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  1. 68 points
    CJ, Owen, and Ritchie returned to Washington on the first day of 2017 to an empty house. César and Brett had flown to England and spent New Year’s Eve in London with their old friend Rashid Khan and his partner. When planning the trips, the fathers insisted their sons arrive home in time for Ritchie to have a full day settling in before going back to school. The older couple flew home a day after the others did. CJ spent subsequent days relaxing, waiting for the new semester at Georgetown University to start. Harley Wilkinson was still in town and the two went out riding―Harley borrowed his father’s motorcycle since his was in Orlando―although the temperatures were in the forties and the two felt like mummies wrapped in so many layers. On Martin Luther King Holiday, CJ drove his dad’s new Cadillac for the first time. The lease had expired on the old one and César replaced it with a new version the weekend after returning from England. With room for up to eight and tons of bling, the Escalade was a throwback to Detroit’s gas-guzzler days. A 420-horse power V-8 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission did not make the steel behemoth an environmentally friendly vehicle. Ritchie refused to go to the party so it was CJ, Owen, César, and Brett in the car when they stopped to pick up Dr. Matthew Calhoun and Dasan Turner. “Love the new car smell.” Matt ran a hand over the leather seat as he climbed into the vehicle. “Wow, this one’s got even more room back here than the previous one.” “It’s definitely longer. I’m gonna have to get used to that.” CJ tapped the rearview mirror. “Check this out, it turns from a mirror to a screen for the camera in back. It’ll make parallel parking easier.” “I still hate it.” Owen’s grunt and long face earned him a tap to the back of the head from Brett. “Oh, shut the fuck up, Ozzie. You better take that stick out of your ass. You’re being a dick. We know it’s not an eco-friendly car. We need the room for the family. And for when César has to take out clients. What the fuck else you want from us? We already promised to donate money to a tree planting effort to offset the carbon footprint. So lay off!” CJ tried not to laugh at how plainly his father spoke. “I think Ozzie would have preferred you getting a Tesla.” • • • “Come on, buddy. Wave at your grandparents.” Chatri held the phone with one hand while waving the other one at his son. It was Gamon’s first birthday party and the proud father was broadcasting live on Facebook for the benefit of family back in Washington State. “Right, like he’s going to pay attention to you when there’s a chocolate cake in front on him.” CJ stood next to the birthday boy’s father and made faces at him. “Hey, Gamon, should we take the phone away from your dad so we can get on with the singing, candle blowing, and eating?” The kid gurgled, muttered “dada,” and tried to wiggle out of his mother’s grasp while reaching for CJ—the beard fascinated the toddler. “Oh, great!” Helen shook her head while laughing. “I hope the ‘dada’ was a reaction to you mentioning his father, CJ. Otherwise we’re in trouble.” “I don’t know, Helen. I think your son likes my son better than he likes his own father. César and I would be happy to take him off your hands.” Brett’s comment earned him a hard stare from Chatri. “Watch it, Captain. If you’re jonesing so bad for a grandson, have CJ make one for you.” “I think he’s been trying. But it looks like Ozzie might be barren.” “Bloody hell! Go ahead, Brett. Blame me. Blame the Aussie. Maybe it’s not me, you know? Maybe your son shoots blanks?” “Thaaat’s enough.” César looked around at the small gathering―they knew everyone except for a couple of Chatri’s friends from the hospital who were laughing at his family’s antics. “You’ll have to forgive my husband, my son, and his boyfriend. They’re not used to being out in public in polite company.” Eventually, the guests belted out Happy Birthday. The parents blew out the single candle, cut the cake, and passed slices around. Owen followed close behind when CJ went to sit next to Dr. Prescott Harding―Matt’s business partner―and the doctor’s boyfriend, Gray Young. “Gentlemen, we wanted to talk to the two of you. We haven’t seen each other in ages.” “Who you calling a gentleman? No need to insult us, you know?” A smirking Gray bumped fists with the younger couple while Prescott shook hands with them. “What’s up, CJ? How was Australia, Ozzie?” “Mate, the trip was brilliant. I got to spend time with my entire family at the winery and then we were in Sydney with my brother and sister for New Year’s Eve. I have to say, the best part was showing Ritchie around. He’s like his brother in some ways but more of a daredevil. You should have seen him surfing!” “And since Ozzie brought up my brother”―CJ looked at Prescott―“that’s who I wanted to talk to you about.” “Anything wrong with him?” Dr. Prescott Harding asked the question in a professional tone but CJ noticed a small tick upwards by an eyebrow. It made him smile knowing Pres and Matt were more than the family physicians; they were family friends. “Nah, nothing wrong with him. That I know of. Since he and I didn’t do our physicals at the same time last summer, I’m not sure what you and Matt talked to him about. Did you cover sex and HIV with him?” The stare Dr. Harding gave him was intimidating. “Really, CJ? You want me to discuss a patient’s information with you? Why are you asking me? Didn’t you ride here with Matt? You could’ve asked him.” “He ain’t a patient, Pres. He’s my little brother! The reason I’m asking you is you are the infectious disease specialist. You’ve been the one to discuss that type of stuff with me since I moved to Washington.” “Okay, I can understand the last part. How old’s your brother? Thirteen? Fourteen? Not only is he a patient, which means I have to keep his information confidential, he’s a minor! I’ll discuss medical issues with his parents. That’s not you, buddy. It’s your dads.” “You’re being a pain, you know that? The dads would say it’s okay to talk to me about Ritchie.” “Fine, go get them.” Prescott’s smile led CJ to believe the medical man was now playing with him. “Get César and Brett to tell me it’s okay to discuss their son’s medical details with you. And in front of Owen and Gray too. Hell, let’s discuss your personal info as well while we’re at it.” Acknowledging he was defeated, CJ sighed and shook his head but his smile did not falter. “Whatever! You’re such a pain. I can’t wait ’til Chatri finishes his residency. I’m gonna be sooo glad when he starts working for real and I can deal with a doctor who listens to me. I’ll talk to the dads, but I think Ritchie needs a serious conversation about safer sex. Ozzie and I have talked to him, but I think he’ll pay more attention if it comes from you or Matt.” “And why would he need such a talk?” “Because the kid’s hormonal, mate.” Ozzie was well aware why CJ was having this conversation; it was a subject the two had already discussed. “Actually, he’s just a horny bugger. There was an incident back at the beginning of last summer we never told the dads about. Ritchie stole a joint the night of CJ’s graduation party, disappeared with a girl, and when they surfaced, there were reddish eyes and reddish lipstick smears on both.” “Then there’s the trip to Australia.” CJ’s smile grew remembering his brother’s antics. “He behaved most of the time because Ozzie’s sister was with us. But whenever she wasn’t around, Ritchie kept pointing out girls and women he’d love to fuck. His words.” Prescott looked at the two men talking to him and smirked. “Sounds to me like a typical post-puberty teenager.” “Yeah, sure. Typical, my ass. Good looking kid with money can easily convince some chick to throw her legs open for him. I don’t want him catching anything. And I sure as hell ain’t ready to deal with a pregnancy!” “Damn, you sound like a parent. Tell you what: you three stay here. I’m going to have a chat with César and Brett. You did well, CJ. It’s good you’re looking out for your brother.” As Dr. Harding walked away, CJ turned his attention to Gray. “How’s school going, bud? Ready to take your exams?” In addition to working for Leo Dallas’ Leatherneck Construction, Gray was attending Northern Virginia Community College, gearing up to take his General Contractor license exam. “I’ll be done in late spring. Keeping my fingers crossed I’ll have the certificate by summer.” “That’s perfect, mate.” Owen took a quick glance at CJ and received an acknowledging wink. “CJ wants to buy a house and we’d like you to go with us when we go look at properties.” “Seriously?” Gray looked surprised. “You’re planning to buy a house? Why would you want to move? I mean, you have the perfect set up right now. Anyway, wouldn’t Leo be a better choice? I mean, he works for your father almost full-time these days.” “One at a time,” CJ replied. “I’m not planning on moving out. The house would be an investment for now. Prolly rent it out. What we're thinking is you being there when we first look. If we see something we’d like to do, you could give us an idea of how easy or hard it might be. We'd get my dads and Leo involved once we found something we liked.” “Sure, I’d be happy to help. When and where?” “No idea on either. We asked Dash to keep an eye out for any place he thinks might be good. I’d love to stay in Georgetown. But I’m open to other neighborhoods as long as it’s in Washington. I don’t want anything in the Virginia or Maryland burbs.” “Kalorama’s a nice area. You could rub elbows with the Obamas and Trump’s daughter and son-in-law since they’re all moving to the neighborhood.” “No thanks! Between those two, the place will be lousy with Secret Service agents. I don’t want the headaches. And I’ve had enough politics for a while.” The following Friday―after a short three-day work week―the nation’s capital closed down once again for the inauguration of Donald Trump as the forty-fifth President of the United States. CJ, Owen, Ritchie, and Patrick played basketball in the morning and then joined their fathers to watch the swearing in. At the end of the ceremony, the mood inside the house was as gloomy as it was outside. Having no interest in watching the parade, the men escaped outdoors in search of fresh air. The dark, overcast skies and the slight drizzle did not prevent them from regrouping outside after using the bathroom and refreshing their drinks. They sat on the side patio, a small blaze in the fire pit, smoking Cohibas from the supply of Cuban-rolled cigars CJ and Owen brought back from Australia. The conversation revolved around the new President’s dark tone and hideous comments. CJ felt a bit lost. “I have no idea how this will go. I’ve been ready to give him a chance. He won the election and he deserves the respect of the office. But I’m not feeling any warm fuzzies right now.” Brett was the one to summarize their feelings. “Dude! You’ve heard of people sucking the air out of a room when they speak? This guy sucked the air out of an entire fucking city. Sure, we should give him a chance. However, we all better keep both eyes open. It could get ugly in the next four years.” • • • A week later, CJ and Thiago left the dojo together and headed to the Georgetown townhouse. Thiago brought clothes to change into after showering; Nadine and Owen were waiting and the four headed out to dinner once they were ready. The couples had made a pact to try and get together at least once a month in the New Year. “How come you picked George Washington University for your MBA, Ozzie? I would have thought you’d want to go to Georgetown. So you could be around CJ all the time.” Nadine had found out Owen was applying to the Global Master of Business Administration program at the Foggy Bottom institution. Owen glanced at CJ, a small smile on his lips. “CJ’s the reason I didn’t apply to Georgetown. I want him to enjoy the next four years without having a boyfriend hovering around all the time. We see each other every day already. No need to be around each other twenty-four seven.” “That’s a healthy approach. So, you graduate this year from law school and you go right back for another degree. Thiago finishes his undergraduate degree―in two years thanks to all the credits he already had from high school―but has four more years until he gets his doctorate. Any of you ever going to get a real job?” Nadine’s teasing tone made the three men around her chuckle. “Great! My own girlfriend throws me under the bus! For the record, I already have a job waiting for me when I graduate.” CJ wiped his mouth as he finished chewing. “Walgreens? Did they offer you a job already?” Thiago looked around the table with an expression CJ could not decipher. “Nah, somebody else. I signed an agreement with the VA. The Department of Veterans Affairs will pay for my school and I’ll go work for them when I graduate.” “Really?” This was the first CJ heard about Thiago’s plans. “How come? You know the foundation would extend the scholarship you got. You didn’t have to worry about paying for school. Wouldn’t Walgreens offer you more money?” “They might… But, I think I’d rather make less money and do something more rewarding than dispensing diet pills and painkillers to bored housewives. Working for the VA will give me the chance to do some good helping service men and women.” CJ was dumbfounded. “Wow! What led to this decision?” “You.” Thiago did not say another word while staring at CJ. “Me? What the heck? How did I have anything to do with it?” “You’ve taught me a few things since I met you, CJ. Amongst them, to love the military for all they do. And that money’s not everything. Sometimes you have to do what feels right and let the chips fall where they may.” • • • Saturday, a week after being there with Thiago and Nadine, CJ and Owen were back for dinner at the Tombs. Ezra Dawani was in Washington for his annual visit with his boyfriend Levi Olken and insisted on the location, claiming he had loved the typical American pub the previous year. CJ sat with his back to the wall at the table he and Owen were starting to think of as their own―they ate there that often. “Oh… my… god… Give a girl a break! Too much hotness at one table. So, which one of you's asking me out on a date?” The server was new; she had no idea who CJ and Owen were much less their two friends. The three locals laughed, while Ezra looked embarrassed. “That may prove to be a little problematic.” Levi scratched his scruffy face and smirked. Mediterranean good looks hinted at his Middle Eastern background. Born in Israel to American parents, the man moved to the United States years before to claim his American citizenship. “How about you take our drinks order and point us out to the bartender when you give it to him. We’ll talk about that date when you come back.” Being in a playful mood, CJ decided to have some fun with the new girl. When she returned, her expression was a jumble of embarrassment and surprise. She placed a glass of sparkling water with a lime in front of CJ. “He laughed at me! Told me you’re not old enough to order alcohol and said you’d have to settle for the usual club soda.” CJ chuckled; the reaction was more or less what he expected. “I figured that’s what he’d say. I know I look older but I’m only nineteen.” CJ nodded in his boyfriend's direction. “Don’t worry. Ozzie and I eat here all the time. You’ll get a chance to get me back. Did he say anything else?” The woman would not meet their gaze; she stared at the order pad in her hands. “Yeah, that my chances for a date with you or the blond guy are nil to none since you’re a couple. And he figured your two friends are one too.” When they were done with their meal, CJ invited Ezra and Levi home for a nightcap―he claimed he wanted at least one beer since he had not been able to have any while his companions did. There was another motive for his move; Ritchie was spending the night at a friend’s house but the dads were home. He wanted them to meet Ezra. “DADS…” CJ’s shout reverberated throughout the house. “DOWNSTAIRS! STOP SHOUTING!” Brett’s retort made Owen chuckle. “Come on down to the basement, guys. We have beer and wine down there. Unless you want something stronger?” Levi rubbed his hands together and looked at Owen with anticipation. “Is the wine from your family? I loved what I had last time I was here.” In a concession to winter, César and Brett wore t-shirts and sweatpants instead of the typical household attire of boxer shorts. When the four younger men strolled in, the two were standing in front of the couch; a half-full bowl of popcorn rested on the coffee table and whatever movie they were watching was paused. “Hey, Levi.” César extended his hand towards him. “How was dinner, boys?” “Good, but we had a rookie server who had no idea who Ozzie and I were. She wanted to know which one of us was going to ask her out on a date.” “Ha!” Head shaking accompanied Brett’s cackle. “Bet she was disappointed.” “The bartender set her straight. Pun intended. Dads, this is Ezra. You’ve heard about him before. Ezra, my dads. Brett Davenport and César Abelló.” When introductions were complete, the men made themselves comfortable. Owen walked towards the game room section of the basement and returned holding aloft a bottle of wine. “Dads, I’m opening a bottle of the new Tempranillo Jack sent us. You guys want some?” Halfway through the conversation, CJ sprung the idea the four young men concocted over the meal. “So, Dads, these two are engaged. Levi’s going to Israel in July and then Ezra’s coming back with him for good. We were talking over dinner, and since Ozzie’s gonna be busy studying for the bar exam at the same time, I want to go with Levi for a visit.” • • • It had been a year since CJ’s cousin Randall Abelló and Tyler Scott―his longtime companion―had married in Chicago. Randy and Ty flew to Las Vegas for a week’s vacation to celebrate their first anniversary and invited Rod and Taisha to join them. Randy’s brother, Rodney, and his fiancé Taisha Kravitz, had moved in together the previous month when the townhouses in front of Brett’s Tacoma neighborhood project were completed. CJ, Owen, Ritchie, and the fathers had pitched in to help Rod move out of the apartment in the old Georgetown Theatre building. They were all now waiting for the young couple to announce a date for their wedding. “Hey, Dads.” CJ, Owen, Ritchie, and Wingnut were sprawled on the couch watching TV while the two older men played pool. “You both have a text message. The three of us just got the same one.” CJ had muted the sound and the younger guys were all smiling. “Wanna tell us what it is?” César glanced upwards from the orange felt for a moment. “I have one more ball to sink and then I’ll get the eight. I think I’m going to beat Brett for the first time this year.” “Keep dreaming, baby!” Brett did a small celebratory dance. “I’m the undisputed champ here.” He lowered his voice to a loud whisper. “Except for Ritchie, of course. Motherfucker hasn’t lost a game yet.” “There’s a picture attached to the message. You guys may want to look at it.” César straightened up, placed the cue stick on the table, and stared at his son. “Spit it out, CJ. You’re distracting me. What the hell’s so important?” “Geez, Dad, a little testy? Fine, if that’s the way you want it… Your nephew Rod and Taisha did more than travel to Vegas to celebrate Randy and Ty’s anniversary. The fuckers eloped! The picture’s them getting married by a fat guy dressed like Elvis!” • • • César and Brett had already left the house and gone to dinner with Tom and JP. CJ and Owen were invited to join them, but CJ declined telling them he wanted to have a private Valentine Day’s meal with Owen. The Aussie was next door changing while CJ finished getting ready himself. Walking out of his bedroom, he found Ritchie on the couch still engaged in the same aerial combat flight simulator he favored. CJ called his brother’s name a couple of times; Ritchie wore headphones and apparently did not hear him so he waved a hand in front of the kid. “You gonna be okay being alone for a couple of hours?” “Of course I am, CJ. I’m almost fifteen, you know?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I keep forgetting you’re all grown up. You want us to bring you back food? We’re staying in the ’hood.” “Nah, I already ate. I finished the leftover Chinese from Sunday. Have fun with Ozzie. And hurry back. Remember, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is on tonight.” “We’ll be back in a couple of hours. Call me if you need anything.” Martin’s Tavern was busy but CJ had made arrangements in advance and the booth he asked for was empty and waiting for them. He and Ozzie waved at a few people they knew by sight from the neighborhood, and stopped to say hello to an older couple who lived five or six houses down the street. CJ’s hands were sweating; he kept rubbing them on his jeans to dry them. His usual resolute attitude had deserted him and he was experiencing a little fear. By the end of the meal, his fidgeting was bothering Owen. “What the heck’s going on with you, CJ? You’re as jumpy as a Mexican bean.” “Damn! You’re sounding more American by the day. What the hell you know about Mexican beans anyway? Y’all don’t have that kind of shit in Australia.” “Whatever… Now spill it. What’s on your mind?” CJ gave Owen a smile and a flirty expression. “You, same as always. But more importantly, what’s going to happen when you graduate.” “I’m going to spend two months reviewing for the bar exam and then I’ll start school again. You know that.” “And what happens when you finish your MBA? That’s what I’ve been thinking about.” Owen made to speak but CJ raised a hand to stop him. “No, let me get this out. The way I see it, you want to stay in the US and there are several ways to achieve that goal. One, the Nature Conservancy agrees to do the right thing and files the proper documents to get you a work permit. Two, you take a position with a company that’s willing to do so. It might not be your dream job, but you get to stay.” Owen’s expression turned sour at the mention of him taking a job in corporate America. “I don’t want to do that. I want to do something that helps protect the environment, not spend my life finding loopholes in laws and regulations.” “I know that, babe. Three, you can buy a visa if you invest a million dollars in a business or half that on a real estate project in the US.” “CJ! You know I don’t have that type of money. My family does well by most people standards, but I don’t think they have a million dollars to give me just so I can stay.” “I know. I’m trying to cover all our options.” CJ had worn his long wool coat over a long-sleeved, plain, black t-shirt and black jeans. Having hung it on one of the hooks next to the booth, he reached in the front pocket and withdrew something he held out of view. He stood, looked at the bartender, and gave him a small nod. When the initial notes of Snow Patrol’s Just Say Yes replaced the background music at a much louder volume, the hum of conversation died and CJ took two steps to stand next to Owen’s side of the booth. “Or we could try something else.” CJ got down on one knee and opened his hand to reveal a simple gold band. “I want you to stay, Ozzie. I’ll do whatever it takes. I want you to stay by my side. Forever. Just say yes. Say you’ll marry me. Say you’ll become my husband. Say you’re ready to grow old together. I love you, Ozzie. Please, just say yes.” You could have heard the proverbial pin drop. The entire restaurant stared at the two young men in The Proposal Booth. The same spot where John F. Kennedy asked Jaqueline Bouvier to marry him almost sixty-five years before. Owen’s sniffle and smile told the story of how he felt. When he leaned forward and planted a sweltering kiss on CJ, the restaurant exploded in applause.
  2. 61 points
    ---Teddy--- I wish I could say the next couple of days were overly loving or sweet, but honestly they just felt, normal. Oliver went back to being a little thorn in my side, and by time I get to him Ryder is too exhausted to talk. But now I understand where both of them are coming from. I understand who they are, and who they want to become. “Look what your boy did,” Cait let out, slamming a clipboard in front of me. “This is the standard you hold your nurses to? Boy maybe I should transfer to trauma.” “I’d be happy to let you.” I sarcastically smiled looking down at Nate’s handiwork. Sloppy, and irresponsible as usual. No matter how long I’ve been putting it off, something needs to break here. “I’ll talk to him.” “Just like when you told Pierre you’d talk to him about the rumor he started?” Cait asked, beginning to stare me down. “I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s not a good look for you.” “And that means?” I asked, slowly starting to back to a room. “It means you look weak Dr. Haner.” She warned with a serious face. “Handle Nate because you didn’t get where you are as quickly and impressively as you did to let a little snake like him ruin it.” “I’ve got it.” I replied but could tell she wasn’t buying it. I know she was kidding, but I really wish she would transfer over to the E.R. I could really use a responsible and personable nurse like her around here. She just brings a certain life with her, a fighting spirit. Then again that’s probably why they placed her in the psych ward, and probably why she’s been so good there. As I backed into the room I threw on a serious face, knowing how dark this patient’s situation was. “How are we feeling today? Ready to be discharged?” I asked, but as I saw the despair on the woman’s face I had to fight to keep it off of mine. She’s been here four days now, and performing surgery on her is something I’ll never forget. And the way Cait pulled me from Oli and Ryder’s side; well it was a sacrifice worth making. “Yup.” She forced out, trying her hardest to be strong. “What time do we have to be gone?” “You have a while, I still want to observe you for a few hours before you leave.” I explained, looking over to a small boy at her side. He couldn’t be older than eight or nine, but god did his world just change forever. Thank god he wasn’t in the car. Thank god he wasn’t there to witness his father dying and his mother nearly bleeding out. If he was, he might not be here today. “I understand.” She let out in a nod. She’s trying her hardest to be strong for her son, but her will is still as broken as it was a few days ago. “Hey buddy, my name is Teddy.” I let out, extending my hand. “Go on.” His mother let out, forcing him to acknowledge me. “This is Benji.” The small boy finally turned to me but didn’t say anything. “It’s nice to meet you Benji.” I nodded, letting my hand return to my side. Yet as I took another look at him I recognized a familiar logo on his black shirt. I couldn’t help but take a second look and instantly recognized the word Messiah in dark red letters. “Messiah fan?” I asked, but still got no response. “He loves them, isn’t that right?” She asked, but once more he stayed quiet. I can’t help but wonder the damage that’s been done to him. The trauma he’s gone through that I can’t even imagine. “Can I take him somewhere?” I asked, drawing a quick nod from her. “It won’t be long just right upstairs.” I smiled to him. He stood still at first but eventually she pushed him towards me. “I’ve got a brother who loves Messiah.” I began, leading him to the elevator. Come to think of it this kid kind of looks like Oli when he was little. He has the whole ‘long hair trying to hide delicate features’ look Oli had. But no matter how hard they try, their soft features will always shine through. Even now as dark as Oli tries to make himself look, well as my mom puts it ‘He’s still a little cutie pie.’. “So what grade are you in?” I asked, realizing I had been staring off. Just like before I got nothing but air. “Fair enough.” I nodded as the doors dinged open. “But I promise you’re going to love this surprise.” He silently followed me as we finally reached the protected door. I took a breath and slowly opened the it, praying that my gamble would pay off. Thankfully it was that sweet part of the day where Ryder is still waiting for therapy without actually being worn out by anything yet. “Benji,” I began as the small boy hesitantly followed me into the room. “This is my friend Ryder Sullivan.” “Oh, hello.” Ryder let out, looking away from the T.V. and at the small boy. “It’s okay.” I quickly nudged the boy, seeing him standing there frozen. “He’s not anyone too special. After all he’s sitting here watching The Price is Right like a ninety year old woman.” “It’s entertaining!” Ryder defended shifting his attention to me. “Do you know how much a brand new microwave is?” “Why does anyone need to know that Ryder?” I asked in a sigh. “Sorry I don’t have money to waste.” He pouted, trying his hardest to high road me. “Sure thing Ry.” I rolled my eyes, having already seen the true balance of his bank account. Let’s just say there’s a lot of zeroes and commas in it. Suddenly the small figure next to me let out a broken breath. “Come on,” Ryder welcomed, waiving him to his side. “I don’t bite, I promise.” Unlike before the boy quickly rushed to Ryder’s side, eager to get an up close and personal view at the rock star. “I like your shirt.” Ryder teased with a forced smile. “Yo-you’re, you sing for Messiah.” The boy finally spoke observing him closely. “Mhm.” Ryder hummed with a nod. “Well I used to anyway.” I saw Ryder look from Benji to me, trying to see if we shared any traits. “He’s a patient’s son.” I quickly explained answering the unasked question. “My mom’s downstairs.” He sighed in a fragile breath. “Sorry to hear that, but I’m sure she’s strong.” Ryder tried to comfort. “She is.” He let out, but the pain in his voice showed he was thinking about someone else. “But I, I lost my dad this week.” The second Ryder heard his words I saw the look in his eyes change. Ryder instantly pulled him in close and slowly began to rub his back. “That’s a really hard break.” He finally spoke. “But I know how it feels. I-I’m going to be honest with you, going through life without a dad, it sucks. Like a lot.” Ryder began, causing me to gulp. Is this going to backfire one me? Is he too depressed to deal with this? “But at the same time we both have something other people don’t.” The boy slightly tilted his head. “Our dads are always with us, so we have to make sure we make them proud, got it?” The boy quickly nodded to his words. “There will be hard days where you don’t feel him but I promise you he’s there, and when you need him the most, well I guarantee you’ll know he’s with you.” “I miss him so much.” The young boy admitted as tears began to flow from his eyes. “I know.” Ryder nodded, pulling him in close again. “Why is it like this? Why is life so mean?” Benji asked, freezing me in place. Yet for some reason Ryder’s will never wavered. “It can be dark sometimes can’t it?” Ryder asked drawing another nod from the boy. “But for as dark as it gets, well it gets ten times lighter, I promise it does. Death, it’s a scary thing, but it makes life precious. You might not see that now,” Ryder began. “but if we lived forever life wouldn’t be as meaningful. You have a challenge in front of you. Use every day to live to the absolute fullest. Now you see how valuable every second is, and how fast it can be taken from you, so don’t waste any of it, got that?” “Yes.” He quickly answered. “But what, what if I forget him?” “I promise you you won’t.” Ryder quickly replied, holding out his arm. “I lost my dad when I was a few years younger than you, but his face is forever in my head. So much so that when I was eighteen I got these bands added to my wrist. This one is for my mom,” Ryder began showing him the dark tattooed circled Blake had designed all those years ago. “And this one is for my dad. To remind me they’re always there. Besides, no matter what, you’ll always be his son. Nothing can change that.” “I want something like that one day.” The boy suddenly decided. Ryder nodded his head and forced a smile. “I think that’s a good idea, but maybe not a tattoo for a while.” The boy mimicked the nod and went back in for another hug. “Well how about that.” A voice let out in my ear. “Guess there’s a reason he’s so popular.” “Yeah.” I quickly nodded, wondering how much Dr. Pierre had seen. “He’s always been good with fans from what I remember, but still,” I began, trying to put my thoughts into words. “How can he be so positive when he’s so low?” “Human’s are extraordinary creatures. We always find ways to rise to the occasion.” He exhaled, trying to keep our words quiet. “And from what I overheard Ryder’s been in the exact same position as that boy. He knows the exact pain the boy is feeling, and is doing everything he can to stop the child from following down the path he chose.” “So losing his parents is why he’s this sick?” I couldn’t help but ask, knowing the question has been bouncing around in my head for years. “Yes and no.” Barry answered. “It set the path but it doesn’t mean he had to take it. Do you know who his support system was back then? “His grandma.” I let out, looking over to the other doctor. I watched as he worked it out in his head before letting out a sigh. “Just her?” He asked, slightly shocked there wasn’t more. “Just her.” I repeated in confidence. “Then there you have it.” He exhaled. “I’m not saying she did a bad job, but that’s a giant role for one person to fill.” He began to explain. “And losing both his parent so young probably resulted in him losing trust in the world. Let me take a guess and say he only trusted her.” “Yeah.” I confirmed in shock as I looked back over to him. “He probably had an unhealthy dependency on her which is why when he lost her it all fell apart.” He began, slowly putting the pieces from what he had heard in therapy together with what I was telling him. “And why he formed one with drugs. If I can be so bold,” He let out in a brave breath. “It’s also why he has an unhealthy dependency on you.” “He, I, there’s no dependency.” I stammered, caught off-guard by the analysis. “Yes there is.” He confidently decided. “And you have one for him as well, but from what I can tell you had a secure upbringing. You’re autonomous, and were the top of your class. Then again you still live with your parents.” So this is what all the other doctors mean when they say Barry isn’t afraid to over analyze people. “Sorry!” He quickly apologized. “I didn’t mean to offend you!” “It’s okay.” I let out; trying to hide the weight he had accidently threw on me. “So, how do we help Ryder?” I asked, looking over at the man still trying his hardest to comfort a boy he had never met. “The cognitive behavioral therapy I was telling you about should go a long way.” He explained, thinking it over himself. “But we have to show him that the world is safe place he can trust. And that he has a stable support system he can rely on. He does have that right?” “He has me.” I gloomily sighed. “And I guess my younger brother.” “But no one else?” Barry once again asked in surprise. “I guess his old band mates, but I don’t think they left on good terms.” I shrugged, genuinely not knowing what the guys thought of Ryder. “Besides, they let him get to this point. I wouldn’t trust them.” “Well we need to find him some friends for when he’s released next week.” Barry decided once more. “Do you have any plans with him?” “Me?” I asked as he shocked me once more. “Well yes” Barry nodded. “You said it yourself, you’re the only one he has.” “I barely have a place I can stay!” I gulped, realizing the hole I had dug myself. “Well he can’t stay alone.” The doctor shrugged. “Maybe he should stay around here a little longer, then move onto an assisted living home.” “No.” I quickly blurted, accidently grabbing Ryder and Benji’s attention. “I’ll figure something out.” I whispered to him. “What are you two whispering about?” Ryder asked, shooting us a cautious look. “Doctors are weirdoes, right Benji?” “Don’t teach him that!” Dr. Pierre quickly let out. “Doctors are a great resource you should trust and call when you,” The chaos of the moment turned to static in my ears as I thought. It’s funny, I usually love fun reckless moments like this, but Barry’s words are really starting to bounce around in my head. I could move out, but then I’d have to hire a nurse to stay with Ryder while I’m at work. I could put him in an assisted living place, but I barely spent time at home as it is! I, the only option I can think of is letting Ryder move in. Oliver would spend all day with him when he’s not in school, and dad doesn’t have a job anyway. It, it’d be the perfect situation. That is, if dad would allow it. He’s always been a reasonable person. He’ll come around when I need him to, won’t he? I let Ryder and Benji hang out a little bit more before I had to play the bad guy and pull Benji from him. Ryder really did rise to the occasion today. He was exactly who I needed him to be, and exactly the man I used to fantasize him turning into. ************************************************************************************* “Look at that smile.” His mother let out as I led him back into the room. “Did Dr. Haner let you play doctor?” “No.” The boy quickly shook his head. “He took me to meet Ryder Sullivan!” The mom quickly looked from the boy to me in confusion. “The singer?” “Yup.” I replied. “He’s here, for, just to help him recalibrate and focus on new music.” I lied, knowing an eight year wouldn’t take the concept of suicide or drug addiction well. “Oh Ben,” His mother began, looking back at him. “We shouldn’t disturb the whole hospital like this. It’s,” “It’s fine.” I let out, finishing the sentence for her. “This place is meant for healing. Besides, Ryder’s an old friend of mine, and he could use a visitor.” “But the doctors up there must think that,” “The head doctor was there with us.” I interrupted, trying my hardest to calm her concerns. “He thought it was great, until Ryder called doctors weird.” I teased, causing Benji to giggle. “I, thank you Dr. Haner. You, you’re an angel.” “Any other doctor here would have done it.” I shrugged, starting to walk back to the door. “I don’t think so.” Benji suddenly let out. “Thank you Doctor.” I nodded my head and couldn’t help but smile at the wise words of a nine year old. This is it, this is the moment that makes every second of hard work worth it. Those two will be okay. They have each other now, and even though Dr. Pierre said that’s a hard job for one person, well I have a feeling she can do it. ************************************************************************************* I was able to carry that good mood into the rest of the day, well, until I ran into Nate that is. He’s been trying his hardest to avoid me all week but I’ve finally found him when I have time to speak, and Cait was right, he has been making me look weak. “Nathan.” I let out, leaning against the empty reception desk. “Theodore.” He replied, trying his hardest to be clever. “Dr. Haner.” I corrected in a strict voice. “No that’s you silly.” He teased, but the smile fell from his face as our eyes locked. “Long day?” “No, it’s actually been a good one,” I began, trying my hardest to intimidate him. “but you’ve had a string of rocky days.” He shot me a cautious look, trying his hardest to play dumb. “I don’t know, this week hasn’t been that bad.” “Not from where I’m sitting.” I let out, standing up straight. “What the hell were you thinking telling Barry Pierre I’m dating a patient?” The second he heard that question I saw the look in his eyes change. “And what kind of piss poor excuse for work is this?” I asked slamming a clipboard down in front of him, nearly snapping it in two. “I, um, well you know Dr. Pierre is foreign, maybe he misunderstood me.” Nate stammered, trying his hardest to find an excuse. “There is that language barrier and all.” “He’s from Canada not France!” I shouted, getting sick of his games. “His English is fine, it’s better than mine!” “I’m sorry, maybe I misunderstood your relationship with the patient or misspoke.” He gulped, changing up his strategy. “You’re always visiting him, or doing your paperwork in his room instead of at your desk.” “Because that’s how I treat my patients.” I warned, knowing for a fact he knew better. “What you did was childish, and inexcusable.” “And I said I’m sorry.” He shrugged, beginning to walk away from me. “Do not walk away while we’re talking.” I let out freezing him in his tracks. “Because you haven’t even begun to explain how you could be so sloppy.” I reprimanded pushing the clipboard closer to him. “I can’t even make out these medications, how the hell is the pharmacist supposed to? What if we give someone the wrong medicine? That’s your ass and mine.” “I’m overworked and tired.” He groaned. “No offense, but you really crack the whip around here.” “If that’s how you feel then maybe you should find a new profession. There are over a hundred nurses and doctors who work here and none of their work looks like this.” I barked, finally losing my temper. “It’s no biggie, I just need to get more sleep.” He let out, once more feeding me another excuse. “Then go home and get some Nathan.” I nodded my head. “You’re suspended without pay for the next two days.” “I, you can’t do that!” He shouted raising his voice back at me, but the second our eyes connected again he froze. “I’m not going to get into a screaming match with you.” I warned through clenched teeth. “I suggest you leave now while you still have a job. You’re on extremely thin ice.” He went to say something else but quickly walked away before he did. A few other nurses looked to me then scurried away, quickly going to do what they needed to. It’s rare that I’m this hard on any of them, but god damn it he pushed me to the edge. What else am I supposed to do? Let mediocrity pass around here? He started a stupid rumor and now he’s paying the price for it. And don’t even get me started on the forms he wrote. Maybe I was mean but the E.R. is not place for slip ups. “Take a break.” One of the head nurses finally intervened. “You need it.” “I’m fine.” I grumbled, beginning to walk away. “You’re not.” She sighed following me. “Right now you look strong and fair. Go cool off before you do something that ruins that.” “Okay.” I nodded, quickly realizing her point. “I, thank you.” “No thank you Dr. Haner.” She comforted, leading me to the elevator. “It’s about time we had a strong leader in charge around here.” I nodded once more as the elevator doors shut behind me. So that’s what they think of me? Strong and fair? I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I though it over. I’ll gladly take that. ************************************************************************************* “You did a good job.” I greeted, once more finding myself back in Ryder’s room. This time he was lying back trying his hardest to regain the energy he had lost from therapy. “I’m really proud of the way you spoke to that kid.” “I was just doing what you told me.” He shrugged, looking over to me. I couldn’t help but shoot him a curious look as I wheeled a chair over. “Back at one of your lacrosse games when you chewed me out for ignoring that kid.” “That was so long ago.” I rolled my eyes and sat next to him. “Forget the past, this, this was all you.” He nodded his head and thought it over. “I forgot what it was like, talking to fans, it’s, I love it.” A soft but genuine smile began on his face as relief filled my heart. “I, maybe I should start writing music again.” “Yeah?” I asked, not wanting to pressure him one way or another. “Yeah.” He confirmed. “I, all this time I’ve been writing about me, to help me. But what if I help them? What if I give a voice to them?” “You have been helping them.” I corrected. “By giving a voice to your own problems you’ve been voicing theirs’.” “I guess.” He shrugged. “But what if I actually try to voice their problems? Maybe, maybe I can help.” “You should try it,” I nodded in support. “I know Oliver would love it.” He let out a short laugh, and for some reason I couldn’t’ help but lean forward. For whatever reason that small smile was pulling me in close. I hesitated for a second but before I could move one way or the other he picked himself up off the mattress and met his lips with mine. Like a damn in flood waters I felt an ocean of emotions flood out of me. It’s been years since I felt a spark like that. But with him it’s there instantly, then again I guess it never really gone. “Sorry.” He let out, pulling away from me. “I just, I,” “It’s okay.” I interrupted in a nod. “I, I started it.” The smile on his face grew a little more as he heard those words. “Don’t get ahead of yourself Romeo.” I teased, lightly hitting him with my clipboard. “That kiss could’ve been better.” “That’s true, you were slacking, but I wasn’t going to say anything.” He teased in a laugh. I swatted at him again but felt a smile overtake my face. I forgot what it’s like with him. I forgot how easy it all is. Like his grandma always said, he’s my missing piece and I’m his. As I looked into his eyes I felt my smile grow even more. It didn’t take long for me to get all crazy for him again did it? I have to slow myself down, but still, this isn’t a bad thing. Is it?
