Well, a slight glitch. And a huge favour to ask, I’m afraid. Are you busy this afternoon?” Marcus peered over the phone at Daniel who sipped from his champagne flute, assessing the flower arrangement on the table, pretending not to eavesdrop Marcus’ conversation. “Why? What’s happened?” answered Marcus, shrugging and throwing Daniel a world-weary glance. “I’m babysitting the girls right now. Tom has a second date with this Jeanette woman he met at the cricket club and they’re watching the new Reyna Lockwood film at the cinema this afternoon. She’s invited him back to her place afterwards for dinner. Apparently she’s quite something in the kitchen.” “Is she now?” said Marcus, trying not to sound bitter. “You know what I mean. She’s not a maestro chef, like you, Marcus, but—“ "No need to explain, Moira. I do understand—“ “The thing is, we need to give her a chance. Give them both a chance. She might be the one that helps Tom build the family back together again—“ “Moira, what did you want?” “Oh, yes, sorry. Look, John’s complaining about a nagging pain in his leg,” she said, causing Marcus to smirk at a comment Tom had once made about his father’s nagging pain in the arse: Moira. “And I don’t want to take any chances, so I’m going to drive him down to A&E at St Mary’s. But you how long it can take waiting to see someone. And if I bring the girls along, I just know they’ll be bored to tears and start climbing the walls within minutes. But I can’t leave them here by themselves. Tom would come straight home if I called, but I don’t want to spoil his special day. So I wondered if—“ “Give me half an hour.” When Marcus saw Daniel’s resigned expression, he almost relented. Instead, he pulled the phone away from his ear and mouthed the words ‘family emergency’. “Oh, Marcus, you are a dear,” came Moira’s voice, as Daniel nodded. “If you could pick them up and take them home to their place, I should be back by nine at the very latest.” “Have they had their tea.” “No, but I can do that when I get there—“ “Don’t be daft. If they’ve been running around your back garden all day, they’ll be fast asleep by nine. Don’t worry, I’ll fix tea for them and make sure they both have baths before bedtime. And I’ll get their pack lunches ready for school tomorrow morning. If Katie has her pencil case with her can you make sure she brings it home. She needs her ruler and pencils for her numbers lesson tomorrow. If you can get them both ready now, I’ll pick them up from the front door.” “You are an angel. See you soon.” Even though he was still smiling, Daniel shook his head. “That family owns you. So today’s your turn to beat a retreat. One of these days we’ll manage to spend a whole meal together.” “You’re more than welcome to join me. If you want?” “Kids, potties and baths? I’ll pass, thanks. Bit too much reality for me,” said Daniel, reaching in his pocket for a slip of paper. “And, before I forget, you might want to give this number a ring sometime. One of the numbers Ken Villers gave us came up trumps.” *** By eight-thirty, Marcus had finally managed to get Katie off to sleep when he heard the soft thump of the front door closing. Tom had once complained that his mother had a habit of heading straight for the living room and flicking on the television, which might wake Katie, the lighter sleeper of the two. So after checking on both girls—Charlotte’s bedclothes already a mess from her sleep fidgeting—he crept out of the door and tip-toed in socked feet down the bedroom stairs. Fortunately, in the small two-up two-down house, carpeted throughout, he could do th quickly and almost silently. But when he reached the second to bottom stair and looked towards the door, the figure standing there was not who he had expected. “Tom?” he said quizzically, in a hushed whisper. Tom stood frozen just inside the door and, even without asking, he could tell something was up. In hugging 501s and the off-white Paul Smith silk shirt Marcus had bought him for Christmas, the top two buttons open, he looked good enough to eat. But the salacious compliment Marcus had been about to let fly froze on his lips. Marcus had lost that right. “Just managed to get the girls off to sleep,” said Marcus, nodding back up the stairs, before forcing a quick smile. “I thought Moira was going to come back tonight. Told me you were on a promise with Jeanette.” Marcus had meant to lighten Tom’s mood with the words, but they seemed to have the opposite effect. Instead of smiling, Tom scowled and shook his head briefly before looking away. “Mum texted, but I couldn’t call during the film. Phoned and told her I’d come back, even though she tried to insist. She has enough on her plate looking after dad.” “Is he okay? John? I worry about him sometimes. Especially being pushed around every day by that woman you call your mother.” “He’s fine,” said Tom, this time a small smile lightening one side of his mouth as he returned his gaze to Marcus. “Just the bloody arthritis playing up. They’re back home now.” Marcus took the brief pause between them to step down into the living room and stand facing Tom. At almost the same moment, Tom tossed his keys onto the hall table and then stepped further into the room, coming to an abrupt halt. “Hey. Looking sharp, Mr Fryne,” said Tom, his gaze travelling up and down Marcus’ body, sending an electric ripple through him. “Were you on a promise of your own? Oh shit, tell me we didn’t scupper your afternoon?” Marcus couldn’t help the laughter that burst from him. So much for straight men not giving other men compliments. Perhaps Tom had mellowed. Or probably he’d had a few beers over lunch. “Don’t worry about it. More of a boozy brunch with a friend. Catching up on life. How about Jeanette? Was she okay ending the night early?” said Marcus, relaxing a little. “If it’d been me, with you dressed to kill like that, I’d have had you handcuffed to the bedposts by now.” As soon as the smart mouth comment left his lips, Marcus held his breath. But despite a slight darkening of the cheeks, Tom’s smile broadened into a chuckle. Yes, the man had definitely chilled. “She was a little disappointed. But she has a two-year-old boy. Brought him up on her own. So she knows the deal of single parenthood.” “And how was it? You know..?” “Fine. Everything was fine. Not really my kind of thing, but entertaining enough, I suppose. Jeanette seemed to enjoy it, anyway.” Wow, thought Marcus, there’s a ringing endorsement. Tom’s words came out so flat that Marcus wondered for a second if something had happened. Only then did Marcus realise that Tom was avoiding eye contact again. A silence fell between the two, something both must have noticed because when they spoke, they did so at the same time. “Are you okay?” asked Marcus. “Look I wanted—“ said Tom, at the same time, before answering Marcus. “I’m fine.” “You don’t seem okay.” Another huge sigh shuddered through Tom before he responded. “I’m sick of people scrambling around trying to pair me off. I know they’re trying to be kind, trying to help me move on. But I really am fine as I am. Everything’s going well and I have everything I need. I really do. It dawned on me while I was sitting there watching that bloody awful film. I have all the female’s I need in my life, my mother and those little angels sleeping upstairs. And if I want grown up conversation or advice, I have you and dad.” “Hold on, Tom. You were the one who asked for time out to go and date. What are you saying now? You’ve given up?” “Nobody’s ever going to replace Raine, Marcus.” “No, of course not. Nobody is ever meant to. People just want you to be happy again, maybe not in the same way, but at least have someone to share things with.” “And that’s what I’m trying to say—“ began Tom, but then he heard a soft voice calling ‘daddy’ from upstairs. “Shit,” said Tom. “I’m sorry. My fault.” “It’s fine. You want me to go up?” “No, let me. Give me a chance to say goodnight.” Ten minutes later, Marcus heard Tom’s soft footfalls on the stairs. “You want a beer?” said Marcus, twisting around and yanking open the fridge door, as Tom hit the bottom step. “Got a couple of cold ones in here.” “Actually, another reason I came back is because—” said Tom, waiting for Marcus to finish speaking. “Because I wanted a chat with you.” “Oh, shit,” Marcus hissed, two bottles of Molson on one hand, quietly closing the fridge door shut, his face falling. “What have I done now?” Tom appeared genuinely mystified. “Sorry?” he said, taken aback. “What do you mean?” “Whenever you want to chat with me, it usually means you’re either going to tell me to fuck off or back off.” “No, I—“ said Tom, his eyebrows scrunched up in confusion, before deflating with a sigh and gently shaking his head. “Is that what you think? Hell, have I really been that much of a dick? After everything you’ve done for us, for me?” “You’re not a dick, Tom. But you can be bloody scary at times. Beer?” Tom ambled over and took the proffered beer bottle, twisted the lid and took a long draught. Afterwards, visibly relaxing, he perched on the bar stool. Marcus went and joined him, leaving a sizeable distance between them. “What I meant was, I don’t get to hang out with you anymore. And I know that’s what I asked for but, in all honestly, I miss it, I miss our little chats.” “Yes, well, whose fault is that—?“ “I know, I know. I already claimed the dick card, remember?” Marcus relaxed too then, leant forward to clink the neck of his bottle with Tom’s. “Well, if it’s any consolation, Tom. I miss our grown-up time together, too.” And it suddenly dawned on Marcus how much he really had missed just chatting to Tom. If only he could master his infatuation. Maybe now would be a good time to win some points in the friends stakes, tell Tom about Damian Stone, tell him what they had found out and show him the picture. But while the thoughts swirled around in his head, Tom had started talking. “I really do like that shirt on you, Marcus. Is it cotton?” “Egyptian cotton,” said Marcus, absently. “Looks comfortable. Mind if I…?” Tom held a hand out, as if waiting for permission to touch the material. “Sure. Knock yourself out.” Tom reached across the distance and pinched the material beneath Marcus’ collar, between his thumb and forefinger. “This Indian tailor round the back of Edgware Road makes them for me. Has done for a couple of years. If you want, I can—“ When Marcus raised his eyes to meet Tom’s, all thoughts left him, the dark heat in that gaze blistering. A sudden memory came back, of Tom sitting on the garden rug, staring angrily at him. Except, it had not been anger at all, but lust. Instinctively he inhaled a deep breath as Tom fisted the shirt and pulled Marcus out of his chair towards him. Even as Tom brought their mouths together, Marcus hesitated, fully expecting him to recoil, to re-evaluate in disgust what he had initiated. But the moment never came. Closed mouth lips pressed onto Marcus’ own—firm, urgent, yet still a little unsure. And then, a second later, the essence of Tom Bradford hit Marcus hard, spicy aftershave mixed with Tom’s natural body scent and heat, so masculine, intoxicating and addictive. Instinctively Marcus’ arms found their way around Tom’s neck and he stepped into the man’s body, moulding himself into the embrace. When his tongue pushed between Tom’s lips, forcing them to part, Marcus took control of the kiss, touching, stroking, exploring, snaking his own tongue around Tom’s. In response, Tom shuddered and released a deep moan, confidence and hunger rising in him as he slammed down his bottle, before lifting Marcus off the floor and walking him backwards until he had him pinned up against the fridge door. Eventually, breathless, Marcus had to pull his mouth away. “Well. That’s one mystery solved,” whispered Tom, as he lowered Marcus back to earth and came up for breath too, his lips tickling Marcus’ ear. “What do you mean?” “I wondered if my attraction to you was all in my head,” came Tom’s breathy voice, before thrusting his substantial rock hardened groin into Marcus’ own arousal. “Apparently not.” Once again, Tom sought out Marcus’ mouth, more emboldened and self-assured. This time, however, Tom’s palms smoothed around Marcus’ back, grasping hold of his backside, while his mouth travelled along the line of Marcus’ jaw, nipping slowly as he went. Marcus took the opportunity to lift out Tom’s shirt tails and push his hands up into Tom’s chest. Firm, hot stomach muscles gave way to solid pectorals with aroused nipples. When Tom gasped, Marcus almost came where he stood. “Stay the night,” Tom whispered urgently. “Tom, I can’t. We—it wouldn’t be right.” “Shit,” said Tom, dropping his head on Marcus’ shoulder and releasing his hold. “I’ve misread things, haven’t I?” “What? No!” said Marcus, pulling Tom’s head back and kissing him deeply. Once he felt Tom’s arms around him again, felt him relax a little, Marcus brought their gazes together. “Tom, there is nothing in the world I would like more than to spend the night with you. And believe me, if it were only the two of us in the house right now, I’d be ripping your clothes off.” Still confused, Tom followed Marcus’ gaze to the rising stairwell. With a soft sigh and a shake of the head, comprehension dawned on him like an avalanche. “You see? This is why I need you around. My common sense guru.” “Wouldn’t be fair on the girls. In case they woke during the night.” But the idea had lodged firmly in Tom’s head and he was not letting up. “How about tomorrow? Monday’s your day off and I’m sure I can get a few hours away in the afternoon—“ “I’m in Birmingham until Thursday afternoon, remember? And you’ve got the girls Thursday night. Friday night, you’re seeing Brenner and his chums for the EUFA game on the big screen down the Castle. And then Saturday—“ “Fuck Brenner and his chums.” “I’d rather not, if that’s alright by you.” But Tom’s gaze shone hotly without even acknowledging the quip. “Friday night. I’ll ask mum if the girls can stop over. We’ve got the barbecue in their back garden the next day. Please tell me you’re free.” Marcus beamed at the eagerness of Tom’s plea. Friday nights remained the busiest night of the week in both restaurants. He’d purposely planned to be back in London on Thursday so that he could be in the kitchen on Friday. But as a precaution, he had also asked both chefs to make arrangements for Friday and Saturday nights, in case the deal in Birmingham dragged on. And this was not an opportunity he wanted to pass up. “I’ll make sure I am. But not here, Tom. Come to my place. I’ll cook a TV dinner. And after we’ve watched the game on my hundred inch flat-screen, I will lead you to my bedroom and teach to the some of the ways of the dark side. As long as you promise to stay the night. How does that sound?” Instead of replying, Tom lowered his grinning lips again onto Marcus’ but kissed less urgently this time, the tongue gently exploring Marcus’ mouth, his body still crushing rhythmically against Marcus causing bottles to clink softly in the fridge behind him. When Tom transferred his attention to Marcus’ ears, when the hungry mouth started flicking hotly around his left lobe and then nipping gently at his neck. Just as Marcus had made up his mind that he would give Tom the best blow job of his life, a voice sounded faintly from above stairs. “Daddy.” “You need to let me go now, Tom,” said Marcus, twisting out of Tom’s reach and heading for the front door. “Friday,” said Tom, slowly tracing a thumb across his lips. “ What time?” “How does seven sound?” “Perfect. Prepare to have your world rocked, Mr Fryne.” Little could he know, but those words would echo around Marcus’ head for the whole of the following week.
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    Thursday, May 25. 7:12 am.You're expecting me to wake up with a hangover, aren't you? Bet you're expecting paragraphs of tortured prose describing the erupting volcano that is my skull, the abject misery of morning-after dehydration, the spinning rooms and tilting floors and oh god make it stop I have to puke. I'm not going to indulge you, you sadist. But know this: I was begging for something as sweet and pleasant as the above paragraph in comparison to how bad my hangover actually was. Are you happy now? Are you not entertained?I stumbled out of Logan's bedroom, blinking sleep and pain from my eyes. The curtains were drawn and sunlight spilled into what was definitely a single man's apartment. A sofa, a bare coffee table, and a mostly empty Ikea shelving unit supporting a huge 4K TV were the only notable pieces of furniture. Didn't seem like Logan spent much time here. "And my prince awakens," a man's voice called from the kitchen. I turned, smelling coffee. While I was still in my disheveled clothes from the night before, Logan stood by the coffee pot wearing only red plaid boxers. He was hairier than I expected, with dark fur matting his broad chest and rippled, defined stomach. His legs were thick with muscles, strong and hairy. His whole body spoke of a man who worked himself hard. The sight was intoxicating - I found myself both desperate to look away and eager to absorb it all at once.Logan handed me a mug, too preoccupied with his own early morning drowsiness to notice my beet-red face. His sleep-rumpled hair was a mess across his tanned forehead. Dare I say, it was a pretty adorable look. "Last night might've been the first time in my storied history that I brought home someone and didn't sleep next to 'em."I tried to say something but it came out as a labored croak. "May I risk asking how the prince is feeling this morning?" His accent sounded stronger than than it had last night. I think, maybe, his guard had been up around me. Strange, considering just how tall of a fortress I had built around myself to deal with him. We have different ways of protecting ourselves, I guess. (Mine just so happened to be getting blackout drunk.)"I'm..." I sipped the coffee. Strong and rich with notes of cocoa and dark cherry. Just what I needed. "...alive. Barely."Through the bleariness of the miserable morning air, Logan smiled. Slow yet eager, the grin of a pirate stumbling across a hidden cache of golden coins. I couldn't help but notice his stubble, which was black with a hint of silver around the edges of his jaw. I wondered briefly what it would feel like against my own skin. I bet it scratched.Nope. Stop. Return those thoughts to sender. Please and thank you.I took a seat by the kitchen bar counter and drank coffee with him in silence. I thought Logan would be avoiding my gaze but he was... staring. Or examining. Something between concern and wonder guiding his eyes. Why wasn't I uncomfortable? Why didn't I want to look away?Every time I tried to say something, I stuffed it back down inside me. Reliving last night made me want to yak even more than that horrible beer did. I cringed thinking about my pathetic, drunken confession, how I told him, yeah, you're right! I'm totally lonely! It's to Logan's credit that he didn't laugh in my face right then and there. And then the silence seemed unbearable."Thank you," I finally managed. "For what?"He was really going to make me say it, huh? "For last night.""It's nothing." He scratched his chest hair. The sound it made against his fingers tickled me. Scrrchhh scrrchhh scrrchhh."No, really. You could have just left me back at Lola and Lilah's. Or even just dumped me on the street, which would have been less of a health hazard.""I was being an asshole. Was a bit nervous. Tried a little too hard not to let it show.""What did you have to be nervous about?"Logan seemed very interested in the contents of his coffee mug all of a sudden. "Ever look in a mirror?"Heat rose in my stomach and into my chest. I channeled all effort into keeping my pulse from pitching a fit in my veins. I matched his smile - or tried to, anyway - and played it off with a laugh."At least wait until the coffee sets in before you make fun of me, dude."Logan looked up, unsure what to say. I know a bullshitter when I see one, but... just how sincere was this man being? The thought that his flirtations could actually be serious made the room spin. Or maybe that was the hangover.He turned to the oven and started arranging dishes and pans, his muscular back flexing with effort. "How about some french toast to go with your misery?" Logan broke a couple of eggs into a bowl and added a dash of milk. As he whisked he shot me a quick, playful wink. "My nan says it's best hangover cure. Swears by it.""I don't think a man's ever made me breakfast before.""Sounds like you don't meet too many men of high moral character.""And you're a man of high moral character, are you?""The highest. The moral-est. Don't I seem trustworthy?" "Hard pass on that question."He cried out, mimicking a stab to the heart. "So pretty but so cruel.""Are you adding anything else to the batter?""I've got some cinnamon.""That's a good start, but I think I can make it even better.""You dare challenge a man in his boxers making you breakfast?""I dare! I dare so hard.""Watch yourself, Iron Chef Junior. French toast doesn't need any bells and whistles to taste good. Eggs and milk, a little cinnamon. Been doing it this way my whole life.""You sound incredibly sure of yourself.""Didn't become a firefighter by being unsure."I joined him by the oven, hands on my hips. "Tell you what. We'll have a little taste test.""Oh? Thought you'd never ask." He started toward me in the playful, exaggerated way a teenager would approach his first kiss. I held him back, laughing despite myself. Barely eight hours ago I wanted to throttle this guy. My hangover must have been interfering with the part of my brain that couldn't stand him."I mean a french toast taste test, you cartoon skunk.""Boo.""Hear me out. You make it your way, I'll make it mine, then you'll try both. If you still think your french toast is better, I will concede defeat. But if your taste buds are as high functioning as your smart-ass mouth seems to be-"He laughed at this."-and you agree that my recipe is better, then I win.""What happens if you win?"I took in the sight of him, bare chest, plaid boxers, hairy legs and all. "You know that dinner I'm making at your firehouse tonight? You have to attend it wearing only what you've got on now.""Damn. So in other words, 'bring it on, bitch'?""If you're man enough.""Wait, how do you know I'll judge fairly? What if I say I like my french toast better just to see you lose?"I pressed a finger to his hairy chest, upping the ante. "Didn't you say you were trustworthy? A man of high morals?"Our eyes locked, his gaze smokey and intense in the morning light. He hooked his thumb around my finger but didn't move it. It felt like a silent promise, forged in a language only the two of us could understand. "Guess I don't have a choice but to be honest, huh?""Not unless last night's chivalry was a one-time deal.""It wasn't.""So prove it."I knew a man like him couldn't resist a challenge. 8:35 amFor a bachelor, Logan's kitchen was surprisingly well-stocked. It just happened to be tiny as hell.The two of us jostled for space as we prepared our separate dishes. He was a big man and I found myself crashing into him constantly. An errant elbow to the chest, a bare foot bumping into another bare foot. After a while it all just stopped seeming accidental. I was actually having fun. Yes, grouchy ol' me. Other news from that day: pigs took flight and the citizens of Hell felt a bit of a chill.Logan stuck with his tried and true recipe and finished it off with a helping of maple syrup. I made good use of his pantry for my batter: pure vanilla extract, nutmeg, cinnamon, a dash of sugar, a pinch of salt. And then my secret weapon.Orange zest. Really. It sounds simple but it makes a world of difference. Try it!Whistling, I grated a teaspoon of zest into my batter. The scent made my nostrils tingle. Fuck, I love that smell. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Logan staring. "You get a hell of a fightface on when you cook.""How scary do I look?""I didn't say you looked scary. I've carried training dummies heavier than you.""And how often do you carry around guys my size?"The question escaped my lips before I realized what it could imply. I knew next to nothing about Logan's dating life or where his preferences laid. Yeah, he was a huge flirt. But so were a lot of guys I knew! Some men are just more playful than others. 'Playful', more often than not, is where it begins and ends. Trust me on this. One of his dark brows arched upward. "Not nearly as often as I'd like to.""Huh," I grunted - quite eloquently, too - as an unexpected heat sparked deep inside me. Before I had a chance to take our exchange to the next level, my nose caught a wisp of something burning. Smoke."Shit!" My hands scrambled to turn down the stovetop heat. I'd neglected to keep an eye on my pan and now one side of my toast was scorched. That's a D- minus sear, the voice of my culinary skills professor nagged. Logan's guffaws boomed through the kitchen. "Your toast is no match for the distraction of my rugged good looks.""Funny.""No, my prince, not funny." He tapped the side of his head, "Strategic."I'm used to fucking up dishes, believe it or not, but I wasn't used to fucking up in front of a gorgeous man in his underwear. Working quickly and silently to conceal my embarrassment, I redid a batch of toast, drizzled it with syrup and topped it with fresh raspberries and a dusting of powdered sugar. Upon setting the plate in front of Logan, he gave me a generous but not entirely unsarcastic round of applause. "You've come a long way this morning, lad.""Surviving a night with you has taught me a lot about adversity." I patted his arm. The muscles beneath my palm didn't go unnoticed. "Bon appétit."As he eyed the dish suspiciously, I went to check my phone and was briefly alarmed to find it wasn't in my back pocket."I think I left my phone on your bed, I'm just gonna grab it.""Sure.""Don't finish the taste test without me.""No promises, lad."In Logan's room, I found my phone in the tidal wave of blankets I'd left behind. Not wanting to be a sloppy guest, I straightened the bed and refluffed the pillow where I'd left an imprint of my drunken, sleeping face. I was ready to leave when something on the nightstand caught my eye. A framed photo of Logan and another man. I'll admit, I was being nosy. Curiosity is a needy beast. I grabbed the picture to take a closer look. Logan was few years younger, hair shorter and his face smooth, clean-shaven. I'd never seen him without scruff before. Strange.His arm was slung over the shoulders of someone young enough to be a teenager, or at least in his very early 20s. The second man was handsome, strikingly so, yet baby-faced enough to have probably been teased for it. They were both caught in mid-laugh, mouths agape and eyes lit with a joy that seemed so... so... unattainable. Had I ever been this happy with someone before?Would I ever be?Logan appeared at the doorway. He was in the middle of wiping syrup off his mouth. Startled, I jumped."Aiden. Find your phone?" His eyes lilted to the photo. "I - yeah. Sorry. I was curious what you looked like without a beard." (Lame. Bad.) I handed it back as quickly as I could."Yeah, well." He scanned the image with a quiet thoughtfulness I hadn't seen from him before. "You weren't missing much.""I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snoop.""It's okay.""It was rude of me.""Forget it. Okay?""Okay.""Good."Oh, this was awful. Desperate to change the subject, I noticed the empty plates in the kitchen just over his considerable shoulder. "Too hungry to wait for me, I take it?" "What can I say, lad. I've got an appetite. Nothing can get in the way.""Then what's the verdict? Your dish or mine?"His shoulders lowered and his ruddy cheeks actually seemed to darken. "Remember what I said about being a trustworthy man?""I remember you claiming to be a trustworthy man, yes.""Well, I'm invoking that claim now. Your french toast was better. And I mean miles and miles ahead of mine.""Aha!" Victory escaped my lips before humility could tamp it down. I stopped just short of raising my arms skyward like Sly Stallone climbing those museum steps. "You know what that means, buddy.""Yeah, yeah. Undies at dinner. You knew you'd win, you just wanted to see me in my boxers again." "You are so wrong." (He was totally right.) "But if you're gonna be a sore loser, I have an addendum to my victory demands.""Oh?""None of your barbed insults while I'm in the firehouse kitchen, okay? I'm making dinner for you and your crew. I respect you guys and everything you do. So please respect me."He nodded. "Alright. That's fair. But you've got to make sure you're up to the task. Most of these guys are from farms and old coal towns. I know them like brothers. They were raised on meat and potatoes. They like functional over fancy. So if you're really gunning for this job-" "Bed," I corrected him. "I'm only asking for a bed." "-then you've got to keep that in mind. That's all I meant the other night.""You're not one to phrase things delicately, are you?"He set the photo frame back on his nightstand. "I've never been a delicate man.""Yet another thing you and I don't have in common."His faint smile matched my equally faint joke. I wondered if he felt as strange as I suddenly did, slivers of unease sticking between my ribs. But Logan's expression simply idled in neutral, his opaque grey stare cool enough to still the words in my throat. "I'm gonna be late for my shift," he finally said, grabbing a pair of pants from his dresser. "You got somewhere to be today?"I hadn't been to class since my apartment was flambéed. He agreed to give me a lift to campus on his way to the firehouse. We didn't really say much of anything once we got into his car. Certainly nothing about that framed photo, who that young man was, or why looking at it managed to soften Logan's rough edges, if only for a moment. Nope. That was his business. Not mine.(...but really, wouldn't you find it hard not to think about? Was it Logan's friend, a coworker, a... boyfriend? Hah. That's laughable. Not because it was another man, but because it was hard to believe Logan was capable of anything resembling a commitment.)(To reiterate: this is totally none of my business.)Once we arrived on campus he dropped me off at the student parking lot. "Go give 'em hell today, my prince.""That's starting to sound suspiciously like a nickname, Logan.""Does it?" His cocky grin returned. "I've got a nickname for all my morning after guests.""Do not go any further than that, I beg you.""We've only spent one night together and I've already got you begging.""Oh, god."He laughed. To my surprise, I joined him. "If I'm your prince, what does that make you?"Logan pondered, stroking his square jaw. "Suppose that would make me your knight, wouldn't it? Escorting you safely back to your castle."I grimaced. "Please.""You love it.""You're out of your mind.""Did I not come to your rescue?"I couldn't really argue that. Instead, I gathered my stuff and thanked him again for all his help."You're sure you're ready for tonight?" he asked as I left his car. "Remember, my dudes will be tough on you.""So let them be tough. I can take it."I didn't have a choice but to impress Logan's firehouse if I wanted to become their live-in cook. The alternative - a cardboard bed on Lola and Lilah's floor - was too depressing to consider.We said our goodbyes. Casual and quick. As he drove off I caught his face in the rear view mirror, looking every bit like a man capable of breaking anyone's heart. But not mine, I told myself as he disappeared down the road. I avoided my reflection on the way into campus, rejecting any visual proof that I was lying to myself, not wanting to catch the dumb grin on my face. 12:01 pmAiden Kashima's pretentious as fuck dinner menu for the fine men of Toronto Fire Station 426: 1. Boeuf bourguignon with pinot noir 2. Green beans almondine 3. Goat cheese, beet and arugula salad with candied walnuts and a dark raspberry vinaigrette 4. Herbes de Provence potatoes with lemon and sea salt 5. Dark chocolate crème de cassis cake with a chocolate mirror glaze Aiden Kashima's down-to-earth, hearty, blue collar dinner menu for the fine men of Toronto Fire Station 426: 1. Beef stew 2. Green beans and almonds 3. Salad 4. Potato wedges 5. Cake Yes, they're the same damn menu. 'Fancy' is only a matter of perspective. The second menu will be the one pitched to Logan's crew, the first will only serve as my own reference. I've spent the better part of this morning's classes writing and rewriting the crew's dinner, refining as necessary, ensuring everything paired and complemented each other. I'm taking this as seriously as any assignment or exam. I want these guys to have a good meal. They deserve it. And, I admit... I want them to like me, too. Blowing out a hard exhale, I closed my notebooks and joined my classmates at the cook stations for a quick lunch of teriyaki salmon with broccoli sauté. I made small talk with them, exchanging quips about cooking oil preferences (I maintain that anyone who even mentions soybean oil in class should be expelled), but my mind was still on the firefighter crew. Rather, one particular firefighter.I had fun cooking next to Logan this morning, but shit, I've never burned french toast before. There's no use denying it: I was distracted by him. He's a distraction! A big, infuriating, confusing, hairy distraction. He even admitted to doing it on purpose! Shit. I can't repeat that mistake tonight. That would be a disaster. Yet I can still hear his deep, confident voice in my head. "My prince."My stomach turned to iron as I sautéed the broccoli in olive oil and garlic. I hoped Logan never noticed my reaction when he called me that, how my breath escaped me, how I found myself at the mercy of the slow, easy grin on his chiseled face. Ah. Damn it. Something tells me I'll be in trouble tonight.
  16. 49 likes
    Chapter 17 It’d been a week since Liam got the news about school, and he was still walking on a cloud. Corey, as expected, had been ecstatic for him, and they talked often about what Liam should expect when classes started. Liam was also happy to finally be back at work. It was great his boss had given him so much time off, but he loved working, and talking to the patients. There was only so much down time he could handle before he went stir-crazy. The early afternoon sun was shining brightly, and the day was mild, so Liam decided to walk downtown and find something for lunch. He didn’t eat out often, but he’d been procrastinating going to the grocery store, and the cupboards were pretty bare. The walk was quick, and soon he was seated at a table, inhaling the delicious aromas of homemade soup, bacon, and coffee. The bell over the front door chimed and he smiled and waved when Elena looked his way. With an answering grin, she immediately walked to his side. “Hey there, stranger. You’re looking much better than last time I saw you.” “Thanks,” Liam replied, touching the now healed cut on his head. “It seems like it’s taking forever, but I’m finally starting to feel like myself again.” He lifted his casted arm. “This thing is supposed to come off later this week. I can’t wait.” “I can’t imagine.” Elena shook her head. “I’ve never broken anything, thank goodness.” “Pull up a chair and join me for lunch.” “Thanks. I’d love to. So, how have you been? My brother tells me you two actually had a civilized conversation.” “We did,” Liam replied with a nod of his head. “It was good to clear the air.” A slim hand reached across the table and rested on Liam’s forearm. “I’m sorry for my part in the misunderstanding about Nathan. I honestly thought….” She paused and chewed lightly on her lower lip. “I was sure you were with him. You seemed close.” “No harm done,” Liam tried to reassure her. “Alek knows Nathan and I are just good friends. Besides, it’s not like it kept Alek and I from getting back together.” “Can I ask you a personal question?” “Ask away, although I may not answer,” he joked. Elena was interrupted by the waitress approaching to take their orders. Liam was pretty hungry, and chose the clubhouse sandwich and homemade tomato soup. As soon as she left, Elena turned her attention back to Liam. “Have you considered forgiving Alek?” “Elena… I….” “I know he hurt you. He screwed up royally, and he knows it, believe me, but he did tell our parents the truth. Doesn’t that count for something?” Liam sighed. “I don’t know, El. I’m happy he finally told your mom and dad, but he had a whole year to do it, and refused. Hell, it took him over six months after we broke up to pluck up the courage to step out of his closet.” “He should have done it while you two were together,” Elena agreed, “but he never stopped loving you.” “This isn’t something I can make a rash decision about,” Liam replied, studying the tabletop. “I forgave him over and over again, and it didn’t get me anywhere.” “He’s been thinking lately about starting to date again.” Elena’s voice was so soft. Liam’s gaze shot to hers, and he was surprised to see sadness there. “Oh?” “I doubt he’ll jump back into anything yet, but if he doesn’t stand a chance with you, then he does need to move on. Friends have been trying to set him up, but he hasn’t been ready. I guess someone asked him out to dinner a few days ago. He turned the guy down, but it made him think about actually putting himself out there again.” “I didn’t think any of his friends knew he was gay.” “Oh, he told Jerome and Rene before he talked to mom and dad. I think a few employees know after dad caused that scene at the garage, but I’m not sure.” “Wow,” Liam said, blinking in surprise. “That’s a surprise.” “Why?” Elena replied, looking at him curiously. “He might be slow to get started, but when my brother sets his mind on something, he does it.” “I wish he’d have set his mind on this while we were still together,” Liam muttered bitterly. “A lot happened, so I would understand if you say no, but you have to admit you two were good together. I’d never seen my brother so happy as when he had you in his life.” “It’s not an easy decision, Elena. I may love him, but I don’t know if I can ever trust Alek to put me first. How many chances can one person have before enough is enough?” “Honestly, I would probably feel the same if this wasn’t my brother we were talking about.” Conversation was interrupted again when the waitress delivered their meals. They ate silently for several minutes, each seemingly lost in their own thoughts. Liam’s mind was whirling, and he wasn’t sure of his own feelings. Seeing that blonde hit on Alek evoked strong jealousy, but not wanting Alek to be with another wasn’t a good reason to take the man back. Was it? Lost in his thoughts he didn’t realize Elena was speaking until she touched his arm. “I’m sorry. I was somewhere else for a minute,” he said, feeling sheepish. “Were you saying something?” Elena smiled sadly. “I said I was sorry for pressuring you. I might want you two to make up, but I’m not naïve enough to believe it would be a simple decision.” “Thank you. This is a really hard position to be in,” Liam replied, playing with his food. With his stomach tied up in knots his appetite was gone. “I should get back to work.” “And I should head to the clinic for my shift.” Liam, over Elena’s objections, paid for both of their lunches and then, after a hug goodbye, walked swiftly to the office. He tried to keep his mind on his work, but his thoughts kept returning to his talk with Alek’s sister. Over the course of the afternoon Corey gave him curious looks, but they were so busy there was no time for small talk. As soon as he’d ushered the last client out of the building, Corey locked the door and stepped up to the reception desk. “How was lunch? You seemed off when you got back.” “I saw Elena.” “Aleksei’s sister?” “Yeah. She showed up at Annie’s and I invited her to join me.” “How did that go? You said you and Alek talked, right?” “She said Alek’s thinking about dating again.” “And that bothers you.” It wasn’t a question. Liam groaned and let his head thump down onto desk. “I hate it. I saw some blonde flirting with him the other day and wanted to claw the bastard’s eyes out. What the hell is wrong with me?” Corey rubbed comforting circles over Liam’s shoulder. “There is nothing wrong with you. You still love the guy; of course the idea of him dating is going to bother you.” “But I went through this already when I though he and Nalalia were together.” “And it nearly killed you then. I was there, remember?” “What do I do, Cor? I hate the idea of him dating, but I’m not ready to take him back. I don’t know if I ever will be.” Corey paced for several minutes as Liam dug his thumbs into his temples, trying to stave off an impending headache. “The way I see it,” Corey said, startling him. “You have two options. Either you do nothing, sort through your feelings in your own time, and let the chips fall where they may, or you talk to Alek and tell him how you feel.” “Tell him how I feel? Wouldn’t that be giving him false hope? What if I decide I can never go back to him?” “That’s why you would need to be honest. Tell him you still love him, but have a lot of baggage to work through before you can make any decisions. The ball will be in his court at that point. It’ll be up to him to decide if he’s willing to wait.” “And if I don’t say anything?” “Then you risk him finding someone else. I don’t say that don’t hurt or pressure you, but it is a fact. Alek would and should eventually get on with his life.” “It just doesn’t seem fair,” Liam said, leaning back in the chair and closing his eyes. “I’d be asking him to wait for me, without any guarantee we would ever get back together.” “I’m willing to bet he’d be happy knowing he’s still in the running at all.” “What would you do?” “I honestly don’t know. I’m the first to admit I made mistakes with Jason. When he came back into my life, I was still stuck on the stupid things he did in the past. Jason wasn’t that same person. He grew up, but I had a hard time getting past what happened when we were younger.” “He’d cheated on your friend, didn’t he?” Corey nodded in agreement. “He did, and I hated him because of it, for a long time. When I saw him again at his brother’s wedding, I was an ass.” Corey’s eyes got a far off look as if he was reliving his memories. “It took time to see the man he’d become, and not the idiot kid he’d been.” “Alek’s not a college kid. He was an adult who made the choice to let me go.” “Yes, he was, and he’d probably agree it was the dumbest thing he’s ever done. This isn’t about him, though. It’s about you. What can you live with? Is it in you to give him the opportunity to prove he’s changed, or are you prepared to let him go for good? If you don’t think you can get past the hurt, then you need to make peace with that and get on with your life. Being happy doesn’t mean you need a man in your life, even if you are a great catch.” Liam snorted a laugh. “Sure. I’m the catch of the year.” “Don’t sell yourself short, Li. You’re a great guy. Anyone would be lucky to have you.” “I feel like I keep going around and around about all of this. I wish I could just make a decision. Hell, we broke up months ago.” “It took Jason a long time to mature, and it took me even longer to let go of the past and forgive what he did to Pierre. Some things can’t be rushed.” “So… talk to Alek?” “Only if you want to. You’re not obligated to forgive him, or even be polite to the guy on the street.” Corey nudged Liam’s chair with his leg and smiled. “I don’t know if I ever told you how proud I was of you for putting your foot down with him. You were hurting, and made the hard choice to walk away, no matter how painful it was. I don’t want you to compromise that strength, but I don’t think you’re ready to give up on Alek. If you were, seeing that man flirting with him wouldn’t have affected you so much.” “Does that make me a glutton for punishment? If I do this, I can’t help feeling like I’m letting him off the hook. Again.” “Giving the man a chance to prove himself doesn’t mean letting him walk all over you, or even jumping into a relationship with him. You were right to leave when you did. Stick to your guns, and set out terms and conditions for both of you. You could start over again as friends, and be very clear about what you expect from him and what he can expect from you. It sounds like Alek’s already taken the first steps to becoming the partner you need him to be; now he needs to be patient and give you time to believe in him again, if that’s even possible.” “How did you get so smart?” “By almost losing the love of my life? If I didn’t us a chance, we wouldn’t be where we are now.” Liam stood and hugged the man who was so much more than a boss. “You’ve given me a lot to think about.” “I know this whole thing has been hard on you. It’s never easy to be disappointed by someone you love. Alek is lucky you didn’t write him off.” “I feel like whatever I decide, my life will never be the same.” “It won’t be. You’ll either be on the road to a life with Alek at your side, if he doesn’t fuck it all up again, or you’ll be a happy and healthy, single physiotherapist. Either way, you have an amazing boss.” Liam laughed as some of the heaviness of the conversation dissipated. “Do me a favour and stop beating yourself up.” Corey gripped Liam’s shoulder. “This is your life. No one else gets to decide what will make you happy.” Liam took a deep breath and met Corey’s kind eyes. “I think I know what I need to do.”
  17. 48 likes
    Sheriff Daniel Lovan had a busy Christmas Eve. Raymond had told him of their plan to ensnare Fire Chief Bumpkis using video surveillance. His wasn't convinced that the videos could be used as evidence, even if the bigoted bastard was a thief. Still, a man who would steal money donated to charity, especially a Christmas charity, was worthy of special consideration. If he was careful, a legal confession would negate the use of the video evidence. Bumpkis would be facing up to ten years in prison for theft and two years for each count of forgery. He called his folks to explain he might be late for supper. By six o’clock he had video showing donations made by individual members of the Adams family. The serial numbers of one hundred dollar bills, totaling $15,000.00, were clearly displayed. The next segment showed Bumpkis and Bill Jordan dividing up the cash into pre addressed envelopes. Each envelope had over three hundred dollars. Each flap of the sealed envelopes bore the initials of both men. Having watched the video several times, Sheriff Lovan understood each step Bumpkis took. The man moved with surprising efficiency. First, he divided the envelopes into two stacks according to a list showing who would deliver each envelope. His stack was noticeably thicker. No envelope was left untouched. Those that he had set aside for Bill to deliver, contained enough smaller denominations to simulate the original thickness. He didn't hesitate to scrawl his and Bill's initials on the newly sealed flap. The envelopes he was to deliver contained either a solitary twenty dollar bill or else he simply took the cash and discarded the empty envelope. Daniel was able to calculate that Bumpkis netted almost $27,000.00. No wonder the man was constantly soliciting funds. Daniel had contributed many times to the canisters that went up at cash registers around town, just before Thanksgiving. Everyone in the Sheriff's office had been encouraged to donate into their dedicated canister. Daniel had slipped in a check for $100.00, that he knew had already been cashed. Some businesses posted pictures in their windows showing fake checks depicting thousands of dollars donated. It was a major local charity. The Sheriff made a mental note to ask Raymond about the quality and quantity of the cameras used. They seemed to be everywhere in Bumpkis’ life, with big screen clarity and many, with real time, remote, zoom. Each camera had continuously updating date and time stamps with sound so good that it picked up the, more than occasional, fart. Fire Chief Bumpkis was his own reality show... with a lot of gas. Daniel wanted to know how they were installed in the man's workplace, home and even his cars without him knowing or suspecting. Any video surveillance he initiated would require a court order. On top of that, his equipment, compared to this, was medieval. The Sheriff watched as Bumpkis stashed the stolen cash, along with the original envelopes in two, obviously pre-staged, gift wrapped boxes. When all was ready, Bumpkis called Bill back into his office. He asked who would be accompanying Bill. He made a show of then calling in Fireman Johnson and Larry, his cousin by marriage, who would go with him. The Sheriff got the impression that Bumpkis was saying that cousin Larry was a better Fireman than Johnson because Larry was volunteering his own time. Bill would bring Johnson back to the Firehouse, before going home and Bumpkis would drop Larry off at home after they had completed “Santa’s rounds”. Bumpkis wished the men a merry Christmas then advised them to “get a move on, poor people are in need.” Even in the video, Bill appeared a little on edge. Daniel thought the man wanted badly to ask questions or maybe just punch the fat man in the nose. Bumpkis must have also noticed. “You got a problem Jordan? I made notes of how you already ignored and disrespected me today. “It was disgusting. The way you sucked up to them faggots. Like you was on their side. If I didn't know you had a wife and kids, I might think you was one of them preverts. No decent, god fearing Christian family man can abide by their kind of disgusting behavior. You better do some serious thinking over the holidays about your future with this department. Either you need to get in line or git out. You understand me Jordan?” Larry snickered, Johnson looked very uncomfortable and Bill simply nodded. It was clear to the Sheriff that Bumpkis did not allow anyone to challenge his authority. Bumpkis apparently accepted the nod and turned to gather his envelopes and packages. Daniel noticed something he had missed in earlier viewings. Bill Jordan got an almost evil grin on his face as he stared at, what Daniel now saw was, Bumpkis’ visibly red left cheek. He jotted down a note to ask Bill about it. The video then picked up in the Fire Chief’s car. There was enough footage to show that the fat Fire Chief never got out of the car. Larry would simply run up to the door and hand over the envelope to whomever answered. It didn't take long since most of the intended recipients were never visited. Once the deliveries were completed, Bumpkis handed Larry two one hundred dollar bills. “You don't go gittin shitfaced jes cause you got some foldin money. This new Sheriff ain't like the old one. You get caught drivin drunk now, and you could wind up losing your job and going to jail. If’n you go out drinkin you get a taxi. You hear me boy?” “Yes sir, Chief. I’m gonna get me a couple of six packs and be set for the holiday”. Sheriff Lovan had no doubts, just by hearing Larry’s voice, the man would soon be tying one on. Most likely he wouldn't be doing it at home, alone on Christmas Eve, not likely. Larry would try to find some slut to share his good fortune and some holiday cheer. The video showed the Fire Chief drove directly to the Chevrolet dealership. Less than an hour later Bumpkis left the dealership and drove to his preacher’s house. Daniel didn't recognize the residence, it was identified by subtitles on the video. The video then showed a nicely furnished office. The Reverend Jonas T. Fishback was closing the door to his office. “Well Brother Burl, I take it you have completed your annual mission of mercy. The families I listed for your charitable beneficence have been appropriately blessed.” “Preacher, I took it upon myself to share a little extra with you this year and a little less with my brother in law, the Mayor. Seems like His Honor likely won’t be reviewing our Fireman’s Fund like he done in the past. They’s a move afoot to call for him to resign. I reckon this investigation into the last Sheriff is shining him in a bad light. This temporary Sheriff ain't likely to turn a blind eye to any complaints about how we distribute our charitable proceeds.” Daniel knew preacher Fishback only by reputation. He was known for his hell fire and brimstone sermons, denouncing everything from premarital sex to sexual equality and gay rights to lax treatment of immigrants to the Democratic Party as a whole. He insisted, giving women the right to vote had brought about the beginning of the “end times”. The preacher was unimpressed. “Burl I always appreciate any increase in gifts to god. But, I think you are underestimating Brother John Claven. You have known him longer than I have, but I’ve seen him walk through deep shit like he was wearing teflon waders. Hell, the man was more than once facing jail time, guilty as sin, and come out smelling like a rose. I’ll take the money but if you're thinking of cutting him out, I’d think again. This was his idea in the first place. He’s already got a Deputy in his pocket he's gonna run for Sheriff. You should just keep on doing as he tells you.” The rest of the video shows the preacher counting money from the envelope Bumpkis had given him. As he counted out more than a few one hundred dollar bills, the preacher’s smarmy smile grew bigger. “Brother Burl, you have done well and the lord will surely bless you for your efforts.” They shared a chuckle and Bumpkis headed out. His next stop was at the Mayor’s house, again indicated by subtitles, but no one answered the door. Bumpkis waddled back to his car and made a call on his cell phone. His voice changed. Daniel figured they had tapped one or more of the cell phones involved. “Burl, I been waiting for your call. You got to bring the cash to Mabel’s house in Fort Worth. My son in law is deployed and she was alone. So we decided to uh, have Christmas with her this year, uh, sort of short notice.” Bumpkis harrumphed, “You just plain hiding out. You’se afraid the Sheriff left evidence linking you to the kickback y’all been gittin’ from them coyotes. And what about that teacher, you two kinda roughed him up pretty bad after you found out some of them wetbacks been talking about your pet coyotes. I got it on good authority, he was butt fucked pretty rough before being beat and left for dead. Good thing he never come out of that coma. You better he's hope they don't look to you or the Sheriff for a DNA sample. “I figure you’ll be staying with your daughter until subpoenaed or actually charged. Tell you what, use your daughter's car, you come back here and meet me at the diner and I’ll hand over your share. Just call me when you get close and I’ll let you have it in the parking lot. You don't even have to get out of the car. So nobody's gonna even see you.” Sheriff Lovan called Joe Adams, “Mr. Adams I got the videos. I wanted to ask how well you know the folks at the Chevy dealership? If we could find out what he was doing there, it could help tie up some loose ends.” “Danny, how many times I got to tell you. I am still your Uncle Joe. Especially now that you and Raymond are thicker than fleas on a dog’s backside. I already talked to Ray Spencer down at the Chevy place and he’s willing to help you in anyway he can. Up to and including turning over some suspiciously familiar hundred dollar bills. Seems our esteemed Fire Chief just bought his wife a brand new four wheeled Christmas present. “I watched them put those videos cell phone recordings together… er, I mean, uh, I received a copy of those same videos through my email. Of course you realize they are from an anonymous source. I mean, uh, I have no idea who sent them, most likely some concerned citizen.” “Good grief”! Daniel’s deep voice chuckled, “Uncle Joe, I always knew you were an honest man, but hell far, sir, you can't lie to save your life. I’ve seen three year olds caught with their hand in the cookie jar lie better than that. I’m sure the State Attorney General has my phone tapped. I personally think what y'all did was a service to the community.” After the chuckle subsided Sheriff Lovan continued, “I better let the Texas Rangers know what we got going on. They’ll want to talk to the Mayor once I arrest him for receiving stolen goods and collusion. I think I’ll let them investigate the teacher and human trafficking. They got better resources and deeper pockets. “I don't know who the anonymous person or persons that set up all those high tech cameras and tapped those cell phones was, but I hope he knows I am very grateful. Hell, Uncle Joe, I could use a man like that on my staff.” It was late by the time the Mayor and Bumpkis were locked up. The Mayor insisted on talking to his lawyer before answering any questions. Bumpkis, on the other hand, tried to argue his innocence. He told the Sheriff, if there was any mishandling of funds it was all on Bill Jordan. He was elaborating on Jordan’s nefarious nature when Daniel had him take a seat in the waiting area next to one of his Deputies. Bumpkis argued that he was an upstanding, god fearing citizen who had done nothing that could possibly deserve being handcuffed like a common criminal. That Deputy dutifully ignored Bumpkis as he watched a video on his iPad. A video showing Bumpkis taking the money and paying off Larry, giving the preacher his share and talking to the Mayor regarding theft, assault, rape, human trafficking and murder. Bumpkis saw it all in living color as his own color faded to a whiter shade of pale. The subsequent questioning was like watching dominoes fall. Neither ever mentioned the videos. Bumpkis confessed and sang like the proverbial canary. He told how the Mayor helped him falsify his qualifications to get the job of Fire Chief. How the Mayor and Rev. Jonas Fishback had devised the plan for taking the money shortly after his getting the job. Together they had been bilking the Fireman’s Fund for the last three years. He told how the old Sheriff and the Mayor forced him to cover up four different cases of arson for insurance fraud. He cited the rough dates of the fires as well as all those involved and even complained he was only paid the paltry sum of $500.00 for each of his official findings. He was convinced the Mayor and the old Sheriff had gypped him. By the time Bumpkis was through and Sheriff Lovan had informed the DA and the Judge. It was decided that the Mayor, the Fire Chief and the preacher were to be held without bail. It was deemed that flight to avoid prosecution was a real risk since they each had access to untold sums of cash. Daniel’s parents were still up when he called the second time, even though it was almost eleven. When pressed he only offered that the Mayor, the Fire Chief and Reverend Jonas Fishback were under arrest and being held without bail. A complete list of charges would be forthcoming. He considered calling Raymond but figured he was already asleep. Thinking of crawling into bed with a naked Raymond got his cock to swelling so he started thinking about how close it was to 6:00 am. He was sure that Raymond was well aware of how busy and long his day had been. Right now Daniel would rather lose his left nut than miss out on alone time with Raymond. As he turned into his parents drive, he focused on what it must be like to actually have a nut cut out while you watched. His hardon was soon a distant memory. When he entered the house his Dad gave him a hug. His Mother waved from the kitchen where she was heating up some leftovers, while chatting on her cell phone. His Dad led him into the living room where a chilled pitcher of eggnog awaited. “You know she worries about you, now, almost as much as when you were deployed. The only good thing about your job is when she gets some juicy gossip to share. I think it earns her points with her bridge club and her quilting society and the mailman. Which reminds me, make a real fuss over her Christmas present for you. It's a king sized quilt. She worked real hard on it. She’ll mope around all next year if you don't gush about how great it is. Put some drama into it. I used to think that automatically came with liking to suck cock. Now, I know better.” Daniel nearly choked on his eggnog. Was his father trying to tell him something. “Dad you know I really like mom’s homemade quilts. They kept me warm all the time I was growing up. I’ve had one on my bed ever since I was born, except for boot camp. I’m not worried about liking the quilt. I’m more concerned that she might try to embellish what I tell her about official business. I don't tell her anything I wouldn't tell the general public. It's just that I sometimes tell her first. “And Dad, uh wha…, what’s this about “liking to suck cock”? Glancing toward the kitchen, his Dad offered, “Now Son, you know your Mother and I never tolerated lying. And in that vein…” He chugged his eggnog and then refilled his glass. “Like I was saying, shortly after you came out to us… well I got to talking to Fred about you and what him and me used to do before we discovered girls and well a little Jack Daniels later we learned that, uh, er, it could still be fun after all these years. We’re not planning on leaving our wives. It just that…” At this his father actually giggles. “It's just that, uh, we turn each other on. I felt I had to be honest with you. I don't know that I’m gay, but…” He giggled again and whispered in an almost drunken slur. “But, I am a cocksucker. Not as good as Fred, but he’d argue that point.” Daniel stared blankly at the man who had taught him how to fish, ride a bike, play baseball and drive a car. A man he had always respected, who had been his role model and hero. Daniel had to admit his Dad and Fred had been in some of his early jerk off fantasies. He’d never imagined them together and now that he thought about it… it was kind of hot, in a creepy kind of way. Both were ruggedly handsome, tall and in good shape. The more he considered the situation, the more he thought it was just another expression of their lifelong friendship. He was lucky in that Fred had always been like a second father. Fred was the next person he came out to, after his folks. Fred’s response was simply, “Son, if anybody gives you any grief about it, just you let me know.” Then he hugged him. Daniel was surprised at how hungry he was. He ate almost everything his Mother put before him. His Dad sat at his usual ‘head of the table’ and munched on a cookie and sipped his eggnog. Daniel finally groaned and pushed his chair back from the table. “Thanks Mom, that was so good, but if I eat any more I’ll bust. As it is, I feel like I need to be wheeled outta here. I’m sorry I got here so late. Right now, I’m so tired I feel like I’m about to keel over. If y’all don't mind, I’m gonna hit the hay. I’ll be out early in the morning. I got some business to take care of, so I got to be up and gone by 5:30.” His Mother, standing beside his chair with a serving spoon in hand, studied him sharply. “Does this “business” have a name? Are we gonna meet him anytime soon?” “Margaret May! Leave the boy alone. If he wanted to share that with us, he would've already done it.” Turning to his son, he said, “Danny boy, we can tell someone has got you a little happier than usual. We could, both of us, hear it in your voice over the phone, these last few days. Tonight, the way you move, the way you talk, you got more energy than you’ve had since you were a kid. Ever once in awhile you get a dreamy kind of look come over you. Just know that if you’ve met someone, we just want you to be happy. He’s welcome here anytime.” The night was taking on a surreal quality. It was shock enough, learning that his Dad sucks cocks, on the DL. Now, they're telling him, they think he's in love. Not since he was a kid… Daniel shook his head in a double take. “Mom, Dad, I just met someone who I knew and liked a lot when I was a kid in school. We drifted apart and now he's back and wants to get to know me again. He treated me bad back then and I’m just not sure I can trust him again. It's gonna take some time. I don't want to get his hopes up, nor yours nor mine either, for that matter. I think bringing him around before I’m sure would send the wrong message.” Standing, Daniel hugged his Mother. His Father stood and pulled him into his arms. “Just know that we are here for you. You're a man, a decorated veteran and the County Sheriff, but you're still our son and we love you.” Daniel swallowed the lump in his throat and fought back the tears. “Thanks Dad, I love y’all too.” Soon he was stripped down in his old bed, where he used to jerk off fantasizing about the man he would see in the morning. He knew it wouldn't take much to rejuvenate those fantasies and rub one out. Instead he rolled over and let sleep take him. /////////////////////////////////////////////////// Jeff and Paul met Rosarita as she was exiting the family room. Paul glared at her knowing smile. He thought to himself, ‘that damn Mona Lisa was a bitch’. He consoled himself imagining the feeling of his ever tightening grip on Rosarita’s throat as he throttled her. Maybe he should do it before she could utter one of her humiliating barbs. A truly warming smile lit up her face as she moved to him and hugged him tightly. “Relax, it's Christmas Eve and you’re among family and friends”. Just as he was about to return her embrace, she spoke softly. “Besides, Maria was asleep and never heard what must have been two water buffaloes mating in the master bedroom.” As she was about to pull away, Paul crushed her to his body and whispered back, “Well, I just hope she slept through what sounded, to me, like cages of hyenas and monkeys being tossed around by an angry bull elephant. Except monkeys don't usually scream…” His voice shifted into an unbearable falsetto, ‘ooh, ooh, more Fred, harder, faster, deeper’. In hindsight, it definitely sounded more like a female hyena. In heat!” Jeff, fearing all out war, intervened. “Alright you two, pull back the claws. Maria is watching “It's a wonderful Life”. Don't interrupt that concept with a harsh dose of bitchiness. You guys should try to be a little more synergistic and a lot less antagonistic. No one’s keeping score, but if they were, my side would win”. He pulled Paul into his arms while looking sternly into Rosarita's eyes and asked, “So, what's for dinner?” Paul wasn't sure that choking Rosarita wasn't more appealing than dinner. Fantasies about choking two different women in one day. He wondered, ‘is this how serial killers get started’? Feeling more than a little defeated, Rosarita responded, “Dinner tonight is standing rib roast, mashed potatoes with garlic and thyme, creamed spinach, and by special request sautéed asparagus spears. For dessert we have baked Alaska, cherry pie, apple pie and of course pecan pie. There should be plenty of leftovers. Please encourage everyone to try the baked Alaska tonight, cause I’m not sure how it will stand up as a leftover.” She excused herself to the kitchen. Jeff watched her go, sighed and focused on Paul. “She gave me some valuable council while I was trying to woo you and did a great job decorating the house for Maria. But, the more she aggravates you, the less I like having her around. If she’s too much, I can pay her full wages and send her home. We can manage. Maybe one of Ilya's men won't mind cooking or cleaning.” Paul considered the option. “She's great with Maria. She does a great job cooking and cleaning. I think she's like an older sister, not really vicious, like you said, just aggravating. Honestly, I’ll miss her when she goes. Besides, I think I scored big time with the ‘female hyena in heat’.” I’m actually looking forward to a rematch. But, thanks for standing up for your family, again.” With that he pulled Jeff in for a rewarding kiss that made both chub up. They moved in the family room to join Sam and Dave who seemed to be just as focused as Maria on “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (Of course! It was the original cartoon version. Is there any other?) Sam and Dave looked up and nodded hello. Sam encouraged, “There’s hot apple cider in the crockpot and eggnog in the fridge. A little spiced rum, there on the counter, will make either one perfect. “We're all three off duty. Fred just took sandwiches, coffee and cookies out to the guys on watch.” Without waiting for acknowledgement, he returned his focus to the tv. Jeff and Paul opted for some cider with the spiced rum. Then became just as engrossed as the rest in watching Christmas classics. Fred soon joined the crowd with a platter of ors d'oeuvres and passed on a warning from Rosarita not to fill up on them. A warning that one and all studiously ignored. Paul did limit Maria, insisting she should carefully choose two, so she could enjoy her asparagus and the very special dessert. A discussion of what to watch next followed “A Charlie Brown Christmas Special”. It was a toss up between “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Rosarita announced dinner. That only momentarily interrupted the vigorous chatter. Each man was lauding the supremacy of his choice over the other. Paul could care less, as long as either tonight or tomorrow he got to watch the original, black and white, “Christmas in Connecticut”. Rosarita shared with Maria, it was just ‘testosterone talk’. A holiday version of which professional football team was the best. That immediately ignited an entirely new debate focused on the masters of the gridiron. Rosarita assured Maria, she would understand once she got a little older. Everyone praised the chef for a truly glorious feast. It only took a little encouragement from Jeff to make the baked Alaska disappear. The pies were left untouched. While Rosarita took Maria to get a bath and ready for bed, Jeff told Paul about the Christmas present he had arranged for Rosarita. Paul understood, only too well, the impact it would have on her life. He decided they would quietly retire as soon as they read to Maria, “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. Then he would show his lover exactly what he thought of his largesse as well as his large cock. By the time they both reclined for the last time, on the horsehair mattress, it was well after midnight. They wished each other a Merry Christmas and kissed goodnight. As he drifted off, Paul decided he would loudly complain at breakfast about the herd of cattle that had broke free and bawled and carried on most of the night just outside his window. Then he would pointedly ask Rosarita if she thought they sounded like female hyenas. He smiled as visions of a defeated Rosarita danced in his head.