  3. 59 points
    ---Oliver--- I felt my fist clench as the door slammed shut behind me. This is always like him! He never makes time for anyone! It’s all about him! It always has been, and it always will be! I’ve been stupid these past few days for thinking I was wrong. He was just pretending to be there for me so I’d take his side while he fights with mom and dad. After all, if he did care, he would’ve at least answered me but instead all I got was a ‘be good!’ and a slammed door. “Your brother’s going to save someone’s life.” The tall women grabbing his chair let out. “You should be very proud.” I crossed my arms and refused to speak. “Want to help come make rounds with me? It’s really fun, I,” “He can stay.” I heard Ryder insist. “All my therapy was this morning anyway.” “You sure you don’t need time to rest?” She asked, looking from me to him. “All I do is rest.” He sighed, letting his weight fall back into bed. “It’ll be good to have some company for a while.” “And you’re sure Teddy is okay with this?” She asked, looking more to me than him. “Trust me.” Ryder nodded his head. “It’s okay.” He seemed so certain as he said it. As though he and Teddy had some sort of hidden way of communicating. She let out a deep sigh and slowly walked back towards the door. “If you need anything just come find me okay Oliver?” I nodded my head but once more didn’t speak. “Don’t be so hard on your brother.” Ryder tried to comfort as the door finally shut. “It’s not like he blew you off for something stupid. He’s performing surgery right now.” “He still could’ve answered my question.” I grumbled, letting my eyes fall to the floor. I get it, he’s a doctor, he saves people! But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have time to say yes! It doesn’t mean he could just blow me off! The answer was no, I know it was. “Trust me, I know your brother, he loves you.” Ryder exhaled, trying to get more comfortable in his bed. “Do you know him?” I forced out clutching the bottom of my seat. “Because everyone keeps saying he’s changed since he was a kid.” Ryder slowly nodded his head and carefully thought it over. “That’s true, he’s not the Teddy I used to know.” He admitted. “But there are some things in life that never change. And for Teddy, that’s how much he loves his family and friends.” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at his answer. I can’t believe my brother even has Ryder Sullivan fooled! Teddy’s so full of shit! He makes you believe in him, makes you put all your hope in him just to let you down! “You don’t believe me?” Ryder asked, seeing the doubt in my eyes. “No.” I pouted, crossing my arms even tighter. “I know my brother. He only cares about himself.” “He’s saving someone’s life right now.” Ryder repeated, trying his hardest to draw my eye contact. “I’m not even being dramatic, he’s literally trying to save someone’s life right now.” “Doesn’t mean he cares about them.” I forced out, still not looking up. “He just likes all the attention he gets after he does it.” “I see.” He exhaled, staring up at the ceiling. “Did Teddy ever tell you about me?” “Not until a few days ago.” I confessed, slightly looking up to see what he was playing at. “Why?” Ryder shrugged his shoulders and turned back, finally getting the eye contact he was looking for. “Just wondering. How about I tell you about him?” I cautiously nodded my head, and scooted a little bit closer. “I used to hate your brother, like full on despise him. I’d avoid him in the hallway when we were in school and badmouth him any chance I got.” “Why?” I couldn’t help but ask, now fully enwrapped in what he had to say. “Because just like you I thought he only cared about himself.” He shrugged, nearly repeating me word for word. “I thought he used people to get whatever he wants.” “He does!” I interrupted, too impatient to let him make his point. “I thought so too.” He reminded me. “Until a few days after I first met him. How much have you listened to my music?” I couldn’t help but force a nervous gulp as our eyes locked. “I-I know every single song.” I admitted. “I’ve heard them all a million times.” “Then you know I have pretty bad depression.” I quickly nodded my head, hungry for more. “Well it can get really really bad. I’ve had so many people walk out in my life because of it, even after Messiah blew up.” He paused for a second thinking it all over. “But there was one day back when we were kids I’ll never forget. I was trapped in bed thinking about my first band,” “Society!” I yelped, eager to show him how big a fan I was. “Society.” He nodded with a forced smile. “And I knew we weren’t going anywhere. Everything just felt so pointless. I was getting bad grades in school, my music was failing, I had no friends, just, nothing was working.” I went to stop him, noticing how upset he was getting but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just need to know what he’s going to say. “Then suddenly my bedroom door cracked open and in walked a kid who looked just like you. When I get depressed, I don’t talk much. I just lay in bed and stare off into my own head.” He exhaled. “But that kid didn’t care. He sat down right next to me and talked his head off for as long as possible.” A smile slowly filled his face as he spoke. “And then before he left he crouched down in front of me, combed the hair out of my face and called me hot. That was the moment I knew I was wrong about your brother. That was the moment I fell in love with Teddy.” Suddenly I felt small bumps line my arm as though it was cold outside, as though my body didn’t know what to do with itself. “Well he tricked you.” I forced out, not caring that my mind was telling me otherwise. “He’s selfish.” I couldn’t help but freeze in my seat as Ryder let out a small laugh. “You’re certainly Teddy’s brother.” “What’s that mean?” I grumbled, looking away from him and down to the ground. “It means you’re stubborn just like he is. Once he started talking to me he refused to stop. No matter what I said he was just way too hard headed.” He explained, once more trying to get me to look at him. “Because he’s annoying.” I muttered, finally looking back at him. “Maybe he is.” Ryder shrugged his shoulders. “But if he wasn’t Messiah wouldn’t exist, and I wouldn’t be alive right now.” I gulped hard once more as I heard those words. Teddy really did all that? Teddy really helped Ryder that much? There’s no way he’s talking about my brother. It just, it can’t be! “Anyway, enough about Teddy. What about you? I take it you don’t play lacrosse like he did?” “Ew.” I let out. “My dad tried to get me to, but I hate it. Chasing around a ball just seems so pointless and stupid.” Ryder nodded his head in support of what I was saying. “I, um, I-I have a band.” I nervously forced out. “It’s stupid, I know but,” “It’s not stupid.” Ryder quickly interrupted. “I wish I had a band.” I couldn’t help but laugh at his words. “What type of music do you play?” Did he really just ask me about my band? Does he really want to know?! “Well go on.” He nodded. “We um, we play like, well I wanted to play metal like you but my friends don’t like it.” I finally managed, trying my hardest to fight through my nerves. What was that stupid thing Teddy said? Act like he’s one of his old friends? It’s just like talking to Blake, just like talking to Blake. “They don’t let me play my drums and they said my voice isn’t good enough to sing metal, so we play punk music.” “Voice isn’t good enough?” He repeated, shooting me a confused look. “You’re only what? Twelve?” “Thirteen.” I quickly corrected. “Thirteen.” He nodded his head. “You won’t know what style works for you for years. The most important thing you can do is keep training it.” I anxiously mimicked his nod, shocked by the idea that Ryder Sullivan was giving me singing advice. “Sing for me.” “Wh-what?” I forced out. “Sing for me.” He repeated, but backed off as he saw the color disappear from my face. “What if I sing then you sing?” I fearfully shook my head no, scared off by the pressure of singing in front of my idol. “Well one day you’re going to sing for me, is that a deal?” “Yeah.” I quickly smiled. “Can I ask you something about Teddy?” “Mhm.” He hummed, but before he could say anything else I heard the door behind me open. “Oliver!” My mom yelped, standing in the doorway. “Come on, we have to go.” “But mom,” I tried to argue, but the second I turned around I realized she wasn’t in an arguing mood. “Goodbye Ryder.” I forced out, taking another long look at him. He’s so much bigger than I thought he was going to be and kind of immature too. The way him and Teddy teased each other, it was like they were still children. Yet still, he’s so much nicer than my Dad said he is. He’s so much more loving than they tried to tell me he was. Even here in a crazy house he’s more focused on talking to me than saving his energy. If he hurt Teddy it’s because he thought it was for the best, now I’m certain of that. “Bye buddy.” He let out, reaching out and giving me a soft high five. “Oliver! Now!” Mom shouted, not in the mood for games. “Hi Mrs. Haner.” Ryder let out, as I dragged the chair towards the door. “Mom!” I quietly scolded as she ignored his greeting. “Come on.” She waived, but as I stood in front of her I refused to move. “Oliver! I’m not playing these games! Let’s go!” “Go ahead Oli.” Ryder encouraged. “Your mom has every right to be mad at me. I really am sorry Mrs. Haner.” As I heard the creak of Ryder rolling over in his bed I couldn’t help but shoot my mom a death stare. How could she be this uncool! He just tried to kill himself last week. The least she could do is be nice to him! “I thought we were supposed to forgive people.” I muttered as I walked past her. “For your brother’s sake, you better hope that’s how this works.” She lectured, grabbing me by my ear as I put the chair in the waiting room. I couldn’t help but cry out in pain as she started walking me away. “There’s a cop right there, isn’t he supposed to stop this!” I let out, trying my hardest to escape her hand. “Sorry mini-Haner.” The cop let out, overhearing my comment. “I was best friends with Teddy growing up so I know better than to mess with your mom! You should probably learn that too!” “Does everyone know Teddy?!” I exclaimed as she pushed me into the elevator. I could see flashes of anger in her eyes as she anxiously tapped her foot. “It’s not his fault.” I forced out, looking away. “I asked to see Ryder.” “Doesn’t mean he had to listen.” She mumbled, grabbing my hand instead of my ear and pulling me out of the lobby and into the parking lot. “I can’t believe he would be this stupid! Leaving you alone with him! God!” “It’s not his fault!” I repeated in a louder voice. “I-I threw a tantrum.” What the hell am I doing? Why am I lying? “I refused to leave the car until he took me to meet him, and then when he got called into surgery I did it again.” “Oliver!” My mom shouted as we both stepped into the car. “Phone! Now!” She reprimanded as I hesitantly pulled it out of my pocket and handed it to her. “Why would you do that to him? Did all the things me and your father told you about Ryder Sullivan and your brother go over your head?” “But they were nice to one another.” I insisted. “They were teasing and laughing! Teddy even knew what he was going to say! Ryder said,” “Enough!” She cut off as I shrunk in my seat. “I don’t care what it looked like to you. Ryder really hurt your brother, and you forcing him to sit with him on his day off, it’s just cruel Oliver!” I let out my head slam against the window as she pulled out of the lot and headed home. “Are you even listening to me?” She asked but once more I stayed quiet. “Oliver!” She shouted. “You’re on my last nerve lately, do you understand that? Me and your father really don’t know what to do with you anymore!” “Sorry.” I finally forced out, not know what else to say. “Sorry isn’t good enough!” She lectured. “You always say it then go ahead and,” Her words turned to noise in my ears as she began to shout. Yell, yell, yell, that’s all people do to me! My teachers, my parents, my brother, no one ever just sits me down and talks! I’m so sick of it! The only person that’s tried is Teddy, but even then he lost his patients with me! I don’t get it! I just want to talk to people. “And you’re not to say a word of this to your father!” “I won’t.” I forced out, trying my hardest to pacify her. She shook her head and quickly walked from the car to the house. Whatever, I don’t need her right now! I can take care of myself. ******************************************************************************* The second I was sure she was upstairs I ran into the basement and to my drum kit. Teachers, parents, bullies, brothers, they can all go fuck themselves! I threw on my ear protection and quickly picked up my sticks. No matter what they say to me, no matter how much they call me a problem child or pussy, they can’t touch me when I’m behind this kit. No one can. As I began to drum away I felt all my worries fade. Everyone can hate me as much as they want, I don’t care! I am loud! I am a problem! I don’t know where the line is! But you know what? I don’t give a fuck! No one knows how to talk to me! No one knows how to listen to me! But behind these drums I can make them listen. No one can ignore me. No one. “Hey little drummer boy!” My dad shouted slowly walking down the stairs. “Why don’t you take a break so we can talk?” I begrudgingly let my sticks fall into their holder and took off my headphones. “Why?” I asked, skeptically staring at him. I thought mom said we weren’t supposed to tell him! “Your school called about your incident in detention today.” He sighed, taking a seat on the couch and staring me down. “You and your brother think you can cover it up?” “He was going to tell you.” I lied. Why do I keep taking his side! He left me! “It’s really not that big of a deal.” “Watch the attitude Oliver.” He scolded, preparing himself for a fight. “You beat up a kid then bragged about it. I don’t know about you, but in my book that’s a big deal.” “He was trying to take my headphones!” I yelped a little louder than I intended. My dad let out a long sigh before standing up. “Oliver.” He disappointedly shook his head. “Why does everything have to be a fight with you?” “I didn’t mean to yell.” I quickly let out. “I was just excited. I-I’m a loud person!” “You’re grounded for the weekend.” He decided with a nod of his head. “It’s always excuses and lies with you, and I’m just not getting into an argument about it tonight.” “Fine.” I grumbled, throwing on my ear protection so I wouldn’t have to hear any of his words as I went to my room. The second I reached it I slammed the door behind me. This is exactly what I’m talking about! I didn’t mean to yell at him, I swear I didn’t! I can never do anything right. I’m just too much of a fuck up. ************************************************************************************ A few hours passed of me just lying around and listening to music until I saw my door slowly open. “Oli?” I heard the voice of my older brother let out. “No!” I shouted, waving for him to leave. “Go away!” “I’m sorry I left you.” He exhaled, ignoring my cries. “Can we talk?” “No!” I repeated as he began to approach anyway. “I don’t want to talk to you!” I tried to kick him as he took a seat on my bed but he caught my foot and let it go. “Mom apologized about your tantrum at the hospital today.” He began, trying his hardest to get me to look at him. “That’s pretty cool of you to lie for me.” “I just did it so you’d take me to meet Ryder again.” I lied, refusing to look up at him. “You’re such a bad liar.” He laughed, laying a hand on my arm. “Sorry they found out about what happened in detention. I told them I would handle it.” “Dad grounded me anyway.” I grumbled. “So consider it handled.” “He grounded you because you yelled at him.” Teddy sighed, squeezing my arm then letting me go. “I didn’t mean to.” I confessed staring at the posters on my wall. “I just, I get excited then I get loud.” “Trust me, I know.” He laughed. “You’re the loudest person I’ve ever met in my life.” I forced my face even further from him as I heard those words. “It’s not a bad thing. Before you Liz owned that crown.” A few seconds of silenced passed before I finally looked back at him. As our eyes met I saw a combination of pain and exhaustion on his face. A look he only shows after long heartbreaking shifts in the E.R. “I don’t want to be a problem.” I let out. “I, why don’t mom and dad know what to do with me?” “Where’d you hear that?” He asked as surprise entered his face. “Mom.” I muttered, quickly turning back away from him. “Well me and mom need to have a talk.” He decided as he rose to his feet. “You’re not a problem Oli. You’re loud and crazy and just, all over the damn place. But you’re my little brother and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” I stayed quiet as he slowly reached the door. “And for what it’s worth, Ryder was right. You are important to me.” I couldn’t help but clutch my pillow tightly as I heard the door shut behind him. Stupid Teddy. I don’t care if I’m important to him, he-he’s not important to me. I, none of that matters to me. I looked over at the only picture I had of us and shook my head. Yet as I looked at his face I saw exactly what Ryder was talking about. There he was, holding four year old me with a proud look in his eyes. I wiped away a stray tear and buried my head in my pillow. Stupid Teddy! Just, stupid Teddy! “What is it dear?” I heard the muffled voice of my mom let out followed by the door of Teddy’s room closing. I quickly jumped to my feet and snuck out of my room and across the hall, desperate to hear how they planned to handle their little ‘problem’. “What’s the matter with you?” I heard Teddy let out in an angry voice. “Excuse me?” Mom asked, matching the intensity in his voice. “You heard me.” He doubled down, too old to still be afraid of his mom. “How the hell could you tell Oli you don’t know what to do with him?” “I was mad okay? He’s not like you were.” She sighed. “He doesn’t listen when we yell, or respond to being grounded. No matter what we say or do, he just does whatever the hell he wants.” “It doesn’t matter what you were, that’s going to stay with him forever!” He shouted, instantly silencing her. “You know what I had to do at work today? I had to save a woman from a car accident only to tell her her husband didn’t even make it to the hospital.” I could hear emotion crack in his voice as he spoke. “What if that was Oliver? What if you lost him and the last thing he thought was that he’s a burden?” She grew quiet as the gravity of his words hit. “I would never forgive you for that.” “I’m not going to sit here and get lectured by you.” She finally argued back. “You’ve barely done anything with him over the past thirteen years. You treat him like he’s some sort of plague.” “You’re right, I’m not innocent.” He confessed. “But the last thing I’d ever do is make him think he’s worthless or a problem. I, sure he hates me,” Teddy sighed. “and he knows I haven’t been around for him, but I’ve tried my hardest to make him know that it’s a problem with me, not him.” “I really hope you’re enjoying riding on your high horse.” Mom barked, trying her hardest to drag Teddy down. “But do I have to remind you that you left him with a suicidal drug addict?” “I know what I did.” Teddy confidently let out, not backing down. “I left him with Ryder because I had to, and I knew the hospital staff would keep checking in on him.” “That doesn’t make it okay.” She argued, refusing to give up. “God only knows what Ryder told him!” Teddy let out a long groan as he heard those words. “Didn’t you just tell me I should pursue Ryder?” I felt my heart skip a beat as I heard those words. Pursue? Pursue! I knew there was something between Ryder and Teddy today! I just knew it! “That doesn’t mean leave your teenage brother with him! Tantrum or not, you need to be more responsible than that!” She pointed out, refusing to let him find a way out. A few minutes of silence passed as I heard a few squeaks between their chairs. At first I thought I just couldn’t hear what they were saying until finally I heard Teddy let out a deep breath. “Leaving him with Ryder was the most responsible thing I’ve done in years.” He finally spoke. “You should’ve seen them. I-I’ve never seen Oliver listen to anyone the way he listened to Ryder. I haven’t seen Ryder smile as much as he did since we were kids. You want to label Oliver a problem child. Fine. But Ryder is the king of problem children. He knows how to handle them, and today you admitted you don’t.” “I don’t need to take this!” She shouted. I went to run but before I could get away the door swung open and slammed me right in the head. “OLIVER!” She shouted at the top of her lungs. “Yo-you’re out of control today! Were you seriously just listening in on us?” “I-I don’t know.” I let out, pretending to be injured. “The door hit me so hard I just,” “Drop it.” Teddy exhaled, leaning over and seeing right through my act. “Get your ass in here.” I let my head hang low and slowly made my way into his room. “Why don’t you go take a break mom?” Teddy asked as our mother followed close behind me. “Are you kidding me?” She asked in shock. “What you don’t think I’m a good mother?” “I think you’re a great mom, the best out there.” He sighed, looking up at her. “But all you’re going to do is yell at him and look where that’s gotten us.” “I won’t yell.” She surrendered, taking a seat at his desk. “I’ll just sit here and observe.” Teddy slowly nodded his head and patted right next to him on the bed, signaling for me to take a seat right next to him. “Come on.” He forced out as I slowly made my way next to him and sat. “You want to explain what you were doing?” “I was listening to you two.” I confessed, not daring to look up at either of them. “But you guys were talking about me. I should get to know what you’re saying.” “We were talking about you.” He nodded his head. “But we were talking about how to help you. It’s not like we were saying mean things about you. I wanted to talk to mom in private, and some of it had to do with you, but some of it didn’t. Do you kind of see why it’s wrong to listen in on us?” I shook my head no, genuinely not understanding what he was saying. “Well think of if you wanted to talk to your best friend Mark in private but I sat outside your door and listened to the whole thing, how would you feel?” “I guess I wouldn’t like it.” I sighed, finally beginning to see his point. “But if it was about you, I wouldn’t blame you.” “I think you would.” He pressured, trying to get me to look up from the floor. “Like I said we weren’t talking crap about you, we’re trying to figure out how to help you. We all want what’s best for you, but we can’t get to that point if you’re eavesdropping on us. It means you don’t trust us.” “I do trust you.” I quietly forced out. “What’s that?” He asked, lightly tapping the bottom of my chin with his finger. “I do trust you.” I finally confessed looking up at him. “But I-I don’t like being yelled at.” I nodded my head and looked towards my mom. “All you do is yell at me, and I don’t like it. It just makes me angry.” “Oh.” She exhaled, carefully observing me. “I’ll try not to yell at you from now on, but that means you have to start listening, okay?” I nodded my head but as I looked back at Teddy I could tell he knew it wasn’t going to last. I’ll try my hardest, but some rules are just stupid. Sometimes I just have to push the line to see what will happen, and sometimes I have no idea I crossed it in the first place! It’s just who I am. “What did you mean pursuing Ryder?” As soon as I asked that question I felt a still tension fill the air. Mom looked to Teddy to answer, but Teddy quickly deflected it back to mom. “A few days ago your brother asked if he should try and be friends with Ryder again. And I-I told him that if he thinks that’s what’s best for the two of them that he should go for it.” “Then why’d you yell at him for leaving me with Ryder?” I asked, my curiosity already starting to get the best of me. “Because even though your brother is learning to trust Ryder again it doesn’t mean I will.” She exhaled, looking over at Teddy. “And yes I support them being friends, but that doesn’t mean I want you alone with him.” She explained shifting back over to me. “Because I don’t know what he’ll do or say, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.” “Why are we lying to him again?” Teddy suddenly let out. “Just so he can find out the truth on his own and get mad at us again?” My head instantly shifted to Teddy as my mom began to sternly stare him down. “I’m sorry mom, but he’s not a little kid anymore.” “We just had to explain eavesdropping to him, you really think that,” “I knew what eavesdropping was.” I interrupted, folding my arms. “I just didn’t know why it was wrong if you’re talking about me, and now I do.” “We have to talk to him, if we don’t he’ll always be confused.” Teddy urged looking from my mom to me. I watched as he slowly stood up and went through a few of his draws until finally he handed me an old photograph. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I saw an old picture of my brother in front of the ocean holding Ryder closely. Teddy was wearing his normal bright colored outfits while Ryder wore a black shirt with a bright blue bathing suit. I mean I know how close they were but still, seeing them together, it just blows my mind. “This was taken in twenty-seventeen and that’s the Ryder Sullivan I knew.” Teddy began once more in a brave breath. Even through the pain and exhaustion of his day he’s still going to go down this rabbit hole with me. He’s still going to try and help me understand. “When I first met him he was painfully shy and quiet. We would fight every damn time I tried to talk to him.” Teddy laughed in an almost sad voice. “Then one day he came over to apologize for a fight we had, and before I knew it I was teaching him lacrosse and falling head first for him, and he was falling head first for me.” “Oh! He told me a story like that! He said one day he was depressed and you called him hot, and that’s when he knew he loved you!” I blurted out, too excited to keep it in. “Sorry.” I quickly apologized, realizing I had already started to misbehave. “It’s okay.” He nodded as a soft smile overtook his face. “If that’s the night I think it was, that’s the fight he apologized for. I um, he never told me that.” Teddy confessed, smile growing stronger. “That summer we learned a lot. He learned how to talk to new people, and I learned not to care what people had to say about me. It wasn’t just a summer fling like dad says. Like I told you before we were really talking about getting married.” I started to impatiently kick my feet, not because I wasn’t interested just because it’s all stuff he’s told me before. “You already know he cheated on me, and I already told you it was because he was sick. But it hurt a lot Oliver.” He exhaled as our eyes met. “I wasn’t the same for a long time after it, I still don’t know if I am.” “Then why go after him again?” I asked. Teddy couldn’t help but let out a short laugh at my question, knowing how hard I’d been pushing for him to give Ryder a chance. But now that it’s actually happening, now that I actually know how much he hurt him, I don’t know if I get it. Don’t get me wrong I want it to happen, and I know Ryder isn’t that evil person they say he is, but I don’t want Teddy to get hurt anymore. “Because I’m starting to think I’m not the same person, not because he hurt me, but because I don’t have him with me.” Teddy confessed, shocking both me and my mom. “The relationship we had back then wasn’t healthy. He, he was very sick, he still is, and as a result he heavily depended on other people, and now that the people are gone he depends on drugs.” He began to explain. “But I’m not much better than he was. Mom and Dad tried to warn me but I depended a lot on him too. I was almost as bad as he was, I still don’t understand why, but I just, I need him with me.” Teddy stood up and crouched in front of me. “There’s going to be a time in your life when you meet a boy or girl that will flip your entire life upside down. It, you’ll love them more than anything else in the world. When you find that person, never ever let them go, understand that?” I slowly nodded my head shocked by everything I was hearing. “So you’re forgiving him?” “I’m trying.” I softly nodded my head. “And he’s trying his hardest to help me get there. I-I can’t promise anyone I will, but I know I have to at least try. Holding onto anger isn’t healthy Oliver, and neither is lying to yourself about who you love.” I felt his hands slowly begin to wrap around mine. “So now you know everything. You heard me say I loved Ryder, and you heard Ryder say he loved me.” “He said he still loves you.” I couldn’t help but let out freezing him in his tracks. Teddy slowly nodded his head, trying his hardest to wrap his head around my words. “What do you think of him?” He asked, but I could tell he knew what was coming. “He is the coolest person ever!” I let out, not bothering to hold anything back. “He, he’s so sick but he was so nice to me. He spent all his energy telling me about you and him, and then he asked me about my music! He even wanted to hear me sing!” Another smile grew on Teddy face as he heard those words. I don’t know why, but I could tell it was important that I liked Ryder, and that Ryder liked me. “What’s going on in here?” Dad asked, slowly opening the door. “Having a family meeting without me?” “Just talking about my detention.” I sighed, trying my hardest to throw on a sad face. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I really didn’t mean to.” I let out, not even needing to be told to keep Ryder a secret from him. Dad proudly smiled and nodded to Teddy, figuring he played an important role in the apology. “It’s okay buddy. We’ll do a better job of communicating with one another from now on, sound fair?” I quickly nodded my head along to his words. “Good, now come on dinner’s just about done.” I waited a little bit for both he and my mom to begin walking so I could stay next to Teddy. I couldn’t help but give him a push as we both walked out of his bedroom and into the hallway. Stupid Teddy! Trying to help raise me. What does he think he’s going to do? Make me behave? An involuntary laugh escaped my lips as he returned the shove. He’s big, stupid and mean, but that’s my older brother, that-that’s my hero.
  4. 59 points
    ---Teddy--- As I walked past Cait and out of Ryder’s room I couldn’t help but become weighed down by everything that was going on inside my head. He got my initials tattooed on his body, why? We were apart eight years by time he decided to do that. Do I mean that much to him? Does he mean that much to me? The whole drive home was like sitting in a fog. Maybe I’m not fully over him, but still, it’s never been this bad! It’s like I can’t even get him off my mind! I let out a sigh of relief as I saw Blake’s car parked in my driveway. If there’s anyone who can give me the advice I need right now it’s him! “Blake!” I shouted, walking through the front door. “He’s not here.” Oli pouted, looking down at his phone. “It’s just Liz.” “You don’t have to sound so disappointed.” I teased, hearing her and my mom’s voices carry out of the kitchen. “I am disappointed.” He insisted more focused on his phone than with our conversation. “Didn’t mom take that away?” I asked but he offered no response. No doubt she caved in on her punishment because of his stitches. They mean well, and they’re just trying to make him happy, but god damn are they spoiling him rotten. I rolled my eyes and kept moving until I finally reached the kitchen. “Wow, you’re home!” Liz shouted, reaching over and giving me a hug. “I thought for sure you’d be at the hospital for another few hours.” “I had the morning and afternoon shifts today.” I shook my head as she pulled me in close. “I don’t think it matters what shift you have,” She shrugged as I finally pulled away. “you live there.” “Yeah, yeah.” I waved off, already done with seeing her. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but why are you here?” “To talk to your mom about my baby.” She replied as her stare began to scan me. “But please, don’t make me feel too welcome.” “Oh shhhh.” I teased, turning away and opening the fridge. “You’ve been coming here for thirty years, your welcome wagon left a long time ago.” Before I knew it I felt my mom’s eyes joining Liz’s in trying to pick something apart. Like hyenas sensing weakness in their prey they both prepared to pounce. “What?” I sighed, turning back to them. “Nothing.” Mom quickly replied. “You just look tired is all.” I rolled my eyes, but didn’t bother responding. “Still not talking to me?” She sighed, looking over to Liz. “Don’t be a baby Teddy.” Liz pestered jumping to my mom’s side. “You’re thirty-one years old. The least you can do is talk to your mother.” “And when she starts being honest with Oliver I will.” I explained, more to my mom than to Liz. “He’s mad because we left out some details about Ryder to Oliver.” Mom quickly explained in a whisper. “No, you left out some details about me.” I corrected, finally talking to her. “Made me look like an absolute dickhead.” “All that schooling and you still talk like you’re just a boy.” Mom sighed, beginning to stare me down once more. “Blake does it too.” Liz complained. “Stupidity runs deep between those two.” “Whatever.” I mumbled, staring right back at my mom. “Can you give us some privacy for a few minutes?” “I have to keep an eye on dinner.” She shrugged, using the boiling pot more as an excuse than a reason. “Can we go downstairs?” I asked, turning back towards Liz. Liz let out a big laugh as she heard my question. “Do you see my stomach?” She asked with a shake of her head. “If I go down those stairs I’m not coming back up!” “I’ll watch the pot then.” I muttered, trying my hardest to shoo my mom away. “I’m not letting you burn dinner.” My mom dismissed with a stubborn shake of her head. “I need to move out!” I shouted taking a seat at the counter and letting my head fall into my arms. “No you don’t!” Oli yelled back. “You’re not leaving!” “And he’s listening too.” I groaned in a quiet voice. “Oliver.” Mom called out, looking over at the living room. “Go upstairs and do your homework before I take the phone away again.” “Crap.” A young voice let out as we heard quiet footsteps quickly ascending the stairs. “And that’s exactly why you need your kids to be just slightly scared of you.” Mom shrugged, proud of what she had just accomplished. My mom’s eyes shifted to me and nodded. “Well go ahead.” “I’m not talking in front of you.” I pouted, more or less mimicking my younger brother’s attitude from before. “Then looks like we’re not talking.” Liz shrugged, turning back towards my mom. “So, what type of formula did you use for the boys?” “Formula?” My mom repeated, shooting her a strange look. “You think me and Harrison would ever use formula? I fed the boys myself.” She proudly answered with a smile. “Alright, alright.” I groaned. I know it’s childish, but I really don’t care to hear about my mom’s pregnancy habits. I got to see her raise one close up and in person, isn’t that enough? “But mom you’re not allowed to talk or tell dad.” “Got it.” She giggled to Liz, as their plan worked out. “Alright Teddy,” Liz exhaled, turning towards me. “Spill, is it about that cute nurse at work?” “No,” I grumbled, as my eyes began to drift. “It’s about the asshole patient.” “I don’t know who you’re talking about.” Liz shrugged, looking to my mom for insight. “I think he means his newest one.” Mom whispered, trying her hardest not to step on my toes. “Who?” Liz asked but a second later I saw the light bulb go on in her head. “Oh.” She let out in disgust. “Him.” “Why do you have to say him like that?” I asked, beginning to look away. “It’s just Ryder.” “Just Ryder?” Liz repeated, looking from me to my mom. “Just Ryder?” “I’m not allowed to talk.” She reminded Liz, more than happy to sit out on such a sensitive subject. “Alright Teddy, I’ll give this a try.” Liz began, already slightly annoyed. “Why is he now, ‘Just Ryder’?” “He was always just Ryder.” I shrugged my shoulders. “It’s not like we ever had a code word for him.” “Okay.” She let out, preparing for the conversation. “What about Ryder?” “I don’t know.” I let out as the fog in my mind began to take my words. “He’s just, well, him. It’s like he hasn’t changed.” “That’s not a good thing.” Liz tried to remind me. “Why not?” I shrugged once more. Liz looked to my mom but quickly back as she realized she wasn’t getting any support. “Maybe because he cheated on you in front of the whole nation?” I let out a deep sigh and nodded. “I know,” I began, not sure how to phrase my next few words. “But that was just his stupid plan.” “Yeah, okay.” She rolled her eyes, fully looking back at my mom. “I’ve done this with him on and off for thirteen years, you better join in because I don’t have much left to say.” “His stupid plan because he thought he was a curse?” My mom asked, but got no response. “Look, I know he thinks he’s cursed. I heard him say it a million times, and as much as I wish he didn’t change. Well Teddy, you’re smart, don’t you think there’s a chance he’s just an emotionally unstable person who hooks up with whoever is around?” “No.” I grumbled, realizing there was no way around speaking with her. “I mean, he’s emotionally unstable, but he doesn’t just sleep with people. He was trying to hurt me, he thought it would help.” My mom let out a worried sigh as she turned back towards Liz. “Alright Teddy,” Liz exhaled. “And he told you that?” “No.” I shook my head. “I read it in his letter.” “He’s been writing you letters?” My mom asked, slowly starting to get frustrated at the situation. “Most people do when they commit suicide.” I let out, trying my hardest to silence them both. “I thought the press said there was no suicide note.” Liz let out, slowly looking back at me. “Only the investigators and hospital staff know about it.” I sighed. “He dropped it off here along with his will before he went to the cemetery.” “That’s what you had a few days ago!” Mom yelped, finally connecting the pieces of the big white envelop I received. “Yeah.” I slowly nodded, thinking it over. “He left me everything.” Liz and my mom shared another worried gaze as they thought it over. “And what’d the letter say?” Liz asked, now fully invested in the drama. “He took responsibility for everything that happened.” I shook my head, thinking back to the letter that’s kept me awake for days. “He said he deserves all the blame. That it was his fault for leaving, and that he was just trying to protect me.” I shrugged. “He said he knows I’ll never be able to forgive him and he understands that, he just wants me to remember that he loves me.” Silence filled the air as they both thought it over. “Okay,” Liz began. “But he could still be lying. He could just be using you until he gets back on his feet.” “He had no idea he was going to survive his suicide attempt.” I grumbled, recalling the half dead body that wheeled into the E.R. that night. “I still have no idea how he did.” “How’s he been since he woke back up?” Mom asked as the worry in her eyes only grew further and further. “Afraid.” I shook my head. “He only really talks to me, and even then things still aren’t right with him. It’s like he’s scared of being alive.” Liz let out a sigh and locked eyes with me. “And what exactly about him did you want to talk about?” “He just,” I began but hesitated as I saw them both cautiously observing me. “Today when I went to examine him I noticed one of his tattoos, and it, it had my initials on it.” “Did you ask him about it?” My mom skeptically let asked. “Yeah, he said that he got it when he turned twenty-six.” I replied in a low voice. “He claimed that he felt like his sleeve was missing something, so he added my initials on a pride flag.” “He’s just trying to win you over.” Liz rolled her eyes. “Don’t fall for his tricks.” “But that’s the thing.” I defended. “How could it be a trick? It’s not like he could’ve left and added it in the past few days. Hell, he even tried to hide it from me.” I shrugged. “And the look in his eyes. He was being serious.” Liz once more looked to my mom for support but my mom quickly looked away. “How are you going to wrap yourself right back around his damn finger Teddy?” Liz asked in frustration. “He hurt you! He hurt all of us! You, if you saw how broken he left you, you wouldn’t’ve even performed surgery on him that night!” “I did see how broken he left me!” I insisted but her angry stare instantly silenced me. “Not the way we did.” She let out in a warning. “You became someone I didn’t even recognize. You let it consume you. I-I’m not going to sit here and let it happen all over again!” “Come on Liz.” I pleaded as she rose to her feet. “No, no, you need to sleep on this and then come talk to me.” She dismissed, beginning to walk towards the door. “Talk to your son.” She warned my mom, slamming the front door behind her. “So you’re really going to fall for Ryder Sullivan all over again?” My mom asked, finally breaking the silence. “I didn’t say that.” I defensively let out, getting to my feet. “I just wanted to talk about it. “Sit.” She warned in a voice so strict I couldn’t help but listen. “We can still talk about it.” “You’re just going to go tell dad and then lie to Oliver about it.” I shrugged, refusing to look over at her. “I think you forget how much Ryder meant to your father.” She began, pretending to be distracted by the food. “He wasn’t just yours’ Teddy. We all loved him.” “So?” I asked, leaning back in my chair. “That doesn’t mean you two get to paint a fake picture of what happened.” “That’s just your dad’s way of dealing with it.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Do you know how much guilt he still carries from that night? He could never stop thinking about how much he encouraged you to date him. How he took you to his concerts at the barn. How he set up Martin with Ryder. How he flew with you to Messiahs shows. In his mind he set you up for failure.” “That’s life.” I shook my head. “I never blamed him, and I never will. It-it was Ryder’s fault. He’s the one who broke my heart and cheated on me.” She slowly nodded her head and looked into my eyes. “Then why are you so ready to run headfirst back to him?” “Because it’s Ryder.” I confessed, opening up and letting my mind speak freely. “And deep down I always expected him to come back for me. Deep down I always wanted to forgive him. I knew what I was getting into that summer. I knew he was hurt and complicated, and I should’ve known he was going to try something stupid.” “It’s not your fault.” She quickly shook her head. “I know,” I nodded. “But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t’ve stopped it. That last night I spent with him, he got trashed on pills and wine and screamed at his father. I-I should’ve called an ambulance then and there, but I was just a kid, we both were.” I realized as suddenly everything dawned on me. This whole time I’ve been angry at the actions of an eighteen year old. I’ve been damning him for being immature and cold, but in reality we were still just kids. We were teenagers trying to find our place. And He-He was a teenager who had just lost his only family left in the world. “I need to go see him!” I yelped, but my mom grabbed my wrist before I could stand. “Woh.” My mom let out. “You need to sleep on this before you do anything.” I let out a sigh but sat back down, knowing she was right. “What do you think?” She shrugged her shoulders. “You’re thirty-one. You’re capable of making your own choices.” She let out, side stepping the question. “I still want your opinion though.” I sheepishly admitted. I’m a momma’s boy. I always have been and always will be. “My honest opinion?” she asked and I quickly nodded my head. “I think that love never makes sense. I think that sometimes crazy things happen and we have to move on.” She exhaled. “But then I see you with other guys, and it-it’s not the same. You’re not as happy. It was just three months in the summer, but god damn it, I’ve never felt love so alive in this home. It was like everything was right in our lives. We were all happy. Love never makes sense, and neither does Ryder Sullivan.” She shook her head. “But if you think you can make sense of him. If you think giving him another try will bring you closure. Then you go for that.” I nodded my head but stayed silent. That night went by slowly and quietly. I pretended like I still wasn’t talking to my parents, but my mom’s words rattled around in my head for hours. More importantly neither of us dared to tell Dad about our conversation. He just wouldn’t understand. Like my mom said, this is just his way of dealing with it. This is how he made sense of the break up, how he made sense of his second son betraying him. Ryder broke all of us, and as much as I want to stay mad at him, well my heart is begging for something else. ************************************************************************************ It’s weird, I’ve been a doctor for four years now and I’ve never been as nervous as I was standing outside Ryder’s door. It’s like all of the sudden my body has remembered who he is and what he means to me. Yet as I finally forced myself to walk into his room my heart nearly cracked at the sight. It’s not that there was anything different from yesterday. It’s just seeing him, locked up in this room, well the gravity of it all is finally hitting me. “Hey.” He let out, sitting up and looking over at me. I watched him quickly slide the T.V. remote to his other hand, trying his hardest to hide it from me. “I’m not going to take it away.” I shook my head in a sigh. I went to reach for the clipboard next to him but stopped myself. I can’t keep hiding behind work, I have to just, talk to him. “So did you come here to stare at me?” He teased, trying his hardest to act strong. But I could see through his façade. I could see the pain in his eyes and into his body. I could see his arms struggling to hold up his body as he sat, and his lungs crying out for air as his addiction suffocated him. “No.” I quickly shook my head snapping back into the moment. “I was just thinking about Liz is all.” “Liz?” He repeated, looking back at me. “You still talk to her? Is she still with Blake? How is he?” “Woh, woh,” I waved off trying to get him to relax. “Yes we still talk. She and Blake are married and he is fine.” A second of happiness flashed in his eyes before reality tore it right back down. He’s struggling to cope with what he’s done. I know he is. “Can you tell them I’m sorry? For everything.” I slowly nodded my head and looked deeply into his eyes. “Are you?” “More than anything else in my life.” He confessed, keeping the eye contact. “If I could change anything in my life, it would be breaking your heart.” “That’s ridiculous.” I shook my head, but he kept still, showing he was serious. “At least I didn’t kill my parents or grandma. That was just life being, well, crappy. But you, I chose to break your heart.” He exhaled. “Even if I am cursed, even if I’m the reason they all passed, well at least it wasn’t intentional. But you, I chose to break your heart. I chose to hurt you. I did it.” He shook his head. “And that’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life.” “Not if I forgive you.” I supported, reaching over and resting my hand on his. He quickly pulled his hand away and turned his back to me. “Stop.” He grumbled. “I-I can’t play games with you.” “I’m not looking to play games.” I decided in a confident voice. “I’ll let you down and break your heart all over again.” He began in a shaky voice. “I can’t control myself. I keep getting hit with waves of depression, and I-my body just wants drugs. I have to fight withdrawal every single night.” He shook his head in pain. “I’ll never beat my addiction.” “Then I’ll do it for you.” I decided, standing up and trying to force him back over. “I know your history, and I know your health. I know everything I’m getting involved in here.” “That doesn’t mean I have to put you through it.” He grumbled fighting me with everything he had. “You should’ve thought of that thirteen years ago.” I shook my head, finally turning him back over. “I forgive you Ryder Sullivan. I-I still have so many questions, but I, even if I can’t trust you right now, I just need to ride this out.” I saw a million thoughts swarm his mind as he tried to understand the moment. “Teddy I’m, you can’t do this to yourself.” “Well I am.” I nodded my head, and sat back down. “If you don’t want to hurt me, then I, then don’t.” I shrugged my shoulders. “The balls in your court.” “Why?” He shook his head, still stuck in shock. “Because yesterday, when I saw the tattoo, I just, I realized you were telling the truth.” I exhaled, as our eyes met. “And I guess, I, you promised you’d come back for me.” I shook my head. “Deep down, I always held onto that promise. Deep down I’ve always been here waiting for you.” “Then why’d you yell at me in the store?” He asked, trying to put it all together. “Because I was mad at you, I’m still mad at you.” I confessed, trying my hardest to be completely honest. “I’m mad that I can’t trust you, I’m mad that you hurt me, I’m mad at myself for not seeing it coming. But if I let this slip past me, if I let you come in and out of my life again, I’d always ask myself what if? I’m not going to do that.” I decided. “So you need to man up and be the Ryder I knew.” “I will.” He quickly nodded, not sure what else to say or do. “I, whatever it takes, if it means I get you back, I-I’ll do it.” “Then keep doing what you’re doing.” I nodded, finally relaxing back into my chair. “Keep following the steps, and fighting to take your life back. And when you do that, when you’re ready to leave, well figure out a place for you.” He forced a nod but couldn’t take his eyes off me. “I’m so sorry Teddy. I’m so so sorry.” “Don’t feel bad for me,” I began, recalling the words he always used to tell me. “Just be there for me.” He finished, as his eyes grew misty. “How the tables have turned.” I smiled, reaching out for his hand again but stopping myself as I realized a nurse could walk in at any moment. “Dr. Theodore Haner to Surgery.” The intercom interrupted. “Dr. Theodore Haner to surgery.” Ryder nodded his head, understanding I had to go. “That’s my cue. Don’t go telling all the nurses about this either! I know how much you love talking after all.” “Can’t get enough of it.” He teased as I picked up my chair and walked out the door. For better or for worse this felt, right. I need to give him this chance; I need to know where it goes. Just like in high school I can’t sit still and let what ifs pass me by. I know he hurt me and everyone I love, but he did that for me. If he’s willing to do that, to sacrifice everyone he loves to protect me, then I know he’ll always do what he thinks is best for me. One step at a time we’ll get back what we had, if it’s the last thing I do, I swear we will.
  5. 58 points
    ---Teddy--- I’ve come to realize something these past few weeks. Life’s thrown me a lot of curveballs, and all I’ve done about them is bitch and moan. I never swung at one. I never took the chance and lived in the moment. Well I’m done playing things right. I’m done following the book on everything I do. It’s about time I take more chances, it’s about time I have more fun in my life. “Already going to bed?” I asked, quietly wheeling a chair into Ryder’s room. “I, didn’t you go home?” Ryder asked, quickly looking over to me. “No.” I replied, shooting him a cautious look. “I’ve been in surgery all night, remember I promised I’d say goodbye before I left?” “Yeah, Yeah,” He quietly exhaled. “I didn’t believe it though.” “Well I promise that no matter how crazy days get I’ll always say goodbye to you at the end of them.” I nodded my head. “Not that you have too many days left here. Pretty soon I’ll be coming home to you.” “Are we moving too fast?” He forced out, slowly beginning to stare a hole in me. “Maybe, but we don’t really have a choice.” I shrugged, starting to look into his eyes. “Why, do you think we are?” “No.” He slowly shook his head. “Just thought you would.” “We’re doing what we need to.” I muttered, standing up and taking a closer look at him. “Who’s your nurse?” “Uh, um,” He let out. “Why?” I let out a deep breath and fell hard onto my seat as I pulled out his clipboard. “Did you get your pills tonight?” “Yeah.” He quickly nodded his heads. “You’re damn right you did.” I couldn’t help but laugh, seeing his sporadic movements. “You’re pretty high right now.” “No, I’m not.” He childishly defended. “I-I swear I’m not. I just,” “It’s not your fault.” I shook my head. “Someone gave you too much of one of your pills, or they gave them to you all at once.” I exhaled, having seen it a few times before. “Just lay back and relax, it’s won’t be a euphoric high since it’s antidepressants but you’ll be out of it for a little bit before you fall asleep.” I explained, flipping through his charts. “I’ll stay with you for a little while to make sure you’re safe, but this probably happened because you’re in withdrawal and your systems looking for anything and everything.” I yawned, feeling myself starting to grow a little loopy. “Nate’s you’re nurse too, so that checks out.” I exhaled. “And he forgot to check off that he gave you the pills.” I complained checking the box. “He’s bad.” Ryder forced out, looking up at me. “Yup.” I nodded my head. “I suspend him from the E.R., so the psych ward goes ahead and calls him in. Gotta love bureaucracy.” “Did you date him?” Ryder asked, still staring at the same spot on my face. “No.” I shook my head, but saw his stare grow more intense. “I’m serious, I didn’t.” He let out a deep sigh and finally looked away. “You don’t believe me?” I asked but got no response. “Okay, we went on one date three years ago, but I freakin hated it. I have no idea how he made it through college. The man’s as smart as a boulder.” “Did you date much after me?” He asked, lying back onto the bed. “You mean before you?” I teased, as he shot me a confused look. “We’re dating again, so at this point it’s before you. No need to think about when we were kid’s anymore.” “Oh.” He exhaled as he tried to make sense of my words. “Yeah, before.” “But no I didn’t date much.” I shook my head. “Maybe like two or three real relationships, and a few dates thrown in here and there.” “Oh.” He exhaled, looking back at the ceiling. “Oh please.” I let out, dropping his clipboard back into its bin. “I’ve seen the videos of you flying all over the damn world. Like you didn’t date other men.” “I didn’t.” He quickly shook his head. “Only you.” I let out a sigh, and took a closer look at him. “It’s okay, you don’t have to lie,” “Only you.” He repeated, in a strict voice. “You’re crazy.” I shook my head in disbelief. “There’s no way you didn’t try.” “I tried a few one night stands, but it never worked.” He explained, reminding me of the earlier conversations we’ve had. “Messiah was my life.” “Why’d you end it then?” I asked, seeing how much information I could draw out of him while he was high. He shrugged his shoulders but kept his eyes on the ceiling. “Story was over. Music wasn’t fun anymore.” “But didn’t you use it to get through hard times?” I couldn’t help but ask. “I mean, why abandon it when you’re fighting the hardest battle of your life?” “I think that’s how I got here.” He shrugged, silencing me. I was worried that’s the case. So then how do I get him to start writing again? How do I make the music fun for him? Before I could say anything else I heard the door open and shut behind me. “Oh, Dr. Haner.” Nate let out, slowly walking towards Ryder. “I was just going to check on him, I-I thought you went home.” “No, I was just in surgery.” I forced out, turning towards the nurse. “You know you overdosed him right?” I asked as my stare grew serious. “Did I?” He nervously let out. “I-I’ll get him an I.V. bag to help keep him hydrated.” “Make sure to file that against the hospitals insurance, not Ryder’s.” I saw Nate freeze up as he heard my words. “That’s right. It’s not fair if he gets charged for your mistake.” “But then,” Nate began but froze himself. “Then what? You’ll be following protocol?” I asked, starting to get more and more frustrated. “Or then the other doctors will see you made a mistake? You’re on extremely thin ice, so I recommend following rules to a T right now.” “I, um, yes Dr. Haner.” He nodded, quickly making his way out of the room. I let out a deep sigh and stood back up. “I better drive home while I still can. If anything else happens you get the front desk to call me, understood?” “I, you don’t need that, I,” “Ryder, this isn’t me talking as a doctor, this is me talking as your boyfriend.” I forced out freezing us both slightly. “I don’t want incompetency leaving you messed up for any longer than you need to be.” I exhaled. “I don’t mind it taking a while, but I, I’m really excited for the day you’re healthy again.” He grew quiet as I laid a kiss on his forehead and slowly made my way to the door. “Me too.” He finally spoke, as I looked back to him and smiled. I think I’ve figured it out. I think I figured out how to help Ryder get better. I have to keep pulling him into the moment. He, he’s too focused on thinking about the past. On trying to live in it. Right now he needs to see that the future is bright and exciting. That I’m here with him, and I mean it when I say we’re dating. ************************************************************************************* That night I fell asleep before I could even fully get changed. Sure, part of me was worried about Ryder, but I knew he’d be fine. He’ll sleep it off and be back to his normal cranky, moody self in the morning. The next morning seemed to come by in a flash, and exhaustion, well it could barely describe how I felt. “Dr. Haner! Dr. Haner!” Cait yelped in my ear. “Are you even awake this morning?” “I, barely.” I shook my head, looking over at her. “Can you do me a favor and,” “Make sure the other surgeons know not to call you in?” She asked, taking a long look at me. “Yeah.” I yawned. “Are you sure you don’t want to come work in the E.R.?” “Positive.” She quickly nodded, walking over to the reception desk. I smiled and slowly made my way past Mike and into Ryder’s room. “How are you feeling this morning? Sober?” “Yeah.” He forced out, barely looking at me. “Sorry about last night.” I nodded, slowly dragging a chair into the room. “I know that can’t make withdrawal any easier.” “It’s fine.” He shrugged, eyes focused on a white wall in front of him. “You okay?” I asked, noticing how reflective he seemed. “Yeah.” He forced out, not even bothering to look over. “Why was I such a dick to Brandon yesterday?” “I don’t know.” I shook my head, trying to get him to look over. “I wasn’t there.” “He was trying to be there for me, and I picked a fight about Messiah.” He groaned in a low voice. “They just, it pisses me off that they wanted to replace me.” He began, opening up voluntarily for the first time since he had gotten here. “Why does that piss you off?” I asked, borrowing a page out of Dr. Pierre’s book. “I don’t know.” He shook his head. “Maybe it doesn’t, maybe it just pisses me off that I can be replaced.” “Maybe.” I let out, standing up. “Why don’t you come for a walk, there’s something I want to show you.” “Teddy, I don’t want,” “Come on.” I waived, not giving him a choice. Slowly but surely he stood up and followed me outside of the room. “Cait.” I called out as we passed her. “I’m borrowing Ryder for an hour, and going on break.” “You just got here.” She exhaled, shooting me a surprised look. “And wait a minute! I’m not your secretary! Why the hell do you have me doing all your, “You’re the best.” I interrupted with a smile as the elevator door dinged open then shut. “Where are you taking me?” Ryder groaned, as he, Mike and I all stood in the small box. “You’ll see.” I smiled as the door dinged open again. This time I grabbed him by the hand and quickly took him around the corner to a large window which overlooked the entire front of the building. “See that.” I exhaled, pointing to a large crowd. “That’s been happening every day since you got here. Hell, they’ve even built a little shrine thing for you.” “I-I don’t understand.” He exhaled, taking a long look at the crowd. “They’re all Messiah fans.” I explained, looking over at him. “You were just talking about how you’re replaceable, but they don’t see it that way.” I shrugged, seeing surprise enter his eyes. “I’m willing to bet most of that crowd has never met you before, and yet there they are, worried about you.” “This, this is crazy.” He shook his head. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.” “Oh come on, this had to happen at hotels and all.” I skeptically let out, but could tell by the look in his eyes he really was moved. “I, sure, but not like this, not this big.” He exhaled. “And it’s been a week and a half, they’ve been coming every day?” “Yup, nearly all day too.” I explained. “They get chased away at midnight then come back as soon as they can the next morning. You can’t be replaced Ryder Sullivan.” Ryder slowly nodded his head understanding the message, but couldn’t take his eyes off the crowd. “So Mike, what do you think of that?” “I-I think that I need another cop here with me.” He exhaled, desperately trying to count the crowd. “I, that’s terrifying.” I couldn’t help but smile at his words. “It’s been worse. I think you’ve got it covered.” “I-I hope so.” He shrugged, unable to remove his eyes from it. “Why don’t you take a break?” I let out in a laugh. “I’m going to take Ryder for some breakfast.” “With a crowd like this out there?” He asked in shock. “Did you hit your damn head on your way in?” “It’s fine.” I giggled. “If something was going to happen it would’ve happened by now.” “Yeah, that’s what you think.” He muttered. “I’ll give you guys space, but I’ll be down in the food court too.” “Sounds fair.” I agreed, pulling Ryder away from the window. “And no trying to lose me.” Mike warned as we entered the elevator. “This isn’t a game.” “I understand.” I smiled, seeing him paranoid about work for the first time in, well, for the first time. The second we reached the food court I saw him take a position by the door, so he could watch us and still react to something quickly. “Try and stay somewhere I can see.” He warned once more as we quickly departed from him. “He always this intense?” I asked, causing Ryder to quietly shrug. I watched him carefully as he scanned the food court, looking for something. “You okay?” “Yeah.” He slowly nodded his head. “Just first time around a lot of people in weeks.” “Oh.” I exhaled, remembering what fragile condition he was in. “Well if you need, we can take the food up to your room.” “It’s okay.” He sighed. “I should get used to it anyway, right?” “Yeah.” I smiled. “Now come on, what do you want for breakfast? It’s my treat.” “No, can’t we just put it on my room?” He whined. “I don’t want you wasting money.” “It’s not wasting money, it’s going out for breakfast with my boyfriend.” I corrected drawing a faint smile from his face. “So then does this make it our first date?” As he asked the question I saw regret enter his eyes. As though he was ashamed of where we were. “Sure.” I happily let out. “And I’d say it’s the perfect first date.” As I dragged him on line I saw him escape into his own head. “Was our other first date at the barn?” “I think so.” I nodded my head. “We didn’t really do much back then though.” “No, we didn’t.” He recalled with a shake of his head. “But we both barely had cars that ran, and neither of us worked.” “God, what lives we lived back then.” I giggled. “I had no idea what an easy life I had back then.” “Me neither.” He agreed, leaving me stunned. He was hesitant at first, only taking what I took, but slowly I watched him break away and pick out some food he actually wanted to eat. “So is this food better than the stuff upstairs?” He asked, as we picked out a table. “Nope.” I sighed, taking a seat. “But you get used to it.” “Do you?” He asked, poking at it with a plastic fork. “No, but I’m allowed to lie to myself sometimes aren’t I?” I asked, drawing another faint laugh from him. “What’s up with you lately?” He asked, finally digging in. “Why do you seem, happier?” “Just am.” I shrugged, not sure how to take the question. “I finally decided to go along with life instead of trying to fight it.” He nodded his head but stayed quiet. “And having you around helps.” “Even when I’m quiet?” He forced out. “Even when you’re quiet.” I repeated with a smile. He began to slowly poke his food around a little more as he thought it over. “Stop playing with your food Ry.” I let out, watching him overthink things once more. “Just eat.” He nodded, but didn’t bother to change anything. “What’s going on?” “Nothing.” He forced out. “I-I don’t want to ruin breakfast.” “If you tell me I’ll take you out for dinner tomorrow.” I tempted, but he didn’t budge. “And I’ll bring you McDonald’s.” He stayed quiet, and let his eyes fall to the table. Maybe I just need to back off a bit, he’ll tell me, I know he will. A few more minutes of silence went by until Ryder was finally ready to speak again. “So you know last night?” He finally let out. “When you found me kind of high?” “Yeah.” I nodded my head. “I swear to god Nate’s going to kill someone around here. But it’s cheaper to keep him than fire him and hire someone else, so I don’t think the hospital will let me change something until he finally pisses me off enough or actually kills someone.” “So you can’t fire him right now?” He asked, slowly looking up at me. “I could but then the boards going to want to know what happened, and I’ll have to debate them on it.” I shrugged. “Not that that’s a problem.” I quickly recovered seeing the concern in his eyes. “It’s okay,” I tried to comfort. “You can tell me what happened. I won’t be mad.” “Promise?” He forced out. “Promise.” I nodded trying to hide my gulp. Did he ask for more medicine? Did he save up his medicine throughout the day and take it all at once? Did Nate force him to take something? “I-I wasn’t high on pills.” He nervously forced out. “I, Nate gave me a pen* with cannabis oil in it.” “Oh.” I exhaled, feeling my heart freeze in my chest. “Can you give me the pen?” “I don’t have it.” He shook his head. “I took a few hits from it then he took it back. “Oh.” I repeated, feeling my eyes bulge as I tried to hide my anger. “I didn’t want to.” He exhaled. “I told him no, but then as he left, I just needed it. Something in me, it just pulled for it. Weeds not even addictive, I don’t get it.” “I know it’s not.” I nodded my head, beginning to nervously bite on my lip. “But you have an addictive personality. Anything to you is addictive.” He slowly nodded his head understanding where I was coming from. “I’m sorry.” He let out. “I-I mean it, I’m sorry.” “It’s alright.” I nodded my head. “You’re still recovering, I expect some bumps in the road.” I forced out, knowing that if I yelled at him he would never be honest with me again. “The important thing is you keep telling me when you slip up, that’s how we form trust. The second you start lying to me, that’s the second this ends.” “So we’re okay?” He gulped in a nervous breath. “Yeah.” I exhaled. “I’m not thrilled with you right now, but we’re fine. Just no more drugs, understand?” “Okay.” He nervously nodded his head. “Do you remember if the pen had the hospital’s name on it?” I couldn’t help but ask, wondering how hard I could screw Nate over with this. “I don’t know it was dark in my room.” He shook his head. “The hospital has its own vapes?” “Of course.” I nodded my head. “They’re a god send for epileptic or cancer patients. They stop seizures and nausea and make you hungry. But that doesn’t make it a toy. Those patients don’t get to smoke it like it’s a cigarette. It’s medicinal.” He nodded his head and finally began to eat again. “So when you asked if I dated him, was that something he told you?” Once more Ryder nodded his head. “He apologized for acting jealously, and said he wasn’t over you.” “Huh.” I angrily exhaled, biting down on my lip harder. “He said you take risks, and that you date doctors, nurses and patients.” Ryder exhaled, looking up at me for the truth. “He’s the only person here that I’ve dated!” I yelped in anger. “Well besides you now, but I’ve never actually dated a nurse or doctor! And you’re not even my patient anymore! And even then, we were already, well,” “Complicated?” Ryder offered causing me to nod my head. “So what happens now?” “Cait talks me out of killing nate.” I calmly shrugged. “Then I go fire his ass and start looking for a new nurse.” “And you can do that?” Ryder asked, surprise filling his eyes. “I can do that as a doctor, or I can do that as the boyfriend of a patient.” I explained in a strict tone. “Or I can threaten to take this story to the press. They’re already looking for a story about you.” “I, let’s avoid that one.” He let out, drawing a laugh from me. “I figured.” I smiled. “I’ll just fire him myself.” I nodded. “Don’t go over the top though.” Ryder exhaled, as I shot him a curious look. “Like don’t black list him from other hospitals.” He continued. “I, he, people can change, you know?” “I guess so.” I nodded my head. Nate, you’ve done a lot of wrong in your time here. You’ve fucked up dosages, sloppily filled out charts, brought the wrong medicine to the wrong people, hell even brought the wrong tools to the wrong doctors! But now you’ve really done it. You messed with the wrong doctor this time, and I won’t let that pass. *Pen- Pen is another word for a Vape, or better known as a Vaporizer. They’re e-cigarettes that can be used to smoke flavored oils, or even cannabis oil that gets a user high. They’re applauded for their ability to be discrete and powerful.
  6. 57 points
    “Owen! Over here!” Spencer Liston strolled towards his brother and the two others with him. “Mate, it’s good to see ya.” “Wow! Your brother’s almost as big as Tank, Ozzie.” Ritchie stared at the blonde, blue-eyed man’s oversized biceps contracting when he hugged first Owen and then CJ. “You too, CJ. It’s been a while.” Spencer held his brother’s boyfriend by the shoulders and gave him a slight shake. “Looking good, mate. I’m glad neither one of you has gotten fat now that you’re an old married couple.” “You’re still an asshole, Spencer. And we ain’t married! Hell, I’m not even sure I’d marry Ozzie. It’d mean being stuck with you as an in-law.” CJ’s good-natured ribbing earned him a shove. “Dude, meet my brother. Ritchie, this is Ozzie’s baby brother. I actually met him first, by like six months. I definitely got the better part of the family.” CJ lowered his voice while grinning. “Spencer can be kinda asshole-ish.” “Watch it, you wanker. Don’t forget I’m your ride.” Spencer extended his arm to shake hands with CJ’s brother. “Good to meetcha, Ritchie. I heard a lot of good stuff about you from my sister. She’s all excited you guys are visiting.” “How come she’s not here? I thought Liz would meet us at the airport.” Ritchie had made it clear he was looking forward to seeing the girl he befriended the previous year and kept in touch with through social media. CJ suspected there was a touch of limerence in his brother and hoped it would not become an issue. “She stayed behind to help set up tonight’s party.” Spencer draped an arm around Ritchie and fixed his gaze on CJ. “Happy birthday, mate. Since you spent your actual day inside a plane, we’re having a little party for ya tonight. Liz wanted to come, Ritchie. But we had no idea how much luggage you guys had and didn’t want it to be too cramped in the ute. The ride home’s a bit over two hours.” CJ and Owen finished their exams on Tuesday and within forty-eight hours―the day before CJ’s nineteenth birthday―boarded a plane for the long flight to Sydney. It was CJ’s third trip to Australia in four years but this one was a bit different; Ritchie was along this time. The boy began pleading the previous year, after meeting Elizabeth Liston when she visited the United States. In time, the fathers relented. Ritchie was promised the trip as a Christmas present, but it came with plenty of strings attached. The boy was to obey CJ and Owen as if they were César and Brett. He was prohibited from smoking pot and could only drink wine while on the premises of the Liston Winery, or somewhere else only if Owen’s parents or JP’s mom and dad were with him. They also limited the time he could spend in Sydney alone with his brother and Owen. They made it clear a couple of days would be fine for sightseeing purposes, but expected all of them to stay in the Hunter Valley otherwise. Ritchie was younger than CJ had been during his initial trip and not as mature as his brother was at the time. They trusted him in general but the kid had a wild streak in him. • • • “That’s the area where the hotel we’ll be at later this week is in.” CJ pointed out the window towards The Rocks as they approached the Sydney Harbour Bridge. “And if you look in the other direction, you’ll see the Opera House.” “This is sick!” Ritchie sat up front with Spencer while CJ and Owen had taken the back seat. The kid had already left the imprint of his nose on the glass, unable to tear his face away from the window. “I can’t believe I’m in Australia! It’s my first time outside the United States.” “You’re so full of shit, bro. You were born in fucking Germany!” “That don’t count, CJ. It was at an Air Force base and I don’t remember any of it. I was a little kid when we moved to Miami.” “I call bullshit! You were like eight.” CJ shook his head when his brother gave him a one finger salute. “Mate, you remember when Liz was in Miami and you suggested she’d like a picture with her feet in the Atlantic Ocean? Should we do the same for Ritchie with the Pacific?” “Shit, yeah! I was thinking we’d do it when we took him to Newcastle. I mean, we have to stop by and say hello to Joe and Kate.” CJ referred to JP’s parents who lived in the coastal city. “Uncle Joe and Aunt Kate are already at the house, CJ. They’re spending the night so you’ll see them when we get there.” Spencer glanced at his passengers in the back for a moment. “Do you guys mind if we roll down the windows? It’s so nice outside and I’m thinking the fresh air will be nice after all the time you spent in the airplane.” Owen looked at CJ for a moment and then leaned forward. “Spence, are we in any rush to get home? Are there any plans before dinner tonight?” “Not that I’m aware of. Mum said you guys might want a nap.” “I think we’re fine. We all slept on the plane.” CJ and Ritchie both nodded when Owen glanced at them. “How about we get off the M1, drive through Gosford, and then zip up the coast?” “Sure, but it’ll add about an hour to the trip. You guys okay with that?” “I’m fine with anything.” Ritchie did not bother looking away from the landscape rolling by. CJ shrugged and nodded. “Me too. We can stop somewhere along the way, take some pics, and Ritchie can post them to his Instagram.” “Perfect! Do it, Spence. We’ll stop at The Entrance. I’ll text Liz”—Owen already had his phone out—“and she can tell the rest of them we’re taking a detour.” Ritchie peeled his face away from the window for a moment. “What’s The Entrance?” “It’s a seaside holiday spot on the Central Coast.” Spencer switched to the leftmost lane and diminished their speed. “It gets its name from the channel between two strips of land which connects the ocean to Tuggerah Lake. Too bad we’ll be going by so early in the day. We’ll miss the pelicans.” “What about the pelicans?” CJ was a little confused. He had not heard anything about pelicans during his previous trips. “Mate, it’s like the biggest tourist attraction in the area!” Spencer sounded animated. “It’s a great sight when all these birds show up every arvo and get fed. They even built a special place for it.” “Arvo means afternoon in Oztrayan, Ritchie.” The preemptive explanation came because it was a word neither Owen nor JP used a lot. CJ realized his boyfriend sounded more like an American each day but he still loved Owen’s Aussie accent. • • • “Ritchie!” Elizabeth Liston left the chair next to her grandfather and rushed towards the vehicle as soon as it came to a stop. “I’m sooo glad you’re here. And you, CJ! This is so great. And, I get to have my big brother around too! It’s going to be the bestest Christmas.” The effusive greetings were accompanied by hugs and kisses from the pretty girl. While she fussed over Ritchie as if he was her own sibling, CJ smirked and elbowed Owen. “I think I’m going to really enjoy this trip. Spencer yells out your name at the airport and now Liz shouts out Ritchie’s. Kinda nice to be anonymous for a change.” “It’s still early.” Owen shook his head as he reached in the car to retrieve their luggage. “I say we give it a day and you’ll be well known around here. Complete strangers will be asking for your autograph in no time at all.” “Asshole!” CJ hefted his bag and headed towards the covered porch where Jack Liston stood waiting. CJ’s smile as he approached the man grew. “Jack! It’s so, so good to see you again.” “Welcome back, CJ. I heard what Owen said about strangers asking for your autograph. I’m not sure it’ll go that far, but there are a few neighbors who want to meet you.” “Told ya… Hey, Jack.” Owen had a mischievous grin when he hugged his grandfather. “Have you been talking about my boyfriend, Grandpa?” “You can’t imagine, Owen. Whenever we have visitors, Jack makes it a point of talking about his grandson’s boyfriend and his involvement in politics. It’s nauseating to be honest. And then he wants to show them pictures of you and CJ.” Liz reached behind her and took Ritchie’s hand―the boy stood in silence, darting his eyes everywhere. “Jack, this is Ritchie. He’s CJ’s brother.” “Hello there, young man. Welcome to Australia, the Hunter Valley, and Liston Vineyards and Winery.” Jack shook hands with Ritchie. “Thank you, sir. And thank you for letting me stay at your house.” “Bah! You’re family, son. And none of this sir stuff. I’m Jack. It’s what my grandchildren call me and I expect you to do the same. Now, CJ, I’m hoping you’re still addicted to our Verdehlo. I have a bottle ready to be uncorked. Why don’t you all go in and drop off your luggage? When you’re done, come down to the restaurant. I’ll have a few starters and the wine waiting when you return.” • • • “What do you think your mom and dad want to talk to us about?” CJ was far from drunk, but he was not entirely sober either. At some point in the evening, he lost count of how many glasses of wine he had during his belated birthday dinner; Jack seemed ready to refill his glass after each sip. “Oh, wild guess it’s about what a lightweight Ritchie is when it comes to wine. I think he was tipsy after his second glass!” Owen chuckled and burrowed his head further underneath CJ’s arm. “Asshole! You know he isn’t allowed to drink so much back home. The dads won’t let him.” “Yeah, but they told us he could as long as my parents or JP’s were around. We’re not to blame.” “Fine, whatever. Seriously, though, you have any idea what they want?” “No, but I wouldn’t worry about it. They said they wanted the four of us to get together before we return to Sydney and we’ll find out what they want then. I’m sure it’s about my graduation next year and my plans for after.” “You don’t think they’re upset with me about something, do you?” “Bloody hell, what are you talking about? I think the one time they weren’t real happy was when I told them Brett bought you a gun and―” “Yeah, asshole. Why did you have to bring that up? Maybe they’re going to tell you to stop seeing me.” “Ha! First thing is, you forget I’m an adult. They wouldn’t dream of telling me anything like that. If they did, I’d tell them to bugger off. Second, in case you missed it, they were bragging about how lucky I was to be around you during the campaign. And how proud they’ve been every time I’ve sent them an article or a video clip of you.” CJ started chuckling. “Not as proud as your brother when he found out we’d met Katy Perry. I thought Spencer was gonna start drooling.” “Leave it to the straight boy to salivate over a pair of famous tatas.” • • • CJ slipped on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and left his boyfriend in bed sleeping while he headed towards the kitchen in search of coffee. He was not surprised to find Owen’s grandfather at the kitchen table with a steaming cup and the newspaper in front of him. He knew Jack was an early riser from his previous visits. “Morning, Jack.” “G’day, CJ. Coffee’s ready, or if you’d prefer tea…” “Thank you, coffee would be great. Are we having yabbies’ today? Can I help this year?” The Liston family patriarch smiled at the reference to the freshwater crustaceans traditionally eaten on Christmas day. “I see you remember our local critters. Good on ya for offering help.” “You can do anything you want while you’re our guest, CJ. Happy Christmas!” CJ whirled around and came face to face with Owen’s mother. In her fifties, he thought the woman was gorgeous. You could definitely tell where Owen, Spencer, and Liz got their blonde hair and good looks. “Good morning, Pam. Merry Christmas to you. I remember the younger grandchildren help Jack collect yabbies’ from the pond behind the dam. I’m curious but I wasn’t sure if I’m too old to join the group.” “Bah! Nonsense!” Jack waved a hand in dismissal. “Of course you can join the mob. Some of them are already milling about outside. We’ll head out to that part of the property when your brother and Liz come down. She did promise to bring him along. As for you, you’re a celebrity around here. The kids will love spending time with you so they can brag to their friends later.” CJ was confused. “Why am I a celebrity? I’m thinking most of them already met me three years ago when I was here for Christmas.” “That you did.” Pam fixed herself a cup of tea and sat next to CJ. “And some saw you again when you came back on your own the following winter. But―even though most of them aren’t familiar or interested in American politics―all of them know about your involvement. Some have seen the video clips Owen sent us. You’ve been on TV. That’s special for them and it makes you a celebrity in their eyes.” “Well, he can get off his celebrity arse and come outside to help me.” Owen’s father had sneaked into the kitchen and clamped a hand on CJ’s shoulder. “I wish our kids would be early morning people like CJ here. You better go wake up our dear daughter, Pam.” “Morning, Geoff. What can I do to help?” Geoffrey Liston ran the family’s business but one could tell the man did not spend all his time behind a desk―even if his midsection had grown an inch or two since CJ last saw him. If this was what Owen would look like in twenty-five odd years, CJ was not about to complain. His dark tan and calloused, scarred hands a testament to a lifetime spent in the vineyards. “You know that old, copper, washing-machine tub we use to boil the yabbies in? I need help setting it up.” By the time they wrestled the tub into place, filled it with water, and piled wood around it, most of the family was up. Owen, JP’s parents, and a few others left for Christmas Day services at a church in Cessnock while Liz helped Jack herd her younger cousins with CJ and Ritchie tagging along. When the churchgoers returned, those who remained behind were showered, dressed and gathered in the closed-for-the-day bistro at the winery. The younger set was excited and ready to open their presents. CJ and Owen sat next to each other with a plastic bag between them. “Anyone know what Krochet Kids is?” Owen looked around at his family, dismissed Ritchie with a wave of the hand when the kid raised his arm, and then turned to CJ. “Why don’t you go ahead and explain it?” CJ grinned, noticing the anticipation on the youngster's face. “Ozzie told me not to bother with gifts for the adults, but we brought some things for the younger crowd. Here’s the quick version of Krochet Kids’ story. You can google the organization if you want to know more. “It was founded by three friends from high school. Avid snow sports enthusiasts who learned to crochet and had―liking the idea of unique headwear―made knit hats for themselves, and eventually for sale to their friends. Fast forward to them being in college. One of them spent a summer in Uganda and came back bemoaning the conditions many people lived in. People who spent a lifetime in refugee camps surviving on international and governmental aid. “The idea to empower these people by teaching them how to create with needles and yarn, and then paying them a fair wage seemed logical. Today, Krochet Kids International has programs in Uganda and Peru. Even though it’s summer here in Australia, we thought you guys would like to own something special. Each hat’s signed by the person who made it. And you can find more about them on the organization’s website.” “I’ll give CJ credit for thinking this up.” Owen gave his boyfriend a quick smile. “He always wants to help others and this is one of the many ways he tries. Okay, we have a bag full of beanies and you get to pick the one you like best. Youngest first and if we have any left over, the old people can fight over them.” While CJ and Owen played Santa Claus, Ritchie sat next to them talking to JP’s parents, Kate and Joe Smith, with his brother paying attention to the conversation. “This is so sick. I can’t believe I’m sitting here with Uncle JP’s parents.” “And we think it’s sick we’re sitting with CJ’s younger brother.” Joe ruffled the kid’s hair while smiling. “We’ve heard a lot about you.” “So what did you get for Christmas?” Kate sipped from the glass of wine she held. “I’m surprised you’re not in there trying to get one of those things.” “Nah, I got one already. I just didn’t bring it with me. I got a couple of games and some clothes but my big gift was the trip down here.” “What about your brother and Ozzie? I swear I can’t get used to that silly nickname. What did they get for Christmas?” “I think the dads paid for their trip too. Ozzie gave CJ two LEGO architectural models: Fallingwater and The Guggenheim Museum. They’re buildings by this architect my brother really likes.” “Frank Lloyd Wright.” Kate reached for the bottle on the table behind them and poured herself a refill. “We’re familiar with your brother’s interest in architecture. Heck, I thought that’s what he’d be studying. What about Ozzie? What did he get?” “Oh, it was insane! CJ had leather saddlebags custom made for Ozzie’s motorcycle. They have all these Australian designs all over them. Kangaroos, koalas, the big bridge in Sydney. He even had them do grape vines all around the edge.” • • • Boxing Day found most of the extended Liston clan returning to the winery. The traditional cricket match―between Australia and Pakistan this year―was the day’s attraction. In the morning, Owen found his old cricket bat and tried to give Ritchie a basic idea of the game. Assorted cousins joined in and an impromptu game broke out with the great lawn behind the buildings serving as the pitch. “You behave, okay?” CJ had a hand on his brother’s shoulder and looked at him with a serious expression. “Don’t give Kate and Joe a hard time.” JP’s parents had spent the night at the family compound once again and offered to take Ritchie with them to Newcastle and show him around. Liz was quick to invite herself along as the official tour guide. “You listen to them like if it was me or Ozzie.” “Give me a break, CJ. I’m not a little kid, you know?” “Don’t worry about him, CJ. We’ll take good care of him.” Kate turned around for a moment as she approached their car and waved at the group watching them. “So, Ritchie, what did you think of what Owen was teaching you?” “I don’t know. I think cricket’s boring. I do like to watch rugby whenever Ozzie puts one on the TV. I wish we could go watch a real live game.” “Wrong time of year, mate. You’ll have to come back in winter like your brother did.” CJ waved at his brother before turning back and rejoining the crowd. When he saw Owen’s father wave, CJ headed in towards him. “What’s going on, Geoff?” “Do you have any interest in watching the cricket?” The man smirked; he obviously already knew the answer to the question. “Can’t say I do. I’m fine watching if that’s what everyone else wants to do.” The man threw his head back and laughed. “You’re so bloody polite and accommodating. Don’t worry; I won’t make you suffer. How about you, Owen, Pam, and I head into Cessnock for lunch? There’s a nice Indian restaurant with an all-you-can-eat spread.” “Sounds good to me.” An hour later, the two couples sipped Cooper beers and nibbled on samosas which CJ doused with tamarind chutney. Geoff wiped his hands with a napkin and looked at the two young men sitting across from him. “Okay, guys, Pam and I want to talk about the future.” CJ felt Owen stiffen next to him and reached under the tablecloth to grab his boyfriend’s hand, wanting to help the man relax. “I thought you already agreed to let Ozzie stay in school for another year. Is there a problem?” Pam’s chuckle surprised CJ. “Oh, lord! Young love. It’s so cute how all of a sudden you two started looking worried. Are you thinking we changed our minds? That we’re going to ask Owen to come home or stop paying for his schooling?” “Mum…” Owen sounded meek at that moment. “Don’t worry, boys. We haven’t changed our minds.” Geoff raised his bottle in salute. “We’re very happy with you as a couple. We approve. But, I think we need to be honest here. No mucking about. Owen, do you ever plan on returning to Australia?” “I… I…―” “Yep, that’s what we thought.” Pam placed a hand atop her husband’s and shook her head when he made to speak. “Owen, we love you and we want you to do what you feel’s right for you. We’ve talked to Kate and Joe about what it was like when John Paul went to school in California. Soon after you left for America, they warned us there was a good possibility you’d want to stay.” “And none of us had an inkling you’d hook up with someone rich and famous to tempt you even more!” Geoff was surprised when Pam smacked him on the arm. “Hey! That’s not fair.” A wave of defensiveness washed over CJ. “I’m not rich and I’m not famous. My dads may have money but that’s them. Any fame I may have will fade real quick. Anyway, Ozzie can make his own decisions. He doesn’t need you or me putting pressure on him. It’s his life and he has the right to live it any way he wants. And if you―” “Bloody hell! Down, tiger.” Geoff raised his hands trying to placate his son’s boyfriend. “No need to bite our heads off. We already told you we approve of you and Owen.” “Sorry… It’s just that I don’t like it when people pick on Ozzie or give him a hard time.” “That’s admirable, CJ.” Pam raised her hand, motioning for the server. “I’m ordering another round. I think we’re going to be here for a while. We may as well enjoy ourselves. If we get drunk, we can always call Spencer and ask him to come get us. Okay, where were we? Ah yes, school. “We know your ultimate goal’s to work in environmental law, Owen. And we approve of another year of studies. If that’s what it’ll take you to find the kind of position you want. However, we’d like to offer you an alternative. Something we think will be useful to you no matter where you end up or what you end up doing. “We’d like you to consider going to school for two more years instead of one. Since CJ has at least three more remaining, it won’t create an awkward situation between you. It could happen if you’re working and he’s still a full-time student.” “So what do you think I should do?” “We’re hoping you still have time to apply. We think it’d be a good idea for you to get a degree in business to go along with your law one.” • • • Two days later, after long goodbyes peppered with hugs and kisses, CJ was behind the wheel headed towards Sydney. It was his first time driving on the opposite side of the road. Owen had the passenger seat while Spencer, Liz, and Ritchie sat in back. The three whispered to each other and CJ kept a suspicious eye on them through the rearview mirror. He turned around for a moment when he felt a tap on his shoulder. “Daddy CJ, I have to go to the bathroom.” Liz started giggling as soon as she spoke. “I’m kinda hungry, mate. Can we maybe get something to eat when we stop for our sister to pee?” Spencer’s serious expression dissolved into an evil grin. Ritchie wasn’t about to be left out of the fun. “Are we there yet, CJ? Are we? Are we?” “Stop laughing, Ozzie! This is all your fault, you know?” CJ was shaking his head and grinning. “Bloody hell! My fault?” “Yeah! You’re the one who insisted on bringing the kids along. I told you we should have left them with your mother.” The banter did not abate for a long time. It was when they were near Sydney the subject changed after Ritchie started asking questions. “What’s the name of this zoo we’re going to again? And will I get to see live kangaroos and koalas?” “Taronga is an Aboriginal word meaning beautiful view.” Owen turned around to talk to Ritchie. “It’s not as old or as large as National Zoo in Washington, but it does have some animals you won’t find in DC.” Owen glanced at CJ for a moment. “Your brother and I went online and arranged admission to Taronga’s Wild Australia Experience. You’ll―” “You did?” Liz sounded both surprised and excited. “That’s really expensive, isn’t it?” “Don’t worry about it, Liz.” CJ reached over and took Owen’s hand in his. “Consider it a Christmas present from us. Anyway, it wasn’t that much more than the cost of admission to the zoo and that’s included in the tickets we bought.” “You know something, CJ?” Spencer’s smirk made CJ nervous when he looked in the mirror. “If you spoil my brother like this all the time, no wonder he wants to stay in Washington!” “Asshole!” Owen shook his head and flashed his brother the finger. “Ritchie, the zoo’s on the north bank of Sydney Harbour. It’s across from the Opera House, a little closer to the bay’s entrance. Part of the package includes rides on the cable car so you’ll get a great view.” “And we’ll get to see kangaroos and koalas?” “Yep. And platypuses! These tours are small, just eight people at a time. We get our own specialized tour guide. We’ll be able to take pictures in the koala enclosure. And we get a souvenir too.” “Sick! I can’t wait!” The zoo closed at five and the quintet of friends walked out the doors at a few minutes past the hour. They had such a great time, even the more reserved Spencer could not stop talking about the experience on the way to the hotel. Since he was the most familiar one with Sydney traffic and the area surrounding the Central Business District, he was now in the driver’s seat. • • • “Welcome back, Mr. Abelló. It’s good to have you staying with us again.” Ritchie gawked at his brother in shock. “They know you here too?” While Owen burst out laughing, the middle-aged man at the reception desk gave the young man a benevolent smile. “Based on the resemblance, I’m going to guess you two are related. Is he your brother?” “Yeah…” “I’ve not met him before, but we keep records on our guests.” The man glanced at the monitor embedded on the desk. “Your brother has stayed with us twice before and we value returning visitors. However, we may have a problem here. There’s five of you but we only seem to have reservations for three. One double room and a single.” CJ glanced at the nametag on the man’s vest before replying. “The reservations are correct, Grant. They should be for Richard Peterson, Owen Liston, and myself. Owen and I will be sharing the larger room.” “It’s okay, mate. I live in Sydney. My sister and I are staying at my place.” Spencer draped his arm around Liz and pulled her close. “We’ll be fine all alone by ourselves, Liz. I offered them my flatmate’s room and the couch but these damn Americans are all snobs. They fancy their plush hotels.” The comment earned him simultaneous, discreet one finger salutes from CJ and Owen. After registering and dropping off luggage in the rooms, they headed out to dinner at a café on Bondi Beach. It was past midnight when Spencer dropped off the visitors at the hotel. He and Liz returned early the next morning and joined the other three for breakfast before embarking on the day’s adventure. “What’s the big smile for, mate?” CJ turned around, lifted his sunglasses, and rested his elbows on the ferry’s railing. He glanced upwards at the receding view of the Harbour Bridge before fixing his gaze on Owen. “Thinking about three years ago and riding the ferry to Manly. We’d just met and the last thing I’d have imagined was this. Three trips to Australia in such a short time. Two of them without the rents, and this one acting as the adult for my kid brother.” CJ raked his eyes up and down Owen’s body and his smile grew. “And having a hunky, Aussie surfer boy as my boyfriend.” “Yeah, well, took you bloody long enough. I was about to give up on you. If you hadn’t come to your senses when you did, I’m not sure what would have happened.” “I call bullshit! You would have waited some more if my cousins hadn’t forced me to realize what I had and was in danger of losing. You were a goner from the moment we met.” “You’re such a wanker. A bloody, conceited wanker.” Had CJ not known better, he would have sworn his brother was high on something. Ritchie’s excitement about getting on a board and riding waves was fun to watch. The kid bounced all over the place from the moment they docked at Manly Wharf. His energy did not falter as they strolled down The Corso―a pedestrian mall lined with popular surf shops, pubs, cafes, galleries, and street entertainment―towards the Pacific Ocean. Owen led the way to the same rental shop they visited when CJ first traveled to Australia. The Liston siblings brought their own boards and wet suits but CJ and Ritchie needed to rent. Once properly outfitted, they strolled across the street to the beach, ready to hit the waves. Owen volunteered to stick with Ritchie until the boy was able to get up on his own. “Hey, daredevil! Where do you think you’re going?” CJ shouted at his brother who, board under his arm, was walking away from their group. The kid stopped and turned around giving CJ a huge smile. “Waves are bigger towards the end, near the rocks. I want to try those.” “I don’t think so, bro. Those look a bit too large for a rookie.” “Awww, come on. I’ll be fine. You saw me. I haven’t fallen off in a while!” “What? In like the last ten minutes?” Owen glanced back and forth between the brothers. “I’ll go with him. But if he breaks a bone, you get to tell César and Brett. I don’t want the dads getting pissed at me.” There were no broken bones―Ritchie handled himself well―but there were some bumps and bruises visible as he peeled the wetsuit off when they called an end to the day. The sun was low on the horizon as they crossed the bay once again and returned to Sydney proper. CJ was more convinced than ever his brother was an adrenalin junkie; he derived pleasure out of high speed and risky situations. The following morning Ritchie limped down the hallway with CJ and Owen trailing and chuckling. “Did you take any pain killers, bro?” “I didn’t have any.” Ritchie glanced over his shoulder at his brother. “Do you guys?” “Yeah, go on down with Ozzie. I’ll get them for you. I’ll repeat the same thing Papa told me the first time I went surfing. ‘You used muscles in a way you’re not accustomed to. No pain, no gain, but no whining allowed.’ You better start walking right; you have almost 1,500 steps to climb this morning.” Having experienced the Harbour Bridge Climb in the middle of the day already, CJ suggested getting tickets for the early morning one this time around. Owen shut down the idea. He stated there was, “No bloody way I’m waking up in darkness to watch the aurora from the bloody bridge. No matter how pretty it may be.” The group of twelve climbers stood atop the highest bridge trusses while their guide took pictures with the Opera House in the background. While waiting their turn to be photographed, Ritchie pointed at the ground below. “What are those things down there?” “Rabbits. There’s a feral colony living down in the park.” Spencer pointed at a small group of the animals a bit further away. “They keep trying to get rid of them, but the bloody critters keep breeding like rabbits.” “Funny, Spencer. NOT! Why would they wanna get rid of them anyway? I think they’re cute.” “Yeah, see, they may look cute and fluffy, but they cause serious problems. Rabbits are considered a pest in Australia. They threaten native species, they undermine foundations, and unlike in rural areas, where breeding tends to be restricted to spring, the wet Sydney area lets them go at it year round. Rabbits cause the greatest loss in economic terms of any pest species. I read it costs the country over 200 million dollars a year.” Following the almost four hour experience, they stopped for lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant by the wharf and then headed to the Opera House. As they departed the world-famous structure, Ritchie admitted he had enjoyed it. “That was fun to learn about such a well-known building, but I can’t figure out why you made such a big deal out of it, CJ. Sure, it was cool, but it’s still just a building.” “Heresy! Just a building? That’s profanity, bro.” On the way back to the hotel, Ritchie stopped to stare into the window of a shop touting authentic Australian gifts. “CJ, can I buy a couple of presents? I wanna get gifts for Aba and Abuela. And, I want one of those hats for myself. Maybe a boomerang for Fadi. I promised to take him back something.” Liz was quick to offer her assistance. “I’ll go with you, Ritchie. I’ve met your grandmothers so I can help you.” “Do you need money?” CJ was already reaching into his pocket. “I have like fifty dollars on me…” “Mate, the hat alone I’m certain will cost more than that. Good felt fedoras are expensive.” Owen was pointing at the one Ritchie had indicated. CJ used his American Express most of the time but also carried a bankcard in case an establishment did not accept Amex. “Here, Ritchie, use my credit card. How about you and Liz meet us at the pub next to the hotel when you’re done?” “Ohhh, okay. How much can I spend?” “Whatever you want, bro. If you go over the credit limit, you’re on your own.” Walking away, Spencer clamped a hand on CJ’s shoulder. “Mate, you’re crazy. You gave a credit card to your brother, told him he could max it out, and left him to go shopping with my sister? I thought you knew Liz better than that. What’s your limit on it anyway? How much damage can they do?” “I don’t know. I almost never use it. I think it’s ten grand.” Spencer’s shocked expression had CJ and Owen chuckling. Owen tapped his brother’s chin with a finger. “Close your mouth, Spence. You’re gonna start catching bugs. And stop looking so surprised. Weren’t you the one who told me I was lucky to have a rich boyfriend?” “Fuck you, Owen! Hey, CJ, can I borrow one of your credit cards? I think I want to do a little shopping myself.” “Asshole!” CJ threw a soft punch at Spencer but the guy moved out of the way before the fist could connect. “Ritchie’s a good kid. He won’t go crazy. But how much you wanna bet he buys something for Lucy?” Spencer held the pub’s door for CJ and Owen. “Is that his girlfriend?” “I don’t think it’s anything official. Lucy’s my best friend’s sister. She and Ritchie are about the same age. And I know they talk all the time.” “We know they’ve had at least one make-out session. The two of them disappeared for a while during CJ’s high school graduation party. There was a lot of smeared lipstick on both of them when they resurfaced. That boy’s gonna be hell on wheels, wilder than CJ.” Discussing their plans for the next day over beers, they decided Spencer and Liz would come over in the morning, bring clothes with them, and spend the entire day in The Rocks area. Street closures in advance of the New Year’s celebrations and fireworks display would strangle traffic in the CBD. • • • Since it was their last full day in Sydney, CJ wanted Ritchie to see as much as possible of Australia’s largest city. Wearing shorts and t-shirts, they strolled by Circular Quay―where they had boarded the ferry to Manly―heading towards Mrs. Macquarie’s Point at the northern edge of the Royal Botanic Garden. The view of Sydney Harbour was unparalleled in CJ’s opinion and he made certain they took plenty of pictures. Turning south, their next destination was the Hyde Park Barracks Museum. Built in the early nineteenth century by convict labor to house male inmates, the visit allowed the Australians in the group to give Ritchie a brief history of Australia’s establishment by the English as a penal colony. Near the southern edge of the park, the ANZAC memorial brought a more somber mood. Once again, as he had done with CJ, Owen took the time to explain its history and significance to Ritchie who listened in silence. CJ saw his brother bow his head, close his eyes, and move his lips without uttering a sound. He wrapped an arm around Ritchie’s waist and pulled his brother close. “You okay, bro?” The boy used a fist to wipe at his eyes before responding. “Yeah… I’m… I’m fine. I was thinking about my dad. It was two years ago he and mom died. I still miss them, CJ.” “I know, bro. I know.” CJ turned his brother around and wrapped him in his arms giving him a fierce hug. “And you’re going to miss them for the rest of your life. The pain will get smaller with time, but I don’t think it’ll ever go away. Dude, they were your parents. It’s okay to feel sad.” Ritchie was now sobbing against his brother’s chest. “But you’re alive. And the best you can do is honor them by becoming the man they would have wanted you to grow up to be. You have the dads, Ozzie, and me in your corner. We’ll always have your six.” Looking behind them, CJ motioned for Owen, Spencer, and Liz to join them; the three had stopped and kept some distance away when CJ and Ritchie come to a halt. CJ gave them a wink and a smile. “How about lunch? What about that Thai restaurant we ate at before, Ozzie? You know, the one on the gay street.” “That sounds good. Come on, Oxford Street’s a block or so away. We can stop at the bottle shop next to it and get a bottle of wine or two.” “Yeah! I want to get some champagne for tonight too.” It was then CJ decided to disobey his fathers. It was not Liston Winery and neither Ozzie’s nor JP’s parents were with them, but he was going to get his little brother drunk. Then he would pour him into bed even if he had to carry him upstairs to the room by himself. A long nap before the evening’s festivities would do his brother good. • • • Spectators gasped and cheered throughout the nine o’clock lights and fireworks display. Although drinking was not permitted on the streets, CJ, Owen, and Spencer all carried water bottles filled with something stronger than water. Ritchie turned down the offer for a sip. “I’ll have champagne at midnight but not now. Had enough with lunch. I don’t like the headache.” “Just wait ’til you get to uni, mate.” Spencer had been hitting his bottle and one could tell he was in a festive mood. “You’ll learn a hangover’s a small price to pay for a fun night out.” “Hey! Stop trying to corrupt my brother. That’s my job.” Ritchie’s grin gladdened CJ’s heart. “You guys realize I’ve been living in Washington for a while but I’ve yet to spend a New Year’s Eve there? Twice in Sydney, once in Miami, and once in Vail. We’re staying in DC this coming year.” CJ took a sip from his bottle and then used it to point at Liz and Spencer. "The two of you can fly over and spend it with us.” They partied on the streets for a while after the pyrotechnics display was over. The cacophony of music, the street performers, and the hugs and wishes from strangers for a happy new year made for a festive mood. As the clock ticked closer to midnight, they walked back to the hotel and made their way to the rooftop. The water bottles were traded for chilled champagne; they did not bother with glasses, instead passing the bottles around. At midnight, there was a group hug before leaning over the parapet to watch the celebration below and the exploding shells above. CJ stood behind Ritchie, his hands resting on the boy’s shoulders. “How you doing, bro?” “I’m okay, I guess. But no matter how much fun I have, New Year’s Eve’s always gonna make me think of Mom and Dad. Guess I better get used to it.” CJ wrapped his arms around his brother and kissed the top of his head. “It gets better, bro. Trust me on this. It gets better.”
  7. 56 points
    ---Ryder--- As I laid in Teddy’s bed I couldn’t help but be swarmed by a million and one thoughts. I’ve gotten my second chance at life, no, more like my third or fourth, all given to me by the same man. I know Oliver doesn’t see it. I know he’s yet to understand why. But as he grows I pray he sees what an amazing man his older brother is. So forgiving. So loving. So hopeful. Suddenly I heard the loud slam of a bedroom door followed by muffled arguing downstairs. Was that Oli’s door? Is he home from school already? There’s no way. He must’ve skipped or something. Did I sleep that long? I quickly looked down at the monitor on my wrist ’11:45 AM’ it read confusing me even more. I must be losing my damn mind. I must be hearing things. A few more minutes passed until finally the muffled arguing downstairs stopped and a soft knock began on my door. “Yeah.” I forced out, slowly sitting up. “Hey Ryder,” Mrs. Haner exhaled as she stepped in. “Can we talk for a minute or two?” “Yeah.” I gulped with a quick nod. Did I do something wrong? Did I start an argument? Did Oli misunderstand something I said and do something? “It’s nothing you did.” She shook her head, seeing the worry on my face. “Oliver, he, he shattered a kid’s nose today.” I felt surprise enter my face as I heard those words. “Your Oliver?” I couldn’t help but ask. “Yeah.” She sighed. “As scrawny as he looks, well he packs something fierce. They were originally going to suspend him three days, but now the kids concussed and needs a procedure done so it’s moved up to five.” “Why’d he do it?” I asked looking into her exhausted eyes. “Kid called him and Teddy slurs.” She sighed. “And something about them getting fucked in the ass.” She shook her head. “And I get it. I get that he stood up for himself, but he takes things way too far. He just can’t control himself. And I-I know you got bullied but was it ever like that with you growing up?” I let out a deep sigh and thought it all over. “I got called a lot of names, but I always ignored them. I would throw on headphones and just keep walking.” I shrugged. “But at the same time that’s what made it okay for them to get physical with me. They took my silence as the go ahead to start hitting me, and once it started there was nothing that could stop it.” I explained in a reflective tone. “Thinking back on it, I should’ve fought back more than I did. I should’ve given it right back to them. It would’ve made things a lot easier on me.” “That’s what I thought.” She nodded her head. “But when Harrison heard Oliver broke the kid’s nose. He wants to sign him up for military school.” She exhaled in a heavy breath. “But I’m not doing that to Oli. He-he’ll be miserable there. I know you just moved in, and you’re just getting to know him.” She shook her head. “And, and you have your own problems,” She began to ramble. “I’ll talk to him.” I nodded my head. “Thank you.” She softly exhaled, grateful I had spared her the words. “We, we’re going to get him a therapist for his anger but he needs someone here he can feel safe talking to.” “Give him some time. He’ll see that he can trust you and Mr. Haner.” I nodded, slowly getting to my feet. “That’s going to take some time.” She shook her head. “We, we haven’t always been honest with him about things, and it, it’s made a tough situation even more difficult.” “For what it’s worth I’ve seen a lot worse off kids get better.” I tried to comfort, leading her towards the door. “Oliver will be fine, you’ll see.” “I hope so.” She shook her head. As she turned to walk down the hallway I saw the weight of the house on her shoulders. I don’t know what the hell is going on with Harry, but he needs to step up. You can’t just ship off your kid like he’s someone else’s problem. Especially not an emotional kid like Oliver. “Go away!” A young voice shouted as I started to lightly knock on the door. “Even if it’s me?” I asked, hoping he trusted me as much as his mother thinks he does. “Even if it’s you!” He repeated in a loud voice but as the seconds began to pass I could feel his resolve fading. “Fine.” He let out. I slowly opened the door to find Oliver wrapped up in a small ball on his bed. He tries his hardest to act tough, but it’s wearing on him. I know it is. “Thank you for standing up for my boyfriend.” I began, taking a seat next to him. “It wasn’t about Teddy.” He lied, refusing to look over to me. “I just hate that kid.” “I’ve been there.” I slowly nodded. “I get it.” A few minutes of silence passed before Oliver finally looked over to me. “I didn’t mean to make my mom and dad fight.” He let out. As I saw his eyes I realized he’d been crying this whole time. “I just, I just want someone to listen to me.” I let out a deep breath as I heard those words. I’ve been there before. I’ve been here before. Locking yourself away, crying to yourself because you feel like no one cares. It-It’s one of the worst layers of hell. “Hold on.” I instructed jumping to my feet and darting to my suitcase in the other room. I quickly rummaged through it, desperately looking for my old worn black book, until finally I found it. “Here.” I exhaled, throwing it next to him. “I’ve been where you are. I-I know what it feels like, and you have every right to be upset.” “What is this?” He asked slowly reaching for the small rectangle with scraps and scarps of extra paper stuffed into it. “It’s my song book.” I nodded my head. “I’ve had it, well, forever. My grandma gave it to me when I told her I wanted to be heard, and you know what she told me?” Oli stayed quiet but looked back over to me. “Write songs that will make them listen.” “But I-I’m not you.” He stuttered, finally removing the rubber band and starting to flip through it. “I can’t write the way you do.” “No, you’re not me, and you can’t write like I can.” I shook my head. “But that will be your strength. Don’t be me, be Oliver.” “That’s not good enough.” He muttered, turning back towards the wall. I let out a deep sigh as I heard those words. My eyes began to scan his room looking for anything I could use as motivation until finally I saw all the different me’s on the wall. “What do you think of me?” I asked looking back to him. “Like as a musician.” He didn’t answer at first but as silence filled the air I saw him uncomfortably fidget. “I think you’re the best ever.” He embarrassedly responded. “I don’t think anyone will ever be able to top you.” “So you’re saying I know music?” I asked as he nodded his head. “Well I’m telling you right now I believe in you.” I began, trying my hardest to connect with him. “I believe you can be something special but it all starts here and now.” “You’re just wasting your time.” He let out, refusing to look at me. “Come on.” I let out a deep sigh and grabbed him. “Let’s go.” “Stop!” He shouted trying to fend me off. “Let me go!” “Nope.” I shook my head trying my hardest to push him off the bed. “You’ve got drums to play.” “You mean you’ll play a few songs with me?” He quickly popped up as I let him go. “I never said that.” I rejected. “But I’ll watch you practice.” He thought it over for a few seconds before letting out a sigh. “Okay.” He finally submitted getting to his feet. I nodded my head but as we entered the hallway I couldn’t help but give him a friendly shove. He’s just like his brother. Sure, Teddy’s ten times more reserved, but that fire inside, it’s exactly the same. As we passed by the living room I felt Mr. Haner’s eyes fall on us. “Where do you think you’re going?” He let out, beginning to stare down Oliver. “Practice drumming.” Oli shrugged. “Ryder said he’ll watch me.” “After what you pulled?” He asked, trying his hardest to ignore me. “Mom said I wasn’t in trouble.” He exhaled, but as he went to stop I kept pushing him forward. “Whatever.” He rolled his eyes. When I was sure Oli was halfway down the stairs I yelled for him to set up and shut the door. “Hey.” I forced out, looking over at Mr. Haner. “I-I really don’t mean to be overstepping here, but your wife asked me to talk to him. Playing drums, it’s the best thing for him right now.” “No by all means go ahead. You know my child so well.” He sarcastically bit, looking back over at the T.V. “I know him well enough to not leave him alone crying in his room.” I let out without even thinking. “I’m sorry.” I quickly apologized. “I didn’t mean that.” “It’s fine.” Mr. Haner muttered. “Now I know what you think.” I went to apologize but as I thought back on the scrawny kid crying in his bed I couldn’t bring myself to do it. “Actually, you’re right.” I doubled down. “That is what I think. You let Oliver down today.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” He shook his head. “Oliver let himself down.” “He’s just a kid, are you going to sit there and tell me you didn’t do stupid shit at thirteen?” I asked but got no reply. “And for the record I’m not calling you a bad father, because you’re not. I saw what you were like with Teddy, and what you were like with me.” Once more he stayed quiet as my words soaked the air. “You gave us both unconditional love, but you’re not doing that with Oli. And I don’t know what the fuck’s happened between then and now but something needs to change.” Mr. Haner rolled his eyes and stood up. “You’re what happened.” He exhaled, heading towards the stairs. “Those drugs you were on really must’ve messed up your brain if you think I’d be stupid enough to let Oliver grow to be as Naïve as Teddy is.” “Teddy’s not Naïve, he’s kind.” I shook my head. “He saves people.” “Yeah well look where that’s gotten him.” Mr. Haner rolled his eyes. “Repeating the same old mistakes from when he was a kid.” As he reached the midway point of the stairs he looked back at me. “If you want to fuck up both my sons go ahead and be my guest. “At thirty-one Teddy’s already the head of his department at the hospital. He’s destined for great things. Regardless of what you think, you did a great job with him.” I forced out heading back towards the basement door. “And for what it’s worth, I never once blamed you for how I wound up. I never thought you should’ve done more.” “Like I care what happened.” He exhaled, but this time I could tell he was lying. I could tell it bothered him that I became an addict. That I self-destructed. I took a deep breath and regained my composure before pulling open the basement door and climbing down the stairs. “You don’t have to fight with him for me.” Oli shook his head, not even bothering to look over to me. “We weren’t fighting.” I sighed. “We were just having a conversation.” “Yeah? Well it didn’t sound too friendly from down here.” He muttered, beginning to lightly tap away at his kick drums. “Play something.” I ordered noticing he was starting to fall into his own head. “Come on. Show me more of what you’ve got.” He nodded his head and slowly began to warm up. When he was finally loose and calm he began to play away the way I’ve been telling him too. Say what you want about the kid, but he’s a quick learner. He’s already looking so much better behind that kit of his. It’s like he’s finally beginning to draw from his own emotions. That may not sound like much, but imagine feeling like no one’s listening. Imagine feeling like you’re all alone. Now imagine finding some kind of outlet for that feeling. That’s exactly what music was to me, and what it’s becoming for Oliver. I don’t want to count chickens before they hatch but if he keeps going like this, well, I’ll have a drummer to recommend to a few people. As I noticed his normal style dripping into something more aggressive I couldn’t help but start to worry. The anger slowly started to rise in him as he got more and more excited until finally that wild side of his started to take control. “Okay! Okay!” I yelped, waving for him to stop. “Why don’t you take a break?” “But I was just getting somewhere.” He groaned throwing his head back. “I know.” I slowly nodded my head. “But I don’t want you to burn yourself out yet.” He let out a sigh but quickly locked eyes with me. “I’ll take a break if you play something for me on guitar.” “You know I can’t do that.” I shook my head. “You can.” He encouraged with hope in his eyes. “Acoustic guitar, and just light singing. If anything it’ll help calm you down.” I swayed my head and I thought it over. He has a point. As long as I pick the right song I should be fine. Before I knew it he was forcing an acoustic guitar on my lap. “If I play you a song then no more fights.” I negotiated as he took a seat right across from me. “I can’t promise that.” He confessed. “But I can try.” I couldn’t help but smile at those words. It would’ve been so easy for him to just say yes. To just agree and feed me bullshit, but that’s not Oliver’s way, and I pray it never will be. “Alright, this one’s from one of my favorite bands growing up, maybe you’ll know it.” As I slowly began to strum away I couldn’t help but look into his eyes and connect with his pain. Once more I found myself falling into the same place as when we played limelight. The same place of having fun while playing again. “'Cause I'm sick of the person I used to be So stressed out, burned out, living in my agony Hated all the words that they said to me So I jacked up, blacked out, wasted all those memories1” As I wrapped it up I could see the awe in his face as he looked at me. Is he always going to stare at me like that when I play? Does he really think I’m that great? Does he really see that much good in me? “Th-that was amazing!” He nervously stuttered. “I can’t believe you just played for me! I can’t believe Ryder Sullivan just played for me!” “Alright, alright.” I sheepishly laughed. “It’s not that big a deal, and you don’t have to keep using my full name. You know me now. I’m just Ryder to you.” “Just Ryder.” He let out as his smile grew wider. “Well just Ryder, can you play me another?” “No.” I shook my head, knowing I better stop while I’m ahead. Don’t get me wrong, I can feel my heart starting to race but it’s ten times better than when I was jumping around with an electric guitar. “But you can play for me.” “I-I can’t.” He exhaled. “I don’t know how to play guitar.” “Alright.” I nodded my head. “I’ll play one more song if you sing it, but nothing Messiah.” “I can’t sing Messiah anyway.” He grumbled, thinking it over. “I only sing for my band, and we play punk music.” He explained. “So do you know any Next to None or Scandals.” “Both those bands are way too new for me.” I confessed in a laugh. “You’re going to have to go back to my time if you want a song I know how to play.” “Rise Against?” He quickly asked as I nodded my head once more. “Okay play People Live Here, I think I know it.” He confidently suggested looking up the lyrics on his phone anyway. I tried my hardest to hide my gulp as he began to sign. Oliver seems to be great at a lot of things in music, but singing, well, that’s really not one of them. His voice is just too flat and stiff. I could try and give him vocal lessons, but even then, sometimes it’s just better if drummers stick to drums. Yet still as he got to the breakdown of the song he nailed the emotions. “From the penthouse to the holy martyr Sea to shining sea From the coffins full of kindergarteners Is this what you call free? From the hate that drips from all your crosses Are your hands so clean? There's a wildfire and it's spreading far From sea to shining sea2” I couldn’t help but smile at his ambition. He may not have vocal talent, but he’s got the confidence to commit to it, and sometimes that’s all you need. “So,” I began, trying my best to carefully word my question. “You’re the singer for your band?” “Yeah.” He nodded his head. “I-I know I’m not very good at it, but I’m the only one who’s okay with singing in front of a crowd.” “And why’s that?” I asked as our eyes met. “Because people already make fun of me anyway.” He shrugged. “So what’s one more thing?” “You’re a brave kid, you know that?” I asked with a smile. “That’s not the way they see it.” He muttered more to himself than me. “Well it’s the way I see it.” I encouraged. “Just because they pick on you, well it doesn’t mean anything. I used to get picked on all the time.” “Did it ever stop?” He asked, starting to finally let me in. “Not until I got famous.” I began, trying my hardest to be honest with him. “But things did get better when I found some friends. All you need is two or three good ones and you’re set.” He nodded his head but grew quiet for a little bit. “Do you think I’m an animal?” He finally let out. “Not at all.” I quickly answered. “I think that you need to work on your anger and self-control, but we all need to work on things.” “You’re just saying that to make me feel better.” He grumbled, slowly beginning to beat himself up. “No, I’m not.” I reached over and gently forced his head back up. “Look at me, I’m here because I need to work on stuff. Me and Teddy wound up dating because he wanted to work on things.” “What kind of things?” Oliver quickly asked. “He didn’t want to care about popularity anymore. He wanted to learn to be his own person.” I shrugged. “And when he got there, that’s when I wanted to marry him.” “So he wasn’t lying.” Oli exhaled as surprise entered his face. “No.” I laughed. “You can trust Teddy, he won’t lie to you.” “That’s what you think.” Oliver mumbled, but as if on cue the garage door swung open and Teddy stepped inside. “You better not have been playing that.” He warned pointing at the guitar in my hands. “Because I’ll cut the strings right now.” “It’s good to see you too.” I smiled as our eyes met. “Why are you home so early?” “It’s already three.” He shrugged. “I was in surgery all afternoon so they let me off a couple hours early. How was school Oli?” Oliver gently nudged me with his foot to explain what had happened but I stayed quiet, knowing he should be the one to tell the story. “I got in a fight.” He finally let out as Teddy walked over and sat next to me. “Oh.” Teddy exhaled. “Tommy Anderson again?” “Yeah.” Oliver slowly nodded. “He called me names so I just, I lost my temper.” “He didn’t just call you names.” I corrected drawing a light kick from him. “Ryder!” He quietly forced out. “Was he making fun of Mark too?” Teddy asked, not quite understanding what I meant. “No.” Oli sighed as his face began to turn red. “You.” “Oh.” Teddy let out not quite sure what to say. “Well, um, thank you Oli. You don’t look marked up at all, so it couldn’t’ve been that bad.” “I broke his nose and gave him a concussion.” Oli forced out once more. “Jesus Christ!” Teddy exclaimed before settling back down. “Sorry, sorry, just, how long are you suspended?” “For the rest of the week.” He confessed. “But Tommy got three days too.” “Well he’ll be out for much longer.” Teddy shook his head. “What’d mom say?” “She wasn’t mad.” He began. “She’s worried but glad I stood up for myself, especially because my teacher wasn’t doing his job. Dad wants to send me to military school.” “Our dad?” Teddy repeated in shock as Oliver nodded his head. “Well he’s going to have to come up with something else because that’s not happening.” “You don’t have to lie.” Oliver forced out. “I know you probably want me to go too.” “Where the hell did you get that?” He asked but got no response. “You’re one of the few reasons I still live here. You drive me crazy and don’t give me privacy but I want you around. After all wh-who was the only one who tried to stop me from leaving a few weeks ago?” Silence filled the air as Oliver refused to speak. “Me.” He finally let out after a minute. “That’s right.” Teddy nodded. “So for as much as we fight, well I still love you kid. I need you to know that.” “That’s disgusting.” Oliver blushed, but it was obvious he felt the same way. “Just do me a favor and stop fighting.” He request lightly grabbing his brother’s arm. “I don’t want you getting into trouble anymore.” “I’ll try.” He nodded once more. “I, mom wants to get me a therapist.” He suddenly let out. “Oh.” Teddy exhaled trying to adjust to the sudden change in conversation. “And what do you think of that?” “I want you to pick the therapist out.” He forced out. “If you think I need one.” Teddy fought off a smile as he heard those words. “I’ll fine you a good one, and I think we could all use a therapist.” A calming silence filled the air as Oliver finally began to find peace in the moment. As a few minutes passed I leaned forward into Oliver’s ear. “Get your brother to try your drums.” I whispered, realizing what a great chance it would be to build their relationship. “No!” Oliver yelped in a giggle. “He’d never try it!” “I bet he would.” I let out with raised eyebrows. “Try what?” Teddy cautiously exhaled. “My drums.” Oliver replied getting up and grabbing drum sticks. “Oliver’s right, I’ll never try that.” Teddy laughed but took the drum sticks anyway. “You know you want to try.” I tempted. “Yeah.” Oliver piped in. “Aren’t you supposed to try new things?” “I, uh, yeah.” He surrendered realizing he had to set an example for his brother. He reluctantly stood up and took a seat behind the drums. “Okay, how do I do this?” He asked looking at the two of us. Oliver waited for me to answer but I shrugged and grew silent wanting this to be a moment between them. “Start with the snare,” Oliver began, walking around him and starting to show him the way. It took a couple minutes but the two finally got used to their roles as teacher and student. Oliver wasn’t exactly the best at explaining and Teddy wasn’t all that great at listening, but still, I could tell it meant a lot to the both of them. I could tell it was a moment they needed. When Teddy had finally had enough and rejoined me on the couch I motioned for Oliver to keep practicing. Step one of helping him is going to be burning up all that energy he has. If we can all get him to use it productively, well I guarantee those fights will calm down. ************************************************************************************* “Uh, Teddy and Ryder.” Mrs. Haner called out as she walked down the stairs. “I think you’re needed upstairs.” I shot Teddy a cautious look as we both stood up and made our ways upstairs. “Keep practicing.” I shouted to Oliver as I noticed him starting to slow down. “You need to learn Panic Attack remember?” “Yeah, yeah,” He mumbled, going right back to work. As I walked up the rest of the stairs I could hear Teddy at the front door. “No, yeah, um, I just need you to leave the beer in your car.” “Um, okay.” Another male voice guardedly replied but as I turned the corner the figure was already heading back to their car. “Friend from work?” I curiously asked as Teddy walked over to the couch and motioned for me to join him. “Something like that.” He forced out as the figure reappeared in the doorway. I couldn’t believe my eyes as the man took a step in and froze. His once long blonde hair was now clean cut and styled. Out of everyone I’ve seen from the past he has changed the most. It looked as though that punk kid I knew had been traded in for a business man. “Teddy,” Blake sighed in a gulp. “Uh, um, uh.” “Hi Blake.” I forced out standing up as he slowly walked towards us. “Hey Ryder.” He replied gently shaking my hand. “So this is why I needed to ditch the beer?” “No.” I shook my head. “You can go get it. It’s fine.” “No he can’t.” Teddy strictly let out. “You can’t be around it, don’t be stupid.” I let out a groan but didn’t say anything, knowing he was right. “So,” Blake forced out looking at the two of us. “How long have you guys been hanging out again?” “We’re actually dating.” Teddy explained in a nod. “And he lives here.” Shock doesn’t even begin to describe the look on Blake’s face. “Like in this house?” “Yeah.” Teddy nodded. “He needed a place to stay “Oh.” Blake exhaled trying his hardest to make sense of it. “When I said I’d support you no matter what you chose, I-I didn’t expect this.” I discreetly moved closer to Teddy as I saw him starting to grow anxious. “Do you still support it?” He forced out. “Of course.” Blake quickly nodded. “It’s not my life to live.” The looks may have changed but the man inside hasn’t. “Oh.” I let out breaking up the awkward silence that had started to fill the room. “Teddy told me Liz is pregnant, so, congratulations.” “Thank you.” He nodded again. “So how’s life on your end?” The second the words left his tongue I could tell he regretted asking it. “Could be better.” I shrugged. “But it’s getting there.” Silence filled the air once more as I thought it all over. “I-I’m sorry about everything that happened.” “It’s okay.” Blake accepted, unsure what else to say. “Blake.” Teddy forced a laugh, trying to break up the tension. “Relax, it’s just Ryder.” “I know.” Blake defended looking back at Teddy. “Do you? Because it looks like you saw a ghost.” Teddy teased. “And I can’t tell if it’s because you’re surprised to see him or because he’s famous.” “I-I don’t get star struck.” He let out but I could tell he was lying. “It’s cool man.” I began, trying my hardest to help. “You’ve known me since we were in high school, just relax.” “I am relaxed.” He insisted finally taking a seat. “He doesn’t seem relaxed.” Teddy instigated look back to me. “Don’t even start with this!” Blake yelped, knowing what was coming. “Oh, he’s totally not relaxed.” I continued feeling Teddy playfully elbow me. “Just take a deep breath and relax.” Teddy teased as we pushed Blake’s buttons. “Yeah, I mean we’re in our thirties now.” I shrugged. “There’s no reason to be worried when we hang out. Just sit back, put your feet up and relax.” “You guys seriously still do this?” Blake frustratedly sighed. “No one finds it funny.” “Do what?” Teddy asked trying his hardest to play stupid. “Literally nothing has changed.” He exhaled with a roll of his eyes. “You’re both just bigger and stupider.” “Blake!” Oliver shouted as the basement door flew open. “Oliver!” Blake repeated matching his volume. “Jokes on you two, now I have back up.” “The kid who exclusively dresses in Messiah shirts is going to side against Ryder?” Teddy asked staring Blake down. “Yes, because I’ve been giving him cool metal gear since he was born.” Blake reminded Oli. “So if he doesn’t side with me he’s dead.” “Yeah, yeah.” Oli let out looking from Ryder to Blake. “Wait, do you guys know each other well?” “Oliver.” Teddy laughed in disbelief. “How many times do I have to tell you I dated Ryder in High School? All my friends from then know him.” “Well Blake never really spoke about him.” Oli muttered to himself. “Wait a minute.” Blake sat up. “You’re making it sound like I just knew him! I was the one to bring him into our friend group! I set him and your brother up!” “I don’t know, back then you were reluctant to call him your friend.” Teddy shrugged, pushing his buttons more. “Was not!” Blake defended in a loud voice. “You probably were.” I teased, noticing it was all helping Blake to ease up. “Probably didn’t know how to relax back then either.” “I hate these two so much.” Blake shook his head as he looked over to Oliver. “Back when me and Liz were in High School we would make sure to plan it so they weren’t together with us for too long.” “Why?” Oliver asked tilting his head slightly. “Because once one of them gets going the other joins in.” He sighed. “And then they’re both pushing as many buttons as possible. Just, good luck living with them.” Oli nodded his head then carefully observed us both. “Don’t turn him against us.” I laughed. “Oliver’s like my favorite Haner.” “Are you trying to sleep on the couch tonight?” Teddy warned as the bolt of energy Blake had warned Oliver about started to grow stronger. “You’re scared to leave me alone for five minutes when you’re home.” I couldn’t help but tease. “There’s no way you make me sleep on the couch.” “You just wait and see.” He shrugged, but I knew he was bluffing. Blake let out a deep sigh and stood up. “Alright, I need to go wrap my head around this. We can hang out again later this week.” “Maybe when we grab pizza with Mike?” Teddy asked, confusing Blake even more. “Mike? Mike Shaw?” He asked slowly backing up towards the door. “Yup.” Teddy nodded. “He was Ryder’s guard in the hospital.” “Alright but if I come everyone is explaining everything.” Blake warned relieved to be on his way out. “Deal.” Teddy smiled as Blake pushed open the front door. “It was good seeing you again Ryder.” Blake forced a smile. “Good seeing you too.” I repeated as he shut the door behind him. “I don’t even get a goodbye?” Oli asked throwing his hands up. “He was being so weird.” I hate to admit it, but Blake was acting weird. Then again I bet I wasn’t acting all that normal either. Its weird seeing pieces of your past like this. But maybe with time things will get back to normal again. Maybe we can get back to where we were. As night finally rolled around Teddy’s threat fell through and I found myself right back in bed with him. I couldn’t help but groan as he laid into me. The second we started to get ready for bed my mind just seemed to collapse on itself. Maybe it was all the energy I used today, but I can feel myself losing the plot again. I was so close to feeling good too, so close to being back to something that resembles normal. As the waves of anxiety started to batter my mind I felt tremors begin to take over from the alcohol withdrawal. All my drug withdrawals have run their course but alcohol isn’t like pills or other substances. Alcohol can take weeks to run its course. “It’s okay.” Teddy quietly whispered. “I’m with you.” “Can, can I, do you mind,” I bashfully stuttered, trying my hardest to swallow my pride. “I’ll hold you.” He nodded his head and rolled onto his back, not even needing to hear the statement. The second I could I placed my head on his chest and let him hold me. “I love you so much.” He comforted seeing the pain my mind was starting to jump into. “Therapy tomorrow will help.” “Yeah.” I groaned, burying my head into him as far as I could. “I love you too.” He laid a kiss on the top of my head before letting his head fall back onto the pillow. Just like the night before I couldn’t fall asleep. My mind entered vicious cycles of self-doubt and hatred. I mean, what the fuck am I doing here? The Haners don’t need this. They don’t need me moving in and weighing them down. Teddy doesn’t need this. I’ve fucked him up enough for one lifetime. Am I really going to waltz right back in and do it again? 1. Sick of Me- Beartooth (Aggressive, 2016) 2. People Live Here- Rise Against (The Black Market, 2014)