  18. 47 likes
    Kao missed Dean already, and he had just got on the chopper to head back to school. He knew that to have fallen so hard so fast meant it had to be a mating bond. There could be no other explanation behind it all. He would have to spend the next couple months away from the man he absolutely adored, but it was necessary. He had a job to do, and graduating from college was part of that job. Then he would be back with Dean, and they would be heading to Montana for their place as the Beta Pair. Kao was pulled out of his reverie by the pilot's voice. "You okay, Beta Saechao?" Since that was Kao's title, the Canis Lupus pilot used it out of respect. The question's phrasing and tone told Kao he was genuinely worried. "Do you have a mate, Captain?" Kao asked as an answer. "Not yet, Sir. I do have a girl I'm seeing, so I might one day." His smile was evident in his voice. "I miss my mate already." Gods, how he missed him. Not even gone a half an hour, and he missed him like he would miss his heart were it gone. "He misses you just as much." Kao gave a small smile. "It's the truth. I just got a message over the radio saying to tell you 'Dean loves you and will talk to you tonight,'" said the pilot with a wide grin. Kao blushed a bit and ducked his head to hide his smile. * * * Back to the grindstone, Kao thought as he went back to school Monday. He had all of his assignments forwarded to him so he could do them while he was dealing with legal matters. He had easily finished all but the oral report in Interpersonal Communications which had been due last Friday. He would be giving the report today. It felt so odd, yet so free, to be back here without a constant escort around. He could talk to people without feeling like every word was going to be sent back to Kai. He could eat lunch with people and not have Mr. Michaels watching every move. One of Kao's classmates commented on it. "Where's tall, dark, and obnoxious?" the young lady asked. "Thankfully, no longer around," Kao replied with a grin. "What was with him anyway?" She turned more toward Kao. The posture said she wanted to talk to him and have an actual conversation. "My family is...how do I put this?" "Loaded and so rich they hire goons to watch over you?" she added helpfully. Kao snickered as he nodded. "To put bluntly, yes. While dealing with some legal issues last week, it was decided I would be safe here without the need of supervision." Taking a chance and feeling wonderful being able to do it, he said, "I am, apparently, able to wipe my own ass without supervision." "Nice. Welcome to Adulting 101," she quipped with a grin and turned around as the teacher called the class to order. When Kao was between German and French classes, he was studying the notes to make up a quiz he had missed. He had fifteen minutes to study, thirty minutes to take it, and ten minutes to get to French. He was well into his notes when he heard a voice. "Bonjour, Monsieur Saechao. Comment allez-vous aujourd'hui?" (Hello, Mr. Saechao. How are you today?) Kao looked up to see one of the young ladies from his French class. Kelsey by name, she was one of the loveliest ladies he had seen; with perfect hair, skin, teeth, and style of clothing: geek chic without being too modest or too slutty. Simply put, she had class. Asking how a person was doing after greeting them was simply good etiquette. "Bonjour, Mlle Simpson. Je suis bien. Et vous?" (Good morning, Miss Simpson. I am well. And you?) He gave her a smile, happy for once to be able to do that and not feel like he was sending signals. "Très bien. Je vois que vous êtes en train d'étudier pour le quiz." (Very good. I see you are studying for the quiz.) While her use of French was formal, it was nice to be able to get some conversational French practice before the quiz. "Oui. Il n'y a pas besoin d'être si formel, Kelsey. Nous avons cours ensemble pendant deux ans." (Yes. There's no need to be so formal, Kelsey. We've had class together for two years.) With a smile, Kao let her know she didn't have to be so formal. "OK OK. Sheesh, je t'ai aidé à étudier puisqu'il s'agit d'un discours formel." (OK OK. Sheesh, I was helping you to study since this is a formal speech.) Her grin when she switched to something less formal was bright. "Merci. Alors, qu'est-ce qui t'apporte? Nous n'avons pas de cours pour une autre heure." (Thanks. So what brings you by? We don't have class for an hour.) Kao still had a bit of trouble being informal as he thought mostly in English and tried to phrase it thus. Some slang and phrases didn't translate well. "J'ai entendu que vous étiez de retour et que vous vouliez vous demander quelque chose." (I heard you were back and wanted to ask you something.) Kao gestured to the seat next to him, curious what she wanted to ask him. "Voulez-vous sortir avec moi vendredi?" (Do you want to go out with me Friday?) Kao blinked a few times. "Okay, switching back to English so I don't mess this up," she laughed at that, "are you asking me out as a friend or with something more in mind? I ask because I have a fiancé ." There was a slight scent of disappointment, but she waved it away. "Friends, of course. I heard you got rid of your shadow, so I wanted to see if you wanted to hang out with some friends. A few of them are from French class, so we can all practice." Kao smiled broadly. She had been interested in something more personal, but had the class to change it simply to let him know she honored his relationship. Classy and subtle. Were Kao interested in women, and single, he would have agreed to something more personal with her. "Madame, je serais ravi. Alors, quand et où?" (Madam, I would be delight. So, when and where?) Letting her know he would like to go brought a bigger smile to her face. "Awesome. It will be at the campus quad from 4 pm to 10 pm." Kelsey gave him a one-arm hug. "You let that fiancée know she is one lucky lady." Kao grinned. "I will. See you in class." As she was walking away, Kao just shook his head. Guess I don't come off as gay, he thought. He ended up getting a 99% on the quiz, which he was very happy about. The professor, Madame Spinosi, was more than pleased with his score as she knew French was one of his lesser studied classes. "You're doing wonderfully, Kao. If you continue to score as well, you will pass with no problems." "Thank you, Madame Spinosi." And he was thankful. He was using a pass/fail format for French and German. Pretty cut and dry, really. Since he was expected to pass Vietnamese without trying, and German was fairly easy with how the sentence structure was so similar to English, the only classes he worried about for languages were Mandarin and French. * * * Kao was walking to his room after his late classes one evening when he smelled something...off. He quickened his step a bit and all but ran when the scent of another Lycan was coming closer to him. A scent that was not friendly. He didn't look back at the Lunais following him, but he didn't scent the two in front of him that he literally ran into. Kao fell to the ground with a thud. "Why you running, little bird?" asked one of the Lunais in front of him. Great...Lycan bullies. Kao guessed Mr. Michaels' presence had kept them at bay. "Perhaps it is the scent of hostility, the unfair odds, or the fact that I'm half your size. One of those might be the reason." Quickly getting up, Kao was backed up against the wall. "You won't need to worry about that." He brushed off Kao's sweater as if he were worried about his well-being. "If you provide us with monetary reason to stay civil. I hear you can afford to be very generous." Extortion. Fun. Kao looked for a way out without resorting to violence, paying, or using the "My father will hear about this" line that every rich brat used. "This wouldn't be some sort of shake up, would it?" came a resonant voice with a heavy Aussie accent. The guys looked toward the voice. "This ain't your business, old man. Just keep walking." He smelled a bit afraid of the speaker though. Kao could see the man's silhouette against the light in the quad. He was a big man. "I believe I will make it my business. Three to one odds, not very sporting. I will ask you boys to respectfully move away from the young man." He had stopped about ten paces away. The leader bobbed his head for the other two to take care of the older man while he kept Kao in line. "So it's like that. Very well. I hope you have good medical coverage." The two goons rushed the man, their speed more than any human could compensate for, yet the man merely grabbed them by their shirts and tossed them close to forty feet over his shoulder like. It looked as easy as a man throwing a dart at a board. The two landed with pained yelps and stayed down for the moment. "Fucking useless," growled the leader. "Bring it on, old man." Kao took the opportunity to back away from the fight, but he kept close enough should the other two rejoin the fight. He might not be able to change forms with the new moon, but he could still give some decent hits. "You have no manners, boy. I guess this old man will have to teach you a few." He stared into the bully's eyes, and Kao watched as the Lunais bully started to shake with fear. "You wolves think you're the top of the food chain." The Aussie moved faster than even Kao could see and gripped the bully by the throat, hoisting him off the ground. "Silly pup, what good is it being a wolf when your opponent is a lion?" The man's eyes glowed a bright golden in the dim light. "So...So...Solaris," the bully stuttered out in fear. "From now on, you will leave Mr. Saechao alone. Do I make myself clear?" His voice was deeper, a voice of Command only given to the Alpha class of Lycans. The bully nodded as he pissed himself. The lion launched the young man at his friends like a fast ball. Was that a sonic boom Kao heard, or just the sound of a few bones breaking as they impacted? The three got up and limped away. Kao shook his head. "Did Jon send you, Sir?" It would not surprise him at all if his new Alpha sent some sort of covert guardian for his new Beta. This was overkill though. The huge man laughed as he put his arm across Kao's shoulders. "You don't have to call me sir, Kao. You can call me Alan. Jon didn't send me. I just happen to be adjunct faculty for the opera workshop this semester, which puts me right where I need to be." "Uh huh, and I'm a kiwi." Jon had somehow arranged for his own dad to be Kao's guard. "So, if I can't call you Sir, can I call you Papa Pussy Cat? I mean, you treat my mate like a son..." Kao's grin was insufferable. Alan just laughed and steered Kao towards his dorm. "You're going to be a treat to work with, Kao, but don't push your luck." Once out of any sort of earshot, Alan sobered a bit. "If you need me, Kao, use a few supersonic calls. I will hear them and come running. You're Pack now, which means you're family." Kao choked up a bit at hearing that. "Thanks, Alan." * * * "So...do you know if they were nomads or did they belong to the Sawtooth Pack?" Dean asked Kao in his conference call with Jon. The open attack on a pack beta would not be good for the Sawtooth Pack. "Having met Alpha Conners, I doubt he would ever allow that to happen. He's nearly as bad as Father when it comes to honor and respect. Alpha, can you run the file I sent over? I don't have a secure connection to access the Council Archives." Jon nodded and punched in a few numbers. "Unfortunately for Jack, one of them was his son. With Pop being there, and confirming the identities, it will be settled by a Council Beta so there will be no blood spilled." Jon's eyes flashed. To dispel some of the tension, Jon grinned and said, "Don't call me Alpha." "Yes, Alpha," Kao responded. Dean just shook his head at his mate. "So...how did you swing getting your Dad into the school?" "I didn't. Travis did. He let Jack Conners know Pop had been hired and made it very clear he wasn't there representing Homestead in any way." Kao was impressed. Having someone so powerful in your territory was a very volatile situation. Alpha Conners would have to worry about secret recruitment, a power grab, destabilization of the pack, even covert black ops. Yet, one thing Alpha Conners knew was Travis was an honest and forthright man. If he said something, he meant it. Alan also had a very noble reputation, and as one of the strongest living Solaris, he was treated as an Alpha even though Solaris did not have them like their lunar cousins. "I would like to be present for the meeting. It will be handled via conference call, right Jon?" "Yes. Since the attackers were driven off without causing major injury, the face to face meeting doesn't need to be held. Dean, I would like you to be on the call, but you won't be called on to say anything. It's just for procedural purposes. Also...it wouldn't hurt to show both of my Betas, and you being pretty well built might discourage anyone from doing something stupid." Jon's smile was a bit evil, but both just rolled their eyes. "Will do, bro." That call happened an hour later. Kao had met Alpha Conners when he first came to BYU Idaho. He was tall and a bit on the wiry side with closely cropped peppered hair, deep brown eyes, and a permanent crease between his bushy brows. Not a pleasant look at all. Sitting next to him were the three young men who had tried to get money out of Kao. Also in another small window were Jon, Dean, Alan, and some representative from the Lycan Council. "We are having this meeting to mediate the assault against Beta Kao Saechao of Homestead Pack by Alpha Designate Bryan Conners, Lyton Hall, and Walter Unger. I have the statements from all parties, it is my job to find a peaceful solution between these two neighboring packs. With us are Alphas Jonathan Davenport and Jack Conners, Representative Alan Davenport, Beta Pair Dean Whitmore and Kao Saechao, and the aforementioned young men who have entered a plea of guilty. As the target of this attack, what punishment would your Pack accept, Alpha Davenport?" The Council Rep was obviously used to this sort of thing. "In this matter, I defer to Beta Saechao. He acknowledges he sustained no injury." Jon gestured to Kao. "Thank you, Alpha. I am of two minds in regards to acceptable punishment. Since the gentlemen were trying to get money out of me, I am led to believe they have little solvency. I must ask you, Alpha Conners, if the young men lack income, allowance, or other monetary sources." Kao's tone was business, but he already knew how he wanted them punished. "I cannot speak personally for Mr. Hall or Mr. Unger, but my son receives an allowance of $40,000 per year." Kao had to hide his gasp. "Unless he has spent it frivolously, it should be more than enough to last the time even with rent, tuition, and all other necessities of life." "Mr. Hall, do you have any income?" Kao asked. One of them shook his head. "No, Sir. My living expenses are paid for, but I receive little pocket cash from my family. Any pocket cash I have to earn." Kao nodded. Honestly, not the worst way to teach finances. "Mr. Unger?" There was a very distinct look of smoldering anger in his face. "I have a job that pays di...minimum wage, but it's only part time. I stay with Lyton, so rent and utilities are covered." His voice was civil if a bit heated. "I got in on scholarship, so tuition and school necessities are taken care of." "Thank you, gentlemen. I find it amusing that one who has more money than I ask me for some," Kao said evenly. Before Alpha Conners could stop him, his son retorted, "How much do you make a year from your Daddy?" The Alpha shot him a warning look. "As I got in on scholarship as well, I need not worry too much about expenses. The money I earn comes from tutoring in languages and as an aide for the ESL classes, which amount to about $8000 a year. Neither my esteemed father nor my mate provide any money for me." "Some mate," Bryan muttered. "If you continue to behave like this, Bryan, I will ask you to leave and will accept any punishment Beta Saechao gives on your behalf." Alpha Conners was not happy. Bryan nodded his head and looked down. "Please continue, Beta Saechao." "Thank you, Alpha Conners. While it is not a punishment to Mr. Unger per se, it may very well affect him. I would ask that Mr. Conners be denied his allowance," at that Bryan's head shot up, "along with Mr. Hall's living expenses. The three must obtain gainful employment for one year before any other aid is given. Mr. Unger has a job, so his task is only slightly easier." "You are fucking whacked out of your..." Bryan began but stifled the rest when his father's warning growl came rumbling out. "With said employment, they must secure appropriate housing and have a budget plan drawn up for each month to be submitted to Alpha Conners for his approval. Your housing is paid up until July, correct Mr. Hall?" The young man nodded. "That gives you a few months to obtain steady and gainful employment until your lease is up. I suggest that you start looking instead of shaking down other students." Kao's punishment was accepted by both Lyton and Walter. "Might I ask what is to be done if said employment is not found?" The Council Rep asked. "A loan may be obtained from their families with a 15% annual interest based off the original loan requested," Kao stated simply. It wouldn't leave them homeless, but it would make them try harder so as to avoid debt. "You sniveling fa..." Bryan was cut off by his father's backhand. No one said a word. "Get out," Alpha Conners growled. All three young men made a quick exit. "I must have done something wrong when raising him." "May I speak?" Dean asked. When he got the go ahead, he said, "I very much doubt you spoiled him too much. While that is a nice allowance, I assume he must maintain good marks in school." That got a nod from Jack Conners. "Sir, I doubt your parenting is faulty. I see you did your best to give him a sense of right and wrong, of honor and discipline, yet his own choices led us to be here. Do not take the burden of guilt for his actions. To do so says you are, and always will be, his keeper." "Just say what you mean, Beta Whitmore," the Sawtooth Pack Alpha said. "You son's an arrogant shit, and if I'd been there when he tried to attack my mate, I would have done more than toss him around. His piss-poor attitude could use some serious adjusting. I would give him a minimum of eight years in the Armed Services. If he can make it out of that, he will have learned respect, duty, and honor. Let the rotten little fuck see what real work is." Jon and Alan were trying to maintain a straight face, but Jack was grinning. "And if he ever calls or implies my mate is a faggot, I will rip off his balls. I hope you have other children, because his brand of stupid will be chlorinated out of the gene pool. End rant." The Council Rep was appalled by what he heard. Jack laughed. "Thanks, Beta Whitmore. I needed that. Jon, your Beta is a true diplomat. Never give the type permission to speak freely." He wiped away a tear. "Betas Saechao and Whitmore, I accept both of your punishments on behalf of the members of my pack. I will also impress upon my son the consequences should he so insult your mate. Does this fulfill your needs, Alpha Davenport?" "It does. I have the utmost faith in my Betas, although the bigger one gets mouthy." Jon's grin was wide. "Councilman Rothke, thank you for your time in mediation. Would you like a copy of the minutes sent to you for Council Records?" "No thank you, Alpha Davenport. If there is nothing else, I will bid you gentlemen a good evening." He hung up when nothing was said. When he was gone, Jack sighed. "With him gone, we can relax a bit. Kao, I am so sorry about them, and I thank you for a fair punishment. I would have come up with something far worse." "Sir, the most that happened to me is I got a bit scared. Those three, though...Alan might have scared them enough to need to change their pants." Kao grinned at the Solaris. "I don't like violence, but it is often the only thing people such as those boys understand. They should feel lucky it was me and not my grandson. That is one person who will utterly destroy a bully and he's bigger than I am." There was no levity in his tone. "Then I shall impress upon all three how lucky they were. A few broken bones will heal after a shift. Dean, right?" Dean nodded. "I believe I got a memo from Goldie Kirkland about you." Dean tried not to smile. "Did you really slam that man onto the table?" From then on it was a far more relaxed call. The rest of Kao's time was uneventful and mundane, for which he was very grateful. He graduated magnum cum laude. Now...Homestead.
  19. 46 likes
    Journal entry 12: Being a Friday, when I got home I picked up what I needed to from my apartment and reported to the pack jail. It was my usual routine after returning home from class as I spend the weekend in lockup. I don’t mind it and knew it was part of coming here. A part of me still thinks I deserve to be in jail for what I’ve done; after all, if all this had happened strictly in the human world and their justice system, I’d be locked away in prison for several years. Giving up some freedom for attempting to take a life is a small price to me now; besides there are never any distractions and I can get a lot of studying done when I’m there. I planned on working on one of my term papers this weekend. If I put my books away for a break, whoever is on duty will talk to me for a while to break-up the quiet. Anyways before I get too off track with random thoughts, when I arrived to check in, the guard that was on duty told me the Alpha had left instructions for me to return to my apartment and that I wouldn’t be spending the weekend locked up; I just needed to be ready at 6am to be way for the weekend. In the morning, my escorts who usually have their weekends free from me picked me up early; Kyle was a little too awake and chipper for 6am on a Saturday. We drove out town and before long we were on some dirt roads leading to our destination near Clear Lake just south of Mount Hood. God the forest here is beautiful. As we passed Clear Lake the water was smooth as glass; the reflection of Mt. Hood on the surface of the water was spectacular. I would love to go running out here and run right up the side of Mt. Hood and play in the snow. The air smells so fresh here and the scent of the pine trees is so different from where I grew up. It isn’t the home I always knew, but I love it here. Being away from everything is calming to my wolf and I can hear him whining a little to get out and play in the forest. We came all the way out here to do some repairs to one of the fire lookout towers in the area. Kyle explained that the pack owns it and it is rented out part of the year kind of like a hotel for people wanting to stay in a rustic one room lookout tower with an incredible view and it is used during the summer as it was originally intended with the Forest Service renting it to keep a lookout for fires. I’d say it is about five stories tall and just a single big room with windows all around it, sitting on top of open framework base. The view of the forest from the top is spectacular and you can see for miles upon miles. The fire sighting and map table still sits in the center of the room with the old style Osborne Fire Finder on the round platform for figuring out distance and azimuth to a fire. There was a sink and small gas stove on one wall with an equally small propane run refrigerator next to it and a couple gas lamps scattered around. There was only one electric light that I could see as most of the power would be used for radios while the Forest Service uses it or for running the water pump. Kyle did point out the LED lights that run along the stairs from top to bottom. The three remaining walls each had a platform that could be used as a bench or bed and even folded up to create a desk. Everyplace that could be used for storage without blocking the view of a window was used. The final piece of the interior was a wood stove for heat in the winter. If you needed to go, it was down the stairs and over to the outhouse. A few boards were in need of replacement in the cross bracing more due to age than rot and a few of the steps running up to the top needed to be repaired. It looked like some of the decking around the top was showing signs of rot and would need to be fixed. There entire tower was going to be painted while we were here as well as checking out some of the equipment on site. We got to work right away after dividing up the assignments of what needed to be done. The guys would be handling the repairs while I grabbed a bucket of paint and started working my way around giving it a fresh coat. We worked for several hours before taking a break for lunch. They joked around with each other and did include me sometimes. I think Kyle was trying to get me to open up a little more. We have been talking more since he introduced me to his brother. I know they have to be around me so I try not to push anything. They seem cool and I’d like to be friends with them, but I’m not sure I really know how to be a friend. I think I am learning through from being around both of them so much. After lunch we put in several more hours of work. I spent a lot of time hanging on to the framing that made up the tower, rolling paint on and I worked my way around from one side to the next. I would finish one level and climb down to the one below me. When I’d run low on paint, one of the guys would hook a new bucket up to my rope and pull it up to where I could get at it. It wasn’t hard work, just time consuming, but it was looking much better already. I got most of the structure painted on Saturday and knew we could finish it up on Sunday. The last thing to paint was the decking around the top of the tower and the stairs once they had replaced the last rotted out board and that could wait until tomorrow before we leave. No sense in painting something early that you have to be walking on. Sunday afternoon, the guys ran some tests on the water tank, made sure the propane tank was full, checked out the water pump and the status of the batteries connected to the solar panels and made sure the backup generator was working while I finished up painting. Needless to say, there was a lot for us to do in just two days. The tower looked as good as new when we finished. The best part of the weekend though was Saturday night. By the time evening came around, we were all getting hungry from putting in a hard day’s work. Both of their stomachs were growling as much as mine was. They told me we were going to go hunt for our dinner tonight to make things easier than cooking and having to clean up the kitchen area. When I started to protest and say I wasn’t allowed to shift, they assured me that the Alpha had approved it. It felt so good to shift into my wolf and not be in a small space. My wolf just wanted to run, but I told him to behave and follow the others so we didn’t get into trouble or get them into trouble. My shift was just as painful as all my other recent shift had been since I need to be careful of my ankle monitor. I know I was whining some from the pain and panting hard as it was a difficult shift. Once I had shifted, Kyle, who seemed to be the friendlier of the two checked to make sure I was okay and sat with me until my breathing returned to normal. He also checked my ankle monitor and make sure it was still working right while Corey shifted into his wolf. In all the time we’d spent together, Corey was still a mystery as he was always so quiet. After they had both shifted and did a final check to make sure I’d recovered from my shift, we went for a run and it felt glorious. It was like going for my first run all over again; the wind in my face, the scents of the forest, the sounds of life all around us; this is where I am happiest and feel free of any problems. I stayed right at their side as we ran. Both my wolf and I felt like pup and was happily running and jumping over logs and through branches. I think the guys knew how much I needed this so they took their time on the run to drag it out as much as we could. Eventually the run turned into a hunt, since our original purpose was to find out dinner. We had been out for quite some time when we picked up the scent of our prey. There was a small herd of deer nearby; the breeze was in our favor as we made our approach. One of the bucks didn’t look as strong as the others and he was picked as our prey this night; the strong would be left along to protect the herd. Corey woofed out some instructions to Kyle and I as we separated our target from the rest. We box in the deer from making an escape while Corey went for the kill; he was clean and efficient at it, breaking the deer’s neck in one quick move, killing it instantly so it wouldn’t suffer. The two immediately threw their heads back and howled their triumph in the hunt. My wolf couldn’t resist and soon joined them, relishing the glory of being a wolf. They both quickly dug in to their meal. A few times Corey glanced over and woofed or growled at me to share in the kill, but I waited. Even though they kept looking to me to eat, I sat back and continued to wait while they had their fill before stepping up to get my portion. With our full bellies, we relaxed for a bit before running off to find some water to drink. We ran through the forest for some time just enjoying the freedom of the run before returning to the lookout station and returning to our human form. Getting our sleeping bags from the truck, we took them up to the top of the tower and each selected the bed we wanted before settling in for a relaxing night. Corey who rarely spoke told me that I didn’t need to wait till they finished before I ate. I explained that as an outsider it wouldn’t have been right to eat till they had. He scoffed at that and said we’re all friends here and we were running as a pack tonight. I just nodded and stayed silent for a moment before telling them, “After what I left, I don’t really know what a friend is. Being around you guys I think I’m starting to learn for the first time.” Looking out into the night sky from inside the tower capped off the evening perfectly as it was absolutely clear and there was just enough moonlight for it to reflect off the snow and glaciers covering the top of Mt. Hood. This is the happiest I’ve been since I’ve arrived at Columbia River Pack, not just from the run and hunt, but from the guys calling me their friend. I thanked the guys for bringing me out here. They told me maybe they’ll get to take me to one of the other lookout tower at Fivemile Butte soon.
  20. 46 likes
    When Daniel's alarm chirped he sat up, wide awake. He was never one to ease into the day. He went from a sound sleep to full alert in an instant. He completed his morning ablutions and dressed in nice slacks and a button down shirt. Daniel donned black boots, a matching belt with a black leather blazer and decided he looked better than usual. He was mildly surprised to find both his parents at the kitchen table having coffee. His Dad greeted him while his Mother smiled warmly and placed a mug of coffee at his usual place. “Thanks Mom, why are y'all up so early? I figured y’ would want to sleep in. I was gonna grab some gas station coffee on my way out to the Adams’.” His Dad chuckled, “You haven't let us sleep in on Christmas morning since you was knee high to a grasshopper. This is just like old times, except I didn't spend all last night putting your toys together. I don’t recall a Christmas morning that I didn't feel wore out and half asleep. We just figured if we was gonna have some time with you today, it’d most likely be this morning. Besides, your Mother would be fretting all day if she let you get away without feeding you. Plus she has to get some stuff fixed before we go to share Christmas dinner with Fred and Betty.” Like all his Christmas memories, outside those spent in the Corps, he shared food and memories with his family. Before he could head out, his mother presented him with his Christmas present, a hand stitched king sized quilt. He had received several quilts his Mother made him through the years, but none compared to this. It was navy blue with silver moons and stars with a silver border. If there had been swirls it would have reminded him of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. The backside was the same design except it had a deep maroon background with silver moons and stars. He had been around his Mother’s quilting friends enough that he knew to check the stitching for that too perfect pattern that denoted machine quilting. What he saw was fine quality, but definitely hand stitching. The quilt was made up of countless small blocks, hand stitched together. Daniel was really touched by all the work and love that went into this piece of art. After effusively praising his Mother’s gift he added, “Mom, I don't know yet if I’m gonna use it, store it in my cedar chest or hang it on my wall.” He pulled his Mom in close and kissed the side of her head. “Oh, for goodness sake, Daniel. I Suwannee, if you ain't as bad as your Daddy. He wanted to hang it on the wall in the den. Betty says I should've entered it in competition. She insists it’s my best work. I insist you use it. Your cedar chest is good for summer storage. But, I think it's a waste of a good quilt to see them hanging on a wall. No award could ever come close to the joy I feel right now, seeing how much you like it. To think this quilt can bring you and yours some warmth and comfort long after I’m gone, means so much more to me than any silly award ever could”. Daniel made a mental note to talk to Betty about those competitions. “Merry Christmas, son.” His Father’s gift for him was a new soft carry pouch for his hunting rifles. It had been monogrammed with his full name. It had patches showing his Eagle Scout award, the Marine Corps emblem as well a Staff Sergeant patch, the county Sheriff’s personal patch. “I knew your old sleeve was the one I gave you for your first rifle. I remembered you said the zipper broke back in the fall. I got your Mother to stitch that Sheriff’s patch on just yesterday.” With a wink, he added, “Don’t ask me how I got it, you might have to arrest me…” His father smiled knowingly. “I figured you needed one and knowing how you’d just keep using the old one till it fell apart… well I reckoned this would be a good a time as any. Merry Christmas, Danny Boy.” His Mother moved to clear the table and his Dad went back to sipping his coffee. Daniel withdrew an envelope from his jacket pocket. “Mom, Dad, I figure you two deserve a little vacation. I don't think you two have been away together since I left for boot camp. I got you a weeks stay at a nice bed and breakfast down in Galveston. One of the owners is a friend of a friend, Wylie Keyes, he set me up with some passes for stuff you should both enjoy. Dad, I got you a private charter blue water, deep sea fishing. You can take up to five or just go by yourself.” Daniel suddenly felt like an announcer on a tv game show. “Mom you're setup with a day spa visit. Then a trip to a beauty salon that does a custom makeover. Wylie says they'll make you look ten years younger. For the two of you, he’s arranged for a night on the town. You’ll be chauffeured to dinner at an exclusive restaurant followed by a special evening he promised you won't soon forget. The details will be provided once you make your reservations for his BnB. Oh, and he said if you want to invite another couple along, he would be glad to give them a special rate and arrange similar amenities also at a discounted rate. I thought you might want to invite Fred and Aunt Betty. So I asked, just in case.” His Dad looked concerned, “Son, all this has to cost an arm and a leg. We can't let you do this. You’ll be years paying for this one week that you won't even experience. No. We won't accept this. It's wonderful you thought enough of us to want to set this up. We couldn't enjoy this knowing how much it costs you.” Daniel wasn't really surprised. When he saw his Mother nodding in agreement, he pulled out the big guns. “It's non refundable and non transferable. I already paid for it. There is nothing left to be paid on except if Fred and Aunt Betty go. The BnB, the fishing, the spa, even the dinner and the limo… except tips. It's all been paid for. I been planning this for almost a year. My credit cards have a near zero balance. So, if you refuse to go, that's up to you. Just know I got a really good deal and you two deserve a lot more. Please, just accept it.” Daniel’s Father's gaze met his Mother’s. There may have been subtle cues that he missed, but moments later, his Father spoke, “Son, we have never doubted your love for us. Personally, I can't wait to see what I can catch in the gulf and get mounted for the den amongst the trophy bucks. We thank you Son, and Merry Christmas.” It was a quarter to six by the time Daniel texted Raymond that he was on his way. His Mother insisted he take a thermos of coffee and a bag full off her pecan cinnamon rolls. She rarely made them, but they were a guaranteed Christmas staple. His mouth was watering at the thought of their spicy, sugary sweet, melt in your mouth, goodness. She had made him promise to wait and share with his “friend”. He pressed the accelerator a little harder. His phone rang displaying Raymond's name. Daniel answered through his truck radio. “Hey, there, you get my text?” Raymond chuckled, “I was wet and naked when you texted. I’m only naked now.” Daniel gasped as an image of Raymond's massive, dripping cock filled his brain. He adjusted himself to allow his suddenly trapped cock to swell without discomfort. “You think you could just stand in that spot, like you are, until I get there?” “I don't think anyone else is awake to let you in. Uncle Joe probably wouldn't object but I don't want to upset Aunt Mellie. Besides, the security team hasn't seen me without my clothes, they might apprehend me and insist on a full body cavity search. Besides, I’d rather wait until you’re ready and then we can practice on each other.” “Well, I don't want you walking around naked and risk some guy thinking Santa is real and you're his present. I’m the only one who’ll be probing your cavities from now on, except the dentist.” Daniel winced at his own bold declaration. He could feel the flush of embarrassment heat his face. Their past encounters hadn't even broached the idea that Raymond would bottom for him. There was a pregnant pause. Then Raymond responded, “I like that notion, as long as it goes both ways, Lawman. I don't like to think of you in those Dallas clubs, without me, looking for what you can easily get right here at home.” Daniel wasn't certain, but it sounded like some level of commitment had been hinted at from both sides. They definitely needed to talk. “My Mother sent a bunch of her fantastic cinnamon rolls and some fresh coffee. Why don't you get dressed and open the door for me when I text you from the drive. Oh, and bring a travel mug. The coffee is strong with cream, no sugar. How do you take yours?” “I prefer cream in my coffee, but, to be hospitable I can drink it black or sugary sweet. I am not fond of small cups or demitasse. I enjoy espresso, just in larger amounts than my nervous system can appreciate. So, I usually stick to regular coffee. My favorite coffee is what I make at home using my French press. I have had so much bad coffee, I could probably drink strained horse piss with a little cream and sugar and not complain.” “I look forward to you making me a cup of good coffee. But, if it's all the same I’ll pass on the horse piss, even strained. “How about you meet me at the door with your travel mug and we can go look at your new ranch. That way we won't wake anybody. I got coffee, pastries and all day to spend with you… That is, uh, if you, I mean, uh, you don't have to spend all day with me.” “Daniel I can think of nothing I would rather do with my Christmas than spend it with you. We do need to be back here in time to open gifts. I have asked both Paul and Jeff to text me, once they're on their way. That should give us enough time to hotfoot it back here before our Princess can tear into her Christmas bounty.” “I have a feeling that little girl is going to be spoiled rotten. Jeff has a heart as big as Texas and his Uncle Joe and Aunt Mellie are right there with him.” “I have seen some very rich, very spoiled brats in my day, Maria is definitely not going to be one of them. Her personality is so sweet, so loving, she could never be like some of those self entitled, obnoxious bastards and bitches, I went to school with. When they found out I wasn't rich, most looked at me like they had just stepped in shit for the first time. Of course, not all were like that. Thankfully I soon learned to tell who the good guys were. Those, the good ones, I still call my friends today. “Maria is a special little girl. I’ve only seen her occasionally over the last couple of years, but she is one kid you can't easily forget. I pity any fool that breaks her heart. There’ll be a passel of cowboys waiting in line to break his bones.” Raymond chuckled, then added, “I just hope it isn't in kindergarten or first grade.” An image of big strong cowboys encircling a terrified little boy flashed through Daniel's Imagination. It was not a feel good image. Trouble was, he wasn't totally convinced Raymond was joking about breaking bones. He was sure he was joking about beating up a kindergartner… He was, wasn't he? The discussion continued until Daniel pulled into the drive. Raymond told him to park beside the four car garage. Raymond walked up to the garage dressed in boots, jeans and a tan Levi's shirt with snaps instead of buttons. His distressed leather jacket looked as comfortable and well fitted as the rest of his apparel. Daniel looked him hungrily up and down and licked his lips as he met Raymond's gaze. “I might be overdressed. It never occurred to me to ask.” Daniel offered as he climbed out of his pickup. Raymond had witnessed Daniel's casual perusal. That gave him license to carefully scrutinize the handsome hunk before him. Except his vision wanted to stop at the obvious trouser snake flexed alongside his left leg. He coughed lightly. “In my opinion, you are definitely overdressed. Everybody may not necessarily want you naked, at least I hope not. But, as a guest for Christmas dinner, you are dressed like I, and every other male guest. I’m not sure what we’ll find at the ranch so I figured boots and jeans were appropriate. I’ll try to make sure you don't get too dirty.” Raymond almost choked on his own tongue as Daniel turned away and stretched across the front seat of his truck. Upright again Daniel displayed the coffee and cinnamon rolls. “I’m ready for that ride you promised me.” Raymond bit his tongue to keep from addressing the double entendre. Instead, he just said, “Now’s the time, Lawman”. “By the way, I like the way you look out of uniform. You clean up well. I think you should consider something like this for your everyday office wear. The lack of a uniform would set you apart and above the members of your staff. They're used to seeing you as one of them. This would send a subtle but clear message that things have changed. You're no longer Deputy Daniel Lovan, you are now Sheriff Daniel Lovan. They need to realize that there is literally a new Sheriff in town. “You should expect some resentment and some friction among your Deputies. I have been the peer who’s suddenly promoted above everybody else, several times. It has alienated people I considered to be at least potential friends. If in doubt, react firmly. You can always lighten up later. But, if you let anyone walk on you, you’ll soon become everyone's sidewalk. When you sense disrespect, insubordination or a lack of professionalism, nip it in the bud. I promise, it will pay off in the long run and you'll be rewarded with a more cohesive, more efficient, more professional staff. Don't look for friends at work, look for professionals and you’ll never be disappointed.” Raymond was suddenly aware that Daniel was grinning at him. He realized he had been pontificating as if briefing a new, younger, member of management. He had talked down to Daniel before and had almost lost him forever. He stuttered trying to get out an apology before Daniel decided to walk away for good. “Sorry! sorry! I’m sorry! I didn't mean to talk to you like you worked for me. I’m sorry. I’ve got every confidence that you will do well, on your own, as Sheriff.” Daniel, still smiling, set his goodies on the hood of his truck. He turned back to Raymond. “You know, you look so needy right now. You're not the hot shot lawyer or the fancy business executive. You're like a little boy on the playground afraid of being chosen last by either of the team captains.” Daniel stepped forward and took Raymond's face in his hands, “Scared little boy or big, important man, I’ll always choose you first.” As their lips met Raymond wrapped his arms around Daniel, mindful of his own travel mug full of coffee. Tongues touched, caressed and tasted. In his effort to increase the intimacy and to pull his lover closer Raymond dropped the travel mug. When the stainless steel mug struck the concrete floor, Daniel broke the kiss and jumped back, instantly scanning the garage. A disappointed Raymond retrieved his mug. “It was my fault. It slipped out of my hand. No worries though, it's spill proof.” Daniel took a deep breath, “It's probably a good thing. I don't think either of us want to be caught naked in anyone's garage on Christmas morning.” Another deep breath, “How about, we have a look at your Tesla.” Daniel was surprised when the driver's side door opened as they approached. Raymond, recognizing the unasked question offered, “It senses the key fob in my pocket.” He pulled out the fob and opened both falcon wing doors. At 6’4” Daniel was duly impressed with the ease of entry into the second and third row seats. Raymond disconnected the charging cable and they set off. He had seen YouTube videos but was still impressed that the seats and interior had been preheating while Raymond was making coffee. The eerie quiet made Daniel feel like they should be parked with the engine shut off instead of driving at almost 30 mph. Once they were on the farm to market highway, He stopped the vehicle. Raymond chuckled as he made a few selections on the touch screen. Daniel watched as the screen displayed a Star Trek like “warp speed” simulation, complete with distorting starlight. With a shit eating grin, Raymond asked, “You ready to be impressed”? Daniel had driven powerful cars before, and competed in a few drag races. He had seen the videos, but nothing prepared him for the sudden launch of this rocket ship. “Holy Shit!” By the time he had shared that expletive they were approaching 80 mph. Raymond kept his foot in it until they passed 120 mph. He shamelessly bragged that It could do 0-60 mph in 2.6 seconds, a quarter mile time of 10.6 seconds and had a top speed of 155 mph. They discussed enhanced autopilot and self-driving capabilities. Raymond insisted it was the fastest and safest SUV in production. He used the rest of the ride to acquaint Daniel with the controls and features. Daniel recognized the large wood frame house to be the style preferred when cotton sales brought big money into the area during and just after WWI. Unlike most, this one had a dormered roof with four curtained windows, indicating a living space on the second floor. Broad bricked steps bordered by iron handrails imbedded in brick pedestals led to a deep front porch. The upper pedestals of the steps supported wood columns, those matched the other columns supporting the porch roof. The porch itself was tongue and groove flooring painted dark grey, while the tongue and groove ceiling was painted a light shade of blue. The furniture implied that people were expected to gather and socialize here. There gliders on either end of the porch, facing each other. There were rockers and benches and something Raymond would later identify as a “joggling board” that had come from Charleston, SC. Along with an antebellum bride as well as the “haint blue” ceiling. Daniel decided the overall impression was one of strength, permanence and welcome. The fact that someone had left the porch lights on only enhanced the idea that he felt “welcomed”. He liked this house immensely, and hadn't even been inside. While Daniel had been admiring the porch, Raymond had been reading a note left in an envelope stuck between the double screen doors. Even after having read the letter from Bill Slidesdale twice, Raymond stood unmoving. He felt Daniel's hand on his shoulder and flinched in surprise. Raymond snapped out of his reverie. He wanted to leave now and forego any further pain and disappointment. He hated the feeling he had felt when he realized his Father wasn't waiting in the drive. Then he wasn't on the porch. Just like he wouldn't be waiting in the house or on the sleeping porch or in the barn or stables or anywhere ever again. He recalled too clearly the pain of a young boy losing his hero, his mentor, his father. It was like he was waiting to attend the funeral all over again. As Daniel looked on, a single tear slithered slowly down Raymond's cheek. Daniel pulled him into a comforting embrace, “I can't imagine how painful this is for you. Coming back here, for the first time, after all these years, it must be hell. You lost so much here. We don't have to be here right now. We can go spend the day together. We can have Christmas dinner with your family and come back here another day. I’ll come with you anytime you say. Come on, I’ll drive back.” Raymond squeezed Daniel tighter, to make sure he couldn't get away, and stared him in the eyes. “I see your real motivation. You aren't really worried about me at all.” Raymond paused and began nibbling on Daniel's neck, even as his lover stiffened in his arms. Daniel was pissed! To have Raymond accuse him of faking his concern was a slap in the face to his integrity. He was already mentally scrolling through his contacts to get a ride back to his truck. Raymond whispered in his ear, “You’re ready to head back because it's your turn to pilot Chiron. Going fast makes your big ol cock hard and you like that don't ya Lawman? You're probably thinking you could whip out your manroot and I would gladly suck out your sap, while you fly down the highway faster than a bat out of hell.” Daniel was torn between being highly pissed and desperately aroused. When Raymond licked from the base of his neck to his earlobe and began biting and sucking, Daniel couldn't believe he had ever been upset with this god of a man who brought such sensual delight. At this moment he just needed to twist around Raymond's leg to get a little more friction when he humped… A stranger cleared his throat. “I hate to interrupt, but I figure, if ya’ll are like me and Runt, it’d take god hisself to separate y’all in another minute or two.” Daniel broke the embrace, moved to shield Raymond from this threat and went to draw his gun only to realize he was unarmed. Nevertheless, he challenged, “Who are you and what are you doing here? This is private property.” “Deputy, you don't remember me, name’s Larry Saunders.” The lanky six footer stepped onto the porch and offered his hand to Daniel with a welcoming smile. Daniel, noting the man appeared to be also unarmed, warily clasped the stranger's hand, at the same time mentally checking his features against the last wanted posters he had reviewed. Mid thirties, brown shaggy hair. Worn, typical cowboy attire, including an equally worn cowboy hat. No distinguishing scars or tattoos visible. Still smiling he continued, “You stopped me four or five months ago for no working tail light. Then you and me learned I had an expired driver's license and no proof of insurance. I was in a world of shit. We talked a bit and you let me go with a promise that I would fix the tail light, renew my license and keep that insurance card in the truck. I done all that I said I would and I ain't never, in my life, forgot a debt I owed. I ain't never been in trouble with the law. Howsomeever, I been around enough fellars who have, to know that most cops would've laughed at me, had my truck towed and hauled me off to jail.” Turning to face Raymond, “Mr Cargill, I can't tell how pleased me and Runt was to learn you bought your Daddy's place back. You most likely don't remember me, but you might remember Runt. Me and Runt was two years behind you in school. You saved Runt from getting hurt bad by a couple of them Crowder boys, after school one day. Runt told me they had him cornered in that alley behind Johnson’s grocery store. They tried to make him suck their cocks and when he refused they laid into him. About that time, here you come screaming down the alley. Runt says you was like an avenging angel. You was a junior, me and Runt was both freshmen, but them Crowder boys was both seniors and each one bigger than you. They was cousins, and thicker than thieves. Which they both turned out be. Anyway, when you got through with ‘em they was both bruised, bloodied and bout knocked senseless. When Runt told you what they’d said and done, you jus’ ast if he wanted one or both of them to suck his cock. When one of them said he wasn't about to suck no cock, cause he wasn't queer, Runt says you just slapped him upside his head like a Momma would what heard her youngin talkin filthy. Hear him tell it, you asked him agin to pick one or both to give him a blow job. Runt says he was scared they might've bit off his pecker, so he jes shook his head, thanked you a ho bunch and took off like scalded dog. Runt don't talk much, but when he tells that tale, I pert near bust a gut ever damn time.” The broad grin made it clear that Larry got a kick out telling the tale. Larry’s face grew a little more serious. Raymond would eventually realize that Larry always wore a smile just waiting to bust out. If things were less than intolerable Larry would, most likely, be smiling. It was like Larry had just heard a humorous story… all the time. Raymond would come to appreciate that quality more than having money in his pocket. Larry swallowed. “Mr. Cargill, me and Runt don't have no family except us. We been here since we got out of school. We don't own much. We could clear out with less than a day’s notice. Still, Mr. Slidesdale did say he would give you a good reference about us. I don't want to… I mean… uh… well sir…” Raymond put the man out of his misery. “Larry, Bill said you were both good men, hard workers and damned fine cowboys. Right now, I’m gonna need a couple of hands. So, how about you and Runt hang around with a twenty percent raise, effective immediately. There’ll be some changes, but none that won't include you two.” Daniel could see the relief wash over Larry like a tsunami. His brown eyes glistened with tears as he pumped Raymond's hand like an old timey Southern politician who just received a very large campaign contribution. “Thank you Mr. Cargill, sir. I can't wait to tell Runt. I try to not wake him anytime I get out of bed. He says he can always tell cause the bed gets colder right away. We was planning on sleeping in this morning. Except I had to piss real bad and Molly, our cow dog, was acting all antsy, so I figured I’d have a look see. That's when I saw the strange car and figured it was you.” Larry finally realized he had been shaking Raymond's hand the whole time. He dropped it like it suddenly burned him. “Sorry. I better let you gentlemen get on with your day.” He started backing up, but stopped when he backed into the porch railing. He turned and jumped off the porch like a teenager. As he ran around the corner of the house Daniel noticed a blue heeler giving him and the porch a wide birth as she followed her master behind the house. That, he figured was Molly. From somewhere behind the house they heard Larry yell out exuberantly, “WAKE UP RUNT! IT’S GONNA BE A MERRY FUCKING CHRISTMAS AFTER ALL!” Both men chuckled at Larry’s unbridled enthusiasm. Raymond observed, “You know, Larry talks like old cowboys I remember listening to in the nursing home. My mother and the preacher would make me go with them when he’d preach there. I liked hearing the stories they’d tell rather than the bullshit he spouted.” Raymond opened the big double doors and beckoned Daniel, “Welcome to my new old home. As Larry might say, ‘make yourself to home’. If I have my way, you'll be spending a lot of time here.” The entryway was actually a massive hall, running the length of the house, with a twelve foot ceiling. The first rooms on either side were accessed through pocket doors. At the opposite end of the hall was another set of double doors, just not as ornate as the stained glass panels in the front. There were benches, hat and coat racks at both ends as well as side tables interspersed along the walls. There was a very large, full length mirror near the front door. Daniel figured that was so the lady of the house could have checked her bustles just before setting out. Raymond pointed out the rooms as they passed the opened doors. He noted all had some furniture missing and at least one room was completely bare. The master bedroom seemed to be the only room untouched. Raymond pointed out that the Slidesdales had every intention of clearing it out, but when they knew Raymond was to be the new owner, they left it as they found it. He pointed out the massive, four poster, rice bed with a ‘tatted lace’ canopy. The matching, hand carved, furniture included a huge armoire that barely cleared the ceiling. “The furniture in this room supposedly came from the same plantation as the joggling board. Traditionally, the bedroom ceilings have all been painted that light, “haint” blue. The ensuite was up to date, complete with a multi head, walk in shower. The fixtures had a style reminiscent of the 1920’s including a gigantic claw foot tub. Daniel observed, “Damn! Does that thing come with life preservers?” Back in the hallway Raymond pointed out the living room, library/den, dining room, three other bedrooms and a recently renovated kitchen. Through the back doors they stepped onto what Raymond called the “sleeping porch’. The three outside walls each had their lower half finished in wood, while the upper half was screened. “Daddy told me that when he was a kid, his family would rent a beach house each summer. He used to love falling asleep on the screened in back porch listening to the ocean. Before central air conditioning, folks sleeping on a screened in porch was a common practice around these parts. Daddy set up a couple of cots and he and I spent many nights out here. If a storm came up I’d get in bed with him and hide my head under the covers. He always smelled of sweat and Old Spice. He never had an offensive body odor. I tried to use Old Spice when I got older, but it didn't smell the same. I think they must have changed the formula. “The summer I turned eleven just before he, uh. Anyway, this is where I had my first wet dream. I remember thinking, I must have broke pecker cause as I awoke it felt so hard and started gushing into my jockeys. I was crying, embarrassed and scared shitless. I woke Daddy up and he got me calmed down and told me I was growing up. He took me to the bathroom and cleaned me up and I remember it getting hard. Daddy just laughed and told me I was gonna be impressive once I was full grown. He put me in bed with him and I fell asleep listening to him tell me about my changing body, and that my pecker was going to become my favorite toy. It wasn't long after that he died”. Daniel wasn't sure how to respond, part of him wanted to laugh and part wanted to share his lover’s pain. He compromised by simply rubbing Raymond's back in a consoling gesture. Raymond's smile told him it was the right choice. Raymond took a deep breath. “You know, I was more excited about spending time alone with you than I was at seeing this place again. I don't think it was a good idea trying to combine the two.” “It's cold out here. Why don't we go back inside where it's warm.” Daniel led Raymond back into the kitchen. “Take a seat and I’ll go get the coffee and cinnamon rolls.” Minutes later Raymond was praising the pastries as he began to eat his third. “My team assures me both houses are in really good condition. The newer, smaller house is move-in ready. I can get a decorator out of Dallas and move in there by the first of the year. This one needs a couple of floor joists replaced under the guest bath. Which means no running water for a couple of days. I may stay in the smaller house and have this one renovated. I plan on getting this set up so two bedrooms share a bath and the third has direct access to the guest bath. I want the upstairs expanded into a small apartment. “There's something you should know about me. Daniel, I have been in contact with a friend in Arkansas. She...” The look of shock on Daniel's face made Raymond rush through his explanation. “No! No! She's not that kind of friend. Mary’s a doctor, a pediatrician. She has set me up with a surrogate mother. I, I want to have children. I don't see gay couples being favored with adoption in Texas anytime soon. And I, I’m ready to start a family of my own. “Arkansas recognizes surrogacy contracts. Mary has set me up with a candidate who is already a mother of two. She has been thoroughly screened psychologically and has had every conceivable medical test and examination possible. Her genetic history is sound and we have Skyped enough for me to know I like her personality and how she deals with her family. I have spoken to her husband and he seems to be fine with the plan. He has a gay brother and hopes that when the time comes that, if not Mary, then some woman will give him a child. I fly out on Tuesday and will be back on Wednesday night. If all goes well, in about nine months I will be a father. “Obviously, this has been in development for a while before we got reacquainted. I always wanted a family. I figured I would find a man, and we would either adopt or become foster parents, probably in a more liberal environment. As I explained, long term relationships have eluded me. I decided being a single parent is a challenge I’m ready to meet. I was further encouraged by how well Paul has done with Maria. I’m even more confident now that I will have my extended family so close. Daniel you need to know that if things, uh, that is, if we get more involved there will be an infant in the picture before too long. “They can be loud, stinky, demanding, selfish and ungrateful. They can spoil the most intense, intimate moment with a sneeze. I know this because I have taken several parenting courses and never pass up an opportunity to talk to parents of infants and toddlers. This is not an impulsive decision. I have already talked to Aunt Mellie and her cook and housekeeper Rosa about finding a local woman as a live in cook/nanny/housekeeper. That's who the apartment upstairs is going to be for.” Raymond laughed at Daniel's expression. “Relax! I’m not asking you to help raise my children. I just want to be open and honest about my life. Right now, I just want to get to know you. I can understand if my life goals don’t mesh with yours. If you need to step back and put us on a more casual footing, I can understand. “Daniel, you’re almost ten years younger than I. You are, and rightfully so, focused on your career. I worked hard to achieve my professional goals. I have a challenging and rewarding position, far exceeding my expectations. I see myself heading the Adams Family Trust until I retire. “I don't know that I was ready to be someone’s Daddy ten years ago, but I know I am now. I hope you decide to hang around and get to know me better. If you need time or if this is more than you bargained for… I can take you back to Uncle Joe's, we can hang out there, have Christmas dinner and still be friendly, professional acquaintances.” Raymond's eyes hungrily searched Daniel's face for any clue as to what he was thinking. Daniel felt gobsmacked! He had expected to see the house and maybe, just maybe one of them would make use of the lube and condoms in his pocket. But this! Raymond becoming a Daddy! What did this mean for them? Could he see himself in a long term relationship with Raymond… raising kids? Could he see himself coaching little league or attending ballet recitals? Raymond gave up on trying to read Daniel's expressions. ‘Patience, Patience’, he thought to himself. ‘He rode here with me. He can't just walk back to town. He has to talk to me... eventually.’ Raymond resigned himself to enjoying the good coffee and damn good cinnamon rolls. They might be the highlight of his Christmas Day. He focused on meeting the mother of his child at the fertility clinic. He refused to think about Daniel not being part of his life. After what seemed like a lifetime of staring at his coffee mug, Daniel meet Raymond's fearful gaze. “I hope you know, this doesn't mean I’m going to call you ‘Daddy’ when we have sex.” Raymond's smile was like the sun coming out from behind a dark cloud after a summer storm. To Daniel it made everything fresh and clean and new. “I think we should take a closer look at that rice bed. Then we could maybe talk about baby names. Unless you’ve already chosen them. In either case, I think I could get used to being called ‘Uncle Danny’.” As they headed toward the bedroom Raymond became convinced that there was a greater likelihood of Daniel being called ‘Daddy’ than ‘Uncle’.
  21. 46 likes
    Chapter 12 The two days of every weekend were hard for Bailey, being basically stuck at home, but these two were harder than most. Bailey had watched Mr. Kirsch fawn over his mother Friday night. Bailey wasn't sure if the man was actually trying to hit on his mother or if he was just trying to be welcoming and friendly, but he did an awful lot of smiling and patting his mother's arm and shoulder. Leaning in close to talk to her wasn't necessary in Bailey's opinion, his mother could hear just fine. And his mother reciprocated. Every time he saw her laugh and touch the lawyer's arm, Bailey had to bite his tongue not to scream at her. What was she thinking? She was married! She shouldn't be doing this to Dad! When they'd gotten home, he'd stormed up to his room, ignoring his mother's reprimands from downstairs that he'd been rude to Daniel. She was lucky he hadn't gone postal on Daniel. He slammed his door, throwing himself on his bed. He cringed at the twinge in his abs from where Chris had hit him. His throbbing head wasn't feeling much better. He lifted his shirt to see if there was any bruising, and fortunately, there wasn't yet. He hadn't thought there would be, but it didn't hurt to check. Not that anyone would ever notice. After a fitful sleep, Bailey found his early morning run exhausting as well as comforting. Two nights in a row with too little sleep was beginning to take its toll however, and he found himself falling back asleep after returning home, fatigued mentally and physically. "What are you still doing asleep?" Bailey jerked awake, blinking up at his mom looming over him. The sun was bright in the window that she'd obviously opened, leaving Bailey even more confused before his brain fully woke. Glancing at the clock, he realized it was almost ten a.m. He'd fallen back asleep for nearly three hours. "Um..." Bailey rubbed at his face, trying to wake up. "Are you sick?" She stepped over and put her hand on his forehead. "No..." Bailey ducked away from her questing hand. "Just tired." His mother huffed a small laugh as she turned toward the door, mumbling. "You're getting lazy without your father here, sleeping 'til ten would so not happen if he were around. He'd have had you running all over town. Now, hurry up, we have errands to run today, and the grass needs to be mowed." He rolled to his side feeling like his mother had physically punched him. She might as well have for how sick he suddenly felt at the way she'd just thrown out that comment so carelessly. How could she talk about his father's death so casually? Yes, she used to chide him and his father about their morning runs, but to joke about it now? With his father gone? His dad had loved when she teased them about how they could do an extra mile for her, and his father would chuckle and kiss her on the forehead as she rolled back over in the bed. When they'd return all hot and sweaty and his dad would try to hug her, she'd giggle and dart away, slapping at his dad's chest playfully. Bailey rolled his face into his pillow, forcing back the anguished scream threatening to rise up his throat at the memories. He missed it all so much—the runs with his father, the lively laughs from his mother when his dad would grab her and kiss her, his father holding his mother's hand in the mall, the hugs of encouragement his father would give him when he failed, and the pride that shone in his father's face when he excelled. "Honey! Come on!" his mother's voice called. Bailey finally managed to drag himself out of the bed, trudging to his door. He really wasn't in the mood to run errands with his mother today, not after watching her antics with Daniel last night. "How about you go without me, and I'll mow the lawn while you're gone?" Bailey bargained. "And clean my bathroom?" There was a long silence from the lower level, but his mom finally conceded. "Okay, I suppose that's fine. Is there anything in particular you want from the grocery store?" "Protein bars?" he called back, only to hear his mom laugh. He startled at the sound. She hadn't laughed in so long, not since before... "Those are a given. Between you and your dad, I think I should have bought stock in them. Anything else?" He swallowed thickly, not really trusting himself to speak. "No. I'll text if I think of something." "Okay, that's fine. Make sure you eat." "Yeah," he responded automatically, even though he was pretty sure he wouldn't right away. Food was not high on his priority list right now. He waited until he heard her pick up her keys and the front door slammed before he headed downstairs. Cutting the grass was like running, a mindless exertion that helped keep his heartbreak at bay. By the time his mother returned later in the afternoon, he'd finished the lawn as well as two loads of his laundry and cleaned his bathroom out of boredom. He was in the middle of finishing his English paper that was due on Monday when he heard the front door open. He hurried downstairs, knowing he'd need to help her with the groceries, but skidded to a stop when he saw Daniel Kirsch carrying several bags in behind his mom. She smiled up at him as he held open the screen door for her. "Thank you so much, Dan. I know this is a little out of your way, but I really appreciate your help." "It's no problem, Michelle. I'm happy to help." Bailey felt his jaw hanging open. What the hell was he doing here? Bailey stormed forward, reaching out and grabbing the bags from the lawyer. "I've got them." Mr. Kirsch's eyes widened in surprise at Bailey's abruptness but quickly recovered, offering a gentle smile. "Oh, sure. I'll just go grab the rest." "No, I can get them," Bailey retorted. "Thanks for your help, but you can go home now." "Bailey!" his mom snapped sharply. "Daniel's going to stay for dinner. I invited him." "What? Why?" Mr. Kirsch cleared his throat uneasily. "I'll just go grab the, uh, rest of the bags." Bailey ignored him as he stomped into the kitchen after his mother. He dropped the bags on the counter as his mother glared at him. "You will behave yourself. We have a guest, and I know your father and I taught you better than that. Daniel is only trying to help. He knows how difficult things are for me right now." Bailey recoiled at the reprimand. Difficult for her? He stared at his mother, noting the dark smudges under her eyes, the thin lines marring her face, the tension in her shoulders. Yes, things were difficult for her, but they were for him too. He so badly wanted to talk to her about it, about how angry he felt sometimes, about how sometimes his chest hurt so bad he could barely breathe, about how it felt like she was already trying to replace his father. "I, uh, I'm going to go finish my paper," he finally stammered out, backing out of the kitchen and running into Daniel Kirsch. "Oh, sorry, Bailey," the man apologized, watching him warily. Bailey glanced between his mother and the lawyer, and his shoulders sagged in resignation. "Yeah, it's fine. I'm sorry I was a little snappy. I guess I'm a little tired." Mr. Kirsch looked relieved. "Oh, yeah, I bet you are. I hear you have gymnastics practice every day after school, plus you run every morning. That's got to be exhausting." Bailey only shrugged, not wanting to get into a conversation with the man. "Oh yes, he has his first meet of the season next weekend, right, Bailey?" She didn't even wait for him to respond before continuing on, talking to Mr. Kirsch. "Maybe you'd like to come watch? Bailey's really good..." Bailey's eyes widened. Wait, what? The older man beamed, his smile genuine. "I'd love to. I'm sure I'll be amazed." Bailey nearly rolled his eyes, sure the man was trying to suck up to his mother by showing interest in him. "Yeah, we'll see," Bailey muttered evasively, turning to head upstairs. "I'll call you when dinner's ready," his mother said. "Make sure you proofread your paper this time. You don't want to be losing points for stupid errors like on your last paper. God, your father would have had a fit if he'd seen that one." Bailey jerked back out of the kitchen at his mother's casual comment. "Yeah, uh, I'll be more careful." "Good." She lifted her head from where she'd been ducked behind the fridge door. Her gaze flicked from him to Mr. Kirsch, a small smile forming. "Daniel, did you want a glass of wine?" And Bailey knew he'd been summarily dismissed. He fought the urge to yell at her for inviting another man into their house, for wanting to cook him dinner, for discarding his father so quickly. He still needed her. He needed her comfort, her compassion, her support. Yes, they'd both fallen into a pattern of being strong for each other, but did she have to smile so much around Mr. Kirsch? Did he not cause her to smile anymore? Was he so much like his father that she wished he was gone too? Was that why she tended to shut him out anytime he tried to be near her? But then... what did she need? Maybe he wasn't enough for her. Did she need Daniel's help, and not his? He was being selfish to want her for himself, wasn't he? He was seventeen, he should be able to deal with things on his own, right? He was nearly a man, as she often reminded him, so he shouldn't be such an emotional wreck, right? He practically stumbled up the stairs, shoving his door closed behind him as he sagged against it. The turmoil of his emotions choked him, causing him to sink to the floor. He needed it. His blurry eyes darted around his room for his book bag, finding it just off to his left. He grabbed it, fumbling for the front zipper. He ripped it open, desperately seeking the one thing that could help make it all better besides being in the gym. The small box cutter looked so insignificant, so harmless, but Bailey clutched at it like it would disappear. His thumb slid the blade from its safe hiding place. He pushed the edge of his elastic waistband down just enough to reveal the top of his bony hip where three small scars reminded him of his previous efforts to forget. Always in the same place, always in a safe place, where no one would see... He placed the sharp point against his skin, drawing in a deep breath of anticipation. As he pressed in, he dropped his head back against the door, releasing a secondary wave of pain from the knot on the back of his skull. The blade dug in, deeper, biting into his skin as he felt the delicious stinging burn race through his nerve endings, shorting out the turmoil of thoughts ravaging his brain. He pulled, sliding the cool blade across his skin, reveling in the tug as his body yielded to the bite of the blade. Wetness trickled over the edge of his hip. Blood. He gave himself over to the throbbing pain, his eyes closed as he let the blade drop. A focus. That's what it gave him. Something other than his mother or father to think about. Something other than Daniel or Chris or Eric or Declan or his grades or gymnastics' scores... Just the pain, the stinging burn, the feeling of blood welling from the wound, the escape... To keep him from exploding, or imploding... to slice through the disjointed emotions hammering at him before they ripped him apart. It was several long moments before Bailey even considered moving. His body now relaxed, almost euphoric. He glanced down at the pool of crimson on his hip and the thin line that trickled over the edge of his hip, absorbed in the waistband of his sweats. He smiled to himself as he reached up to his desk and snagged several tissues from the box there. He quickly wiped at the side of his hip before blotting at the small puddle of blood near the wound. The pressure caused another rush of exhilaration to run through him. Eventually, he climbed to his feet, dabbing a little more at the wound before he turned to open the door. He poked his head out, listening. He grimaced at the sound of his mom and Mr. Kirsch laughing, but at least he didn't have to worry about either of them seeing him as he crossed to the bathroom. Tossing the bloody tissues in the toilet, he turned on the shower. For several long moments under the steaming spray, he watched pink tinged water swirl around his feet before disappearing down the drain. Soap gave him another small stinging, euphoric burst of pain before he finally rinsed and climbed out of the shower. He grabbed some toilet paper and pressed it to his hip before it bled anymore. Cleaning up after it was almost routine by now. Swiping at the thin line with disinfectant before slapping a piece of gauze over it, and securing it with medical tape, was familiar and automatic. He tossed his sweats into his hamper, glad again that he tended to prefer black workout pants. Wrapping a towel around his waist, he darted back across the hall to his room where he quickly dressed and settled at his desk. Now, he could focus again on his paper, his mind clearer after the divine fog of the pain. Yes, he was here, in the moment, now. Not in the past and not thinking about a future that held no hope or happiness. Here. Alone with his pain. **** Bailey had barely made it through dinner with Daniel Kirsch Saturday evening without screaming at both him and his mother. He'd found her asleep on the couch, two glasses and an empty bottle of wine sitting on the coffee table, when he'd headed out for his early morning run Sunday. He didn't know how long she and Daniel had been up that night, but he spitefully hoped she felt guilty for spending time with Daniel while her husband lay at the foot of a white marble stone, buried in the ground. Then immediately regretted the thought. How could he wish his mother to hurt as he did? That wasn't fair to her. He just wished she'd bring him with her out of the quicksand of misery he was sinking in. Talking to her only mired them deeper. Bailey spent the rest of Sunday locked away in his room, keeping out of her way, claiming the need to work on his paper. He was actually surprised when she knocked on his door and poked her head in. "Hey, honey," she greeted, and Bailey noticed her eyes looked a little tired, maybe even a little red. Had she been crying? "Are you done yet with your paper?" "Uh, almost. Are you okay, mom?" She quickly looked away from him, keeping her eyes averted. "Yeah, I'm fine... Just, you know, thinking..." She waved her hand dismissively. Yeah, he did know. It was their routine dance now—tiptoeing around each other, hiding their grief, avoiding any real talking about missing his dad. She'd obviously had a moment earlier, probably hiding out in her room for a while. Bailey nodded, avoiding saying anything that might upset her further. "So," she continued, "Daniel invited us to dinner at Michelina's tonight." Another dinner with the man? Bailey gripped the pen in his hand, hoping it didn't break. "Us? Or you?" Bailey finally asked because he was pretty sure Mr. Kirsch wasn't all that interested in him. "He invited both of us," she reiterated. "If you don't want to go, there's leftovers from last night in the fridge." Bailey spun back in his chair towards his laptop. "Yeah, I think I'll stay here. I still have some editing to do, plus I need to study for a history test this week." His mom smiled slightly, biting her bottom lip. "You're sure?" Bailey gritted his teeth together to keep from saying what he really wanted to say—NO! I don't want you to go either! But looking back up at her, he couldn't help but see the small spark of life in her that hadn't been there since his father had died. How could he deny her that? Even if it was killing him to see her moving on? "Yeah. I'll grab food later," he finally said. She hovered another moment, and he thought maybe she was waiting for him to tell her to have fun, or something like that. Well, that wasn't going to happen. "Okay, well, make sure you get an A on that paper. Your father and I worked hard to get you into that school. You need to make the most of it." Bailey's eyes barely glanced at her before she closed the door behind her. His eyes traveled up to the picture of his dad on the bulletin board over his desk, his mother's words triggering a dam to break. Tears leaked down his cheeks as he stared at his father's smiling face. His elbows hit the desk as he buried his face in his hands. "Oh, God, dad. I'm trying. I'm trying so hard. Please, forgive me. I want to make you so proud, but I feel so lost... alone... now..." **** He hadn't gotten much else done that evening. After finally pulling himself together, he'd managed to read over the paper once more, deeming it as good as it was going to get. He'd stared at his history text and notes, but he couldn't remember actually studying them before falling into an exhausted, weary sleep. Dragging himself from bed Monday morning was harder than it usually was. He actually had hit snooze on his alarm three times before crawling out of bed, deciding he wasn't up to running this morning. His eyes felt bleary and his nose felt a little stuffy. This was why he hated crying, why he usually turned to it to help him avoid feeling like his heart was being ripped open when he thought about his dad. Throwing his gym duffle together and his backpack of school work slung over his shoulder, he headed downstairs, pausing at the bottom. The light in the kitchen was on. He peeked around the doorway to find his mother sitting at the table, her hands curled around a cup of coffee. What was she doing up so early? She was never up when he left the house, usually still under the influence of her sleeping meds... or a bottle of wine. She looked up as Bailey walked into the kitchen. "Morning." "Good morning," Bailey said carefully. "Is something wrong?" "No, I just had a good night, thought I'd get up and see you off before your run." Her dark brown eyes scanned over his clothes. "But it doesn't appear that you are running today. Why?" He shrugged as he dropped his gym bag so he could grab some breakfast. Since he wasn't running, he had decided to eat at home. Plus, he was sure Chris would have spread the lie around by now, and he wasn't looking forward to facing anyone today about it. Avoiding the breakfast rush would be a good start to that plan. "Hmmm, you're not slacking off on your gymnastics training, are you? Your father would be disappointed if you weren't putting forth your best effort, especially after that debacle with football..." Bailey ducked his head into the fridge to grab some milk, so his mother wouldn't see how much her words cut him. She made it sound like he hadn't tried to be successful on the football team. Dad had understood so much better what he'd been up against, how he'd tried and been rejected because of his sexual preferences. "No, ma'am, I was just up late finishing the paper and studying..." he fudged the truth a little. "It won't happen again." "Good." She smiled thoughtfully as he sat down at the table with a bowl of cereal. "So the paper is all done? Ready to turn in?" He really wished she'd go back to bed and leave him alone like she usually did. "Yeah." He dug into his cereal, and silence hung between them, his mom simply staring at him almost... affectionately? He finished quickly, dumping his bowl in the sink before grabbing a banana to eat on the walk over to school. As he headed for the door, she reached out her arm to stop him and he ran into it. He grunted as his sore abdomen hit her outstretched arm. Damn Chris. He stared at her in confusion as she rose, her eyes raking over him. When she reached to brush his bangs from his eyes, he nearly backed away. A soft, sober smile tipped the corners of her mouth. "You need a haircut, especially before your meet this weekend," she said thoughtfully, her hand drifting down to his shoulder. "Maybe we can go take care of that this afternoon, hmmm?" Bailey could only nod. It was almost as if his mom were seeing him for the first time in several weeks. She abruptly wrapped her arms around him, drawing him into a hug. "Have a good day, Bailey." He flinched at the touch, not expecting it, before he managed to return it. He was shocked that she was even touching him. She hadn't embraced him like this in so long... She kissed his cheek. "I love you." Bailey swallowed thickly. "I love you too, mom." He hurried out the door as his emotions threatened to boil over. The hell with Chris and Eric and everyone else. Today was going to be a good day. **** Of course, Chris had told everyone that Bailey had admitted to cheating on the stupid pushup contest with Declan. It was painfully obvious as he made his way to his first class. He'd avoided everyone up until then by not going to breakfast at the school cafeteria, instead he had headed directly to class. He did his usual thing of keeping quiet and keeping his head down, then darting to the next class without stopping to socialize. Normally, nobody noticed or cared as he came and went. He was usually invisible and he liked it that way. Today was destined to be different. He had just turned in his English paper before he headed towards the cafeteria for lunch. The whispers behind cupped hands, however, had him turning away. He'd ignored anyone who even tried to ask him about Chris's claim that Bailey had admitted to cheating in the pushup contest with Declan. His normal aloofness kept most of the guys from even approaching him; the others he just cast a disdainful glare at before ignoring them. None of them noticed when his fingers rubbed at his hip. They had no clue what that small movement did for him—letting him refocus, ignore their jabs and questions, easing the pressure in his chest the world's hand was attempting to smother him with. He hid out on the third floor of Grainger for the lunch period, digging out one of his protein bars to sustain him. He knew the few protein bars he kept stashed in his bag wouldn't hold him very long through practice, but he'd survive. He'd done it before. Bailey was relieved when classes were over, since he could now focus on gymnastics. He knew it was inevitable that he'd have to face the team about the rumors. There was no way they hadn't heard about it, since Bailey was sure Chris planned for everyone to know. Justin cornered him in the locker room as he came back from changing into gym shorts and a compression shirt in the shower area—he hated wearing the singlets for practices as did most of the team. "Tell me what's going on," Justin demanded without preamble. Bailey just shrugged. The weekend had been too emotionally draining to care about what anyone at school thought of him. "Nothing. Why?" "Did you really tell Chris that you cheated?" Owen asked. Bailey shoved his bag in his locker before slamming it and facing his team. "Yeah, why?" All of them gaped at him in shock. "Why the hell would you do that?!" Cameron yelled. "Why not?" Bailey shrugged again, apparently surprising his team with his apathetic attitude. "What do you mean 'why not'? You didn't cheat! Why the fuck would you say you did?" Justin snapped, his brows deeply furrowed. Bailey sighed, his hands rising to his hips, and he allowed his fingers to dig slightly into his newest cut, centering himself. "Because it doesn't matter." "It doesn't matter?" Mateo repeated dumbly as if he hadn't heard Bailey correctly. "Why wouldn't it matter? Saying you cheated makes us look bad—" "And Chris is crowing like a—" Luke added. "Who cares?" Bailey cut in, trying to edge past his teammates without actually touching them. "It makes Chris and Declan and the rest of the damn football team happy, so they leave me alone." "What the—" "Have they done something—" "Bailey, what's—" He ignored his teammates confusion, grabbed his grip bag, and headed out to Aux 2. If he made it to the gym where the coach was waiting for them, maybe they'd leave him alone. Unfortunately, Justin was faster than he was and caught up to him, grabbing his arm and pulling him to a stop just outside the door. Bailey froze, his muscles tense before he released a breath. It's only Justin, he reminded himself. Mateo, Luke, Cameron, and Owen filed past them, worry and concern etched on their faces. "Bailey," Justin's voice was softer now as he leaned in. Bailey had to tip his head up to look his captain in the eye. "Come on, man, what's going on with you? With this whole stupid rumor? Chris did something, didn't he?" Bailey sagged against the wall. "Justin, just let it go, all right? I just want the whole stupid thing to be over. Forgotten." Justin narrowed his eyes, and Bailey swore Justin could practically read his mind. "Did he hurt you? Because that's something I'm not willing to let go." "I'm fine," Bailey insisted, lifting his chin and pointing to his face. "See? No bruises. I'm good." Justin stepped back enough to quickly scan the rest of Bailey. The tank top and mid-thigh gym shorts over his compression shorts didn't hide much, but Bailey wasn't concerned with Justin seeing anything. Even if Bailey took off his shirt, there was no discoloration on his abs anymore where Chris had hit him. There was a faint bruise on his back that was still tender from where Chris had knelt on his spine, but Justin couldn't see that. And Bailey had no intention of anyone ever seeing his own self-inflicted marks. Even so, Justin stared at him skeptically, obviously not believing him. "Oh for God's sakes." Bailey huffed, pulling up his shirt so Justin could see he wasn't hiding anything. "See? Jeez." Justin dropped his crossed arms, conceding he might have been wrong. "Okay, fine. I just don't get it." "There's nothing for you to get," Bailey said as he tugged the tight fitting shirt back down and tucked it into his shorts. "This whole stupid contest thing has gotten out of hand, and I just don't care anymore." He sighed, feeling just as drained and floundering as he had all weekend. That didn't bode well for practice today, but whatever... "Just ignore Chris and his gang, please. Don't start anything else." Justin's eyes flashed with regret as he looked down at Bailey. "Oh, hell, Bailey, we didn't mean to put you in the middle of—" "Yeah, well, I am," Bailey felt his irritation rising. He didn't blame Justin, not really. It had been Chris instigating. It just wasn't something Bailey really felt like dealing with on top of everything else warring in his mind. "And I'm done with it. So, just drop it." "Fine," Justin conceded, lifting his hands placatingly. "I just hate for Chris to get his way after being such an asshole." "Yeah, I know, but this helps Declan save face, and he's the one who was really hurt in this whole stupid thing." Justin snorted a half-laugh. "You're worried about Declan? He's just as big a caveman as Chris." Bailey bit his lip, remembering the words he'd overheard Declan saying on the track. "Maybe, but still..." "Yeah, yeah, whatever. We'll do whatever you want," Justin said, turning toward the gym doors. "How's your rip anyway?" Bailey flipped over his hand, palm up. The bloodied blister had healed up nicely. "Good." Justin turned and pulled open the gym door to see Coach Richards striding towards it. Richards stopped when he saw Bailey and Justin entering, he lifted his brow in a silent question. "Nice of you two to join us," the coach quipped, gesturing to the rod floor. "Let's get warmed up." Bailey was grateful that the coach didn't ask any questions. Both Justin and Bailey slipped off their flip-flops, dropping their grip bags before heading to join the others in warming up. They ran the perimeter of the gymnastics floor five times before settling in to their stretches. Bailey drew in a deep breath. The smell of the gym, the chalk, the sweat permeating the air, allowing him to settle his rampant thoughts, chasing away the fear and grief for the time being. He focused on his body's movement in the space on the rod floor—layouts, planche press handstands, triple backs, front hand springs, back twists, punch fronts—every trick had to be executed with precise foot and hand placement. Pointed toes, straight legs, abs pulled in tight, all long lean lines. Except today he was faltering. After he finished on the pommel horse, Bailey was sure he'd have a few bruises on his hips and side now from floundering the skills. He noted the frown and pursed lips on Coach Richards's face as he called for one of their breaks, allowing everyone to stop to grab some water. The coach didn't say anything, at least not yet, as Bailey trudged past him to the water fountain. Bailey wasn't surprised when the rest of the team started towards him as he stopped at the water fountain. Justin, however, carefully edged them away. Bailey knew he'd be explaining their conversation in the hallway and hoped they didn't try to interrogate him about it. Bailey silently thanked whatever god gave him such great teammates here at Heritage, because they all just nodded at him with approving smiles when the break was over. The fact that they respected his wishes as Justin had apparently explained them left him with a great sense of relief, and one less thing to have to worry about. A couple loud claps had the team dropping from their respective apparatus as the coach signaled an end to practice. "On the floor. Stretch." As they all dropped into their own stretching routine, the coach paced the floor in front of them. "Coach Reed and I have been discussing the incident last week in the weight room..." Bailey's head shot up as each of the others glanced guiltily at one another. Justin, especially, looked particularly abashed. "Sir, it's my fa—" "Save it, Greene." The coach held up his hand cutting off Justin's apology. "I've already heard it. The point is... Coach Reed and I have decided that there seems to be some, shall we say, misunderstanding as to what each sport entails. So we've decided to enlighten you. Tomorrow." A small smile quirked the corner of the coach's lips. Confused frowns were exchanged. "What does that mean?" Cameron piped up. "It means, it's going to get a little crowded in here tomorrow. Oh, and make sure you bring your running shoes with you," Richards said cryptically. "Finish stretching." After less than stellar routines on the rest of the apparatus during practice, Bailey wasn't surprised when Coach Richards dismissed the rest of the team, yet called him back. They both watched as the others gathered their stuff, grumbling about whatever plan the coaches had in mind as they slipped on their flip-flops or slides before warily heading out the door. Bailey looked away as Justin shot a worried look back over his shoulder at him before heading out. "McIntyre, what's going on? You're all over the place today. And we have a meet this weekend." Bailey rubbed his hands together, wiping at the chalk dusting them, before looking up at his coach. "I'm sorry, sir. I'm a little off today. I had a bad weekend..." His coach knew his history, especially about his father, so he wasn't surprised to see a softening in the man's eyes. "I see. Do you want to talk about it?" Bailey shook his head. "No, I'm good, or well, I will be. I'm sorry, I know I can do better than this." A heavy hand landed on his shoulder, but he tolerated it. "That is most definitely true, but you also need to listen to your body. Grief can take a physical toll as well as an emotional one, Bailey. It's okay to let me know you need a break." Bailey was already shaking his head. "Gymnastics helps me focus. I need it to keep me sane right now." Coach Richards's frown deepened, and he stared at Bailey for several long minutes. "Bailey, are you still seeing the psychologist regularly?" Bailey nodded. "Yes, sir. I see Ms. Tardin Thursday mornings, before classes." Well, he saw her. He didn't really talk to her much, but that wasn't technically what Coach had asked. Richards nodded. "Okay, good. Let me know if there's anything you need to talk about. I'm available to listen too." Bailey did manage to keep from rolling his eyes. He'd heard that from every teacher he had, as well as Dean Zamora, the chaplain from the base, and even the Colonel had offered the same platitudes. Not that he would ever talk to the man who'd sent his father to his death. Fuck, he couldn't think like that. He clenched his hands into fist, his leather grips bunching in his palms. "Thank you," Bailey finally said. "Okay, now, show me the last three skills of your routine, with no errors, and you can go," Coach said, grinning as he clapped his hands together to get Bailey moving. Bailey laughed, heading for the rings. He wasn't surprised by the order at all. Many of his coaches throughout his gymnastics years insisted that you had to complete skills successfully before leaving for the night. It was a good practice to do, as it messed with your head leaving the gym after falling on skills you were competent at. Coach grabbed his hips, aiding him as he jumped to grab the rings. He adjusted his grip quickly before coach let him go. He dropped down into his starting position before lifting his legs to complete a backwards roll into a Maltese cross. "Hold it..." his coach directed, even though Bailey already knew that. "Okay, good, position is better this time." At a nod, Bailey carefully levered into a handstand, sinking slowly into an inverted cross. "Yes, that's it. Hold it... okay, go." Bailey dropped out of the inverted cross, completing a back giant before the back uprise planche. He knew the coach said he only had to do three of his skills to his normal level of perfection, but Bailey had to finish out. He slowly eased into his iron cross before his ¾ twist dismount. After landing with only a tiny hop, he looked up at the coach, who was grinning at him. "Much better. That's the Bailey McIntyre I'm used to seeing. Go shower. I'll see you in history tomorrow." Bailey nodded, clapping his hands in satisfaction at his execution of the skills and sending a small cloud of dust into the air. He focused on ripping open the velcro closures on his grips as Coach Richards disappeared from the gym. He dropped the grips next to him on the floor, leaving on the sweat bands that protected his wrists from the chaffing leather of the grip bands. He rolled his head on his shoulders, taking a few extra minutes to stretch in hopes that his teammates would be showered and gone by the time he got there. He cooled down with a few simple floor moves: walking on his hands, v-ups, pushups, pancake splits, pike stretches. He was focusing on his body position, keeping his lines straight and clean, which he should have been doing better during practice but had allowed his addled brain to let him get sloppy. He sat in a straddle, toes pointed, before he carefully pressed into a handstand from the seated position. It was harder than what he'd normally have to do since he rarely sat all the way down in a routine, but it was good to keep in practice. He was holding vertical, letting his mind focus on the burn in his muscles. No need to think, just let his body do what it knew. "Holy shit..." Bailey jerked at the sudden voice, not realizing someone else had been in the gym. His arm faltered, and he quickly tucked in his head to roll out of the handstand. Scrambling to his feet, he searched for the body the intruding voice belonged to. Someone stepped from the shadows of the doorway, and his jaw tightened, not sure how he felt about anyone intruding on his domain. Bailey drew himself up straight, knowing this guy would hone in on any weakness. "What do you want, Declan?"
  22. 46 likes
    Chapter 11 Bailey packed up his bag after practice, intent on heading to the computer lab for a couple hours to work on his paper he'd started yesterday. He'd saved it to his Google cloud so if he needed to finish it at home he could, but working in the lab kept him from spending too much time at home. Of course, as soon as he picked up his phone, he realized he had a text from his mother. <Pls come home asap after practice so we can head to Daniel's office and he can talk to you> Sighing, he threw his bag over his shoulder, almost hitting Luke when he did. "Woah, easy man." Luke held up his hands defensively. "Sorry." "Everything okay?" Owen asked as he closed his locker. "Yeah, just have to head straight home. I was hoping to work on my paper in the lab." "Why would you want to go to the computer lab on a Friday night?" Cameron balked at the idea. "There's better things to be doing than that." "Yeah, like hanging at my place!" Justin reminded. "You're still welcome to come stay over." "Thanks. I have to, um, go sign papers for..." Bailey took a fortifying breath. "For, um, my dad's estate." His teammates quieted, offering him sympathetic looks. "Sorry," Owen mumbled. "It's fine," he said quickly, picking up his duffle bag as well. "Just... he left some accounts for me and all..." "Maybe you're a millionaire and you don't even know it!" Cameron tried to lighten the mood. Bailey smiled at his friend's attempt at levity. "Could be. Anyway, I'll have to pass. I'll see you guys Monday. Have a good weekend." "Yeah, you too," they all chorused behind him. Sure it would, Bailey thought. Another whole awkward weekend home alone with mom. **** Bailey's feet felt like lead as he made his way through the gates, offering a small wave at the security guard. "'Night, Mr. McIntyre," the smiling man called as he marked Bailey as leaving the campus. Bailey could still barely look at any of the security guards. Hell, anyone in uniform right now made his chest tighten. He ducked his head and made his way toward the Square. He only briefly thought about turning left and heading down past the shopping district and cutting through the park, which was actually quicker. Hence, the reason he chose to take his usual trek through Heritage Square as it added about ten minutes to his walk. Although he probably should just hurry home and get the trip over with. He pulled out his phone to text his mother. <Just left the school> A minute later, his phone's messaging tone went off. <thank you> Bailey stared at his phone for a long moment. He didn't use it much anymore, but his mother insisted he keep it on and charged so she could reach him, and of course for emergencies. He'd almost thrown it away, deleted everything on it and gotten rid of it. Because, still stored in the voice mails, was his father's last voice message to him. Bailey hadn't known that would be the last time his father would ever call again. His phone had been off while he'd been running. He'd been pissed that he'd missed the call as it was hard for his father to have the chance to make calls. He'd debated over and over again about deleting it, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Would he want to hear his father's voice again, someday? Maybe. And that was the only thing that kept him from erasing it. Right now, though, his heart was too raw, too shredded, to listen to the last words his father had ever spoken to him. Even as he stared at his phone, his mind in turmoil over the message he knew it held, his feet carried him automatically through the Square. He'd passed the boutiques and coffee shop without even realizing it. He shoved his phone deep in his pocket as he finally looked up. The sun was starting to drop lower, and Bailey remembered this weekend was the end of Daylight Savings. Next week at this same time it would already be dark, but then it should be lighter earlier for his morning runs. He was turning to head up the hill past Carewell Pharmacy when he heard it. "Well, if it isn't the flyboy who thought he could show up the football team?" Bailey spun, his eyes widening at the two most vocal of the football players from yesterday's debacle in the weight room. The quarterback, Chris, was leaning against the back of the building, with his leg casually propped up, but the guy named Eric was circling closer. Bailey didn't bother to respond, hoping to be able to just ignore the bullies. It sometimes worked in his previous schools. It was just the first time having to face it here. And he wondered just how unlucky he had to be for the stupid series of events that put him in Chris's crosshairs to have occurred. For two months, he'd been fortunate to be able to just stay to himself—go to school, practice his gymnastics, and try to hold himself together. All he'd wanted was to be left alone. He didn't want anyone reminding him of his loss, he didn't want to think about what the future would be like now—without him. He just wanted to ignore everything, escape into his studies, into his gymnastics, into it when he needed to. Of course, Chris wasn't going to let it be. Bailey didn't know much about Chris or Eric, or anyone outside of the other gymnasts really. He hadn't wanted to know. He'd heard talk of the undefeated football team, but it hadn't interested him much—he'd given up any interest in football when the Pitbulls had basically thrown him away because he'd dated a guy. When Bailey turned to walk away, Eric moved to quickly cut him off. "Not so fast, McIntyre." For a second, Bailey considered just taking off running, but it wouldn't stop them from hunting him down later. So he figured he might as well let them get whatever it was out of their system. Maybe then he could go back to his nice quiet, miserable little life. "What?" Bailey sighed heavily. "Why, Chris, I do believe he sounds a little annoyed." Eric was slowly crowding him, and Bailey instinctively retreated. He hadn't realized just how far he'd been cornered until he was behind the building, nearly hidden from the road by the dumpsters. "Why should he be annoyed? He's the one who's caused all the problems. Haven't you?" Chris stalked closer himself. Bailey didn't expect the sudden shove from behind, sending him to the ground. His duffle flew from his hand, skidding across the ground, his backpack sliding off his shoulder with a thud next to him. He grunted as he hit the cement, his hands and arms taking the brunt of his fall. He had barely tried to push up, when he cried out at the agonizing press of a knee to his spine. "Haven't you?!" Chris snapped, shoving Bailey's head to the ground. "I don't know what the fuck you're talkin' about," Bailey gasped as he tried to catch his breath. He was pinned under Chris, who's entire weight was centered on the knee digging into Bailey's back. "Oh, sure you do. That whole thing where you cheated in that pushup contest and made me look bad." "I didn't—" "You did!" Chris's anger flared. "Oh, this is so good..." Eric rumbled excitedly, causing Chris to look up at him. "What the fuck are you doing?" Bailey felt Chris's knee shift slightly, giving his spine some relief as he addressed Eric. "You said you wanted his confession on tape." Bailey looked up to see Eric holding up his phone as if he were taking pictures—or video. "Yes, his confession, you idiot. Not me explaining the error of his ways to him." "But you should see how scared he looks right now," Eric grinned. "Really?" Chris's voice pitched up in excitement. Did he really think I wouldn't be scared, Bailey thought. I have a guy nearly twice my size sitting on me! "Cool. But just start a new one for the confession," he instructed his cohort. Then he turned back to Bailey, who cringed as his knee buried deeper in his spine. "Here's what you're going to do, flyboy. You're going to walk by, see me and Eric goofing off here, and suddenly feel the need to confess your sins. I'll graciously accept your apology. You got that?" Bailey hesitated just enough that Chris apparently thought he might be considering escaping... even though Chris had him brutally ground into the pavement. Chris lifted his knee just enough to drop it back down onto his kidney. Shit! Bailey grunted. "You'll do it or you'll be pounded into roadkill by my offensive line, you got that!" Chris threatened. "Yeah, yeah, fine," Bailey gasped out quickly. "You do as I say," Chris warned one last time before jerking him roughly to his feet, guiding him a few yards back before tossing his backpack at him. "Eric'll just keep this bag safe," Chris said, tossing Bailey's duffle bag of clothes over to his friend, "until we're done here." Bailey could do nothing else but nod. Maybe if he just did as they asked, it would all be over. "Start a new one, Eric," Chris reminded, and Eric fiddled briefly with his phone's screen. Chris pointed at Bailey, pinning him into place, as Chris himself took up a casual position further up the sidewalk. He pulled out a small knitted ball and began kicking at it with his feet and knees. "Now, McIntyre. Make it good, or else." Bailey knew the 'or else' wasn't something he'd probably survive. Walk, say a few lies, and walk away—hopefully. A quick glance at Eric, who was already videoing Chris doing his hackysack (guess they needed a reason to be running a video in the first place), and he received a go-ahead nod. He threw his backpack back over his shoulder and hurried forward, coming up on Chris, who looked up so innocently, feigning surprise at seeing him and dropping his hacky sack ball. "Oh, hey, Bailey," Chris said almost timidly, "good job with those pushups yesterday. You certainly had Declan beat..." Bailey hesitated almost too long before he stammered out the lies Chris wanted him to tell. "I—I really didn't. I-I cheated." "You what?" Chris's fake surprise was almost so over-the-top that Bailey wasn't sure who'd believe it. Plus, he wasn't sure how he was supposed to have cheated. Two whole teams were standing there watching them. Of course, the football team would all probably agree with the idea he must have cheated somehow. "I'm sorry," is all Bailey could think of to say at this point as he started walking away, hoping they'd just let him keep on going now that they had their little... whatever it was supposed to be... fake confession? "Thank you, Bailey, for telling me," Chris sounded so sincere and accepting of Bailey's apology. "I'm sure Declan will be glad to hear that as well. He was a little distraught last night." Bailey flinched at Declan's name, and the reminder that he had been the cause of the other teen's pain. For that, he truly was sorry. "I'm sorry he was hurt by my actions," Bailey said vaguely. At least, that statement was the truth. Maybe if Declan saw this ridiculous video, he'd understand what Bailey meant. He walked on, passing Eric, who had apparently hit stop because he started laughing. Bailey flushed a deep red at having been made to lie but tried to ignore the two. However, he barely got three steps toward his discarded duffle before Chris yanked Bailey's backpack from his shoulder and shoved him against the dumpster. Bailey's head bounced against the metal, pain exploding in the back of his head. "Don't mark him, Chris," Eric warned. "Fuck," Bailey cursed, but then he let himself succumb to the numbing intoxicating high the pain offered—an escape that ripped him from his present reality. "Don't you even think about talking about this," Chris warned, before swinging his forearm across Bailey's stomach. Air whooshed from his lungs as he doubled over, and his knees buckled from under him as he slid to the ground. His tired body dropped back against the dumpster, and he realized too late that he shouldn't have let his head drop back—again. "What the hell is this?" Bailey barely opened his eyes at the new voice, shocked to see Declan stalking toward Chris and Eric, holding up his phone. Eric grinned. "Thought you like to see Bailey's confession first." Bailey closed his eyes. God, would they just leave him alone now? They'd gotten what they wanted. "Confession?" Declan's deep voice sounded confused. "How is Chris sitting on Bailey's back a confession?" "What?" Chris snapped, glancing at Declan's phone where Eric must have sent him the video in a text. "You sent the wrong one," he growled at Eric. "Delete that one now, before you do something stupid with it. Then send the other one." Eric looked thoroughly chastised, knowing he'd screwed up. "At least you only sent that to Dec, here," Chris mumbled, before turning back to Declan. "While we got him here, you wanna take a shot at him?" Chris kicked at Bailey's leg, but not hard enough to do any bruising. "He's not gonna say anything, right, McIntyre?" Bailey's eyes shot open at Chris's kick, expecting another one, only to find Declan staring down at him too. The guy's fist was clenched at his side, and Bailey could swear that Declan was considering Chris's offer. "Nah, not worth it," Declan decided as he turned to walk away. His phone dinged, and Declan glanced down at the next text message. "That's the right one," Eric said. "That's the one we'll show everyone. Then the school will realize that the flyboy here had to cheat to come anywhere close to matching you." Bailey stared up at Declan, wishing they were alone so he could apologize directly to him. He hadn't cheated, and both Bailey and Declan knew that, but he was sorry to have gotten Declan involved in this stupid mess. The one guy he thought might have been decent about it all. But Bailey had misjudged people before... Declan turned instantly, ripping his gaze away from Bailey, and Bailey sighed, closing his eyes again and leaning back a little more cautiously. "Let's go, the guys are waiting on you so we can get back with the food and the movie. You did get the movie, right?" "Not yet. We saw McIntyre here, and well—" "Go get the fucking movie!" Declan snapped, and Bailey peeked open one curious eye to see Declan waving at Chris and Eric to hurry. Chris glared at his teammate for a moment before a knowing grin appeared. He leaned toward Declan, and Bailey could just make out some of the words, enough to get what he was saying. "... take your shot at him ... try not to leave marks..." He narrowed his glare at Bailey again. "Not that he would say anything," Chris reiterated his warning. Then Chris was gone, jogging back down the street to the Square. Bailey waited to hear their retreating footsteps before he even tried to move. He finally dropped his head forward, lifting his hand to feel the small knot on the back of his scalp. "Fuck," he groaned. "You okay?" Bailey's eyes snapped up. What the hell was he still doing here? Did he really just want to get his jabs in private? "Just go, please," Bailey begged, not wanting to deal with another bully right now. "Although I am sorry." "Sorry? For what?" Declan asked. The shrill ringing of a phone caused Bailey to jerk, and therefore wince at the pain in his head. He scrambled for his phone in his pocket, knowing it had to be his mother. "Hello?" he answered without looking at the caller's name. "Bailey! Hey! Glad I caught you!" He groaned at Justin's voice. "Hi, Justin," he greeted, but his eyes flicked up to Declan still staring down at him. Worry creased his face. "Hey, the coach just got the email from the Chesapeake Meet with the set schedule. I just wanted you to know we compete at noon on the 19th," Justin said. "O-okay," Bailey managed. "Thanks." "Are you okay? You sound funny." Bailey almost laughed out loud. "No, I'm—I'm fine." His text notification went off as well. Why couldn't everyone have tried to contact him ten minutes ago? "I'll talk to you later, okay?" Bailey barely heard Justin's affirmative before he hung up. He struggled to his feet, scurrying away from the hand that darted out to him. He realized after he was standing that Declan had been trying to help him rise, not hurt him, but he didn't care. He swiped open the text message from his mom. <where are you?! You should be here by now!> <got hung up with some friends> he texted back. He shoved the phone in his pocket before turning to scoop up his backpack. Declan was still staring at him, and Bailey had to wonder why the guy was even still here. He brushed off as much grit and dirt as he could. At least he didn't have on a white polo shirt today. He continued swiping at the smudges as he started back on his trek for home. "Hey!" Bailey tried to ignore him. What now? "Are you sure you're okay?" "I'm fine. God, that was nothing. Just go," he grumbled as he continued to walk. "Nothing? Really? You could at least say thank you." What. The. Fuck. Bailey whipped around, his fury blazing. "Thank you for what? Not joining in and beating the crap out of me? Gee, thanks." "Chris hit you and had you pinned to the dumpster when I got here. I'm sure he wasn't here to chat." Bailey couldn't help but hear the sarcastic disbelief in Declan's voice. "Seriously?" Bailey let his backpack fall from his shoulder, catching the strap in his hand as he turned. He had a moment of satisfaction at Declan's affronted look. "Of course, he wasn't here to 'chat'. He's pissed that his team's precious reputation was blasted to smithereens by little ol' me." Declan's eyes widened, his mouth hung open, giving Bailey the opportunity to retrieve his duffle bag of dirty gym clothes from where Eric had left it. A smile tugged at the corner of Bailey's lips. "For what it's worth, though, I am sorry for causing you any humiliation." Declan ducked his head, and Bailey figured the bigger teen didn't want to be reminded of what the guy probably found a little humiliating. He turned to continue home, slinging his pack back over his shoulder. He winced slightly as it hit the tender spot where Chris's knee had been buried in his spine. "Are you going to turn him in?" Declan's voice called behind him. "What would be the point?" Bailey threw back without stopping. "He's the team's star quarterback. No offense, but—been there, done that, already got the t-shirt." When there was no immediate response, Bailey figured Declan had finally left to go back to his friends, especially after having secured assurances that Bailey wouldn't be turning in his teammate. "But he hit you, you—" "Oh, please, I've been hit harder by guys twice his size when I was a cornerback. Chris and Eric are nothing." Bailey turned away and picked up his pace at little, knowing his mother would be getting seriously upset by now. He only hoped that Mr. Kirsch was willing to wait a little for them to get to his office. While his back was a little tender and his stomach ached some from Chris's blow, Bailey knew it wasn't much to worry about. He might have a bit of a knot on his head still tomorrow, but even that wasn't bothering him much. Hell, he'd had much worse when he missed catching the bar in his release-catch combinations. His mother was waiting for him in the driveway by the car, her arms crossed. He stared at his feet and headed for the passenger side door. "You knew I was waiting, and you just had to stop to talk to all your friends?" she accused, whipping open the driver's door. "And is that dirt on your clothes?" "Sorry. I tripped," he mumbled, finding it a little funny she thought he actually had a lot of friends. "You would never do this crap to your father," she snapped at him over the top of the car. Bailey inwardly cringed at the mention of his father. He hated it when she used his dad's memory against him like that. And she'd been doing it more and more lately. No matter what minor infraction Bailey might have done, he wouldn't have done it 'if his father had been here', according to his mom. He tried to remember that she was hurting too, that lashing out at him was one way she dealt with her grief. That or ignoring him altogether. He knew that he reminded her a lot of his father. They'd been so much alike... "Get in the car. We're late." "Yes, ma'am," he mumbled as he tossed his backpack on the floorboard at his feet and slid into the car. He dropped his head back against the headrest, letting himself focus on the pain throbbing in his skull and not the words of the woman next to him continuing to berate him. As the car reversed, a flash of light caught his attention. He twisted his head to see if he could figure out where it came from. There was an odd glow by the neighbor's bush, and for a moment he thought he could make out a tall figure in the glow of the faint light. Had Declan followed him home? Or worse, had Chris or Eric? He seethed in his seat. Now a classmate knew where he lived. He hadn't invited anyone to his home yet, not even Justin. He wasn't ready to share that with anyone, and he hated that someone might have invaded his privacy like that.