  8. 56 points
    CJ moved to Washington at the height of the Miami HEAT’s domination of the National Basketball Association. At the time, in an effort to help ease their son’s transition to a new city, his fathers subscribed to NBA TV so he could continue watching the out-of-town team’s games. Over the subsequent three years, his interest in the Miami franchise waned somewhat but Ritchie’s arrival convinced the men it was a good idea to continue the service. They thought if it had helped the older teen acclimate, it might do the same for his younger brother. CJ agreed when they discussed it with him. “You’re not gonna believe where we get to sit, Fadi.” Ritchie occupied the last row of César’s Escalade with the classmate they had just picked up. “It’s gonna be fucking sick, dude!” “Ritchie! Language!” César turned around and stared at the two fourteen-year-olds while next to him Brett tried not to laugh. “You know you can’t use that kind of language once we’re in the arena.” CJ kept glancing in the rearview mirror and shook his head. He remembered receiving the same admonition the first time the fathers took him to a game. When the current year’s schedule for the hometown Washington Wizards was released, César arranged for tickets to both games against the HEAT. For this mid-November Saturday night, they had access to a luxury suite owned by one of his clients. “So you think the HEAT’s going to win tonight, Ritchie?” Owen turned in the passenger seat as CJ slipped the large SUV into a parking spot. “Hell yeah!” Ritchie slapped a hand over his mouth. “Oops, sorry, Mr. A. Heck yeah, Ozzie!” Brett could not hold back any longer and started chuckling. He looked at his husband who rolled his eyes and pushed the retired marine to exit the vehicle. The two men waited until the car was locked then walked side by side with their older son and his boyfriend flanking them. Ritchie and his classmate took the lead towards the entrance. “How come you call your dads Mr. A. and Captain?” Fadi had met Ritchie’s family before but this would be his first time spending the night at the Georgetown townhouse. CJ was interested in hearing his brother’s answer and raised a finger to his lips. “I don’t know. It’s what I’ve always called them. Even when I was living with my mom and dad. Before they died and I moved up to Washington.” A smile crept upon CJ’s face. Ritchie referred to César and Brett as the dads, but had mentioned he did not feel right calling either one dad or anything like it. The boy still missed his parents and in all likelihood would for the rest of his life. The two older men told CJ not to push, but if the kid ever asked about adoption to let him know it was his choice. “Hey, Ritchie.” CJ took a couple of quick steps and wiggled his way between his brother and his friend. “I’m not so sure about the HEAT winning, bro. They’re not the same team they used to be. You better start praying to Nike for a victory.” “Why would I pray to a pair of sneakers? They all don’t wear the same brand.” “No, you dork. Not the sneakers. Your brother’s prolly talking about the Greek goddess of victory.” Fadi moved around CJ and elbowed Ritchie while berating him. “Greek mythology, doofus. Greek mythology.” As soon as they reached their destination, CJ looked around the room until he spotted the head of the company that owned the suite. Taking Owen by the hand, he steered his boyfriend towards the man, asking Ritchie and Fadi to follow him. He thanked their host profusely and introduced him to his companions before directing them towards the buffet table and the bar. He ordered three beers and three sodas, and told the kids to help themselves to the food while he and Owen took beers to the dads. “Excuse me, sir. Are you CJ Abelló?” “Hi, yes I am.” It was close to the end of the second quarter and the question surprised CJ. “Hi. My boss asked me to come over and talk to you. He has the suite next to this one.” The man pointed to the right. “Two of our guests would like you to visit with them at half time.” “Ummm, okay. Do I know these people?” “One of the ladies said the two of you met at some convention this summer. She asked me to tell you she’ll think about retiring as soon as you’re old enough to run for her job.” “Shit!” CJ slapped a hand over his mouth and took a furtive glance around to see who might have heard him. Ritchie had an evil grin on his face. “Please, tell Eleanor I’ll be over in a few minutes.” CJ slumped in his seat and looked at his fathers who stared at him, smiling. He shook his head and glanced down at his attire. He had not shaved since the day before the election. He wore motorcycle boots, faded Levi’s 501s, a ratty, old HEAT t-shirt, and his leather jacket. Atop his head, he had a Wizards knit cap. “What? Your outfit not good enough for meeting your fans?” Brett’s comment and eyebrow wiggling earned him a discreet one-finger salute from his son. “Not funny, Papa. That little joke about me taking her job when I’m old enough means it’s Eleanor Holmes Norton. She told it over and over in Philadelphia.” CJ looked at Ritchie who seemed to be enjoying his brother’s discomfort. “And before you ask, bro, she’s the Congresswoman for the District of Columbia. I look like crap.” “You look fine, CJ. You’re a freshman in college. You’re dressed the way most kids your age do.” César stole a glance behind CJ towards the other suite. “Not to make you even more nervous, but the other woman the guy mentioned is another Congresswoman. One from Miami.” “Ileana?” A nod and a smile answered CJ’s question. “Oh, heck. Dad will tell you who she is, Ritchie. Come on, Ozzie. If I have to do this, you’re going with me.” Owen failed to hide his smile and CJ glared at him. After the election, CJ swore he was staying away from politics until he graduated from college. He wanted to enjoy the next four years, concentrate on his studies, and everything Georgetown University offered. It was clear now he would not be able to fade away; he was at a sporting event and two members of Congress wanted to talk to him. “Ms. Norton, it’s great to see you again.” CJ and Owen slipped into the suite, acknowledging those who questioned their appearance with inquiring expressions by smiling and nodding. He otherwise ignored everyone and approached the two women sitting at the front row talking. “CJ! You look different with all that facial hair. It’s good to see you too, my friend. Have you met Ileana?” “Ummm, no, I haven’t. But I know who she is.” CJ reclaimed his hand from the Washington politician and offered it to the one from Florida. “Congresswoman, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My grandparents think the world of you.” Ros-Lehtinen chuckled while shaking CJ’s hand. “Grandparents? Are you trying to make me feel old, young man? Couldn’t you at least have said it was your parents who like me?” CJ stared at his boots for a moment. “Sorry. My parents live here in Washington so they don’t get to vote for you. My grandparents are all still in Miami. But if it’ll make you feel better”―CJ flashed her a sly smile―“I would have voted for you.” “Gentlemen, do you have time to sit and visit with us for a little bit?” Representative Norton waved a hand towards two empty chairs. “I’m sorry, I’m being rude. Ozzie, this is Eleanor Holmes Norton. She’s the District’s representative in Congress. And this is Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She’s one of the representatives from South Florida.” He looked up at Owen while sliding one of the empty chairs towards the two women. “This is my boyfriend, Owen Liston.” The women asked Owen about his accent, the reason for his presence in the United States, and the circumstances under which the couple met. The conversation veered towards the recent presidential election and Congresswoman Norton asked for his impressions on the process and his boyfriend’s involvement. “I’m sure you two are wondering why we wanted to speak to you.” Ros-Lehtinen’s pleasant expression turned somewhat serious. “Eleanor noticed CJ when he leaned over the edge and I recognized his name since I’d talked about him with Marco Rubio before.” “I hope Senator Rubio was kind. I may have been a bit rough on him when I told him I wouldn’t support his candidacy.” CJ gave the Congresswoman an apologetic smile. The woman’s laughter attracted looks from most of the suite's occupants. “You’re being modest. He and I were at a Florida Caucus function soon after his announcement. He mentioned a young man who’d interned at his office one summer but had trashed him when Marco asked for his support.” CJ wanted to crawl into a corner and hide. César had warned him to go easy on Rubio while Brett encouraged him to rip the Senator a new one. He was learning a lesson about how politicians remembered people and their comments. “I… I’m not sure what to say.” “You don’t have to say anything, CJ. Marco was complementary when he spoke about you. He said you were polite but made your point of view clear.” Ros-Lehtinen shifted her gaze towards Owen. “You see, Ozzie―I hope it’s okay to use the nickname―most of us accept we can’t entice everyone we represent to support us. However, we can recognize when someone has exceptional abilities. Regardless of party affiliation. Eleanor and I belong to different parties. But we work together and we’re friends.” She stopped for a moment and her smile grew. “Except when the HEAT play the Wizards or the Dolphins play the Redskins. Then we’re mortal enemies. Now, CJ may be a Democrat―” “Actually, ma’am, I’m not. I’m registered as an independent.” Both women looked surprised at the revelation but while the Miami Republican nodded her approval, the Washington Democrat had a concerned expression. “When did this happen? You were a Democrat when we met. It’s the only way you could have been a delegate for Secretary Clinton.” “I changed it after I returned from Philadelphia.” “And may I ask what led you to that decision?” “Ummm, there wasn’t one particular reason. You have to realize my grandparents and one of my fathers are life-long Republicans. My other dad has no party affiliation. But he’s an accountant, quite conservative when it comes to fiscal matters, and his views influence mine. Anyway, you can blame some of it on Bernie Sanders’ supporters. Their opposition to anything having to do with the military annoyed me to no end. “One of my dads’ a marine and I took it personally. Don’t get me wrong, I support their right to express their opinion, but I don’t want to be associated with them. And I don’t believe government’s the answer to all our problems. Once basic rights and protections are in place, I believe power should reside as close to the people as possible. I’ve learned both the right and the left see everything from their own point of view without realizing or believing there could be another. I want to be part of that other group.” Ros-Lehtinen threw her head back and laughed. “You sound like a Republican! Or at least a Libertarian. Listen, I’m going to give you my card. I want you to call my chief of staff next week. I’d like you to join me for lunch sometime soon. I’d be honored if you indulged me so I can try and convince you to accept an internship in my office.” • • • Ritchie was ecstatic with the game’s outcome. Miami trailed after the first quarter but went into the locker room at the end of the second with a one-point lead they did not relinquish during the last half of the game. His cheering and bragging earned him benign smiles from several of the suite’s occupants. Back home, he and Fadi made a beeline for the basement and parked themselves in front of the large screen, game controllers in hand. “Fadi seems like a nice kid. He was a little quiet tonight, but I was surprised how well he dealt with being surrounded by all the adults.” Owen was already in bed when CJ warned the two kids to keep the noise down as he closed the bedroom’s door. “He was quiet because my brother wouldn’t shut up the entire game! I think Fadi’s used to being around grownups. What with his mom being part of the diplomatic staff at the Indian embassy and all.” CJ took off his boots and jacket as soon as they arrived home and now left a trail of clothing on the floor as he walked towards the bathroom. “I talked to him a bit during the game. He sounds smart as hell.” “Yeah, Ritchie told me Fadi’s a computer genius. The two of them met in the school’s science club.” CJ flushed the toilet and turned off the light before crawling into bed. Owen turned on his side and stared at CJ. “So, what are you going to do about Ileana’s offer?” “Offers… I’m going to call her office and go to lunch with her. But I’ll turn down the internship if she offers it for real.” “That’s a surprise. I’d thought you’d jump at the chance to go back to the Capitol.” “Nah, and I have a standing offer to become a Senate page anyway. I could have gone back already if I wanted to.” “Then why haven’t you and why aren’t you?” “Dude, you know what the last year’s been like. The Clinton campaign kept me too fucking busy. And as far as the future goes, I already told you I’m stepping back from politics.” “Yeah, right. I’ve heard that song before. I’ll believe it when I see it.” “No, I’m serious. I need a break.” CJ was quiet for a moment, trying to put his thoughts and feeling into words. “Look, Ozzie, I’m only eighteen and―” “Nineteen in a month…” “Big fucking difference! I wanna be a student. I want to enjoy college. And I need to study. All those classes I’ve missed are coming back to haunt me. My grades are going to suck this semester. Physics is kicking my ass. Ritchie definitely got the science gene in the family.” “How bad do you think it’s going to be?” “I’ll be happy if I get a C in Physics. I expect a B in German and Theology and an A in my other two classes.” “That doesn’t sound so bad.” “Maybe not, but it’s going to get tougher in the future. I’m taking all introductory courses right now and I already have more work to do than I ever did at Walls. Advanced courses ain’t gonna to get any easier.” “So, what’s your plan then? Move into the library or lock yourself in here to study all the time?” “Fuck no! I want to spend time with you. I want to keep going on motorcycle rides every weekend we can. I want to hang out on campus some more and meet more people…” “You wanna be an average college student? HA! Good luck with that, mate. You’re anything but ordinary.” • • • “Rachel! It’s so good to see you.” CJ kissed Rachel Stout on the cheek and gave her a hug. “Hey, I’d like to make an appointment and come talk to you. But it’s something personal so you need to bill me and not the dads or the foundation.” The attorney who handled most of the day-to-day legal matters for Brett’s business and the family foundation gave CJ a questioning look. “You’re not in trouble, are you?” “Nah… How much do you know about immigration law?” The woman did not get a chance to reply; Sebastián Abelló pushed his grandson out of the way and greeted Rachel by giving her a hug. “He’s on to something, you know? Rosario and I only get to see you once a year. You and your girlfriend should come visit us in South Florida sometime.” CJ’s grandparents arrived the weekend before Thanksgiving, settled into the open room on the second floor, and planned on their now usual ten-day stay. Accommodating CJ’s schedule, César reserved a private room at Forbes Grill for a very late lunch. The CBC Foundation conducted most business through mail―traditional and electronic―but the two fathers insisted on an annual physical gathering. While his grandfather talked to the attorney, CJ sat at the table next to Martha Edwards―the principal at School Without Walls High School. “I never had the chance to thank you for inviting me to speak at Walls at the beginning of the semester, Mrs. Edwards.” “I wish you’d call me Martha, CJ. You’re not a student anymore. And I hope you’ll come back and do it again next year. After all, you were the catalyst for our anti-bullying assemblies. I’m not sure we could have pulled it off without your help. Bringing Ben Cohen and Hudson Taylor into the picture gave us an edge over other area institutions. We had quite a few administrators from other high school there this year.” “It was great to go back. You know I loved my time at Walls. Listen, I wanted to talk to you about Thiago…” Brett was the last one to arrive. “Sorry I’m late. Damn banker wouldn’t shut up and my meeting ran late. I’m starving. Can we order some food?” “Come here, Brett. You get to sit next to me.” Owen smiled at his fellow surfer and patted the chair cushion adjacent to him. Knowing his grandmother was home cooking up a storm, CJ ordered a salad for his meal. Anticipating a home-cooked Cuban meal, he did not want to fill up too much. César ordered the same thing while Brett and Owen both asked for a steak. There was not much to discuss, but by meal’s end the foundation’s board of directors agreed to continue funding a college scholarship at Walls and start a new one at Sidwell Friends School. CJ thought his brother would be pleased even if the kid did not pay much attention to the family’s wealth. Since Martha Edwards was the chair of the scholarship committee, appointments to it were within her purview; the board approved a motion recommending she add Thiago Baravento to her group. CJ’s motion to invite the first recipient of the Walls scholarship to become a member was received with enthusiasm and passed without objection. He promised to talk to his friend over the weekend. • • • CJ sat at the kitchen counter with Owen and his grandfather while Rico stood staring at the refrigerator, reading over invitations attached to it with miniature, vegetable-shaped magnets. “I see CJ may claim he’s going to step away from politicians but the politicians are still after him.” “What are you looking at?” César glanced at his older brother from behind the bar where he was mixing martinis. “The one from the White House.” CJ tipped the beer he was sipping to his lips. His aunt and uncle had landed in Washington earlier in the day and they were all waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. Rod had gone to the airport to pick up his twin brother, Randy, Randy’s husband, Tyler, and their foster son, Silas. “That ain’t there because of me, Uncle Rico. Ritchie’s the one with the connections to the President.” “Dude, don’t even try that shit.” Brett grabbed the jar of blue cheese stuffed olives from his brother-in-law and took it over to César. “Ritchie may have been the one with the initial connection, but you’re the one Obama talks to most. I still can’t believe we’ve met him and his wife. And it was our kids who introduced us to them.” “You should be used to it.” Owen accepted the martini glass Brett handed him. “I’ve lost count of all the people I’ve met because of CJ. He’s like a celebrity magnet.” “Okay, that’s it. If y’all are just gonna talk about me, I’m going downstairs to play pool with my brother. Anyway, the invitation isn’t just for me. We got five of them. Ritchie, the dads, and Ozzie also got one.” Rosario and Lynne Abelló were sitting on the couch facing the floor to ceiling windows at the front of the house, staring at the street. “CJ, could I get a little more wine, please?” Rosario held her empty glass up, looking at her grandson over the back of the sofa. “Bring the bottle over, CJ.” Lynne smiled at her nephew. “Is this one of your family’s, Owen? It’s delicious.” “Sorry to disappoint you, Lynne. That’s a Malbec from Argentina. Chipper’s mom sent CJ a case as a graduation present. My boyfriend’s been hoarding them. I’m surprised he broke into his stash. He must like you a lot.” “Asshole!” CJ slapped the back of Owen’s head while carrying the bottle over to the front of the room. “Are you going to get drunk, Abuela? ’Cause if you are I want to take videos. I can’t believe Abuelo didn’t take pictures of you when you called me from the cruise ship on graduation day. You sounded pretty sloshed then.” “Don’t pick on your grandmother, CJ.” Lynne took the bottle from her nephew and poured. “Just for that, we’ll keep the bottle. You can open another one if anybody else wants some. I miss your friend Chipper singing for us like he has in the past. Is he coming over tomorrow? Who’s going to be here anyway?” “Nope, since he’s at school in Miami, he’s spending the weekend in Tampa with his father. I don’t think we’ll see Chipper until next year since Ozzie, Ritchie, and I will be out of town over Christmas. Matt and Dash are going to New York so they won’t be here either. The next-door guys will be though. And I invited one of my classmates to join us.” “Is he a freshman like you?” “Not he, she. Gina’s a sophomore. She’s from Alaska and from what she’s told us, money’s tight in her family. She can’t afford to fly home this weekend so I invited her to join us. Nice girl, you’ll like her.” The blaring car horn announced the return of Rod, Taisha, and the remainder of the Chicago branch of the Abelló family. CJ shouted down the stairs for Ritchie to come up and headed out the back door to greet his cousins. “Damn, you look like crap. When was the last time you shaved?” Randy’s first words―before he even stepped out of his brother’s car―made CJ shake his head and roll his eyes. “Shut the fuck up, Randy. Don’t start with me. Didn’t you get the memo? Ty and Silas were invited. You weren’t.” “I swear, the two of you turn into ten-year-olds whenever you’re together.” César had followed his son outside, and reached through the open rear gate for a piece of luggage. “You can go back inside, Mr. A. I’ll help Silas since he’s sharing a room with me.” Ritchie darted around the older man and jogged the few steps towards the kid who was to be his roommate for the next few days. CJ’s brother had once again relinquished his room to Rico and Lynne and taken over one of the available ones in the basement. “Hi, Silas. It’s good to meet you in person, man.” Ritchie bumped fists with the lanky, black teenager. “How much luggage do you have? I’ll help you take it in.” “Thanks, Ritchie. I got just one. Hey, are you sure you don’t mind sharing with me? Rod said he has an empty bedroom in his apartment if I wanted my own room.” “Yeah, right. He’d need like a week to empty all the junk he has in that room. I’ve been there. And anyway, we wouldn’t want to stay there when all the food and fun stuff is at this house. Come on, we’ll get you set up and then we can play some pool.” CJ watched the kids head inside while hugging Tyler and Randy. “He seems a lot more relaxed, cuz. How’s he doing?” “Much better. The nightmares aren’t as frequent. But he crawls in bed with us now and then. Your time with him when we were here in the summer helped. He’s still going to therapy and the counselor said he keeps talking about you. About how both of you were thrown out of your houses for being gay. And how both of you ended up finding better parents. Scares the crap out of me he thinks of me and Ty as his parents.” • • • “Who’s truck?” Tyler pointed at the black Ram 3500 parked by the garage while placing his other hand against the wall and trying to catch his breath. “Dude, you’re sucking air like a vacuum cleaner! That little sprint back from the gym took it out of you?” CJ was also winded but doing better than his cousin. The two men woke up before anyone else in the house and headed to the gym. After lifting weights for about an hour, CJ challenged Tyler to a race back home. Navigating around the hills and staircases on campus, they jostled each other good-naturedly and arrived at the house at the same time. “Fuck you, cuz. I’m not used to the hills. And those damn stairs are a motherfucker. So who’s here?” “Oh, that’s Leo’s truck. Come on, I have frozen mango slices in the fridge. I’ll make us a couple of smoothies.” “I hope you have protein powder.” Inside they found a very crowded room; every stool at the breakfast bar filled, the overflow had settled around the dining table. César and Lynne were in the kitchen fixing breakfast. “CJ!” Leo Dallas’ deep foghorn cut through the din of conversation and made everyone turn towards the back door. “Haven’t seen you in a while, buddy.” “Hey, Leo. Been busy, man.” CJ shook hands with the retired marine―owner of Leatherneck Construction―who had become the go-to man for Brett’s projects. “I’ll be around more from now on.” CJ sneaked into the kitchen over his aunt’s objections who claimed it was off-limits, and used the blender to prepare the promised protein drinks. He handed one to Tyler, suggesting the two of them go shower so they would be ready when everyone else headed out. The Tacoma neighborhood project was near completion. Closings on the condominium units were taking place every week and the remaining work consisted of minor details and moving in kitchen appliances and fixtures. The family squeezed into the available vehicles and en masse headed to the construction site to check the unit Rod and Taisha planned to move into by the end of the year. Because of who they were, the couple had options others did not. They planned to select paint color and window treatments today. • • • Ethan was at his parents’ house in Long Island for the holiday weekend. Chipper was in Tampa with his father and sister. Brad was still in Georgia, having applied for and been accepted into a particular training program. Harley stopped by on Wednesday after flying in from Orlando, but spent the entire day on Thursday with his family. The Squad members in town came by on Friday afternoon to watch football and hang out. Ritchie was by now used to being the mascot for his brother’s friends but the experience of being surrounded by a group of older men caused Silas to become shy again. After taking a break to walk Wingnut with Ritchie, the two boys returned giggling and CJ was certain his brother had broken into his Harley-Davidson coffee can. He decided to ignore the matter for the time being. He told the boys in a quiet voice to go use eye drops and glared at Ritchie, letting him know they would be talking soon. After discussing it with Owen, he decided to skip the lecture until another day and instead locked the stash in a desk drawer. Ritchie had a little wild streak in him and CJ planned to keep a closer eye on his brother. No need to bring the dads into it. “Spread your legs, Ozzie.” CJ rolled his eyes at the catcalls. “You guys are disgusting. We have ladies present and all you think about is sexual innuendos? All I meant was I planned on sitting on the floor between his feet.” “Don’t worry about it, CJ.” Taisha sat on the couch’s arm next to her fiancé, Rod. “Nadine and I know all you men are disgusting pigs at heart.” Nadine―Thiago’s girlfriend―nodded vigorously. “Yeah, and anyway, we’re leaving in a few. I have to run to my place to get something and Taisha’s driving me over. By the way, you and Owen need to do something about this basement. Smells like a locker room in here.” “And how is it you know what a locker room smells like, Nadine? You been trollin’?” “Watch it, homes.” Thiago was without a doubt fighting the need to laugh. “You go picking on my girl I may have to hurt you.” “Yeah? You and what army?” “I don’t need no one else. I’ll take you down so quick―” “Oh, shut the heck up, both of you.” Taisha gave Rod a quick peck on the lips and stood. “Come on, Nadine. Let’s get out of this place. Too much testosterone in the air. Next thing you know, they’re gonna start comparing penis size. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by laughing.” “Ohhh, burn!” Ritchie bumped fists with Silas who was on the floor next to him with Wingnut in between them. “Watch it, bro. I think she was talking about you.” CJ glared at his brother while at the same time giving him a small wink. “You’re already on thin ice. Your little worm could end up embarrassing you.” “Asshole!” • • • “Did you find out what Danno and Tank were talking about?” CJ slipped into bed next to Owen after closing the door to their bedroom. His grandmother insisted she could cook but César overruled Rosario and the group ended up at Rogo’s for dinner. At one point, they watched Danno―the restaurant’s owner―drape an arm around their friend and steer him towards the side door connecting to the residential space next to the bar. “Yeah, poor Tank.” Owen chuckled while fingering CJ’s chest hair. “He thought he was going to get laid. Turns out he got a job offer instead.” “Really? He’s gonna be working at Rogo’s?” “He hasn’t decided yet. Danno told him the job was his if he wants it. He also mentioned the apartment above the bar was available if he was interested.” “You think Danno wants him to be the manager? Before he added the loft next door, Danno lived there. Then it was Adriano’s after his wife died.” “I don’t know. Maybe. Tank’s going back on Monday to meet with him. Hey! What are we gonna do about Ritchie?” CJ shook his head and sighed. “My little brother’s getting the wrong idea hanging with our friends all the time. He forgets he’s fourteen and doesn’t get to do everything the older guys do.” “So, are you gonna tell the dads he broke into your stash again?” “Nah, he gets one more chance. I’ll talk to him once everyone’s gone. He has to realize if he starts smoking pot and partying, he may not get to go to school where he wants. And he has his heart set on it so it may just scare him straight.” • • • Considering the semester was close to its end and final exams were about to begin, CJ did not want to miss any more classes. He rushed home after his last one, showered, and put on a suit while the rest of the family waited for him. He finished tying his festive, Santa Claus-patterned, red bow tie while his dad drove. As guests of the first family for the 94th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, they were privileged to park on the White House grounds. First a Secret Service agent and then a Navy steward escorted them into the building, to the elevator which took them to the residential floor, and finally to a room where the President, the First Lady, their daughters, and a few other people milled about. “You can say hello to Sasha in a minute. First you have to do so with the President.” CJ clamped a hand on his brother’s shoulder and whispered in Ritchie’s ear when the kid made to walk towards his classmate. “CJ, Ritchie. Welcome back to the White House.” President Barack Obama bumped fists with the siblings before extending his hand towards the dads. “César, Brett, Owen. Welcome to the three of you too. Merry Christmas.” “Merry Christmas, Mr. President.” César shook the man’s hand. “Merry Christmas, sir. Thank you so much for inviting us.” Brett had discussed the possibility of wearing his dress blues but decided on a suit instead of his uniform. “CJ! Mi amor!” The beautiful woman dressed in white was already hugging CJ and kissing him on both cheeks. “You haven’t called me like you promised.” César shook his head while the President chuckled. “I was going to introduce you guys to Eva Longoria―she’s our host this evening. Considering your son gets hugged and kissed whereas I didn’t, CJ may be the better person to make introductions. That boy seems to make a good impression with everyone he meets. And she sure as heck didn’t call me her love.” “You have no idea what it’s like, Mr. President.” Owen was at last able to greet the man. “His name gets called out in the strangest of places.” “You didn’t tell me you knew CJ, Mr. President.” Longoria had put her arm through CJ’s and stood close to him. “I had such a delightful time with him when we met at the convention in Philadelphia.” “I’m surprised at how popular our young friend is, Eva. Maybe one day you and I will be able to tell people we rubbed elbows with him while he was still in college. You have to meet the rest of his family.” While introductions were made, CJ tried to hide his blushing by staring at the details of the room. “Stop looking at the room with so much interest, CJ. You can’t steal souvenirs.” The President’s joke earned him a slap on the arm by his wife. “Hush, Barack. You’re not allowed to pick on our guests. Look to your heart’s delight, CJ. And let me know if you see something you like and want to borrow a backpack or something.” CJ did not think his cheeks could feel any warmer. The President of the United States and the First Lady were cracking jokes at his expense. “Thank you, Mrs. Obama. But that won’t be necessary. I’m looking around because I realize this may be the last time I visit the White House. I don’t think the next occupant will welcome me here.” Michelle Obama whispered something in the President’s ear, which made him smile and nod while staring at CJ. “I think you would have been a regular visitor had Hillary won. Let’s see if I can make this occasion a little more memorable. Gentlemen, Michelle and I would like you to come back to the house after the show’s over tonight. Please join us for a light meal along with the performers and some other friends. CJ, when we return we’ll stop by the Oval Office. You’ll get to check it out and we’ll have the official photographer take pictures of all of us. You want one sitting at my desk?”
  9. 56 points
    ---Teddy--- You know that feeling of fear and excitement? That feeling before you step on a rollercoaster, or go to that big event you’ve been waiting for all week? When your mind tells you no, but the rest of your body keeps pushing anyway? Well that’s how I always used to feel dating Ryder Sullivan, and now it’s as worse as ever. I didn’t have time to visit again after surgery, the E.R. was just too crazy. Every now and then I’d run over just to pass by and see him, but other than that we didn’t have time to speak. Perhaps today is better that way. It’ll give us both time to think over what I said this morning, and know for sure if that’s what we both want. “Hey.” My mom let out as I stepped through the front door. “I know there’s a small chance of you answering me, but I need you to pick up Oli after school tomorrow.” “I was going to go into work, but I guess I can drop him off here.” I shrugged, walking past both her and Oli and opening the fridge. “He’ll have to stay home alone.” “No!” He instantly let out. My mom let out a short groan. “Aren’t Thursdays your days off? Do you really have to go in?” “I have no choice. I even brought home some stuff tonight to work on.” I shook my head. “Then take me with you.” Oli suggested, happily leaning forward. “Oliver,” I began in a serious voice. “No that’s a good idea.” My mom waived her hand. “It’s your day off so you probably won’t be called into surgery, and he needs to see how hard his older brother works.” My mom exhaled, grabbing her youngest son and forcing him to turn towards her. “You think Teddy got where he is by playing on his phone and getting in fights at school?” She asked but got no answer. “If you want to be successful you need to get your ass in gear and start taking school serious.” ‘Yeah.” Oli sighed, knowing enough to just let her yell. “Okay, but what happens if I do get called into surgery?” I asked but could tell my mom had already made up her mind. “Then text me or your father and have him wait in your office or the waiting room.” She shrugged, walking around the table and checking the oven. “Or better yet crack open his head and figure out why his brain isn’t working.” I shook my head as my eyes shifted to Oli. “What did you do?” “I didn’t do anything.” He grunted, jumping to his feet and walking over to the living room. “Come on.” I continued, as mom signaled for me to keep pressuring him. “I won’t yell at you.” “Nothing!” He insisted in a whiny voice. “It was all stupid Tommy Anderson. He couldn’t mind his own damn business. “Yeah?” I asked, knowing it didn’t take much to get him to speak. “Yeah.” He nodded his head. “He tried to take away my headphones during locker break.” “What’d you do about it?” I asked, raising my eyebrow. “I kicked his ass!” Oli proudly yelped. “Keep bragging about it and I’ll kick your ass in front of your school tomorrow!” Mom scolded, overhearing the conversation. “Good job buddy.” I whispered, reaching down and poking him a few times as he tried to push me away. “Cut him some slack.” I shrugged, getting up and walking back into the kitchen. “His stitches are still in place, and he doesn’t look like he took too many hits.” “He beat up the other kid bad Teddy.” Mom sighed finally looking up at me. “Black eye, and bloody nose, it’s like Oliver doesn’t know when to stop.” “He’s thirteen, none of them know.” I exhaled. “You should be glad he made an example out of someone. They touched his stuff so he stood up for himself. A hell of a lot better than just rolling over for them.” “I’m glad you two are bonding, but I still need you to be a positive role model.” She let out as I walked back towards him. “Sorry, I’m on his side on this.” I shrugged, lightly knocking his head as I walked towards the stairs. He tried his hardest to hide a proud smile as he turned towards me. “Can we visit Ryder Sullivan tomorrow?” Ryder! Oh shit! I can’t bring Oliver to see him, can I? “That’s why you wanted to come to the Hospital!” I shouted staring into his eyes. “You’re taking him!” Mom yelped before I could say anything else. “Fine, but he’s not visiting Ryder!” I shouted back, finally heading up the stairs again. “Deal.” She let out as he began to protest. “I haven’t even asked you about him!” Oliver shouted as I began to tune him out. “I don’t even have to talk to him! I just want to see him! I swear I’ll be good the whole time if we,” His words grew distant as I slammed my door, and turned on music. That little snake! I was so wrapped up in my own work that I forgot about his weird obsession with Ryder. No wonder mom insists he could be smart if he tried! He knows exactly how to get his way. Now only if he would use those powers for good for once! *********************************************************************************** My off days are always nice. I get to sleep in as late as I want, and I nearly have the whole house to myself. It’s just me and my dad, but on days like today when we’re not exactly seeing eye to eye we easily avoid one another. “I have to go, um, help your uncle Martin!” Dad called out as I entered the living room. I rolled my eyes knowing ‘help uncle Martin’ was code for Christmas shop. “Don’t forget to pick up Oli at three!” I nodded my head but stayed quiet. “You know I just want what’s best for you, right?” “I know.” I finally spoke, as our eyes met. “Alright.” He exhaled, not sure what else to say. “I love you.” “Love you too.” I nodded as he quickly stepped out the door. It’s not like I’m still all that mad at him, it’s just, I know what his reaction will be when he finds out I’m seeing Ryder again. I know he’ll scream and shout, and I just, I don’t want to deal with that. For now it’s just best for me to keep him an arm’s length away. To keep our distance from one another. When the clock finally turned to two-thirty I forced myself off the couch and out to my car. Pulling up to the old middle school I couldn’t help but get flashbacks to when I was a kid. It seemed like it was just yesterday, yet that was almost twenty years ago. This is where I met Mike, Blake and Liz. Where I found my family. I’ve been here to pick up Oli a fair share of times over the years, but today I guess I’m just in the right mood to reflect back. To think about all I’ve done, and all I could’ve done. “Hello!” Oli yelped, already sitting in the car. “Earth to Teddy! Earth to Teddy!” “Sorry.” I shook my head, waking up to the moment. “I was zoning out. I didn’t even notice you getting into the car.” “Well I’m here, so can we go?” He asked in an irritated voice. “Alright, don’t get your panties in a bunch.” I childishly teased but as I threw the car into drive I saw a teacher angrily stomping out of the school. “Go! Go! Go!” Oli yelped, trying his hardest to hide behind the dashboard. “Looking for Oliver Haner?” I groaned, lowering the window as the teacher approached. “Yes, yes I am!” She let out in an angry tone. “He has been, wait a minute! Teddy?” “It’s nice to see you again Mrs. W.” I smiled, looking at my old eighth grade teacher for the first time in years. “Wow! Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes! I always tell Oliver about what a good student you were.” Oli let out a sigh as he heard her words. “He’s smart enough to be as good a student as you were! Maybe even better! “That’s what my mom says.” I nodded, looking over at him seemingly shrinking in his seat. “So what’d he do that has you chasing him out of the school?” “He was bragging about beating up that boy yesterday!” She sternly explained, joining me in on staring him down. “You would have never done that! Maybe it’s about time you spoke with him.” “I can try Mrs. W.” I nodded once more. “But no promises.” “I know you will.” She smiled, but put on another strict face as she looked back to Oli. “I’ll see you back here for detention tomorrow!” “Oh, can’t I just talk to him?” I quickly asked. “Otherwise then I have to pick him up again tomorrow, and it’ll make me late in getting to the emergency room.” “Oh that’s right! You’re a big surgeon now!” She happily exclaimed. “You always were the bench mark for other students.” She grew quiet and thought it over. “I’ll make an exception for you, but this is the only time it’ll happen! Listen to your brother Oliver!” “Thank you Mrs. W.” I happily let out, before nudging my brother to do the same. “Thanks.” He muttered, not even bothering to look up at her. I couldn’t help but shake my head as I threw the car into drive. “You’re not going to tell mom are you?” He nervously asked. “No.” I shook my head. “But you need to learn how to treat people. You can’t go into detention bragging about getting into a fight, you need to act like you’re sorry.” I exhaled, hoping to god he learns his lesson before he moves onto High School. “And you need to be nice to your teachers. If they’re on your side they’ll never yell at you.” “Easy for you to say.” He grumbled. “You never did anything wrong!” I couldn’t help but snicker at his words. “Why don’t you ask Blake about how good I was?” “He’s just going to make stuff up to make you look cool.” He pouted, beginning to stare out the window. I looked over at him and let out a deep sigh. I don’t understand why he’s always such a problem. I fully understand what he did yesterday, but why’d he have to brag about it? Doesn’t he know where the line is? I watched his small hand reach over and click on the radio, desperate to fill the silence. He spent a minute or two scanning the different stations before finally deciding on the rock one. The second he heard Messiah he went to change it, but I swiped his hand away showing it was okay. I could tell he wanted to ask something, but was too scared to speak. “McDonald’s?” He asked as we pulled into the rundown old drive through. “Can I get fries?” “Nope.” I shook my head. “They only give fries to kids who stay out of detention.” “Come on.” He whined in a loud voice. “You don’t even eat this stuff!” “It’s not for me.” I grumbled. “It’s a gift you’re going to give one of my patients.” “Why?” He complained beginning to stare me down. “You’ll see.” I rolled my eyes as the disgusting grease odor reached the car. “You really want food from here?” “I haven’t eaten since noon! Who knows how long you’ll keep me at the hospital!” He continued, starting to actually make good points. “Fine. Fine.” I grumbled, caving into his wishes. “Just don’t make a mess.” Alright fine. Mom and dad might not be the only one spoiling him! But what am I supposed to do? Let him starve? Or worse, give him hospital food? “Do you know how bad that stuff is for you,” I began, giving him the normal anti-fast food lecture I give patients. They must lace that food with crack because I swear Oliver didn’t look up once the whole time I was speaking. He was too focused on enjoying every last bite of his food. ************************************************************************************* I forced the extra bag into his hands as we walked into the large building, knowing it would look better if a kid was holding McDonald’s rather than a doctor. “Dr. Haner!” A nurse let out as we walked through the E.R. “I was wondering if we were going to see you today!” “Just here to finish up some paperwork.” I shrugged, stopping at the reception desk and grabbing a folder or two. “Pretend like I’m not even here.” “But how can I do that when you brought such a cute friend.” She teased, reaching down and lightly pinching Oli’s cheeks. “Do you remember me? I’m nurse Wendy, I helped you when you broke your arm!” She asked, but only got a slight nod. “Oh! How’d you get those stitches?” “Stupidity.” I responded, knowing Oli was too shy to speak to adults. “And don’t baby him, he just came from detention.” “Oh, a bad boy.” She teased as we wandered towards the elevator. “Well he better behave himself here or we’ll stitch his mouth shut.” “Oh, thanks for the idea.” I teased as Oli quickly slammed the close door button. ‘Thanks for the idea’ He mocked in a high pitched voice. “You’re such a nerd.” “Do you want to spend the whole day in the waiting room?” I asked as he fell quiet. Is he mature enough to come to the psych ward? To see some of the things that go on up there? To see the reality of what life can be like? More importantly is he mature enough to meet who I want him to? I mean sure, he asked to, but the idea really grew on me. He’s been so torn on what everyone’s been telling him, maybe it is better that he just meets Ryder. But can he handle that? Can he take who his idol actually is? “Alright.” I began crouching down slightly. “I’m going to take you to see one of my newer patients. He’s very moody, and he might not talk at all.” I explained, trying my hardest to describe Ryder. “It’s okay if he doesn’t speak, he can still hear you. He might seem a little angry or dramatic, but that’s fine, it’s just him fighting his own head.” “This is for him?” Oli asked, trying to hand me the food. “Yup.” I quickly nodded my head, but pushed it back into his hand. “It’s for you to give him.” “Why?” He asked, as I nodded towards Mike and slowly opened the door. But the second Oli saw the figure in bed he grew quiet. I reached back and grabbed two chairs from the hall for us to sit in. “Is he okay?” Oli nervously whispered to me, not even realizing who he was talking about. I quietly nodded my head and forced the two chairs next to his bed. “Hey.” I let out taking a seat. “How are you feeling today?” “Tired.” He grumbled keeping his eyes focused on the wall behind him. “Nate said today was your off day, so you wouldn’t visit.” “Never mind what Nate said.” I rolled my eyes. “I have paperwork I need to finish so I had to come in. My younger brother brought you something.” “Oliver?” Ryder asked, no clue that he was in the room with me. “What is it?” “Turn around and take a look.” I shrugged, cracking open one of the folders. It took a few seconds for Ryder to gather the energy but when he turned around I noticed them both freeze up. Oli blinked his eyes a few times desperately trying to figure out if the moment was real or not. “W-we got this fo-for you.” Oli forced out. I watched as with a shaky hand he offered him the large brown bag. “Thank you.” Ryder nodded, slowly taking the bag from him. A few more seconds passed until finally Ryder began to look at me. “He got detention so I had to pick him up.” I shrugged, answering the unasked question. “And he’s too scared to stay home alone so it’s take your little brother to work day for me.” “Teddy!” Oli tried to reprimand in a whisper. “What?” I asked looking back at him. “Don’t get detentions if you’re embarrassed about them.” “Not that!” He mumbled, too nervous to openly talk in front of Ryder. “I’m not scared to stay home alone!” “Then why are you here and not home?” I sighed, focusing more on my paperwork than my words. “It’s okay.” Ryder forced out as he began to eat. “I don’t like staying home alone either.” “Don’t encourage him.” I groaned, looking up and staring at Ryder. “You know he almost got another detention while already in detention today? He had Mrs. W chasing him to my car.” “Mrs. W is still alive?” Ryder asked, looking over at Oli. Oliver went to speak but all he could do was nod his head. “She was only like twenty-eight when we had her.” I rolled my eyes as his attention went right back to me. “That’s old.” Ryder shrugged, forcing more food into his face. “What do you mean that’s old? We’re in our thirties!” I corrected fighting off a small smile. “And you need to slow down. I’m not cleaning up your vomit.” “I don’t vomit.” I mimicked as we both said the same thing at the same time. “I don’t.” he insisted, surprised I was able to predict his words. “And she’s old and so are we.” “We are not old, and you do too vomit.” I reprimanded looking over at Oli. “Are you going to vomit?” I asked, seeing the nervousness on his face. “Yeah, what gives?” Ryder chimed in. “You were talking to me at the store.” “This isn’t the same.” He finally let out as both our eyes fell on him. “Because we’re in a hospital?” I asked, trying to get a good read on him. “Last night you asked to come visit him.” “I know.” He nodded, turning towards me and trying to ignore Ryder. “But I didn’t think you’d do it, and no-now he knows my name.” “He always knew your name.” I shrugged, looking back at the man in the bed. “Remember I told you he’s the one who suggested it.” “I know, but now, now it’s like, it’s.” Oli searched trying his hardest to explain his feelings. “It’s like back then they were just stories. Even when I saw him at the store it didn’t feel real, but now you two are talking and, I don’t know.” A small blush formed on me and Ryder’s face as we heard his words. “It’s cool.” Ryder shrugged, thrilled just to have outside food. “If he’s nervous he’s nervous.” “But there’s no reason to be nervous.” I shook my head. “He’s not nervous when Blake or Liz come over.” “This isn’t Blake or Liz though.” Oli squeaked out. “This is Ryder Sullivan!” I let out a sigh as I realized we’d always be on different pages. He sees Ryder as a music god, while me, I just see him as Ryder. Sure he’s older, and I know what he’s accomplished, but to me he’ll always be that kid I saw in the hallways at school. “It’s fine.” Ryder tried to comfort as he saw me deep in thought. “I’ve met kids so nervous they nearly threw up on me.” “Oliver,” I began once more, trying to find the right words. “What if you don’t think of Ryder as a musician? Just think of him as one of my old friends.” I saw a smile crack Ryder’s face as he heard my words. “I can’t do that.” Oli shook his head. “I-I’ve seen too many videos of him.” “Yeah?” Ryder asked seeing the opening. “Ever get to see us live?” “No.” Oli grumbled, finally facing him again. “My stupid dad would never let me.” “Harry!” Ryder exclaimed as though he had just remembered an old friend. “How’s he doing? Is he okay? Why doesn’t he take you to concerts?” “He’s fine.” I shook my head. “And he takes Oliver to concerts at least once a month. He just never took him to Messiah concerts.” “But he took,” Ryder cut himself off as he realized what he was saying. “Oh.” He let out in nod. “So then how did you become such a big Messiah fan?” Oli shrugged his shoulders but I nodded my head, showing him it was okay to speak. “My dad always played rock music for me. Then one day I wanted to find a band for myself, and Messiah was the first that came up.” He admitted, looking more at the bed than at Ryder. “It was like all the music my dad showed me tied together with some new stuff.” Ryder proudly sat back as he heard those words. “That’s what I aimed for.” I watched as Ryder’s gaze slowly shifted over to me. “What’s Harry think of my music?” “He hates it.” I shrugged, being honest with him. “But I think that’s more because of you.” “Oh.” Ryder exhaled, looking down in front of him. “Teddy!” Oli protested in another piercing yelp. “Dad doesn’t hate him.” “You sure about that?” I asked, forcing Oli to sink in his chair. “Lying to Ryder won’t help him. He needs to know everything that’s happened.” Ryder nodded his head in support of what I was saying. “Why don’t you hate me?” He asked, looking towards Oli. “I don’t know.” Oliver muttered, not sure how to react. “I just like your music too much I guess.” I watched him think it over a little bit more as he looked into Ryder’s eyes. “And besides, I’m supposed to let Teddy control what I like?” “Don’t do that.” Ryder quickly shook his head. “You’ll be stuck looking like a rainbow threw up on you.” “Brave words considering I just bought you food.” I sighed, trying to break up the anti-Teddy party. “Oliver bought me food.” He teased with a childish grin. “And what do you want me to say? If you weren’t’ the most popular kid in school you would’ve gotten killed over what you used to wear.” “He was the most popular kid in school?” Oliver asked, looking back over at me. “Oh yeah.” Ryder quickly nodded his head. “Everybody loved Teddy. They did whatever he wanted.” “Relax, it’s not like I was the king.” I corrected, trying to keep Ryder’s overactive mind from leaking into Oli’s immaturity. “People just liked me.” “Until you started a civil war.” Ryder teased, looking over at Mike. I rolled my eyes but silence filled the air as we both thought of our high school days. “Teddy still dresses like that!” Oli yelped unsure what to do. “Does he really?” Ryder smirked. I hate to admit it, but this is the most I’ve seen Ryder smile since he got here. Maybe the therapies already working. Maybe it’s because of what I said yesterday. Or maybe it’s because of Oliver. “What am I supposed to do? Dress the way you two do?” I asked, looking back down at the papers in my lap. “I’d come out looking like the damn crypt keeper.” “Better than looking like its Easter every day.” Ryder teased, getting a rise out of Oliver. “You should see what he actually wears on Easter!” Oliver shouted through laughter. “He’s such a loser!” Ryder let out a laugh but swayed his head. “I don’t know, I think he’s pretty cool.” He shrugged. “He dresses like a loser, and sometimes he can be a little too perfect, but I like him.” “Ew.” Oliver let out, shooting him a confused look. “How in the world can you like Teddy?” “He’s smart.” Ryder began, looking at me through the side of his eye. “He’s always been there for me when I needed him, and he’s funny. I don’t know. He’s Teddy. How can you not like him?” My heart nearly stopped all together as I heard his words. I quickly forced my head deeper into my work, desperate to hide my blush. Oli shrugged his shoulders and looked over at me then right back to Ryder. “Because he’s mean.” “Mean?” I repeated, looking up from the folder. “When am I mean to you? I picked you up from school, got you out of another detention, fed you and took you to meet Ryder. I should be your favorite person on earth right now.” “You only took me to meet Ryder because you didn’t have any other options.” He pouted, trying to hide his face from me. “Besides you always yell at me. You tell me I’m immature and that I need to listen to better music. And sometimes you hit me.” “I never hit you!” I defended, trying to look at him. “Sometimes I push you, or I accidently grab your hand too tight, but I’ve never actually hit you.” “Pushing is close enough.” He muttered to himself. “If it makes you feel better he tells me about you.” Ryder began, looking down at Oliver. “Like how you needed stitches.” Oli shrugged his shoulders and exhaled a deep breath. “Hey,” Ryder let out, using whatever strength he had to fully sit up and look at Oli. “I know it might not look like it, but you have the coolest older brother in the entire world.” Oli hesitated but the second he looked up and their eyes met I saw Ryder capture all of his attention. “He cares more than he lets on. He’s always been that way. He keeps his cards as close to his chest as possible and only shows them when he has to.” Ryder explained, not daring to look away. “But if you think you’re not one of the most important things in his life.” He exhaled, reaching over and poking Oli in the chest. “You’re crazy. I still remember when he told me he was going to be an older brother, the light in his eyes, the way he looked when he said it. Whether he acts like it or not, you matter a lot to him.” Once more I had to hide a blush as the accuracy of his words cut through my walls. After all these years, he can still read me like a book. So much is going wrong right now. I’m not supposed to be in the psych ward watching over him. He’s not supposed to be suicidal. He was never supposed to cheat on me. We, we’re supposed to be married. But even through all that, even through everything that’s gone wrong, he can still look at me and just know what’s going on. He can make my imperfections sound so, perfect. “Is that true?” Oli forced out, not daring to look at me. I hesitated for a second, unsure what to say. “Dr. Haner, they could really use you in surgery right now.” Cait interrupted, hurriedly pulling the door open. I’ve worked with her since the beginning, hell we even went to the same school! But I’ve never seen her this scared. “But, I,” “Like right now.” She interrupted fear sounding through her voice. “I’m sorry, I know it’s your off day but,” “I’m on it.” I quickly nodded. “Come on Oli, you can wait in the waiting room until mom or dad can come.” “No!” Oli pouted as I grabbed his arm. “Oliver, I mean it,” “It’s cool.” Ryder nodded, waiving for me to leave. “He can stay with me until your parents can come.” I went to say something but before I could I felt Cait grab my arm. “I’ll make sure they’re both okay, and I’ll call your mom, just, go!” “Yeah.” I let out rushing towards the door. “Oliver be good for Ryder okay?” He shook his head and refused to turn around. I’m sorry Oliver, but someone needs me right now. You’ll understand when you’re older. You’ll see that this whole time I’ve just been trying to help people. And yes, maybe that meant I couldn’t hang out with you as much as you wanted but sacrifices need to be made. One day you’ll see. I swear you will.