  23. 45 likes
    It didn't take much for Raymond to convince Daniel to stay the night at his ranch. He promised to get him on his way in time to go to his house and get into his office before the morning shift change. On the ride back to Raymond's ranch, Daniel, searching for another topic of conversation opined, “You know, the Tesla model X would make a great patrol car. It's very safe and super fast. It handles very well and there is plenty of room and no way a perp would hit his head while being maneuvered into the backseat through those falcon wing doors. Now, if only I could convince the county commissioners”. They both chuckled at the absurdity of such a proposition. “I’m glad your family agreed to come into town tomorrow and give their statements regarding Bumpkis. I didn't want to spoil everyone’s Christmas, but if I hadn't asked they were going to send out the Rangers, most likely with subpoenas. Which would have pissed me off because this is strictly my investigation. It was a forced courtesy I felt I had to extend. The Attorney General’s folks are convinced they will likely get some more useful information from Bumpkis. Their looking to wrap up their Johnson investigation as soon as possible. They got people stashed in every available space from the basement to the attic, double checking every piece of legal paper Johnson ever touched. So far, they’ve been pretty tight lipped about what they've found. They figure they can bargain with the Mayor for more information about his illegal dealings with Johnson. With Bumpkis squealing like a stuck hog, the Mayor doesn't have much to lose. “The DA is talking like Bumpkis is facing thirty years in prison. As much crap as I have seen, both here and in the Middle East, his stealing from poor kids is probably the most despicable act I have ever witnessed. He didn't steal that money from your family or anyone else who contributed, myself included. He stole it directly from the kids who needed it the most. He may as well have snatched it out of their hands or taken food from their mouths. Too bad ‘tar and feathers’ or ‘skinning alive’ are now cruel and unusual punishments. I think they fit the crime.” Raymond glanced over at his companion and smiled. “You’re nervous aren't you?” Daniel glared at Raymond. His voice croaked when he replied, “What do you mean, nervous”? Daniel kept his eyes on the road. “Have you listened to yourself? First it was the fancy presents, then Tesla patrol cars. You haven't quit talking since we left Uncle Joe’s. I’m guessing you usually try to maintain a professional attitude when discussing an ongoing investigation, even with your family. But, I’m pretty sure you're being a lot more candid than usual. “You know, if you're nervous about us having penetrative sex. I’m happy just being in your company. We don't have to go beyond what we've done so far. Lot’s of gay couples never have anal intercourse. If you're not ready, I’m more than happy to wait. So far, what we have done, has been spectacular. None of the sex in any position or description, that I have experienced, even comes close.” Daniel muttered, “That's easy for you to say.” Raymond glanced over at Daniel, “What did you say”? Daniel let his frustration show, “I said, it's easy for you to say you're willing to wait. You're not the one about to get a log shoved up his ass. I’ll admit, I want this to happen with you. I want you to be my first. I’ve never wanted anyone inside me, but you. You're right I’m nervous and I’m not sure what to expect for a first time fuck. The hookups I’ve had, have all been fucked many times before. But, I still had to be careful anytime I got to fuck a guy, no matter how much experience he had. I know it's supposed to hurt the first time. I can't imagine how it might have hurt if I had been their first. You have a cock that's bigger than mine, so yeah, I’m a little bit nervous.” Without taking his eyes off the road, Raymond reached over and held Daniel's hand. “I think you should know you won't be my first. More like the third. And yes you will have to be careful and take it slow. I haven't bottomed in years. But, I look forward to having you in me tonight and every night until you're ready to take me inside you. I want to look in your eyes while you cum inside me. I need to know that I can make you feel like that. Even if you are willing, I want to bottom for you first.” Daniel didn't respond verbally, he just squeezed Raymond's hand. When they arrived, the porch light was on. Daniel figured Larry did it each night while the owners were away or maybe it was on a timer. He hoped they could get in without another surprise greeting. He couldn't help scanning the area until they were safely locked inside. He was certain he saw Molly slinking through the shadows. Maybe someday she would feel comfortable welcoming them home without Larry by her side. ‘Home? Where did that shit come from?’ Daniel blushed at the faux pas. Even though Raymond hadn't heard the slip. Raymond made the usual offers of a dutiful host. Daniel simply asked to use the guest bathroom. Fortunately the Slidesdales were downsizing and left enough of the basics so bathroom and bedroom linens were not in short supply. Raymond made a mental note to have someone come out and get everything sorted so that the smaller house would be comfortably liveable until the big house was remodeled. He would also make sure the master bedroom remained untouched. Time passed slowly for Raymond as he waited for Daniel to finish in the guest bathroom. Before long it was all Raymond could do to keep himself from tracking Daniel down to know for sure that his lover hadn't bolted. He had quickly showered and lay in the bed. He thought he might just casually throw back the covers, inviting his lover to join him as if it had been their nightly routine for years, in truth, it should have been. As he lay there he began to focus on Daniel's nervousness. If he decided to forego anal sex tonight that would be ok. Hell, it would be ok if he wanted to pass on sex altogether, at least for tonight. By this time Raymond found himself pacing the floor. No sex tonight would be alright as long as Raymond could hold him close as they slept. What if he decided to spend the night in a different bedroom. What if he left? This was his breaking point, he headed into the hall only to collide with Daniel. ‘God, the man is gorgeous!’ was Raymond's first thought. Then chastised himself for using such a feminine descriptor. Daniel was only wearing white boxers. The rest of his clothes he carried, neatly folded, along with his boots. His still damp brown hair was darker and more curly than it was when it was dry. He noticed the soft, swirly patterns the dark chest hair made against his lightly tanned skin. Maybe they should have a pool built so he could watch his lover’s tan darken in the summer sun. Maybe they made flavored suntan lotion, he could rub into Daniel's skin then take his time licking it off. Daniel could clearly see in Raymond's eyes, a slightly dazed look. He couldn't help but smile as he realized the man really liked what he saw. “Were you going somewhere”? Raymond swallowed hard and blinked to refocus. “I, uh, I was afraid you might try to, uh, want to, uh, leave. I wanted you to stay. I don't mind if we don't have sex tonight. Really”! Daniel chuckled at the pleading in Raymond's voice. “How far were you willing to chase me? I mean you're naked, with a monster hard on that's leaking precum by the cup full. Looks like you're close to cumming whether we have sex or not. “I think what you meant to say was that you were so eager to fuck my brains out, that you couldn't wait and came looking for me.” Still clutching his clothes, Daniel displayed two packets of lube and a condom. “If you’ll take these. I already lubed up and loosened myself some. Just two fingers worth. Judging by the size of you, better get it three fingers loose, if you expect to get that monster inside of me without a fight.” Raymond, ever the lucid professional, simply groaned in response as his cock swelled to painful proportions and pumped another glob of precum toward the floor. Daniel couldn't help but chuckle thinking how he was now the one that was calm, cool and collected, while Raymond seemed suddenly not so sure. He led the way into the bedroom. Placing his clothes on a slipper chair and his boots next to it, he took Raymond's cock in hand. Raymond desperately cried, “No. don't. I’ll cum.” Daniel pulled him close and grasped both their cocks in one hand. He could barely wrap his large hand around either cock alone. So, the best he could do was to stroke them and spread Raymond's generous supply of precum around the heads. It was enough. Once he began mapping Raymond's mouth with his tongue, all Raymond could do was hump into Daniel's grip and moan. Daniel broke the kiss and whispered in his lover's ear. “That's it Baby. Cum for Daddy”. Raymond was not so out of it he couldn't force himself to respond, “Daddy's cumming for you, Baby! Arggg! Oh God!” As he splashed cum on both their chests. Raymond began kissing, sucking and biting on Daniel's neck. That took his lover over the edge. He let go with a keening whine that morphed into a teeth clenching growl. Raymond held his lover tight as he melted into his afterglow. He continued to nibble at Daniel's neck. Daniel lifted Raymond’s head by a fistful of hair until their eyes met. “Baby, you better not have left a hickey on my neck. I refuse to discuss my sex life at work, but I won't lie about us. But, a hickey just invites attention. So passion marks have be kept to where a tee shirt and trousers can hide them. Understand, Baby”? With that he slapped Raymond's butt cheek so hard it stung his hand and echoed around the room. Raymond jumped in response to the slap. “Yes, I knew better. I just got carried away. I wanted to mark you, to show others that you had someone in your life already. Someone… close enough to do that to you”. “You mean, you want everybody to know I’m off the market?” Raymond nodded. Then added, “Yes. And by the way, you may be a half inch taller and twenty pounds heavier, but you don't have enough of an advantage to get away with smacking my ass. You know that, right, Baby”? This time it was Daniel who jumped as Raymond’s hand smacked his ass. Even though he had expected it and had flexed his butt in advance, the sharp flash of pain was more than he expected. His sharp intake of breath preceded a heartfelt apology for unintentionally hurting his lover. Together they made their way to the ensuite’s shower. By the time they finished washing away the cum, all the while touching and stroking each other, they were both hard again. Daniel smiled broadly when back in the bedroom Raymond stopped to pull a small bottle of lube and three condoms from his jacket pocket. Raymond grinned, “I been carrying this since I saw the first report on you. I kept them with me hoping one of us would eventually fuck the other. I am not ashamed to admit I jerked off to both scenarios.” “Well, I tried NOT to think of you while jerking off. It’d work except the closer I got to cummin the more images of how you look now and memories of that first kiss kept popping into my mind and pushing me closer to the edge. Until it was just you I was focused on when I got my nut. I gotta say those jerk off sessions never came close to actually being with you. That kiss will always be fresh in my mind, but I would like to build new memories with you starting with tonight.” “Sounds like we are both suffering with the same ailment. Lucky for us, we are each other's medicine. Our condition could require a lifetime of treatment from each other to effect a cure.” Daniel leaned back and screwed up his face. “Jesus Christ Raymond! go find some mouthwash or a dab of toothpaste. I don't think I can kiss you after you had all that bullshit in your mouth.” “Hey that was a heartfelt analogy. I might work it into our wedding vows”. If it had been summer time the sound of screeching cicadas would have filled the pregnant void. As it was, not even the sound of their shallow breaths could breach the chasm of silence that opened between them. Raymond began mindlessly running his hands up and down Daniel's massive upper arms. He hoped it conveyed a soothing, apologetic attitude. It seemed he was constantly sabotaging his own best efforts at building a strong relationship with Daniel. This was their second time alone and he was talking marriage. ‘What a fucking idiot, I am’! Daniel couldn't help but grin at the same look, now on Raymond's face, that he had seen on Jeff’s face that time he, Jeff, had farted in Sunday School. No one else had heard it except the two of them. Jeff looked absolutely mortified. It was a term he had read somewhere and it fit both the boy, then and the man, now. He idly wondered if being ‘mortified’ made everyone look alike? Daniel's hands pulled the naked Raymond closer. “I can't say I have thought about wedding vows, but I have dreamt of a life with you. But, I’m a big boy now who knows that dreams don't always come true. So, before we commit to something long term let's investigate our compatibility in and out of the bed before we start writing those vows and shopping for matching rings.” As his lips met Raymond's, he could hear the audible sigh of relief escaping those most soft, pliable and responsive lips. A single thought flashed through his brain, ‘just like the first time’. It wasn't clear whose idea it was to get into bed, but Daniel found himself on the bed with his ass in the air. He had seen rimming in Internet porn. But, he had never let anyone touch his asshole with tongue, finger or cock. Only his own finger occasionally touched his prostate and only when he explored his favorite ‘Raymond Cargill’ fantasies. Coincidentally, those had resulted in his most powerful ejaculations. It suddenly occurred to Daniel that he was again trusting this man, like no one else. The first time it had resulted in a broken heart. He silently prayed that getting his cherry busted wouldn't be as devastating. When Raymond's warm breath and wet caressing tongue touched his tightly sealed sphincter, devastation became the least of his worries. From the moment those first electric sensations ran up his spine to his brain, he was desperately rubbing and rooting his ass around trying to get… trying to get what? He didn't know what! He just wanted more… just... MORE! When Raymond’s tongue managed to breach his entrance, Daniel reached back and tried to force Raymond's head up his ass, face first. He felt as if he had cum twice already. Yet, he was desperately trying to get more of this.. this feeling. He tried to prolong it, tried to make it better, tried to intensify this already incredibly intense feeling. When Raymond began to tongue fuck his ass, Daniel lost it! He grabbed a handful of Raymond's hair and pulled him into his ass as he began to speak in tongues. He was mindlessly babbling and slobbering as cum exploded from deep behind his balls and tore it’s way through his cock. As he collapsed into a puddle of his own making he intuitively knew it would never feel this good again. If it did, it just might kill him. Raymond gently pried Daniel's fingers from his hair. Fortunately, it didn't hurt as much as it would have if they both hadn't been hormone saturated. Only the hope that he would soon be deeper into that delicious ass, kept him from blowing his nut right along with his lover. That thought and by painfully crushing his own cock head, he managed to hold back his orgasm. Even then it was too close to call. As good as cumming along with his lover might have been, Raymond knew that cumming inside Daniel would bring him a whole new level of pleasure. He pulled himself up alongside his collapsed lover. Daniel, sensing Raymond’s movement, turned his head to his lover. “Wow! I thought my heart was gonna explode, but my dick did instead. I’m afraid to look. It's probably lying in shreds above the sack that used to hold my balls. When I shot off, they emptied themselves so forcefully they got sucked so far up into my body cavity, I’ll have to go through puberty again before they can descend. I can't believe I never let anyone do that for me before. Is it, is it always that…that incredible”? Raymond began caressing his lover's back from shoulders to hips and back again. “I agree with what Uncle Joe told me, sex is always better with someone you care about.” “Well, I guess I have to agree with you two. I have never had sex with anyone I cared for as much as you. And I am convinced it could not be any better than this.” Daniel pulled Raymond in close and kissed him deeply. Tasting for the first time his own, not unpleasant, musky flavor. Breaking the kiss, he licked his lips and asked, “Is this what they mean by b.a.i.t.e.d. breath, as opposed to b.a.t.e.d. breath”? Raymond snorted, “As a card carrying, gay man I shouldn't admit it, but I ‘ate tuna’ in my youth. But, once in college, I left that unique smell and taste behind forever. I became a connoisseur of beef-e men. See, your not the only one who can make seriously bad puns. Now, if you’ll turnover on your back I”ll get a towel and clean up that lake of cum”. Daniel chose that moment to rollover and the gasp that escaped Raymond's lips shocked him. For an instant he thought he might have indeed damaged his cock and balls. He immediately scanned his crotch. He was definitely relieved to see no blood or signs of damage. His flaccid cock was resting against his right thigh as usual. A quick touch and tug revealed the twin organs were indeed still descended. Glancing down at the duvet, he saw what made Raymond gasp. There were three large puddles of cum. Any one of which would constitute a sizeable load. Daniel realized he must have really emptied his balls all at once. Looking at the cum still clinging to and dripping down his hairy chest, Daniel wasn't sure he hadn't done at least some damage to himself, cumming so hard and so much at one time. By the time Daniel decided he had just had an epic cum, with no real damage, Raymond had already retrieved the still damp bath towel from the bathroom. He first caressingly cleaned Daniel's chest. Then he tried to scoop up and mop up the duvet. Finally, he gave up and instructed Daniel to get off the bed. He then stripped away the soiled cover and tossed it toward the corner. Before Raymond could climb back into bed Daniel slid across the bed and knelt at his feet. He proceeded to lick the drooling precum from Raymond’s still turgid member. From the corner of his eye he could see Raymond clench his fists and then extend his fingers. Only to repeat… clench and extend. He realized Raymond was fighting the impulse to grab Daniel's head and fuck his throat. Daniel was ok with that particular impulse even if he had already cum. Taking Raymond's cock into the back of his mouth Daniel then guided Raymond's hands to the back of his own head. Holding them in place he began sliding his lover's cock into and out of his throat. Not until he felt the hands exerting a forceful pressure upon his head did he move his hands. He began to stroke Raymond's taint. When his lover granted more access by spreading his legs, Daniel pulled his thumb against the taint while his index finger caressed Raymond's rosebud. Daniel sensed that Raymond wanted more. He quickly mopped up some of the excessive drool/precum mix to slick up his index finger and smeared it around the, now twitching, sphincter. He repeated this lubing process three times before he felt there was enough to fully penetrate his lover. Raymond's response to the invasion was to launch one of his own. At the same instant that Daniel's finger bottomed out, Raymond buried his cock balls deep in Daniel's throat. After a moment, Raymond regained enough clarity to let Daniel catch his breath. As soon as he was no longer gasping for air, Daniel determinedly impaled himself again on Raymond's cock. At the same time his wiggling digit discovered Raymond's love nut. It began a litany of stroking, tapping and smashing against the well muscled little organ. The movements weren't synchronized, but the total impact was maddeningly effective. Raymond wasn't sure if he wanted to fuck Daniel's throat deeper or fuck Daniel's finger deeper into his own ass. Somehow his muddled brain let him know that finger was going to keep assaulting his prostate so he could focus on the pleasure of fucking Daniel's throat. Repositioning and renewing his hold on Daniel's hair, Raymond's pounding rhythm shifted into overdrive. As his love nut clenched, Daniel’s pressure increased. As the throes of orgasm took hold, Raymond’s ass tried it's utmost to bite off Daniel's finger. At the same time, Raymond's cock swelled and began spewing it's massive load as far down into the man’s guts as possible. If a casual observer could ignore Daniel knelt at Raymond's feet, in the throes of his second, but much smaller, ejaculation. That observer might think Raymond was in extreme pain. He appeared to be bent over double, gripping his midriff as though he were having a horrendous bellyache. If said observer then factored Daniel back into the equation, and he would realize that Raymond was holding Daniel's head still impaled upon his massive manroot. Daniel was becoming desperate for oxygen. Seconds before he was sure he was going to black out, he grabbed Raymond's balls and squeezed and jerked on them for dear life. At the same time he forced his ring finger in alongside the still buried index finger. Raymond reacted like a Jedi warrior. He was everywhere at once. Releasing Daniel's head he immediately grabbed the fist assaulting his already abused balls. While the other hand focused on the delicate task of slowly extracting the now offensively intrusive digits from his almost dry bung hole. Daniel was too busy breathing to be bothered by Raymond's antics. When Raymond finally extracted Daniel's fingers he eyed them suspiciously for traces of blood. Satisfied that none of his innards came out with Daniel's fingers he turned his attention to his lover still on the floor gasping for air. A quick review of the last several minutes had him reliving his most monumental orgasm to date. He also remembered his own callous disregard for his mate. One look at Daniel's face and Raymond was running for the bathroom. He fought down the urge to puke and quickly dampened a washcloth and grabbed a clean towel. Hurrying back to his lover's side he began to wash away snot, cum and what appeared to be bits of whatever Daniel had ate last. He was relieved that Daniel's breathing had become slow and even. It came as a shock to realize his lover had fallen asleep. At least he hoped it was sleep and not suffering some kind of symptom of oxygen deprivation. He gently slapped his lover's cheeks. “Wake up Daniel! Wake up Baby. I need to know that you're alright”. Daniel resented being so rudely awakened from a very pleasant slumber. “Wha? What? What's the matter? Is it time to get up? I feel like I just drifted off. What time is it”? Raymond checked the clock on the night stand. “It's just past eleven pm. You fell asleep after some pretty rough sex. I need to know that you're alright”. Daniel became suddenly alert. Must to Raymond's chagrin. “Yes, I think I’m ok. I almost passed out with you holding my head while you came. I hope to hell your balls are sore. I tried to push you away, but you weren't gonna let that happen. I had to get your attention. Guess that old adage that says, ‘when you got them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow’ is more true than I thought. All in all, it was pretty hot. I came again just as you nutted in my gut. I didn't even taste your cum until my gag reflex finally kicked in and I regurgitated it. I can definitely do without that ever happening again. I guess that was a pretty awesome cum for you to lose it like that, huh”? Raymond helped Daniel to his feet and guided him like a mother hen into the bathroom. There he watched as Daniel rinsed his mouth and brushed his teeth. After Raymond adjusted the shower temperature, he lovingly bathed his man. Daniel didn't need the help, but he enjoyed the attention just the same. Back in the bedroom Daniel watched as Raymond slipped the ‘supplies’ into the nightstand drawer. A small thrill ran up his spine as he remembered his first time being rimmed and the explosive cum that followed. Daniel was only too eager to return the favor. The fact that they hadn't even got around to fucking was an issue, only because he wasn't sure when they could get together again. He had no objection to having an occasional quickie. But, he refused to consider anal intercourse except as part of an overnighter, better yet a weekender. While Daniel was having his internal dialogue, Raymond was busy rounding up some non cum soaked cover. He came back with a blanket. He spread it across the bed and pulled back the covers. With a sweeping gesture he invited Daniel to get in bed first. Once his lover was in repose, Raymond walked around the foot of the bed and got in on the other side. Since each man was on the same side as the day before, Daniel made a mental note that the side farthest from the door, yet closest to the bathroom door was ‘his side’. He smiled at the thought. As Raymond settled in on his side, he opined, “You know we have to talk. The only thing that would make this moment any better would be if we were closer. How about we meet in the middle?” The two turned toward and slid into each other's arms. Daniel chuckled, “You know when I envisioned us in bed together, it was my head lying on your chest. Now, I feel it would be awkward, since I am bigger than you.” “I would like to try that anyway. If it is too strange you can move to a more comfortable position.” They settled in with Daniel's head resting on Raymond's chest. Daniel's finger gently plowed their way through Raymond's treasure trail upward to the bushy expanse across his pectorals. “Your chest hair is almost like my pubic hair, really curly. Whereas my chest hair is practically straight. I like yours better.” Raymond sighed and began tracing the swirling patterns of Daniel's soft chest hair. “I’ve always been hairy. I was the first kid in gym class with chest hair. Before I graduated high school it already looked like a Brillo pad. Funny, but that was a big deal back then. Now, it seems like every man wants to get rid of any sign of his masculinity. I read that mosquitoes are less likely to bite hairy men and that hairy men have higher levels of testosterone and are therefore, more horney.” While continuing to caress the silken hair Raymond offered, “I really like your hair patterns. They remind me of crop circles.” Daniel chuckled, “Is that what you thought we needed to talk about, crop circles on my chest? They're made by those sneaky villagers living in my pubic hair. They come out at night to trample my chest hair. The other villagers think it's a sign from god. I like to think of it as simply an act of nature.” “Anyone ever tell you you have a weird sense of humor?” “Hey! You're the one comparing my chest to an English wheat field. Talk about weird. Now, seriously, what was it we needed to talk about? I’m about to fall asleep with you tracing your fingers through my crop circles. You’ve got a surprisingly gentle touch, by the way.” “Well, I was thinking we need to spend some time together. I was hoping you would be willing to come to my place in Dallas and spend this next weekend with me. There are only a few things I want to bring back with me. I’ll keep my place there for the time being. I just thought we could relax and be ourselves. If people think you are seeing a woman in Dallas, it might make it easier for us. At least for now.” “I was worried that we would just be catching quickies. This weekend sounds great. But, Raymond how would you feel about meeting my folks some time. I don't mean next week or even next month, necessarily.” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Daniel wanted to kick his own ass for sounding like some romantic wuss. Raymond pulled his lover closer. “Well, since you already met my family. And, by the way, they like you very much and heartily approve of our relationship. I think it only right that I get to run the gauntlet to see if they feel the same about your choice of a mate, er, uh, I mean our relationship. Just let me know, so I can bring something to get on their good side. So far all I know is quilting, cooking, eggnog and fishing.” “They aren't complicated people. Some fresh cut flowers and a bottle of good whiskey will set you in good stead. If you're sure you don't mind, I’ll talk to Mom and set up a dinner at their place.” “We could take them out to dinner. That way your Mom doesn't have to cook.” “If we take them out to dinner they will expect to see a ring on my finger. As it is Dad will probably want to make sure your intentions are honorable and you aren't just using me as a fuckbuddy.” Raymond full on laughed. “Fuckbuddy! I don't think most parents, even with gay kids know that term. Your Dad must be pretty progressive minded. I guess he won't be cleaning his shotgun while we discuss my intentions toward his only son.” “That reminds me, you have to give me a ride back to your Uncle Joe's place so I can get my truck. I should have just followed you out here. Sorry, I just didn't think about it.” “I did think about it and decided I would rather have your company and make the trip both ways with you than just one way without you. Besides, I haven't moved out of Uncle Joe's yet. If you agree, I would like to meet you at the diner for breakfast before you go into the office. Unless you want me to see what else Mrs. Slidesdales’ left behind. Or gave breakfast at Uncle Joe's. “The diner sounds great. Why don't we shower here and after you drop me off I’ll go home and change and meet you at the diner, hopefully before you get to your second cup of coffee.” Reaching over to turn off the bedside lamp Raymond must have given Daniel the idea he should move to his side of the bed. “Hey, lawman, I’d feel less alone if you would come back and lay with your head on my shoulder, like you were. At least we can start out in that position. If either of us gets too uncomfortable we'll move in our sleep to a better position. I, at least want to start out holding you close.” “I was afraid you wouldn't want to. I was going to wait until you were asleep and then curl up next to you. I think you're going to have to push me away if it gets uncomfortable for you. I already know this will be my favorite sleeping position.” That last he punctuated with a gaping yawn. In the darkness, each man snuggled with his lover and silently offered a prayer of thanks for the most joyous and memorable Christmas ever. Time lapse photography would have shown the two shifted through several positions, mostly one spooning the other. Several times they returned to Daniel nestled against Raymond with his head laying on his lover's chest. The morning found them refreshed and horney. Soulful kisses led to a mutually satisfying romp of sixty-nine. A quick shower together and a hurried goodbye at their Uncle Joe's left them eager to meet at the diner for breakfast. Raymond, again in his business finery stopped by the kitchen to greet Uncle Joe, Aunt Mellie, Ilya and Tink. He declined even coffee explaining he was to meet Daniel for breakfast. Ilya insisted he allow two soldaty to accompany him. Raymond knew to trust his head of security and agreed immediately to the added security, then asked why the sudden need. Ilya simply nodded to Tink who turned his ever present ipad to Raymond. “There are almost one of your dozen local, network and cable news vans parked around the city square. Somehow news was leaked about, “the real Grinch who stole Christmas”. Raymond immediately texted Daniel to suggest they cancel their breakfast date. Daniel replied with, “I’m hungry. Let's eat.” Raymond chuckled and replied, “C U there.” The diner was a hotbed of gossip. Raymond was impressed that a table opened up almost as if it was being held for his arrival. He was just finishing his first cup of coffee and scanning his favorite three news apps when Daniel took his seat. Upon seeing the other’s brilliantly welcoming smile, each man was sure the diner’s overhead lights had just been brightened. After ordering the same ranch hand special and addressing their coffee Raymond began the discussion, “It looks like our Fire Chief, our esteemed Mayor and one of our local clergy have made the morning news.” “The news media has already labeled Bumpkis as the “real grinch”. Some have even displayed photos of him tinted green with a Santa hat. I have scheduled a news conference for 10:00 am this morning. I guess I need to put together a statement to read. I don't trust myself to remain unbiased if I ad lib this one. I only hope the questions don't get me fired up.” “Look, Sheriff, why don't you come back to my offices at the motel and let my staff help draft a statement. Trust me some of these folks are professional public relations experts. They will be working on your and Uncle Joe's election campaigns. It will give you a chance to meet them as well as see what they might be able to do for you during the upcoming campaign. I give you my word Daniel, you won't regret it.” Daniel studied Raymond's face for a second before nodding his agreement. Raymond smiled broadly, and said, “Excuse me, I’ll be right back”. He stood and began making a call as he headed to the men’s room. By the time he returned their meals were being delivered. Miss Julie came by, just long enough to greet the two. Before leaving them to enjoy their meal and each other's company, she patted Daniel on the shoulder. “Remember Sheriff, just read the prepared statement and say you won't be answering questions because it's an ongoing investigation. You’ll come of as being very professional and you’ll be a shoo in come election time.” With a final pat, she moved off to greet other customers. Raymond grinned as Daniel gawped. “I missed coming here almost as much as I missed anything about this town. Maybe it's the comfort food or maybe because Miss Julie always gave the most sound advice. I can honestly say, I’ve never gone wrong by following her advice. Too bad she refuses to pick a stock.” “But, how did she know? I, mean are the tables bugged?” “No. I’m surprised you haven't learned by now. You don't ask why or how. You just listen carefully and follow her advice. Now, eat up Lawman, you got a busy day ahead. Which reminds me, did you want to reschedule taking everybody's statements to another day”? “I called Uncle Joe and Jeff before I left the office. They agreed to come in after the news conference. I knew I would be meeting you here and thought you might like to attend the news brief as my counsel. You won't be on camera, but you won't have to fight the crowd of media people and protesters.” “Maybe I can follow you over after you have your statement prepared and give my statement to one of your Deputies. I can get that done then watch as my boyfriend makes his worldwide television debut.” Daniel sputtered into his coffee cup. “Did you say boyfriend”? “Actually it sounds a bit sophomoric. But, at the same time, it feels right. What do you think”? “Actually… I like it a lot. It's the first stage of a monogamous relationship. Are you ready for that”? “Wasn't I the one who said he wouldn't share you. And in case you're wondering, that door swings both ways. The only question is are YOU ready for that”? Daniel just grinned broadly and said nothing. Daniel grabbed the check the moment it hit the table. Looking around he noticed that their table was an island surrounded by a sea of empty tables. It meant that their casual conversation could not have been overheard by any eavesdropping gossipy patrons. He wondered if Miss Julie had given them their privacy on purpose. He chuckled and dismissed the thought with, ‘how could she know’? At the motel offices Daniel was introduced to Alicia Baker, a svelte, middle thirties, black woman. Who, after introductions, handed him two sheets of a double spaced, well thought out, professional description of events and actions resulting in the arrest of named individuals and applicable charges. It was just the facts. Daniel read it through four times before Alice smiled and congratulated him. Just as he folded the statement and slid it into his black leather blazer’s inside pocket. As if on cue three men and two women stepped up to him from almost out of nowhere. They immediately began a cacophony of, “Sheriff Lovan, Sheriff Lovan, (Insert names here.)All shouted at once. Would you, could you comment on (insert any number of inane questions asked on top of each other.) Daniel looked to Raymond and then to Alicia for rescue. Neither intervened. Both gave him a look that said, ‘It’s your show now’. Daniel tried to isolate a single question, then suddenly he remembered and raised his hands to quiet the small, but intense crowd. Only after he had their undivided attention did he speak. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure you understand that all are considered innocent in the eyes of the law until judged by a jury of their peers. As much I would like to share my personal knowledge and opinions concerning this case, my professional commitment forbids my doing so. It is my job to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens of this county, even those already under arrest. To that end I will not be taking questions at this time.” The crowd began to applaud. Alice turned to Raymond, and with a polished British accent said, “By George! I think he's got it.” The Sheriff gave Raymond a ride in his patrol car from the motel to the Sheriff's office. They entered through a patrolled gate into a parking lot behind the building. Raymond was turned over to a Deputy, a Texas Ranger, named Farnsworth and a rather nondescript man, a Mr. Blackwell, in a coat and tie. Immediately Raymond felt a blatantly negative air coming from Deputy Jones. He quickly sized him up as a small man with a small man's complex. In his experience, this type had an axe to grind with any man over 5’ 9”. Though Raymond had a feeling there was much more going on here. ‘Shields Up’! A couple of times Deputy Jones tried to call into question Raymond's character and motivations. Both times the Texas Ranger insisted Raymond be allowed to get on with his statement. The third time was when Deputy Jones asked if Raymond was related to the two faggots that were involved in the recent unresolved shooting. At this point the nondescript man became very animated. He slapped the flat of his hand onto the tabletop. “Deputy Jones, that will be enough of your bigoted, Neanderthal like approach to professional law enforcement. I don't know who you're trying to impress here, but Ranger Farnsworth and I have had enough of your blatant disregard for ethical police procedure. Mr. Cargill has shown tremendous restraint by not knocking you on your ass, like I think you deserve. I assure you, I intend to submit a written report to the acting Sheriff and I will insist he personally review the recording of this interview for likely disciplinary action. Now, if you cannot behave in a professional manner I suggest you leave this interview to myself and Ranger Farnsworth.” Turning to the other Lawman, “Dick, I didn't mean to speak for you. Do you want to say anything”? “Jim, I think you stated my views regarding this situation perfectly. Up to and including the ass kicking. I would like to add that while I don't condone physical violence, were I to happen upon a serious discussion between these two men, it would be an honor to hold Mr. Cargill’s finely tailored suit coat so it doesn't get stained by someone else's blood. I will have my written statement, for the Sheriff, on your desk before the close of business today.” Mr. Blackwell glared at the now cowering Deputy Jones. The Deputy sensing his complete isolation, almost whimpered, “But, he ain't supposed to be Sheriff, I am. He don't even wear a uniform. How can he be Sheriff”? Raymond made a note to warn Daniel and to have Ilya check this guy out and keep in under surveillance. To revert to the vernacular of his youth, this guy was, “some kind of fucked up”! Without further interruptions and only pertinent questions, the rest of the interview went smoothly. Daniel's statement was apparently well received and his 15 minutes of fame was in a positive spotlight. Raymond was walking out the front door beside Daniel as he saw the rest of the family coming across the street with an unobtrusive cadre of casually dressed security guards. To the casual observer they looked like part of the approaching crowd. At the steps of the building was a crowd of protesters that had tried to out shout the Sheriff earlier as he read his statement. Fortunately his voice was amplified and theirs were not. They had been shouting and wielding placards that said, “death to fags” and “Reverand Fishback is a holy marter” another said, “this is a gay agenda conspiracy”. They had spent the morning singing hymns and offering prayers extolling their preacher’s virtues and in citing religious persecution. Raymond suddenly saw his worst nightmare come to life. A gray haired woman in her late fifties moved to intercept Jeff. When it was clear she intended to address Jeff personally he waved his security aside. With trembling lips and an expression of complete disgust she tried to spit in Jeff's face. Unfortunately for her her spittle just dribbled down her chin. Dave snickered. In a voice trembling with rage the woman addressed the object of her ire. “You filthy degenerate, my husband told me you were behind this. You're all heatherns, sodomites and gomorans. He told me you framed him by giving him some tainted money. The lord told him not to take it, but there was much good work to be done and in a moment of weakness, he accepted your filthy lucre. The truth will come out and you faggots will be struck down”. With that she went to slap Jeff's face. Jeff grabbed her hand as easily as he might catch a high fly ball, just made for his mitt. Suddenly! With a voice like thunder, there came from the steps, “YOU MISERABLE FUCKING BITCH! DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH MY BROTHER”!
  24. 44 likes
    If Marcus had to sit in one more New York oak panelled boardroom, waiting for yet another self-important businessman—or woman in this case—who thought it perfectly acceptable to keep him waiting for more than half an hour, he was likely to throw one of the room’s expensive leather and chrome chairs through the window. Not that doing so would help matters. Most of the floor-to-ceiling windows would likely be reinforced and unbreakable, and he would simply end up with a metal chair in the face, or worse still, a newly broken collar bone. “Sorry ‘bout this,” said Kurt, glancing again at his special edition Rolex. “For heaven’s sake, chill out, Marcus,” came Tina’s stern voice. While Kurt had been nothing but charming and apologetic the whole time, Tina had been her usual reproving self. “You’ve got a face like a Samurai warrior’s mask. The sooner you charm the pants off this woman and get her on board, the quicker we can head out of here.” Tina had a point. He had been behaving petulantly. Only because three weeks away from home had turned into almost four. This last person—someone called Kim Kendrick—had shown an interest right at the last knockings. Kurt hadn’t even met her, but an enthusiastic and persistent email had persuaded Tina that one extra investor could do no harm. Of course, she was right, even though Kurt had stuck to his word and managed to get a whole raft of influential businesspeople on board. In fact, everything appeared far too optimistic. Marcus had never really grasped the fact that the restaurant name, Old Country, could have such a nostalgic effect on people. Many of the American investors immediately wanted to tell him stories about their British heritage, English, Welsh, Irish or Scottish, buried somewhere down their family trees. As for Kurt, he had turned out to be an absolute gem. Already familiar with the more exclusive restaurant trade in New York, he had recommended sites for the restaurant, knew the best wholesalers for kitchen equipment, had already contacted a few talented chefs and kitchen staff to explore their interest in the venture and give them the head’s up in case they wanted in. Best of all, Marcus would get to have the final say, without having to be around to check every minor detail like he was having to do back in Birmingham. With both Tina and Kurt in his corner, everyone had agreed that the basic set-up choices would remain his—his intellectual property, so to speak—kitchen fit-out, branded restaurant design, full menu selection, staffing choices, and that he would only be needed for the initial launch for the sake of publicity. There would be no flying back and forth from London to New York, like his regular jaunts between Edgware Road and Shepherd’s Bush. Of course, he was under no illusion about the competition in New York. Some of the finest chefs in the world had set up shop there. But market research—again courtesy of Kurt—suggested that his special spin on British food was likely to succeed. As with everything, only time would tell. Right then the large oaken door to the boardroom swung open. Pushing a silver tray on wheels carrying white bone china tea cups, a matching pot of tea and a silver tray of cakes, was one of the most handsome men Marcus had ever laid eyes on. Kurt jumped to his feet and ran to hold the door open, no doubt partly out of curiosity, partly out of instant infatuation. Whoever the man was, he possessed the kind of hypnotic blue-eyed gaze reserved for movie stars or top models, one that could cause people to walk into lampposts or trip off sidewalks, eyes a person melted into. Normally Marcus would have fought Kurt to be the first one out of his seat, drooling over the man, but oddly enough, even though his head understood unreservedly the attractiveness of the man—just as he would acknowledge the beauty of a work of art—his libido remained dormant. Interesting. “Mr Fryne, Mr Bruckmeyer and Mrs Adebayo-Cruickshank. Believe it or not I am a strong believer that lateness is the worst kind of bad manners,” came the warm baritone voice of the man. “But in my defence, my driver was stuck behind a truck that decided to break down four blocks from here. Otherwise the Earl Grey would have been waiting for you. I’m Kim Kendrick, by the way.” “And you’re a man,” said Tina, standing, also apparently smitten. Marcus stood too then, amused at Kim’s amused expression. “It was the name Kim that threw us,” said Marcus, enjoying the man’s puzzlement but still feeling nothing when the perfect smile appeared on the perfect face, and a deep laugh issued from him. Almost as soon as they got chatting, Marcus realised what a good call they had made. Kim loved the concept, his parents both of Scottish descent, and more importantly, just like Kurt but mixing in different circles, Kim knew people. As they left with the new sponsor in their pocket, Marcus not only received a warm, firm handshake from the Adonis, but also got a grin and a wink. Hello? Did the man bat for their team? Unfortunately, he still felt nothing. As they stood quietly in the elevator on the way down, he made a mental note to visit a doctor when he got back to England. *** Raggedly tired and sporting a nagging headache, he should have headed straight for home, but during the flight he made up his mind to drop into the Bradford family gathering as soon as he landed that Sunday. Tina had stayed behind in New York to deal with dangling business matters, so he was truly flying solo. Besides that, he told himself, he had bought the girls presents from a couple of cute downtown toy stores, including a model sized Staten Island Ferry for Katie—as explicitly instructed—so it made perfect sense to head straight there, rather than haul them all the way home. In reality, he craved familiar company, wanted to surprise them as well as experience a dose of the normalcy that being a part of the Bradford-Fowler clan had returned to him. And someone up there surely agreed because originally he thought the late arrival time might mean the girls would already be tired out from a day spent playing in the back garden. But with the benefit of a strong tailwind, the pilot had made good time and they touched down almost bang on midday, forty minutes earlier than the scheduled arrival time. And such a glorious English day too, verdant shades of patchwork fields showcased on either side of the jet plane as they approached Heathrow. Even the airport—one of the busiest in the world—appeared controlled and efficient as he passed seamlessly through immigration, and then baggage claim, out to his waiting cab driver. Some days things just worked. An hour later, his car pulled up outside the pretty semi-detached house, of red brick and pebble dash, well-ordered rose bushes of white, pink and burgundy, and the regimental verdant stripes of a neatly mown front lawn—Moira’s pride and joy. At the open car boot, he paid the Middle Eastern driver with a handsome tip—something Tina would have actively discouraged—before hauling his gift bags and pull-along luggage to the familiar front door of oak with stained glass panels. After pressing the doorbell a couple of times and hearing nothing, he decided to try the knocker. Five minutes later, he was about to head around the side of the house when the door swung open. “Still doesn’t work,” came Moira’s prim voice. “The bell, that is. Something else Tom says he’s going to fix. Although in which century, heaven only knows.” “Afternoon Moira.” “Hello, dear,” said Moira, leaning forward and giving him a light peck on the cheek, so different to his own parents who were fierce huggers. “Tom’ll be glad to see you. Been having kittens trying to balance everything while you’ve been away. But for goodness sake, don’t tell him I told you so.” “Wouldn’t dream of it.” **** When Marcus stepped through the kitchen door out into the back garden, Charlotte spotted him first and hurtled over screaming his name out loud. Everyone else stopped talking and turned to look. So much for making a low-key entrance. Colliding into him, she wrapped her arms around his upper thigh. Bless her, Marcus could see she had a runny nose, had developed a recent cold and clutched a handkerchief in one hand. But even that couldn’t dampen her spirits. Katie, ever the cool one, followed with far more dignity, but couldn’t resist the smile that tugged at her mouth. When Marcus knelt down, Charlotte fell into his arms and even Katie stepped forward for a tight hug. “Missed you, Uncle Marcus,” she whispered, and after kissing the top of her head, Marcus had to look elsewhere, his eyes stinging, in an effort to stop from choking up. Like her father, Katie rarely showed any emotions. “I missed you, too, princess. But I’ve brought pressies.” Charlotte, of course, squealed then, jumping up and down before being stalled by a fit of coughing. Marcus put his bags down, then took the handkerchief from Charlotte and wiped her nose. Satisfied, and with Katie standing by patiently, Marcus handed one of the bags to her little sister. Of all people, Tina had been the one to discover the cabbage patch doll shop and suggested the colourful family collection for Charlotte. Katie knew what Marcus had bought her, but maybe for his benefit, looked suitably surprised as she pulled the present from the bag. Very faintly, he could hear her wheezing—not enough to warrant using the inhaler—and guessed she had overexerted herself that afternoon. With the two of them distracted, he took the opportunity to survey the rest of the garden. John sat in his wheelchair at the head of the wooden bench, surrounded on either side by people that Marcus didn’t recognise, two couples of a similar age to Moira and John, neighbours probably. Lorraine’s sister, Christine, and a pretty blonde haired woman Marcus didn’t know—probably one of her airline crew buddies—sat chatting together at the end of the bench. Alone on a tartan picnic rug beneath the apple tree and amid a pile of children’s books and toys, Tom laid on his side with his long jeans-clad legs stretched out, and fresh linen shirt open at the neck to reveal the beginnings of chest hair. Together with the heart-stopping smile on his face from watching his girl’s excitement, Marcus’ heart sped up, that tremble of excitement rippling through him whenever he checked someone out. Except. Why hadn’t that happened when he’d met Kim Kendrick? Before he had a chance to berate himself, something about Tom changed. When he raised his gaze to meet Marcus’, a fleeting transition occurred, his smile fading, his eyes reflecting sadness and then—what was that—anger? What the hell was that all about? Maybe because Marcus had been away longer than planned. Marcus pasted on his best smile and raised a palm in greeting, mouthing the words ‘hey there’. In return, Tom caught himself, shook his head almost imperceptibly and raised his beer bottle in salute. Once Marcus had unwrapped himself from the girls and did a quick once around the people gathered, he sauntered over to Tom. Weighing down his jacket pocket, he pulled out the last of his gifts. A bottle of twenty-year-old Irish malt whiskey, Tom’s favourite. Once Tom had managed a polite thanks, the two remained in silence together, Tom sitting, Marcus standing. “Everything okay?” asked Marcus. “Yeah, everything’s—“ Tom hesitated, before sitting up straight, back against the tree trunk. “Yes. So how’d it go in doodle-dandy-land?” “Touch and go for a few moments there. We managed to get most of the investors lined up, but two of the key players had last minute scheduling problems. Which is why I’m back later than expected. But lucky for me Tina managed to get everything pulled back on track in the last couple of days.” Marcus hadn’t noticed at first because he had been scanning the garden, but Tom had gone silent again. When he peered down, he found Tom staring up intently at him, and he didn’t appear to have been listening. “You sure you’re okay, mate?” “Yeah,” said Tom, almost sheepishly, as though he had been caught doing something illicit. “It’s just…really good to see you.” Marcus smiled broadly at that, the warmth of the remark filling his chest. Tom rarely let his guard down and more rarely gave compliments to anyone. Marcus dropped down next to him, shuffled up and bumped shoulders. “You too,” said Marcus, relaxing his back against the tree trunk. “And I’m truly sorry about the delay getting back. Everything back to normal tomorrow. I’ll pick the girls up first thing.” “No, it wasn’t—business has to come first. And we just about managed to survive. Although Mum was almost pulling her hair out. I just want you to know how much I—we all—value what you're doing for us.” “You’re family now, Tom. Or as close as I’ll ever get. Of course I’m going to be here for you. It’s where I want to be.” This time Tom looked away, a hand smoothed briefly over his mouth. “Yeah, well,” he muttered. “Just needed saying.”
  25. 43 likes
    At last, the ride into town allowed Paul to settle into a calm resolve. Absentmindedly he realized that when Sam and Dave held hands, the driver's hand was always on top. They didn’t usually hold hands, but when they did, the driver's hand was always free to grab the steering wheel or a gun. He equated it with sitting with your back to the wall, just that little extra cautious, professional behavior. He made a note to mention it to Jeff and to copy their action in the future. That is, if either of them ever drove again. Jeff had wanted to talk to the Sheriff about his intentions regarding the donations. His Uncle Raymond had assured him that he would be seeing “Daniel” today and would clue him in. Jeff mused as to why and when Danny became Daniel to his Uncle. Growing up no one but Danny's Mother ever called him Daniel. That was probably no more than a half dozen times and only when Danny was in serious trouble. Arriving at the Firehouse, they asked for Bill Jordan. Bill greeted them and explained that Raymond had come by and told him to expect other family members with cash donations. Before they gave the donations, Bill led them to the tree and explained that the remaining names were not likely to get any gifts this late in the day. Fortunately, there were only a little over a dozen small envelopes with a first name and age alongside the identifying gender, i.e. Timmy, aged 7, boy. Inside they would find a wishlist. As they were clearing the tree, Fire Chief, Burl Bumpkis stepped out of his office. With a malicious grin, the rotund one, said, “What's going on here? What are these perverts doing in my Firehouse? And whose little girl is this? Get her away from these sick bastards. Jordan! Take her into my office while I get some of the boys to get rid of this filth.” Looking furtively around for support, he spied three firemen checking over the tanker truck. He hollered, “You three! Larry, Johnson, and you with ‘em, get over here and bring that wrench.” The three men hurried at the Chief’s call. They knew he never personally assigned work or wasted time making small talk, so this must be important. Maria was confused by the fat man's words. At first she just cowered behind her Daddy Jeff because he was closer. She wasn't sure what all of those words meant, but she understood enough. That very loud and scary man was saying her Daddies were bad people, and that just wasn't right. The Chief stood taller when Larry, his cousin by marriage, said, “What’cha need Chief? You need some trash taken out?” Paul figured this meant that the fireman was familiar with and likely shared the Fire Chief’s bigoted opinions. For the second time, since receiving it, he activated the alarm for his bodyguards. The Chief tried to puff his chest out, only to realize his massive gut just protruded more. What chest he had, actually looked more like sagging breasts. The Chief barked out, “Exactly! These men are trash and need to be taken out of here. By force if necessary and I am here to say that force is necessary. Jordan, I said take this child into my office.” Glaring pointedly at Bill Jordan, he bellowed, “If you value your job…” Then facing the other three firemen. “all you men will do as I say.” Larry tried to take the wrench from the unnamed fireman. That man resisted and asked, “Bill”? Bill Jordan took a deep breath and said, “You men go on back to what you were doing. There's nothing going on here except folks trying to help by taking the last of the Christmas tree wishlists. Just so some poor kids don't miss out on Christmas. Your jobs are safe without y’all having to assault innocent citizens and likely get arrested.” Larry alone stood his ground, beside Bumpkis. The other two, simply nodded to Bill and quietly walked away. Larry gulped noticeably. At the same time Jeff realized Sam and Dave were suddenly at their side. “Paul, you called us. You need some help. We would love to get some time in punching out some fa… Miss Maria, wouldn't you like to go wait in the truck with Dave”? Both Maria and Dave gave Sam their best “and wouldn't you like to eat shit” look. Sam, seeing their reactions, simply shut up. He knew he'd have some grovelling to do later. It wasn't just the fact that every man present was taller and, by far, more muscular than Larry, excepting of course the Fire Chief. It was that both Sam and Dave made sure he saw their sidearms. Larry slunk away, hoping that the little squirt of piss, he couldn't hold back, was not visible on the outside of his uniform pants. Paul, trying hard to control his fury asked Maria to go to the truck and wait while they conducted business with the Fire Chief and Mr. Jordan. Maria stepped from behind Jeff and stared Bumpkis in the eye. While holding the fat man's gaze she addressed her Father. “No! I won't go to the truck. My Daddies might need me. And besides it's not a truck it's a SUV. I think he's…” pointing a finger at Bumpkis’ face to clarify her accusation, “I think he’s a very bad man. Now let's finish our bizzyness and just leave. I don't like be’en round him.” With a glare at Bumpkis she dropped her finger and almost snarled, “I hope you get the asses and twitches you deserve for Christmas.” Paul was very proud of his little girl. At the same time he wasn't sure if she had intentionally said asses instead of ashes. Even as Jeff swept her up in his arms, Maria's harsh gaze stayed with Bumpkis. The Fire Chief looked around to find he alone faced the four men and the disrespectful little twit. He imagined her living in an orphanage where Christmas would become a far, distant memory. He was sure the preacher could help manufacture a cause sufficient to remove her from her “Daddies” perverted care. He smiled to himself as he turned to see Bill Jordan hand them the last of the wishlists. Soon, he’d have to see if he couldn't find an assistant that took orders without constantly questioning him. He had to admit, Jordan made him look good on paper. The old Sheriff would've helped bring Jorden in line and deal with these faggots the right way. Too bad the temporary Sheriff wasn't as easily persuaded. The Mayor and the preacher would most likely back one of the other Deputies. One that would be willing to listen to the folks that rightfully run this town. Just like the old one did. Bill offered the men an apologetic smile. “I hope this disgusting reception hasn't deterred you gentlemen from helping the poor. Even if it's my last official act as Assistant Fire Chief, it would be my pleasure to assist you.” Jeff nodded to Paul who said, “We want to help YOU, CHIEF Jordan, now, more than ever.” Paul reached into his pocket, opened the envelope and spread them so the hundred dollar bills were fanned. “There are three thousand dollars in this envelope and my LOVER has another with an equal amount. I understand our Uncle Raymond has already stopped by and our Uncle Joe and Aunt Mellie will drop by soon, each with the same amount.” Paul heard the fat bastard gasp at the term “lover”. But, almost as quickly he was certain he saw dollar signs rolling like the spinning wheels on a slot machine, in Bumpkis’ eyes. It was a look Paul saw in the mirror the first time he had considered the power of a paycheck, unencumbered by student debt. That look in Bumpkis’ eyes had nothing to do with helping the poor and everything to do with money in his own pocket. Now to see if Bumpkis was willing to sell out his “moral high ground” and eat crow. Paul nodded slightly to Jeff, and his partner dangled the bait. “Chief Jordan my family had every intention of helping those less fortunate through the Fireman’s Fund this year, as in years past. I think it would be best if I call Uncle Raymond to come down and retrieve his cash donation of three thousand dollars. I can also phone Uncle Joe and Aunt Mellie to meet us at our church and disperse the much needed funds that way.” Bill Jordan couldn't blame these men one bit. They had been insulted, denigrated and threatened with assault. In a subdued, apologetic voice, he offered, “Mr. Wilson, Mr. Adams, if you would like to call you Uncle Raymond, I can assure you, he can have his cash back today. If he has lost his receipt, I’ll just ask him to sign a waiver to that effect.” Paul watched Bumpkis’ face fall at the thought of losing $15,000.00 in tax free cash. He had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep the Cheshire Cat grin from his face. The thought of grinning faded all too quickly as he also fought down the rage he felt knowing the bastard had had access to these charitable funds in the past. An image of what Ilya’s men might do… He forced himself to concentrate on setting the trap. Bumpkis almost literally fell all over himself trying to get an apology out of his mouth before Jeff could decide to call his Uncles. “Mr., uh, em, Mr. Adams, Doctor Wilson, we should consider the less fortunate before you let our petty differences get in the way.” He actually reached out to pat Maria’s upper arm. Both Jeff and Maria reacted by pulling away. Bumpkis let his hand drop without comment. “As you said, It's a long standing Adams family tradition to aid the less fortunate of our community through the Fireman’s Fund. We are mere hours away from putting one hundred percent of your donation into the hands of the needy. Whereas choosing an alternative may actually deny many families that very badly needed relief at this special time. Now, Assistant Fire Chief Jordan and I can handle this with just a couple of signatures in my office and your fine family can go shopping for the poor children who might not otherwise get a visit from Santa tonight.” Bill Jordan was not an idiot. He carefully examined his boss in a new light. He saw, not only, the ignorant, lying, blowhard, bigoted bastard that he already knew, but now he saw a slimey lowlife that couldn't even be trusted with donations for the poor. He suddenly felt nauseous. Jeff worried that the man’s obvious greed may have just opened Bill Jordan’s eyes to what an evil blight on humanity Bumpkis truly was. Once he saw the look of disgust on Bill’s face, he knew. “Chief Jordan we need to hear it from your lips that there will be no deviation from the procedures you have used these last few years. It is critical that we have your personal assurance that things go precisely as they did last year. We need to hear that any revelation, however personally distasteful to you, that may have occurred within the last few minutes will have no impact on how these funds are handled. Think about what I am asking of you. Don't answer until you are clear about what I am really asking.” Jeff was afraid he was putting too much emphasis on ‘procedures’. He could only hope Bumpkis assumed he was referring to his and Paul's intimate relationship. Paul could see Jeff needed his help. Ignoring Jeff's address to Bill Jordan, Paul purposefully looked as if he was reconsidering the phone calls, “In your office you say?” Bumpkis took the hint and started leading Paul toward his office. After a moment, Jeff, seeing the coast was clear, asked, “Bill, did you understand what I was saying. It’s critical that you use the same procedures as last year. We already have Bumpkis under video surveillance. If he touches a penny, we got him. You need to act normal. Do the same things you do every year, the same way. If you act like you suspect something he might spook and leave the money untouched this year. Can you do that?” Bill stared pleadingly into Jeff's eyes, “I never realized until today… I trusted that bastard to have, at least, some human decency. After watching him slobber over a few thousand dollars intended for the poor, I wanted to puke my guts out. I feel ashamed of myself. I let those people down, just as surely as if I’d stood by and watched their houses burn down. How do I forgive myself, knowing that I allowed him to deny some families the simplest of Christmas’? Right now, all I want to do is go in there and beat that f…” Realizing Maria was still in Jeff's arms, Bill corrected his language. “Beat that man senseless. Maybe that would help me get some self respect back.” Jeff could see the man was close to tears. Clasping his shoulder, “Bill we don't have time for this. You can beat yourself up later. He... you can even beat up Bumpkis. Only later. Right now, we have to go in there and play our part. Come on they're there waiting for us.” Jeff put Maria on her feet and admonished her to stay with Sam and Dave. Bill took a deep breath and said, “Let's do this! Let's nail this bastard!” It brought to Jeff's mind some corny line from a “B” grade action flick. He snickered as he followed a determined Bill Jordan into the Fire Chief’s office. As Bumpkis promised, it went quickly even with the requisite ‘tax video’. Jeff was more than pleased with Bill’s guarded aplomb. Once Maria was buckled into her booster seat, Jeff calmly said, “I forgot to tell Bill something Uncle Joe asked me to pass on to him. Sam, Dave come with me. You two”, indicating Paul and Maria, “wait here, and we’ll be right back.” With that, the three men hurried back into the Firehouse. Maria met her father's troubled gaze. “Don't worry Daddy. Daddy Jeff is just going to give him a grownup spanking so he won't be mean to us ever again.” Paul was dumbstruck. His mouth gaped open and shut, like a fish out of water. He finally muttered, “I hope that's all he does.” Jeff and his “team” found Bill and Bumpkis still logging in the cash. “Chief Jordan could you excuse us for a moment? I just remembered a couple of details I needed to go over with Bumpkis alone.” Bill didn't hesitate, “Sure Jeff, if you need a hand, I’ll be right outside, close enough to hear everything and nothing. As needed.” Once Bill exited the office, Sam locked the door and closed the blind. Jeff wasted no time, he circled the desk and pulled the fat bastard to his feet. “What are you doing? You can't do this. I’ll have you arrested. I’ll call the Sheriff. Get out now! You fag… Oomph!” That last was an honest reaction to Jeff's unrestrained punch to Bumpkis’ massive gut. “Look at me! Look at me!! You fat fuck!” Bumpkis would have avoided meeting the taller man's gaze and concentrated on his pain. Jeff, pulling on the fringe of hair the fat man still possessed, forced his head up. When Jeff was satisfied he had the the turd’s attention he hocked a loogie and spat in his face. Bumpkis, even in extreme pain, inherently knew better than to wipe it away. “You slimy motherfucker. If you so much as look cross eyed at a member of my family again, I will FIND YOU and I WILL KILL you. I give you my sworn oath, the coyotes will be feasting on your fat carcass before the sun sets that same day. Do! You! Under! Stand! Me!” Each word was punctuated with a harsh, open handed slap across the fat man’s face. Bumpkis searched the faces of the three man and uttered the only possible correct response, a clearly stated, “Yes Sir, Mister Adams. I understand. Yes Sir!” Jeff, Sam and Dave unhurriedly left the office to find Bill waiting just outside. Smiling broadly, he offered, “I hope you never feel the need to remind me to treat your family with common decency. Let me know if I need to tell anyone, I was in there the whole time and that you just asked some of the same questions over again. That won't be a problem for me.” Jeff shook the proffered hand and asked, “Just remember, same as usual. If you can get me a list of recipients that Bumpkis has personally handled, that would be great. Handle it carefully we need his fingerprints on it.” Bill thought seriously, for a moment, “I’m pretty sure that won't be a problem. I’ll call you as soon as I have it.” They made sure they had each other's numbers. As they exited the Firehouse, Dave asked cautiously, “uh, Jeff, you ever seen the movie “Taken”? Jeff glanced at Dave as if ‘WTF’? Then realization set in and he nearly busted a gut laughing. Soon the three were sharing a laugh that totally belied the seriousness of the situation they had addressed just moments before. Chuckles and smiles carried them until they were again in the Suburban. Neither Paul nor Maria asked for an explanation concerning their mission or their humor afterwards. Instead, the discussion immediately turned to the wishlists. A bit of the Christmas spirit settled in as they read from and discussed the lists. There was no challenge when Paul directed Dave to drive them to Wally World. Jeff was surprised at how comfortable he was in Walmart. They divided up the lists and made quick work of the shopping. Sam and Dave insisted on funding two lists each. Maria understood more of what the children intended than any of the men. Her assistance, and insistence that it couldn't be just any action figure from that particular movie, was invaluable. Plus they asked Google once or twice. There were only two toys that were out of stock. Jeff bought a gift card worth three times as much as the price of the toy and they sent a note with Santa’s apologies. Since they had not asked before hand, they bought ribbons and bows and wrapping paper. They took their booty back to the Firehouse and turned it over to Bill. Jeff was glad Bumpkis stayed in his office. He didn't want to have to explain to his family, the handprint on that turd’s face. Leaving the fire station, they headed for the diner. Paul was trying to rebuild his ire toward Julie. Either the whole thing was really much ado about nothing or that bastard Bumpkis had ate all his anger. He realized his negative emotions had dissipated at the Firehouse. When Jeff got back into the truck, Paul knew, Maria had understood Jeff’s intentions perfectly. His husband had just defended his honor. He felt suddenly stronger and warmer inside. This feeling was entirely new to Paul, it was… family pride. For whatever reason, he just didn't feel harsh words for Julie were necessary anymore. He was a whole lot more hungry than angry. He did, however, make a mental note to get Tink to give him a copy of the video of Jeff and the boys smacking Bumpkis around. It might come in handy to defend or justify his own aggressive actions in the future. Julie met them at the door and led them down the right leg of the horseshoe shaped dining area, all the way to the last table on that side. As she passed out menus, Julie asked, “Well Princess, how is your day going? You all excited about Santa Claus coming tonight?” Maria looked doubtful, “I’m not so sure about Santa. The bad man Bumpkis said there were children who would have no Christmas if my Daddies didn't buy them presents. Why would Santa let that happen?” Julie pulled a chair from another table and sat facing Maria. “Princess, there are all kinds of people in this world. Some, like the bad man Bumpkis, take special delight in destroying Christmas for as many people as possible. Try not to let him destroy yours. Your Daddies are taking steps to make sure that bad man is put where he can't hurt anyone’s Christmas ever again. At the same time, they're trying hard to help Santa spread Christmas cheer to those less fortunate. The most important part of what they’re doing is helping Santa touch the lives of as many children as possible. It's true baby girl, the world has many, many more people than when Santa first got started. He has an impossible job now, to reach every child in the world. So,he gets help where he can. Every time you give a gift to someone you love, you’re helping Santa. Every time you give a gift or make a donation to help a stranger, you're helping Santa. The best advice I can give you right now, Princess, is keep Santa safe in your heart. Do that, and you will truly never grow old. You’ll grow up, but not old. And especially not mean like Bumpkis. If you can do that, keep him in your heart, you’ll always know that Santa is as real and alive as you and I.” With that she stood, caressed Maria's tresses and walked away. All the men waited and watched their Princess expectantly. “Well I suppose we'll all just have to help where we can. It's like you always say Daddy, we have to do our best and hope for the rest. I can't wait to tell DJ. all about this Santa stuff. Daddy Jeff, do you think Santa could bring me my own cell phone this year?” The burst of laughter shared round the table seemed to inspire good cheer among their fellow diners. Paul saved his partner by letting Maria know that a personal cell phone was one of the things she had to ‘grow into’. Jeff wondered if Aunt Mellie knew of some child that could use an already purchased cell phone? He decided to ask Julie on the way out. Their server, Melissa, greeted them cheerfully and quickly took their drink orders. She certainly remembered her best ever tippers and went out of her way to explain that they were short staffed and she was working tables at opposite ends of the diner. Jeff recalled the note Julie had given him the last time he was here. He thought this was the perfect time to spread a little Christmas cheer. “Melissa, would you get Julie for me. I need to ask her something.” “Sure Mr. Adams, I’ll get her for you, right away." Julie was soon standing over Maria's shoulders. “What's on your mind sugar?” “I was hoping Melissa might be able to take a break and have lunch with us. It looks like the lunch rush is just about over and I wanted to discuss her plans for college.” “I think that would be a great idea. Let her finish her other table and I’ll send her right over. She’s been talking a lot about majoring in accounting lately. Since you're bringing your business offices here that means she could intern and still be home for summers and holidays. She has a younger brother that is every bit as bright as she is. He has a couple of years to go before he can legally work outside the home. Just something to think about. “One more thing. I am so pleased with the way you boys are handling Maria's questions. And no Paul honey, I am not about to chose a surrogate for you two. I’ll just say that Arkansas is ready when you are and Jeffrey G. Adams jr. is most definitely eager to arrive. Sorry Princess, it's gonna be a boy. Just like your Daddies, you're gonna love him at first sight. But Hon, remember, that's almost a year away.” Maria was busy writing her little brother’s name in blue crayon from the pack of eight, Melissa had thoughtfully provided. Jeff was torn between helping his daughter spell his first name and comforting his lover. Paul's glazed over look was hard to interpret. He felt honest relief when Paul's focus sharpened and a faint smile painted his face. Jeff praised Maria's penmanship and insisted they put it on the refrigerator door when they get home. He had a hard time explaining why junior had only two letters for such a big, important word. By the time dessert arrived, Melissa had been promised a loan to cover tuition, books, room and board with a generous stipend for incidentals. With the understanding that she maintain a “B” average and upon graduation she would work for the Adams Family Trust or one of its holdings for one year for each year of funded higher education. Each year of employment would clear away a year’s worth of college debt without detriment to her salary or benefits. Should her employment be terminated for any reason, the loan balance would then become an active interest free loan. Melissa left work that day knowing this would be the merriest Christmas she and her family had ever enjoyed. By the time lunch was over Maria had made a new friend and a very strong contender for part time sitter. Sam made the mistake of using the unenlightened term “babysitter”. Maria vehemently corrected him, since there would be no babies in the house until Junior arrived. Sam wisely and sincerely apologized. His partner pointed out that maybe he should think before he speaks. After all, that was the second time today that Sam had drawn the Princess’ ire. Maria asked Dave how could anyone draw ‘air’ since you couldn't see it. She looked at Sam with new found awe. Sam lovingly suggested, perhaps Dave should follow his own advice. Jeff, insisting he had to visit the men's room, hunted Julie down and asked if she knew someone who was in need of a new iPhone with prepaid unlimited usage. Turns out Melissa shared an old flip phone with her siblings. He knew he'd have to confess to Paul, but at least the phone would go to help someone who needed it. He would have one of his guys deliver it after they got home. On the way home Paul noticed that Jeff was becoming more moody, the closer they got to the ranch. Finally Jeff realized he was worrying his partner. “I’m sorry. I’ve been thinking it was time I really took over the place and finally moved us into my parents suite. I haven't really been in there since shortly after they… well it's been a long time.” “Hon, you don't have to move anything. We’re perfectly fine in your old room. Why don't you wait, at least until you bring your things from Chicago. I mean we can look at it today, and see if eventually we want to make any changes. We don't have to be in a hurry.” “You're right, but I don't like to put something off just because it's unpleasant. It was easy to ignore while I lived in Chicago. Let's take a look when we get home and then decide what to do and when to do it. You may decide the whole room is hideous and needs to be completely redone.” “What do you remember about the room”? “Well, I remember it being very masculine. I slept in there whenever Mom and Dad went out of town. I remember running to get into their bed, if a bad storm came up or if I had a bad dream. The room is very large. I think a lot of the furnishings are from the earliest days of the ranch. The bed is king size and has a horsehair mattress. It has to be cleaned and refurbished about once a year. That cost an arm and a leg, as my grandpa used to say. But, it’s very comfortable and well worth the cost. I always found it comforting to sleep like my ancestors did. It's like being back on the ranch, it makes me feel more connected to them.” As soon as Maria entered the house she ran to the kitchen to find Rosarita. She had a lot to share and she wanted to hang her baby brother’s name on the frig. Sam and Dave went off to check in with Fred. That left Jeff and Paul to their own devices. Paul was amazed by the variety of emotions that filled his heart whenever he just relaxed and considered his new found friend, his lover, his soul mate. Jeff seemed oblivious to Paul's internal musings. “Come on. Let's look at the one part of the house I haven't shown you yet.” Jeff guided Paul down the hall to the one door they had yet to enter. Paul wasn't sure what he had expected, but he was definitely impressed with this bedroom. It was spacious, and at the same time warm and inviting. The first thing that grabbed his attention was the bed against the wall to his left, it was massive. It had distressed planking on the headboard and footboard. That distressed planking was evident in the matching night stands as well. There was a sturdy leather covered bench at the foot of the bed. Paul could see himself sitting there, pulling off his boots and staging them beneath the bench. On either side of the bed were open doors apparently leading to walk in closets. To his immediate right was a opened door leading to the ensuite. Centered on that same wall was a massive fieldstone hearth and chimney, with a gas fed fireplace. The hand carved, and obviously distressed, mantel suggested the fireplace may have been built about the time of the original structure. The sheepskin rug before the hearth, held his imagination, and for a moment, sparked his libido. Maria's presence in his life made Paul aware of feminine influences in clothing and in decorating. Looking around he saw this room as warm, welcoming, but definitely of a masculine design. The aged, red leather loveseat and two massive matching armchairs loosely centered on the rug told Paul, someone wanted the spirit of the old time cowboys to feel right at home here. If there was anything feminine about this room, Paul couldn't see it. The numerous paintings were obviously old and of western settings. The larger paintings featured sunrises or sunsets, both quiet times of the day. If there were people depicted, they were all male and all sitting or reclining, there was no one working or in motion. Even the animals were depicted as quietly grazing. A painting on the right side of the mantel caught Paul's eye. It was of two cowboys in their early to mid-twenties. One seated upon a porch railing with his hat pushed back on his head. He had an open, honest, handsome, smiling face. To the precariously seated man's left was a taller cowboy. He was leaning against the railing with his legs crossed at the ankles. Each man held a tin cup and each stared fixedly into the other’s eyes. For a moment, Paul thought he should look away. He felt like he had just barged in on a private and very personal conversation. As if compelled, he drew closer. It was the eyes of the taller cowboy that caught Paul’s attention. They were the same striking green as Jeff’s. Unconsciously, he began to absorb the details. Both wore spurred boots and jeans. The smaller man sported a four pocket leather vest over a collarless creamy brown shirt. A large red bandanna was tied jauntily around his neck. The taller wore a tan colored, bib front shirt. The vee of the bib accented the man's broad shoulders and slim waist.The top two buttons on the right were unbuttoned and left on display his dark, curly chest hair. Paul noticed both men wore galluses to hold up their jeans. The taller man's galluses were almost the same tan color as he shirt. He wondered if that was coincidental or a fashion statement? Both men wore creased cowboy hats that would not look out place today. The taller man's hat was not pushed back like his companion’s. Instead, Paul had the impression that that hat was always worn as if permanently attached to the wearer’s head and always ready for a hard ride. Paul would bet money the taller cowboy would never casually push that hat back on his head. Paul snickered as it occurred to him that the last article of clothing the taller cowboy removed at night, was most likely, his hat. And those tan galluses… definitely a coincidence. While Paul had been studying the painting, Jeff had been exploring. “Uncle Joe and Aunt Mellie gave cleared out everything that marked this room as belonging to my parents. It's almost like they were never here. I don't know whether to be grateful or upset. As much as I was apprehensive about going through their personal things, I was almost looking forward to remembering our times together.” “Well, knowing Joe and Mellie, they didn't just discard everything. I’m sure it's all carefully stowed away somewhere, just waiting for you to be ready to go through it. If you're concerned about it, call them now.” “No. I’m sure you're right. I’ll ask Uncle Joe tomorrow. In the meantime, how about we go back to my old room and take a nap or something.” Paul wasn't quite sure how it happened. They were standing there talking one minute and, suddenly, he was wrapped up in Jeff's arms, from behind. That sensitive spot at the base of his neck was getting an overload of stimulation with kissing, licking and nibbling. His lover's fingertips sought and found his nipples. Between his neck, nipples and Jeff's massive hardon rubbing against his ass, Paul was soon in sensory overload. Just when he was about to melt into his boots, Jeff released him, stepped back and broke all contact. Paul was stupefied by the sudden absence of all stimulation. Emphatically Jeff stated, “If we don't stop now, I’ll cum in my jeans. Let's go to my old room and get nekked.” For a moment, Paul considered smacking him upside his head for stopping everything so harshly. Then he realized his lover had been even more turned on than he had been. He’d had to use some real self restraint to stop before cumming. Paul's brown eyes flared with sudden insight. He moved quickly to the door and locked it. With determination he began removing his shirt. Now, it was Jeff’s turned to be stupefied. After a moment, Jeff regained his senses, “Paul, I don't think I’m ready to make ready to make love with you in my parents bed.” Paul came to him and silently took his face in his hands and gave him a lush kiss that sent a ball of flaming passion from his brain, straight to his cock. “First off, who said anything about getting in the bed. Besides, that's your ancestor’s bed, that your parents also slept in. Just like your Daddy's, Daddy’s, Daddy did. They all got over it and you will too. It’s our bed now, and we’ll claim it soon enough. Right now, I got a big dicked cowboy and a sheepskin rug on my mind.” With that his lips captured his lover's in a wet, probing kiss. Jeff immediately forgot about his parents and the bed. Everything else just slipped away, except that kiss and his throbbing hardon. Paul broke the kiss and took a half step back. With a single jerking motion he ripped Jeff's shirt open. Buttons flew across the room. Using his shirt as a handle he Pulled Jeff to the bench at the foot of the bed. “We’re not gonna use the bed this time lover. Now git nekked rightchere! rightnow!” With that Paul sat on the bench and pulled off his boots. Jeff, without question, followed suite. Paul, just as he had imagined only minutes before, staged his boots under the bench. Jeff, again, followed his lead. Before another word was spoken they were both naked as birth. Paul took his lover's hand and led him to the goatskin rug. The feel of his feet on the rug gave the promise of how sensual it would feel on his naked skin and Paul shivered. Jeff, thinking his lover was cold stepped to the fireplace and with the flip of a switch, lit a roaring fire amongst logs that would not be consumed. Paul left his lover and went over and turned out the lights. The heavy drapes blocked out any outside light and the room was illuminated only by the flickering firelight. This time, as they came together there was no urgency in their touch. Paul knew exactly what he wanted. No, what he needed to have happen. Slowly he lowered himself until he was sitting at Jeff's feet, on the goatskin rug. As he moved down, his fingernails silhouetted his lover’s well defined torso. The sensation made Jeff hiss an intake of breath and bite his lower lip. His cock throbbed in appreciation. Paul held Jeff's gaze as he stuck out his tongue, displaying it as a tool he was about to use. Jeff, mesmerized, could only watch as spit dripped off that overly long appendage, making his cock drool precum. Paul didn't wiggle or curl his tongue, he simply brought it to rest at the juncture of thigh and torso. Slowly, sensuously, he drug his tongue along skin that Jeff had never before considered sensitive. Yet, here he was, clenching his fists at his side to keep from grabbing Paul's head, and raping his mouth. He had never felt such wet, electrified, skin tingling sensations. He wanted it to never stop and yet, at the same time he so desperately needed to cum. Paul was now using his tongue to wash the side of his throbbing cock, from base to tip. Jeff knew at any moment he would feel that delicious wetness completely engulf his manhood. He relaxed and moved his hands to caress, if not control of Paul's head. Paul grabbed both of Jeff's wrists and simply said, “No.” it was not a command it was a statement of desire. Without wanting to, Jeff's hands moved away from Paul's head and back to his side. Jeff clearly understood why a cock was sometimes referred to as a “manroot”. At this moment, it was like his cock was some demanding alien entity rooted in his flesh, but separate and above, almost all reason. He would hardly be surprised if it tore itself free from his body and surged forward, desperately seeking the wet warmth of Paul's mouth. Paul was busy washing Jeff's cock. Using his tongue like a washcloth in a shower, only slower and more methodically. Once he was satisfied that Jeff’s cock was wet and shiny, only then did he allow his tongue to recede. Jeff watched as, again, Paul's tongue extended to catch a drop of precum, and to probe Jeff’s piss slit. All the while maintaining eye contact with his victim. That's how Jeff saw himself… A victim. Like a fly in a spiderweb, caught up and at the mercy of his lover. He wasn't sure victim was the right word, since there was no other place he would rather be… no other place he could be, but right here, right now at the mercy of his lover and his own manroot. Maybe victim was the right word. Without breaking eye contact and giving no warning, Paul impaled himself on Jeff's cock. In one fell swoop he swallowed it, balls deep. Choking and gagging he still worked that cock like a dervish. Teary eyed, but smiling, he spat a fist full of slimy mucous into his hand and worked it into his own ass. When he had slime lubed his hole with three fingers comfortably, he simply got on his hands and knees and commanded, “Take me.” Jeff's manroot needed no more incentive. Like an automaton, he moved behind, knelt and aligned his cock. He pushed down on Paul's shoulders until his pert behind was perched just so. Paul rested on his crossed forearms against the wickedly soft rug. Without preamble, Jeff pulled back his foreskin and pushed his hips forward just until his corona was captured by Paul's sphincter. In spite of the three fingered lube job, Paul's asshole bit into Jeff's cock as if determined to devour the head of the invading monster. The torture was exquisite! Jeff savoured the sensation. Without intention, this gave some respite to Paul's defeated rectum. Again, Jeff pushed inward seeking to enhance the already unbearable pleasures his manroot was experiencing. Paul was lost somewhere on the road from Nirvana to Valhalla, but with a fading memory of having spent time in Hades. The burning sensation was lessening, but the feeling of being stretched and filled was growing. Just when he felt heaven was slipping from his vision, Jeff’s cock smacked head on into his prostate. The gates of Valhalla opened and with flashing lights, fireworks and screams of ecstasy, another deserving warrior was welcomed home. Stretching and filling be damned! Paul writhed, pushed and humped against Jeff's invader. Hearing Paul's cries of, “FUCK ME!” and “MORE, OH GOD, MORE!” Jeff began slamming into his lover's ass without care or compassion. Just a driving, burning, balls aching need to FUCK! His cock had never felt so big. The sensations were not only coming from his cock. The feeling was being pulled from every part of his body. His whole sense of being was focused and driven toward a final cataclysmic explosion that was to be nebulously centered around his cock and balls. When it began, God himself could have neither prevented nor forestalled this personal equivalent of the Big Bang. In the throes of his own turmoil of ecstasy, Paul was only vaguely aware of reaching for his own manroot. It was not to jack off, it was too late to help that along. Instead he was cupping his hand around his cockhead trying to keep his eruption from overflowing onto, what was now, his all time favorite rug. It was a valiant effort, especially considering the concentration required to even make the attempt. Overall, it was about as effective as a Dutch Boy’s finger against a tsunami. Jeff, who had been absolutely mindless and uncaring shortly after they’d got ‘nekked’, was suddenly cognizant of his dead weight pressing down on his partner. At some point, moments, seconds, minutes, maybe even hours ago, he had completely collapsed onto his lover. Carefully he extracted his body and his cock from atop and within, respectively. “I, uh, I’m sorry. Did I hurt you, Babe?” He carefully caressed the most perfect backside he’d ever seen. Unable to resist. Yet, at the same time, afraid his touch might set off the anger Paul must surely be feeling toward such a selfish and thoughtless lover. Paul grunted and groaned, finally rolling over while protecting his collected ejaculate. Displaying an impressive load that, having filled his palm was dripping over and onto the rug. “Does this look like I was in pain?” Chuckling, he continued, “That was.. amazing, stupendous, Guinness record book worthy sex, and you ask if you hurt me? Ha! Cowboy. You can hurt me like that anytime.” Looking down at his handful of cum, “Ugh! Let me get rid of this. Are there any towels in the bathroom"? Jeff’s sincere look of concern faded quickly into what his Daddy would have described as a “shit eatin’ grin”. Before Paul could make a move to stand, Jeff captured his wrist, while maintaining eye contact he proceed to suck, slurp and lick every drop of cum from Paul's hand. When finished he loudly smacked his lips, and carefully examined Paul's hand. Once he was certain no trace of cum remained, he released it. The look of wonder in his lover's eyes made Jeff pause. The memory of mind blowing sex and subsequent afterglow faded in the face of the unconditional love he saw in Paul's eyes. Feeling the words completely inadequate and with tears shining in his eyes, Jeff humbly offered, “I love you, Babe!” Paul leaned toward Jeff until their lips softly touched. Each syllable seemed to caress Jeff's soul, as Paul softly whispered, “I love you too, cowboy”. As if any sudden movement or sound might shatter their universe, both men quietly got dressed. Paul looked up as he pulled on his last piece of clothing, a boot of course. At first he was confused then simply disbelieving. Why would anyone hang two identical paintings in the same room and on the same wall. As he moved closer, he ignored everything except the paintings. His eyes were only allowed to shift between the two paintings, comparing and contrasting, cataloging the differences as well as the shared elements. Once he could see each painting equally well, he stopped. The painting he had first noted was probably completed when both men were in their twenties. The second was most likely thirty or even forty years later. The talent for detail in both paintings was amazing, certainly museum quality, if only for the captured expressions. The clothes were slightly different, still spurred boots and jeans though belts replaced galluses. While the green eyed taller cowboy still favored bib front shirts his, um, companion, sported his now worn leather vest and red bandanna, but this time his creamy brown shirt sported an actual collar. Both faces showed wrinkles and laugh lines. Both men sported some greying. Overall, time had been kind to both men. The way they looked into each other's eyes was just as intense as in their youth. Paul noted that the tin cups seemed the same, but the later background featured barns, outbuildings, corrals and fenced in pastures. Jeff stepped up beside his partner, “I used to come in here and make up stories about those two. We rode off on some great adventures together. They were my heroes, circling stampeding cattle, tracking down rustlers, fighting off Indian attacks. I figured they were drinking whisky. I shared my first taste with them, I was twelve, maybe thirteen. Later, I used to imagine they were gay lovers. I jerked off more than a few times thinking about them. “Truth is they started out as partners in the cattle business. The one on the left was John Grant, the taller, more handsome of course, is my great, great, grandfather, I think. His name was Winston Adams. Winston was practicing law in Boston. He gave it up to come out west. He partnered with John Grant and together they built up one of the largest ranches in the territory. They lived together until Winston married. They remained close friends throughout their lives. After John’s wife died he moved back here with the already widowed Winston and together they raised their children and amassed quite a fortune in cattle and banking. Up until a couple of years back there were still descendants of John Grant living around here. The last one owned the John Deere dealership and even built the house T.R. and David live in now. It's a family tradition that the first male child of each generation bears the middle name “Grant”. I always figured if I became famous I would like to be known as “Grant Adams”. Thought that was sexy, kind of like James Bond. “Anyway, Dad told me there was a journal those two wrote in most of their lives. Our copy is the original and is kept in a safe deposit box in Dallas. Members of the family only have access, once they reach thirty. They have to sign an oath to maintain the integrity of the original document and to never reveal It’s contents, if they fail to abide by the signed oath, they forfeit their inheritance. Of course, I haven't seen it yet, but it's something I very much look forward to.” Paul spoke without looking away from the painting. “I would very much like an insight into the look those two share. Do you think they were lovers? I know they fathered children, but they lived together as young men and then later in life. I’d like to think that their look represents an expression of deep, abiding and passionate love. “Out of curiosity, where were they when these paintings were done? It doesn't look anything like your front porch. Is the house still standing? I’d love to see where they lived.” Jeff didn't answer, but moved to the drape covered wall and pressed a hidden button. “I think that can be arranged.” The massive drapes began to slide apart. The drapes revealed large picture windows on either side of French doors. Opening both doors, Jeff offered with a flourishing gesture, “Your front porch awaits”. Then he added, “This bedroom was originally their living room.” Like Dorothy’s first tentative steps into Oz, Paul walked through the bedroom doors onto the front porch. It was larger than he would have expected. There were benches and a couple of rocking chairs. The porch railing looked just as rugged and sturdy as it did in the paintings. The porch was large enough so the artist wouldn't have had to set his easel in the doorway. The barns and outbuildings may have been the same or modern replacements. Paul wasn't sure and didn't care. What he did care about was a very real sense of personal history and… love. He imagined the two positioned just as in the paintings. The winter chill made him shiver as if someone stepped on his grave. He searched Jeff’s face. The look he found there told him they too could have their portraits painted on this porch soon, and in another thirty or forty years. Silently they moved back inside. Jeff closed the doors and the drapes and joined Paul to stand together in front of the fire. He pulled Paul into his side. “I think we should sleep in here tonight, in their bed and make it our bed.” The warmth and flickering firelight touched Paul's soul, “I feel as though I have been on a very long journey where no one understood me and now, at last, I’m home.” Jeff just pulled him closer still.
  26. 43 likes
    Another day at sea. We did the stops at Sir Samuels for our coffees and generally just took it easy. I did have a second appointment with the Canyon Ranch Spa for my tanning. Tony waited patiently as I was taken care of. When I was done, he stood grinning. “Are there any tan lines now?” “You’ll have to see for yourself later.” I grinned as I passed him. He chuckled. “I plan to see that.” Tonight, wasn’t a formal night, but we dressed casual for dinner. Tony was hungry, so we arrived first at our table as a couple we did not know was sitting in our chairs. I’d never seen them before. “Are you assigned to the VIP table?” Tony asked, knowing they weren’t. At that time, the man in charge of seating came by. The man who was sitting where we sat looked confused. “There are no assigned seats.” The man in charge stopped. “Normally they dine in Queen’s Grill. They chose the dining room. There is open seating on the above level.” He pointed to the dining on the second floor. “There is open seating up there, but these seats were assigned to Mr. McKenzie and Mr. Delveccio. You need to go up there.” The man and woman nodded and left. The man smiled. “The Queen’s Grill is normally where people in your stateroom dine.” Tony nodded. “We will. The dining here is a little more open. There are people to talk to. The Queen’s Grill is intimate when we want to be alone, but we like people, so this is better.” I chuckled. “For now.” The man nodded. “Some people prefer being alone, but visiting with other passengers is most definitely happening here.” He grinned. “Have you had a good cruise so far?” “More than I dreamed of.” Tony nodded with a grin. His face fell a little. I looked where he was looking and saw the man and woman that objected that we sat at the VIP table that first night. The man in charge of seating looked where we were looking. “The Grisons. From Oklahoma.” He smiled. “Lottery winners.” He looked at Tony. “They haven’t given you problems, have they?” Tony shook his head to the man’s question as Deon and Rene came to the table. “No.” He smiled at Deon and Rene then Ben and Elouise came. “Now, the reason we sit here.” He sat chuckling. “The Grisons won a lottery. That explains a lot.” I laughed. “Don’t be an elitist.” “Well, they are so…” Tony began. “Simple? Unsophisticated?” I offered. Tony nodded. “Yes! It’s a big world. They’re out in it, but want the same things they have back home.” Ben grinned as he sat down and we both stood as Deon and Elouise sat. “Hello, Gentlemen.” Ben said. “How has your voyage been so far?” Tony nodded. “Great! And yours?” Elouise took her husband’s hand. “It’s been very…rewarding.” She said smiling letting us know the rewards were more personal as she looked at her husband and put her napkin in her lap. “Tomorrow is Tauranga. What are you doing?” I looked at Tony. “We’ve been doing natural stuff this week. We’re planning to see Mount Maunganui. There are some great nature trails there. There are some great Maori exhibits at the museum and a there is the Tauranga Art Gallery. We plan to see as much as we can.” Tony smiled. “This has been more…Mitch’s sort of thing.” “We’ll be in Auckland after that.” I said. “That’s a city. The only thing Tony has assurance about is coming back to this ship and back to civilization.” There was dancing again that night. The days passed quickly and then the Bay of Islands. Then two days of just cruising. We were having a great time, but every now and then I could see Tony’s face and knew what was playing on his mind. I didn’t know what he was thinking, but I knew what he was thinking about. I woke up in the middle of the night alone one night. The stateroom was dark, but there was enough light to vaguely search and see Tony was gone. Getting up, I slipped a robe on and went downstairs. The rest of the stateroom was dark and empty, but looking out on the balcony I saw Tony’s dark silhouette against the lights of stars and moonlight. He was just standing there in the dark night looking out over the water as the light shone over its surface. I felt a lump form in my throat, but went out and stood next to him. “Is this a time you want to be alone?” I asked him quietly. Tony didn’t reply verbally, but shook his head. I reached over and took his hand. Looking out over the moonlit water, it was so peaceful. It was a few minutes later when Tony spoke very quietly. “I couldn’t sleep.” He sighed. “It’s so lovely here…now.” I nodded and looked at him. “I like it, too, but this isn’t what’s going through your mind.” “It’s nothing.” Tony said dismissing the question. “Tony.” I said in a way telling him I knew better. “At the very beginning, we promised to tell each other the truth and what was on our minds. There is something on your mind. I know what it’s about, but what are you thinking? What are you feeling?” It took a few seconds before he answered. “I’m scared.” Tony confessed. “I’m sick.” He smiled bitterly. “I know we haven’t be officially diagnosed, but I feel…” he thought as he tapped his own chest. “…I don’t feel right.” He turned to me. “Even Kathy knew…it runs in the family. For us, it was never a question if we will get cancer, but when. Even if this is treatable this time, I’ll eventually get it.” Now he looked scared. “I’m going to die.” His statement hit me in my heart. “Maybe.” Tony shook his head. “It’s going to happen. I know it. We pretend it isn’t happening right now. Most of the time I buy into it, but we both know what’s happening.” I swallowed as the lump was forming in my throat and I had to get it down to talk. “What can we do, but fight this?” “I don’t know if I can!” Tony said a little louder than he intended. “I hate this whole thing!” Even in the dim light I saw a tear form. “I don’t want to die, but what’s even worse is what this is doing to us. To you!” He waved at me. “I won’t leave you. I can’t! You’re not alone.” Tony moaned and turned away. “I know! That isn’t fair!” He stated. “All these years I tried to impress you, but you didn’t need to be impressed! I know you love me. I never doubted it from day three!” His comment shocked me as he was using humor even in this distressing situation. “Day three?” Tony grinned a little. “Well, there was the infatuation the first day, interest day two, but day three…yes. I knew I loved you and I was pretty sure you felt the same.” I chuckled as I ran a hand over his back. “Yes, that’s pretty much the way it happened.” I put my arms around him. “I can’t know what you feel if you don’t tell me, but I see it in your face.” Tony closed his eyes against his thoughts. “It’s not fair!!” He said in agony. Now I was crying. He was in so much pain inside. “It’s most certainly not fair.” “I’m angry! At this horrible disease and I’m even mad at God!” Being the son of a preacher sometimes paid off occasionally. “You think He doesn’t know that? Tell Him that! Tell Him how you feel.” Tony looked at me a little shocked. “What?” I kissed him quickly and patted him on his bare chest. “That’s the problem with you Catholics, you’re so used to having someone else intercede for you; be it Saints and even the Virgin Mary. Those of us raised Baptist don’t have that issue. I see God as someone I can talk to. Just like I’m talking to you right now.” I smiled. “I speak to Him as a friend. I talk to Him.” I chuckled as his eyes held doubt. “You can. In fact, you should. The way I was taught, He understands you. He will understand what you’re going through and even when you hurt so badly and can’t put words to your feelings He understands the utterances of pain that have no words. If you’re mad, tell Him. If you hurt, tell Him. Whatever you feel, tell Him!” I watched as what I said was getting through. He stood there a few more seconds and then turned to the ocean beyond and just shouted a loud cry of such pain and agony. “What did I do? This is tearing me apart!” He shouted. “Help me!” He said and then put his face in his hands and began to cry. “I don’t want to die.” He said in a pitiful voice. I was crying even more. What could I do, but be here with him? I put my arms tighter around him and pulled his closer as he grabbed hold of me. “You’re not alone, Tony. I will be with you this whole way. So, will God. You’re not alone.” It was a few more minutes before Tony stopped crying and looked down at me as he stood. “I dearly love you, Mitch.” I smiled as I kissed him. “I know. I dearly love you, Tony. You are the most amazing human being. No human means more to me, than you do.” Tony hugged me. “I know.”
  27. 43 likes
    Monday morning, Marcus parked along the road from Tom’s house and checked the state of his hair then his eyes in the rearview mirror. Considering the explosive weekend that had just been, he looked remarkably awake and alert. End of month, and both Thursday and Friday lunch and dinner service had been off-the-scale busy. Then late Saturday night in Edgware Road, they had entertained a table of A list celebrities—well three, to be precise, all well-known personalities performing together in a West End show—and a handful of cast members. Marcus always welcomed celebs, purposely came out of his kitchen to meet them and usually comped them a round of drinks. Other patrons enjoyed the display and word usually got out either through the press or by word of mouth. And, of course, Tina loved free publicity. That night, however, one of the ensemble actors—Mikael—an incredibly handsome and charismatic guy, came up to the open kitchen and continued chatting to Marcus as he worked. Marcus didn’t miss the vibe—neither did a couple of his kitchen staff—and not one to pass up a sure-fire opportunity, invited Mikael to hang around until all the punters had gone and they’d cleared up. Normally Marcus would stay behind with his team, have a drink and a bite after the doors had closed. Being on a promise, however, he’d excused himself early, ignoring the good-natured wise-cracks of his kitchen staff. What followed was a night of incredible sex. A friend had once warned him about going home with actors, because you never knew whether they were researching a role or actually into you. Michael had not been acting. At twenty-five, he’d even taught Marcus a thing or two. They’d barely spoken in the taxi back to Marcus’ flat, the sexual tension between them ramped to the max. Once inside the bedroom, nothing carnal had been off limits for the guy—an energetic bottom to Marcus’ top—nothing except kissing mouth to mouth. Eventually at around four-thirty, they slept for three hours, before Mikael’s phone beeped an alarm. After a shared shower which involved more sex, they both dressed and then sat down to a minimal breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, buttered croissants with homemade gooseberry jam and fresh coffee. Mikael talked freely about his budding career, but never monopolised the conversation, equally interested in Marcus’ own rise to modest fame. Giving heartfelt and generous praise about Old Country’s dishes, he even asked if the rumour of a New York restaurant opening had any grounds. Eventually, when pushed, Mikael explained that like many trying to break into the entertainment business, he was not out of the closet, even to his parents, so that he could still be considered for all kinds of roles in theatre, television or film. Sure, a lot of celebrities were out now, but if you were to dig deep, you’d find that coming out had limited their appeal for casting directors. His manager and some of his colleagues knew his preference, but they were also sensitive to any publicity, however minor, that might be seen as adverse. Without actually saying the words, Mikael clearly admired the fact that Marcus was both out and successful. Without actually saying the words, Marcus knew Mikael would not be not a keeper. At around eight-thirty Sunday morning, after exchanging numbers, Mikael appeared genuinely sorry not to be able to lunch with Marcus. But he had to be at the theatre by ten to get his previous night’s post-performance notes and then in make-up and ready for a matinee performance. Not that Marcus minded. Alone again, he had the day to organise himself for the week ahead, to respond to the various cryptic text messages from his gossipy Edgware Road restaurant staff, and then to take a much needed afternoon nap. Then to his surprise and pleasure, he got a text message from Mikael at around ten o’clock Sunday night, asking if the was up for a second round. As Tina constantly reminded him, you do not look a gift horse up the arse. Now here he sat in his car, trying to come down to earth, readying himself for his domestic duties with the Bradford-Fowler clan. Having thrown Mikael out at six that morning, he’d just about managed to get everything done and reach Tom’s house by seven. Talk about leading a double life. “See you’re in the paper again, Marcus,” called Tom, as soon as Marcus unlocked the front door using the set of keys Tom had cut for him. In the process of leaning over and packing documents into a briefcase, Marcus had a good view of Tom’s perfect jeans-clad backside and, despite a weekend of debauchery, he felt his cock stir. Absently, Tom waved a hand to the table where the girls were eating cereal. “You’re looking dapper this morning,” said Marcus. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Marcus bit his tongue, remembering that Tom didn’t like other men complimenting him. On anything. But this time, the observation appeared to go right over his head. Usually when Tom worked onsite he donned worn overalls and a sweatshirt. Today he was togged out in clean jeans, charcoal grey woollen jacket, crisp white shirt and navy tie. And very nice too, thought Marcus. “Yeah, I know,” muttered Tom, frowning down at his attire. “Got a bloody boardroom meeting. Monday morning, of all things. The newspaper with the article’s over on the table.” As far as Marcus was concerned, Tom needed to have more bloody boardroom meetings. Not that he didn’t admire Tom in his trademark overalls and sweatshirt, but the casual corporate style definitely looked hot on the man. “Daddy read it out to us,” gurgled Charlotte, rewarding Marcus with the sight of a mouthful of milk and Cocoa Puffs. “Charlie, what did daddy say about eating and talking at the same time?” “And close your mouth when you eat,” added Katie. “Nobody needs to know what’s in there. Nana said watching you eat is like looking at a washing machine running with a full load.” Marcus couldn’t help but laugh aloud, while Tom smiled into his briefcase and gently shook his head. Fortunately Tom didn’t notice the Cocoa Puff covered tongue that poked out from Charlotte’s mouth aimed at her sister. “I’ve left the page open at the article,” said Tom, before disappearing upstairs. Marcus loved the early morning routine with Tom and the girls, so different to the usual solitude of his own apartment. Six weeks since they’d had the chat and everything already felt so much better. Tom had found Raine’s address book in the box Katie mentioned and the password had indeed been the key to opening her email account. But together they found nothing about anyone called Damian Stone. Most of the emails were either junk, from school mums and friends, or reminders from one company or another about products or missed payments. Tom had done his best to take care of those. More importantly, the social worker had turned out to be extremely understanding and sympathetic to Tom’s situation. Insisting on being there throughout the interview, Moira had given Marcus the full download. Tom, for this part, had been relieved they would not be considering further action, although the social worker confirmed that there would be monthly visits for the foreseeable future to ensure everything stayed on track. Joining his goddaughters, Marcus parked himself on the free seat around the table and pulled the paper over. That morning he’d had barely enough time to get rid of Mikael, get showered and dressed, and make pack lunches for the family. Strange, too, because normally Tina would have called him up. She scoured the national dailies each morning over breakfast, keen to capitalise on any publicity. When he picked up the paper, he realise why. This was a local rag, a freebie popped into everyone’s letterbox in Tom’s borough. But the story was priceless. Marcus vaguely remembered the situation. Apparently, two of the paper’s staff had rocked up at his Edgware Road branch one Thursday night—a traditionally busy night when Marcus usually ruled the kitchen—with a party of twelve, only to realise that nobody had made a booking. The head waiter—which would have been Michelle that night—had apologised that they wouldn’t be able to fit them in, but them immediately phoned the Shepherd’s Bush outlet and managed to secure them a table. Not only that, but she organised cabs for them all to be ferried across. The article which took up a good half a page, then went on to talk up the excellent food and service, and was nothing short of solid gold publicity for Old Country. And of course, next to a photo of the outside of the Edgware Road restaurant, was Marcus’ standard publicity photo in his kitchen whites, holding a flour peppered rolling pin and grinning at the camera. “Right,” came Tom’s voice from behind, a heavy hand on Marcus’ shoulder, which took Marcus by surprise, especially at how nice it felt there. “I need to be off. Final meeting today, but I think we’re going to be win this tender on the new estate in Burleigh. Finally a bit of good news.” “Excellent stuff. Go knock ‘em dead.” “Thanks, honey,” said Tom, squeezing Marcus’ shoulder. “Uh, I mean Marcus.” For some reason, Charlotte found this hilarious. After a few seconds almost choking and then the next tipping her head back in uncontrollable laughter with a tiny hand over her mouth, she finally managed to speak. “Daddy just called Uncle Marcus ‘honey’.” Even Katie had trouble suppressing a fit of giggles. A smiling Tom came around the table and, from behind, kissed the top of Charlotte’s head, then pulled her into his arms and rubbed his stubble into her cheek until she squealed even louder. “That’s what he used to say to mummy,” Katie explained, smiling still. Yes, thought Marcus, they’d all come a long way if they could remember Raine without getting sad. While they had a family moment, Marcus stood and began clearing away bowls and packets of cereal from the table. “I’ve made pack lunches,” called Marcus to Tom, from the open kitchen. “So no need for lunch money today. There’s even one here for you, just in case. And I’ll drop the girls off and pick them up later.” ”Remember Katie’s got a check up at ten. Her appointment card’s on the table. Doctor’s surgery is a stone’s throw from here. Moira let Miss Colbert know she’ll be in school just before lunch break.” “No problem. I’ll swing by to pick up some groceries and then get the girls at the usual time. What do you fancy for dinner, ladies?” “Shepherd’s pie,” shouted Charlotte, her all-time favourite. “You always want shepherd’s pie,” said Katie. “We had it on Friday. Let Uncle Marc make something else for a change.” “I agree with Katie. Whatever you fancy cooking. God, you’re a lucky so-and-so having Sundays and Mondays off,” said Tom, picking up his case. “Lucky?” replied Marcus, stopping halfway to the sink. “Do you know what time we finished on Saturday night. Sorry, scratch that, Sunday morning?” “I know, I know. I’m sorry. You work hard when you’re there. I am not disputing that. Just surprised you guys don’t capitalise on the Sunday trade.” Many times Tina had tried to convince Marcus to open on Sunday, even if only for a lunch service to entice tourists to London. But after consulting many of his contemporaries in the trade, Marcus had stuck to his guns and decided to remain closed. His staff got one day off a week anyway, but the guarantee of Sunday with their families and loved ones definitely worked in his favour. Besides, it didn’t need his accountant to tell him they were making healthy profits, the reservation lists for the next six months alone bore that out. “If my manager has her way, we may well do. But for now things are going well enough that it’s not a consideration. And anyway, I was otherwise engaged.” At that comment, Tom looked up from the letter he had scanned, but not opened. “Oh, yes?” “Oh, yes,” said Marcus, flashing a wink at Tom. “Come on Charlie, go brush your teeth and then Katie and I can drop you off to school.” He thought Tom might reward him with a knowing smile in return, but the man turned away and busied himself with his briefcase. Too much information, perhaps. Marcus made a mental note to keep his private life off limits in conversation with Tom. ***** Later that morning, after dropping Charlotte off and returning home, as Katie packed her schoolbag while Marcus sat at the kitchen table organising his accounts, the phone began to ring. “Uncle Marc,” said Katie, holding the phone out to Marcus. Her sad eyes said everything. “Someone’s asking to speak to mummy or daddy.” Marcus hesitated. His heart stalled for a moment. Looking momentarily into Katie’s gaze, he realised he had not been prepared for this. Nevertheless, he took the phone from her and placed the receiver to his ear. “Hello?” he said, tentatively. “Good morning. I’m calling from The Cumberland Yoga Sanctuary,” came a female voice attempting professionalism, but Marcus could sense an underlying tenor of irritation. His own trepidation evaporated in that haughtiness. “We’ve tried to get in touch with Mrs Bradford-Fowler repeatedly by phone and email because we have not received her subscription for the past eight months. I need to know whether she wants to retain her membership. She signed a contract for a three year package eighteen months ago and officially we should be taking legal action by now. If she does want to cancel, there will naturally be a penalty for breaking the terms of the contract. Is she there, by the way, your wife? May I speak to her?” Marcus found this kind of attitude in his restaurants irritating at the very least. The danger and, frankly, rudeness, of making assumptions about a person’s connection based on gender alone, is something he drilled into his waiting staff. He hated nothing worse than people assuming Raine was his wife when they ate out together. Fortunately, he knew how to deal with these people. “Can I have your name, please?” “I’m Debra Lingham, accounts manager.” “Debra. Can I ask you a question?” “Yes, of course.” “Are you married?” “Yes, I am.” “To a man?” “Of course, to a man. What a question.” Another assumption, maybe even a touch of discrimination there. Hopefully he would never have to meet Mrs Lingham in the flesh, because he might be tempted to give her a piece of his mind. “Well, Debra. First of all, I have never been married to Mrs Bradford-Fowler. I'm a family friend, and today I’m the house sitter. Secondly, Mrs Bradford-Fowler died tragically in a car accident over a year ago. So the answer is, no, she will no longer need the membership. And thirdly, I really don’t appreciate your telephone manner. This is a very difficult time for the family and officious phone calls like yours only help to make matters worse.” Marcus had expected the woman to retreat. “And what is your name?” “Mr Fryne. I am—“ “Although we explore the spiritual here at Cumberland, Mr Fryne, we are not psychic. While I am very saddened to hear of Mrs Bradford-Fowler’s demise, as will be my colleagues and the many students that knew her, we are nevertheless running a business. In light of what you have told me, however, I will cancel her membership immediately without penalty. I’ll also signal her account so that you receive no further contact from us.” “Do that, Mrs Lingham. And in turn, I will contact Which magazine and tell them what kind of empathetic attitude your so called spiritual company practices. You should be ashamed of yourself. ” Marcus slammed the phone down before the woman could say another word. Anger smouldered away inside him. On top of everything else, had poor Tom had to put up with this kind of shit? When he turned and looked down, Katie stood there beaming up at him. “You sound just like mummy sometimes,” she said. “Something you should know, Katie. Just because people are grown ups doesn’t mean they know how to be civil to other people. Some think they have the right to be mean just because of the job they do. My mother once told me that before I ever say anything to anybody which might be considered upsetting, I should think first of all how I would feel if someone said the same thing to me. Put myself in their shoes, so to speak. Your mummy was brilliant at doing that which is why so many people liked her. One of her favourite saying was ‘courtesy costs nothing’” “What’s courtesy?” “It’s politeness in a person’s attitude or behaviour. Your mummy was like that with everybody. Now where’s your appointment card?” “It’s in my bag. I’ll probably need another prescription. Doctor said last time that if the asthma doesn’t start to improve soon, he might consider other treatment. But at the moment I have to keep a diary of when I get attacks and rate them on a scale of one to five on how bad they are. There’s a boy at school, Stephen, who uses a machine at home where he has to breathe in steam mixed with medicines for half an hour. But he doesn’t mind because it’s usually when the cartoons are on.” “Sometimes asthma just goes away with age, Katie,” said Marcus, trying to sound encouraging. Growing up, Marcus’ next door neighbour and best friend had regular bouts of asthma which suddenly stopped when he hit puberty. Maybe some people were just lucky. On many a charity hospital visit, he’d met kids with far more serious medical conditions, but it just seemed unfair for someone so young to have to struggle with breathing when she should be outside enjoying the world. Seven years old, thought Marcus, and already so much on her shoulders. There was absolutely no way he would ever walk away from this family again.