  10. 56 points
    ---Ryder--- Once more I found myself lying in bed staring off at a blank white ceiling. How did I get here? How did things get this bad? How did I let them? I was king of the world. I had everything I’ve ever dreamed of. The fans, the money, the spotlight, I had it all. Stadiums of people used to sing my name, but now here I am in a small white box. That one missing piece in my heart collapsed everything I knew. I had gone on for so long without him, but the second I pulled the plug on Messiah, well I wound up pulling the plug on myself. Should I really be that surprised? Their devotion, their adoration, it was the only thing that kept me going for the longest time, and that, well maybe that’s where I went wrong. I carefully watched the nurse as he carted everything out of the room. Extra chairs, trays, tables, anything that can be moved was moved. “Take a picture, it’ll last you longer.” The nurse teased, noticing my gaze. I rolled my eyes and turned my back to him, not caring for conversation. “I was kidding.” He let out, but kept his distance from me. “If you’re wondering why I’m taking everything out, it’s what we do around here with a case like yours.” I kept my silence and closed my eyes, hoping to at least get a little bit of sleep. It’s amazing, I’ve been chained to a bed for four days, and yet I’ve barely been able to sleep. I guess my mind is just too, busy. “What’s the matter? Only talk to Dr. Haner?” You’d think people would understand when you ignore them but some take the opportunity and make it about themselves. “You’re a lucky one. Somehow you always manage to capture his attention.” I couldn’t tell if his words were forced or jealous, but either way I could tell something wasn’t quite right. “But you need to be careful taking up his time. It’s valuable you know?” His question came out more like a warning as his shadow spread over me. “He’s a surgeon. He doesn’t have time for transferring or visiting patients. So don’t let him waste his day playing around,” “Mike.” I finally called out, not even bothering to turn over. The nurse’s words froze as I heard heavy footsteps enter the room. “What’s up Ryder?” “Can you get him out of here?” I groaned more to the wall than to a person. “Yeah,” Mike quickly responded with a few more heavy footsteps. “I’m sorry man, finish up whatever you have to do then I need you to leave.” “Really?” The nurse sarcastically asked. “In my own hospital?” “Just helping Ryder adjust.” Mike replied, trying his hardest to keep the peace. “Whatever.” The nurse grunted as I heard his footsteps reach the door. “We’ve got a million other patients who deserve the attention.” Mike let out a childish laugh as the door closed. “You still don’t play well with others I take it?” But just like Nate all he got was silence. I heard the door reopen as Mike went to leave the room. “For the record, that nurse has no shot compared to you.” I went to speak but the door closed before I could manage anything. No shot? No shot at what? Teddy? I guess it’s nice having someone on my side, but I don’t think it’s a competition. I don’t think Teddy even registers that nurse when he walks by. Then again I can’t help but wonder if Teddy even registers me. Mike’s words seemed to trap me in a vicious circle of thought as I laid and stared off for what had to be hours. “I like your new room.” I heard a voice call out as the door opened and the sound of chair wheels filled the air. “Why’d you kick out one of my nurses?” A question hit, not bothering to let silence fill the air. I forced myself over and looked at the young man next to me. He kept the same hair style from high school but let it flow a little longer. His wide eyes were as big as ever as the features on his face stayed delicate. He was perfect in every sense of the word. He always has been. “Well?” Teddy pressured waiting for the response. “You’re done already?” I asked, trying to lock eyes with him. “It’s been two and a half hours.” He shook his head and grabbed a clipboard from the basket attached to my bed. “Time flies fast when you’re having fun.” He teased, but he was right. Time feels like an illusion around here, but I can promise you I’m not having fun. I’m staring at a white wall and getting lost in my own head, getting lost in hell. “So why’d you give Nate the boot?” “Talked too much.” I grumbled, as his eyes connected then fell away. “You can’t kick out a nurse just because they talk too much.” Teddy sighed, as another nurse entered the room. “Ryder, I’m being serious. I can’t have Mike throwing everyone,” “Don’t waste your time.” I interrupted turning back over. “You are a surgeon after all.” “What’s that mean?” Teddy asked, thrown off by my words. “Trust me Dr. Haner has plenty of time to visit.” The other nurse comforted as she overheard our conversation. “Psych ward is his favorite place after all.” “Thank you Cait.” Teddy exhaled unsure how to take it. “Ryder, talk or I’ll have Cait give you an I.V.” “Just don’t want you to waste your day.” I shrugged, hearing the other nurses’ voice echo in my head. “Dr. Haner does that all on his own.” Cait teased once more as she wheeled over a stand and grabbed my arm. “That’s all I had to say.” I grumbled, trying to pull my arm away. “I swear.” “Jokes on you bud, I was giving you an I.V. whether Dr. Haner wanted it or not.” The nurse shrugged, finally pulling my arm straight and stabbing a small valve into it. “We’re letting you lay around without restraints, don’t make us regret it.” “What the hell do you guys think,” “She thinks you’re going to pull the I.V. out.” Teddy explained knowing the question before he could fully hear it. “Who the hell filled this out? It’s all sorts of messed up.” Cait let out a short hum before looking over Teddy’s shoulder and observing the paperwork for herself. “Looks like Nate’s hand writing.” “Well I need to have a talk with him.” Teddy shook his head. “This is borderline unacceptable.” I couldn’t help but let out a laugh at his words. “What are you laughing at? Shouldn’t you be freaking out over the needle?” “Surprise, surprise, another patient doesn’t like Nate.” Cait let out, speaking more freely than before. “He’s a good nurse.” Teddy argued, looking at her then me. “He messes up from time to time, but he’s a hard worker.” “Yeah something about him is definitely hard when he’s near you.” I spit, not even fully thinking about my words. “Ha!” Cait accidently exhaled as the joke hit her. “Oh Mr. Sullivan, this may be fun after all.” “Would you both cut it out!” Teddy reprimanded. “Is that why you kicked him out Ryder?” “And that’s my cue to leave.” Cait announced, rushing towards the door and quickly shutting it behind her. “Answer me.” Teddy demanded, forcing me to look at him. “That’s not why I kicked him out.” I groaned, turning my back to him. “He just talked too much.” “About?” Teddy asked, slightly leaning over me. “Nothing.” I grumbled as his shadow engulfed me. “I would hate to waste your day explaining it.” “Would you stop with that!” Teddy yelped, actually starting to grow frustrated. “Is this a test? Do you need to hear that I want to visit you?” “No.” I concluded, refusing to budge anymore. Teddy let out a deep breath as he thought it all over. “That’s what he said to you, isn’t it? He told you my time is valuable.” I stayed quiet at his question. “So you kicked him out?” He asked it as a question, but I could tell it was more of a statement at this point. “My time is valuable.” Teddy nodded. “I’m buried in paper work, and could randomly be called into surgery at any moment, but I became a doctor to help people. If I can’t sit next to a patient and talk for a little while then I wouldn’t be here.” Patient? So that really is all he thinks of me. “And sometimes patients are old friends.” He shrugged shocking us both and instantly silencing my mind. “But now that you’re out of my E.R. I’m not your doctor anymore. So that means you’ll have a few new ones, but I promise they’re good, and I promise I’ll check in with them. Understand?” I slowly nodded my head trying my hardest to comprehend how he meant those words. Is he just being a friend, or is he trying to be something more? And why the hell is he being so nice to me all of the sudden? “Your E.R.?” I asked realizing that I was staring. “Yup.” He nodded, not looking up too much from the clipboard. “Ask any doctor or nurse around here. The E.R. is my area.” “Well then doctor.” I exhaled, trying my hardest to see his face. “How much longer until I can go home?” Teddy shrugged his shoulders but finally looked up. “You’ll have to ask your psychiatrist that, also depends where home is.” My eyes fell away as I thought about it. All the properties I own, and yet none of them are actually home. “You buy the cemetery?” “The second I had enough money to.” I nodded, thinking it over. “Last time I fell asleep there was with you though.” I saw him lean forward slightly as he let my words hit the air. “Oh.” He let out, he went to press the issue but stopped himself. “I was there a few days ago to visit my grandma.” I confessed, opening myself up to him. “I didn’t make it to the grave though.” Teddy quickly wrote something down as he heard my words, no doubt eager to piece my story together. “No?” “No.” I confirmed, this time letting things stay shut. A minute or two of silence passed as Teddy lost himself in thought and slowly began to bite down on his lip. “You still bite on your lip.” I couldn’t help but point out. I could feel my heart grow excited at the familiar site, but then immediately come crashing down as I remembered what had happened between us. What I had done. He slowly nodded his head. “You still bite yours?” He asked as our eyes met. “Yeah.” I confessed as the first genuine smile crossed my face since the last Messiah concert. “But only because I saw you do it back then.” An uncomfortable silence filled the air as we both thought everything over. “When you’re stronger, well, one day in the future, can we talk about everything that happened?” I tilted my head and waited for more. “Even if we stay apart, I just need to know.” “Yeah.” I forced out as the smile fell from my face. “What you read was the truth though.” I swore, hoping he had actually read my letter. “I know,” He began but hesitated for a second or two. “I just want to hear it from you. To really know if you’re telling the truth.” I nodded my head but could tell those words hurt him just as much as they hurt me. “It’s okay that you don’t trust me.” I exhaled, as his eyes drifted. “I don’t blame you.” “I blame me.” He confessed, but before I could press him on it he stood up and took his stethoscope off. “Shirt off. I want to hear your heart.” I did as followed but couldn’t help but swallow hard. At first I thought this was another dig from him. That he was trying to call me heartless, but now I know he’s concerned. I wonder if he could hear how fast it was beating as he lowered his head over my chest. To have him this close again, it’s something I never thought would happen. He let out a deep breath and fell back down into his seat. “I mean its better,” he began, seeing the look on my face. “but I’m still not a fan.” “At least my skin isn’t still yellow.” I shrugged, trying my hardest to keep both our minds off it. “God bless that liver.” He shook his head. “Probably had a hard enough time dealing with all that ink you covered yourself in,” He teased, looking over at my tattooed arms. “but on top of that you went and,” Suddenly his words froze as he stayed focused on my arms. I went to move from him as he stood up but he grabbed my arm before I could. “What’s that?” He asked, seeing the small tattered pride flag surrounded by rubble hidden on my arm. He froze further as he saw the small T.H. designed on it. I went to back off and give him space, but the second I saw the spark in his eyes I knew I had to capitalize. “I got that when I turned twenty-six. I had the sleeve all done already, but it was missing something.” I explained, throwing my shirt back on. “I was missing something.” “You could’ve called.” He let out, once more surprising us both. I went to tell him I tried. That over the last fourteen years I’ve tracked him down about a thousand times, but I knew that would be too much for him. Hell, seeing this tattoo might have been too much for him. “I’m sorry.” I exhaled in an attempt to shoulder him from the pain. “We’ll see.” He let out, grabbing his chair and wandering towards the door. “Take the elastic in the belt area of his pants out.” I heard him instruct as the nurse from a little while ago walked back into the room. “You’re not my boss but I guess I’ll do it anyway.” She teased, as the door shut behind her. “Off of work for forty minutes, and he still hasn’t gone home.” She shook her head. “The second my shift ends I run out that door.” “He finished work?” I asked, looking over at her. “Yup.” She slowly nodded, grabbing the clipboard he had just worked on. “He was done after he finished surgery.” She let out a laugh as she saw the confusion on my face. “Don’t worry, no one around here understands him.” “No one ever could.” I shrugged. He’s older, smarter and taller, but it sounds like he’s the same Teddy Haner I knew growing up. “Well he must be slipping up.” She let out, looking up from the chart. “I think the only thing he didn’t write down was your favorite color.” “I’m sorry?” I asked, not fully understanding. “Let’s just say he left a lot of notes for us about you.” She explained, looking up at me. “Doesn’t play well with others. If he’s not talking give it time. If he still doesn’t talk leave him be. If he goes a day without talking come get me. And it goes on like that for a little while longer.” She looked over it again and smiled. “So I take it its an honor to be having this conversation.” “I’m not that moody or picky.” I lied. “I just, like my space.” “Yup, well we don’t give a lot of that around here. I respect you, you respect me, deal?” I nodded my head and watched her read the chart further. “Good because I’m not about to track down the most popular doctor in the hospital every time you get pouty.” “He’s the most popular?” I couldn’t help but ask. Once more she nodded her head. “Ever since he started. We went to school together so I’ve been with him this whole ride.” I felt the look on my face change as I heard her words. “That’s right, so I know all about you Ryder Sullivan.” “He told you?” Once more it seemed like my words were flowing out of my mouth without thought. “Not at first.” She denied, looking up at me. “But he opens up after a while.” I grew quiet as she went back down to observing the chart for a few minutes. “Oh, he has heart circled a few times, that’s ironic.” I shook my head and turned my back to her, not eager to get yelled at from someone else. “Oh, come on! We had a good back and forth going, don’t get all upset.” I stayed quiet but felt her hand trying to force me over. “Come on, I need to give it a listen.” I groaned but gave in. Before I knew it she was stuffing a stethoscope into my shirt. “hmm.” She let out, trying her hardest to hear it. “Alright.” She exhaled, pulling away. She sat back and smiled at me, waiting for me to ask. I turned back over, tired of playing games but the second I heard her chair move I caved. “Is it bad?” “No.” She quickly responded. “About what it should be for what you’ve been through. It needs to improve, but he’s just being normal Theodore.” “He’s always this paranoid?” I asked, looking back over at her. “Only with people he likes.” She shrugged, writing something down. “One time his brother broke his arm and just phew!” She shouted in a laugh. “He had the whole damn E.R. doing backflips for that little brat.” I looked at her and shook my head, not sure what she was saying. “Relax man, it means he cares about you.” As I heard her words I turned away once more. “If you need me just buzz, my shift doesn’t end until midnight so I’ll be around to check on you.” I let silence fill the air as she slowly shut the door behind her. I’m not sure how to feel about her. I guess she seems nice, but who knows in this place. I looked around at my four white walls and couldn’t help but sigh. All I’m missing is the padding and a stray jacket. Eventually Cait brought me a remote to the small TV encased in plastic up in the corner of my room, but even then it could only do so much. My body ached and cried out from pain as it begged for a high, but just like all the other nights I’ve been here I couldn’t get my fix. I felt sweat coat my face as my heart began to race in my chest. Before I knew it I was burning hot and sweating, then ice cold and shaking. Every night here seems to get worse and worse. If it’s not getting lost in my own head its getting swarmed by my addiction. Before I knew it my monitor was beeping like crazy as I struggled to breath. Mike ran in and said something before rushing over to me and hitting the red button on the side of my bed. “Hey,” he anxiously let out as Cait rushed in. “He’s like, freaking out.” “its’ alright.” She patted him on the back as she hurried to my bedside. “Just withdrawal right Ryder?” I forced my head to nod as I looked up at her. “I-I-it’s killing me.” “I know.” She sighed, handing me a small cup with a pill in it and another small cup of water. “This should be enough to fight it off, but you only get one a night for another few days before we fully cut you off. Your body will be stronger by then.” I didn’t even need to ask her what pill it was, my body just downed it instantly. It didn’t matter to me that one won’t get me high, or that I’m throwing more damage onto my already broken body. All that mattered was meeting my fix and silencing my mind. But as the minutes passed and Cait disappeared the only thing that improved was my breathing. “You alright?” Mike asked, still lingering in the room. “Yeah.” I forced out as goose bumps still lined my arms. “This happens every night. They just gave me medicine too late tonight.” “I know.” Mike exhaled with a nod of his head. “I’ve just never seen it that bad. I thought for sure your heart was going to pop.” I shrugged my shoulders but didn’t speak. “My shifts actually about to end, so I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.” Once more I stayed quiet but as I saw him reach the door I couldn’t help but let curiosity get the best of me. “Why you?” I asked, taking a long look at him. “Why are you always the one guarding my door?” “Someone has to do it.” He shrugged his shoulders. “So I volunteered.” “Teddy ask you to?” I poked, seeing what kind of information I could get. He shook his head and locked eyes with me. “This is the first time I’ve spoken with Teddy since High School.” I broke eye contact but knew he could still feel my curiosity. “I have reasons why I’m doing this, but for now all you need to know is I’m the one who found you in the cemetery.” “How?” I let out, turning back towards him. “It’s an unmonitored cemetery on a quiet street, we always have cops checking it. Plus it’s in my section so I’m usually the one stuck doing it.” He explained, leaning against the door. “I hadn’t seen movement in that house in the ten years I’ve been a cop, so that night when I saw lights on I knew something was wrong.” He let out another deep sigh and tried to look into my eyes. “Sure enough there you were entering cardiac arrest or whatever was happening.” I turned my back to him, trying my hardest to block out that night. “I could’ve went my whole life without seeing you again and been perfectly fine.” He let out, slowly opening the door. “But I’m glad I found you. I’m glad I was able to get you help.” I went to thank him, but when I opened my mouth nothing came out. I want so badly just to be able to hate him. But once more the only hate I could feel was against myself. Everyone’s grown but me, I’m the only one left doing childish shit. After all these years we were wrong. Mike made something of himself, and I, well I need him to babysit me so I don’t kill myself. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so fucking pathetic. But I did this to myself, and I, I can’t run from that truth anymore.
  11. 55 points
    ---Teddy--- As my alarm began to sound I felt Ryder reach across me and try to silence my phone. I wish I could leave him sleeping, I wish he could rest until he felt better, but that’s not the way the world works. That not the way the human body works. As he finally connected with one of the buttons he let his arm drop and snuggled his head further in my chest. I wonder if he realizes he does that. I wonder if he knows how close he tries to get to me. I guess the once big bad drug fueled rock star just loves to cuddle, who would’ve guessed? “Come on Ryder.” I forced out, starting to sit up. “We’ve gotta get ready.” “No.” He groaned, turning away to his own side of the bed. “We’re in our thirties. I’m not going to fight with you.” I grumbled, slowly getting out of bed. “You have to get ready for therapy.” “I don’t care.” He exhaled, ripping all the covers to his side. I let out a deep sigh and started to get both our outfits ready for the day. “I’m not playing, you need to get moving.” He remained quiet and tried his hardest to block me out, until finally I walked over and rested a hand on his side. “Remember you promised to do this?” I let out in more of a statement than a question. “It was part of our deal.” I reminded him. He muttered something else but slowly began to rise up. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?” “Shut up.” He shook his head as I handed him his clothes for the day. “Not feeling well?” I asked as he finally moved to the edge of the bed. “Of course not.” He shook his head. “Everything just sucks. I don’t even know why you waste your time.” So it’s this morning too, huh? I know Dr. Pierre said there were going to be hard days with him, but I didn’t expect it to be every time he woke up. “Because I love you.” I shrugged, helping him to his feet. “And I’m not going to give up on you just because you’re depressed.” “I love you too.” He angrily forced out, tone not matching his words. As he walked out of our room and to the bathroom I quickly stopped Oliver from running up and talking to him. “Why are you even awake right now?” I asked as Ryder shut the bathroom door. “Mom said I still have to get up like I have school today.” He mumbled, barely awake himself. “She thinks sleeping in would reward me for getting suspended.” “It would.” I nodded supporting her point. “Whatever.” He shrugged. “I’m just going to watch T.V. until Ryder gets back and then play music with him.” “I don’t think that’s such a great idea.” I let out, trying to find the words to explain it to him. “Ryder’s not in a great mood this morning. I think you need to leave him be today.” “That’s stupid.” He dismissed, trying to push past me. “I wasn’t in a good mood yesterday and he didn’t leave me be.” “Trust me, this is different.” I warned in a strict tone. As the bathroom door reopened I felt Ryder trying to push past me. “Can you move?” He angrily spit finally getting past me. “Case and point.” I exhaled, following him back into our room. “There are nice ways to say that.” “Sorry.” He grunted falling back onto the bed. “Just wake me up when we’re leaving.” “You don’t want breakfast?” I asked, but got no response. “Okay.” I nodded walking out of the room, shutting the door behind me and pushing past a nosy Oliver and into the bathroom. “Hey!” Oliver yelped as he stumbled backwards. “I was in line!” “Yeah, well next time you should just go to the bathroom instead of spying on us.” I yelped back, getting changed as quickly as possible. I don’t care how good Oliver is for Ryder, he’s not someone you want to poke right now. “Oliver!” I shouted as I swung the bathroom door back open. “Get out of my room.” “I just wanted to make sure he was okay.” He said in a low tone. “He’s just staring out the window.” “He’s trying to keep his temper.” I sighed pulling him out of the room. “And you’re not helping right now.” “What’s the matter with him?” Oli asked, as I shut the door once more. “He’s just depressed.” I shrugged, not knowing how else to respond. “Sometime he just needs a little bit of space.” “And you’ll take care of him?” He probed as concern dripped into his eyes. “Of course.” I nodded without hesitation. He let out a sigh but nodded his head and walked into the bathroom. Did Oliver just trust me? He didn’t even ask how I was going to help, or what I was going to do. All it took was me saying yes? What the hell is going on this morning? Breakfast was quiet as everyone thought about their own issues. Growing up I never thought my family would get here. I never thought we’d be the family to need help. But just look at everyone. Oliver’s suspended for the second time in three weeks. Mom and Dad are fighting. And me, well I’m chasing ghosts from the past. It took some effort to get Ryder into the car but when I finally did he passed out with his head against the window. He’s doing too much too soon. Helping Oliver, talking to Blake, dealing with my dad, it’s all too much for him. I need to start pumping the brakes for him. I need to talk to his doctor. As I passed him off to Cait I couldn’t get him off my mind. This isn’t like when I was seventeen and ignorant to mental illness. Now I’m a doctor. Now I understand the pain it brings, and how tragically it can all end. But still, I’ve pulled him off the ledge once, I have to at least try again. I don’t care what it takes. I don’t care if I fall off with him. I’ll be there for him every step of the way. When my lunch break finally rolled around I quickly ran upstairs and to the psychiatric ward. It’s funny, I used to always skip lunch breaks but not anymore. Now I have a purpose other than work. A purpose to fuel Teddy Haner, and not Theodore Haner. I know, that’s not healthy, but at this point I really don’t care. “How is he?” I couldn’t help but ask Dr. Pierre as I caught him alone at the reception desk. “Today’s a rough day but there’s at least progress.” Barry replied looking from me to the rock star talking to Cait. “I think we’re burning him out at home.” I confessed. “My little brother’s a handful and loves to hang around him, and my dad’s just being a jerk about the whole thing.” “He told me about yesterday.” Barry began. “Personally I think it’s good for Ryder to push himself. It shows that he wants to get back to where he was years ago. It shows he wants a shot at a typical life style. However, your father being a negative influence could really hurt him.” “Is that why he was so aggravated this morning?” I asked, nervously starting to bite my lip. “Unfortunately that’s just a symptom of major depressive disorder.” He explained. “It’s probably something he’s had to manage his whole life. Odds are managing that has fallen by the wayside compared to working on other things.” “But he’s on the road to recovery?” “Slowly but surely.” He nodded his head. “Like I said a few days ago, this path isn’t going to be easy. There will be good days like yesterday and bad days like today. Sometimes it will seem like there’s no rhyme or reason to it, and maybe there’s not. But either way you have to be there to help him. You made that commitment.” “I understand.” I said waiving Ryder over to us. “Oh! Also, can you recommend me the best child therapists in the area that specialize in anger management. My brother could use a few sessions.” “Sure thing Theodore.” He nodded patting me on the arm. “I don’t mean to overstep but I think you could use a few sessions of therapy as well. In a perfect world everyone would go.” “I-I’ll think about it.” I nodded, but knew at the end of the day I wouldn’t be able to find the time. “How was therapy?” I asked as Ryder finally reached my side. “Fine.” He answered, leading me towards the elevator. “I’m sorry about this morning. I didn’t mean to be a dick.” He forced out, no doubt trying his hardest to practice what he learned in therapy. “That means a lot Ryder.” I smiled, lightly gripping his hand. “Thank you.” “I’ll do whatever it takes to make this work.” He said in a low voice. “I swear I will.” “I believe you.” I supported feeling the smile grow on my face. “I will too.” I don’t know what the hell goes on in group or individual therapy, but it got him to apologize? That’s some type of milestone! I swear it is! Yet still, on the car ride home I could see he wasn’t the same as yesterday. Paranoia swarmed his brain as he kept looking around for any signs of the press. Cars, drones, phones anything and everything caught his attention in the wrong way. ************************************************************************************* “I’ll make you a sandwich for lunch, why don’t you go lay down?” I suggested as he shot me a puzzled look. “You worked hard today, you’ve earned some time to yourself.” He softly nodded his head and slowly began to ascend the stairs as I headed to the kitchen. “Can I hang out with Ryder yet?” Oliver excitedly asked as I entered the kitchen. “Maybe later tonight.” I replied starting to get food together. “But for now you can help make the three of us lunch.” “Me and dad already ate.” He shrugged but started to help me collect things anyway. I shot him a curious look but didn’t push it, knowing even the slightest comment might discourage him. “Don’t you usually have work now?” “It’s my lunch break.” I responded. “Plus I have a deal about being able to run Ryder home and all that.” “You’re willing to do all of this for him?” “Yup.” I nodded my head as we finally organized two sandwiches on a plate. “I love him.” “Isn’t it like too soon to say that though?” He poked as a million questions swarmed to his mind. At first I thought he was trying to annoy me but as I looked into his eyes I realized he’s just curious. He’s trying to figure out what a typical relationship is. What it should look like. “Maybe for some people.” I answered, picking up the two plates. “But me and Ryder are in a weird place, and I think it’s good we hear it from each other.” “Here.” I offered before he could walk away. “Why don’t you come bring it to Ryder?” “Really?!” He exclaimed with a smile. “You helped make it.” I shrugged. “Just make sure to keep your voice down, he doesn’t feel well.” “Got it.” He replied happily taking the plate and following behind me. “Ryder?” I let out, slowly opening the bedroom door. “Oliver helped make you lunch.” But as we both stepped into the room and I saw the typically glassed over look in his eyes I couldn’t help but sigh. I guess after seeing the mood he was in today I shouldn’t be surprised. “Here Oli maybe you should,” I began but stopped myself as I realized how much this might help them both. “Come here Oli.” I instructed, placing a plate on the night stand and taking the other from him. “This is what I meant when I said he doesn’t feel well.” Oliver gulped hard and hesitantly stepped closer. I saw fear enter his eyes as he saw the glassed over look on Ryder’s face. “Are you okay?” Oliver asked, but got no response. “He doesn’t talk when he gets like this.” I explained. “It, this is what depression can look like for some people. Sometimes they just shut down.” “Will he be alright?” “Yeah.” I nodded. “He just needs some time. He’s still listening though. You can talk to him if you want.” “Oh yeah!” Oliver exclaimed before quickly catching himself. “Sorry.” He whispered. “Ryder told me about this once before.” He said. “He told me that you were always the, never mind.” He bashfully shook his head. Yet as he looked back towards Ryder I saw fear return. “When you feel better I’ll show you how much better I got at Panic Attack. I can almost play half of the song.” Oliver went to say something else but caught himself too worried to say anything else. “Blake texted me before.” I began, filling the empty air. “He said it was good to see you, and that you look older. He’s totally down for pizza later this week.” I said, trying my hardest to give Oliver examples of how to talk to him. “I, I,” Oliver stuttered but slowly began to back up. “I have to go.” He let out running out of the room and slamming his bedroom door behind him. I let out a deep sigh and thought it all over. I’m such an idiot. I should’ve known this would be too intense for Oliver. But still, maybe it was a good thing for him to see. A wake up call to be grateful for everything he has. “I’m going to go talk to him.” I exhaled but as I rose to my feet I felt Ryder’s hand reach out causing me to jump in fear. “I’ll come.” He forced out, trying his hardest to get to his feet. “It’s okay.” I quickly replied stunned that he was even trying to move, let alone talk. “It’s not.” He shook his head. “I-I’ll have all day to lay down, but right now Oliver’s scared.” “You really care about him?” I couldn’t help but ask. “Yeah.” He sighed, grabbing my side as he stood up. “When I look at him I see a miniature version of you, and that’s all I need.” “I’ll try not to take that as an insult.” I teased, letting him lean against me as we slowly made our way across the hall. “Oliver?” I called out, gently knocking on his door. “I’m okay!” He quickly let out, but I could feel the worry in his voice. “Can we come talk to you?” I asked. “I, uh, yeah.” Oliver answered. As I pushed open the door and took a few steps in I saw surprise replace the fear on Oliver’s face. “Sorry.” Ryder forced out, trying his hardest to use the last of his energy to help. “I didn’t mean to scare you, I-I just get like that sometimes.” “I wasn’t scared.” Oliver lied with a shake of his head. “I know I was.” I said, trying my hardest to make sure he knew it was okay. “I hate when Ryder gets like that. I don’t think there will be a day when it doesn’t scare me.” “Scares me too.” Ryder supported as I pulled over a chair for him. “Fine, maybe it caught me a little off guard.” Oliver finally admitted. “I just didn’t expect it.” “What about it scared you?” I asked, trying to support him as much as possible. Oliver went to speak but stopped until finally Ryder nodded his head, showing it was okay. “I-I didn’t like the way his eyes looked, or how pale his skin was. He kinda looked, he looked, dead.” “He did.” I nodded my head. “And that can be very intense, but you like company when you get like that, right Ryder?” “Yeah.” Ryder admitted. “Some people don’t but I-I like being reminded I’m not alone. It helps. And for the record I’d love to hear you play Panic Attack later.” “You, you’re not going to hurt yourself right?” Oliver softly asked, terrified of the answer he might get. “No.” Ryder shook his head. “I’m fighting to get better. I promise.” Oliver nodded his head but stayed quiet. “I think Ryder should go lay down some more.” I began. “But if you can handle it it’d be nice if you checked on him every now and then, and maybe even spent some time with him if you remember to use your inside voice.” I suggested, putting my faith in Oliver. “Maybe.” Oli nodded his head. “I’ll be okay.” Ryder promised as I helped him back to his feet and into our room. “Will he be okay?” “I think so.” I responded. “I-thank you for talking to him.” “Anytime.” He said as I slowly lowered him into bed. “You know you can talk to me about anything right?” I couldn’t help but check. “Like you don’t have to wait until therapy to let it out, I’m always here to listen.” “Yeah.” He forced a smile. “And you know it works the other way around too? I’m always here for you.” Before I could say anything I felt my phone starting to buzz in my pocket. “Hello?” I curiously let out as I saw Blake’s name flashing on the thin screen. “Dude, is there any chance you can stop by?” He asked in a nervous voice. “I came home for lunch and Liz decided to go hulk on me.” “Why? Is she okay?” I let out, trying my hardest to hide the concern on my face. “She’s fine.” He said working something over in his head. “Just not a fan of you dating Ryder.” “You told her?” I demanded but quickly shut my mouth hoping Ryder wasn’t picking up on anything. “What do you want from me? She’s my wife.” He sighed. “Just, is there any chance you can swing by on your way home from work?” “I can come back now.” I shook my head. “Back, what do you mean back?” He asked, no idea what I was trying to do. “I’ll just see you in a few minutes okay?” I let out, hanging up the phone. “It was the hospital.” I lied, seeing the concern in Ryder’s eyes. “One of my patients is losing her mind.” “Oh.” He softly exhaled. “Will she be okay?” “Yup.” I nodded my head. “Just needs a good dose of reality. I’ll be home in a few hours, are you going to be okay here?” “I’ll be fine.” He said looking over at the door. “If I’m lucky I’ll take a nap and then talk with Oliver for a little while.” “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” I offered, trying to give him an out. “I want to.” He comforted with a forced smile. “Okay, if you need anything you just call me, okay? If I don’t pick up at first keep calling until I do.” I instructed. “And that sandwich better be eaten when I get back.” “I’ll be okay.” He consoled starting to get comfortable in bed. “I love you.” “Love you too.” I replied as I gently shut the door behind me. I couldn’t help but smile as I passed by Oliver’s room and heard Ryder’s voice blasting over his speakers. I feel bad for scaring him, but sometimes that’s what it takes to grow. Hopefully Oliver’s starting to understand just how sick Ryder actually is, and what he can do to help. As I walked down the stairs and to the door I couldn’t help but stare at my dad. “What’s up?” He tentatively asked seeing my hesitation. “A lot of stuff.” I confessed thinking about his role in all of this. “Anything I can help with?” He offered, but we both knew he didn’t mean it. “You could get your head out of your ass and stop fighting with mom.” I replied, surprising us both. “Excuse me?” He let out, sliding back in his chair. “Get your head out of your ass.” I slowly repeated. “And this isn’t even about Ryder. Mom’s got her hands full with work and the best you can offer when Oliver gets suspended is military school?” “I won’t be talked down to,” “Save me the lecture.” I interrupted as a minute or two of silence filled the air. “I-I miss you.” I finally let out. “I miss the dad who used to bend the rules and have fun with me. I miss the guy that would always make me smile when I got hurt. And I-I stay up at night feeling bad for Oli because he barely gets that.” I explained in a brave breath. “Sure, sometimes you have fun with him, but it’s never like it was before.” “Because I was wrong before.” He coldly let out. “I let you think life was too carefree. I let you get seriously hurt. I don’t care what you think or say, I’m not making that mistake again.” “You didn’t let me get hurt, Ryder did.” I corrected. “It was bad enough I lost my boyfriend, I didn’t need to lose my dad too.” He let out a deep breath as my words started to connect with him. “And I never thought life was carefree, I knew how cold and hard it could get. But I-I always thought home was somewhere I could escape from all that. I guess I was wrong.” He turned back towards the T.V. as my words became too much for him to bear. “It doesn’t need to be this way,” I encouraged. “Oliver’s only thirteen. It-it’s not too late. You could still be that father he needs, and-and the father I need.” I nodded my head as he stayed quiet. Please have let those words connect, please have let them mean something. I can’t keep going through this with him. I can’t keep hoping that he’ll magically change. I get what mom’s told me. I get that losing Ryder was like losing a son for him. But I-it’s just hard for me to believe that he could turn so cold to it all. Sure, there are days where I see flashes of the old him but it’s nothing like it used to be. Sometimes I think it never will be again. ************************************************************************************* The whole drive over to Blake’s all I could think of was him. Who he used to be and who he’s become. I thought I was overdramatic over the whole thing, but damn does my dear old dad take the cake. Don’t get me wrong I still love him, it’s just, I’m done watching my mom shoulder it all herself. “I’ve got like twenty minutes.” I groaned as Blake pulled open the door to their small house. It was nothing special but everything about it screamed adult. From the neatly decorated lawn to the pristine inside. It was as though there were no traces of the kids I once knew. The second I stepped inside I felt an open palm slam across my face. “You stupid ass Teddy!” Liz shouted. “How could you take him back? Do you have a death wish?” “Woh! Woh!” Blake yelped, lightly wrapping himself around his wife and escorting her away. “Think of the baby.” She took in a deep breath before Blake finally got her to sit down. I couldn’t help but raise my hand to my face and gently rub where she had connected. Playing lacrosse in high school and college I’ve been hit a lot in my life. But hell has no fury like pregnant Liz. “You alright?” Blake couldn’t help but chuckle. “She hits hard, doesn’t she?” “Yeah, Jesus Christ Liz.” I shook my head as the stinging on my cheek began to grow more intense. “Does she smack people often?” “Only me when I say stupid things.” Blake shrugged. “But I deserve it.” “You both deserve it.” She continued with fire in her eyes. “She smashed a plate when she heard you were dating Ryder.” He giggled, still the same pot stirrer I once knew. “Liz.” I groaned in a sigh. “You need to relax. All that anger isn’t good for your baby.” “You know what’s not good for this baby?” She rhetorically asked. “You being her godfather!” “That’s true, but I pointed that out when you asked me to take the title.” I teased, cautiously taking a seat in the small living room. “Stop trying to stall.” She warned, finally picking up on my tactics. “How the hell are you dating Ryder Sullivan again? Weren’t you supposed to talk to me about it before you made a decision?” “You just would’ve slapped me.” I shrugged drawing a stifled laugh from Blake. “I-I don’t know, there’s not much else to say. You got the rundown a couple of weeks ago. We just kept talking and vibing and I still love him I guess.” “Love?” Liz repeated in an aggravated tone. “Woh!” Blake shouted. “You knew about this and didn’t tell me?” He asked, turning towards his wife. “I told you what I knew the second you rolled out of bed this morning!” “Oh please, like he didn’t tell you! Besides, your dumb ass is stupid enough to support it.” She shook her head. “Isn’t that what you’ve been doing since you found out with your cute little texts to Teddy? You two should just fuck and get it over with.” This time it was my turn to muffle laughter. Mood swings seem to be hitting her hard. It’d be funny if she wasn’t so violent! “I’m saving him for after you have the baby.” He winked turning towards me. “You showed her the texts?” I asked, realizing why she would be mad enough to smash plates. “She took my phone.” He shrugged. “It’s not like we have anything to hide.” “You’re right! Because it’s like reading texts between two teenagers!” She cried out. “You’re both so childish! I mean really Teddy, you told Blake Ryder still has a great ass.” “He does.” I shrugged in a laugh. “And we were both just goofing around. He said the same thing about you if it helps. He thinks that whether you’re pregnant or not.” I supported, throwing Blake some help. “Don’t try and get cute with me.” She warned beginning to stare me down. “Now seriously, why are you dating Ryder Sullivan.” “I honestly don’t know how to answer that.” I shrugged. “I just, I love him. I don’t have any other explanation.” “But he cheated on you.” She emphasized in a loud voice. “It was staged.” I waved off. “He thought he was helping, we’ve been through this.” She rolled her eyes at my words. “And I’ve already told you he’s lying.” “Trust me, he’s not.” I shook my head. “He was on his death bed. He had no reason to lie to me. You were one of his best friends. Shouldn’t you be happy he’s back?” “No.” She stubbornly shook her head. “I was best friends with the old Ryder Sullivan. Not this one.” “How do you know that?” I asked with a shrug. “You haven’t even seen him yet.” “I don’t need to.” She crossed her arms. “Well you do me a favor and come get dinner with me, Ryder, Blake and Mike and we can all have one big reunion dinner.” I suggested drawing puzzled looks from both of them. “You can meet Ryder again and see what you think.” I watched as Liz looked over to Blake. “Trust me, Ryder’s just an older version of the kid we knew.” I said, trying to encourage them. “I think he just had to self-destruct for a while, but he’s back I promise he is.” “You lost me when you said Mike.” Liz shook her head. “Oh yeah, he’s back too.” Blake said, taking a step back just in case she started swinging again. I tensed up as she slowly rose and started walking over to me. “Teddy.” She began in a calm voice. “I know you miss the past, but you can’t recreate high school. It-it’s not healthy. You’re an adult now, you have to move on with your life.” “I’m not trying to recreate the past.” I defended in an annoyed voice. “For whatever reason Ryder popped back into my life, and Mike came with him. I didn’t put Ryder on the surgery table in front of me that night, and I sure as hell didn’t plan on Mike being the one to help save him.” “Mike helped save him?” Blake asked in a stunned voice. “Look, I, just come to dinner and we’ll all explain it there.” I forced out. “But you have to be careful about what you say around Ryder. He’s pretty fragile.” Liz looked over to Blake for help, but Blake simply nodded his head trying his hardest to support me. “I hope you know I’m angry because I love you.” Liz suddenly confessed giving me a hug. “I just really don’t want you getting hurt. I, we’ll come to dinner but I can’t promise I’m going to approve of Ryder.” I slowly wrapped my arms around her and brought her in tighter. “I love you and Blake too.” Dinner will change their minds, I know it will. I don’t blame her for being angry. I don’t blame her for thinking I’m trying to recreate high school. But I’m honestly not. Life’s just repeated itself for some reason and it’d be foolish to waive it away. Ryder Sullivan was brought back into my life for a reason. I know he was.