  28. 42 likes
    Daniel turning up at the Shepherd’s Bush restaurant in uniform at the tail-end of a busy Saturday lunchtime was an unexpected but not unpleasant surprise. In fact, he looked hotter in uniform than he did in white Speedos or Bermuda shorts. Benny, the front of house manager, had zeroed in on the policeman and, once he realised Daniel was there unofficially, flirted outrageously. If anyone could give Daniel a run for his money on the flirtatiousness stakes, Benny was the man. However, today Daniel was all business, strictly professional and only grinning good-naturedly and nodding at Benny’s double-entendres. Fortunately, Benny gave everyone the same treatment—for most people the straight-faced delivery of his innuendos meant that most went over their heads—so would have been blissfully unaware that Daniel batted for his team. Between Marcus' stint in the hospital and his time in New York, they had called each other a couple of times trying to synchronise calendars for a night out. But through no fault of either, this had proven difficult, both having busy professions. Marcus often had to head into work at short notice to deal with one crisis or another, while Daniel was frequently called upon to work overtime. But finally they’d managed to meet one Tuesday afternoon in late June for a drink in a small local bar in Marylebone High Street around the corner from the restaurant. Marcus had finished the lunchtime service at Edgware Road and Daniel, in jeans and tee, had been on a training course in Hendon, dropped off by a colleague. Daniel had drunk designer Belgium beers straight from the bottle, taking great pride in talking about the fermentation process, the history of the beer brewed by Trappist monks—clearly a veritable expert on the product. One particular brand, a strawberry flavoured lager with a reasonably high alcoholic content, had been a favourite of his for many years. At the time, Marcus could think of nothing worse than strawberry flavoured beer, but had sampled some and made encouraging noises when offered out of sheer politeness. The meeting had been polite and almost formal, and Marcus had begun to realise nothing was ever going to happen between them, even before Daniel got called away within the hour after a brief but highly charged call from a colleague back at the station. “You want something to eat?” asked Marcus, stepping out of the kitchen, wiping his forehead with a dish rag, as Benny sashayed off to see to another customer. “Your man over there’s a piece of work,” said Daniel, nodding to the departing backside of Benny. “But a bloody good and loyal worker. So to what do I owe this very nice pleasure?” “Too early for that dinner you owe me, I suppose?” Marcus tilted his head quizzically, not sure what Daniel meant. “Is there somewhere we can sit, mate. I found out some things for you.” “Damian Stone?” said Marcus, looking up eagerly. “Come into the back office.” “Not a whole lot, I’m afraid,” said Daniel, seated in the tiny storage room that doubled as an office. “Twenty-five-year-old single Caucasian male from Frenton, regional marketing manager for a high street bookstore chain, no previous convictions, total clean slate.” “Well, that settles that,” said Marcus, arms folded. “What?” asked Daniel, shaking his head, not understanding. “She was into older men. Tom’s ten years older.” “People change.” Marcus had already stated his case with Daniel, and he wasn’t about to defend his corner again. Raine didn’t mess around. Once bitten, twice shy. End of story. “Still doesn’t explain why she was in the car that Friday lunchtime.” “Off for a weekend romp, maybe?” “No, she was supposed to attend a dinner party with Tom’s work people that Friday evening. That’s why Moira picked up the girls from school.” “Thank goodness,” said Daniel. “Thanks for doing this, Daniel. Listen, I’ve just been given complimentary tickets to a champagne brunch at a new hotel opening in the next coupe of months. Sunday from eleven. Oysters, caviar, lobster, carvery, champers—the works. Thought it might be right up your street. How do you fancy being my date?” “In lieu of dinner?” “As well, if you like?” “Sure. Let’s do the brunch,” he replied, grinning, and slipping a piece of paper across the table. “More likely to work this time, if it’s a Sunday.” “What’s this,” asked Marcus. “Stone’s address. In case you wanted to make contact. Or if you could steal an hour or two off work right now, we could drive over there together.” *** Damian Stone’s house turned out to be a small but pretty Victorian terraced cottage bordering Frenton common. Cosy, Raine would have called the place. Maybe she had. The thought sent a shiver through Marcus. Walking up to the front door, he had a moment of trepidation. Daniel must have noticed, because he stepped forward to take the lead. Would the occupant be more or less likely to open up with a uniformed officer present? Marcus had no idea. Moreover, in the time since the accident, Stone’s family may have already sold the house. Would the new occupants have any idea about the previous owner? At the very least they might be able to point him in the direction of Stone’s family. Or maybe Stone had a girlfriend who still lived here and may have known nothing about Lorraine being in the car. How awkward would that be? While Marcus had been lost in thought, Daniel had already rang the doorbell. Pretty chimes echoed faintly from inside. As the silhouette of a figure filled the large frosted glass door panel, Daniel removed his cap. “Can I help?” asked the man, opening the door wide before looking suspiciously at Daniel and taking in his uniform. Slight of build, the man was not unattractive, but had a slight stoop forward, as though he had been hauling heavy weights around on his back all his life. If Marcus were to guess, he’d put the man in his early to mid-thirties. Dressed a little shabbily in soiled tee and jeans, Marcus assumed they had interrupted the man doing some gardening or maybe home maintenance. “Sergeant Mosborough. Kent police. Are you the owner of this house?” “I am now. Why? What’s this about?” “And your name is?” “Ken. Kenneth Villers. If this is about the break-in at number fifteen, I told your lot already that I didn’t see nothing. I was out all night with friends.” “This isn’t about the break-in. It’s about a previous occupant, Mr Damian Stone. Can we come in for a moment?” “Damian’s dead,” said the man, his voice quietening. “Yes, we’re aware of that. May we come in?” Hearing Daniel slip into his official mode made Marcus grin. When the man held the door open obediently, Marcus followed in behind. The front door opened straight into a living area, with an old dark metal fireplace and grate, but now housing a gas version of a coal fire. With pine floor boards and bronze light fixtures, the old place had been beautifully renovated and decorated. Someone had very good taste. Either that or this guy had a lot more money than his appearance belied. Villers offered them a seat on a long brown leather Chesterfield. Marcus sat, but Daniel remained standing. “Mind if I use your bathroom, sir?” asked Daniel. “Top of the stairs, on the right.” “Cup of tea would be nice,” said Daniel, heading towards the stairs. “Milk with one sugar for me.” Despite a barely audible sigh, Ken stepped into the open kitchen—much like Tom’s place but with more modern appliances—and began setting about filling a kettle with water. While standing there. Marcus’ phone beeped. When he pulled the phone out, the message from Tom read simply; “girls want go to a small farm tomorrow and want uncle Marc to come along, too. Interested?” Marcus sighed. As well as sacrificing another Sunday morning, he would have to spend the day trying his best not to ogle Tom. He texted back a simple ‘count me in’. “So why are you with the copper?” ask Villers. “Look, I’m sorry about this, Ken. He’s actually a friend helping me out. We’re not here for any official reason. It’s just that I knew the woman in the car who was with Damian and wondered if you might have some answers.” “Bradford-Fowler? The one who died in the crash?” “That’s right. Lorraine. So he had mentioned her before?” “No. Least I don’t think so. Only remember ‘cause it’s what the police told me. Then again, Dame talked a lot of names. S’what marketing people do, names and places, organising events and book signings, making guest lists. I rarely listened.” “I see,” said Marcus. “You her husband?” “No,” said Marcus. “Her best friend.” Just then, Daniel came down the stairs and entered the room, holding a large silver framed photograph in his hands. After flashing the photo at Marcus, he held the picture in front of his chest. The picture had Ken and another man standing together smiling. Done up in matching white tuxedos and black bowties, drinking champagne from crystal flutes, they stood together on grand stone steps—the photographer positioned a couple of steps below them—while in the background a row of doric columns indicated some kind of official building, a museum perhaps. “That’s private property,” said Villers, stopping what he was doing. “How long were you and Mr Stone married?” asked Daniel. What the hell? Marcus’ jaw dropped at that. But then, when he studied the photograph again, the fact was so blatant. Each held a glass out but the fingers of each other’s hands were entwined in the others’. Maybe you could call Damian Stone attractive, but not in a masculine sense. If Marcus had to use a word to describe him, he would have used the word pretty. In the picture, he appeared to be wearing eyeliner. “Not married. Civil partnership. Three years,” said Ken. “Oh God, Ken. I’m so sorry,” said Marcus. “Yeah, well. Shit happens. Had over a year to try to get used to it,” said Ken, dropping tea bags into mugs and keeping his head down. But Marcus could hear in his voice that the memory still hurt. When Ken brought mugs of tea over and placed one on a coaster in front of Marcus, he paused a moment, looking puzzled into Marcus’ eyes. “I know you, don’t I?” For a moment, Marcus felt a rush of optimism. Had he and Raine met Ken and Damian Stone before? And if so, when? “Yeah,” said Ken, handing another mug to Daniel but with his gaze still on Marcus. “You’re that chef on the telly. Fryne. The one what does traditional British food. Me and Dame had our anniversary dinner at your Shepherd’s Bush restaurant. But you were working in the other one that day. Your head waiter was a star. Made us feel really special. You’re one of us, too, ain’t you?” “I am. And I’m really pleased we gave you a good memory.” “Were you and Mr Stone exclusive?” asked Daniel, out of the blue. While Marcus and Ken sat, Daniel remained standing by a bookcase. Marcus couldn’t help show his disgust at the question, but Ken didn’t appear to mind. “Mostly, yeah. We had an understanding.” “What kind of an understanding? Did Mr Stone date women, too.” Ken’s sudden laugh sounded like someone sawing wood. “Damian used to tell people he was a prototype gay, a solid six on the Kinsey scale. He was one of those blokes who you just know are gay as soon as they open their mouths. The girls at work loved him like the brother they never had, they all turned out for his funeral. But if a woman ever hit on him, he’d run a mile screaming. And to be fair to him, Dame wasn’t the one of us who messed around. Most of the time he was too busy. Either fixing up this place—he was the designer and decorator—or doing his jobs. But I had urges every now and then. He understood that.” “So,” said Marcus, to Daniel. “That answers that mystery. Raine was definitely not having an affair with Damian.” But Daniel had already moved on. “Did you know where he was heading, the Friday they died?” “No. Far as I knew he should have been at work all day. Sometimes he’d pop out at lunch to do yoga, but the place was literally five minutes from his office.” “Raine did yoga. What’s the name of the company?” asked Marcus. “No idea,” said Ken, but then a thought came to him and he stood. “But I’ve seen a card somewhere. Let me check the office.” While Ken disappeared off, Marcus took the opportunity to snap a copy of the photo on his phone. Tom needed to see this. When Ken returned, he appeared pleased with himself. “Knew I’d seen it somewhere. Cumberland Yoga Sanctuary.” “Fuck! This is it,” said Marcus, taking the card from him. “This is the missing link, Daniel, how they new each other. Raine was a member of the same club. I bet they attended the same classes.” “Still doesn’t answer what they were doing driving south on the M25.” “Look,” said Ken. “I don’t know if this helps, but sometimes Dame did a bit of moonlighting. His company would have fired his arse if they’d known. But I’d sometimes help out, if they were shorthanded.” “What kind of moonlighting?” asked Daniel, in full interrogation mode. “Organising kids parties, weddings, anniversaries, that kind of thing. He’d sort out venues, catering, staff, invitations and everything. Reckoned that once he’s saved up enough, he was going to set up a full time business. Get away from those blood-sucking corporate bastards.” At first, Marcus couldn’t see how that information helped, but once again Daniel piped up first. “Did he have a list of preferred venues?” “He did, as it goes. Five or six. Mainly around London. Usually depended on where the client lived or whether the guests needed accommodation, too.” “Any chance we can have a look?” This time, Ken simply reached around Daniel to a large box folder in the bookcase. Once in his hand, he proffered the file to Daniel. “Knock yourself out.” Marcus was not sure exactly what Daniel was looking for but rather than question him, he went along with the idea. He had the professional experience, after all. Forty-five minutes later, they came up with invoices from six venues that Damian had used over the past three years, all dotted around the home counties and within easy reach of the M25. “What exactly are we doing, Dan?” “It’s just a theory,” he said, jotting down contact details in his notepad from each of the invoices. “But maybe Raine was organising an event. Maybe something for the kids. Who better to help with the arrangements than her gay yoga buddy?” “Me, Dan. I’m her best gay buddy. If Raine had been organising an event and wanted professional help, she would have come to me.” “Point taken. Then maybe Raine was assisting Damian with an event. What did you say she did for a living?” “I didn’t. But she worked part-time in a local naturopath store. Selling and advising on alternative medicines, vitamins, herbs. That kind of thing.” “She ever do any work in your restaurant? Wait tables or serve drinks” “Not a chance in hell. Raine, for all her positive traits, was naturally uncoordinated where restaurant or kitchen work was concerned. The only position she’d have suited brilliantly would have been the maitre’d role; meet, greet and seat guests. But I already had those roles filled. And it’s not a job a caterer needs.” “Still, it can’t do any harm giving these numbers a ring and checking if they remember having had any bookings from Stone or Bradford-Fowler. Leave that with me and I’ll call you if I find anything.” On their way out Daniel thanked Ken for being so helpful and compliant, but Marcus stopped at the door and pulled out something from his wallet. “Look Ken. I know how hard it is to lose someone you care for. And this doesn’t really go anywhere near to helping fill that hole. But if you do find yourself up town with a friend, and fancy a free meal at Old Country—anything you want, my treat—just show this card to the head waiter. Or give me a call beforehand, and I’ll make sure we reserve a table for you.” “Wow,” said Ken, clearly taken aback. “That’s really…that’s really nice. Thanks, Marcus. One last favour?” “Go on.” “Any chance of a selfie with you. Otherwise my mates will never believe you were here in my home.” Daniel patiently took the photos on Ken’s phone, shaking his head and smiling. But even he seemed pleased with Marcus, as he drove him back to the restaurant, so that Marcus could be ready for the Saturday night mayhem.
  29. 42 likes
    As the night went on, and well after we found out that paint balls could hurt and leave a mark, people started to leave. Even Tim looked relieved to finally see the crowds thinning. We were some of the last ones left and Welker, to his credit didn’t try to round us up and herd us out the door at a reasonable hour. Instead, as the clock ticked towards one in the morning and the food ran out I yawned and absently rubbed at a red lump forming just below my right elbow from one of the paint balls. Tim had tried to coax us all out the door before his cleaning crew were to start coming in, but like teenagers no one left. “Damn this was fun,” Derek said as he smirked at me until I stopped rubbing my war wound. “Conner, dude, you rock.” “Thanks,” Conner muttered as he shuffled by with Olivia towards the front door. She outlasted all of the underclassmen by hours, most of them probably having a curfew. She probably had one too, but I realized that Olivia did whatever Olivia wanted to do. She smiled up at Conner proudly when my friends all started complimenting him on the idea, even if I suspected that it was her idea all along. “You guys better sneak out of here,” Toby whispered and I glanced around to see the girls all hanging back to talk about something. “Why?” I asked turning to look at him. He wasn’t looking at us though, but at something off in the distance. When I turned to see what he was looking at I saw Cindy hovering by the front door, pacing and looking at the clock above the opposite wall. She could probably see us where we stood gathered around the exit of the paint gun arena. “Maybe I should go,” Luke said shaking his head. “It is nearly one in the morning.” “She looks pissed,” Toby countered cocking an eyebrow. “What did you do to her Jack?” “Nothing,” I grunted not wanting to think about the conversation I had with her while the guys were all in the bathroom. I didn’t want Luke finding out about it either, even if he had spotted her leaving for the food bar. I had played it off like nothing when I caught him eyeballing me as we suited up in padded gear. Derek had already shot me in the ass with one before I had an extra layer on and I was never more grateful for it as it made everyone laugh and forget about me. “Yeah, I’d not want to be around that,” Derek said pointing towards Cindy. I quickly slapped his hand, the last thing I wanted was Cindy thinking that we were all down here talking about her. “Allison,” Welker said popping out of the arena followed by two classmates still lingering around, “say goodbye to your friends.” “Dad,” Ally groaned, but gave us all a quick wave goodbye. “We better be going too,” Lily said hooking her elbow with Heather. “I told my parents I wouldn’t be too late.” “Late to your parents is eight,” Heather joked sticking her tongue out at Lily as they started walking. Seeing me she dug her heels into the ground. “Jackson, want me to give you my sister’s number?” “No,” I answered shaking my head. “Okay,” she said shrugging as she studied me. Lily finally had to give her a tug before they both started walking again. Bailey didn’t wait around long after Ally was escorted out of the building by her dad and he definitely didn’t want to follow them out the door. I couldn’t imagine dealing with Welker, back when I dated Ally I just laughed at him when he wasn’t around and did what I wanted. I didn’t care if he liked me or not, I knew that it was a guarantee with girls that dads just wouldn’t. Cindy on the other hand unnerved me completely. Not that I wanted her to like me, she made that clear as water earlier. I was scared of what she would try and pull if she found out that Luke was dating me, that I wasn’t just some friend she hated him hanging around with. Swallowing I watched as she made another small circle by the door until Tim walked up to her. She had stopped pacing, but still being by the front entrance I knew that I wouldn’t be leaving until well after she did. “Here’s your chance,” Derek whispered nudging me with his elbow. “Go out that door,” Toby added pointing to the emergency exit a few feet away. It didn’t say if an alarm would sound or not and I felt my heart rate pick up. “Come on,” Luke hissed grabbing my sore elbow. “Are you sure?” I asked as he smiled letting go of me when I woke up and started moving towards the door. “Bye guys,” Toby called as the music cut off leaving the large expansive room eerily quiet. “Wear protection,” Derek said and I nearly tripped over myself half turning to glare at him while still sprinting to the door. Luke had to grab my shoulder to steady me and when we hit the door and it opened easily with no ding or siren blaring, we both took deep breaths of cold late autumn air smiling at one another like thieves as we continued tearing across the nearly empty parking lot to my car. “Where do you want to go?” I asked after we got inside my car. I already felt freer out here, my nerves were still tingling through me though and when I looked over at Luke he was darting his head around searching the parking lot. “I don’t know,” he answered turning back to face me. For a brief moment I saw us barreling down the road by ourselves with no direction at all. Passing familiar buildings until we hit open fields and farmland between these small, dotted in the middle of nowhere towns. Driving until the gas hand ticked dangerously close to empty and find somewhere no one knew or cared about who we were. Every part of me wanted to ask him, but I knew if he said yes that I would do it despite all the consequences waiting for us back home. We wouldn’t be able to hide behind any lies or trees after a stunt like that. No one would believe anything else, but the truth. Instead I started the car and took off towards home. Both of us quiet, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe I was bad for someone like Luke. I couldn’t imagine what he was thinking until we got to his driveway and his head darted towards his house. It was mostly dark, only the living room light and porch light illuminated the property. We had a head start on Cindy and Henry was probably asleep somewhere, tired of waiting for them to come home. My house was completely dark, not even the porch light awaited us. When I got out, I reached into my pocket and used the light on my phone to light the way up the sidewalk to the front porch stairs. Luke stood quietly beside me, but when I handed him my phone he took it and held the light over the doorknob so I could find the keyhole to unlock the door. Dad’s car wasn’t in the driveway yet, but he likely would be home soon and like Cindy, we also had a head start on Mom. “I can take you home,” I offered as the door swung silently open. “No,” he said handing me back my phone. “I don’t want to go home.” “Okay,” I said swallowing back a second rush of nerves. After we got inside, I flipped the living room light switch as I kicked off my shoes. They were still damp and when I stepped I saw that my socks left wet footprints on the hardwood floor. Not wanting to make a mess of the place we both awkwardly danced and hopped on one foot at a time struggling to pull off our socks. I would have laughed if my heart wasn’t racing, but when our shoes were neatly settled against the wall and out of the way, I flipped the porch light on for Mom and relocked the front door knowing she would fuss about it being unlocked at night even if I expected her home soon. With wet socks in our hands I led Luke to the laundry room on the second floor. It was more or less a small hall closet just large enough to fit a washer and dryer inside. There was little room for dirty or clean clothes, but when I opened it I saw that I had a pile of dirty clothes shoved inside. Shrugging, I opened the lid of the washer and started tossing my colored clothes in. When the pile was sorted I looked down at my shirt, in the light of the hallway it didn’t look like paint at all, but splotches of kool-aid in shades of red, blue, green, and purple. Tugging it over my head I tossed it inside and unzipped my shorts the weight of them taking them to the floor. Stepping out of them, I glanced over at Luke. He was clutching the bottom of his shirt, and only when I smiled, about to tell him that he could use the bathroom to change did he start stripping off his own clothes. “You can take the first shower,” I said after we were both down to our underwear. He was wearing a pair of blue and white checked boxers that looked like something a man in his forties would wear. When he caught me looking I smirked and grabbed the soap from a small metal wire shelf hanging on the wall. “What was that smirk for?” He asked as he reached up and propped himself against the wall by his hand as he watched me get the laundry ready to go. “Your old man underwear,” I answered chewing on my bottom lip to keep from laughing. “These?” He asked grabbing at the waistband of his boxers, slipping his thumb inside. “Yeah those,” I answered the urge to laugh leaving me completely. “I like these,” he said shrugging as he tugged them down until they fell to the ground. I felt my eyes widen as I nearly dropped the entire bottle of detergent into the washing machine. Laughing he stepped out of his underwear then snatched them up tossing them in with the rest of our clothes. Feeling more nervous about being naked around someone than I ever had before I pulled down my boxer briefs and quickly tossed them into the wash. Not wanting to be naked, I didn’t waste time closing the lid and pressing the start button. When the washer started up I closed the hall closet, thankful that I hadn’t turned on that many lights along the way. Fighting the urge to bolt to my room I stopped in the middle of the hallway, on either side were open doors. One led to the bathroom and the other to my room. I already told Luke he could have the first shower, but he hadn’t made any move to step around me and enter the bathroom. “Well,” he said forcing me to look from the darkened short hallway ahead of us to where he stood. “What?” I asked swallowing hard. We were both half covering our junk with our hands, standing the few inches apart the hallway allowed. If was anyone else, Derek, Toby, we would be laughing our asses off. Here though, all I felt was the dryness of my mouth and the pounding of my heart in my ears. “You are going to move so I can get by, right?” He asked smirking as he looked past me to the bathroom door. “Oh, right, fuck,” I muttered taking a quick step back. “You can come too,” he whispered, his smirk falling from his lips replaced with what looked like apprehension. “Okay,” I responded letting my hands fall to my side as I led him into the bathroom flipping on the light and closing and locking the door behind us. Still nervous and unable to look at him, we danced around one another so that I could turn on the hot water and get the shower running. It was a cramped shower, not really made for more than two people at all. The overhead shower was a new addition, so at least we wouldn’t be fighting for the hot water. “Coming?” He asked again a small smile on his face. It was enough to settle some of my nerves and I slowly nodded and stepped into the shower with him. “Cramped in here,” he grunted when my elbow knocked against his side. The accidental touch sent waves through me down to my crotch. Feeling my face getting hot and knowing it wasn’t because of the warm steam of the shower I kept my eyes averted from him completely. “Want me to get out?” I asked and shuddered when I felt his fingers lightly touched my chest. The sudden touch brought my attention from watching the water cascade out of the showerhead to him standing under it. His short blond hair was plastered to his head, still too short to get into his eyes. The dark brown of them in stark contrast, but his arm and dusting of chest hair seemed darker as well now that he was wet. “You’re so nervous,” he said smiling as I swallowed again. “Why?” “I don’t know,” I groaned and heard Luke laugh as stray drops fell on my skin. He had taken a half step towards me, his fingers still on my chest making small circles that was driving me crazy. I watched him move his hand up to my shoulder and allowed him to pull me into the gentle shower above us. I felt his lips graze against my jawline as our hips met, our erections sliding against one another’s thighs. “Is this okay?” He asked as I stiffened against him, the breath rushing from my lungs. I could feel the tingle of goosebumps against my skin despite the hot water and the warmth of Luke against me. “Am I bad, for you?” I asked just as Luke’s lips began moving from my jawline up towards my lips. “What?” He asked, his breath sliding against my cheek. He took a step back and I hated the absence of him. “Am I bad for you?” I repeated as he reached up and moved his fingers through his hair until it stuck straight up so the water stopped running down his face. “No,” he answered smiling. “How can I not be?” I asked feeling slightly better that he was still smiling. “Why do you think you are?” He asked and I noticed that his eyelashes were long, that water dropped from them and landed on his cheek. Not wanting to bring up the conversation that happened with Cindy earlier, I just shrugged and we both stood in an awkward silence. I hated that I didn’t know what he was thinking, but his eyes never left mine and I was too confused and scared to look away from him. I just knew that I needed to hear the truth from him. That I was bad for him, but that he didn’t care right now. I didn’t know what Luke’s plans were after we graduated and if I could easily fit into them, we hadn’t done a lot of thinking about that, or at least I hadn’t. “No, I think you’re good for me,” he answered shaking his head slightly when I opened my mouth to speak. “And I’m good for you, too. You make me feel like I’m finally being myself and that I’m not afraid. I keep you out of trouble.” “I get you into trouble,” I countered blinking away the water in my eyes. We would be running out of hot water soon. “So?” He said smiling. “Maybe I needed to get into trouble, if that led to this right here. I never thought I’d be here, standing here in front of some guy I liked. I thought I would be alone, that maybe I deserved to be alone somehow because of… Anyway, maybe you’re not good for me, but you are who I want.” Breathing unsteadily, I couldn’t think of anything to say and feared that my voice would fail me if I did. Instead I rushed forward and closed the distance between us. The water was just changing from hot to warm and I felt Luke stiffen and moan when his back slid against the cold tile wall. His hands slid up both of my sides sending a shudder through me as he came to life and began to kiss me back. “Jackson!” Mom yelled a moment before she knocked on the door. The sound of her voice sent me sliding backwards until I was under the spray of the water. Luke seemed to freeze into place still against the wall as I fumbled around until I was able to shut the water off and open the shower door. “What?” I said walking, dripping wet to the cupboard and yanked out two towels. I quickly handed one to Luke and he wrapped it tightly around him as if he thought Mom could magically see through walls and knew that he was here. “I mean really, you had to know that I was right behind you,” Mom said from the other side of the door. “And what did your father tell you about shenanigans?” “Mom,” I groaned slipping on the wet floor until I found the bathmat where Luke stood. “I’ll see you two in the living room,” she said and we both stood silently and listened to her footsteps fading as she took the stairs back down to the living room. After we figured the coast was clear we opened the bathroom door and scurried across the hall to my room closing my door behind us. Luke still looked like a deer caught in headlights, his cheeks flushed, his muscles clenched. “Damn,” I said as we did a small dance around one another in my room, me trying to get to my dresser for clothes and Luke, not being able to stand still. “Yeah,” he muttered not realizing that I wasn’t talking to him. “Well that happened,” I offered hoping to get him calmed down a little before we faced off with Mom down in the living room. All thoughts about her coming home had left me after we stripped in the hall before our shower. “Shut up,” Luke groaned as I handed him a pair of clean boxer briefs. He dropped his towel and quickly slid them on. “Just don’t talk.” “Alright,” I said chewing on my bottom lip to keep from laughing as I fished out my own pair of boxer briefs and two pairs of shorts and t-shirts. When we finished dressing I led the way down the stairs to the living room. Mom was still dressed in what she wore to chaperone the party, her hair still a mess of color and frizz from drying without a good brushing out. Unlike me, she looked exhausted and ready to pass out on the chair. “Sit,” she ordered pointing to the couch. She took Dad’s chair across the coffee table from us, the only light in the living room was from Dad’s reading lamp beside his chair. If we were in a smaller room, it probably would have looked like some interrogation room at a police station. Glancing at Luke after we sat as far away from one another as physically possible on the couch I was glad we weren’t, he would have definitely confessed. “Mom don’t overreact,” I said my face flushing when she turned her attention to me. “Cindy is home, by the way,” Mom said reaching up and pulling a stringy strand of her hair behind her left ear. “Followed right behind me and when I stepped through the front door I hoped there would only be one teenage boy in my house.” “Mom,” I groaned sliding further down into the couch turning to see that Luke was still sitting straight and rigid on his end of the couch, not even blinking. “I told you both that you needed to be careful with her,” Mom continued turning her attention to Luke. “I’m not trying to scare you, but please Luke, it is going on two in the morning. She waited for you, Tim and I checked everywhere.” “I’m sorry,” he said, “I know I should be more careful.” “Don’t be angry with her,” Mom said, “when you go home, don’t pick any fights.” “I won’t,” he mumbled, his cheeks flushing a deeper shade of red. “It won’t always be this hard,” Mom added and I noticed her voice fall. Looking over at her, I watched her wipe away a tear that Luke didn’t see. “And I know I’m not your parent, I know, Luke, I’ve known for awhile now and I want you to know that this is a safe place for you.” “Thank you,” he muttered glancing up to face her and taking a short look over at me. “But if I know this, Cindy won’t be far behind me figuring things out, she may already be suspicious,” Mom continued clasping her hands together. “I’m not doing this to scare you, but to prepare you for what might happen. You need to be ready for questions, Cindy has made it no secret that she doesn’t think Jackson is a suitable influence on you.” “Thanks for that, Mom,” I offered rolling my eyes. “Can we stop talking about this now?” “I’m almost finished,” Mom said sitting back in her chair. “Now about tonight.” “Oh god,” I groaned hoping to disappear any moment. “I don’t want to walk in on you two doing, doing what you were doing anymore,” she said blinking rapidly as if trying to shake the thought from her memories. “I know you’re young and the urges are there…” “Mom!” I yelled as Luke fidgeted in his seat. “We’re not, we’re not…” “All I’m going to say is,” Mom said, “be more discrete and use protection.” “I don’t think you have anything to worry about, I doubt I’ll ever forget all this,” I countered cocking an eyebrow. “Can Luke and I be excused?” “You can,” Mom answered, “I’ll be taking Luke home.” “I can walk,” Luke said as he stood. I looked up at him, but he was looking all around the room except at Mom or me. “It is two in the morning,” Mom said grimacing. “Believe me, it will be better if I just walked,” he repeated stepping around the edge of the couch. “I’ll see you around, Jack, thanks Grace.” “Luke,” Mom said as she stood she held up her hand. “If you need to talk to someone.” “Yeah,” Luke offered smiling slightly and I watched him walk over to where he left his shoes and forced his barefeet into them despite them being tied. “I’ll walk you out,” I said quickly rising from my seat. “Mom, go to bed.” “Don’t be long,” Mom said, “your father will be in soon as well and I don’t think you’d be prepared for a second lecture especially after working all night.” “Yeah,” I said as I followed Luke outside barefoot in the cold closing the door behind me. “I don’t think I’ll be seeing you for a while,” Luke said holding up his hand when I started to talk. “At least we’ll have school, I think.” “Don’t go,” I said leaning against the railing. “Mom will be getting ready for bed, just sneak back in with me, don’t go home to whatever is waiting for you.” “I need to get this over with, your Mom is right,” Luke said sighing. “I’ll probably still be grounded by the time I graduate college.” “I’m sorry,” I said stepping out of the glow of the porch light feeling a bit exposed by its light. Looking towards the trees, the leaves had fallen off them just enough to allow for light from Luke’s house to make it through. “Don’t apologize,” Luke countered giving me a half hearted smirk. “Alright, I won’t,” I said smiling when he laughed. “See you around, he said giving me a short wave. “See ya,” I said grabbing for his arm as he turned to leave. Only managing to graze it with my fingertips, he stopped anyway, but missing his arm held me back from kissing him. He looked like he was about to take the longest trip of his life and I wanted to say more than I did, but I also knew that we didn’t have the time. “What?” He asked his face half illuminated by the porch light. “See you Monday,” I answered feeling completely lame. I hated thinking that a kiss would be the last thing that he wanted from me, but it being the one thing I wanted to do before he walked away. “Yeah,” he said nodding and I watched him turn and walk down the stairs, crossing his arms against the cold night air. I was too tense to notice that my toes were freezing and that I, too, didn’t have enough clothes on to be out here. He didn’t stop to look back as he crossed my yard and disappeared into the forest and when I could no longer see or hear him crashing along, I walked back inside and up the stairs to my room. Collapsing on my bed, I sighed and lazily pulled the covers over me to warm myself back up, suddenly exhausted. I was beginning to realize just how many things were still in our way. How shit could come crashing down around us, but seeing Luke step off my front porch I knew what I wanted. I would just have to fight for it.
  30. 41 likes
    Journal entry 11: I’ve kind of held off writing more about my past experiences at Parker Valley since my breakdown. It’s been a little over a week and while I’m feeling better, a part of me is scared of getting too close to some things that I still have a hard time with. I know I will eventually get to them or at least I hope I do. I’m trying to get back into this since there are a lot of things I need to come to terms with and about the only way I don’t evade questions from Doc is by writing it down. I learned a valuable lesson after mouthing off to my old pack Beta about what a useless and worthless has been he is and voicing several other obnoxious opinions to the pack council, all while thinking I had a free pass to do it because I was the best friend of the Alpha’s son. I thought the interrogation into my attack on Ethan was a joke and because of whom I was with, nothing would be done to me or the son of the Alpha. Why should I listen to anything a mere Beta has to say when I’m taking my orders from the Alpha’s son? Everything seemed so clear at the time that my loyalty was to Michael and by extension of that to Alpha Stockdale and the pack itself. If Michael gave me an order that contradicted his dad, it was the same to me as if the Alpha had given the order; at least that was my thinking at the time. What I didn’t think about is that I really viewed Michael as my own Alpha so the pack Alpha truly didn’t factor in after all. I always thought that I believed strongly in the pack; it turned out that my loyalty was to the little sub pack I was in and not to the larger pack. It never occurred to me that I created a conflict for myself as I began to serve two Alphas that I thought of as one. Reality has a way of turning around and giving you a very well deserved kick in the gut and ass when you have to look into your parents face as you wait to hear if you will receive a death sentence or have to accept exile. Learning that you and your friend are not actually untouchable stings, but that sting is minor compared to the damage I did cause. This didn’t just affect me, but the guys I was with, Ethan and Aiden as well as my parents and the families of those who were with me on that bridge. I needed to fall, hard, to begin to face what I had become and I only just started to face it as I left Parker Valley for good. I thought it was all fun and games at the time; first going after Aiden and his mate while they were running and later when we tried to jump his mate on the bridge in town. He wasn’t a Lycan; he was only a human that had shacked up with a wolf. That seemed disgusting on its own to me, but being young and never putting much stock in those stories they teach us about true mates, I didn’t consider it was even possibly true for them; I don’t think it would have mattered if I believed it to be true. On top of that, Aiden had always been a thorn in the side of my friend Michael; most likely because Aiden wouldn’t blindly follow him. Aiden had never really been my friend either, but in retrospect that might have just been because of my long association with Michael. When we were young pups, we all played some at school and were sort of friends, but he and Michael always seemed to have some type of rivalry going. Once things got to where Aiden could win at anything over Michael, I guess around second grade, any chance of friendship with him ended if I wanted to hang around with Michael. I can still remember Michael saying you can be friends with him or me, not both. Aiden was always one of the cool guys and I wanted to play whatever game Aiden was doing at school, but since challenges and fights between the two always had Aiden winning, I was ordered to choose and I went with the person I felt closer to; plus Mom encouraging me to be friends with a good boy like Michael instead of that troublemaker Aiden. Looking into my mom’s eyes after the trial and after the sentencing; her knowing that I had planned to rape and kill someone just because it was the mate of my friends biggest rival to eventually becoming Alpha. That look in her eyes actually got me to open mine to what I had become and I’m thankful there wasn’t a mirror around me, because I don’t think I could have bared to look at that monster that would have been looking back at me. Even my wolf wanted to hide in disgrace and found some corner of my mind to cower in. The look Mom had on her face was one of disbelief, disappointment, horror and like she was looking at the monster I felt like; there was also still some of what can only be described as a mother’s love too, but it was overshadowed by everything else. She never said it, but I’m sure he asked herself many times since my capture where she went wrong in raising me; how she could have overlooked what I had become. One of my biggest moments of realization of what I had become was seeing Mom and Dad after the trial or maybe it was our goodbye’s the morning my exile went into effect. I do know that the biggest was when I had my blowup with Michael while on the road to my new home. I saw for the first time that the only thing that mattered to him was him. It didn’t matter who he used, what he said or who was hurt in the process as long as he got what he wanted and that not only made me angry, but also scared the fuck out of me for the first time. He didn’t seem to care if his actions on the road got me killed or not. In accepting exile, we had to drive directly to the territory of Columbia River Pack. We could stop to eat, sleep, get gas or use the head along the way. We had to check in with any pack that we passed through along the way. The tracking device that was on my ankle would alert someone if I took a road that wasn’t preapproved for me to take. We had to call in to the tracking company at each stop and say what we were doing and why we stopped. If there was some traffic issue and I was sitting in one location for too long, I got a call asking what the problem was. Even with all this arranged, Michael out of the blue asks me to go camping with him at our first stop out of Parker Valley instead of following our orders. He mentioned cutting off the ankle monitor and tossing them in the trash saying ‘what could they do about it.’ The papers I’d signed before leaving Parker Valley Pack said if we deviated from our assigned route, if we violated what we were agreeing to, that if we didn’t meet every single term of the agreement that bore my name, my exile status would automatically be changed to a rogue wolf and I would be hunted down by the Lycan Council and any packs within it for execution. Michael signed the same papers and we were informed that a copy was going to the Council as well as to Columbia River. Michael called me a coward for willingly following the terms his father had dictated to us. He felt that if we were exiled that once we left the pack that issued the exile, we were free to do whatever we want since we didn’t answer to anyone or any pack. Technically he might have been right, we were no longer part of any pack and Parker Valley couldn’t officially order us around as we were banned from the pack, but we still fell under the authority of the Lycan Council, didn’t we? I know for sure I’m still under the Lycan Council now. Regardless of anything he said from that point on, I’d had enough and wasn’t listening anymore. I spent fifteen years of my life standing by him, letting him bully and use me even if at times I didn’t realize he was doing it, telling me what a great friend I was one moment and how I was going to be his Beta someday while the next moment telling me I was useless if I questioned anything and didn’t do what he wanted. Years of doing thing that degraded me or others around me; sometimes pushing me to the point of wishing I could go feral and run away to hide my shame. Years of torturing and abusing friends and strangers all for his enjoyment; and I admit eventually for my enjoyment once I’d gotten conditioned to accept it. It felt so good throwing that punch, to feel my knuckles as they impacted his face and hearing his nose break as the force of my punch knocked him off his feet; seeing him fall back several feet and ending up on his ass with his face bloody and knowing I’d caused it. My only regret is that I only hit him the one time. Until I hit him I never knew I had been holding so much resentment towards him in me. It all came to the surface in that once moment when my fist tried to force its way through his face. As I told him at the time, we should have been executed for our crimes, but somehow we had been given a second chance and a new home. Who takes in an exile? Especially an exile where one of them is the son of an Alpha and the other is his best friend that were convicted of attacking a human, disrespecting an Alpha and ignoring the orders of an Alpha among other things. We had committed high crimes against the pack and the Lycan Council and managed to live. We should have been considered threats to all Lycan for how we acted. After the sadness and fear in my mom’s eyes, I wanted to make a change in my life. I needed to make a change in my life. I couldn’t put her through that again and I couldn’t keep acting the way I had been, both for her and for myself. I know change is a slow process; I’ve figured that out already. I am changing and I can see a difference in myself. However long it takes, I’m in this for the long haul. I’m probably just rambling at this point, but Doc, you did say to just write things down as they come to me. You said to not think about it so much as to let it flow freely. Same as you say in our sessions.
  31. 41 likes
    All Marcus remembered was his natural instinct to lean away as the van hit the front passenger door and the screech of metal upon metal as the car span around. Even so the impact had thrust him sideways, smacking his head against the doorframe, producing a searing pain around his neck as the airbags inflated, and as he blacked out. When he awoke in a hospital bed, the doctor appeared to be more bothered about checking for concussion, rather than the fractured collar bone, which had apparently been far less serious that the associated pain. Once fully conscious, Marcus’ only concern was about the other passengers in the car. “Everyone’s fine,” reassured Dr Kimura, a tiny but clearly able Japanese woman with beautiful spoken English. “Fortunately the other driver was not travelling at great speed. The children don’t even appear to have been shaken up—both were sleeping at the time—and, more importantly, neither have any physical damage. As for the other gentleman—is he your partner?” “Tom?” Marcus chuckled a little, before wincing at the pain. “No, he’s just a friend. Is he okay?” “Absolutely fine,” she said, and then her expression turned a little reprimanding. “Well, apart from jumping out of the vehicle and threatening the other driver. But at least he had the foresight to call an ambulance when he realised you’d been hurt. He’s in the waiting room now. The grandmother took the children home. But your friend won’t leave until he gets to see you. Do you feel well enough?” “Yes, of course,” said Marcus. Five minutes later, they led an ashen faced Tom into the hospital room. First of all his eyes took in the bandage around Marcus’ head before meeting his eyes. “Marcus. Jesus, I am so sorry.” “Wasn’t your fault. The other guy backed out without looking.” “I should have spotted him. Should have been more vigilant.” “Tom, stop trying to be a superhero. I’m fine.” “Honestly, Marcus. Exactly how bad is it?” “Minor. Doctor says I’ll have my left arm in a sling for a couple of weeks, minor fracture of the clavicle, but they’re keeping me in overnight because of the bump on my head. How are the girls?” “They’re okay. Worried about you, naturally. Charlotte slept through the whole thing, can you believe? Katie was the one who realised you weren’t moving. Put the fear of God into me, I can tell you. You want me to call anyone? Or bring you anything from home?” “No need. Honestly, I’ll be out tomorrow. It’s just one night. I’ve got my phone, I can call Tina and both chefs. They’ll be perfectly fine.” Just then the ward door opened, presenting none other than Daniel Mosborough who sauntered in togged out in Bermuda shorts and white polo shirt. “What the hell are you doing here? Were you tailing us?” asked Marcus. Tom turned to see who Marcus had addressed. “Nice way to greet a friend,” said Daniel, turning to Tom, and holding out a hand. “Dan Mosborough. Marcus and I went to school together.” “You’re the cop at the water park,” said Tom, shaking hands. “Ah, so I’ve already been talked about, have I?” “Tom was admiring our similar taste in swimwear,” said Marcus, beginning to laugh again but then thinking better of it. “I thought you might be here in an official capacity. I’m just surprised you found out what happened so quickly.” “I was chatting to one of my team who was passing the water park and offered me a lift home in his squad car. So when the call came in, providing your name, I thought I’d head over here to check on you.” “Listen,” said Tom. “I’ll let you guys chat. I need to go and fetch the girls. See you tomorrow, Marcus. Call me if you need anything.” After they’d all said their farewells, Dan stayed behind and pulled up a chair. “He’s a bit of a hunk.” “Hands off, Mosborough. He’s straight.” “Yeah, they all say that until you get eight or nine pints into them.” “Shit,” said Marcus, wincing again. “Please don’t make me laugh.” “Sorry, mate.” “So are you here to interrogate me?” “Course not. From what I understand, there’s not a lot to tell. Van driver—guy in his twenties, no previous—using his driver’s side wing mirror, tried to avoid a car parked on his right, and didn’t see you until it was too late. Luckily Fowler wasn’t driving fast, otherwise it might have been much worse.” “He’s a bloody good driver. Honestly Dan, all I remember is waking suddenly to see the back doors of the van hit. Then I blacked out.” “Yeah. Apparently Fowler told my colleague the same thing. You in much pain?” “Doctor’s got me on some expensive meds. Just waiting for them to kick in. But no doubt it’ll hurt tomorrow.” “Doctor Kimura’s more worried about him showing any signs of concussion, Sergeant,” interrupted the staff nurse, coming to the end of the bed, and checking a chart. The complete opposite spectrum to the doctor, this woman was large, with rosy cheeks and a stern face. “We’re keeping him in overnight, just in case. If you start to feel dizzy or nauseous, or if you have trouble with your vision, make sure you press that buzzer straight away.” She disappeared as quickly as she’d turned up. A short pause fell between them. “Good to meet you today, Dan. And now it’ll definitely be memorable.” Marcus let Daniel chuckle without joining in. “Hope you don’t mind me sticking around?” said Dan, pulling up a chair. “I’ve got bugger all else to do. Not back on duty until tomorrow. But I’m having a pint with some of that lads later.” “Had it been my choice, I’d have preferred a chat over a pint, too, but I suppose here’s as good a place as any. So where shall we begin? Maybe you could go first. Anyone special in your life,? Since school?” Marcus couldn’t be sure, but he thought he noticed a slight flicker of sadness cross Dan’s face before he paused to consider. Most of the time, Daniel presented his bland, serious but non-threatening policeman expression. “I did. Zane. Six years ago. Fellow copper, different unit. Unlike me, though, he wasn’t out, so difficult doesn’t even begin to explain our relationship. But let me tell you, it’s tough being with someone who refuses to put even one foot out of the closet. Spent most of our time together either in his flat or mine, watching cable movies, eating take-out and drinking beers, followed by nights of pretty amazing sex. But being indoors all the time gets old fast. Wouldn’t even entertain the idea of a movie night at the cinema in case he got spotted with me. Final straw came when we went the other side of the planet on holiday together—San Francisco—and he wouldn’t even let me touch him in public. No way to live a life.” “I’m really sorry.” Daniel shrugged then, but the experience had clearly affected him. “Since then, nobody special. Threw myself into my career instead.” “You and me both. You ever see him? Zane?” “Couple of times. Even though it was the right decision, you can’t just turn off your heart. The couple of times we’ve run into each other—usually some official meetings another—my stomach goes into a tailspin. So how about you? Anyone special?” “Nah. An occasional roll in the hay, but no keepers.” “You and Tom Fowler seem pretty tight.” “Come off it, Dan. Apart from being straight, he’s got enough on his plate right now. Taken on a whole lot of strife since Raine died.” “You fancy him though, don’t you? I can tell by the way you look at him.” “I think of him—and his daughters—as family. That’s all. But I once told Raine that if he’d had a gay twin brother, I’d be the first in line.” Once again they both fell silent. “Talking of Raine, you obviously remembered the crash that took her life.” “Difficult to forget.” “At the time, she was travelling with a man called Damian Stone.” “Is that so?” “Yes. The thing is, nobody knows who he is. At first Tom wondered if she was having a fling with the guy. But I honestly don’t see that.” “Sometimes we don’t really know those closest to us.” “You’re not a fan of radio chat shows, are you?” “Huh?” “Sorry. In-joke between Tom and I. Yes, I’ve heard that people close to us can turn out to be a total mystery. Just ask Harold Shipman’s wife. But you know me, and I did know Raine. She fucked up once. There was no way she would do the same again. She had too much to lose.” “But the mystery remains. What was she doing in the car with this guy?” “Exactly.” “And you want me to look into it?” “No, of course not,” said Marcus, firmly, before hesitantly continuing. “Unless. Could you? I mean, I wouldn’t want to get you into any trouble.” “You wouldn’t. To be honest it’d be a doddle. There’s bound to be a case file, probably on computer. Not as though it’s a murder case, or anything. But you’ll owe me.” “And what exactly would I owe you?” “Dinner?” “I think I can manage that.” Just at that moment, Marcus’ phone began to buzz. Tina’s face popped up on the display as he raised the device to his ear. He took a deep breath before answering, wondering how he would explain his current predicament. “And maybe a blow job,” muttered Dan, thinking Marcus hadn’t heard him. “Yeah,” replied Marcus, grinning. “Well, let’s see what you come up with before I commit to any after-school activities.” Daniel had a nice laugh and Marcus smiled as he answered the phone. “Someone’s in a good mood. Where are you?” “In hospital. Being treated for concussion and a fractured collar bone.” “What! Are you being serious?” Marcus took a few minutes to explain to Tina who calmed significantly when he explained the less serious nature of the accident. What took a little longer was convincing her that she did not need to rush to see him. “So what’s up? Why are you calling on a Sunday night?” said Marcus, trying to distract her from her mother hen routine. “Well, I’d hoped it would be good news, but depends on you now, and how quickly you’re going to take to recover. Kurt Bruckmeyer’s managed to get the New York deal resurrected.” After Marcus’ sudden departure over a year back, a couple of key investors had decided to pull the plug despite the efforts of Tina to convince them of Marcus’ commitment and genuine reason for returning early. “As he’s managed to drum up a batch of new investors and has their interest, he wants us to move fast. Apparently that celebrity chef programme you featured on back in April just aired in New York. But it means there’ll be back-to-back meetings lined up in three weeks’ time. So, of course, they want to meet the star in person. Are you going to be okay?” “The doctor said it’s minor. I’ll be fine by then.” “Good. And hopefully nothing’s going to rip you back home before you’ve met with everyone this time around.” “And am I going to have to shag Bruckmeyer just to prove good faith?” Marcus had to look away from Dan’s shocked expression to stop from laughing, but Tina’s comeback caught him off guard. “I think that ship has already sailed, sweetie.” “Ow,” said Marcus. “How long are we going to be away for?” “Hard to say, but I’d clear space for three weeks, to be on the safe side.” The humour left Marcus then. Not only would he need to brief his staff to cope without him, but he’d need to reschedule things with Tom and Moira. When he ended the call with Tina, he noticed Dan still standing there. “Anything I can do to help?” he asked. “Yeah. Put the bloody sports channel on the TV and then bugger off and see your mates. At least one of us should be enjoying a night off. And it looks like I’m stuck here on my back for the night.” “Hey, keep smiling, big man. Let me see what I can do to trace your man.” Even though he chose to live alone, once Daniel had gone Marcus had never felt so abandoned in his whole life.
  32. 40 likes
    Journal entry 10: I had a good day at school today. I got into a debate with my economics professors about economic interests vs. environmental interests in business. Just for the sake of a debate, he took that view that economic interests will almost always take precedent with most people and companies since it is cheaper to make a dollar at the expense of the environment and then challenged the class to come up with an opposing argument. I agreed with him in principle but countered that companies can find a type of balance with the environment and sometimes gain a greater market share due to the positive response of customers or at the very least, earn customer loyalty from people that want to say they are doing something for the environment. The debate went a lot deeper than what I just said and I don’t want to take a lot of time writing about it, but he and a lot of the other students agreed with the points I made. I guess I have an advantage from growing up as a Lycan since we naturally try to find a balance with nature. It was something minor in the scheme of things, but it was a fun debate and made for a fun class. In English Lit class we started discussing werewolf genre in literature; apparently a favorite topic of the professor. He brought up “Blood of the Werewolf” and also a few others. He also joked about the film adaptations of several books and how the genre has been a part of the human culture for centuries. He started to talk about the Twilight novels and movies until the class begged him not to. I could tell by the scent of the room that I was the only Lycan in there and so I just sat back smiling as I listened. After he made a few comments about the obsession of so many in both books and film to create horror creatures that are half man/half wolf beasts that walk on two legs and attack anything that lives, I could only think to myself that it would be funny if one of those filthy lunis wolves walked through the door at that point. My mood changed rapidly from the enjoyment I was feeling at hearing the professor and class talking about something that to them was not real and just the fantastical imagination of writers while a real Lycan was sitting in the room listening them. The mood change was not from being the lone Lycan in the room, but because of my thought about a lunis wolf being a filthy creature. Haven’t I learned anything since I’ve been here? I had never actually met a canis lunis before since all of Parker Valley was made up of canis lupus wolves. I know what they look like from pictures I’ve seen. I know that they are what originated most of the werewolf stories; or at least feral lunis wolves are. I also know from our Lycan history that a lot of lupus wolves think that a lunis isn’t a pure Lycan like we are; just an evolutionary mistake or genetic defect among Lycan. I even know that some packs exile or outright kill lunis to maintain lupus blood purity. Now I’m mad at myself over this. I’m judging another type of wolf based on the prejudice of others without having ever met one and developed an opinion for myself; once again I’m a follower and I don’t even know who I’m following. I thought I was beginning moving past things like this. I know it takes time to change, but I want to stop this bone headed way of thinking. I want to think for myself. My escort, Kyle, met me for lunch on campus and asked how my day was going. I told him about the debate in economics and he just smiled. When he said he could tell that something is bothering me, I let him know about English Lit and how I was really enjoying to subject until I had my thought about the lunis wolf. He asked why I thought that about the lunis and I couldn’t give a good answer. I just remember hearing people say things like that about them and eventually it stuck even though I had never met one in person. I went on to explain that with everything else I’ve questioned in my life, just having that thought about a type of Lycan I had never met wasn’t sitting well with me. I mentioned how I use to have a bad opinion of non-wolf shifters, and still do sometimes before I catch myself, but was reevaluating that opinion as well since they were just different types of Lycan that had never done anything to me. I apologized for being a downer and tried to go back to eating my lunch, though I didn’t have much of an appetite anymore. Kyle just quietly sat there and didn’t say anything good or bad about what I said. It wasn’t long before we both had our first afternoon class to go to. I was kind of distracted through it, but trigonometry was something I could focus on. Getting back home at the end of the day, Kyle told me to drop me books in my apartment and meet him downstairs in ten minutes. I figured he had some assignment to take me to though I didn’t have anything on my community service schedule for today. I got downstairs about a minute before he did and followed him to his car. We drove for a couple miles and he turned into the driveway of a small house. I followed him up to the door as he knocked. The guy that answered the door looked like a slightly older version of Kyle. Kyle introduced the guy as Aaron and then told him who I was. Aaron was Kyle’s older brother. His mate and two kids were just heading out for soccer practice or something like that. We sat down and Kyle told me that he wanted to introduce me to a lunis wolf. I wanted to crawl under a rock at that point and hide. Kyle explained to his brother about our earlier conversation and how I was questioning things that I learned while growing up. Aaron asked what had brought this on today or got me thinking about the subject of lunis wolves vs. lupus wolves. I told him about English Lit class and how the professor was talking about different books in the werewolf genre and with a few things he said I had thought it would be funny if one of those “filthy lunis wolves” walked in about then. I immediately apologized for the comment, but Aaron just sat back with a little laugh and said that I must be in Professor Johnson’s class. When I nodded he went on to say he had the same professor for that class and when he discussed that topic, he had really wanted to shift into his wolf, walk to the front of the class and piss on the professor’s leg. That had us all laughing. Aaron said I could ask him anything I wanted about being lunis. He pointed out that he was the only one in the family that was lunis and while it was difficult for him after his first shift, his family and friends accepted him and his wolf for who he is. He mentioned that there were currently two dozen or so others in the pack. We talked about how it is just an anomaly that sometimes happens and he said there were some advantages to it like still having opposable thumbs when in his wolf form. We also talked about how some packs won’t allow a lunis and exile them since they think like I use to and other packs have been known to kill them. He mentioned that he was happy that as soon as I had the thought that I considered my thinking was wrong. After talking to me for about an hour on the differences and similarities of the two types of wolves, he got up and guided us to the backyard where he stripped down. His body mass seemed to increase, fur started growing from everywhere, his head and face became more wolf like and a long bushy tail grew from just above his butt. The paws and feet became much bigger and the long claws grew to match his big teeth. He stood about seven feet tall and I admitted it was impressive to see my first lunis. He kept talking, though his voice was deep and gravely. I was kind of jealous about that since a lupus can’t use human speech as a wolf. He did a few things to show what a lunis is capable of. Picking up small objects was a challenge, but it would have been as much of a challenge for a human with huge hands. He also explained that during a full moon he has to change. There is no option or choice unlike with me. I feel the pull of the moon and the desire to shift, but I don’t have to shift. On the full moon he is about three feet taller and even greater mass since his lunar form is different from a non-lunar shift. He also mentioned that a solar shift or daytime shift was more difficult since the lunis is more tied to the moon and night, but he also pointed overhead and we could see the moon was visible. Days when the moon was up seemed to cancel out some of the solar effects on him. After a while he went back to his human shape and we talked a little more. As Kyle and I were leaving, I thanked Aaron for talking to me and helping me to understand something I had never been exposed to. I told him I was glad I had the earlier thought I did because it got me thinking about how wrong I was to think it and that it allowed me to meet a different type of wolf. I apologized as well for thinking of a lunis as a filthy wolf because it wasn’t right to think that. He just laughed and said his mate thought of him as filthy a lot of the time, especially his mind. Like many things, today had me thinking about a lot of stuff I use to think I knew. When we got back to the apartments, I thanked Kyle for introducing me to his brother and for all the help he has been giving me to open my eyes to a new way of thinking and acting. He just nodded and told me, ‘we’re good, bro’. People like Kyle are who I need for friends someday.
  33. 39 likes
    Eleven-thirty Wednesday night, Marcus lay on top of the thick cotton quilt in his hotel room in Birmingham mulling over the lease signing meeting, which had gone so much better than expected. As usual, a lot of the negotiation points had gone over his head, but since the opening of Shepherd’s Bush three year ago, he surprised himself at how much he now understood. Nevertheless, that kind of detail bored him, was Tina’s domain—Marcus preferred to be holed up in the kitchen, playing with knives and fire, and creating magic. Which was one of the reasons he had excused himself on Tuesday during a particularly long and arduous debate on renewal clauses, to use the washroom. Wandering the corridors of the large law firm, he had tried one door after another, until he had stumbled upon a fully kitted-out kitchen. Inside, one of the suits from the firm, taking a break to use the snazzy Italian coffee machine, had explained that the kitchen was only ever really used for firm functions. After getting directions to the toilets from the guy, and then having a quick snoop around the surprisingly well-equipped kitchen, he had found his way to the restroom. And as he had pulled out his phone to check messages, the small piece of paper Daniel had given him fell out of his pocket. On an impulse, he’d decided to give the number a ring. “Brackley Moor Manor House. How may I help you?” “Yes, hello. Can I speak to Laura Kitchener in bookings?” “Speaking.” “Yes, hello there. My name’s Marcus Fryne.” After a slight pause at the end of the phone, the woman had continued. “Marcus Fryne?” came the voice of the woman. A touch of suspiciousness had crept into the tone. “As in the well-known chef?” “It is, actually. But I wouldn’t exactly call myself famous.” “Oh my goodness, it is you. I would recognise your voice anywhere. My husband and I saw you on the celebrity chef feature on Channel Four on Tuesday. We’ve been to your Edgware Road restaurant three times. Every time the food has been amazing. We’re both huge fans.” “I’m honoured. And thank you so much for your support. The thing is Laura. Is it okay to call you Laura?” “Of course! Oh my goodness. Wait until I tell Bobby, my husband, that you called here.” “The thing is, Laura, a good friend of mine made a booking at Brackley Moor around eighteen months ago. I just wondered if you’d have kept any details. Her name is—was—Mrs Lorraine Bradford-Fowler.” “Yes, I certainly do. A policeman asked me the same question recently. Told me what had happened to her. And he also said a friend of his might call, but I never imagined it would be you.” “Police Sergeant Mosborough? Yes, we’re good friends.” “That’s the one. Mrs Bradford-Fowler—God rest her soul—placed a tentative booking for the second Saturday of last November. A hundred people. Said it was for a seventieth birthday party. But we never received the deposit or any follow-up confirmation, so we naturally had to let the booking go, I’m afraid. Don’t tell me you were going to do the catering?” “No,” Marcus had laughed. When he’d returned back to the boardroom, Tina had been on fire and had already managed to negotiate everything he’d wanted within budget down to the kitchen overhaul and structural modifications to the shop front. Once the legal paperwork had been signed, they had estimated opening a month earlier than planned. Which is why Marcus had surprised them all that lunchtime by slipping out early to cook everyone a hot lunch selection from his new menu in their under-utilised kitchen—he’d bought all the ingredients on his way back to the hotel that night—a nice change from cold sandwiches and much to the delight of those gathered. After the high of the day before, came the bombshells from Tina the next morning. Not only had eager American shareholders been in touch overnight wanting to kick off the New York venture, requesting Marcus to be physically there in the kitchen for the first few months of opening, but Millstone Publishing had sent an email offering them a substantial sum to publish his recipes in his very own Old Country recipe book. With that, however, came the deadline of getting everything ready for the Christmas market. Typical of Marcus’ life, everything seemed to happen at once. Stress he was used to, having worked in a kitchen for most of his adult years, but right now work was becoming overwhelming and that unsettled him. Just then his phoned beeped with a message. U awake? Tom. And just like that, he found himself smiling and his spirits lifting as his thumbs flashed eagerly across the keys. Nope. Fast asleep. What's up? Cant sleep. Keep thinking. About? Friday night and what I'm going to do to u. Marcus gulped, even as his heart sped up. He still had trouble processing Tom's feelings for him. U still there? You're killing me Tom. Killing isnt what I have in mind. Can I call you? You know you can. Anytime. Seconds later the phone rumbled and Tom’s deep breathing came down the line. Before he could prepare himself, Marcus’ erection began stretching his sweat pants. “Good evening, Thomas Bradford. To what do I owe the pleasure? You want me to count sheep with you?” Tom’s deep laughter rumbled pleasantly down the phone. “You know something, Marcus. Just hearing your voice does it for me these days.” Marcus smiled and his neck warmed. For all his past insensitive behaviour, every now and then Tom had a way of stalling him with his frank and honest sentiment. “And to think you were going to dump me.” “Shit. We both know I was wrong. And in the words of Phil Collins, how many times do I say I’m sorry?” “Cheesy. And for a certified slut, no less.” “Phil Collins?” “Christine, smartass.” “Not going to let me forget that, are you?” “Not on your life.” Tom’s rumbled chuckle down the line warmed Marcus to the core. “By the way, Tom, don’t forget Katie has to take a cake tin to school tomorrow.” “Shit. Where—?” “I’ve put it in the cupboard beneath the sink. In the blue recycled shopping bag. Don’t worry, she’ll remind you in the morning. And Charlie has her piano lesson on Wednesday after school. But I’ve arranged for Moira—“ “Marcus—“ “—to pick her—what?” “I’m losing my erection with all this baby talk.” “You’ve got a hard on?” “Rock solid.” “Fuck,“ said Marcus, before groaning softly into the phone and throwing himself into the pile of pillows along the headboard. “Now I wish I was there.” “You are. Just keep talking. But please, no more cake tins or piano lessons.” “What then?” “Whatever. Ask me what I’m wearing?” Marcus pulled the phone away and stared at the display. Did Tom want to have phone sex with him? Ah well, in for a penny… “So, what are you wearing, Thomas Bradford?” “Tonight sweat bottoms and tee shirt. In case the girls call for me in the middle of the night. But I’m planning on leaving them at home when I come to you on Friday.” “Christ, I’m so nervous about Friday.“ “Why?” “I’m worried I won’t be enough for you. Or that as soon as I see you naked, I’ll embarrass myself.” “Now that I would pay to see.” “I’m serious, Tom. I want it to be really special for you.” “It will be. Stop worrying. You’re the one with the man-on-man experience. Although I admit, I have been doing some homework.” “Oh yes?” “Internet.” “I’m listening.” “Went onto a couple of gay porn sites with guys going for it. To be honest, it didn’t really do anything for me at first. Not until I stumbled on one guy built a lot like you. Totally different face, but when I covered that with my hand and thought of you. Well, let’s just say we definitely had lift off. And now I can think of nothing else. Certainly gave me some ideas for Friday. So come on, talk to me. If I was with you now, what would you like to do to me?” And there it was. In reality, Marcus would have liked to have tapped Tom’s fine ass on Friday, but he knew the idea might freak the man. In his early twenties, Marcus had bottomed twice, but both times he’d never really felt it, not the way some of his bottom partners had, rolling their eyes back, genuinely aroused and stimulated beneath him. Maybe that’s simply how he was built. Or maybe he’d never been with the right man. But if that’s what it took to get Tom Bradford in his bed, then he would get himself physically—and, moreover, mentally—prepared. Still, there was something else he had always wanted to do to Tom Bradford. “I’d pull down your sweat bottoms and suck you dry.” “Details. Give me details.” “Tom. Can we have real sex before we get into the phone variety?” “Spoilsport.” “Not really. I want to know what sex with you actually feels like, before we resort to talking about it. You know, I want to know what it’s like with our hot bodies wrapped around each other, or to suck you into my hot moist mouth while my lips squeeze around the head of your cock and my tongue caresses around the salty head before I take you deep in my throat and swallow hard. Or the sensation of straddling your lap with you buried deep inside me. Especially while I’m lubed up and nuzzling your ear and neck, or licking and biting your hardened nipples while I ride you home like a seasoned jockey. Should I go on?” Tom’s ragged voice came down the phone. “You bastard.” “Gay phone sex is a breeze. It’s the real deal beneath the sheets that matters.” They both fell silent for a moments, Marcus enjoying the simple sound of Tom breathing down the phone. “Can I ask you something else?” came Tom’s voice. “Anything.” “Why were you never with anyone? In all the time we knew you, I don’t think you ever introduced us to anyone.” “Nobody fancied me.” “Bullshit. I don’t believe that for a second. What’s the real reason?” “Honestly? I did meet a couple of people, but none were keepers. Maybe it’s because, no matter how I tried, I never found anyone that lived up to you and Raine?” “So what? It was our fault? We ruined you?” “You didn’t ruin me, but—I don’t know—everyone needs role models, something to aspire to. And you two did set the bar pretty bloody high.” At the mention of Tom’s late wife, Marcus thought back to the telephone call he had made the previous day. “Tom, how old is your father?” “Seventy-three. Why?” “And Moira’s sixty-nine, yes?” “Yes. Why the interest? Is this about their anniversary?” “What anniversary?” “They’ll have been married fifty years this year. But if you were thinking about offering to do something special for them, they’ve already said they don’t want anything over-elaborate. Just a small dinner with close friends and family.” Marcus mulled the words over, wondering if now would be a good time to tell Tom what he’d found out about the day Raine died. Whether wise or not, he decided against it, not to ruin the intimate moment they were having together. As though hearing Marcus’ thoughts. Tom’s voice came down the phone. “I wish you were here. Lying next to me.” “So do I.” “What time Friday?” “Seven. I’m off the whole day.” “As long as you’re on the whole night.” “‘Night, Tom.”
  34. 39 likes
    Journal entry 6: I just finished my session with the counselor and a lot came out in the session today. Doc had me moved to the pack’s medical clinic and placed on suicide watch as a precaution. When I said I deserved to die, that I had thoughts of killing myself for what I had planned on doing to Ethan and what I had done to other people, she immediately called for help. I don’t know if this was a cry for help, but it was heard loud and clear. My mind is so messed up right now. I want to die, I want them to put me to death for what I did, I want to end my life anyway I can, but I’m scared to die and don’t know how to deal with everything we talked about today or my past. I have to give the pen to the clinic’s doctor for now since they won’t let me keep any sharp objects. He said they are going to give me something to sedate me for the night. I hope it is a dreamless night and I’m not trapped in my nightmares. Journal entry 7: I’m sorry for I haven’t written anything for a couple days. The sedative they had me on was a strong one and I’m still feeling a little groggy even though it has been three days. One of the bad things about being a Lycan is that most drugs don’t work on us. I can’t just pop an anti-depressant to try and get my moods under control and I was rapidly spiraling out of control. They sedated me so I wouldn’t be a danger to myself or anyone else on the off chance I tried to hurt myself or if my wolf took control as my human mind was overloading. Doc said that being knocked out the way I was gave my mind some time to try and reset itself a little. She has spent a lot of time just sitting here with me and talking once I woke up. A few people from the pack also took some time to just sit in the room with me so I wouldn’t feel alone. I am feeling better today at least and maybe that is from the drug finally working out of my system. I don’t want to die today; well, not like I did the other day. I don’t feel like I want to kill myself is a more accurate statement. I hope I keep feeling like this. It scared me how much I did want to when they brought me here. I am only a guest in this territory and this pack is taking such good care of me. When I get out I of the hospital want to ask the Alpha if there is any additional community service I can do. Doing work for the pack helps me clear my mind; it gives me something to focus on like my school work. One of my two escorts, Kyle, stopped by to check up on me. We sat and talked for a little while, mostly about school and him wanting to make sure I’m doing okay. Before he had to go he said he’d be back to talk again unless they let me out of the padded room first. He told me not to do anything rash since he’s gotten use to me being around. Seems like he is the closest thing I have to a friend here. I’m hoping this little episode doesn’t get me kicked out of the territory. Even with how great they have been to me, I just worry about hitting a point where my problems are considered too much trouble to deal with. I guess that is more from the way I use to treat people as opposed to how the people here treat me. I actually like it here and I like the people. If they ever allow it, I wouldn’t mind joining this pack in time; I know it is too soon to even think about that and it’s the only pack outside of Parker Valley I have been around. I think I could be happy here. For people that are complete strangers to me, they seem to care about me and want to help me. When I questioned it, one of the pack leaders said, “You’re a wolf that is hurting. You may have done some horrible things, but you show that you want to fix what you’ve done; you want to change and be a better person.” He was right; I do want to change and I think I’ve started. I just realized that I wrote this entry the way I think Mom had intended me to use this journal instead of just writing in it to get things started for my sessions with Doc. If I ever tell her about this, I know I’m going to get and ‘I told you so’ from her with that knowing smile. Maybe I’ll use it both ways now; we’ll see. Journal entry 8: I missed a couple days of school because of my little episode with wanting to commit suicide or at least wanting to die. Thankfully my professors are all pretty cool and are allowing me to make up any of the work I missed. I know I’m not the first student to suffer from mental issues like depression or worse. I just finished the last of the assignments I had missed and submitted it and I think I’ll get good grades on them. I spoke with Alpha Jennings today about doing additional work around the pack. The work makes me feel good and I want to give back to my hosts. It’s strange since doing stuff like this around Parker Valley I would have considered it beneath me and I would have bitched the entire time I had to do the work. I told him how grateful I was for everything the pack was doing for me and it only seemed fair that I do something to help out around the territory. I pointed out a few things I had seen as I was being escorted around that looked like they needed some work. I had agreed to doing community service work in the terms of my exile agreement and Columbia River taking me in, but I want to do this. I want to show I can be more than just someone that is an exile. I want to show them that I can be useful to the pack. I want to earn a place in the pack even if I am considered an Omega. Being an Omega is better than being nothing which is technically what I am at the moment. I am a wolf without a pack that is living with a foreign pack and even with how nice people here are to me; I never realized how lonely it can be to not have a pack. From the way I use to act, it feels strange to be wanting to get elevated to the status of an Omega, but that would mean I do have a home, that I do belong. The things I gave up because of my stupidity; my home, my family, I never thought could be taken away from me. I would include friends in that list, but looking at how things were, the people I got along with were never really my friends and the ones that I could have been friends with didn’t like me because of how I acted. I kept my so called friends through fear and intimidation. Sure, we joked around at time, went on runs together and did other stuff that friends do, but we were never actually friends. It was the same with Michael. I considered him my best friend, but I can see now that he was never a friend. Most times he was an ass towards me; abusive and threatening and I always just fell into line and followed. I want to get a little ahead on my reading for history class and I have a book to start reading for discussion in English Lit, so I’m going to end this for tonight. I also want to get some of my thoughts into order before writing more. Journal entry 9: I’m continuing to feel mentally stronger, well at least a little bit each day, after my breakdown the other day. It makes me feel weak for having done that and needing to get locked up at the hospital for my own safety. Doc said she was sorry for pushing me on some of the things we talked about that day. She knew I wasn’t ready, but thought that with a little prodding maybe I would get it out and it would help. There was no way she could have known how it would affect me; I didn’t know how it would affect me. She reminds me often enough that things can’t get fixed in one session and that this will take time; possibly a lot of time to work through my issues but she says she will be here with me every step of the way. I told her that I needed to talk about those things that day. It was eating at me and I had to start getting it out in the open. When I said how all this makes me feel weak, she tried to describe it using a building maintenance analogy. What she said was that sometimes parts of a building get damaged; stairs need to be fixed, handrails repaired, floorboards changed out. Those parts are weak and make the structure weak. It takes time to go through the building and find all the things that need to be fixed, but in the end the building is as strong as when it was new. She also told me that in time I would be stronger. I wonder if those times I cry myself to sleep after writing in here or after one of my sessions with Doc, if my tears are that monster in the back of my mind leaving a little at a time. Maybe someday I will be able to look at myself in the mirror.
  35. 39 likes
    Chapter Fifteen Life truly came at you in twists and turns. Had someone told him he would be living on a ten-acre organic plant farm in Hana, Hawaii, Daven would have called him or her crazy. In the span of six months, he and Kian had purchased the property, and revived the flower business that came with the land. They’d renovated the two-story home, making more than enough room for Naomi and the kids. Kian had taken to the flower business like a fish to water. The greenhouse seemed his favorite spot in the property, that the stream running through the property and the year round pond. Naomi’s choice to relocate her spa business to Maui humbled Daven. She had insisted she wanted to live with him and Kian, and wanted the kids to grow up in a family. Daven thought her choice selfless. As for him, he had started a small private practice in the little city close to their farm. He kept odd hours, and a staff of two nurses, who kept him busy enough with house calls around their neighborhood. Love, Daven decided was a series of sweet compromises. Spreading jelly on oat bread, he added slices of ham, tomatoes and covered the sandwiches with another slice. Taking a knife, he cut the sandwiches into neat halves and smiled when Aram and Zena came running into the kitchen from the garden. “Look what we got,” Zena said, making Daven sneak a glance at them. Zena was holding up a frog by the back legs. Aram jumped around in delight and Daven hoped Naomi was nowhere close. It was too early in the morning for a lecture. “We found it in the flower garden, hiding under a stone,” Aram explained, jumping up and down when the frog continued to wiggle. Daven hoped Zena’s fingers held the frog securely because it would be the worst if it got lose in the kitchen. Reaching for napkins, Daven covered the sandwiches, and moved around the table, making space between him and the kids. “Zena, why don’t we liberate the frog outside,” Daven said, hoping to God Kian was close. “Don’t you think it’s going to get very hungry inside?” “We can feed it,” Zena said, holding the frog tighter. She peered into its eyes and he wondered how she was doing it. “What do you think, Uncle Daven? Uncle Kian says they swallow up bugs. Do we have any?” “I certainly hope not,” Daven said, starting the coffee maker. The scent would bring in Kian, one of his little secrets whenever he wanted to see Kian. “Zena—,” She screamed, and Aram followed suit, Daven leaned back into the counter behind him, hoping to God the frog was still in Zena’s hands. “Hold it tight,” Daven said, when he realized it was a false start. Zena grinned and held it up for him to see. “Isn’t it pretty, Uncle Daven?” “Pretty?” Daven’s gaze widened. “Honey, I think you’re the prettiest. Definitely the prettiest, why don’t you take the frog outside so that it can hop in the grass.” “Does it jump in the grass?” Aram asked, peering at his sister, his fingers clenching his shorts tight. His curiosity beat his squeamishness. Daven closed his eyes in relief when he saw Kian appear at the doorway. His boyfriend looked delicious in faded jeans, and a faded black t-shirt, his hair windswept. Kian’s smile was ready as he took in the scene. “Baby,” Daven said, glad the scent of coffee filled the kitchen. “Why don’t you help Zena liberate that green creature?” “What green creature?” Kian asked, crouching down to Zena’s height so that he could look at the frog she held. “You don’t mean this handsome frog do you?” “Yes, honey,” Daven nodded, pointing at it. “We don’t want it hopping around in the kitchen.” Kian stole a glance at him, then grinned and kissed Zena’s cheek. “Can I hold your friend, Zena-chan?” Kian asked. “Sure,” Zena said, handing over the frog to Kian. “Mommy read us the story of the frog that turned into prince charming last night. I thought if we kissed it, it would definitely turn.” “Did you now?” Kian studied the frog. “Hmm…I think this frog is just that, Zena. What do you think, Aram?” “I told her it wouldn’t turn into Prince Charming, because he doesn’t exist,” Aram answered, holding on to Kian’s arm, finding courage to stroke the frog’s head now that Kian was involved. “How do you know?” Kian asked, looking at Aram. “Mommy said,” Aram said, his tone matter of fact. “I think Mommy is wrong,” Daven said, moving back to the table, confident that Kian would take the frog out. “Prince Charming does exist.” “Where?” Zena and Aram both asked. “You’re looking at mine,” Daven said, picking up his knife and going back to halving sandwiches. “Isn’t he handsome?” “Do you mean Uncle Kian?” Aram asked, his gaze on Kian. “Why yes, my little prince,” Daven said. “Like recognizes like.” “Don’t believe him,” Kian said in a dramatic whisper. “He wants us to take the frog back to the garden.” “No way, he was really hard to catch,” Zena complained, leaning on Kian, to stroke the frog’s head too. Daven took his phone then and snapped a photo of Kian surrounded by the two kids. Such moments made his heart ache, the way Kian’s eyes lit up at the trust Aram and Zena showered on him made Daven breathless. Daven studied the picture for a moment, and then placed his phone on the table. Kian was whispering to the kids, and he should have known they were plotting against him. The next minute, Kian came to the table, the frog in his hand. Daven abandoned the sandwiches and ran around the table. The kids burst into delighted laughs as Kian chased after him. Naomi came in at the climax, just as the poor frog escaped Kian’s hold and jumped to the windowsill. Naomi screamed loud and they all turned to look at her. The frog made good of the distraction, and escaped out the open window into the kitchen garden. Daven sighed in relief, and grinned when Kian, Zena and Aram stood still their guilty gazes on Naomi. “It wasn’t me,” they all said at once, making Daven laugh. “Was that a frog in the kitchen?” Naomi asked, pointing to the open window. “No.” Zena, Aram and Kian said, shaking their heads. Daven grinned and returned to his sandwich making. “Alright, all of you, if you don’t want trouble, head to the sink and wash your hands,” Daven ordered. “You’ll be late for school.” “It was a frog, wasn’t it?” Naomi asked, meeting Daven’s amused gaze. The moment was too perfect to ruin with a lecture, so Daven waved Naomi’s question away. Kian was at the sink helping the kids wash their hands. When they were done, the kids ran out of the kitchen headed upstairs to get their school bags. Kian sat at the kitchen table, and Daven took in Kian’s pleased expression. His heart ached with love for this man who found such pleasure in the simplest of moments. Daven stopped slicing sandwiches and poured a mug of black coffee for Kian. He brought it to Kian. “Morning,” Daven murmured into Kian’s ear. Kian leaned into him, and took the mug drinking an appreciative sip. “Where did they get a frog?” Naomi asked, closing the kitchen window. “In the garden,” Daven said, moving back to pack sandwiches into lunch boxes. “It’s been raining constantly these last few days. There should be more than one hiding.” Naomi shuddered and slid into a stool across Kian. “Our new home is beautiful, but it’s going to take me a while to get used to the frogs,” Naomi said. “The kids seem to love it,” Kian said, accepting a sandwich from Daven. “I love that they’re running around outside in nature. Kids should be allowed to play to their little hearts content.” Daven smiled when Naomi nodded in agreement and leaned her elbows on the table. “Well,” Naomi nodded. “I have to say, living here is way more interesting. I love the pace of life, much more relaxed and quiet. The move was good for us.” Daven met Kian’s gaze and a small smile passed between them. When Zena and Aram returned, they all worked to get them eating their breakfast, with Daven packing lunch into their school bags. Tranquility returned to the kitchen when Naomi left with the kids heading to school. Daven sat next to Kian, watching Kian drink his coffee. “Are you happy?” Daven asked, moving closer so that when Kian turned to him, their faces were inches apart. “You looked happy trying to get me to touch a frog.” Kian smiled. “Doctor, isn’t it strange for you to be squeamish?” “I have never liked amphibians,” Daven said, wrinkling his nose. Kian reached up to touch his nose “I discover new things about you daily.” “As do I,” Daven said. “Where were you, leaving me to fend for myself in the face of frogs?” Kian sipped his coffee. “Your dad sent me a message,” Kian answered. “He wanted my opinion on a project he is planning.” Daven swallowed hard. His father’s projects meant the security agency was saving someone in trouble. Kian helped where he could, but never agreed to go along on the actual mission. “How is he doing?” Daven asked. “He’s well. He promised to visit soon,” Kian said. “He misses you.” “I miss you more,” Daven replied. “I think, we should take advantage of the fact that we’re alone.” Kian grinned and Daven took Kian’s coffee mug, moving it away. Daven shifted in his chair until he sat facing Kian, then pulled him into a needy kiss. Kian moaned and leaned into the kiss, eager for more. Daven smiled and bunched Kian’s t-shirt helping him take it off. He urged Kian to his feet, and amid delicious kisses, they stumbled out of the kitchen and into a small living room tucked by the kitchen. The best thing about their new house was that there was no shortage of rooms to make love. Daven moaned when Kian got on his knees and unzipped Daven’s jeans. He lost the ability to think when Kian’s hot mouth wrapped around him and all Daven could do was sink his fingers into Kian’s hair. There was nothing sexier than the sight of Kian’s lips wrapped around him, and the feel of Kian’s tongue stroking his hard length. God, the need to come raced at him, and he had to literally pull Kian off him before he was over the moon. Pushing Kian into the nearest lounge chair, Daven kissed Kian, tasting himself, savoring Kian’s taste and his. Drunk with need, Daven took Kian like a man possessed. Sliding into his lover with possessive obsession. He grunted with satisfaction when Kian dug his fingers into his back and bit his shoulder trying to stifle his moans. Daven stroked his length into Kian hard, deeper, taking all that Kian had to give. He sighed in satisfaction when Kian arched into him, his head thrown back in ecstasy. Holding himself deep in Kian, Daven took Kian’s lips in a hot kiss, savoring his taste, both of them caught in the peak of ecstasy. When Daven couldn’t help but surge into Kian again, they both tripped over and came in violent jerks that had Kian clinging to Daven’s shoulders, his thighs tight around Daven’s waist. Daven closed his eyes, as they remained locked in each other’s arms on the comfortable lounge chair in the sunny little living room in their home. **** No longer counting the years, the days or time, Kian played with Daven’s dreadlocks, unwilling to let Daven off him. They had shifted to the side so that Daven’s weight was not on him, but their limbs remained tangled. This sort of heaven, Kian would have never dreamed it a year ago. Outside, masses of trees surrounded the quirky house they had bought. The trees offered plenty of cover to offer him the privacy he craved. The fences installed around the property secure enough to assure him that his new family was safe. Daven, Naomi and the kids were now his family, Kian thought. His heart skipped at the miracle of the thought. He hadn’t thought Daven would take him up on the offer to move States when he suggested it. That Daven had was more than enough proof of their love, that Naomi had opted to come along made the reality of a family bond come true for him. “Should we stay here all day?” Daven asked, dusting kisses along Kian’s neck, setting him aflame again. A clever hand slid between them to capture Kian’s hardening length, Daven chuckled, the sound rambling. “Looks like you agree.” Kian moaned, pushing his length into Daven’s caress. “I don’t mind making love with you all day,” Kian said. “But, don’t you have to go in for office hours today?” Daven lifted his head to meet Kian’s gaze. “I thought I opened my own practice to make my own hours?” Kian smiled, and shook his head. “Your practice is closed half the time.” “It’s a small town,” Daven shrugged. “Besides, they know where to find me if they need me.” Kian sighed, and cupped Daven’s face, rubbing his fingers over Daven’s stubble. Kian studied Daven’s for a moment, and then asked, “My turn to ask. Do you regret any of it?” “Any of what?” Daven asked. “Meeting me,” Kian said, his tone soft, his insecurities high. Some days, he could go crazy thinking about what Daven might have given up to live here with him. “No,” Daven answered. “I’m happy for all of it, Kian, even the worst. Without it, I would never have met you. What about you? Do you regret spilling your milkshake on me?” Kian grinned. “That was the most favorite part.” “Punk Prince,” Daven sighed. “You love teasing me too much. You’ll make me find my own milkshake.” “I thought you said you were fond of that memory?” Kian asked. “I am,” Daven said, kissing him. “Always, Kian. I didn’t know it then, but you were already mine.” How swiftly Daven healed him. So simply, Kian thought when Daven kissed him again. Turmoil set to rest, peace seeping into his very pores, Kian knew his life had started the moment he met Daven. This man who dared love a man like him. What could a lowly Assassin like him do but learn to live for this man? Live until there was only happiness in every corner of his heart. “I love you,” Kian murmured, because it felt right to say it. “I love you,” Kian repeated, his voice stronger. “I love you too, Assassin,” Daven said. *** The End.
  36. 39 likes
    Journal entry 4: Someday I need to thank Alpha Stockdale for sparing my life. I know it couldn’t have been easy with the things I did. Even if it was a byproduct of him saving Michael’s life, I still owe him a great debt. If it wasn’t for him and Alpha Jennings, I wouldn’t be here now. I wouldn’t have a chance to make some kind of mends for my actions. I can’t even imagine the conversation that went on between the two Alphas that allowed me to come here as well as arranging for Michael to have been here. There were times I hated Alpha Stockdale and thought he was a weak leader. He always showed kindness and compassion to everyone in the pack and as well as the humans living around us or working for him. I thought a true leader needed to show strength and always be firm. I mean, the way he allowed non-wolves to live in the territory was abhorrent; at least that’s how Michael always described it and I agreed with that sentiment. There were no non-wolves living in Silver Pine itself, but in the surrounding towns and countryside there were several. I can’t remember if it was something I picked up from my parents or if I developed that trait from listening to Michael bitch and moan about the lower forms of Lycan encroaching on the territory. My parents weren’t exactly against other shifters being around, but it wasn’t looked on as favorable either; we were a wolf pack after all. They would have never socialized with a non-wolf Lycan but I don’t know why. Now that I think of it, it really makes no sense why I was against other shifters. They kept to themselves and went on with their lives like the humans did. They never bothered me or did anything to harm the community. The ones we had around Parker Valley ran businesses like any humans and just quietly lived their lives. Sometimes it was the occasional nomad that lived in the territory for a while before moving on. Let’s just add this to the growing list of my many shortcomings and things I need to work on. I remember how Michael used to say that as soon as he became Alpha he planned to force every non-wolf to leave the territory. It didn’t matter to him if he forced them to sell their property or just figured a way to take it from them; they were going to be gone. I was right there with him on that, but I was with him on anything he wanted. I even planned on being the one to hand them their eviction notices. Did I ever actually have an independent thought of my own? He thought non-wolves in the territory was a bad idea, so I guessed it was too. The territory of a wolf pack should purely be wolves, as far as Lycan go. Gods forbid if there had been a wolf had taken up with another type of Lycan or that they were mates; kind of like Aiden with a human. Yet, most of us as teenagers were dating human girls from school, I sure did. I know he thought it was disgusting that a male bear and tiger were together and again, I thought it was just as bad and I didn’t even know them. He had copies of files in his room that he supposedly stole from his father’s office with information on every non-wolf shifter living in the territory. He also had information on some pack members that he wanted to get rid of as well. Those files were on people that would be forced out in a purge or culling as he called it, to eliminate any threat to his rule once he took over. It was also to get rid of anyone he felt wasn’t deserving of a place in his pack. Sitting here and thinking about it makes a shiver run up what little of a spine I have and makes me sick to my stomach. I know we talked about what to do with Aiden on many occasions. I figured that Michael was never going to let him live on the chance that Aiden would eventually challenge Michael for control of the pack. I had no clue how he would remove Aiden as a threat since he couldn’t stand again Aiden in a one on one challenge for control. Michael and I together would have been a stretch if Aiden was really pissed. At times I thought something might happen well before Michael could become Alpha to eliminate the Aiden threat; although – there were things Michael sometimes whispered in his sleep that made me think he had other plans or wishes regarding Aiden. My head hurts just thinking about that so we’ll leave that for another time. The Tucker family would have been forced to leave just because Mr. Tucker is the current Enforcer and Casey is one of Aiden’s best friends. He talked about accidents that could befall the members of his father’s council; hell, he talked about possible accidents involving his father if he waited too long to turn control of the pack over to him. Maybe some injury like his grandfather suffered that prompted him to hand control to Michael’s father, though at times I thought he considered something far worse. At time I thought it was just the typical teenage talk about getting what we want like how things happen on TV or in the movies, but I’m not so sure anymore. He use to say he had something special planned for Casey Tucker and Trevor Carlson, though even I wasn’t told what he wanted to do to them; some things Michael kept just to himself. Both of them had justifiably beaten the crap out of both Michael and me several times. Anyone that had ever stood up to him or opposed him in any way was on one of his lists. What we did to people around the pack for years is inexcusable and what we tried to do to Aiden’s mate is reprehensible, but in a weird way everyone is so lucky that all this happened and that as a result if it Michael will never become the Alpha he thought he would. One of the largest and most powerful packs in the northeast would have been reduced to rubble as he tore down everything that had been built over several generations. Caligula comes to mind now that I think of it. Michael shared a lot of traits with Caligula like his moral compass or lack thereof, not that I have room to talk in that regard. I hope that Alpha Stockdale or Luna Stockdale maybe dropped Michael on his head as a pup, by accident of course; that would at least give some reason for how two of the kindest and most wonderful leaders could have had such a monster for a son. Maybe my parents dropped me on my head too. No, that would just give me an excuse and there is no excuse for the monster I turned into. I refuse to make excuses; I am taking full responsibility for my actions. I’m not ready to deal with the memories that are trying to come to the surface right now, so I guess this is enough writing for tonight. I have some reading to do for my history class, oddly enough on the rule of Caligula. Hopefully that will distract my thoughts a little. I have a feeling I won’t be sleeping well tonight.
  37. 39 likes
    It always seems in the big epic tales of heroes and magic, star battles and ship races, that marvelous and amazing things happen every day. Save the life of the maiden in distress, master a new spell, survive the battle with the space pirates, and inch ahead of the competition and win the race in order to claim your freedom. All of it seems so...so unreal. Yet, in real life, you have times when things are just mundane. Dean missed Kao even though they talked on Skype every night. He longed for his touch, to feel his heart beating, thudding softly, as they slept in bed or on a bed of sand. He went to work, did his job, came home, maybe had a double date with Kao and Victoria as they watched a movie together thanks to Skype. Nothing happened, and it was wonderful. No evil werewolf stalkers, no psychotic, dictatorial older brothers trying to keep someone prisoner, no trials. Of course Dean had a few things pop up, but they were mostly routine. He had to fire a guy for falsifying his time sheet. He was also asked to babysit Alice one evening. That was an interesting night. Goldie had asked if Dean would be willing to watch her for a few hours while she dealt with an internal pack matter. "Anything I can help with? I'll watch the cutie, but I might be able to help in other ways." "Dean, you're a gem for wanting to help, but this is Cali Sands problems, and I don't want to bring another pack into internal issues. I know you're not officially with Homestead yet, but that is merely a formality. Still, thanks for watching her. I hate having to keep her from some matters, but a child should not have to witness her mom tear the head off of someone's neck." She said this part with a bit of tiredness, like she didn't want to kill someone, but she had little choice. "Well shit. Of course I'll watch her. Afterwards, take a shower, get cleaned up, then come over if you need a shoulder to cry on." That got a bit of a chuckle. "I may do that. Dean, were you not so firmly going to Homestead, I would be asking you to join Cali Sands. You have the makings of a good Beta...and I'll need a new one very soon." Yikes. She had to take out her Beta by the sound of it. "Well...I could stand in as Acting Beta. I mean, I have never dealt with it formally, but it could help us both out of a jam. I need some training to get up to speed." Kao had been doing what he could to help Dean with what his duties would entail; he had a packet of information he needed to know so he wouldn't make as many mistakes. There was a silence, and then Goldie said, "Deal. Dean, you will be my Acting Beta as of tomorrow. I won't be expecting you to get everything, but if I seem to be making a huge mistake, let me know and why you feel that way. I am not above admitting when someone has a better idea. Something Jon taught me a few years ago, actually." "I'll do my best, Goldie. Now, bring on the little bundle of cute, deal with your business, and then bring your tail over for a movie." He heard her chuckle as she hung up. Dean called to Idaho quickly. When Kao answered, Dean wasted no time in telling him what just happened. "Dean...I'm very proud of you. Goldie will be a tough person to deal with, but she wouldn't have accepted your offer if she didn't think you were up to the challenge. You may never get a call to act on it, but this will be good for you and for Homestead." Hearing Kao was proud made Dean's heart swell. God, he loved his little love bird. "Thank you, my mate. It honestly makes me feel better knowing you're proud of me." They talked for a few more minutes until the doorbell chimed and Alice was led in by a VERY large man. God, he was almost as big as Dylan. "Hey, pumpkin head," he said to Alice, and she giggled and came over for a hug. "So, did you bring a movie or something, or shall I look for a good one?" "Hi, Dean. I brought a movie, but I have homework. You can head back to Mom, Sarge." The one called Sarge gave Dean a stern look, but turned and left without a word. "Enforcer?" Dean asked as he led her to the dining room table, snagging a few cookies and some milk for her to munch on. "Yup, and my personal body guard. Don't let his grumpy face fool you. He's a big teddy." Maybe to you, Dean thought. "So what homework do you have? You're like, what, six years old?" She giggled a bit. "I am seven, and I skipped to third grade. Apparently they think I'm 'advanced' for my age. I wonder when they will realize I'm not really smarter than other kids my age. I just have more time to read." "Well, take it as a compliment. You'll graduate high school sooner. Less chance for boys to get hurt by thinking you're cute." She made a face like boys were icky. "Will they really think that?" "Yup. Boys are dumb, but they like pretty things." He watched her blush a bit. "Now, did you want some help with your homework? I think I can remember third grade." "That far back? Wow!" she said with a grin. Dean just loved her to death. She was smarter than any other seven-year-old he'd met. Goldie arrived about an hour later looking well enough, but to Dean's nose she smelled tired and very upset. Her eyes were a bit red, probably from crying, and he could see a small cut healing on her hand. She gave a smooch to Alice as she pulled her into her lap and cuddled her daughter. Dean got up to get her a glass of water and offered a stiff drink. "Thanks, Dean." "No problem. This little bundle of energy finished her homework, and she started on an assignment due next week for English." Dean was looking and smelling for any sign she might need that shoulder to cry on. Goldie just hugged her daughter a bit tighter. "Everything go good at the meeting, Mom?" Alice's voice was neutral, as if she knew what had happened. "Everything is all taken care of," Goldie responded softly. "And did Mrs. Grindel take it well?" That must the Beta's widow. "She was not happy at all, but she understood it had to be done." Dean just put his arm out and pulled the duo against his shoulder. Both had tears in their eyes, letting Dean know the two had cared about the now deceased Beta. Goldie obviously told Alice what would happen, but she didn't want her daughter to have to see it happen. Both ladies just clung to Dean as they cried. He wished he could do more than just be a shoulder, but he felt it was all they needed right then. He wondered just how stressful it would be to have to end the life of someone you trusted, someone you cared for. Had Jon made such a decision yet? When the moment had passed, Goldie sat up and patted Dean's cheek in a silent thanks. "Guess what, Baby Girl." "What?" she asked with a small sniff. "We will have a new Acting Beta until a permanent one can be found." Goldie was trying to make it sound like a good thing, but Alice's blank face wasn't impressed. "Yup. Dean will be our Acting Beta until Kao graduates or until a permanent one is found." She glanced at Dean to see if it was okay for him to do it for so long. He nodded. "Really?" Alice seemed to like this. "And that means Kao will come here to see Dean, and I will get to see Kao." She obviously adored Kao. "Yup. Now, let's finish the movie." Goldie grinned at her daughter, glad to see she was happy with the new change in her life. Dean went to Goldie's building after work the next afternoon so he could be formally greeted by the pack's higher-ups. More than a few stared at him as he walked in like he owned the place, dressed in his custom suit of navy. Even the human workers just watched as he walked to the private elevator that went to Goldie's office and swiped his new card to open it and take him to the top floor. As the door was closing, he could hear as few of the Lycan workers asking who the new hottie was. It made Dean smirk. When the elevator got to the top floor, Sarge was there with his normal dour look. Must mean Alice was here. "Sarge," Dean said with a nod of his head. The man nodded back and seemed to relax a bit as he let Dean pass. A little whirlwind came running up and into his arms. "Hey, pumpkin head. Could you ask the Alpha to get Sarge another expression other than grump?" He smelled an amused scent come from none other than Sarge himself, although his expression did not change. "I tried, but she says that it's still on layaway...whatever that is." Dean laughed and carried her to the conference room door and set her down. "Are you allowed in there right now?" he asked. She nodded, so he scooped her back up and carried her in, Alice grinning and giggling. "I see the leech has found you," said Goldie, and gestured for him to set her on the sofa. "Everyone, this is Dean Whitmore, the soon-to-be mate of Kao Saechao, and he will be our Acting Beta for the time being. Our allies, Homestead, have been very gracious to send Mr. Whitmore to us." Dean set Alice on the couch and gave them each a bit of a bow. "I am happy to be of service to you and the Cali Sands Pack, Alpha Kirkland." One person around the conference room table spoke up. "While I am sure Acting Beta Whitmore will be suitable, would not someone from inside the pack be more so?" Goldie shot a very brief look at the speaker. "I am sure one will be, but until the board has decided on a suitable list of candidates, Dean will be filling the post." Her tone said this should be enough reason for any who were there. But someone spoke up anyway. "But he's not even a wolf. This council has always been wolves and bears." The speaker was an older man. Dean guessed he was an "old guard" type, a traditionalist through and through. Goldie was about to speak up when Dean did. "I understand your concern. Pandions are not known to be the strongest of the shifters. If such is the requirement of the council, then I shall step aside. I am sure both Homestead and the Rogue Valley Flock will understand and will easily overlook any potential insult." Dean turned after bowing, mentally ticking off seconds in his head until someone spoke up. He expected to get to about five before they called him back. He got to two. "That will be unnecessary, Acting Beta." Dean stopped and came back. "Were you put in the place of a Prime Enforcer, I'd think such reasoning would be useful." This speaker was a middle-aged woman with steel gray hair and a pair of eyes that saw right through Dean's little ploy. She knew that having two extremely influential and powerful packs feeling insulted wouldn't be good for Cali Sands. "Yet it is your reasoning we need, and your ability to let Alpha Kirkland know there might be better alternatives." No one seemed to want to refute her words, and Goldie gestured for him to sit at the only empty seat beside her. Her face was impassive, but as Dean sat, he could smell her amusement. She knew he had backed them into a corner with that simple line of logic. "Perhaps, Dean, you can give your insight into a potentially sticky problem. Feel free to be you normal self. Dean, while he can be formal, is not, which is one reason Alice adores him." "Hit me. What needs looking at?" He was handed a packet, and as he scanned it, he could see one thing was very obvious. "So, who's in favor of the alliance, and who isn't?" It was split fairly evenly. It would be a political alliance for Goldie. She was being asked to find a suitable mate. "Since the council cannot decide, let's ask the one person who will be most affected by this." Dean turned to Alice. "Pumpkin head, could you come here?" She got up and bounded over to sit in his lap. "Have you met Alpha Olsen and Alpha Rogerson?" If they were shocked by him asking her, they didn't show it. "Yeah." She nodded. "Alpha Olsen smells like mothballs and muscle rub, but he's really nice, and he adores mom. Alpha Rogerson is nice to look at, but I wouldn't trust him within a mile of my Mom." When asked why, she replied, "He's only interested in Mom's money and power. While he was here, he was making eyes at more than ten other women when mom looked away. He's a creep." Dean gave her a hug and shooed her back to the couch. "I would say Alpha Olsen would be a suitable candidate as a mate." One youngish man spoke. "Interesting. Why ask her?" His tone was curious without any hostility. "Very simple. No one pays any attention to children, so both would have said or done things with her around they wouldn't have done otherwise. Also, Alice is damn smart for a kid. Her observations would be biased but founded in truths adults might not see. She's also the one who would be most affected by the mating/marriage. Her liking or disliking the future mate is paramount as she could, and would if I know her at all, make the mate's life a living hell." Dean looked to see most were confused. "Having grown up human, I have seen marriages fall apart and one parent trying to find someone else. If they didn't at least ask the kid's opinion, they were in for a very rude awakening. I know I gave my step-dad the worst time for the year he was married to my mother. He filed for divorce because I made sure mom knew he was a cheating, slimy, piece of shit, rat bastard." Goldie was grinning. "I doubt Goldie cares either way or there would be no discussion about it, so it falls to Alice to make the choice for her. Politics via a seven-year-old." Dean just sat back and sent a smooch to Alice who ate it. There was silence until the same steel-haired woman nodded. "As the deciding vote, the council has put forth that Alpha Olsen is the better candidate." She looked damned impressed by Dean's logic and reasoning with only a minute of prep time. "And that is why Dean is Acting Beta," said Goldie, sitting back to smirk at the older men on the council. "I do have one question. Why mothballs and muscle rub?" Dean asked with a smirk. Goldie laughed. "Lars isn't a wealthy man. His pack isn't much bigger than your average grade school classroom. Maybe twenty-five. The suit he wore to put his best foot forward was his father's, hence the mothball smell. The muscle rub was because he had been horsing around with Alice...quite literally, because he was on all fours with her riding his back." That made Dean laugh. "He's a bit older than I am, but he's a good man who wants the best for his pack and is willing to give up his title as Alpha to make sure they're safe." "Sounds like a good match, to be honest. No false pride or posturing, only concern for his people. I assume his pack is or was assaulted by another, prompting him to make the alliance." Goldie nodded. "I'd like to meet him. I know Jon would, too. Sounds like someone worth knowing, especially if Alice approves." He grinned over at the girl who was currently sitting there being asked to do homework by Sarge. "Please correct me if I'm wrong, but is not Alpha-Mate an equal title to Alpha?" Most of the old guard bristled at the question, practically rolling their eyes at his "ignorance", but Goldie made a vague motion with her hand. "Yes and no. Traditionally they're equal but the Alpha is the only one who decides the course of the pack. The Mate can heavily influence the decision of the Alpha, but not change anything on their own. With some of the younger generations, and very commonly among same sex couples without a clear leader, they share the decision and burden of the pack. Case in point. Jon and Pat." Mentioning their names sent a slight tinge of negativity into the air from a few of the traditional members. "Jon is clearly the leader while Pat is more than happy to fulfill the duties of a traditional Alpha-Mate. Yet Homestead itself is run by three Alphas with Jon being the final say." "Thank you. My mate said that as he takes the official office of Beta for Homestead, I'll be seen as his equal." Again there was that scent of negativity. Dean was starting to get agitated by it. "I know for a fact Jon wouldn't differentiate between you and Kao, but others may. Why bring it up?" Goldie could smell Dean's emotional shift and hoped that it didn't go past annoyance and agitation. "If you do decide to accept Alpha Olsen as your mate, and him being an Alpha in his own right, won't that make for either a good co-leadership or a power struggle? I see Rogerson being a problem with the last. With enough forces, he could've been trying to stage a coup." A few of the others could see that as a problem. "You have a point. However, Lars has made it clear it would be my pack, and he would be glad to help me, but it is my decision." That sent up another wash of negativity. Goldie must have seen Dean's shift in posture, because she shook her head ever so slightly. "Alpha, may I request a private meeting with you to discuss inter-pack relations?" Dean's tone was formal, which sent up huge red flags for Goldie. Even Alice heard it loud and clear. Goldie stood, motioned for him to follow, and entered what had to be her private office. "Dean...be careful." "Goldie, I will deal with disrespect towards me and take it with a grain of salt. Yet the older gentlemen quite obviously have no love for anything they do not deem traditional. From Jon and Pat to a female Alpha, they have all but shouted their 'disapproval' of anything they don't agree as being traditional." Dean was giving off massive amounts of anger. "I know, I have dealt with it since I took over the pack from my father. They won't openly say what they're thinking because I just removed a man for open disrespect. They're scared right now their quaint little lives are being pulled in an unknown era. Gasp...change happens. I feel your pain, but I ask that you don't make an issue of it unless they say it openly. Even as Acting Beta you outrank all but one person, and that's Mirabelle D'Arlene. The steel hair who knows when to compromise." Dean nodded. "So wait for them to fuck up and then rip off their heads. Got it. I like Mirabelle. What is her rank anyway?" He was curious if there was a rank between Alpha and Beta. "She's my mother, the former Alpha-Mate. While she is only one in name, she acts as an adviser for me." It was obvious Goldie had a lot of love and a lot of respect for her mother. "Wouldn't she make a good Beta?" Dean asked, curious why she was not chosen for that position. "It would be a step down for her." "Would it? She has no rank right now save the one she gets by simply being your mom. There would be no shame or dishonor for her to take the place. Travis has been Jon's Acting Beta since Angus McDouchebag took over the ECP, and he was the Alpha for the largest pack in the US and is up for a place on the Council." She had to admit, he had a solid point. "I don't know if I could get that by the council here. While I am Alpha, they could make my time very difficult." Dean snorted. "Bullshit. You may not want to exert your power, but those old farts in there would shake in their Depends if you told them how it was going to be." Dean liked the snort he got from her. "I get it, the older generation should be honored, but they don't run the pack, you do. If they can't handle having a woman as Alpha and Beta, then they can just suck it up and get the fuck over it." Goldie gave him a hug. "Sometimes I need to hear a good pep talk." She went to the door and called for her mother to come join them. When Mirabelle entered, she snorted away the remnants of Dean's anger scent. "You asked to see me?" "Mom, Dean is pretty much family, so you can be informal." She scented Dean's pleasure at being called family. "I see. Well then, sweet pea, what's got the lad pissed other than the old farts being dumbshits?" Her manner went from perfectly poised to gossiping mom in the blink of an eye. Dean just roared with laughter. "I knew I liked you. Yes, Goldie, she would be perfect." "Dean has advised me to have you as my Beta." Mirabelle's reaction was one of shock. "I'm an old nag. You really wouldn't want me." "Mom, you pretty much give me advice anyway, so why not make it official?" Goldie smiled and gave her mom a hug. "He is right, and he reminded me that those dumbshits out there are not in charge." Mirabelle looked over at Dean with a grin. "You will be a good Beta. You already know the art of manipulation. That sweet lad Kao has found himself a good mate." She cackled when Dean blushed a bit. "You sure you want me to be your Beta? Travers would be a good alternative." "For when you retire, yes. Mom, please take it. That way those old farts won't be able to run over you as if you didn't serve as Alpha-Mate for forty years." When it looked as if she were going to decline, Goldie pouted and said, "Please Mom?" Mirabelle just laughed and nodded. "I'll take it. Dean, thank you for telling my girl she doesn't have to take no shit from those old geezers." "Hey, Goldie's a ball-buster, and I see she got a lot of that from you. Now, since you have your Beta, what shall I do?" He was curious. "Stay and learn from Mom and Travers. He's the youngish one who asked why you brought Alice in. He was my former Beta's apprentice, but even he said he wasn't ready to take the job." There was a lot of respect there for his honesty. "Cool. Sounds awesome. Now, shall we go piss off a bunch of old buzzards?" They shared a laugh and Dean offered his arm to Mirabelle. "My, my." Her smile, and the way she took his arm, was both motherly and maidenly. It had probably been a long time since a gentleman offered to escort her. "I see why Alice likes you." When the trio walked back into the conference room and Goldie had taken her place at the head of the table, Dean pulled out the chair he sat in for Mirabelle and kissed her hand before taking the seat she originally used. "Such manners." "As you can see, I have chosen my Beta. With the advice of Mr. Whitmore, who shall stay on for learning purposes, Mirabelle D'Arlene is now Beta of this pack." There was a very noticeable silence from the table, but Travers nodded. "Honestly, Alpha, I believe you have made an excellent choice. I look forward to working with you, Beta D'Arlene, if you would still have me as your apprentice." His smile was genuine and only got bigger as she nodded. But not everyone was happy. "Alpha, shouldn't you have discussed this with us?" asked one of the buzzards. "You seem to forget that I need not consult you at all. This is my pack," her voice stressed the word my, "and I don't need approval from anyone." Her gaze was firm and the old man just looked down. Another one wasn't so easily chastised. "This is outrageous. First a woman Alpha, and now a woman Beta. What is next, a woman Prime Enforcer? I'll not sit by and watch this pack go down the drain." He lunged at Goldie, who was ready for it. Her only thought was Men. But he didn't get more than an inch as Dean grabbed him by the throat and slammed him onto the table, his eyes glowing a burnished gold. It so shocked the old wolf that he didn't know what to do. "While I understand a formal challenge to the Alpha shouldn't be interfered with, you never issued a challenge. Therefore, I'm well within my rights to rip out your throat for the utter disrespect you have shown today. Give me one reason, you old fuck, and I will have to buy Goldie a new window when I throw you through it." Dean's tone was cold, livid from the earlier anger. He went to struggle, but Dean's gripped tightened. "Jackson, please escort Mr. Tucker to a holding cell until I can deal with him." Said Enforcer came forward, and Dean let the man up, his eyes still filled with rage. "Perhaps this is a good time to remind some people. Dean is Pandion Lunais. While he may be physically weaker, I wouldn't blink or take your eyes off him. They're faster than anyone else in this pack." "I apologize, Alpha, for my outburst and show of aggression. I guess part of me dislike when people insult me, my mate, my best friends, and then someone tries to hit a lady. Call me old-fashioned." His eyes shifted back to their natural color as he looked at Goldie. Goldie and Mirabelle exchanged a smile and then a laugh. "Dean, would you have thrown him out the window?" He grinned, but there was an edge to it. "Naw...I would have dragged him up the stairs and tossed him off the roof. Multiple times if he lived through it." Travers just shook his head. "Would you have done the same for Alpha Davenport?" "Yup. No one hurts my friends without answering to me." After that, the subject was dropped. As Dean was leaving the meeting, Sarge was at the elevator and raised a huge fist. Dean grinned, gave it a bump, and got a grin from the dour-faced man. * * * "You didn't," Kao said with shock. "I did," Dean said with a grin. Having told his mate the outcome of the meeting, Dean was wondering if he had overstepped his bounds. "Huh. Not very diplomatic of you, my love." Kao's tone was full of both mirth and gentle reprimand. He honestly would have loved to have seen Dean in action. "Call it my one huge failing. No one will harm the people I care about. Well, except me." He told Kao about the time he decked Jon in the nose for not telling him he was a furry. Kao sighed. "Whatever shall I do with you?" "Oh, I can think of a few things." Dean could almost feel the blush over the phone. "So, graduation is May 15. I sent invites to Father, Phuong, the guys in Montana, and Goldie and Alice." "Did you send an invite for Sarge?" Kao laughed. "Like I would forget him. Alice can't go anywhere without her shadow."