  12. 55 points
    ---Ryder--- As Teddy began to wind in and out of back roads in an effort to lose paparazzi I couldn’t help but get flashbacks to when we were young. Back when we could effortlessly drive these roads without anyone following us. My doctors keep telling me I need to forgive myself, and Teddy keeps telling me to stay in the present, but how can I do any of that? I’ve made so many mistakes in my life, and I’m just supposed to move on like they didn’t happen? What happens if I start to make them again? “We’re here.” Teddy let out, snapping me out of my own head. “I think we lost everyone too.” “Yeah I think so.” I nodded, quickly climbing out of the car and opening the back door. “You did a good job driving, I’ve had security who couldn’t lose paparazzi.” I smiled, pulling out my large suitcase. “You guys warn Oli to keep this a secret?” “Yeah.” Teddy nervously exhaled. “But that doesn’t mean he’ll do it.” I nodded my head once more, but this time moved a little closer to him. “It’ll be okay, this, it’ll work out.” “You really think so?” He asked, looking back towards his house. “Yeah.” I quickly lied, trying my hardest not to overthink it. The truth is I’m terrified of this moment. I’m absolutely petrified of facing his parents and what I’ve done. But if this is what he thinks is best for me then I’ll do it. No hesitation, no backing out, just, following Teddy. As we began slowly making our way to the front door I heard the familiar bussing of a drone grow louder. “What the hell is that?” Teddy asked as I threw my hood over my head. “Just keep moving.” I instructed, reaching out and pulling him towards the house. “They’re just looking for the car.” “Well they’re gonna find it!” He yelped, beginning to fumble his keys as we reached the door. “That doesn’t matter.” I tried to comfort as he finally got it unlocked. “That’s why you parked on the street. The important part is they don’t find us.” “Then quickly!” He shouted, pushing open the door and darting inside. “Come on!” He encouraged as I turned back to take a quick look at it. Before I knew it I felt a hand grab onto my arm and yank me inside. “What was that?” I heard his mother call out as the door slammed shut behind us. “Nothing.” Teddy quickly replied. “We’re home!” His mom turned the corner and took a long look at the two of us before shaking her head. “It hasn’t even been a minute yet and you two are already starting trouble?” I couldn’t help but stare at the woman in front of me. Age had clearly taken its effect on her, and yet she still looked just like the woman I remember. I let out a nervous breath as I noticed her doing the same. Sure, we’d seen each other a few days ago, but that was in a poorly lit hospital room. Now, now you can see everything. “Sorry Mrs. Haner.” I finally forced out. “We won’t cause any problems.” “You’re not the one I’m worried about.” She sighed as a door slammed upstairs. Suddenly the sound of running filled the air as like a bat out of hell a small blur darted down the stairs. “Hi.” A young voice nervously let out, standing at the base of the stairs. “Come on.” Teddy began, sliding in front of the kid. “Let’s go get you moved in.” I slowly nodded my head and followed him to the stairs, yet as we passed the child I couldn’t help but ruffle his hair. “Are you really going back to music?” The young voice asked, following us up the stairs. “I saw the interview in Teddy’s car.” “I wouldn’t call that an interview.” I shrugged, making my way through the already familiar house. “But yeah, I plan to.” “With Messiah?” He quickly followed up as we reached Teddy’s room. “Probably not.” I shook my head as Teddy slowly pushed open the door. “Let him get settled in.” Teddy warned turning towards his younger brother. “I’m helping welcome him.” He argued, not bothering to take his eyes off of me. “Right Ryder?” “Yeah.” I quickly nodded, trying my hardest not to step on anyone’s toes. “He can hang out with us for a little bit.” Teddy exhaled a long sigh, but let us both into the small room anyway. “You live here now. It’s okay to tell him to go away.” Teddy encouraged as Oliver tried his hardest to stay close. “And Oliver, Ryder’s not here for playdates, you can’t hang around him all day.” “No one calls them play dates anymore.” The boy muttered, taking a seat on the bed and staring at the two of us. I honestly think he’s just curious. Sure, part of it is that he’s obsessed with Messiah but I am moving into his house. I think he’s just eager to see what it’ll be like. “It’s fine Teddy, really.” I nodded and forced a smile. “Besides I need someone to help unpack my suitcase, it’s going to take all day man.” “Did you bring that much stuff?” Teddy asked, taking the bait harder than Oliver was. “Yeah.” I groaned taking a seat next to the kid. “And you said you had all that paperwork to get done today.” “Oh, shit, yeah!” Teddy finally let out, catching on to what I was doing. “How about I do that while you two unpack?” I nodded my head, and kicked over the heavy suitcase, making sure it would land with a hard thud. “You’ll help right?” I asked, turning towards Oliver. “Well, I will, but I have homework to do first.” He nervously let out, looking from it to me. “Like this history project that’s,” “No you don’t, quit your lying!” I called out giving him a pat on the back. “You don’t have to help.” I laughed motioning towards the door. “We’ll take care of it and hang out with you later.” “You really will though?” He asked, looking into my eyes. “Like maybe we can even play music together?” “If you’ll sing.” I shrugged as he jumped to his feet. “Maybe.” He muttered more to himself than me, before disappearing out the door and around the corner. “Where’d you learn that one?” Teddy asked, quickly shutting the door behind his brother. “All the guys in the band have kids.” I explained thinking back to all the rugrats that had taken part in the final few years of Messiah. “It’s just stuff you learn being around them.” “Yeah? Well you’ll have to teach me some day.” He let out, looking from the closed door to me. “Seriously though.” I exhaled, bending down and unzipping the suitcase. “Where the hell am I going to put all this stuff?” “I cleared this dresser for you.” Teddy shrugged, pointing to a small piece of furniture. “and there’s some space in the closet, but other than that, we both just have to make do.” “Okay.” I nodded my head, staring at all the clothes that needed to be put away. “But before that.” Teddy exhaled, pulling out a small plastic bag. “I have something for you.” I raised my eyebrows as he handed me a small electronic watch. “This is so that I can monitor your heart while I’m at work.” “Teddy.” I sighed, looking down at the slim band. “I’m serious.” He nodded his head. “It’ll tell me if your heart rate drops, if you leave the house, or if you take it off.” He explained, beginning to stare right into my eyes. “Don’t take it off.” He warned in a serious voice. “Doesn’t this feel a little, extreme?” I asked, looking from him to the watch. “Nope.” He shook his head. “You’ll wear that all day, and whoever is home will give you your medicine from where we’re hiding it.” “Teddy, I don’t need to be babysat.” I groaned but forced the small watch around my wrist anyway. “I’m not saying you do.” Teddy shrugged before turning back to the suitcase. “But if you think I’m letting you move in here unmonitored you’re crazy.” “Fine.” I surrendered, knowing it was easier just to go along with it. “Are you going to help?” I asked, reaching down into the case and grabbing a pile of shirts. “I will, but I have homework to do first.” He teased, mimicking his younger brother. “I hate you.” I sighed, trying my hardest to balance the clothes with opening the drawer. “I’ll help, I’ll help.” He laughed, pulling it open for me. “Just be careful, they’re old draws.” “They’re old what?” I asked, dropping the clothes in before turning back for more. “Draws.” He repeated louder. “What the fuck is a draw?” I couldn’t help but tease noticing the jersey accent. “Where you put your clothes.” He rolled his eyes. “Don’t get all nitpicky with me, you say the same thing.” “I haven’t said draw since I moved out of Jersey.” I protested, grabbing another handful. “I’m very proud.” He sarcastically mocked. “And you’re wrinkling most of your clothes.” “It’s fine.” I grumbled. “They just get wrinkled when I put them on anyway.” “Then you’re not putting them on right.” He laughed, watching me closely. “You’re like a five year old in a thirty year old’s body.” “And you’re doing a great job of helping.” I let out, noticing he was just standing and staring. “I’m not diving headfirst into your suitcase.” He laughed, taking another look in it. “You tell me where to put stuff, or hand me stuff and I’ll help.” I let out a short groan but handed him a small pile of jeans. “Just, wherever there’s room.” I shook my head as he took them from me. “You really don’t have any organization?” Teddy disappointedly asked. “Nope.” I shook my head. “What’s the point? It’s not like I spend most of my day getting dressed.” “So you know where you’re clothes are.” He quickly responded, the complete opposite of me when it came to living conditions. “This isn’t going to be easy, is it?” “Did you think it was?” I couldn’t help but asked as I turned back to him. “No.” He confessed with a shake of his head. “But we don’t exactly have an alternative, so let’s make the best with what we have.” I nodded my head and kept moving until finally the suitcase was empty. It wasn’t pretty, and all my clothes were crammed into the drawers, but we found a way to make it fit. “Is that all?” Teddy asked amazed that it was all I had brought. “Yeah.” I shrugged my shoulders. “I mean, I have more clothes in other houses but that’s all for here.” “Other houses?” Teddy repeated. “And just how many other houses do you own?” “I don’t know.” I shrugged once more. “You’ve seen my will, you know.” Teddy shook his head in disbelief and took a seat at his desk. “Well there was like two pages of houses listed, so I have no clue.” “Then two pages worth.” I smiled lying back on his bed. Teddy rolled his eyes and shook his head once more. “So we’re going to get you a financial advisor.” He decided, turning away and pulling out a stack of papers. “I have one.” I laughed, staring up at the ceiling. “How do you think the houses get paid for?” Teddy let out a sigh and turned to me. “Do you know how much money you probably waste a month?” “A lot.” I shrugged as our eyes connected. “And that doesn’t bother you?” “It does.” I swayed my head. “But right now, just, what’s the point. I have more important things to worry about.” “Fair enough.” He nodded his head. “But when you get better we’re going to take a look and sort it out.” “Yeah, yeah,” I let out, just waiting for the adult conversation to pass. Yet as I saw Teddy going to work I couldn’t help but sit up. “What are you doing?” “Paperwork.” He mumbled, more focused on what he was writing than on me. “I thought you took the day off.” I moaned, as his focus only seemed to grow stronger. “I did.” He nodded. “But I still have like an hour and a half’s worth of work to do.” I let out a long groan at his words and fell back onto the bed. “Go play with Oliver if you’re bored.” “I will.” I decided standing up, but hesitating as I realized where I was. “My dad won’t be home until tonight if that’s what you’re worried about.” Teddy sighed, reading my body language. “And my mom won’t give you a problem.” “I-I wasn’t worried about any of that.” I lied, walking towards the door. “But thank you anyway.” “You’re a child!” He teased as I walked out of the room and quickly shut the door behind him. As I walked down the tight hallway I couldn’t help but laugh as my own voice echoed through it. This kid really is obsessed. “Oli?” I forced out, standing outside his door. “Yeah.” He excitedly yelped as the door flung open. “What’s up?” “Teddy’s busy, so I wanted to see if you,” “If I want to play some music?” He excitedly asked, grabbing a couple of drum sticks off his counter. “Wait! First look at my room.” He smiled grabbing my arm and pulling me inside. All I could do was shake my head as old posters of Messiah decorated his walls. It was as though you could monitor my growth through his pictures. From young eighteen year old me, all the way up to thirty year old me. As I scanned it I couldn’t help but stop at a collection of C.D.s that caught my eye. “Teddy gave them to me.” Oliver quickly explained, noticing where my eyes had rested. “Pretty cool huh?” “Yeah.” I nodded my head. So that’s what he did with all that stuff? I guess it makes sense, but still, he didn’t keep any of it? Not even a small reminder? “He was being a dick about one of them though.” Oli pouted, forcing his way past me and out of the room. “That white one you gave him.” “He showed you that?” I gulped, as my emotions pulled a one-eighty on me. “Sure.” Oli nodded his head. “He got really mad at me, and made me listen to some of it. He wanted me to know how much you mean to him or something.” I nodded my head and fought off a flood of emotions. “Do you know where it is now?” Oli shrugged his shoulders and led me downstairs. “He hid it somewhere in his room.” “Oh.” I exhaled, trying my hardest to hide my growing smile. Mrs. Haner seemed to shoot her son a cautious look as the two of us made our way through the living room and to the basement door. “Oliver.” She let out in a strict voice. “Are you forcing Ryder into doing something?” “It’s okay.” I answered for him. “Teddy is stuck doing work, so I figured I’d check out these drumming skills I keep hearing about.” She nodded her head but as Oli began to climb down the stairs she waived for me to hold back. “He can get a little, excited when he drums.” She warned in a serious voice. “His brain works faster than his hands, so he can’t always do what he thinks he can. If he starts cursing and throwing fits don’t be afraid to call it a day. You’re the adult, not him.” “Sounds good.” I nodded my head, amazed she was treating me normally. She could give me the cold shoulder, or grill me over everything that’s happened, but instead she’s just accepted me as part of her house. Between her and Harry, well I never imagined she’d wind up being the relaxed one about all of this. As I quickly made my way down the stairs I couldn’t help but get flashes to my past. The basement looked exactly the same way it did thirteen years ago. Sure, the furniture is worn and old now, but everything is the exact way I remember it. That is, until you reach the furthest corner near the basement door where a giant drum set laid. Okay, maybe giant is a bit of a stretch. It’s sized for a thirteen year old after all. But still, to have all those pieces at such a young age. This kid must have some level of skill. “Like it?” He asked, noticing my stare. “Sure.” I nodded my head. “Looks kinda let Tommy’s setup.” I offered, but was shocked to see disgust enter his face. “I thought you loved Messiah?” “I do.” He nodded. “And Tommy’s pretty good, but his drumming is just, boring.” Oli shrugged, taking a seat behind the kit. “It’s just generic, like he’s depending on the rest of the band to do all the work.” I shrugged my shoulders and bit my tongue. He was brash about it, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. A lot of the drum parts for our music were written by me then worked over by Tommy, a process that didn’t exactly scream genius. “Alright kid.” I sighed, taking a long look at him getting set up. “Let’s see what you’ve got.” He quickly swept from right to left, hitting each piece on his way through. “What do you want to hear?” He asked fighting off some stage fright. “Something original.” I shrugged, seeing how far I could push him. “You play something good, and I’ll follow it up.” “Alright.” He nodded his head. He went to play but caught himself and let out a deep breath. “It’s just me and you.” I comforted with a forced smile. “I won’t judge, I promise.” He nodded his head, but this time didn’t hesitate. He started out slow and precise, playing something you’d hear out of a 1970’s band like Rush or the Who. But as he slowly got comfortable he began to expand his range. Slowly but surely he unleashed into a much faster paced solo. One that screamed old school heavy metal, and no doubt found its origins in his dad’s taste. As he looked up to me and smiled he changed gears into something that sounded just like Messiah. The harder he went the more flare he threw into it. Stick twirls, head bangs, jumping up in his seat, the whole nine yards. And the double kick drums and symbols that intimidate even drummers my age, well he’s got them down pat. Yet as good as he looked, he never seemed to get comfortable. He never fully eased into what he was doing, something that was noticed in his sound. Don’t get me wrong, he was great, especially for a thirteen year old, but bits and pieces just weren’t right. He was missing, well, the fun. “Great fuckin job kid.” I nodded my head, walking to him as he huffed and puffed in his chair. “But you need to relax, you’re thinking too much.” “What do you mean?” He forced out in a heavy breath. “Don’t focus on the next part, just listen to what you’re doing.” I shrugged. “And don’t hold the sticks so tight, you’re going to snap it before you can even play.” “Show me.” He smiled, holding out the drum sticks. I went to take them but pulled away as I looked at the kit. “Maybe another day.” “We had a deal though.” He insisted standing up and forcing them closer. “You promised.” I let out a deep breath but nodded my head and took the sticks from him anyway. “No videos or pictures, just you and me, got it?” I asked, noticing the phone in his hand. He nodded his head and quickly slid his phone back into his pocket. “So come on, how do I get good?” “Well you are good.” I encouraged with another forced smile. “You did a lot of things right, so don’t be putting yourself down. You’re creative, and passionate, but you have to loosen up a lot.” I explained, showing him my stance. “Just let your body feel the music, and naturally flow into it.” He nodded his head and secured his ear protection as I went in for a solo of my own. It’s odd, I’ve lost my love for music. I’ve lost my ability to write. My ability to draw from my past and create. Yet, I’ve never lost my ability to play. Slowly but surely I found myself lost in my solo. It wasn’t overly heavy, hell I barely used half of the kit, but I tried my hardest to show him what a relaxed solo would look like. What it would mean to open yourself up to the music world. It’s one thing to be as technically good as Oliver is becoming, but another to find yourself lost in it the way John Bonham and Keith Moon did. I couldn’t help but smile at the look on his face as I wrapped up the short solo. He went to say something but stopped himself as he stared at the kit. “How’d you do that?” He finally exhaled looking over to me. “Do what?” I asked, standing back up and handing him his sticks. “What you just did.” He let out, too star struck to go into specifics. “You just, it was like you weren’t even here anymore. You were in another world.” I shrugged my shoulders and waived for him to have another go, but he stayed silent patiently waiting for my answer. “It’s just something you learn to do when you give into music.” I replied, trying my hardest to come up with a good answer. “One day you just fall into it, and you no longer have to think about this or that. Your body just does it.” “Can I ever get to that point?” He asked a combination of fear and hope entering his eyes. “I don’t know.” I shrugged, trying my hardest not to lie to him. “I think you have the technical skills to, but you have to let that wild side of yours take control.” Oli let out a deep breath but shook his head. “That’s when my drum sticks break and I mess up.” “Then keep working on it.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Until you harness that energy, I don’t know man, you’ll never hit that point you want to.” Oli nodded his head along with my words but slowly began to eye up a guitar in the corner. “Can you play with me?” He softly asked. “Oli.” I let out, looking at the guitar then back to him. “I can’t man, that’s a little too much for me right now.” “Are you sure?” He asked, trying his hardest to shoot me puppy dog eyes. “It’d really help me practice. My dad’s too old to play with me like he used to, and Teddy’s Teddy.” I let out a deep breath and sat down as I tried to wrestle with myself over it. “We’ll play something easy and fun. You don’t even have to sing!” He exhaled a defeated breath and began to play again as I kept my silence. I looked over and watched him carefully as he tried his hardest to follow what I had told him. He seemed to get the general gist of it but was struggling to put it into motion. He’s not at all like me. He has a loving family, and money to get him whatever he wants. But still, I know that look in his eyes. That determination to become something more than just another brick in the wall. Just like I was forced into a role I didn’t want to play, so is he. Even worse, just like I destroyed myself to get to the top, well, I get a bad feeling Oliver would too. I took another deep breath before getting to my feet and motioning for him to keep playing. Before I knew it I was clutching onto one of the guitars in the corner and plugging it into an amp. “What do you want to play?” He excitedly let out, halting completely. “Pick something.” I shrugged, knowing the odds are I could play whatever he thought of, but not the other way around. “Something fun though, you promised.” He nodded his head and carefully though things over. “Do you know Limelight?” He finally let out with a big smile. “By Rush?” I asked, shocked he’s ever even heard of the song. “Yeah.” He happily nodded his head. “They’re like, the best. Besides you of course.” I shot him a curious look and laughed. “Your dad show you them?” “Yup.” He smiled. “When I picked the drums he made sure to show me Neil Pert, and it just stuck.” He shrugged. “In terms of drummers, I’ve always wanted to be as good as him.” “Then there’s the problem!” I let out, without even thinking about it. “You’re mimicking his motions instead of his sound!” I continued, surprising even myself at the analysis. “We’ll play Limelight but play it like Oliver, not like Neil Pert. If you can even play it that is.” “Oh, I can!” He shouted in determination. I let out a short laugh and shook my head. Leave it to Harry Haner to get his thirteen year old obsessed with Rush in 2030. “Count em kid.” I nodded, waiting for his go. He took a deep breath before banging his sticks together. “Three, two, one.” He nodded as I began the slow rift to the early eighties hit. Slowly but surely he followed in with drums, but once more I saw him tightening up as he played. I forced a smile and grew closer to him trying my hardest to get him to relax with me. Slowly but surely I found us both grooving and flowing with the song. Before I knew it he’d relaxed into it, and so had I. As the chorus hit, well neither of us could control ourselves. “Living in the limelight The universal dream For those who wish to seem Those who wish to be Must put aside the alienation Get on with the fascination The real relation The underlying theme*” I couldn’t hear his voice over the music, but I could tell he was into it, and that’s all that mattered to me. Before I knew it we were both singing the rest of the song and goofing around. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I don’t know if it was seeing the threat of a young kid trying to follow in my footsteps, or just music being well, music. But whatever it is, Oliver has me excited about playing a song again. And whether it’s just this one song or a spark for something more, it’s ten times more valuable than anything that happened at the hospital these past two and a half weeks. *Limelight- Rush (Moving Pictures, 1981)
  13. 55 points
    ---Ryder--- As I bowed my head once more I couldn’t help but be amazed at the support Teddy was showing me. He stood their quietly and let me pray as much and as long as I needed. All these years, well, I’ve kept it so hidden for a reason. When I was a child I just wanted to avoid the question ‘How could you still be religious?’. But once I became a musician it wasn’t about the question anymore. It was about the appearance. Kids didn’t want a metal singer to pray, they didn’t want to hear that he believed in a God. Maybe I should’ve made a stand and shown that side of me anyway, but at this point that’s just another thing to add to the list. When I had finally finished I got back up to my feet and nodded to him. I really shouldn’t be so surprised. He’s always been like this. No matter what it was, he always supported me. “You can come pray whenever you want,” he began. “But you have to ask Cait first, understood?” “Yeah.” I forced out as we turned the corner and picked up Mike. We made short eye contact then broke it immediately. Every now and then he’s tried to talk to me but I, I always stay quiet. I just haven’t been ready I guess. “Sully!” Cait yelped as the elevator dinged open. “I should kill you!” “I’m sorry.” I apologized with a shake of my head. “I just wanted to go see the chapel.” “That’s fine.” She nodded. “Just make sure you ask permission so I know where you are. I don’t like losing patients, especially not you.” She lightly hit me on the side with her clipboard as we made our way back into my room. I watched carefully as Mike resumed his spot in front of my door. I was convinced he would wind up nothing. That he was just too stupid and arrogant. Yet look at him, he’s been a damn good cop. Not one fan or member of the press has gotten past him. And trust me, I’ve heard them try a couple of times! “Ryder, it’s time for group.” Dr. Pierre poked his head in as I finally laid back down. I nodded my head and slowly stood back up. “You almost missed group!” Teddy scolded, giving me a friendly push towards the door. “Ryder I’m serious about giving this,” “I know, I know,” I interrupted in a quick breath. “I was checking the time, trust me.” Teddy nodded his head and squeezed my arm as we were forced to go our separate ways for now. If only he could know how much he’s grown to mean to me, even after all those years. ************************************************************************************* As we formed the far too familiar circle I found myself growing quiet. I’ll talk in therapy, but this, it’s a little too public. I’ve never liked people seeing my weak side, showing them all my problems and doubts, it just never appealed to me. “What about you Mr. Sullivan?” Dr. Pierre asked as the circle reached me. “Have anything to share today?” “No.” I shook my head. “You haven’t shared since you first got here.” Dr. Pierre began, starting to stare me down. “It doesn’t just benefit you, but everyone else here. And I know for a fact it’s not stage fright, I mean what’s talking in front of eight people when you’ve sung in front of eighty-thousand.” I let out a deep sigh seeing that I wasn’t worming my way out of this. “I’m tired all day.” I shook my head. “I don’t want to get up or try anything. I don’t even want to eat. I just exist and go to therapy all day, then at night withdrawal hits and its, its hell. It’s like the worst comedown in the world without even having the benefit of getting high.” I confessed with a shake of my head. “I miss it. I miss being able to just take a pill or inject something and not having to worry about anything else for the rest of the day. I miss not having to be conscious.” “Are there any moments in the day where you’re happy to be conscious?” Dr. Pierre asked as the group watched me closely. “When Te, when my friends visit.” I shook my head, trying my hardest not to throw Teddy’s name out there. “That’s it. The short two hours I get to spend with him at the middle and end of each day. It feels like that’s all I live for.” I let out a sarcastic laugh as my eyes fell to the floor. “But even then I don’t know what to say. “ “You don’t need to.” Dr. Pierre comforted. “And you’re not the only one who feels that way about visitors. Most visits it feels like you’re out of words, maybe most of you are even scared to speak. But that’s okay. You’re family members just want to spend time with you, and even if it’s quiet the whole time, well it still means something to them.” He explained, turning back to me. “Can you think of instances when, even though your quiet, your friends still want to keep visiting?” “Yeah.” I couldn’t help but confess as I thought of Teddy’s words this morning. I’m moving in with him, he, his family, they’re taking me in. “But I’m failing him. I’m not better yet.” Dr. Pierre nodded his head, not needing to be told who that him was. “He doesn’t expect you to be better yet. None of us do. Everyone takes their own time getting back on their feet. Take as much time as you’d like Ryder. We’re always here for you.” I reflected back his nod, but felt a breath of relief escape my lips as the person next to me began to speak. Maybe it does help talking in group, but either way it doesn’t mean I’m going to keep doing it. I just, I want to keep to myself. In my own world, with my own people. What felt like hours finally began to pass as group went on and on until finally Dr. Pierre dismissed us. “Theodore really doesn’t expect you to be better in two and a half weeks.” He advised, walking me and Mike back to my room. “As long as you keep trying he’ll give you all the time in the world. He’s a good man like that.” I nodded my head but stayed quiet. “And by the look of it, you have a new visitor today.” As I turned the corner and saw who he was talking about I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. “Ryder,” The large man let out, quickly following me into the room. Really Mike? You’re not even going to check his pass! “Ryder! Hey!” He let out as I still didn’t look to him. “I’ll let this play itself out.” Dr. Pierre hesitantly decided, walking towards the door and whispering something to Mike. “What Brandon?” I exhaled, climbing back into bed. “Nothing, I just, I wanted to see you.” He forced out, pulling his chair next to my bed. I rolled my eyes as his words hit me. “Well you’re about a week and a half late.” “I know, I know.” He quickly let out. “I didn’t want to make things worse.” He confessed, knowing how much anger I still held towards him. “Then don’t.” I shrugged, turning away from him. I heard him stand back up in hesitation before he finally sat right back down. “No.” He denied. “I don’t care how things ended, or how much you hate me. You’re my little brother. I’m not failing you anymore.” “You’re years too late on that one.” I grumbled, taking a shot at him. “Fine. Blame me.” Brandon shrugged. “Throw it all on me. I’m the one who told you to cheat on Teddy. I’m the one who got you hooked on pills. I’m the one who gave you needles of heroin.” He began in an angry rant. “Because this is what I wanted when we first started. I wanted to see you on your death bed.” I let out a guilty sigh as his words hit me. Out of all the band members Brandon was always the one I could trust the most. He was the one who always tried to stop the drug use, who tried to pull me out of my hole. But at the end of the day we both knew he didn’t stand a chance. Yet here he is, trying to take responsibility just to help me. “We were at the top of the world kid.” Brandon let out in a broken breath. “We had stadiums all across the world chanting our names. But I, if I knew it would come at this price, I would give it all back.” “No you wouldn’t.” I groaned, thinking back to him and the rest of the band. “If you would you would’ve understood when I ended the band, but not even one of you did.” “That-that’s not the same.” He rejected as I turned back over. “This was our livelihood. We’re not you. We can’t just create another Messiah if we want to. That was the biggest we’ll ever be in our lives, and you just pulled the plug without talking to us. We could’ve kept going while you got clean. We could’ve had a new singer take over for a while, or we could’ve went on hiatus until you cleaned up.” I let out a laugh and shook my head. “A new singer? A hiatus?” I asked as our eyes locked. “You just don’t get it do you? You’ve always been so fucking blind to it all. A new singer would’ve been a god damn joke. You would’ve ruined the band I built. And a hiatus? The music’s done. The story’s complete. If you can’t create another band as big as Messiah that your fault not mine. Don’t blame me because I’m done letting you ride my success.” “You could never share the spotlight could you?” Brandon asked, standing up in anger. “You could never give us any credit. Sure, you wrote a lot of our music, but we wrote a good amount too, and we played the fucking hell out of it every night. But most of all, we put up with you when no one else would.” He let out, pushing the chair towards the door. “We were the only family you had, and you still threw us to the curb like we were fucking nothing.” “Brandon Seward!” I heard a familiar young voice yell out as the sound of a backpack bouncing filled the room. “No.” I shook my head, staring down Oliver. “He’s not who you think he is.” “Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black.” He muttered walking past the kid and towards the door. “Good luck Teddy.” He nodded to the man in the doorway. “You’ve always deserved better than him.” “Is that why you guys broke up?” Oliver eagerly let out, standing a little too close to the bed for comfort. “Something like that.” I shook my head, not looking to answer the question. Teddy shrugged his shoulders as our eyes connected. “Both my parents are busy so I had to pick him up, and he can’t stay home alone.” Teddy sighed. “Plus you should get used to how loud he is. You’re about to share a house.” “Isn’t that awesome!” Oliver let out, much more excited than the first time we met. “You-you can teach me music!” “I, maybe.” I forced out, not in the talking mood. Teddy let out a deep sigh before walking over and grabbing his younger brother by the backpack. “Ryder needs time to rest. I think you need to leave him alone for a while.” “It’s okay.” I quickly interrupted, motioning for Oliver to stay. “Are you sure?” He asked with a cautious stare. I took a second to think it over before nodding my head. He’s going to be loud and maybe even annoying, but right now I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts. Besides Teddy’s right. I need to get used to him being around. “Okay cool, if he gets to be too much just have Mike throw him into the waiting room. But he should be doing his homework anyway.” Teddy warned, staring down his younger brother. “And our mom should be here soon to pick him up.” I nodded my head once more but didn’t say anything. It’s funny, Oli has a completely different aesthetic than his older brother did, yet their faces are almost perfect copies of one another. The only big difference was the length of their hair. “He should be doing his homework.” Oli mimicked in a high pitch voice. “You should be.” I shrugged, looking over to him. “Fine!” He let out in an overdramatic breath before finally taking a seat and digging into his bag. “So are you really moving in?” “Yeah.” I nodded my head. “If your parents will let you.” “They will.” He quickly responded. “Well, my mom will anyway. She completely freaked out over it last night and made my dad agree to it.” “Oh.” I exhaled, getting the full truth Teddy wouldn’t give me. “He’s cool with it though, he just won’t admit it.” He explained, looking down at his notebook. I went to say something but quickly shut my mouth as I realized who I was talking to. Wait a minute, how the hell am I supposed to talk to a thirteen year old? “How was school?” I forced out, not knowing what else to say. “Uck.” He let out. “Are you really a boring adult like Teddy?” He asked, looking right back up at me. As his piercing eyes fell on me I couldn’t help but think back to the past. Just like the rest of his face, he’s got his brother’s eyes. Always searching, looking, guessing at something more. “You stare like him too.” “You have your brother’s eyes.” I explained as his head fell back down to his work. “Maybe I should’ve just sat in the waiting room.” He shook his head. “That was mean.” “What?” I asked, trying to get him to look back up. “You look just like he did when he was your age. That-that’s a good thing.” “No it’s not.” He quickly rejected. “Teddy’s ugly.” “I, I think he’s the best looking person I’ve ever seen.” I let out, drawing a weirded-out look from Oli. “Drugs really do mess with your head.” He concluded, going right back to his work. “Can you teach me how to play guitar when you move in?” “I, sure, you don’t know?” I asked, shocked by the question. “No.” He shook his head. “My dad made me pick between the drums and the guitar, and said I could only learn one.” “Oh.” I exhaled. “But even Teddy knows how to play the guitar.” “No he doesn’t.” Oli dismissed, giving me another weird look. “Sure he does.” I nodded my head. “Does he not play at family camp fires anymore?” “Family campfires?” Oli repeated in a laugh. “I don’t know what Teddy told you about me, but I’m not that gullible.” “I-I went to one before I started dating your brother.” I quickly explained. “That’s where I met your uncle Martin.” “Yeah well we don’t see him much anymore.” Oliver shrugged trying to focus on both his work and talking. “I don’t really know any of my cousins or uncles.” “Oh.” I exhaled once again. I can’t help but wonder if I’m the cause of that problem. Did they keep talking to Martin after Teddy and I broke up? I mean, it’s not like I stayed working with him that long anyway. Not that he was bad or anything, I just needed to move onto bigger labels. Onto bigger opportunities. As I looked back at the kid next to me I couldn’t help but smile as he bit down on his lip. Once more flashbacks of young Teddy swarmed my brain. “Need help?” I asked, looking over at the math problem he was stuck on. “No!” He quickly rejected. “I can do it.” He insisted, but as a few more moments of silence passed he finally looked back up at me. “Just on this problem.” He let out, handing me his notebook. It was hard at first, but before I knew it I was helping him with most of his math homework. I have no idea if it was right or wrong, but it felt good to sit with him and help. Sure, a large part of it is because he’s Teddy’s younger brother, but even that aside, the two of us just connect. I doubt he’s had the life I’ve had, but he still understands where I’m coming from. And maybe, I can be that for him too. “Oliver.” I heard the call of his mother cry out as my door opened. “I have one more problem!” He replied, quickly trying to run through it. “Well don’t rush it.” She shook her head. “Just pack up, and I’ll help you when you get home.” “No, come on, it’ll take like a minute.” He argued, ignoring her words. “If I pack up I’ll just forget what I was doing.” “Fine.” She groaned, taking a step in but freezing as our eyes connected. “Hello Ryder.” She forced out. “Hi.” I let out. I went to say something else, but froze as I over thought every little thing. “Thank you for helping Oliver.” She finally began, breaking the silence “I know he’s not easy to handle.” “He was fine.” I shrugged. “Did his homework the whole time.” “You don’t have to lie for him.” She explained but as she finally stepped closer she saw that he actually had been working for the hour he was here. “Oh, um, thank you. I don’t know how you did it, but thank you.” “He did it all on his own.” I shook my head. “Teddy told him to do it, and he did it.” “No, Teddy told me to do it, and then you made me do it.” Oli insisted, refusing to let Teddy have any credit. I shrugged once more but could tell Mrs. Haner understood the situation. “Thank you,” I began, not knowing where I was taking it. “For letting me move in. I-it means a lot.” “It’s the least we could do.” She nodded as Oliver finally began packing up his bag. Silence filled the air as I tried to understand what she meant. Least they can do? Do they think they owe me something? Do they think I’m mad at them? “I’ll see you in a week Ryder.” She let out, grabbing onto her son and forcing him out. “Bye Ryder!” He shouted taking one last look at me. “I’ll see you later!” “See you later.” I nodded, letting myself fall back into bed as I finally got some quiet. “You did a good job.” Mike’s voice filled the air as the door reopened and shut. “My shift’s about to end,” He began, running through his daily spiel. “See you tomorrow.” He let out as I tuned back into his words. “Thank you.” I finally spoke, looking over at him. “For finding me in the cemetery.” I explained as confusion filled his face. “I never really thanked you for that.” “It’s no problem.” He let out, shocked by my words. “Just part of the job.” “It’s not part of your job to wait on me hand and food.” I shrugged as our eyes met. “So just, thank you, for it all.” “It’s really not a big deal.” He shrugged, growing uncomfortable by my sudden gratitude. “It is.” I nodded, refusing to let him have an easy out. “I hear the other cop complain about what a boring shift this is.” “Guess I just like being a cop more.” Mike shrugged, finally reopening the door. “I’ll see you in the morning.” I nodded my head as I finally got my much awaited silence. Okay, maybe Mike and I won’t wind up ever being friends, but he’s looking out for me. I know he is. If he’s proven he can change, than I know I can too. ************************************************************************************ As time slowly faded away I could tell it would be another quiet day without Teddy. As hard as these days are for me, I get it. He’s busy and he has other patients. I just need to be grateful he’s given me another chance. “You were a popular one today weren’t you?” Nate asked, stepping into the room. I rolled my eyes and turned to my side. Of all people, him? Seriously? At this time of day? Isn’t it bad enough that my withdrawal symptoms start to act up, but now on top of that I have to listen to his stupid voice. “I know, surprise, surprise, I’m back already.” He let out. Back already? What did he go somewhere? “But they called me in because they were short staffed. Suspended or not I guess this hospital needs me.” Suspended? So that’s what Cait was talking about a day ago! “So if you need anything just hit the buzzer.” I noticed him linger a little bit longer than usual this time as he watched over me. “I know we may not have gotten off on the right foot, so I’m sorry.” He exhaled. “I guess I’m not fully over Dr. Haner dumping me. What can I say? He’s a man who takes risks. Dating doctors, nurses, patients, but it is what it is.” I couldn’t help but look back at him, desperate to see if it was one of his tricks. There’s no way Teddy actually dated him. There’s just, there’s no way. He wouldn’t have been that desperate, would he have been? “I know, you don’t believe my apology is real.” He let out, pulling something out of his pocket “So how about some relief for your withdrawal to prove my intentions are good.” I was left speechless as he held a small black vaporizer near my face. “Well go ahead.” “I-I can’t.” I finally spoke noticing the cannabis oil it held. But the small churning inside me began to grow more serious at the sight of it. I haven’t smoked weed since I was in my early twenties, but it’d do just fine. “Come on, it’s not like it’s addictive.” He shrugged. “We even use it as a pain reliever with some of our patients. It’s just medicine. And if you’re worried about being caught, it doesn’t smell and Theodore and Dr. Pierre already went home. I’m the only one you have to answer to.” I gulped hard but shook my head no anyway. “Alright fine, but don’t say I didn’t’ try to help you.” As he grew closer to the door I felt my want for it grow deeper and deeper. Soon enough the want turned into an all-out need as I reached out my hand. I could feel chills begin to line my skin as my hand shook. It doesn’t matter what the substance is, if it alters my mind, well my body calls out for it all the same. “Fine.” I forced out. “There’s no shame in wanting a hit or two.” He smiled, handing me the pen. “You just hold down the button and,” “I know how to use a vape.” I bit, taking a hit quickly followed by another two or three. “You’re welcome.” He teased, taking it from me and slipping it into his pocket. I’m sorry Teddy. I tried, I really did, but the need, the want, my addiction, it’s all just way too strong for me. No matter what I do I don’t think I can beat this. I don’t think I can do this. Brandon was right. You do deserve a better man than me.
  14. 55 points
    September 11, 2003 Tribeca, NY Brad We all convened in the great room. I’d already eaten breakfast, as had JP and Stef, but Will and Darius hadn’t had a chance, so they sat on the couch eating cereal. They weren’t early risers, and Darius had probably had to hustle to make it back here by 9 in the morning. JJ sat next to Will, but he wasn’t eating anything. Jake came walking out, looking great in casual clothes, carrying an energy bar and a cup of coffee. “Thanks for the energy bar,” he said to JJ. “No problem,” JJ said in a friendly way. “Help yourself to anything you want.” “I thought you had a cook?” Darius asked, as if just figuring out why there was no real breakfast. From his tone, it seemed as if he didn’t have a meeting of the minds with JJ like Will did. “It’s her day off,” JJ said. “She asked for Thursdays and Sundays off.” “Let’s hope we have something scheduled for lunch,” Darius said. “Having Jacinta absent serves our plans,” JP said in his imperious way, but he was right. If she were here, we’d have to watch what we said. “What’s our plan for today?” Will asked, getting us on track. “We are going to meet with Jake and hopefully he will enlighten us as to what he discovered in Mexico. After that, our afternoon is free. We have a gala to go to this evening,” Stef said. “A gala?” Will asked dubiously. “Yes,” Stef said. “It will probably be similar to the one you attended last weekend.” “Does that mean you get to blow someone in the bathroom?” JJ asked, joking. We were all a little stunned that he was being jovial, and not bitchy. “If I’m lucky,” Will said. “Uh, I told a few people you’d be there,” JJ said to the group. “When you say ‘you’, who are you referring to?” Darius asked coldly. “You, Will, Stef, and Dad,” JJ said. The four of us looked at each other with dread. “What does that mean?” Darius demanded. It was rare that he was the bitchy and difficult person in the group, but I attributed it to his anger at JJ and the fact that he was probably tired after his night with Bellona. I tried not to cringe at the thought that he was sleeping with a woman who was older than me. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some recognition of your escape from the towers two years ago,” JP said. “That’s bullshit,” Darius said. “I don’t want that. I don’t want to deal with that.” Then he turned on JJ. “This is what happens when you open your mouth. It’s as toxic as your tattle-tale routine. Just shut the fuck up.” “They just asked me who was going to attend,” JJ said defensively. “Darius,” I said firmly, getting him to look at me. “This isn’t a day to enjoy, it’s a day to endure. Let’s go with the flow, and we’ll get through whatever they throw at us, just like we always do.” “Just like we always do,” Will parroted sadly. “This isn’t JJ’s fault, he was simply asked a question, and there’s no reason for us to argue with each other,” I said, mostly to Darius. “Fine,” Darius said grumpily. “Besides, maybe your girlfriend will be there,” Will said to Darius, giving him shit. “Patrick call you back?” Darius asked Will, who said nothing. “Jealous much?” “Now that we have established our schedule, I would like to know what you found out while you were in Mexico,” JP said to Jake, bringing us back to the topic at hand. “We’re on the brink of a massive war between the Mexican cartels,” Jake said simply. “Why is that a problem?” I asked. I didn’t see how Mexican drug lords killing each other would cause us any heartburn. It seemed like the smart thing to do was to let them fight each other. “If there is a war, it will engulf much of Mexico and will seriously harm many innocent civilians,” Jake predicted. “There was a CIA report done on this a few years ago that suggested such a war could possibly destabilize the Mexican government.” “I cannot imagine that a conflagration on that level would not spill over into the United States,” JP noted. “That was also part of the report,” Jake said. The concept of Mexico as a failed and lawless state was terrifying. “That seems like a good enough reason to be concerned,” I said, letting go of my original attitude of avoiding involvement. “Lord Preston flew in yesterday to see if he could stop things before they get out of hand,” Jake said, dropping that on us. There was a lot to digest in that statement, but it mostly just raised more questions. “Why would Lord Preston be in Mexico trying to stop things before they get out of hand?” JP asked. It was disturbing to see that this had even confused him. “He is apparently well known in the Capetown underworld as the man who unified the gangs there, and brought peace to those organizations,” Jake said. “Our English peer is one of the South African cartel kingpins, if not the kingpin.” “We suspected he was involved in some sort of disreputable business, but controlling drug cartels was a bit beyond my radar,” Stef said. “His extracurricular activities have been well concealed, evidently,” I observed drily. “His nickname is ‘The Shadow’ because of how stealthy he is,” Jake said. “He lives as an expatriate British peer, mingling with the upper crust in Johannesburg, but when he goes to Capetown, he’s like a Mafia Don.” “That is an impressive balancing act,” Stef noted. My initial impression of Lord Preston as bumbling British peer, much as he’d seemed at Alex and Mary Ellen’s wedding, was fast falling apart. For him to live a dual life like that, he had to be pretty clever and he probably also had to be a pretty accomplished actor. “I agree,” I said, putting my thoughts to words. “What is he supposed to accomplish in Mexico?” “The Ortegas are bringing him in to meet with all of the heads of the various cartels down there,” Jake said. “His job is to negotiate some sort of deal where they divide up the turf. The alternative is to fight a battle over who has what regions or lines of business. That’s expensive and dangerous.” “This is reminiscent of the battles with the Mafia here in the US,” JP noted. “It works pretty much the same way,” Jake agreed, “I don’t think the Ortegas want to work out a genuine peace.” “Why not?” I asked, not following him. “The biggest opposing cartel is the Rubio family, run by Stef’s friend,” Jake said. “They’ve been watching the Ortegas expand, and they think this is a power grab.” “I am not quite sure I would classify Joaquin as a friend,” Stef said, even though he probably was. Stef was obviously annoyed at being lumped into this thing. “Regardless, I am wondering how this could be a power grab?” “The man you heard me with the other night was able to enlighten me,” Jake said with a wry grin. It was funny how after our conversation last night, and our make-out session, now I was jealous when I thought about it. “According to him, the Ortega’s plan is to negotiate an arrangement that is especially generous to the weaker cartels, which will win their loyalty and support. Then, after the deal is worked out, they plan to absorb those other cartels, either through friendly or unfriendly means.” “So that means that after they do that, they’ll be much more powerful than they are now,” I noted. “That’s correct,” Jake agreed. “Only at that point, they’ll be so strong, they’ll simply crush anyone, including the Rubios, who stand in their way.” “How will the Rubios react to this?” JP asked. “They’ll figure out the game soon enough,” Jake said with a shrug. “If not, they’ll find themselves pretty embattled.” “I wonder if we should warn them,” Stef mused. “No,” I insisted, a bit too strongly. “We have to keep our distance, as much as possible, from this conflict.” “I do not know if that is possible,” Stef said. “I think it would be a huge mistake for us to be seen as taking sides in whatever happens with these drug cartels,” JP said, backing me up. “Until I can get rid of those border properties, we are in a situation where we are involved,” Stef said. We all seemed to realize what a smoking time bomb Buzz had left us. “I have a potential solution, but I may need your assistance,” Stef said to Jake. “What is your solution?” I asked. “Buzz’s estate will owe a significant amount of estate taxes to the Federal government, and those are payable in cash,” Stef said. “I am working to convince the government to accept those properties as partial payment.” “That is quite clever,” JP said, smiling at Stef. The rest of the crowd looked confused by this discussion, so I decided to clarify things. “If we sell the properties, we could cause more problems with either the new buyers or with the Ortegas, who will be mad that we didn’t give them to Maria,” I explained. “But if the Federal government demands them as part of the estate taxes due, there is little anyone can complain about.” Everyone nodded, and I had to agree with JP; it was a very clever solution. “So how can I help?” Jake asked. “The primary problem is convincing the Feds to agree to the deal,” Stef said. “I have enlisted the help of Buck Dalby, but anyone else you know who can help influence that decision would be useful.” “I’ll make some calls,” Jake promised. “So I don’t get why Lord Preston would be involved in this deal,” Will said. “It doesn’t sound like it’s going anywhere. Why’s he wasting his time?” “I don’t know,” Jake admitted. “At first, it seemed obvious, that he’d benefit by being involved in this whole consolidated cartel.” “Maybe he is planning to run it,” I suggested. “I’d have to believe the Mexican drug trade is considerably more lucrative than those in South Africa.” “Maybe he is,” Jake said, “but I think that’s unlikely. He’s largely being billed as a mediator, not a new CEO. They’re billing him as this superman who can develop the ultimate deal and make everyone happy.” “He’s already in Mexico?” I asked, since I’d forgotten that important fact. “He is,” Jake said, confirming what he’d already told us. He got really nervous when he said that. “What?” I prompted. “Lord Preston is playing with fire,” Jake said. “I can’t see how he can set up this meeting and survive it if things don’t go well.” “So he could be walking into a death trap?” JP asked. “That was my read on it, as well as that of my friends I talked to,” Jake said. I wasn’t willing to buy into that theory, but I kept my mouth shut to hear their points. If Lord Preston had indeed managed to pull of his amazing dual life in South Africa, he wasn’t likely to be oblivious to the threats these cartels presented. “Should we try and warn him off?” JP asked. “No,” Will said emphatically. “That man is not our friend.” “Yet he is Alex’s father, and the son of the Duke of Suffolk,” JP responded. “And they are our friends.” “Alright, if that’s the case, then they should also be partially on the hook for the crap things Lord Preston did this summer,” Will said. “That’s the deal. Lord Preston and Elizabeth Danfield worked pretty hard to fuck up my life, JJ’s life, and Zach’s life, and they walked away totally unharmed. We didn’t blame the Duke of Suffolk or Alex for that.” JP didn’t like that, but he didn’t want to argue about it. “I will ponder your words.” “Thank you,” Will said. “And then what will you do?” “That depends on where my pondering leads me,” JP said in particularly haughty way. I wanted to laugh at how he was stumbling right into a battle with Will, something that I usually ended up doing in these situations. “I want you to remember that we all agreed that this whole deal was based on collective decision making,” Will insisted. “There is nothing wrong with my memory,” JP snapped. Stef and I exchanged knowing looks, even as we tried not to laugh. “So based on what we know now, who thinks we should directly or indirectly warn Lord Preston he may be walking into an ambush?” Will asked the group. “I vote no.” “No,” JJ said insistently. “Nope,” Darius said, chiming in to support his brothers. “I do not see any reason to extend any assistance to Lord Preston,” Stef said. “Neither do I,” I said. “And I would further note that we were unwilling to get involved to warn the Rubios, and those same reasons should preclude us from helping Lord Preston,” Stef added. “That means you’re not allowed to be a snob, just because Lord Preston is a marquess,” Darius joked, only what he said was only too true. JP looked at all of us in annoyance, but there was no way I was going to sanction some bizarre notion of aristocratic kindness only to have Lord Preston rise up and cause us problems in the future. “I will still ponder the situation, but I will do nothing without coming up with a reason good enough to change your minds,” he said, gallantly retreating. “Thank you,” Will said. “I wonder if Alex and the Duke know that Lord Preston is a drug lord?” I asked the group. “We will have to ask them that when we see them on Saturday,” JP said. “Indeed we will,” Stef said. That was sure to be an interesting conversation. After that, we all went out to lunch at the pub near the condo, and then we had the afternoon to do our own things, which for most of us meant taking a nap. September 11, 2003 The Ritz Carlton, Battery Park New York, NY Will This event was being held in a big hotel ballroom just like last time, only tonight we were at the Ritz Carlton in Battery Park. It was a cool hotel, mostly because it was new, and because it was so close to the condo. And just like last time, we were all hanging out in the pre-assembly area, drinking and talking. The crowd here was significantly different than last weekend, though. Then it had largely been the mavens of the fashion industry, but tonight it was a much broader group. I noticed Mayor Bloomberg talking to some people, and wasn’t surprised to see Andrew Cuomo here as well. Darius had been flirting with one of his daughters earlier. Of course, Bellona Carter was also in attendance, only she was lording it over the fashion subset of this group instead of being the Queen of the whole thing. I watched as Grand and Stef effortlessly worked their way through the crowd, talking to people as if they lived here. I looked at my phone, noticing that I had a message, so I moved away from the bar to a quieter place to listen to it. I found a corner that was pretty convenient, one that gave me a view of the whole area. I played the message and smiled when I heard Patrick’s voice. “Hey Will, sorry I didn’t call you earlier. I’m planning to be at that event tonight, so I’ll see you there. Maybe we can hang out after that.” I smiled at my phone, and then frowned when I noticed that there was another number that was conspicuously absent. I hadn’t talked to Zach since Sunday. I’d put off calling him because I took Matt and Stef’s advice to heart and decided not to chase after him, but in reality, I’d decided that was a pretty low risk strategy. I’d figured there was no way he wouldn’t at least call me on 9-11. As the guy who had helped me through that nightmare, he’d know what a tough day this was for me. I was totally confident that he still loved me and cared about me enough to worry about how I was doing, and I was absolutely sure he’d reach out to me. Only he hadn’t. I sighed and put my phone away, deciding that it was still early in California, and using that as an excuse to pretend he’d call me later to check up on me. I saw my father at the bar, and stared at him long enough that he must have felt my eyes on him. He got his drink and strolled over to my corner. “You found a nice place to hide.” “I’m not hiding, I’m observing,” I joked. “You seen Darius lately?” he asked. “He was hanging around with JJ and Bellona, but I haven’t seen him for a little bit,” I said, wondering where he was. “Where’s Jake?” “He went ahead and flew down to DC, to see if he could help Stef dump that land on the border,” Dad said. “You were gone for a while last night,” I teased. “I just went to welcome Jake to New York. We talked, then made out for a while,” he said. “How was it?” I asked, totally excited for him. “Hot,” he answered, cracking me up. “No doubt,” I said. “But you didn’t fuck him?” “No,” he said, and seemed confused. “I’ll fill you in on why when we fly down to Goodwell.” Whatever happened with Jake freaked him out a bit, and he obviously didn’t want to talk about it. I resolved not to be an asshole and hound him about it, especially here, and especially on 9-11. “Cool,” I said, then used my own issues to distract him. “Zach didn’t call me yet.” “It’s still early in California,” he said, using my same reasoning. I was distracted from arguing about that when I saw Darius at the bar. He was looking around in a way that I knew for him was almost frantic, but would look normal to anyone else. As soon as he spotted Dad and me, he all but charged over to our corner. “I found out what the plan is for tonight,” he said. He was really pissed off, so much that his eyes were almost shooting fire, and his nose was flaring not unlike Matt’s did when he was mad, only Darius had to be a lot more pissed off for his nose to flare out than Matt did. “What?” I asked calmly, trying to get him to settle down a bit. “Did you know about this?” he asked Dad. “About what?” Dad asked, and seemed genuinely confused. “They’re going to recognize us for escaping from the tower,” Darius snapped. “They’re going to give us keys to the city.” “What?” I asked, totally stunned. “That’s quite an honor,” Dad said, then withered under truly evil looks from Darius and me. “I don’t want to relive that fucking day, and I sure as fuck don’t want to relive it in front of cameras, reporters, and politicians,” Darius said, much too loudly. “Shut the fuck up,” I snapped. He just glared at me. “Do not make a scene.” “You’re saying this?” he demanded, like I was constantly making an ass of myself at fancy balls. “I’m saying this,” I said, even as my mind whirled with what he said. “I’m so out of here,” Darius said, and made to leave. I grabbed his arm to stop him, and when he turned around to face me, he instinctively cocked his fist. “You can’t do that without causing big problems,” Dad snapped, using his full power posture, one that probably saved me from taking a fist in my stomach. “You still planning to go into the Navy?” “Yeah,” Darius said, as if Dad were stating the obvious. “Then you can’t go running out of here and embarrassing a bunch of powerful politicians,” Dad said logically. “You really think Mayor Bloomberg is gonna track me down and cause me problems for bailing on this party?” Darius demanded. “He’ll know that you were here, and then when they announce the award, and only Will goes up to get it, he’ll know you left,” Dad said. “That’s the kind of thing that can bite you in the ass later on.” “Fuck,” Darius said, with resignation. I wasn’t convinced it would really be that big of a problem, but running away wasn’t the right thing to do, so I didn’t argue about it. “So you’re OK with this?” he demanded of me. “It’s not my first choice, but if that’s what they have planned, I’ll go with the flow,” I said. It was almost surreal that Darius was freaking out, kind of like I had been known to do a few times, while I was pretty relaxed about things. “Remember my 40th birthday,” Dad said to us. “I got to the airport, all pissed off, and was determined to just go back to work. If I’d have done that, I’d have completely fucked up your plans.” “You’re the only guy I know who gets pissed off by a good blow job,” I teased him, reminding him about his ride to the airport. He ignored me. “And then that night, when it was time for me to go downstairs, I thought briefly about stalling, but I knew that you guys had gone to a lot of trouble to set that up for me, and I didn’t want to be a dick and ruin it, or embarrass you,” he said, ignoring my taunt. “So?” Darius said. “If you do that, if you bail on the Mayor and these people, that’s what you’re doing. They want to honor you for your bravery, and if you just skip out on them, you make them look like asses,” Dad explained. “Besides, no way you can’t get laid after they give you the key to the city,” I joked. “I already got that covered,” Darius said, then got more thoughtful as he thought of his date. “I don’t think Bellona would appreciate me doing that either.” “Probably not,” Dad said. It was annoying that only when he factored in Bellona’s reaction did Darius seem to fully realize how stuck we were. “Fine, I’ll do it, but only if you do the talking,” he said to me. He usually pawned that off on me, because he hated talking to crowds like this. “I can do that,” I said, even as my mind began to whirl with a new idea. “I better get back to the party,” he said, and walked off at a much more deliberate pace than that which he’d used to get here. “Did he work things out with JJ?” Dad asked. I laughed. “Yeah. They did it in about seven words.” “I’m glad,” he said. “So what are you planning?” “What do you mean?” He rolled his eyes at me. “You’re working on something. What are you planning to say?” It was irritating that he could read me so well these days. It was so much easier to hide things from him when he was fucked up. “We’re having the talent show next weekend, and that’s going to end up being a big tribute to Grand,” I said, confiding in him. “That’s a nice thing to do,” he said approvingly. “Thanks, but I’ve been worried that it would upset Stef. It may make him think we’re neglecting him when we pay total attention to Grand,” I told him. It was cool that he didn’t give me a bunch of bullshit arguments, but recognized the situation and how sensitive Stef could be about these things. “That could happen,” he agreed nervously. “I wanted to include him in the talent show celebration, to make it a joint deal for him and Grand, but I got vetoed. It won’t really work,” I said. “Instead, I’ve tried to get him all involved in our plans, so it’s his deal too.” “That’s a good idea,” Dad said, smiling at me. “Thanks, but we still haven’t done anything for Stef,” I said. “So tonight, when I get to talk, I’ll make sure I do that.” “I’m sure he’d appreciate that,” Dad said, even as he thought about it. “This is more his crowd,” I added. “He’s almost as popular here as he is in LA,” Dad noted. It was amazing what billions of dollars would do for your image. I saw Patrick walk up to the bar, and noted that he was alone. “I’ll see you later,” I said, and strode purposely away from Dad toward Patrick. He saw me when I was about ten feet away from him, and it was awesome that at huge smile seemed to erupt on his face. “Hey Will!” he said, and gave me a big man-hug to make us look like bros. “It is so good to see you!” I told him honestly. “You here solo?” “I am, but I’m not real popular at home right now,” he grimaced. “You’re popular here,” I flirted. “I was staying at our condo, but it’s a little crowded. I was thinking about getting a room here.” “Oh yeah?” he asked, raising his eyebrow suggestively. “I’d hate to be here alone, though,” I said. “Maybe you could keep me company?” “I can do that,” he said. “I understand I’m sitting at your table tonight.” “Don’t get into a fight with Darius,” I teased. “I’ll be back.” I left him and went to the front desk and splurged for the biggest suite they had available. The dude working at the front desk was stunningly slow, so by the time I got a couple of keys and went back to the gala, I discovered that pretty much everyone had gone into the ballroom and taken their seats. I managed to find my table, and found myself sandwiched in between Dad and Patrick, while Stef was on Patrick’s other side. Those two were deep in conversation, so I talked to Dad. “I decided to stay here tonight, so you have your own room.” “I wonder why,” he said sarcastically, even as he looked beyond me at Patrick. “Damn, you have good taste in men.” “So do you,” I reminded him. Dinner conversation was pretty fun and lively, and there was the added dimension of all of us trying not to laugh our asses off at Darius working his moves on Bellona. After dinner was pretty much over, the mayor walked up to the stage and smiled out at the audience for a few seconds, then got somber and started speaking. “We are here tonight to remember one of the darkest days in the history of our city, an event that tore at our fabric, but at the same time brought us closer together.” He rambled on with that theme for a while, and paused to recognize some of the other dignitaries who were there. “I’ve been fortunate enough to honor many of our citizens who were true heroes on that day, but tonight I have an opportunity to recognize two young men, one who wasn’t quite 15 at the time, who braved the fires and heat of the South Tower to fight their way out of that burning pyre, and they did it while carrying their baby sister with them.” He read off our names, and there was an aide there to shepherd Darius and me up onto the stage even as the mayor expanded on what we’d been through, reading one of the more flowery descriptions that had been published. His words pierced through my shields as he made me relive that horrible day, and while both Darius and I may have seemed calm and stoic as we stood there listening to our tale, the tears running out of our eyes gave away how awful this was. I looked at him and we connected with our eyes, drawing strength from each other, and blocking out the mayor’s voice. In fact, we’d zoned out enough that I was almost surprised when he handed us these nice velvet boxes with a gold key in each one. The key was pretty cool. It was about five inches long, and was engraved with the words “Facsimile of key made in 1812 for the door of City Hall, New York.” The keys featured the New York City seal and the mayor’s name on their shafts. I’d been so absorbed in my ordeal that I’d almost forgotten what I was planning to say. There was a pregnant pause, but a look from Darius spurred me into action. “Thank you, Your Honor, for the kind words you said, and for these keys to the city. That day was the worst day of our lives,” I said, nodding to Darius. “The bravery you give us credit for, though, was really just us following the example of a man who has been a guiding force in our lives, our grandfather, Stefan Schluter.” I paused and stretched my arm out, pointing at Stef, until he finally stood up, even as he pretended to be reluctant to do so. The crowd gave him a huge ovation. “Stef taught us to look for opportunities, and when we find them, to seize them,” I said. “That was the thing that propelled us to make the initial decision to start going down those stairs. He also instilled in us the importance of trusting our instincts, and that’s the thing that kept us going down even when others were going up, and that’s the thing that gave us the power to fight through the heat and the smoke around the 80th floor. So we thank you for this honor, but we in turn have to thank our grandfather, Stefan Schluter, for teaching us to take advantages of opportunities and to trust our instincts. His training, his example, is the reason we’re standing here today. With your permission, we’d like it if he could join us on this stage.” “With pleasure,” the mayor said. Stef walked up onto the stage to a standing ovation, while the mayor smiled at him and shook his hand. “Stefan Schluter, the man who is currently four slots ahead of me on the Forbes 400 list,” he joked, getting a laugh from everyone. “When this year’s rankings come out, we will have to see if you have widened or narrowed the gap this year,” Stef responded. He didn’t say anything else, he just turned and gave Darius and me each a huge hug. After that, we walked back to our table, even as the crowd clapped for us. “Thank you both for that wonderful tribute,” Stef said, and was so emotional he was crying. “It was true,” Darius said, and even though I’d exaggerated quite a bit, I nodded in agreement. I was hoping that beyond this venue, our tribute to Stef would help him decide not to hate me.
  15. 55 points
    Patrick, Peter and Alice got up around six and had a quick breakfast before they left the house to catch the tube to the hospital. Peter wanted to be there around seven and Alice insisted on joining them. “I can take care of Mum, so you two can focus on each other, while Michael is in surgery. We need to catch up on various matters anyway. It will be a good distraction for her.” Patrick felt the need for distraction was mutual, even though Alice kept a cheerful face and denied being worried about her almost-nephew. He was grateful for Peter’s sake, because his fiancé was an emotional wreck. The unexpected visit from Alice had been a welcome relief from worry last night, as they relived funny memories from their childhood and lapsed into sibling-like teasing. It was clear Moster Grethe had been a surrogate mother for her niece and nephew, making Kim and Alice as good as brother and sister to Peter and Annika. But once they had gone to bed, which happened fairly early, Peter clung to Patrick, quietly sobbing against his shoulder. “We could lose him tomorrow. I should stay positive, but the fear is always there.” The cardmaker stroked the soft golden hair and whispered tender words of love and encouragement. He held Peter close most of the night, as they slept fitfully before finally dropping into a few hours of deep, dreamless sleep. He could sense how his lover drew strength and comfort from his nearness, which in turn bolstered Patrick’s pride, pleasure and ability of being a firm pillar of support for his man. No one had needed him like this before, and although he deplored the current reason, he knew their mutual trust and need was a sign of their deep bond. On the way to the hospital, Peter held his hand in a firm grip, and smiled gratefully at Alice when she patted his other arm in wordless support. Before they entered the ward, Peter took a few deep breaths and managed to tag on a bright face to greet his sleepy son and Moster. Alice stayed in the waiting room outside the main ward, because she didn’t want to create a fuss. “As much as I want to see Michael, I know he needs to be calm and relaxed, and that won’t happen if I turn up out of the blue. Send Mum out here, and I’ll say a quick hello and arrange to take her out for breakfast when Michael is ready to go. Will she be with him in the prep room?” “We haven’t decided yet, but probably. One of us has to be there to translate, and I think she’ll manage better as a professional.” “That’s fine. I’ll be here, whenever she’s ready.” Michael was happy to see his daddies and clung to Peter, whispering in Danish. This enabled Patrick to lead Grethe out to the waiting room where a tearful, but joyous reunion took place. Promising to fetch her the moment she was needed, he slipped back into the ward and Michael’s room. The next twenty minutes were spent in quiet chatting with their son who patiently let them hold his hand, stroke his hair and kiss his forehead and cheeks. Patrick marvelled at the serene confidence of the small boy. “Det er OK, Far. Min skytsengel passer på mig, Pappa. Han vil holde mig i hånden, mens lægerne fixer mit hjerte. Han har lovet, jeg snart kommer hjem til jer.”[1] “He says your guardian angel will take care of him and hold his hand, while they fix his heart. And he’s promised Michael will come home soon.” Patrick held his hand up and Michael high-fived him with a grin. For a moment Patrick thought he heard a grumpy voice mutter “the sooner, the better. I miss Theo.” But then the door to the room opened and Grethe came in, already changed into borrowed blue scrubs. Hard on her heels the nurse entered together with the orderly taking Michael away for surgery preparation. A few last kisses and ‘I love you’ in English and Danish, and then they had to wave to their son as he rolled away with Grethe at his side. They could hear his bright voice explaining about ‘sej skytsengel med sværd’[2] holding his hand. “I’ve never seen Michael so confident and relaxed about being in hospital. He’s grabbed on to your idea about a guardian angel in a way I’d never have predicted. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that.” “I have no idea where the concept came from, Peter.[3] It seemed right at the time, and if Michael feels better about the situation due to him, I’m not going to question the inspiration.” “Me neither.” Peter gave him a kiss and they hugged for a while, leaning on each other and breathing the familiar scents. Finally Peter sighed. “I guess we should go and tell Alice Grethe will be back in about half an hour. Then the waiting begins. Three hours or more.” “I’m not going to say don’t worry, but we have to trust Michael is in the best hands.” Peter nodded and they walked out of the ward shoulder to shoulder. Patrick liked the feeling of familiarity in having Peter’s warm fingers entwined with his own, and he knew he’d never grow tired of all those casual signs of affection. Alice was busy on her smart phone, but she stopped the moment she became aware of them. She’d spent the waiting time applying some discreet make-up and was back to the stunning looks she’d shown on arrival. Or at least, Patrick assumed make-up was the reason, even though he couldn’t exactly see any traces of lipstick or eyeshadow. Seeing her phone reminded him to get his own phone out and switch it on, and Peter followed suit. “Michael was doing OK, and Moster should be back thirty minutes from now,” Peter informed his cousin, who gave both of them a quick hug. “Mum and I had a good chat, and she’s agreed to go out for a late breakfast. I’ve been trying to find a nice place around here. We want to be close by, but I see no reason to hang around in this waiting room. We have to wait several hours, right?” “Three hours from the time Moster returns, say around eleven, and then Michael will be in recovery for several hours. He’ll need us there when he regains consciousness, but that may take up to two hours. The surgeon will brief us during that time, and depending on Michael’s condition, he’ll either stay in the recovery unit for the rest of the day, or be taken back to Bear Ward. Grethe will suit up again and attend him in recovery, but they’ll let me see him once he’s conscious. If he returns to Bear, as they expect, we’ll all be able to suit up and take time visiting, but I think it would be good for Grethe to get some sleep in the afternoon and early evening, since she’ll be here all night again.” “She has a key to the house, and I’ll pay for a cab there and back,” Patrick offered. “It’s a bit boring for you, I guess, but….” “No problem. I have access to your wifi, so I can keep myself occupied. I bet Mum has plenty of easy-to-heat meals and tasty sandwich ingredients.” When Peter was distracted by a text message on his phone and moved away while he replied, Alice whispered to Patrick. “It works out perfectly, because Kim’s flight arrives at four. I’ll text him so he can go directly to your house, if that’s OK? He can come with us and if possible say hello to Michael, but I think he’ll be terribly jet-lagged and in need of sleep.” “We’ll all need another early night, hopefully with more sleep. I’ll try to persuade Peter to go for a walk for an hour, but I have the feeling he’ll want to stay put.” Patrick smiled at his future husband, who moved back in time to hear his comment. Peter nodded distractedly. “That was my mum. She sent her best wishes for a successful operation.” “We’re all hoping for the best, and Mum said the surgeon was encouraging and confident about a good outcome. I know there’s always a risk, and Michael will have a long convalescence ahead, but the alternatives were a lot worse, right?” “Yes, the doctors at Rigshospitalet said his chances of surviving to adulthood were small without this operation. An optimal result of the surgery would cure him, and even a less favourable outcome would improve his health dramatically. So either way, having Great Ormond take Michael on was the first miracle I’d hoped for.” “We’ll have to believe a second one will occur now.” “Actually, Michael making a full recovery will be the third one in a row. Meeting Patrick was the unexpected miracle of this trip.” The warm smile Peter gave him made Patrick’s heart miss a beat, and his words caused a pleased blush. “I agree. You and Michael entering my life was a miracle I’d never dared to hope for.” Patrick reached out to take Peter’s hand and the Dane pulled him closer. “I love you.” Peter’s voice was low but intense. There was an unexpected flash. “Aww, you two are adorable.” Alice took another picture with her phone when they turned to look at her. “I’m so glad you’ve found each other. And I get the bonus of having my mum in England, which I hadn’t considered possible. I really am grateful to you, Patrick.” “I hope you’ll be a frequent visitor, Alice. Maybe a permanent resident, once we have the second house done up.” “Absolutely, and I can look after Michael too, between my model jobs. My skills as a nurse are crap, but I can entertain one bored patient just fine.” “Don’t remind me! Your ideas of entertainment are quite unorthodox.” “Hey, the face paint came off, didn’t it? And Michael swore he was going to have a bath anyway.” “Yes, well, I was thinking about the spider incident. You nearly gave me a heart attack.” Peter tried to scowl, but Patrick could see he wasn’t serious. “Are you scared of spiders?” Somehow, he couldn’t quite reconcile the idea with his strong Danish Viking. “No, of course not. At least not in Europe. Michael had a phase where he was interested in spiders, so we watched this nature program about Australian spiders. Even I thought they were scary, and Michael had nightmares for a week. But then Alice babysat him one day and decided to cure him.” “It worked beautifully,” she said with a smirk. “The eggs were just an added bonus.” “The eggs?” “I had gone shopping, and when I came back, Michael called for me somewhat urgently. I left the bags in the corridor by the entry door, but took the tray of eggs with me into the kitchen, in case the shopping bag fell over. When I walked into the kitchen, this huge fake spider dropped on me from the ceiling.” “Oh no.” Patrick began chuckling as he had a vision of what happened next. “Oh yes,” Alice giggled. “He screamed like a girl, and the eggs went flying into the air. At the top of the loop the tray opened and twelve large fresh farm eggs went splat, splat, splat, all around him.” “The last one landed on my shoulder while I was busy stomping on a hairy rubber spider. The mess was unbelievable.” Patrick was doubled up laughing, and Alice had tears rolling down her face. Peter was trying to scowl, saying “You’re as bad as Michael. He wet himself laughing, while this silly minx teased me about using egg grenades to fight spiders.” Finally, the cardmaker got his breath back. “Were you angry with them?” “Some, but the next morning Michael told me the spiders had turned up in his dream, but I chased them away with eggs, and he woke up laughing, because it was so funny. He never had another nightmare about spiders.” “People I work with can’t understand why I giggle every time I see a spider,” Alice told them. Peter rolled his eyes and muttered something in Danish. “Yep, you bet I tell them the whole story, and it never fails to make even the most ardent arachnophobe laugh. There seems to be a number of them in the model business.” Alice got out a mirror and repaired the minute damage to her make-up. “How are you doing in the business?” Peter’s attempt to change topic was obvious, and Alice obliged with several amusing tales about various model jobs with insane hours, demanding photographers and negotiations with her agent about what kind of gigs she would accept. “She seems to think because I’m Danish I’ll take on all kinds of jobs involving partial or even full nudity. I’m not a prude, but there are limits. I’ll do underwear for the big companies, but even they sometimes cross my limits.” The talk about her work lasted them until Grethe arrived. She looked tired but pleased. Peter led her to the most comfortable chair before he sat down next to her and asked how the surgery prep had gone. “Perfect, as far as I could tell. Michael was calm and went under fast. He didn’t even get to seven in the count down. From the comments I gathered they were very pleased with his stats and the easy anaesthetic procedure. The atmosphere in the theatre was focused, but not tense, when I left.” Peter still looked worried, and Grethe leaned over to hug him. “I know it’s difficult to wait, but try to think of something else for the next three hours. I’m going to have brunch with Alice, and I’m sure Patrick can find something for you to do in the neighbourhood.” “There are a few parks and museums within ten minutes’ walk from here, or we can find somewhere to have coffee. But if you want to stay here, I’m sure we can wait in Michael’s room.” Peter gave him a grateful smile and nodded. Grethe wasted no time in trying to persuade him or chide him for not taking her advice. She and Alice left together after hugging both men and saying they would be back at eleven. Once they were sitting on the sofa in Michael’s room, Peter leaned into Patrick’s embrace and sighed. “I’m glad Alice is here to entertain Grethe. She’s been so focused on Michael and us, but her own children need their mum too, and she needs their company and love.” “They chose to leave Denmark to pursue their careers, but I can certainly understand why they miss their mum. Alice seems happy about having Grethe here and the prospect of being able to stay with her when she has her own home next door.” “I’m sure Kim will see her more often too, because his work brings him to London at least once a year. He does try to visit Copenhagen at the same time, but his schedule is usually tight.” “This way he’ll save time and get to see you and Michael too.” “I’m sure he’ll like you too, once he gets to know you.” “Well, I look forward to meeting your other cousin. Alice is wonderful. She’s as beautiful on the inside as she is on the surface and intelligent too. I think she and Fiona would get on well.” “Wouldn’t that be nice? We could do with some relatives who aren’t stressful company to be our extended family.” Patrick didn’t want to bring up the matter of his future mother-in-law or Peter’s sister, so he decided to change the subject. But before he got very far in telling about the cleaners he had hired, two people entered the room. “I hope we’re not disturbing you, but we wanted to say hello to Patrick,” one of them said. “No, that’s quite all right. We could do with some distraction, and I did promise he would be here this morning.” Peter grinned at his fiancé, and Patrick realized this was part of the reason he’d insisted on staying in Michael’s room. He got up to shake their hands. “Hi, I’m Diane. I’ve been a doctor at GOSH for fifteen years. I’m convinced Lizzie saved the lives of several of our patients, because she had great instincts for how they were doing before and after surgery. The accident was a terrible loss for us as well as you, and I cried for days. Your mother was a very special person.” Patrick managed to squeeze a few words past the lump in his throat. “Thank you. I know she loved her work.” “And everybody here loved her,” the other woman said. She seemed slightly younger and her name tag said Nurse Reynolds. “I only had six months as her colleague, but she taught me more about nursing dedication than anyone else. She also taught me to be cheerful and grateful for the small joys in life, and that was an even more important lesson.” The doctor nodded. “What Tania means is she came here with a reputation as a brilliant anaesthesia nurse with a huge chip on her shoulder. But after Lizzie befriended her, only the dedicated nurse remained.” Patrick was taken aback at the frank honesty, but the nurse grinned and bumped Diane’s shoulder. “And your girlfriend.” They exchanged smiles. “That was an unexpected bonus.” The couple spent another ten minutes telling Patrick how his mother had brought them together, mostly by making Tania face up to the fact she liked women in general and Diane in particular. They praised her for being patient but persistent. “You won’t get everyone to admit it, but your mother helped staff, patients and their families deal with the pain of living, whether it came from physical or mental anguish. We do our best to continue the legacy and keep her memory alive.” While Diane spoke, Tania shifted the pile of papers she was carrying, and brought a blue folder up. She held it out to Patrick. “When we heard you were coming, we made copies of the best pictures of your mum at work and some of the letters of thanks sent to her. We’ve crossed out the names of patients and parents, since that’s confidential, but the descriptions in them will give you a good idea of how highly she was regarded.” He was speechless, but hugged them in gratitude. They left with promises of checking in the next day and encouraging words about Michael being in the best of hands with their colleagues. This time Patrick was the one seeking comfort in Peter’s arms. They sat for a while looking at the pictures and reading some of the letters and talking about the surprise visit of the couple. Peter said only the nurse had talked to him earlier. When Patrick put the folder away, the Dane returned to the topic of the cleaner. “You were telling me about the youngest of Mr. Kumar’s daughters having a scar on her face.” “Yes, and I’m almost certain she got it because someone assaulted her, maybe trying to rape her.” “That’s terrible.” “Mr. Kumar implied he wanted his daughters to work for us, because it was safe. They’re both students and would like to have the extra income. Sonia is aiming to take over the business when her father retires. Neeta wants to become a nurse.” “Sounds ideal for us and them.” “Yes. I liked them and I felt sorry for Sonia.” Patrick hesitated, but he didn’t want to have secrets from Peter. “I phoned a P.I. who has helped me before.” Peter looked confused and he elaborated. “P.I., private investigator.” “Åh, en privatdetektiv.[4] I understand, but why?” “I want to find out what happened. I get the feeling the guy who assaulted Sonia wasn’t brought to justice. It would explain the bitterness she displayed.” “Or it could simply be because she’s disfigured.” “Yes, but good plastic surgery could remedy a lot. I’m guessing they can’t afford it. But I can’t ask them directly.” “I see. How come you know a P.I.?” “Uhm, I’ve used him before. He delivered the evidence against a man who was abusing his daughters. But no one knows I was the one who paid him. He’s expensive but discreet.” “And good as his job, I presume.” “Yes, that too. I’ve used him a couple of other times, but for minor matters in relation to my business. People who were trying to cheat me. I could feel it, but I needed proof.” “What will you do when you find out about Sonia?” “I don’t know. Perhaps nothing, but I’ll discuss it with you first.” “You don’t have to. It’s your money.” “I want to, Peter. Don’t you understand? It’s a relief to have someone to share my burden with. It’s not just because I don’t want any secrets between us. And anyway, it will be our money once we’re married. No, I love the fact I can open my heart and my mind to you, and you accept me and support me.” “I love and trust you too.” The cardmaker wanted to shout with joy over how well his handsome Viking understood what he was trying to say. But he settled for a long ardent kiss to show his gratitude. Love and trust and caring for each other and Michael would hopefully never end. [1] It’s OK, Daddy. My guardian angel is watching me, Pappa. He’s promised to hold my hand while the doctors fix my heart. He’s promised I’ll get home to you soon.” [2] Cool guardian angel with sword. [3] If you want to know where the Guardian Angel came from, read my A.I. trilogy. [4] Oh, a private detective (Danish for P.I.)
  16. 55 points
    September 10, 2003 Tribeca, NY JJ “It is very late,” Jacinta said in her stunted English. We were standing by the door, waiting for our group to arrive, and her comment made me glance at the clock on the wall, noting it was approaching midnight. “It is,” I said. I rambled on to hide how nervous I was. I had no idea what kind of attitude I’d get from these people, who had all but scorched me last weekend. I hadn’t talked to my brothers, I’d only talked to my father and Stef, and both of them were circumspect at best. “They couldn’t leave until around 3pm, and then they had a five hour flight, plus the three hour time change.” “That is a long day,” she said thoughtfully, which didn’t surprise me. She seemed like a nice person. “It has been for us as well,” I said. “Thank you so much for helping me get everything together.” She’d worked like a demon, and so had I, which was pretty unusual for me, but I’d used the activity to avoid thinking about Carullo. He’d come back late last night and left early this morning, and I only knew that because Jacinta told me. “You are welcome,” she said, smiling and showing off her horribly crooked teeth. I had to fight to keep my emotions in check, since I’d made the mistake of thinking about Carullo. I’d felt so lonely last night without him there, and I was consumed with jealousy at the thought of him out there, fucking Luka, while I was here, all by myself. And that was the other big motive behind my attempt to throw out the red carpet for my relatives. With Carullo gone, I really was alone. I had no one, no one except my family. I’d pushed them a little too far, and now they were ready to disown me. What if they did that? What if they wrote me completely off? I’d be alone, completely alone. The only good news was that I had enough money in trusts that I wouldn’t be poor, or did I? Could they mess with that? Could I end up alone and poor? That was horrifying. I glanced around the room, as if to find something out of place that would upset the probing eyes of my relatives, and would cause them to damn me to a life of penury, where I’d have to get up every day and go to work. I’d probably have a little desk in some hideous cubicle, with loud and odorous people all around me. I cringed, and would have fled to the restroom to compose myself, but I heard noises outside the door, and braced myself for everyone’s arrival. The door opened and Stef came in first, of course, followed by Grand, my father, and my brothers. “Welcome to New York!” I said enthusiastically, even as I gave him a warm hug. “This is Jacinta.” “Nice to meet you,” Stef said to her, then focused on me. “It is so good to see you. And how have you been?” I’d been worried about being poor and alone, but Stef came in with his typical supportive and loving attitude, and that helped calm me down. “Doing well,” I lied. I greeted Grand and my father, exchanging pleasantries, while I watched Will and Darius from the corner of my eye. Will greeted Jacinta in Spanish and they chattered away happily. It was annoying that he was so much better at languages than me, and that he seemed to be able to genuinely charm and engage people whereas I had to work hard to be even remotely likeable. Darius stood in the background with his severe look, and only after everyone else had filed through did he bother to talk to me. “Hey,” he said casually. Will broke away from his evidently riveting conversation with Jacinta and nodded at me, and then I led them all into the great room. “We’ve managed to set up beds for everyone,” I said proudly. “You guys are in your normal rooms,” I said to Grand, Stef, and Dad. They tended to occupy the same bedroom when they were here. “Carullo is out of town for the weekend, so I put you guys in his room,” I said to Will and Darius. “Where’s Carullo?” Will asked suspiciously, as if I’d driven him away. “He went camping and fishing in Vermont for the weekend,” I said, and through some miracle I’d managed to keep my voice even and hide how much that bothered me. “I put an extra bed in there so you guys didn’t have to sleep together.” “Keeps me from getting perved on,” Darius said, giving Will a fake dirty look. “You so don’t meet my standards,” Will shot back. “I’ve got a place to stay, anyway,” Darius said. “I’ll meet you guys back here in the morning.” “And where are you staying?” Grand asked. It was a good thing he posed the question, since Darius probably would have told the rest of us to fuck off if we’d pried. “Made a call after our conversation on the plane,” he said. He grabbed his backpack. “See you.” We all watched, amazed, as he strolled out of the condo. “When is Jake getting here?” Will asked Dad. “He can have the spare bed in my room.” “He should be here shortly,” Dad said frostily. Will just snickered at him. “He can take my room, and I’ll sleep in Carullo’s with you.” “That is right,” Stef said in his mischievous tone. “You have spent the night there before, as I recall.” “I have,” Dad said, now irritated. Fortunately his irritation was more pronounced than mine, so I got off the hook of getting grilled as to why that would bother me. “I think I’ll go unpack.” “That is a good idea, and I will follow your lead,” Grand said. “Only when I am done with that, I am going to bed.” “We will see you all in the morning,” Stef said. They left, leaving Will and me standing there just looking at each other. I swallowed hard, knowing I’d have to take the plunge and apologize. God, I hated that. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a dick lately.” “You know, I’ve been willing to be your whipping boy up to a point, but I’m done with that shit now,” he said in a very nasty way. “And don’t you ever, ever think, for one minute, I’m going to put up with you giving Maddy shit.” “I said I was sorry,” I snapped. I mean, I’d all but groveled. This was where he was supposed to let up on me. “I appreciate that, but I want to know that you got what I said,” he demanded. “I’ll try to do better, and if I fuck up, I’ll make sure that it’s you I treat like shit,” I said with a smile. He laughed. “I can work with that. I’m sorry we were such assholes last weekend.” Somehow, having him apologize too made everything better. “It’s whatever. Let’s put all this shit behind us.” “I can do that,” Will said. “So what’s with you and Carullo?” I forgot how annoying he could be, forcing his nose into my business, but at the same time, he was probably one of the few people I could talk to about this. “We hooked up,” I said casually, like it was no big deal. “How was it?” “Amazing,” I said, and couldn’t help smiling. “He’s a fucking animal.” “I told you he would rock your world,” Will said with a knowing grin. “You were right,” I said. I told him all about my week, and how we’d spent every night together. “So things are good?” he asked suspiciously. It was like he smelled blood. “Yeah.” “So who’d he go to Vermont with?” It was annoying that he seemed to know all the wrong questions to ask. “He took me around the city on Sunday, and we met this dude named Luka. He seemed like a nice enough guy. Worked as a waiter at this pretty nice Italian restaurant. Carullo went to Vermont with him this weekend.” “Why does that bother you?” he asked, which was irritating, since I’d tried really hard to lay things out there in a factual and casual way, but he’d seen through that and got that this was bugging me. “Because we were doing great together, and suddenly this other dude is in the picture,” I said. “Did he tell you he’d be exclusive, just with you?” Will asked pointedly. “No,” I said, knowing that I was going to end up looking like an ass. “He told me he couldn’t be in a relationship.” “Did he say why?” “No,” I said. “I never asked him about that.” “It’s kind of raw to be pissed at him for going out with someone else when he told you that he couldn’t be in a relationship with you,” he said, pronouncing judgment in Carullo’s favor, just like I was afraid he’d do. “Yeah, but it seemed like we were doing so well,” I said, almost a whine. “Alright, I can see why that would freak you out, but you have to talk to him about it.” I wondered if Darius were here if he’d give me the same advice. He wasn’t nearly as big on talking as Will was. “I don’t want to give him the third degree,” I objected, which wasn’t true at all. I just didn’t want to risk be rejected again. “It is not giving him the third degree to ask a guy who’s fucking you why he can’t date you,” he said. “If it’s because he’s not into you, there’s not much you can do about that.” “That’s what I’m afraid of,” I said, accidentally letting that slip out. Instead of giving me shit, he gave me a genuinely sympathetic look. “I could be wrong, but I’m betting it’s something else,” he said. “What?” I demanded. “Dude, he lost his boyfriend two years ago. He was all in on that relationship,” Will reminded me. “Maybe he doesn’t want to risk it again.” “You’re telling me he may be more fucked up than I am?” I asked, sort of joking. “I’m not sure that’s possible,” he joked back, then got serious again. “He seems tough on the outside, but he’s not so tough inside.” “I was kind of a dick to him when I found out about the weekend thing,” I admitted, then told him about our dinner. “You fucked that up,” he said, getting a dirty look from me in return. “So how do I fix it?” I asked. He thought about it for a few seconds. “Call him. He probably won’t answer, but that’s fine. Leave him a message telling him that you’re sorry about what happened, and that you hope he really enjoys his weekend. Tell him you’re looking forward to seeing him when he gets back. And keep it very cheerful and upbeat.” “Won’t me calling him fuck up his romantic weekend?” I asked acidly. “No, it will let him know that he can come home on Sunday night to a pleasant place without a lot of bullshit,” he said, just as coldly. “Then when you guys are cool again, ask him why he can’t be in a relationship.” I thought about what he said, and it made sense. “Thanks,” I said, and I was sincere enough that he actually smiled at me. “Glad I could help,” he said. We were interrupted by a knock on the door. Will and I both got up and went to answer it, and found this amazingly handsome guy there. “Hey!” Will said, and gave him a welcoming hug. “This is my brother, JJ. JJ, this is Jake Pike.” “Nice to meet you,” I said, and I was proud of myself for not stuttering in front of this guy who was damn near a god he looked so good. “Nice to meet you too,” he said, and shook my hand. “JJ made sure you had your own room, but if you want to share with me, you can,” Will said, flirting with him in his whorish way. “I’m not seeing that,” Jake said flatly. It was stunning that his blatant rejection didn’t bother Will at all. “I’m starting to not believe you’re gay,” Will said. “Believe it,” Jake said, and winked at Will. “Everyone went to bed not too long ago,” I told Jake, trying to keep Will from throwing himself at this guy. “That’s fine,” he said. “I’ll just talk to them in the morning.” “I’ll tell my dad you’re here,” Will said. “He’s welcome to come say hello if he’s still up,” Jake said. Will smirked at him, which actually made Jake look slightly embarrassed. “Your room is this way,” I said, and led him down the hall. He walked in and smiled. “This is a lot nicer than the places I’ve been staying,” he told me. “Thanks.” “My pleasure,” I said, and felt myself blushing. I took that opportunity to leave, and to escape back to my room and make the phone call Will told me to make. Just like he’d predicted, Carullo didn’t answer his phone. He was probably in the middle of fucking that Luka dude. I fought down my jealous demons enough to leave a relatively chipper message, at least for me, then went to bed where I tossed and turned for a long time while I tortured myself by thinking about Carullo and Luka. September 11, 2003 Tribeca, NY Brad I’d heard the clock donging out twelve times almost as soon as I’d walked into this room, reminding me that it was midnight, and it was now September 11. I suddenly felt dirty, and attributed that to a long day of traveling, so I’d decided to take a shower. That had been refreshing, so much so that it had woken me up. I was lying on Carullo’s bed wearing my boxers, trying to decide what to do to make myself tired enough to go to sleep. Will would probably be here soon enough, and he’d want to go to bed. I sighed and put on a T-shirt and some sweat pants, and started going through my briefcase to find things I could take out into the family room to work on. I knew that I had to have something to occupy my mind, otherwise I’d let myself go back in time to two years ago, and I’d end up staying up all night torturing myself. I’d come so far, and I really did think I’d recovered from losing Robbie, but being here during 9-11 could probably fuck me up. The door opened abruptly, and I was about to get annoyed until I remembered I was sharing the room. “I see you took the big bed,” Will said. Carullo’s bed was queen sized, while the extra bed JJ had put in here was only a twin. “I got here first,” I said, smiling. “I’ll suffer through,” he grumbled, even though I could tell from his tone he really didn’t care. “Jake just got here.” “I didn’t think he’d make it in for another hour or so,” I said. “I think I’ll go check up on him.” “It’s quite possible that while you’re gone, I’ll steal your bed,” he said. “I probably won’t be back for a while anyway,” I said, even as I got up and started getting my things together. “You’re that confident he’ll invite you to stay?” Will asked. “No, but I took a shower, and that made me feel better, but it also woke me up, so I’ll probably work on some things until I get tired,” I said. “I think you’d do better trying to sleep with Jake,” he teased. “I thought about it, but he doesn’t want to,” I told Will. I figured that if I told him what was going on, maybe he would quit making annoying innuendos. “Why not?” “He says that when he’s rushed into bed with someone before establishing a friendship, it hasn’t worked out for him,” I told him. “He told me he didn’t want to rush things.” “He must be pretty into you if he’s that worried about going slow and not fucking things up,” Will noted. “Or he’s just trying to politely keep me away from him because he doesn’t want to have sex with me,” I said morosely, letting me guard completely down. Will shook his head emphatically. “That’s not it. I can tell by the way he looks at you.” “Maybe he just needs to get his vision checked, and he’s squinting,” I joked. “I’m serious,” Will said, in that tone, to let me know he wasn’t messing around. “He looks at you like he wants you. That’s not the issue.” “I guess we’ll see,” I said, and headed for the door. “Maybe this is a time when you can’t be the alpha male,” he said. I almost got annoyed all over again, thinking he was teasing me, referring to my ‘training’ on how to act at gay bars, but his expression told me he was still being serious. “Maybe he wants to set the pace.” “Maybe you’re right,” I said pensively. “Regardless, it won’t hurt for me to be polite and stop in to welcome him to New York.” “Just don’t pin him down and force him to have sex with you,” he teased. “What if that’s what he’s into?” I asked, joking back. “Then you should pin him down and fuck him,” Will said thoughtfully, cracking me up. “Did you talk to JJ?” He nodded. “He apologized, I drilled him on why it was important not to be a dick to Maddy and Carullo, among others, and then told him I was sorry we were such dicks last weekend. Now we’re good.” “It almost seems too easy,” I said skeptically. “The hard part is getting him to apologize in the first place,” Will said. “After that, it’s easy.” “Makes sense,” I said. “I still have to have a talk with him about seeing a shrink.” “If you want me to talk to him, let me know,” he said. I guess now that they’d had their meeting of the minds, dealing with JJ wasn’t such a nightmare for him. “I’ll think about it,” I said, then left him alone. I headed down the hall to the room I usually slept in and knocked softly. “Who is it?” I heard Jake ask. I thought that was funny, as if there was someone here he wouldn’t let come in. “Brad,” I said. I expected him to tell me to come in, but I didn’t hear anything. That was a little freaky, enough to make me wonder if I should just leave, until the door opened. “Sorry,” he said with a smile. “Just got out of the shower and wanted to toss some boxers on.” I couldn’t help looking at his amazing body. I ran my eyes up and down his torso, taking in his smooth chest with its accentuated pectoral muscles, at his six-pack abs that led to noticeable cum gutters, and then down to his legs, which were thinner and muscular. “Like what you see?” he asked, being cocky. “So much that I risked a smart ass comment to stare at you,” I said. He chuckled. “Come on in.” I followed him into the room and we both sat on the bed. “I had a pretty eventful trip.” “Yeah, I heard,” I joked, referring to hearing him getting fucked. “I’m sorry about that,” he said. “Why would you be sorry about that?” I asked. “You can be with whoever you want.” He shrugged. “I’d probably be a little jealous if I called you and ended up hearing you grunting and moaning while you were fucking someone.” That was really surprising, since he’d kept such a distance between us. “You would?” I asked, and I truly didn’t believe him. “A little bit, yeah,” he said. “You weren’t?” “Not really,” I said, and it was funny that he seemed disappointed that I didn’t have that reaction. “I actually thought it was hot.” “Maybe that means I’m more into you than you’re into me,” he said in his playful way. “Duh,” I said, sounding like Will, and making both of us chuckle. Only then we stopped laughing, and the silence was kind of uncomfortable. “Look, you know I find you attractive, and not just for your amazing body and your stunning looks.” “Thanks,” he said. “I find you attractive too.” “It would suck if you didn’t,” I said with a smile. “Then I’d have to deal with all kinds of insecurity attacks.” “That’s probably more my deal,” he said. “I don’t get that. You have the personality, the charm, and the looks… they basically are like a magnet, drawing in anyone who’s attracted to a man.” We were having this conversation, and I was pretty focused on it, so I was really shocked when he moved his face forward quickly, and even more shocked when I felt his lips on mine. I put my arms around him, pulling him closer, even as our mouths began to move in sync. I’d been worried, almost paranoid, that I’d have an experience like I had with Ben the Carpenter, and that Jake would end up being a shitty kisser. It took all of ten seconds of making out with him to realize that wasn’t going to be a problem at all. I finally broke our lip lock and smiled at him. “You are good at that.” “We are,” he agreed. I moved in and started kissing him again. I lay on my back and pulled him on top of me, while I let my hands move across his smooth skin, feeling his hard muscles pulsing underneath. My hands moved down his back and slid underneath the elastic in his boxers, grabbing his firm cheeks before running my fingers down his crack. I felt him moan in my mouth as my fingers slid across his hole, then he seemed to freak out a little bit. He gently pushed me away, and smiled at the confused look on my face. “We need to talk.” “Now?” I asked, panting. He laughed. “I promise I’ll take care of you.” “So talk,” I said, not a little frustrated. He gave me a slightly annoyed look, and that served to calm me down. He pulled off his boxers and exposed his groin, where he had a nice dick that was plump but not hard. “It doesn’t get much harder than this,” he said, and a tear actually fell out of his eye. “Good thing I’m a top,” I teased, even as I stroked his face in a loving way, but that wasn’t good enough for him. “I’m fine with that. I’m more into you, the person, than your dick.” “It’s a deal killer for most guys,” he said. I could feel the agony in him, the feelings of inadequacy he must experience on a constant basis. No wonder his relationships with Sean and Marc didn’t work. I got now why he wanted to wait for us to sleep together. This was a pretty hard conversation to have with someone you didn’t know very well, and that you didn’t completely trust. “Not for me,” I said. “You say that now…” he started, clueing me in to how his other relationships must have disintegrated. They’d probably said they were fine with it too, only to decide later it wouldn’t work unless his dick was hard. “Not for me,” I reiterated firmly. “Why can’t you…” I began, and then stopped, because I couldn’t think of a good way to ask why he couldn’t get it up. He chuckled a bit at my uncertainty, and then rolled over onto his stomach, showing me his beautiful ass. “See that scar near my tailbone?” I ran my hand across the scar I thought he was referring to. “This one?” “That one,” he confirmed. “I was shot, and suffered nerve damage. That’s why my dick doesn’t work.” It was hard to listen with his ass right in front of me. I let my fingers trail down again, and he turned around and slapped my hand away playfully. “They couldn’t do anything for you?” I asked. “They said I was lucky that I was walking, and that everything else worked,” he said bitterly. “And I guess shit like Viagra won’t help this?” I asked. “It doesn’t work,” he said morosely. “Before I got shot, I was versatile, but I tended to mostly top.” “Now you can’t,” I said, completing his thought. “So is this why you’re too radical for Sean and Marc?” “That’s part of it,” he said. “The other thing is that I bareback. I hate condoms, and have a latex allergy.” “That’s really dangerous,” I said, horrified. His limp dick wasn’t a deal killer, but barebacking was a whole different deal. I was guessing, based on the scene we’d heard in Mexico that he wasn’t just sleeping with guys he was committed to. “Especially if you’re barebacking in an uncommitted relationship.” “And that’s what I do,” he said matter of factly. “I fucked five guys while I was in Mexico.” I got the feeling that he was baiting me, that he was seeing how I’d react, so that just made me more resolved to be calm. “How do you avoid HIV?” I asked. “I’m immune.” “What?” I asked, stunned. “There are some people, not many, who seem to have a built in immunity to HIV,” he said. “I have all this other shit to deal with, but my body tossed me that as a twisted gift.” I’d vaguely remembered hearing something about that, so I knew it was possible, but it still seemed too good to be true. “That’s cool, but a little trippy,” I admitted. He had a strange expression on his face, one that was a combination of sad yet defiant. “Don’t you think it’s reasonable that I may need a little time to ponder this?” “Part of me just expects you to trust me,” he said, showing me the defiant part of his mood. “I do trust you,” I said. “Besides, HIV isn’t the only thing you can catch.” “The other things aren’t deadly, and I get tested monthly. I’ve only gotten something once, amazingly enough, and that was Chlamydia, a few years ago.” He sighed. “If I’m with someone, I’m more careful.” “I get that,” I said. I could see how that would have totally been a deal-killer for either Sean or Marc. “For me, I want to be able to have sex with someone I’m dating and know that I’m not going to walk away with Gonorrhea.” “There’s one more thing,” he said. I looked at him intently. “Sometimes it takes a little bit of work for me to get off.” “You make is sound like it’s not a fun job,” I teased, getting a slight grin. “No, it just means that if a dude is fucking me and his dick isn’t big enough to really pound my prostate, I’m going to have to do something else,” he said. I grinned, knowing that I wouldn’t have that problem, but I was curious about what that ‘something else’ was. “What else do you have to do?” “Usually toys,” he said. “Even tried a fist once, but I didn’t like that much.” That really freaked me out, so much that I couldn’t hide it. I hadn’t thought about that for a long time, and when I did, I always thought of Robbie. Having that raised in my mind on September 11 was too much even for my shields. “I grossed you out,” he said, and looked really sad. “No, you didn’t,” I said, even as I wiped a tear out of my eye. “I told you about my former partner, about Robbie.” “Yeah?” “He was into fisting. You just sparked a memory, and this isn’t the best day for me to think about it,” I said. “I’m sorry,” he said, with genuine sympathy. “So he liked it?” “He liked to do it sometimes,” I said. “It was really intimate. It was something that almost completely tore us apart in college, but then became something that brought us even closer together.” “It’s hard to see getting a fist slammed into your ass as being intimate,” he said. “You were punch fucked?” I asked. He nodded. “There are other ways to do it.” He swallowed hard as he thought about it, making me grin. “Did you like doing it?” “At first, I didn’t. Part of that was because I wasn’t convinced it was a healthy activity for Robbie, since he’d let this one dude use it to all but control him. I was worried that it was like giving a drink to an alcoholic,” I said. “But in the end, I liked it a lot, because I could take him to another world, get him off in a way that no one else could. To do that for someone you love is a major gift.” “It was that good?” he asked, stunned. “It was that good,” I confirmed. He yawned, and then I did. The romantic mood had been broken by our conversation, and I decided it was best to beat a hasty retreat so I could get some time to think about his disclosures. “We’ve got a busy morning tomorrow. I’ll let you get some sleep.” He smiled and nodded. “Sleep well.” I got up and went back to my room, and found that Will had left me the big bed. I thought about Jake, and was pretty excited, pretty confused, and pretty worried, all at the same time. I’d have to check out his immunity deal, but even if that was legit, which is probably was, I wasn’t willing to have unprotected sex with a dude who could give me some other nasty disease.