  38. 38 likes
    Journal entry 13: Last night was Halloween. I got a reprieve from my home confinement and was allowed to get out of my apartment for the evening. I was invited by Alpha Jennings to join in the pack’s Halloween party and being an invitation from the Alpha, that is not something I would or could decline. The Alpha informed me with a stern look that I was at the party to work and that one of the work requirements was to have a good time. His Enforcer was standing beside him as we spoke; I thought Mr. Tucker back home was a big guy, but Mr. Hanson is huge. The pups that are too young to shift were dressed up as everything from witches and wizards to ghosts and werewolves. Seeing a young wolf in a werewolf outfit is always cute; I remember the one I wore as a young pup while I tried to work on my growl and howl. There were two lunis pups that from what I was told had just started to shift about the time I arrived here and decided to come in their smaller, non-lunar wolf. I had to smile as I watched them stalking around the party, sneaking up behind some of the other pups dressed as werewolves. The party was held in a big barn owned by one of the pack members. It wasn’t as big an event as Parker Valley use to put on with the surrounding communities, but it was a good turn out and a lot of fun. I kept mostly to myself at the start of it and watched all the different families interact as a pack. After a while people began to come up to me and started taking. The people at the party all knew who I am and why I’m here, but that didn’t seem to make any difference to most. A lot of people came up and said hi while others gave me a belated welcome to the territory. This was my first real public outing since I got here and I had a good time. I helped hand out candy to the pups for a while and watched as some of them bobbed for apples and played other games. I managed to forget about my own problems for a while and got to know my host pack better. Kyle’s brother Aaron was there with his family. His ten year old son was dressed as a vampire and their six year old daughter was an elven warrior princess. Aaron and his wife were dressed up as well, choosing Gomez and Morticia Addams for themselves; she looked Hot as Morticia and he was the perfect Gomez showering his love in affection. It was fun seeing so many of the parents dressed up along with their pups. With all the stuff that had been going on in my life, I had forgotten what was really important in the pack; families being together and enjoying themselves and the pack coming together as one. It was fun hanging around with Aaron and his mate when I wasn’t helping out somewhere or talking with Kyle or Corey. Kyle is a big ol goof and loves to have fun. He was constantly joking around and making sure I was having a good time. He was also pushing Corey to be more lively. As Corey and I talked, he told me how he had gotten in trouble several times all through his teens for bullying others. After he got his act together he had specifically volunteered to be my escort to make up for the people whose lives he made miserable for several years. Turns out Corey is so quiet because he had a hard time making friends after everything he had done. He’s worked hard to get past it and said seeing me work so hard to change what I had done, he wanted to be there for me. He said we’d work to keep each other in check and make sure we didn’t return to our old ways. That as friends, it was our duty to point out if we were acting like a butt head. That got us both laughing. If I would have had friendships like Kyle and Corey years ago, things would have been a lot different with me, I think. Those two are showing me what being a friend really means. Makes me wonder what life would have been like if I’d chosen to be friends with Aiden and his crew instead. Journal Entry 14: I never expected to have such a good time at the Halloween party. I’m not sure if it was being out and talking to people more than I had or just the party atmosphere. It could have been the time I spent getting to know Corey better and hanging out with Kyle and Aaron, but it was a great night and I felt like I belong here (Correction – I feel like I belong here). Halloween was two days ago and my mood hasn’t died down. I think even some of my professors noticed it since I was more active in class and people have commented on how nice it is to see me smiling. For every high point though it seems that there is a low that comes along and as good as the mood I’ve been in has been the last few days, it came crashing down to feeling more somber in the last two hours. The real reason I opened up my journal and picked up my pen this afternoon is because I just got back from getting called into Alpha Jennings office. I wasn’t in trouble or anything, but he had something serious he needed to tell me. He had gotten word that Parker Valley Pack and two of its neighboring packs were attacked last night by a large and coordinated rogue force. He didn’t have many details, but from the initial reports there appeared to be several people dead and an unknown number of pack members are believed to have been kidnapped. There was no word if my parents were safe and the Alpha was trying to find out for me. I had grabbed my phone while I was with the Alpha tried to call even though my hands were shaking so bad I could barely hit my contacts correctly, but couldn’t get through; both Mom and Dad’s phones went to voicemail. He felt it was important to tell me before rumors reached me because it used to be my pack and since my family is there; most everyone I know is there. Rogue attacks against a pack as strong as Parker Valley are rare; usually they go after a smaller and less defended pack. My therapist was there when he told me and we immediately went into one of our sessions to talk when I finished with the Alpha. I guess they didn’t know how I would react to the news. I’m not really sure how I should react beyond feeling numb and worrying about who was taken and who was dead. I kept thinking I know who is responsible for it; there had been no word on him since I arrived here and he was seriously pissed when I left him. If he really is behind it, that is a new low even for him. I shouldn’t be surprised though given what he and we had been plotting; his mind is warped and he is only out for himself. I feel lucky that I finally opened my eyes to what he was; to what I had become as his lackey. I still don’t understand how I was able to stay his friend for so long and take part in the things I did; and I took pleasure in causing that suffering in others. Kyle and Corey took me home after my session, but they didn’t return to their apartments. Instead, they grabbed pillows and ordered pizza and said they would be staying with me tonight just in case I needed to talk. I tried to brush it off saying I was okay, but it was Corey who said I wasn’t going to be alone tonight when I didn’t even know about my parents. They both looked me in the eye as Kyle said, “Friends don’t leave their friends along at times like this.” I’m learning a lot from them and I’m glad they’re here. Journal entry 15: I finally got through to Mom today. It was a rough 24 hours waiting to get word if they were safe. Mom said that she and Dad were both fine. The pack is picking up the pieces from the raid and mourning those that were lost. Mom said ten people had died and at least twenty were missing. They are going to have a memorial service in the next couple days for those that were killed. Alpha Stockdale had held and emergency pack meeting and let people know that everything possible is being done to find the ones behind the attack and bring home those that were taken. She told me how he rallied the pack when they needed it most. The way I use to think of him, I kind of wish I could have seen that with my new prospective on things. Mom said she’d never been more proud to have him as her Alpha. Mom felt that she needed to tell me that Aiden was out on patrol with the Sheriff’s Department when the attack happened; I kind of felt my breath catch at her easing into something regarding Aiden and the attack. Mom said he is believed to be one of the people from the pack that was kidnapped; several other deputies were killed in the raid, but unlike the others, no bodies were recovered for Aiden and his partner so it is hoped they are alive. Word is around the pack that Ethan is inconsolable. With everything I did to Ethan in an attempt to hurt Aiden, I can’t imagine what Ethan is going through right now. I should have been stronger to stand up to Michael years ago and put a stop to what he was doing. I should have told him to fuck off like Tyler did. There are a lot of things I should have done and it is easy to see that or say that in hindsight, at the time I was blind to what I was doing. I hope they find Aiden and the others. Even though I met with Doc yesterday, I just called to go in since I really need to talk to her after finding out about Aiden. Journal entry 16: It doesn’t feel like that long since I originally got here and I guess just over three months isn’t a lot of time; some days it feels like I’ve been here for a lifetime. I had my regular session today with Doc and even though she kind of wants me to write things for future sessions, today’s session is still heavily on my mind. We talked about my relationship with Michael again. There were things I just couldn’t bring myself to talk about. We do this every so often in hopes that I will finally let it out, but I can’t. She knows there are things I’m holding back and isn’t pushing after my breakdown. I’ve briefly touched on some of my demons with her before. I hint at what I’m afraid of and of what is still in the dark, staring back at me like eyes peering through the night watching its prey, but I just can’t get it out yet. I’m afraid of Michael still, especially after learning that my old pack was attacked and people were killed. It isn’t rational to think that he would come after me here for abandoning him; I mean I’m across the country from my old pack, but Michael isn’t rational and neither is my fear of him, so here we are. Why am I still afraid of the guy that I finally stood up to? I mean, the last time I saw him was from the rearview mirror in my car, sitting on his ass with a bleeding nose in a cloud of dust as I pealed out. I had punched my bully and former best friend; I need to stop using the term best friend since I know he was never a friend. I had fought back the way I wish some of those I bullied would have fought back against me. I refused to let him use me anymore and took charge of my life; I took responsibility for my life. Well as much as I could considering I had set rules to follow to get here to Oregon. Even with what I did, I’m now afraid of him again; knowing in my heart that he is behind the attack that killed ten of my former pack mates even if there is no proof yet. There is a part of me that is afraid of him because he knows where I am and as his former “best friend”, I abandon him. He took everything else personally, so would he travel across the country to take his revenge? If he was involved in the attack on Parker Valley and the other packs, he is capable of anything. I don’t miss the cocky, obnoxious guy I use to be, but I do miss the confidence I use to think I had. Maybe someday I’ll rebuild my self confidence and self worth. Some days are still better than others. I’m just feeling a little down today. Correction to last comment so Doc doesn't get mad at me: I do have self worth, maybe a little shaky at times, but it is there and my self confidence is also rebuilding thanks to my friends here and the rest of the pack that see’s someone worth having around.
  39. 38 likes
    Journal entry 2: When I first showed up here by myself, I thought that I was going to be turned away – or worse. I checked in at the pack offices and reported immediately to the Alpha about what Michael had done when we parted ways. I told Alpha Jennings how Michael had suggested we go on some random camping trip when we were supposed to be going straight through to Columbia River. How we fought about me no longer being willing to follow him when I refused and that I finally blew up at him over everything we had done, for all the bullshit we had pulled over the years and for the way I let him treat me all that time. I told Alpha Jennings how after having enough of everything involving Michael that I punched him as hard as I could, got into my car and left him in a cloud of dust as I got back on the road to head here. I probably should have called in and said that Michael did a runner, but at the time I was just glad to be rid of him; I was almost happy I could make the cross country drive without him around. When I left him in that parking lot, the idea of being in the same new pack with him turned my stomach and I was relieved that I was leaving him behind; hoping to never see him again. A part of me even hoped that he would end up getting hunted down and dealt with. Alpha Jennings was at first slightly hopeful that Michael would turn up in a few days. He thought that maybe Michael was just acting out and rebelling against being told what to do by his father; a teenager that had to throw one last tantrum before giving in. I’m not sure if he really believed that and I’m not sure I did either. I kind of thought the same thing and that when he realized he had nowhere else to go, he would turn up; most likely with some lame excuse for why he was late in arriving. He could have easily blamed his delay on that obnoxious Mercedes of his breaking down again. Who lets their bratty ass, bitch of a kid pick out a top of the line Mercedes AMG SUV as their high school graduation present? That last bit is just a random off topic thought and in no way is any disrespect intended towards Alpha Stockdale (given the disrespect I’ve shown him in the past I just want to be crystal clear here). It soon became clear that Michael wasn’t going to turn up as he was ordered. I honestly think that sending us to drive cross country, with only a GPS monitor on our ankle was a test to see if our lives were worth sparing. With everything we had done, there should have been an escort with each of us. I don’t know what was happening behind the scenes with regard to Michael running off since my only involvement was to be interviewed several times by members of the pack leadership about what happened and what was said and the last time I saw Michael. I think they might have been trying to see if my story changed at all, but thankfully the truth doesn’t change. I held nothing back and answered any question that was asked. I even volunteered any additional information I could think of, no matter how small, just to show I was being cooperative with them. It wasn’t until a few days later when the pack’s Enforcer showed up at my apartment that things seemed to take a turn for the worse. I was told they needed to search my car as there might be some problem. I had been honest about everything I knew and couldn’t figure out what problem might involve my car; it had been sitting in the same parking spot since I arrived here. During their search was when they found Michael’s GPS tracker hidden in my trunk. I don’t know when he managed to put it there or how that bastard got it off without setting off an alert, but he managed and planted it where I wouldn’t find it. It wasn’t easy for the investigators to find his GPS monitor either; they practically had to pull out everything that was in the trunk to find it. He had rigged it so that it was continually getting charged since a low battery sets off an alarm with the monitoring company; I know, because I forgot to plug it in once and got a warning call from the company to charge it or risk forfeiting my home confinement. It was Alpha Jennings that came to me after they finished processing my car and explained to me that they had found Michael’s ankle monitor in my trunk. He said that the tracking company had pinpointed Michael’s location as being where my car was sitting; that was why they needed to search it. I was so afraid that they would think I was involved in helping him get away. Alpha Jennings was fair and the pack investigation into what might have happened went quickly; they pointed out that it would have been much easier to get the ankle monitor hidden than it would have been to find. He seemed to believe what I told him. I sat before the Alpha with my head in my hands, repeating, “This can’t be happening,” as panic set in over what this might mean for my own fate. Thankfully most wolves, especially an Alpha can pick up the scent of when another wolf is lying; especially a wolf that is terrified and they knew I was being honest about not knowing anything about it. Even if I wanted to lie to anyone here, I’m too scared of loosing what little of a new home I have to risk it. I am not going to screw up this chance I was given to come here. I promised my mom I would make a new life here and get a fresh start. I don’t ever want to go back to the kind of person I was that got me exiled from my home pack. It was the panic attack I had from that GPS monitor being found in my car that led to my first session with the shrink. Yes, I know you hate being called that, but the way you cringed when I first said that made me smile a little. I promise not to call you that in person. I didn’t realize just how badly I needed help before that that panic attack hit. I thought I could deal with what I’m going through on my own. If this scared shell of a wolf that I am now is what I need to be to get rid of that self absorbed, arrogant, cocky bastard I was in my old life, I will take being scared for my life since it means I still have a life to be scared about.
  40. 37 likes
    Journal entry 17: It’s almost time for my session with Doc and I’ve been giving a lot of thought to things since Parker Valley was attacked. When I meet with her, I want to make sure I talk some more today about the bridge incident, since that was my final downfall or my saving grace as I’m starting to think of it. There are also aspects of what happened that day that are indirectly tied to other things that I have a hard time talking about. If I lead with the bridge, I think I can get through the rest. I’ll try and talk about it here since it always seems easier than doing it in person and since I can’t remove any pages from here, once I start to get this out, there is no putting it back in the dark corners of my mind. I need to get this out of my system and writing so far has been a good start to getting things off my chest and out of my soul. It feels like this journal has become the hammer and pick I use to chip away at the walls of my own mental prison and someday the walls will finally come down before the guards stop me. Okay, I think I wasted more than enough time on writing while avoiding what I really want to write about, so here goes. The bridge was a convenient opportunity, plain and simple; I’ve said that before. We had no way of knowing that Ethan would be walking by himself that day or crossing the bridge while we were under it hanging out at the river. It just happened that all the pieces feel into place at that very moment. We had talked as a group, or more to the point Michael talked and we listened, about what we were going to do with Ethan when or if we got the chance. When we picked up his scent on the breeze and saw he was alone, we all shifted to our wolves and got ready to do what we had been talking about. I’ve said before that only Michael and I knew the final outcome that he had planned. Michael had issued a final warning and threat to Kevin and Connor when he told them to block the far end of the bridge so Ethan couldn’t cross while we blocked any retreat. This golden opportunity wasn’t going to be lost since another one might not present itself. After we had Ethan blocked, he only had one way he could try to escape and that was to jump off the bridge into the river. I guess in his short time in town he had seen people jumping off one side of the bridge into the river, so when he moved to the side of the bridge he picked the one people jumped from. The trick is though, that you have to jump in the right spot or you’re still going to get hurt; not that we cared if he was hurt or not when we got to him. He backed up to the railing like he might actually jump. We had already planned for that and hoped he would. It would be much easier than having to drag him under the bridge. We could also get down to him before he could get away. If we had to, we were going to drag him down there and just leave the body by the water when we finished. How could I even have thought to be a part of that? I know I’m no angle in how I treated guys that were supposed to be my friends, but to just kill someone because they were a rival’s mate? I had no issue at all with doing my part as Michael and I discussed it. I kept thinking how fun all this was; I am a predator and he was the prey. If he ran, naturally our wolves would chase him down. Ethan called out, challenging us to show who we were instead of hiding behind our wolf. He even said that he couldn’t tell us by our wolf so we must have felt brave knowing he couldn’t identify us. He didn’t know if Michael was with us or not and I think he purposely started insulting Michael to get him to show himself and it worked. When he started calling Michael the pack bitch, Michael got furious since no one, especially a human talked to him like that. At the same time you could smell the raw anger pouring off Ethan. I have to give him credit; faced with five large and aggressive advancing wolves and there was no scent of fear, only anger, rage, and a fury like I had never seen before. His lack of fear was either stupidity or something that should have given us pause. He couldn’t have known how close to the truth this statement about Michael was. One thing that I think no one but me knew is that Michael liked being on the receiving end of things getting rough; very rough to be exact. He used something to mask his scent at times to the others and to prevent their scent from showing up on him later; or in him. Just like he would force others to bottom for him, Connor, Kevin and others, there were a lot of times when he was tied up with his face and upper body covered for all the guys to forcefully take a turn at him. It took some effort with Connor, Kevin and Tyler, but they complied when given the option of use or be used. It was usually some setup where we had supposedly grabbed a guy from somewhere and tied him up to use. The guy, Michael, was covered so he couldn’t see or identify us; at least that was the story. We were supposed to make it as rough on him as possible, make it hurt, do anything to demean and degrade. Robert use to get off on being as abusive as he thought he could get away with, but when it was over I never heard a complaint from Michael about it getting too rough. Sometimes it sounded like Michael would moan in pleasure from it; as if he were enjoying it and I think he did with how many times it happened. There were times I swear I heard him faintly moan someone’s name while he was getting gang banged. Whenever Michael mounted anyone else, he always claimed it was to show his dominance over others, to show he was the top dog and the Alpha to be. Now for the part I always hid from everyone. I’ve avoided saying it before because of the shame it makes me feel, but I think I was the first one Michael ever did that too. Who better than your best friend to force yourself on for the first time? It was a sleep over at Michael’s house when we were thirteen and I woke up in the middle of the night to find that my hands were tied to the headboard. There was also a horrible taste in my mouth from something being used to gag me. I later found out it was some old underwear that he used as a cum rag. He seemed happy that I was awake and told me that since I was his best friend and his father was the Alpha it was time he started showing his dominance over others including me. He didn’t do much to prepare and it hurt like hell. The bastard used his phone to record the whole thing and with me gagged it sounded like moans of pleasure instead of pain. I stayed away from him for a week or two after that until he used his mind games to get me back inline along with a threat of the video getting out to everyone. He did that to me for about a year before he got bored with it and seemed satisfied that I knew he was the dominant one between us. That’s when as a team we started in on others. Some were wolves like Kevin, Tyler and Connor and some were humans. The humans were mostly when our football team had to stay overnight someplace for a game. Grab someone from the opposing team if we lost or just take someone out of the crowd to celebrate our victory. The wolves from our pack tended to be a onetime use so they didn’t figure out who did it, with the exception of our “close friends”. Connor got it the most followed by Kevin to always keep them in line and because Michael thought Connor was the weakest of us. There were always mind games along with it to keep them quiet. When I helped Michael to force someone to submit like that falsely rebuilt some of what he took from me when I was on the receiving end. It fed into the cruel and sadistic side of me that he built and was always fanning the flames of. I think he liked knowing he created a monster in me and knew he had control over it and he was right; I was his to control and I never failed him. I’m not sure what it was when he was the bottom, perhaps showing how much he could take or he wanted to experience what we put other people through. Whatever it was, Ethan was right that Michael liked to be the pack bitch. I knew better then to ask Michael why he let me and the other guys use him like that. If he wasn’t forcing me or other guys to take it at times, I would have willingly used him anytime he wanted. Don’t get me wrong, I like women, but there are times a woman isn’t available and any port in a storm works when you are a horny young Lycan and he couldn’t get knocked up. Maybe I’m bi since I did enjoy it with both women and guys. I just prefer it with women even though at times I wondered what it would be like to be with Connor the way I was with the women I bedded; something mutual if not slightly romantic. Connor had such kissable lips. I don’t remember consciously having thoughts like that about Connor or any of the other guys before, but maybe I did and just repressed it so I didn’t screw up. I think I had a little bit of a crush on Connor at one time, but that died while forcing him to take me and had to listen to his sobs. Did all this sex around Michael mess with my mind? Probably, though I don’t know in what way since it is something I find difficult to talk about and so much about Michael messed with my mind. Hopefully like everything else I’ve written and then talked about with Doc, me writing it here will help me talk about it with her. I’m not sure what I feel today about what I wrote, but I need to get it out in the open. I can’t keep hiding from myself that I was literally Michael’s bitch for a while. Maybe someday I can explain to Connor and Kevin that I know what they went through since I went though it too and me torturing them was my way of rebuilding a self image of myself that was on the flimsiest of foundations that was bound to eventually crumble under its own weight. It sounds like an excuse to justify what I did to them and I’m not going to make excuses. I do need to tell them something though when I’m able to. Okay, I'm ready to go and I think I’m ready to talk about all this in my session today or at least I hope I am. I need to get this out in the open and off my chest so I can move past it.
  41. 37 likes
    Wednesday went by rather quickly. Michael clung to Patrick until he left for the shop around 11am. They spent time practicing English words while Peter and Grethe filled out forms and made other preparations for going to the hospital. Grethe had visited Mr. Archibald the day before, and she said he was actually feeling positive about the move. “He’s been clinging to the memories of his wife and their life together. When I told him about moving into a flat soon after Ivan died, Arthur said he could see the advantages of making a new start.” Patrick exchanged looks with Peter, who smiled and told his aunt she’d probably made a good impression on their neighbour. “I’m glad you’ve already made a friend here, Moster.” No one mentioned the potential of more-than-friends, but of course it was early yet. They’d talked about his meeting with Fiona over breakfast, and Grethe told them she’d spoken to Kim and Alice. They required regular bulletins about Michael, whom they considered almost like a nephew. She promised they would be the first to know, after her sister who had first priority as Michael’s grandmother. Peter more or less ignored the mention of his mother, which Patrick found strange. On the other hand, he knew his fiancé’s focus was on Michael. The cleaners had called the day before and they were fine with dropping by around seven to discuss hours and price. That meant Patrick could join Peter and Grethe at the hospital around four and spend a couple of hours with Michael, before he went home. He used most of the afternoon to prepare his shop for being closed for the next week, including asking the shopkeepers next door to keep an eye on the premises, the way they did when he took a month’s holiday in July. When he arrived at the Bear Ward and asked for directions to Michael’s room, in case he was in a different place, the face of the nurse lit up. “You’re Lizzie Kern’s son, right?” “Yes, I am. It’s nice to meet people who knew my mum.” “She was an amazing nurse, with a great instinct for relieving our patients’ pain. Especially the babies who can be difficult to assess; they always did better on her watch.” “My mum loved working here. She said everyone were devoted to helping the patients and their parents. The possibility of aiding sick people and especially children was the main reason she became a nurse.” Patrick had heard his mum say this many times, so he was certain enough to express this view. The pleased smile on the nurse’s face was a nice reward. “Well, here you are; Michael is in here. I guess I’ll see you again tomorrow.” “Absolutely, thank you for your help and the kind words about my mother.” They parted with mutual smiles, and Patrick knocked softly on the door, before opening it. “Papa, Papa,” was the enthusiastic greeting from Michael, and Patrick hurriedly shed his coat and used the provided ethanol on his hands before he went over to greet his new son. “This is for you – den er til dig,” he said and handed the boy a large envelope as he sat down next to Peter, who patted his back. Patrick didn’t feel he deserved much congratulation for recalling the Danish phrase, which was one of the first the boy had said to him. Every time he looked at the decorated egg by his desk in the shop, the cardmaker could hear the sweet voice as the boy presented the gifts to Peter and him. “Yes, Spiderman, cool!” Michael exclaimed and held up the laminated card he had extracted from the envelope. The adults smiled and expressed their pleasure over the picture and his reaction. The Spiderman figure seated in the huge web wore the boy’s face, and the silvery strands radiated out in a network of support and caretakers. At the top Peter stood with Patrick and Grethe on either side. At the bottom the hospital was represented by a bear doctor flanked by flamingo nurses. To the left the Star Wars Lego figure of Obi Wan Kenobi guarded him with a raised light sabre, surrounded by various other cartoon favourites. The boy pointed to each character and named them with glee. But he paused when he got to the guardian on the right side of the web. “Hvem er det?” “He wants to know who the angel is.” Peter translated. “So do I,” Patrick muttered. He was still confused about the image of a blond, barefooted protector clad in black leathers which had flashed into his mind when he was contemplating what to put in the last spot. Transparent wings hovered around his broad shoulders, and the badass attitude clearly said he'd deal with anyone and anything trying to mess with his charge. “Patrick?” Peter nudged him gently. “Uhm, yeah, that’s his guardian angel. He’ll protect him against harm.” He did his best to sound casual. “Patrick siger, det er din skytsengel. Han passer på dig.”[1] Peter relayed the explanation, and Michael grinned and bounced a bit in excitement. “Cool. Han ser sej ud, Papa.” Patrick could hear the approval in the bubbly voice and returned the grin as Peter told him their son thought the guardian angel looked ‘tough’ as well as cool. They attached the card with magnets on the board opposite the bed, where he could see it all the time. Michael settled down for a quick nap, while the adults chatted. When the boy woke half an hour later, he, Patrick and Peter worked their way through one of the ward’s colourful books about the tiger with a bad heart, who got saved by a helpful bear. Michael grumbled about it being for babies, but he liked the fact he knew and could pronounce most of the words. A nurse came by occasionally to check his temperature and make sure he drank the juice and water set out. At six o’clock Patrick said goodnight to Michael and hugged him, Peter and Grethe before he made the journey home. The cleaners arrived promptly at seven which boded well for their future reliability. He was surprised when the man introduced himself as the owner of the cleaning company and the two shy young women as his daughters. “This is Neeta and Sonia, my oldest daughters. I hope they meet with your approval.” “Of course, Mr. Kumar, and thank you for bringing them here yourself. Happy to meet you, Miss Neeta and Miss Sonia. Would you like some coffee or tea?” Patrick was pleased to see the girls answering for themselves, with Mr. Kumar eyeing them with fatherly pride. They all sat down at the kitchen table with mugs of tea and Moster Grethe’s wonderful Danish biscuits. “Neeta and Sonia are studying, but would like to earn some money. I want them to be in safe place, and they will work hard to keep your home clean. Their mother taught them well, and I explained why you need exceptional standards.” “I’m studying to be a nurse, Mr. Kern, so I understand why,” Neeta explained with a shy smile. She had a kind, but homely face framed by two long plaits of beautiful black hair. The younger sister would have been a stunning beauty if not for a fresh scar on the left side of her face. She wore a scarf over her short hair, and the loose folds hid most of the puckered tissue. Her brown eyes only met his briefly, before focusing on her tea or her sister. “My fiancé Peter’s aunt, who’s staying with us, is a nurse. I’m sure she’ll be interested in hearing about your studies. Peter’s son Michael will have surgery tomorrow, which is why they aren’t here.” Neither of the women showed any surprise, so their father had probably briefed them on this too. Patrick had decided to be candid about the household when he spoke to Mr. Kumar on the phone, in order to avoid any misunderstandings or awkwardness. He didn’t want to employ someone like his neighbour by mistake. “I will be honest, Mr. Kern, and tell you why I want my daughters to work here. I asked around and I know you are nice man, who will not harm innocent people. Also, I have men like you working for me, and they show proper respect to my wife and daughters, and to lady cleaners. I can trust them not to assault the honour of women. Neeta and Sonia agree this is perfect place for them to clean.” Patrick blanched and had a hard time keeping his composure at the devastating wave of anger and hurt from all three family members. He knew Sonia must have been sexually assaulted recently, and the trauma also affected those who loved her. He felt the incident had made her parents and siblings protective and supportive, but there was a thin bitter sliver of hate and self-blame cutting into Sonia’s proud soul. It made him want to help her, though he had no idea how. “Thank you for your trust, and you should know it’s mutual. Letting strangers into my home has never been easy for me, but I’m confident this arrangement will work. My only worry is whether there will be enough to do for two people.” “Why don’t you show us what the cleaning jobs are? Then we can discuss hours and pay, yes?” “Certainly.” Patrick began with the kitchen, took them on a tour around the house, and explained how often he wanted cleaning done. Mr. Kumar took notes and seemed pleased. Sonia asked a few questions, and Patrick was surprised but relieved to notice her genuine interest made the earlier pain recede. “I think you need two people for five hours two times a week,” Mr. Kumar finally pronounced. “You have tidy house, which makes cleaning easier. Vacuum cleaner is almost new, and we will bring special cloths to remove dust and wipe down surfaces and door handles. If five hours are too much, later we can reduce to four, yes? Or when little boy no longer needs extra clean home.” “That sounds good, but I doubt I will need fewer hours even then. I’ve bought the house next door, and the old man who lives there, hasn’t been able to keep up with house-keeping matters. His children will help him pack up during the next six months, but I’m sure they’ll be happy to pay for the cleaning. This will probably mean extra hours during the summer, if you have time? And I’ll need cleaners for the joint place, both before and after various renovations. In fact, I guess you’ll both be finished with your studies long before I’ll be able to do without your invaluable help.” Sonia seemed to brighten at the idea of extra work during summer and the prospect of being needed long term. Her father was positively beaming, when she spoke up with quiet confidence. “My business studies will hopefully enable me to take over Kumar Cleaning when Father wants to retire. I’ve only just started, so you can count on me for several years, Mr. Kern.” He wanted to tell them to call him Patrick, but sensed the formal address made them comfortable. “Do you have any preferences on weekdays? And what time of day can you be here?” “Fridays are good and Mondays or Tuesdays are fine too,” Sonia replied after a quick glance at her sister. “We both have the afternoons free on Tuesdays and Fridays, but Neeta has lessons scheduled on Mondays until two pm, so we wouldn’t be here before three.” “I can take this Monday afternoon off, so we can arrive by noon as you wanted, Mr. Kern,” Neeta assured him. “No, you don’t have to do that. Three o’clock on Monday afternoon will be fine. We’re having a hospital bed installed in the guestroom I showed you, and the whole room needs to be cleaned as well as the bathroom, because we hope Michael will be able to come home on Tuesday.” They nodded, and Mr. Kumar produced a contract and explained about his wage demands, which sounded reasonable. Tuesdays and Fridays from one to six pm were chosen as the normal schedule. They filled out the form and signed it, and Patrick got the duplicate with the information he needed, including Sonia’s phone number. “I will arrange for an automatic bank transfer every month. If for some reason the hours are more or less than agreed, we can deal with that by adjusting the subsequent months, right? The extra work in summer will be paid separately, once we find out how much it’s going to be.” “Yes, very good, Mr. Kern. Sonia will keep track of hours and hand you invoice at the end of each month. It will be good way for her to learn the system.” “I’ll be here on Friday and Monday to instruct you, but later on you’ll be given a key and your own code to the alarm system, so you’re not dependent on anyone to be here. Although I guess Michael and Aunt Grethe will be at home most days at least for the foreseeable future.” “We will burn incense and say prayers to Dhanvantari[2] for successful surgery of your son, Mr. Kern.” He clasped Patrick’s hand in an earnest goodbye and his daughters nodded and added their best wishes. “Thank you. We’re hopeful he will be fine, but nothing in this world is certain. I will let you know if plans change, and in this case no news is good news.” After a few more polite farewell remarks, Mr. Kumar and his daughters left. Patrick indulged himself with a rare glass of whisky as he tried to forget the heart-breaking hurt he’d sensed in Sonia. But for some reason it kept nagging him, and he decided to listen to his instincts. He dug out his cell phone and made a call. Half an hour later he was finally able to relax and fix himself a quick sandwich while he waited for Peter. When the doorbell rang at ten past eight, he left the kitchen to answer. He was a bit surprised Peter didn’t let himself in, but happy he was home earlier than expected. When he opened the door, he was taken aback to see a tall, beautiful woman with long blond hair smiling at him. She looked vaguely familiar, and the moment she opened her mouth he knew why. “Hi Patrick, I’m Alice. Is my mother here or at the hospital?” “Uhm, hi Alice, Moster Grethe is at the hospital with Michael. She’s staying there overnight. I don’t think she’s expecting you?” “No, I know that. My modelling gig in Wales got postponed due to unexpected bad weather. I decided to jump on an airplane to London, so I could be here for my cousin. Is Peter at the hospital too?” “Yes, but I’m expecting him home within the next hour. Please come in.” He backed up to let Alice into the house. She only had a small suitcase and a purse, so he assumed most of her luggage was still in Wales or wherever she was staying. As soon as she had gotten rid of her bags and coat she headed straight for him to deliver a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I’m so glad to meet the guy who’s making Peter happier than he’s ever been. I hope you don’t mind me arriving unannounced.” “No, that’s fine, but you’re lucky I was at home. We were all at the hospital this afternoon.” “Oh, I saw there were lights on in both houses before I sent the cab away. I would have gone next door to ask Mum’s new friend to put me up for an hour or two, if you hadn’t been here.” “I’m sure Mr. Archibald would have been surprised but more than happy to offer you a cup of tea. Would you like one, while we wait?” “I’m dying for tea, and a couple of Mum’s vaniljekranse.”[3] “Those are the biscuits with a hole in the middle, right?” “Yes…åh, sikke et hyggeligt køkken.[4] I’m not surprised Mum likes your house and the kitchen in particular. She sent me a few snapshots, but they didn’t do this room justice.” She settled on a chair and looked around while Patrick made tea and dug out the biscuit tin. Alice was as relaxed and straightforward as her mother. He suspected she might come across as ill-mannered or pushy to a lot of Brits, but he found the lack of inhibitions refreshing. And the brief hug had shown him there was a tender heart and bright wits behind the classy and flawless exterior, all of which would probably ensure Alice a lucrative modelling career. “How is Michael?” “He was fine when I left. A bit bored with being in the hospital, and he’s surprisingly calm about tomorrow.” “And Peter is trying not to freak out, right? Michael means everything to him. Well, you and Michael, I should say.” “Right now, all of us are focused on Michael. But the surgeon was positive about the outcome when we spoke with him. There’s no guarantee though.” “Yeah, that’s why I wanted to be here. Hopefully to celebrate the success, but if the worst should happen, I want to be there for Mum and Peter. Kim is going to arrive tomorrow.” She let the news slip out with a casual wink. “He is? And he hasn’t told your mum or Peter either?” “Nope, because they would have insisted it wasn’t necessary. But Kim told me there was no way he was going to be half a world away, when his family needed him. He’d already made sure his calendar could be cleared in case Michael got approved for surgery. As soon as the date was set, he bought the flight. I think he’s organized a few business meetings in Copenhagen, Berlin and London for the end of next week and the week after, in order to prolong his stay as much as possible.” “Wow, that’s fantastic. I know Peter will be pleased, no matter what he says. How long are you able to stay for?” “Unless the weather miraculously clears before Friday morning, I can stay until Sunday afternoon. But the shoot will commence on Monday morning, as the forecast is sunny for that day and the next. And that reminds me, can you book rooms for me and Kim at the hotel Mum stayed in?” “There’s no need for that. The guest room is empty, because Grethe is staying at the hospital. I think she changed the bed linen this morning, so it’s all ready for you. The beds move apart, so if you don’t mind sharing with your brother, Kim could sleep here too. At least until Monday, when we have to reorganize the room to prepare for Michael coming home.” “Are you sure, Patrick? I mean, Mum told me you’re unbelivably… uhm gæstfri[5]…uhm I don’t know the English word, but she said you opened your home to total strangers in the most amazing way. I guess I can see what she means.” “Peter and Michael are my family now. Grethe, Kim and you are his closest, dearest relatives apart from his sister, and I hope you’ll be mine too. I don’t really have any relatives I care about, except for one cousin, and this house has been much too empty since my parents died.” He paused to compose himself and take a mouthful of tea. A warm hand found his other hand and squeezed it in sympathy, but she didn’t say anything. “To be honest, the house feels terribly empty right now, without Michael and Grethe’s presence. She’s the kindest, most warm-hearted woman I’ve ever met, apart from my mum. And I miss Michael’s voice and even the noise of his silly cartoons which make him laugh. Having you and Kim here would help, and I’m sure Peter will feel the same.” The sound of the front door opening made them turn their heads, and moments later Peter called out. “Patrick, I’m home. Why is there a suitcase… Vent lige lidt, jeg kender den frakke.[6] Alice?” She started giggling and got up to face her cousin as he strode into the kitchen. “Hi Peter. Surprise!” The delighted smile on his fiancé’s face confirmed Patrick’s decision to ask her to stay with them. Peter would need all the loving family support he could get for the next couple of days. [1] Patrick says it’s your guardian angel. He looks after you. [2] Dhanvantari is the Hindi god of healing. [3] Vaniljekranse – traditional Danish butter cookies with vanilla. [4] Oh, what a cozy / comfortable kitchen. [5] Gæstfri = hospitable [6] Wait a minute, I know this coat.
  42. 37 likes
    A month later, after another late finish at the Shepherd’s Bush Old Country restaurant—this time a large and raucous hen party had kept them busy until gone two in the morning—and Marcus had happily gone home alone, asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Even as he went under, he resolved to have a slow, relaxed Sunday, which would entail a long snooze-in. No such luck. When the mobile phone went off on the bedside cabinet at eight, he had been in two minds whether to let the call go to messages. Until he reluctantly cracked open his eyes and saw Tom’s home number on the display. “‘Lo?” he croaked. “Uncle Marc, Uncle Marc,” shrieked Charlotte’s excited voice down the phone. Marcus yanked the device away from his ear. “It’s a sunny Sunday. And daddy said if it was sunny today we could go to Water Kingdom. But you have to come too. Katie needs to stay out of the sun. But if you come, I can go in the water with you, and daddy can stay with Katie.” In the background he could hear Tom telling Charlie to give him the phone. “Melanie at school says they have a new water slide for us small kids. But you have to be companied by an adult. So can you come, Uncle Marc? Pleeeease?” Once again Tom’s voice sounded in the background. “Charlie, give me the phone. And will you please pipe down while daddy talks to Uncle Marc.” “Marcus,” came Tom’s warm voice, as Charlotte continued to call out to Marcus. “Really sorry about that. She speed-dialled before I had a chance to stop her, the little madam. Listen, you don’t have to do this. I imagine you had a late one last night, it being Saturday and end of the month. And I know you like to sleep in Sundays. There’ll be other days—“ “Give me an hour. To get ready and get over there.” “Are you sure?” “Yeah,” said Marcus, scrubbing a hand over his eyes, before resting his forehead on his pale forearm. “Why not? Need an excuse to get moving on a Sunday. And to be honest, I could do with a dose of sunshine.” **** After negotiating the long queue of excited families—seemed as though the whole world had the same idea that glorious Sunday morning—they finally made their way into the theme park. Tom led the girls away into a single family cubicle while Marcus changed in the communal men’s area. Apart from feeling a little tired, he felt grateful to be able to spend time with his surrogate family in the sunshine and also to road-test the skimpy designer swimmers his staff had bought him for Christmas. Comprised of comic superheroes and in vibrant colours, the stretch materials just about covered all the bases. After that, he spent a few minutes plastering on a reasonably protective UV factor sun lotion, before donning his designer sunglasses and leather sandals. Unsurprisingly, he was ready and waiting a good ten minutes before Tom and the girls finally emerged. Leaning by a tree opposite the changing facilities, rucksack and cooler box at his feet, and safe behind his shades, he enjoyed noticing the passing stares of appraisal of both men and women. Tom, by contrast—when they finally emerged—had stripped down to extremely unflattering knee length swimming shorts of navy blue cotton. Fortunately, he chose to go bare-chested so at least Marcus, along with the rest of the water park, had the pleasure of seeing his defined arms and chest, complete with the mat of dark chest hair. Unlike Marcus, nothing about him had been gym-wrought, everything courtesy of his outdoor physical occupation. Shame he didn’t feel the need to flaunt what he had. Maybe Marcus would have to work on that. As soon as the two of them were near enough, both spoke the same words at exactly the same time. “What the hell are you wearing?” “Me?” said Tom, before Marcus had a chance to reply. “Indecent doesn’t even begin to describe those—panties. You’re practically naked. Up close I can almost tell what religion you are.” “Ha, ha, very funny. At least I don’t look like a nineteen-fifties football player. Exactly how old are those shorts?” “I’ll have you know these are Fred Perry’s.” “Then I suggest you give them back to him.” “Yay, Uncle Marcus. Batman and Superman,” said Charlotte, pointing to Marcus’ swimwear. “And Wonder Woman. Yay. Daddy, you should get some.” “They’re really cool, Uncle Marc,” agreed Katie. Marcus lowered his shades to gloat at Tom, which, in return, had Tom grinning and shaking his head. “I think my point has been made, grandpa. Now let’s go and find somewhere to set up camp.” Although Water Kingdom was far from the largest water park in the country, the owners had created an open air space where families could sit under real trees or on sun beds beneath parasols within easy viewing distance of their brood. More integrated parks had usually opted to house their slides under a large domed roof due to the unreliability of English summers. Water Kingdom sat open to the heavens with only four towering twisty slides in blues and greys. In a smaller, shallower pool—Treasure Island Cove—they also catered to the smaller children, with shorter slides set amid plastic bamboo shoots and built into waterfalls, sliding down from pirate galleons or carved into models of giant fallen coconut trees. Even Katie appeared to let go, splashing around in the water, always with her father close by her side. While Charlotte insisted on repeatedly riding the coconut slide with Marcus, after an hour Tom and Katie retreated to the dry shade of the tree where, earlier on, they had claimed a spot and made camp. “I didn’t want us to overdo it, otherwise Katie gets short of breath,” said Tom, tossing Marcus’ towel to him as they joined them forty-five minutes later. “Totally understand,” said Marcus, towelling himself down before doing the same to a giggling Charlotte. Once they had finished—the towel draped around his shoulders—and everyone settled, Marcus reached into his rucksack and pulled out some folded up tartan material. “Okay. Hands up if you’re hungry?” he said. Of course, both girls stuck their hands in the air. “Because Uncle Marcus has brought a picnic. Charlie and Katie, you’re in charge of the picnic blanket.” “Marcus, you didn’t need to do that. I was going to take them to the park café.” “For junk food? Come on, Tom. You know me better than that. Most of this I already had in the fridge. The rest I brought home from the restaurant last night, rather than throw it away,” he said, pulling plastic tubs, plates and cutlery from his cool box. “Which includes, Mr Bradford-Fowler, our very own twist on someone’s favourite dessert cake.” “You did not bring carrot cake?” said Tom, his eyes lighting up. “Old Country carrot cake, indeed.” Later on, with everyone full, Marcus lay on his front in the sun. Tom took the girls to wash the plates and cutlery, and when they returned settled back in the shade. Marcus gave the girls one last task; to dispose of the litter in the three recycle bins opposite where they were sitting. He watched them go, holding the shopping bag full of litter between them. “You’re a real star for doing this,” said Tom. “I hope you realise how much this means to them. And to me.” “My pleasure,” said Marcus, turning to grin at Tom. “They think the world of you, you know. Charlie’s always asking me when you’re coming over. Even Katie’s doing so much better at school with your help. And don’t dare tell her, but that spread was better than anything mum has ever cobbled together.” “All I need is a vagina and I could be your next girlfriend.” Tom went quiet at that remark and Marcus instantly regretted the words. “Shit. Sorry, Tom. You know I have a smart mouth sometimes, don’t you?” “No,” said Tom, sadly shaking his head. “It’s not that. Mum’s been on at me to start dating again. She thinks it’s time. Says it couldn’t do us any harm to have a little lady around. Someone to help ground the girls, someone on my arm when I’m doing work socials with other couples, that kind of stuff. I just can’t get my head around the idea.” At that, Marcus sat up. At first, Tom’s words had irritated him, at Moira’s pushiness, at her insensitivity. Straight on the emotional heels of that had followed a flash of anger followed quickly by anxiousness. Would he be still be needed as much if Tom had a new partner? But then Tom had sounded unsure, hadn’t he? “Then don’t. You’ll know when the time’s right. Get used to having things back on an even keel, before you take the next step. Don’t let anybody push you into doing anything you’re not ready for.” Both men fell silent, watching the girls across the way, as they hesitated before deciding which item of litter went into which recycle bin. “Can I tell you something,” said Marcus, without turning. “Go on.” “Only, I need to be honest with you. If I saw you with another woman right now, I’d be devastated. Because it would feel to me as though you’re cheating on Raine. And I know that’s neither rational nor fair, given the circumstances, but sometimes we can’t help what’s inside us. Shit, does that make me bad friend?” “No, of course not,” said Tom, and when Marcus finally turned around, he noticed Tom smiling his understanding. “Because it’s exactly how it would feel to me, too.” **** Early in the afternoon, when Marcus returned from the park shop bringing ice creams for Tom and Charlotte, and an orange iced lolly for Katie, an overweight woman togged out in a tight, one-piece scarlet with black polka dots swimming suit complemented by an emerald green swimming cap came towards him. She looked like a human strawberry as she waddled away from Tom, waving over her shoulder. When she reached Marcus she stopped, leant in and squeezed his forearm. Turning to look back at Tom and the girls, she said one word. “Adorable.” The moment Marcus followed her gaze, he smiled, knowing exactly what she meant. Tom sat with his back against the trunk of the oak, a proprietary arm around Katie. Lost in her new book, she sat leaning her back against him. On his other side, Charlotte, as hyperactive as ever, twirled around and around like a ballerina. Hands clasped together above her head, Tom watched on smiling and leant in to catch her when she inevitably fell over in a fit of giggles. “Beautiful family.” “Yeah.” “You’re very lucky.” “Yes, I suppose I am.” “You are,” she said, moving beside him. Stood there, she produced a wave which Charlotte returned enthusiastically. “You should be very proud. My son and his partner are talking about adopting. They live in Toronto. But they’re a little nervous about what effect being brought up by two dads might have on the kid. Wish I could magic them over here right now, to look at this happy little scene. That would make up their minds in a heartbeat.” Before Marcus fully caught on to her meani