  17. 54 points
    September 13, 2003 Goodwell, VA Wade I’d set up the library much as it had been for that horrible conference some two years ago after 9-11. I figured that would be the best place for everyone to meet, since there were chairs around the edge of the room, while the center was empty. The other option was the dining room table, but then the problem would be figuring out where everyone would eat, so in the end, this seemed to work best. At one end of the room I’d set up an easel with a paper pad on it, and I’d made a schematic of what we knew and what we were dealing with, such as I could piece together, to give us someplace to start. “What time does everyone get here?” Matt asked me. “This afternoon,” I said. “I planned to start our meeting at 3:00.” “Should be interesting,” he said. “That’s probably an understatement,” I said ruefully. I was pretty uptight about this meeting, but Matt was probably the only one who knew that. “Where’s your mother?” “She went for a ride this morning, and from what I can tell, after that she went to hide in her room,” I said. “Probably a good idea,” he said. “Takes some guts for her to even be here.” “She’s trying to reinvent herself,” I said with a shrug. “That means she has to clean up her act, and she’ll need all of the people here to be on her side.” “She’ll owe them,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s going to bug the shit out of her.” “I’m more worried about what kind of trouble Lord Preston is trying to cause,” I said. I decided it was important to focus on one evil maniac at a time. “I still haven’t figured out what his deal is.” “Neither have I,” Matt said. I’d shared what Brad had told me with Matt, Mary Ellen, Tiffany, and my mother, but none of us had been able to figure out what he was up to. “JP will be here. Maybe he’ll put it all together.” “Maybe,” I said, although I was more inclined to put my money on either Brad or my mother. This whole business was a little too unsavory and complicated for conventional thinking. “I just spoke to Alex,” Mary Ellen said, as she breezed into the room. “They should be here within the hour.” “Everyone else should get here soon as well,” I said. I’d already sent the car to the airport to pick up JP, Stef, and the rest of their group. “Then the fun begins,” Mary Ellen said with a chuckle. “I’m looking forward to seeing Mother explain herself.” “She’s not the only one who has pissed people off,” I said, reminding her that she’d acted pretty heinously. “The only person I’ve been unpleasant to is JJ, and he won’t be here,” she said. “Besides, they’ll all be busy with Lord Preston and Mother.” “Probably right,” Matt agreed. One of the maids walked into the room, halting our conversation. “Mr. Danfield, the car is about to pull up.” “Thank you,” I responded politely, and went to the foyer to welcome my guests to my ancestral home. Mary Ellen chose to vanish to her own room, which told me she was a little more stressed about seeing these people than she let on. Stef was first through the door, of course. “Welcome!” “Thank you so much for hosting us,” Stef said. “It’s the least I can do, considering I lived with you for over three years,” I said with a smile. “Just your presence alone was compensation enough, which is saying something, considering the size of your appetite,” JP said, cracking me up. Darius and Will were next, followed by Brad. “We can show you to your rooms,” I said, and had the staff there to assist me. “The Duke, Alex, and Nana should be arriving shortly. I plan to meet at 3:00 in the library.” “We will see you then,” JP said. They all went off to their rooms except Brad. “Jake Pike is supposed to be here soon. We missed him at the airport. Will you make sure he can get past the gates?” he said. “Of course,” I said, and went to handle that. As soon as I’d done that, I heard the sound of a helicopter. That sound drew Mary Ellen out of her room, and she, Matt and I went out front to greet our English contingent. We watched as the helicopter banked then lowered itself gently onto the front lawn, and then waited until the rotors stopped, before walking near the craft. There was no reason to get decapitated due to an overzealous greeting. Nana was the first out of the helicopter, followed by the Duke. We were engrossed in greeting them while Alex was all but whisked off by Mary Ellen. “Wade, how wonderful to see you,” Nana said, giving me a genuine hug and a kiss. “It’s good to see you too,” I said. “Welcome home.” “The weather’s a bit warmer than the last time I was here,” the Duke said. “Perhaps there will be time for riding?” “We are scheduled to meet with everyone at 3:00 in the library,” I said, cluing them into the schedule. “I’m not sure if we’ll have time after that, but you are certainly welcome to ride tomorrow.” “Then we shall play it by ear,” he pronounced. We led them up to the house, but Nana didn’t need an escort to her room, and she led the Duke off with her. Matt raised an eyebrow. “That’s certainly not proper, her sharing a room with him,” Matt joked, cracking me up. “Dude, that’s the first time I’ve heard you say ‘proper’,” I teased. At 2:55, Brad and Will appeared, followed shortly after that by the arrival of Jake Pike. “Sorry I was almost late,” he said, and looked a little breathless. “You made it on time,” Brad said, smiling at him. I was trying to decide if they’d fucked yet, but I couldn’t get a read on it. “I was delayed in DC,” he said softly, so only the four of us could hear him. “Talked to a guy at the South African Embassy. He told me that the real power in the Preston household is Lady Preston. She calls the shots, and he goes with the flow.” “So he brought the title, and respectability to the marriage, and now he is reduced to being nothing more than a doormat?” Brad asked. “We were struggling to figure out how he can at one moment be an idiot, and another be brilliant,” Jake said. “Maybe he’s only brilliant when he’s doing what his wife tells him to do.” “Maybe,” I agreed, but we all chuckled at that. Everyone else arrived, greeting each other in a relatively pleasant way, only it was restrained because there were still a lot of bad feelings. The tension levels were high, but they soared off the scale when my mother walked in. She looked incredibly chic in a gray tailored suit, and I actually felt sorry for her until I remembered all that she’d done to deserve this animosity. Still, I was impressed with her courage. “Welcome,” I said to the crowd. “We have a mystery on our hands, one that I am convinced involves all of us. The purpose of this assembly is to see if we can put our collective knowledge together and work out what is going on.” “So this is just an information session, not a strategy session?” JP asked. “I think we have to take things one step at a time,” I said. “It is important that we are open and candid, and that means that as far as these issues go, we must trust each other.” Will was sitting on the couch next to Darius, but he stood and walked up to my mother, who sat there in one of the leather side chairs like she was a statue. I knew that someone had to take the bull by the horns and address my mother’s issues; otherwise this conference would go nowhere. I’d expected that it would be Brad, who would be more on a level with her, or perhaps JP, as the head of his family. I was a little nervous that Will opted to confront her, and even more apprehensive when I saw the fire in his eyes, revealing the rage that burned behind them. “You worked pretty hard this summer to mess up my life, and to mess up the lives of Zach and JJ,” he said to her in an assertive way. “You all but destroyed JJ’s skating career, and he was the winner of the US National Championship, the best skater in the country. You attempted to destroy one of the most important relationships in my life, and you plotted to ruin Zach’s career as well. He’s one of the best running backs in the NCAA, yet you had him drugged with narcotics and threatened to blackmail him. What you did was despicable.” She swallowed hard, and then looked him in the eye. “In retrospect, my motives were positive, in that I wanted to preserve my daughter’s marriage, but my methods in doing so were not. I apologize for any harm you, Jeremy, or Zach Hayes suffered.” That blew us all away, but it didn’t take the wind out of Will’s sails. “Thank you for your apology, and I accept it on behalf of me, Zach, and my brother,” Will said. “But I want you to know that the reason this ended so calmly is because Wade all but begged us to back off and let it roll off our backs.” “That would seem to be a wise course of action in this situation,” the Duke said, in a vain attempt to save my mother. “I may only be seventeen, but I’ve been raised by some pretty smart guys, and I’m not an idiot,” Will said. “I’ve got my family behind me, and my friends behind me, at least most of the time.” As he said that last phrase, he glared at Nana, who almost recoiled from his intense look. “So we’re good, and all is well, but if you fuck with me again, I will hunt you down and make sure you can never harm me or the people I care about again.” Mary Ellen leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Holy shit, I see what you mean.” I’d told her earlier that Will was hell on wheels, and she’d finally gotten to see him in action. It was all I could do to refrain from laughing. “Then let us both hope our interests remain aligned,” Mother said coldly. This had to grate on her to the extreme, to be lectured and threatened by some young punk, but amazingly enough, it seemed to get through to her. I decided that having Will do this, confront her, would probably work out well. She wouldn’t take his threats seriously, at least not visibly, but she would know he was dangerous. If Brad, JP, or Stef had said that, she may have seen it as a challenge. “Cool,” Will said, and smiled at her. He held out his hand, and Mother stood up and shook it, returning his smile half-heartedly. “One moment young man,” Nana said, as Will went to walk back to his seat. “And what did I do to make you think I wasn’t your friend?” She expected Will to melt under her assault, but he was still pretty fired up. “Uh oh,” Matt said to me sotto voce. “When Trevor was beaten up, you jumped on the bandwagon, accusing me of being behind it,” he said to her boldly. “Were you aware that I had pledged not to do anything to him?” She said nothing. “Were you?” Will demanded. “I was,” she responded through clenched teeth. “Then I would have expected that you, as a friend, would believe me, and would have faith in me, and that you’d have my back,” he spat at her. “Instead, the first thing you do is sell me down the river.” He turned to address the Duke. “Your Grace, I would think you would be a good arbiter of honor in this situation. Is that the way one is supposed to treat one’s friends?” This whole scene was so hysterical, I felt my controls starting to fail me, especially when Matt and Mary Ellen were visibly snickering. “I would be most interested to know if that’s appropriate behavior as well,” Mary Ellen chimed in, just to perpetuate the situation. “It is not,” the Duke pronounced, getting a very foul look from Nana. “You know, you have been such a rock in my life,” Will said to Nana. “When we went to Buzz Dalby’s funeral, one of his nephews took me to see his rodeo horse. This guy was a complete asshole, and the first thing he did was shock the hell out of the horse with a prod.” It was funny to see all of us get upset at that, at the thought of a horse suffering from abuse. “After a rather unpleasant conversation, I bet him that I could saddle the horse and ride her around the ring. If I could do it, I got the horse, but if he won, I had to give him $5,000. I made the bet because I knew I could do it, because you were the person who trained me how to deal with horses. The stable hands were stunned that in the hour I had to prepare, I didn’t try to mount her at all, I just put ointment on her wounds, and eyeballed her, and talked to her. You taught me to build that trust. So when it came time to ride her, she tried to buck me off, but not all that hard, and I was able to do it. Now she lives at Escorial. That’s all you.” Nana smiled. “Good job.” Then she got up and gave Will a big hug. “I won’t doubt you again.” “Thanks,” he said, and then sat down. Sometimes Will’s theatrics created really explosive situations, but in this case, he’d actually managed to eliminate most of the tension in the room. My mother had to deal with him, but when she’d apologized to Will, it was as if she was apologizing to all of us. And by calling Nana out, he’d dropped her and the Duke off of their high horses, as they both tended to look down their noses at the rest of us, JP excluded, as being junior to them. “Now that we have gotten those things out of the way, I would like to discuss the situation we’re currently facing,” Brad said. “So far, the death toll in this deal is at least three people, and I’m not willing to see anyone else lose their life.” “Three people?” Nana asked. “Buzz Dalby, my pilot, and my copilot,” Brad said. “It seems that whatever is going on is tied to Lord Preston, and none of us have been able to figure out what exactly his deal is.” “He is a real estate developer in South Africa,” Alex said. “He is not,” Brad said to him. “He is linked to the drug cartels in South Africa, and he is currently in Mexico trying to stir up trouble with those cartels.” Alex looked questioningly at his grandfather, who seemed to be gathering his thoughts. “My son has been married twice. His first marriage was to Alex’s mother. He then remarried. It is his second wife that is the source of these problems.” “Please enlighten us,” I said, to prod him on. “It will require a bit of family history, so I would impose on you to be patient until I have finished laying it out,” the Duke said. “You have the floor,” JP said in a friendly way. “The first Duke of Suffolk had three sons, and these three sons pursued very different paths. The oldest, my ancestor, was a politician and a courtier, as was expected of someone of his rank, especially in those days,” he said. We all ignored his incredibly snobby tone. “The youngest son went into the Royal Navy and became one of Britain’s most successful naval officers of the Napoleonic Wars.” “Are you on speaking terms with that branch of the family?” Mary Ellen asked. “There have been various family tussles that have made them less than intimate with us,” the Duke said. “They are friendly acquaintances at this point, nothing more.” “If for no other reason than they usually support the Labour Party,” Alex joked. “That is a good reason,” the Duke said, being the dedicated Tory that he was. “It was the middle son who caused the most problems, and the great schism in our family. His name was Albert, and he was forced to leave England when the first Duke all but disowned him for his gambling and whoring.” “He was a party animal,” Will said to Darius. “He was purportedly one of the most charming men in the realm, but completely unscrupulous, and devoid of morals. He went to India to make his fortune, and he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.” “Isn’t that a good thing?” I asked, trying to follow his reasoning. “You are probably familiar with the Opium Wars between Britain and China,” the Duke said. “Albert Granger was responsible for setting up and administering the opium trade.” I wasn’t completely up on that side of history, but JP was. “As I recall, the justification for that was that the Chinese would only legally accept silver in trade for tea, but there was illegal demand for opium. In that way, by exporting opium to pay for tea, the East India Company was able to avoid a massive silver drain,” JP said. “That was the challenge,” the Duke said. “So Albert Granger was, to all appearances, a nineteenth century drug lord,” Brad concluded. The Duke looked intensely irritated by that, and then relented. “That is a reasonable way to analogize it,” he said in his lofty way. “When Charles, my son, found himself single, he opted to date and marry Sabrina Granger.” “Why is that significant?” I asked. She would have become Sabrina Granger when she married Lord Preston anyway. “Because that was her maiden name,” the Duke said. “Sabrina Granger is a descendant of Albert Granger. Charles would have had me believe that their marriage was the reunion of two branches of the family after all these years.” “But you did not,” JP said, stating the question as a fact. “Why?” “Because they had not given up on their primary business venture, narcotics, and there was no place in our family tree for such miscreants,” he said, the disdain dripping off his words. “My father was still alive then, and he was quite well-connected politically. It was due to his influence that I was able to retain Alex in Britain after their marriage, even when Charles left for South Africa.” My mind was reeling from this. My mother had thought Lady Preston was a DeBeers heiress, but that would seem to be wrong, unless she was linked to that family as well. I looked at her and could see her smirking, which was almost as scary as the Duke’s comments. What did she know about this, and what new scheme was she plotting? “Why didn’t you tell us this before?” Mary Ellen demanded. The Duke gave her a patronizing look, as if to challenge her right to grill him like a prosecutor, but he answered her anyway. “It was a tawdry affair, and as we have all but disowned Charles, there seemed no reason to bring up skeletons in family closets. In the same way, we did not dig too deeply into some of your past relationships or family matters.” I found his attitude infuriating, enough that it sparked me to say something. “I hardly think that failing to disclose to us that Mary Ellen’s future father-in-law is a drug lord is a tawdry skeleton best left hidden.” “Wade, we do our best to pretend it isn’t so, and perhaps that has led us to believe that to be the case. I am sorry if our self-delusion led us to deceive you,” the Duke said. I nodded, because no good would come of fighting over this. “I talked to some guys in the South African embassy,” Jake said. “They said that Lady Preston pretty much runs the show, and that Lord Preston does what she tells him to do.” “Sounds like they know him pretty well,” Alex said disdainfully. “I certainly hope people don’t say that about us,” Mary Ellen said playfully. “Not at this point, anyway,” he said, smiling at her. “What happens when Your Grace sadly passes on, and Lord Preston becomes the Duke of Suffolk?” Stef asked. “That will not happen,” the Duke said firmly. “How can you preclude him from claiming his inheritance, his title?” JP asked. “Property no longer passes with the title, so I have structured our estate such that it will go directly to Alex and his heirs,” the Duke said. “Yes, but that does not affect the dukedom, the title,” JP countered. “That may be a tougher battle,” the Duke said. He was clearly dodging the issue, but it seemed impolite to press him further. I wondered what big scheme he had dreamed up. Yet another thing to worry about. “I learned one other thing,” Jake said, taking the pressure off the Duke. “Indeed?” JP asked. “I learned the code word for their plans,” he said. “When you say ‘their’ plans, you are referring to Lord and Lady Preston?” JP asked, for clarity. “Yes,” Jake confirmed. “I didn’t learn what it meant though. It’s Blankford.” If he had set off a bomb in the room, it would have gotten a less volatile reaction. “That’s Ricky’s title,” Mary Ellen said, showing some maternal concern. “Are they planning to do something to Ricky?” “Do Lord and Lady Preston have children?” I asked. I already knew exactly where this was going; I was just trying to guide the others to the same conclusion. “They do,” the Duke said. He looked truly flustered, something that would have shocked Alex if he weren’t doing even worse. In fact, Alex looked more freaked out now than he did at Thanksgiving dinner when Mary Ellen told him she was carrying his baby. “They have a son, who is ten, and a daughter, who is eight.” “And the only thing standing between them and inheriting the Dukedom of Suffolk is Alex and Ricky,” I said, laying it out there. “That’s why they called it Operation Blankford,” Mary Ellen exclaimed, making the whole thing sound like it was casted as a script for Mission Impossible. “Alex, we have to protect our son.” “He’s quite safe at home, dear,” Alex said, “but I will make some phone calls to make sure of it.” “Let’s take a break so you can do that,” I said, recognizing that everyone was much too upset to go on without dealing with the basic security issues. “Before you go, I’d like to know if you’ve told anyone you were going to be here,” Jake asked Alex and the Duke. “Only our staff,” Alex said. “I need to talk to you,” Jake said to me urgently. “We’ll meet back here after dinner,” I announced. I led Jake, Brad, Matt, and Will off to the Conservatory where we could speak privately. “What kind of security do you have here?” Jake asked. “We have a staff of about fifteen people,” I explained. “Four of them are employed in the house, five are employed in the stables, and the others manage the grounds. The household staff generally is responsible for admitting people to the estate.” “Do you have any weapons here?” he asked. He was starting to freak me out just a bit. “You think they’re going to attack us here?” Matt asked. “It would give them an ideal opportunity,” Jake said. “Everyone who stands in their way is here except for an infant left back in England.” “And if they were all killed, who would fight to keep that infant out of Lord Preston’s hands,” I mused. Presumably Ricky’s paternal grandfather, who would then be the Duke of Suffolk, would be seen as an ideal guardian. “We have some hunting rifles, but that’s it.” “I think we need to hire security, and have them brought in now,” Jake said urgently. “I see no reason why such a precaution is unwise,” JP said. “If you give the word, I can set it up, but you’ll have to coordinate with your grounds people,” Jake said. I looked at all of them, and even got a slight nod from Matt. “Do it,” I said. September 13, 2003 Tribeca, NY JJ I was lounging on the couch, watching the taped results of the Nebelhorn competition. It had taken place last week, and had been won by a Canadian, Nicholas Young, but I’d been too busy to actually view it until now. Even as I watched Young skate, I grudgingly gave him kudos for doing really well, especially since he’d been competing in the juniors last year and had just made the jump to the seniors. I knew from personal experience how tough that could be. I knew the guy who won silver pretty well. Scott Smith skated in Boston, and was a nice enough guy. The guy who won third place, Nick LaRoche, always seemed like he was a mobster, but maybe that was because he came from a totally fucked up family. I watched them skate, and then watched the others who didn’t even make the podium. Watching them skate for the cheering crowds was kind of a bummer, since there was no denying the rush of the competition. If I’d have ramped up my rehab and pushed it, I could have been there. I tried to objectively compare my routine to Nick Young’s, and I was pretty sure I could have beaten him. Then again, remembering the World’s “disaster in Dallas”, it was a good idea not to take anything for granted. I sat up and instinctively straightened my hair, then thought about what my life would have been like if I were still skating. I’d be in that pressure cooker environment, with all kinds of stress, but I’d also have a staff taking care of everything and fawning all over me. I remembered the victories, and that made me smile, then I remembered the defeats, and that was less positive. Then I remembered the stifling moral code that was inflicted on me, demanding that I be pure and chaste, and that I do nothing to ruin my public image. That had been truly awful. In the end, I decided that I’d made the right call. I was here in New York, doing well with my social life, doing well in school, and enjoying my freedom. There was no reason for me to miss the highs of winning a competition when the price to pay was so great. The door flew open, both annoying and scaring me at the same time. I jumped up, wondering who was bursting into the condo on Saturday afternoon, and was surprised to see that it was Carullo. “Sorry,” he said, since he knew how much I hated loud entries like the one he’d just made. “Hands were full.” He was carrying all kinds of stuff, so it was no wonder he’d all but busted down the door. “No problem,” I said pleasantly, shocking the shit out of him. He probably thought my message was just so much bullshit. But my brothers had done a good job of coaching me on how to handle him, and being bitchy wasn’t going to lure him out of Luka’s grasp and into mine. “Here, let me help you.” “Thanks,” he said, and let me pick up some of the lighter things. I followed him with his stuff to his room, and set it on his floor. I’d carry it back, but he could sort through it. He must have thought that was a good idea, since he did the same thing with the crap he was carrying. “Who are you, and what have you done with JJ?” I laughed. “I’m not always a dick.” “No, you’re not,” he said. He walked up to me and wrapped his arms around me gently, then gave me a nice kiss, one that I returned, making sure not to be more enthusiastic than he was. It wasn’t too hard, since he smelled pretty nasty, like a combination of sweat and ashes. He led me over to his bed, where we both sat down. “You weren’t supposed to be back until tomorrow,” I said. “Came back early,” he said simply. “Did you have fun?” I asked, even as I secretly hoped their weekend had been miserable, and that Luka had been bitten by a snake. “It got old. You can only handle so much beautiful nature,” he said. I agreed with him, but I meant it, and he didn’t. “Well it’s nice to have you back,” I said. “You want to go get something to eat?” “I just had lunch,” he said. Something was bugging him, but rather than prod him, I figured I’d let him tell me what it was. “Maybe we can do dinner later.” “That’s fine,” I said. “I’ll leave you alone so you can unpack.” “Jay,” he said to stop me. “I’m sorry.” “What for?” I mean, I thought he should be sorry, but I wanted to know why. “For leading you on, and then for being a total dick about it when I went away,” he said, then sighed loudly. “I came back because I felt guilty.” That was irritating, that he only came back because he felt guilty. “You were honest when we started hooking up. You told me you couldn’t be in a relationship. I should have asked you why, and you should have told me.” “I should have,” he said. “Let me clean up and then we’ll go out, and I’ll tell you what’s been going on in my fucked up mind.” “Dude, I don’t know if we have that much time,” I joked, making him smile, and then I left him alone to wash the nasty camping smell off his body.
  18. 53 points
    ---Ryder--- I couldn’t help but smile as I watched Oli behind the drums. He has a certain flare to him, one that’s been missing from music for a while. An excitement for the genre unparalleled by anyone I had ever met. He doesn’t just want to be the best, he needs it. And once he gets comfortable behind that kit of his, well everyone including me better watch out. As the song came to an end I smiled to him and slowly took off the guitar. “No, no, no,” He quickly let out as he jumped to his feet. “We’re just getting started!” “That’s all I had in the tank.” I exhaled in a heavy breath, placing the guitar back in its holder before falling onto the couch. My heart seemed to soar in my chest as I desperately tried to catch my breath. So this is it. This is what my doctors were talking about. “What?” He asked, shooting me a stupefied look. “But you’re a rock star! I, I saw online that you once played a four hour set!” “I did.” I slowly nodded my head. “But that was a long time ago.” “Please!” He begged, quickly rushing over to me. “Just like one more! We can, we can play a song you wrote! That’ll be super easy for you right?” “I really can’t.” I shook my head as the pounding of my heart finally began to slow. “Is it your depression?” Oliver asked, trying his hardest to get a good measure of what was wrong. “I guess.” I shrugged. “I just, I have a while before I can be who you hope I am.” Oli let out a deep breath before pulling over the ottoman and taking a seat across from me. “What’s that mean?” “I’m washed up, and tired.” I began to explain staring into his hopeful eyes. “Worst of all I’ve lost my love for music.” “But you were just having so much fun.” He cried, too young to understand what was truly going on with my body. “I know, thank you for that.” I nodded my head. “But right now, I just, I have no want to play anymore. Everything is just blah.” “You, you’re just in a funk.” The young voice insisted. “Can’t you like play through it or something?” “No, he can’t and he won’t.” Teddy warned slowly walking down the stairs. “Care to explain why your heart rate has been spiking?” “I just got a little excited is all.” I shrugged, looking down at the traitor on my wrist. “A little excited for five minutes?” Teddy asked, staring me down. “When I said go play with Oliver I figured you would play around with a guitar, or on the drums, not do a whole damn workout!” “Oh please, what’s the big deal?” Oli yelped, throwing himself back. “We were just having a little fun.” “The big deal is that his heart,” “Teddy.” I interrupted looking over at him. “It’s okay, really.” “No Ryder, it’s not.” He scolded staring me down. “Now do you want to tell him why you can’t keep playing, or do you want me to?” Oli popped right back up as he heard those words. “I-I have a weak heart.” I exhaled, forcing Oliver to look into my eyes. “So I have to take it easy with stuff like this for now.” “What?” Oliver asked in disbelief. “What do you mean stuff like this?” “Jumping around, singing,” “Playing music?!” He blurted out before I could finish. “I, um,” I hesitated looking up to Teddy for help. “Playing music.” Teddy repeated in a nod. “No, no, that’s gotta be wrong.” Oliver insisted looking from me to his older brother. “You’re a doctor, you have to do something!” “We are doing something.” Teddy nodded, shifting his gaze from Oli to me. “That’s why Ryder should’ve taken it a lot easier today. Thirty days to a stronger heart, but that all begins with him.” “So then in thirty days you can play again?” Oli asked, but I kept my silence. “Like full sets and shows like you used to right? Right?!” He exclaimed, growing more and more worked up by the moment. “I-I don’t know.” I forced out, seeing the distress grow heavier and heavier in his eyes. “But I’m not worried about that. For now, for now I’ll focus on playing music with you when I can.” “I don’t care about you playing with me!” He lashed out starting to grow angry with the situation. “I-I want you to be able to play like you used to! I want to see you playing arenas and stadium! I want to see you love music again! I want to see the real Ryder Sullivan.” “Sorry kid.” Teddy sighed, sitting down next to him. “This is what you’ve got.” “It-it’s not fair!” He let out, looking back over to me. “This has to be a joke! Please Ryder!” I shook my head and took a long look at the distraught kid in front of me. “It’s not like I didn’t do this to myself.” “You didn’t, you just, you messed up once! You,” “Oli.” I forced out in a sigh. “I’ve abused drugs since I was eighteen. I ate like crap, and I drank myself to sleep every night. I’m not the person you want me to be.” “That’s what they all said!” Oliver shouted jumping back to his feet. “My brother! My Dad! My Mom! They all said he shouldn’t be your hero. But I-I believed in you! I still do!” He yelped looking me directly in the eyes. “And I’m not letting you fail yourself.” “Oliver you need to relax.” Teddy began, lightly grabbing his brother’s shoulder but Oli shrugged him off before he could get a real hold. “I-I’m going to make you love music again.” Oli decided with a nod of his head. “Just like you did when we were playing Limelight, and Teddy, he-he’s going to help fix your heart. You’re going to get better.” Teddy went to say something but I grabbed onto Oliver’s arms before he could. “Yeah?” I asked, taking a long look into his eyes. “Yeah.” He echoed, not even hesitating slightly. “So you, you start taking care of yourself. You do what you need to do, I’ll do what I need to do, and Teddy will do what he needs to do.” “But Oli,” Teddy sighed. “The body has limits, you need to,” “No!” He interrupted in a loud voice. “If James Hetfield can be set on fire on stage and come back from that, you can come back from a weak heart.” I nodded my head but stayed quiet. “Oli, why don’t you go upstairs for a lit bit? I think Ryder needs some time to think.” Oli went to push his luck but hesitated as he took a second look. The young boy nodded to his brother and quickly ran up the stairs. “How do you feel?” Teddy asked reaching out to put his hand over my heart. “Fine.” I mumbled pushing his hand away. “Don’t shut me out.” Teddy warned, noticing the familiar look in my eyes. I stayed quiet for a few seconds before looking back up at him. “I’m never going to play another show am I?” I couldn’t help but ask. “No you can, you just,” “Don’t lie to me.” I interrupted, raising my hand up to my head. “Just give it to me straight.” Teddy let out a sigh but didn’t say anything. “See! What is with the god damn silence all you doctors keep giving me!” I shouted, staring him right in the eyes. “It’s like you’re keeping shit from me! Aren’t I the patient? Don’t I have a right to know what the fuck is going on with my body?” “Relax.” Teddy instructed, reaching out and placing his hand on mine. “Yelling at me isn’t going to help.” “I-I’m sorry. I don’t mean to yell at you, I’m just, pissed off.” I shook my head. “I get it, I fucked up a lot of my life. But why won’t you guys tell me what the hell is going on?” “There’s not much to tell you.” He shrugged, but I could tell he was holding something back. “Your depression and anxiety are off the charts, and your heart and liver took a pretty big hit from it all.” “My mind’s always been this fucked up.” I muttered as my eyes fell from him again. “But there’s something else you’ve been hiding, something you won’t tell me.” Teddy exhaled another deep breath before forcing my eyes back up at him. “You really want to know?” He asked as I quickly nodded my head. “You have stress cardiomyopathy.” “Oh.” I gulped as my anxiety began to flare. “What’s that?” I forced out, feeling my breathing beginning to grow heavy. “It’s nothing, I swear to god it’s no big deal and that’s why we’ve been keeping it from you.” He quickly comforted, seeing the anxiety attack starting to take shape. “It’ll do more damage now that you know than it did when you didn’t.” “Okay but if my hearts fucked up then,” “Your hearts not all that fucked up, I’ve just been, well never mind what I’ve been.” He shook his head. “Basically, your heart took a hard beating when you tried to kill yourself. We’re not sure if it was the emotional trauma you were in at the time, or from one of the seizures you had after you took those pills. Think of it like you gave yourself a heart attack.” “And you were keeping that from me?” I asked as sweat began to coat my hands. “Because it’s something most people have a full recovery from within weeks of it happening.” He explained, clutching my hand tightly. “Besides, I didn’t even know until Dr. Pierre figured it out last week. But we both made the decision that if you’re going to live with me it should be kept from you.” “But why?” I demanded, still awaiting the answer. “Most times it’s caused by emotional trauma, and I know you. I-I know that you’re going to overthink the hell out of it, and give yourself like twenty anxiety attacks in the process.” He exhaled inching closer so that we could fully look into each other’s eyes. “Every anxiety attack you give yourself is going to be another day it takes for your heart to recover.” “But I-I can get better?” I asked in disbelief. “We think so.” Teddy slowly nodded his head. “Why do you think we keep beating you over the head with that ‘thirty days to a healthy heart’ gimic? Take care of yourself and you should feel a lot better.” “Like play concert’s better?” I asked, feeling hope enter my eyes for the first time in weeks. “No one can know that until you get better.” He confessed. “I mean, I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to play small sets, but those big concerts you used to love. I, They’re really going to be a challenge for you.” I nodded my head and sighed. I have to get better, I have to be able to play music again. I need to find a way. “I thought you lost your love for music?” Teddy provoked with a smile as he tried to lighten the room. “I did.” I shrugged. “But I know when I find it again the first thing I’m going to want to do is play.” “When you find it?” Teddy repeated as his forced smile turned genuine. “Yesterday it was ‘If you find it’, what changed?” “I found a fan that doesn’t accept if’s.” I sighed, glancing over to the drum set. Teddy let out a small laugh and shook his head. “Be honest, were you having fun?” “Yeah.” I quickly nodded my head. “I really was.” “I’m glad.” He replied as his smile began to fade. “But I swear to God Ryder, if you hurt him, if you lie to him or let him down in any way. I will throw you out and never look back.” “I swear I won’t.” I promised. “When I look at him I see a mini you, and I-I could never hurt you again. I’ll help him reach that next level as a drummer. I’ll help him become what I couldn’t.” “Good.” Teddy let out as a smile returned to his face. “He needs someone that can speak his language.” “I do too.” I nodded my head, knowing he’ll be just as important to me as I will be to him. “Hey!” Teddy shouted as his grip around my hand grew so tight it hurt. “What about me?” “You know I love you.” I smirked. “It’s just, I can’t exactly play music with you can I?” “You never asked.” He smirked, letting my hand go. “Now come on, you need to lie down for a while.” “Only if you’ll take a break with me.” I shrugged knowing that he would burry himself in paperwork if I took a nap. “Ryder, I can’t there are,” “It’s your day off.” I sighed staring deeply into his eyes. “Spend it wisely.” “But what if I get called into surgery tomorrow and don’t have,” “Geez and you say I overthink.” I interrupted once more. “Look, do what you want, but don’t lecture me about how bad stress is for you while you’re running yourself into the ground.” “Fine.” He surrendered. “I’ll take a nap with you, but only for an hour. “Yeah, yeah.” I waved off as we both got to our feet. Yet as we started to climb up the stairs I heard the familiar sound of a loud male voice. “It’s okay.” Teddy encouraged forcing me up the stairs and into the living room. “Dad!” Teddy called out, pulling me into the kitchen. “What’s,” Was all he could manage as our eyes connected. Just like his wife the only that had changed about him was the age on his face. “Hi Mr. Haner.” I forced out in a gulp, but all I received was a cold silence. “Dad.” Teddy grunted through clenched teeth. “It’s okay.” I shrugged, turning back towards Teddy. “I understand where he’s coming from.” “Well I don’t.” Mrs. Haner spoke up. “Harrison stop being such a child and say hello to Ryder.” “Hi Ryder.” He forced out as though he was being held at gun point. “That’s it?” Mrs. Haner asked. “That’s really all you’ve got? Haven’t seen the kid in thirteen years and all you’ve got is a hi?” “I’ve got a lot more, but we always taught the boys if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” He shrugged, taking a seat and beginning to scroll through his phone. “Now you’re just being a jerk about it.” Mrs. Haner shook her head. “It’s okay.” I interrupted, hating that I was already causing a fight. “He has every right to be mad.” “He doesn’t.” Mrs. Haner began once more but as she looked to her oldest son she grew quiet. “Come on Ryder.” Teddy sighed, grabbing my hand once more and pulling me towards the stairs. “You don’t need to take this.” He muttered as we made our way up the stairs and into his room. I stayed quiet as Teddy quickly pushed me onto bed then climbed in next to me. “Relax.” I whispered, reaching over and pulling him close. “Ryder,” He groaned, pushing my hands away. “Remember what I said in the hospital?” “Yeah, but I didn’t think that included cuddling.” I whispered, trying my hardest to win him over. “Fine.” He muttered, letting me reach back over and pull him in close. “But I thought you were a big bad rock star now?” “Rock stars still need cuddles.” I teased, drawing a laugh from him. “You’re such a child.” He giggled, leaning back into me. A few seconds of silence passed before finally he truly relaxed. “I-I missed this.” He confessed. “Would you believe me if I said I stayed up every night dreaming to have this back?” I asked, speaking nothing but the truth. “No, I would think you’re trying to get lucky.” He laughed, no doubt rolling his eyes. “I’m not, I don’t even think my heart could take it right now.” I shook my head, trying my hardest to show how genuine I was being. “I just, I really did miss holding you.” Teddy let out a puzzled breath, shocked at the words I was saying. “So then what’s the plan now that you have me back?” “To never let you go.” I confessed, holding him tightly. A few minutes of silence passed before my mind began to run rampant. Suddenly my anxiety started to get the better of me as I thought over what happened downstairs. “Why is your mom being so nice to me?” “I don’t know.” He muttered, half asleep half awake. “She said she doesn’t even understand why he’s mad.” I forced out as my mind berated me. “But, she must.” “Ryder.” Teddy groaned, rolling over to look me in my eyes. “Can’t you just turn off your brain for an hour?” “Nope.” I let out, still wide awake with worry. “You’re the worst.” He teased before starting to think over the situation himself. “I don’t know she just feels guilty about everything that happened.” “How can she feel guilty?” I asked shooting him a curious look. “She didn’t do anything.” “Exactly.” Teddy shrugged. As he went to roll back over I stopped him. “What?” He groaned. “What do you mean what?” I continued, unable to let it go. “You can’t say exactly and just think I understand everything.” Teddy let out a deep sigh and placed his hand on my arm. “She feels like they failed you.” “How would they have failed me?” I let out, trying my hardest to scan my memories. “She said they should’ve done more after your grandma passed.” He shrugged. “But that’s all I know, you-you’ll have to talk to her if you want more.” “I will.” I decided but as I went to get up his hand pulled me back down. “Rest.” He insisted, laying his head on my chest. “Okay.” I gave in, laying a kiss on his head. Yet still I couldn’t fall asleep. Scenes from when we were young seemed to play on repeat in my head as I thought over everything his parents had done for me. They paid for me to go on warped tour when I couldn’t afford it, they believed in me when no one else would, they took care of my grandma when I wasn’t around to, and they took me in when she passed and I had nowhere to go. After about an hour passed I saw the door to Teddy’s room slowly open and a young figure step in. “Ryder?” He whispered, before reaching the bottom of the bed. “What’s the matter?” I forced out, opening my eyes. “Ew.” He gasped as disgust spread on his face. “How can you sleep with my brother like that?” “He’s my boyfriend.” I groaned. “What else did you expect?” “Still, just, ew.” He shook his head before taking another long look at us. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up.” “I wasn’t sleeping.” I shook my head. “Just give me a minute and I’ll be right out.” He nodded his head and backed up to the door as I slipped out from under Teddy. “Where are you going?” Teddy muttered, waking up slightly. “Your brother needs me for a second, I’ll be right back.” I whispered, laying another kiss on his head. As I turned around I noticed Oliver still standing in the doorway, carefully watching the two of us interact. “Alright, what’s up?” I asked, waiving Oli out of the doorway and quietly shutting the bedroom door behind me. “I just, I needed to give you your first assignment.” He nervously began, handing me a small black card. “Assignment?” I asked looking down at the card that read “Train of Thought by Dream Theater.” “Yeah, assignment.” He nodded his head. “I-I’m going to give you different albums from different rock genres to help make you love music again. Your first one is progressive rock.” I slowly nodded my head still trying my hardest to wake up. “You know how to use the cards right? You just scan them with your phone camera and they,” “Yes I know how to use them.” I interrupted, pulling a small new phone out of my pocket. It was something I had Teddy pick me up a few days ago so that I didn’t have to use my old one. These next two weeks I’m going to be under the radar. It’ll just be me and the Haners. “You realize most of Messiah’s albums came out on these.” “Yeah, yeah,” He shook his head as I handed back the card. “This album is from 2003?” I asked as it quickly downloaded. “How the hell have you heard of it?” “I have my ways.” He shrugged with a proud smile. “Why? Have you never heard it?” “I’ve heard it.” I quickly nodded my head. “I just forget how old all the music I grew up listening to is. I mean I was three when this came out.” “Three?” He repeated, slightly surprised. “Man you and Teddy really are old.” “Watch yourself Oli.” I warned, slowly opening the door again. “Wait, wait,” He quickly motioned. “I-I have something I want to ask you.” I let out a sigh but pulled the door close again. “What’s up?” “Hold on.” He whispered motioning me to his room and shutting his door behind me. “I-I, you have to promise not to tell Teddy or my parents I asked.” “As long as you’re not in any sort of trouble or danger.” I shrugged, bracing myself for what the question could be. “It-it’s nothing like that.” He shook his head. “I’ve already asked Teddy it actually, I just don’t want him knowing I asked you.” “Alright, then go ahead.” I let out carefully observing him. “Wh-When did you know you were gay?” He forced out, looking over at one of the posters on his wall. So that’s why he was watching me and Teddy so closely! “Probably when I was like eight or nine.” I shrugged. “I was lucky enough to figure it out pretty young, and then I came out when I was like fourteen or fifteen.” “Oh.” He exhaled, beginning to work it over in his mind. “It’s okay if you’re unsure.” I began, having had this conversation with fans before. If anything good has come out of my fame, it’s the fact that I was able to help so many LGBTQ+ youth. For some reason they flocked to me and I was always more than happy to help. “It’s something you’ll figure out with time.” “Was there ever a time you liked a girl though?” He asked, working it over in his head. “No.” I shook my head. “I mean, maybe emotionally, but I don’t think I ever had a crush on a girl.” He nodded his head once more and thought about it all. “So then did you always like my brother?” “Nope.” I softly laughed. “Sure, I thought he was cute but I didn’t like him as a person until I actually got to know him.” “That’s so gross.” Oli shook his head. “But why didn’t you like him until you got to know him?” I exhaled a deep breath and once more thought back to when I was young. “I blamed him for a lot of stuff he didn’t have control over. I guess he became a scapegoat because he was popular.” I shrugged. “But then Blake forced us to talk and I slowly realized that Teddy, he’s the most caring person I’ve ever met.” Oli made another disgusted face but I could tell he knew exactly what I was talking about. “Why? You have any guys you like?” “I, no, not any particular ones.” He lied, sitting back on his bed. “But I also have girls I like.” “Maybe you’re bisexual.” I suggested as he looked back down. “Or maybe you’re just curious and you’ll figure it out as you date different people.” “But like, that’s okay right?” He asked starting to go into his own head. I nodded my head but got down on his level and gripped his hand. “Of course that’s okay.” I supported. “You have the coolest parents in the world. They’ll be there for you no matter what.” “You’re just saying that.” He mumbled, pulling his hand away from me. “If they weren’t so cool, would they have let me stay here?” I asked, standing back up and heading towards his door. “Don’t think so much Oli, just, live.” He nodded his head and let me return to the hallway but as I reached for Teddy’s door a thought jumped into my head. I slowly began to walk through the small hallway and down the nearby stairs before heading right back into the kitchen. “Mrs. Haner?” I called out as she looked up from the table. “What’s the matter?” She asked, surprised to see me without Teddy. “Nothing.” I shook my head. “I just wanted to thank you again for letting me stay here for a while.” “It’s really no problem.” She let out, looking back down to the papers she was reading. “You shouldn’t feel guilty.” I suddenly let out surprising us both. “None of what happened is you or your husband’s fault.” “Is this about what he said before?” She asked but I shook my head no. “This is about what you said.” I forced out. “You don’t owe me anything, you know that right?” “I do owe you.” She let out, looking back up to me. “But why?” I asked shaking my head. “You guys gave me so much, and then I turned around and made a giant freakin mess of it.” “Because you were just a lost and hurt kid back then.” She exhaled, keeping her eyes on mine. “We should’ve gotten you help. We could’ve stopped all of this from happening.” “I wouldn’t’ve let you.” I denied, trying to bring her some sense of peace. “I would’ve ran away and hurt Teddy, I know it.” “Well I guess there’s no sense in talking about the would haves.” She shrugged. “We all have the chance to redeem ourselves to each other now, and whether it looks like it or not we all will.” She let out, gesturing towards the basement where her husband was hanging out. “You really think so?” I asked, speaking as though I was a teenager again. “He still cares about you, he just won’t admit it.” She nodded her head. “ He’ll get over it soon enough, you’ll see.” I saw the look on her face turn to anger as she heard a thud come from the staircase. “Oliver Harrison Haner! You better lock yourself in your room and pray I don’t find a way in!” “Crap!” A young voice yelped as the sound of running sounded through the house followed by a slammed door. “Mother nature is cruel Ryder.” She shook her head. “She made my first son quiet and obedient to trick me into wanting more kids, then bashed me over the head with my second.” “He’s a good kid.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Just very, lively.” She let out a small laugh and nodded her head. “He’s his father’s son. Don’t get me wrong, I love him to death but he really tests my patience. Sometimes I really don’t know how to get through to him.” “Maybe I’ll be able to.” I offered, looking over to the staircase he had just been hiding on. “You’re more than welcome to try.” She offered with a smile. If I can repay this family in anyway it’ll be by getting Oliver to listen to them. But still, I don’t think he’ll ever truly behave. He’s a drummer at heart and if that doesn’t show when he’s behind the kit, well it certainly shows in his day to day life. He’s a genius, I know he is. He’s just, crazy. Then again, the greatest geniuses were always the one to blur the lines. Keep rockin’ kid. I promise I’ll help you put all that energy of yours to good use.
  19. 53 points
    I was wrong about the paperwork. And meetings. And frowns from both Aparoe and Captain for doing something so dangerous. “What if you couldn’t stop it?” Captain asked. We were sitting in his new office, a tiny room near the control center of the ship. I shrugged. “I did. It didn’t fall or anything; it was still hovering. I just had to slow it down so it would stop moving.” “An entire shuttle. By yourself. With just your hands.” He was angry, I could tell. “What part of that was taking it easy?” “I didn’t want it to hurt Luca.” He’d been nice to me. Introduced me to the wonder of working with my hands. I loved it in a way I hadn’t thought I would. I’d thought it would just be about helping out in some way, but I loved figuring out problems and how to fix them. I’d stopped the shuttle, but I’d also sort of crumpled the expensive ship’s exoskeleton in the process. Which meant we had more work to do. “Can I go?” “No, not today. Aparoe said you had some mild muscle strain in your shoulders and back. You need to rest.” Captain stood up. “Come on. I’ll escort you back to your quarters.” I opened my mouth to argue, but he raised an eyebrow and waited. I slowly closed my mouth and then stood. We didn’t talk as we headed toward the lift, and the whoosh as it slid down toward the officer quarter’s level was loud. I crossed my arms over my chest, tucking my hands under them. I hated feeling like I’d disappointed Captain, but what was I supposed to do. When we stopped at my door, I put my palm on the scanner to unlock the door. I went to go inside, but Captain put one hand on my shoulder and stopped me. “Officially, I do want to offer my thanks for the way you protected one of my crew. It’s been noted and will be recognized when we return to our base station.” My mouth dropped open. “Officially?” Then what was all that in his office when he was so upset with what I did. “But I damaged the shuttle.” “And saved lives at great risk to your own.” Captain’s lips pursed. “Just try not to get into a position where you have to do that again.” “O-okay.” I didn’t understand, at all. And I was tired after the way my day had gotten longer and longer after the incident. “Thank you.” It didn’t sound quite like a question, but it wasn’t far off. I didn’t know what to say. “Rest tonight. You can take tomorrow off if you need to as well.” I shook my head. “I’ll be fine.” “Wait until tomorrow. Rest well,” Captain said formally. He turned and marched away, his back rigid and his long legs eating up the corridor until he turned the corner and was gone. Most. Confusing. Day. Ever. The next day wasn’t much better. I went to breakfast with Priella. She was pretty happy with me. I hadn’t realized that she and Luca were a pair, but she was offering to get me extra food and couldn’t stop beaming at me. It was such a turnaround from her previous attitude, which was a little standoffish, that I almost preferred that she hadn’t changed. Not to mention everyone else we saw who stopped to stare at me. People literally stopped right in the middle of the corridors. It was awkward. Why were they so surprised? All I did was stop a shuttle from moving. They rescued victims from the Brox people; that was a much bigger deal. They stopped torture. I just stopped a minor splat from happening. As my shift went on, more and more people came up to me to say something about what I’d done. I almost regretted it. By the time we were halfway through the shift—where I was allowed to do nothing more than hand over parts and tools again—I was at my limit. I went from talking to no one for years to talking to what felt like hundreds. Maybe it was just a few dozen, but that was more than enough. “I’m going back to my quarters,” I told Luca. I had my hands tucked into my sleeves to hide their shaking. “All right. Tomorrow is our usual rest day, so we don’t have a shift.” Good. I could hide out all day in my room. “Okay.” My escort was a quiet alien who towered over me but walked so quietly that I couldn’t even hear her following me. It was humorous, in an awkward way, when she had to bend over to stand in the lift. I couldn’t stop my smile. She left me with a complicated gesture and bow. Her face was just below my chest level when she stopped, and that was when I noticed she had no mouth that I could see. No wonder why she hadn’t asked me any questions. My sonic shower was as unsatisfying as ever, but the warm cokala was perfect. I sat back on the bed with my drink and cued up the vid I’d started watching the day before. Lakshou had recommended them. They were boring, he said, but a good way to learn about the species that made up the universe. I’d maybe watched a hundred of the docu entries, and I’d seen things I never imagined. Talking plants. Alien planets powered by goo that hardened into crystal shards of immeasurable power. Beings that could morph their bodies into any shape, depending on their need—the vid of one thinning out their body to paper-thin thickness and floating away across a large body of water was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. I’d had dreams of flying, not in a shuttle or a ship, but just my body shooting through the air. It was the most freedom I could imagine having.
  20. 53 points
    Last night the beautiful man falling down next to me agreed to marry me. I still can’t believe it. “Holy crap Babe,” I said breathlessly, “where did that come from?” Ian looked at me in mock defense, “I have skills. You want more, I have more,” he laughed. “More, huh!” I said while pulling Ian over the top of me, kissing his… A loud undulating dee dah dee dah sound squealed from my pager indicating an urgent response was required. “Dammit,” I cursed out loud. What the hell, everyone knows we got engaged last night and I wasn’t on roster today. Who the fuck is paging me? As I grabbed the pager off of the nightstand, Ian latched on to my nipple with his teeth then pulled back, my cock twitched and started to come to life again. “Mmm, Babe,” I moaned as I read the message. Message: KPO POTTS76345>>POI SC LOCATED RESPND C1 KDT PRICE 859-5557856 “Shit!”I exclaimed sitting up knocking Ian to the side, I threw the blankets off and hopped out of bed. “Everything okay?” Ian asked me a little dazed. “Shit!” I ran my hand through my hair; sitting down on the bed, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to push you away. Wade found Stephen Carter.” “You should go to him, you’ve been worried for weeks.” “I don’t want to leave, I want to stay here and celebrate with you,” I said a little needily. Ian crawled over wrapping himself around me. He kissed my neck, nibbled on my ear, then kissed along my jaw, while pushing me back on the mattress as he slid onto the floor between my legs taking my cock into his mouth. His tongue swept around the head then dipped into the slit, “Fuck, Babe,” Ian slid further down my shaft, sucking harder and faster, he didn’t stop until he had me screaming his name. Lifting my head, I could see Ian grinning like the cat that got the canary, “Pretty pleased with yourself there aren’t ya?” I chuckled trying to catch my breath and trying to get my heart rate slow, I let my head fall back onto the mattress. Ian chortled, “Yup.” “How am I supposed to ring Wade like this?” I sat up and looked at Ian who was still grinning, kneeling on the carpet between my legs, his hands resting on my shaky thighs. “I don’t know,” he mumbled, “but we better shower before you go anywhere,” he ran his finger through some remnants of our earlier activity on my chest. Looking down at his playful action I smiled, I grabbed his hand and stood up bringing him with me. I kissed him then led us to the shower while I responded to Wade’s page. <>-<>-<> Since this really isn’t a police matter, although, I could be in a lot of trouble using police resources to do what I am doing, I brought Ian along with me for a couple of reasons. One, I didn’t want to leave him at the moment. Two, he could really help with Stephen as he was one of his students. Three, please see the first reason. The only problem is we have treated it as a police matter, it should be, but this kid has had enough go wrong for him without involving an inadequate system red tape and broken promises. “Just look confident, bored, and keep your hands in your pockets. If the nurse sees you’re nervous, they’ll ask questions, if all else fails pretend to be on the phone,” I winked at Ian, “and you look hot in a suit. Are you ready?” “Okay,” Ian answered, he fidgeted nervously looking down at his clothes. We walked up to the nurse's station flashing my badge to the nurse, “Police ma’am, Stephen Carter he was brought in by a patrol earlier,” I lazily leaned on the counter, Ian stepped away putting his phone to his ear. Thank god, we’d had the forethought to put our phones on silent before we came into the ER. It would be just our luck his phone would ring while he is supposed to be using it. The thought had me holding back my amusement. The nurse checked the computer, “Bed five, the officer is still with him. The doctor will be there shortly. Please go to the door, it will make a buzzing sound but don’t push until you hear the lock click,” the woman didn’t take her eyes away from the computer nor did she take a breath as she pushed the door release button. Geez, impatient much. I pulled Ian toward the door, so we could go through once it clicked. The second I pushed the door open, and we walked through it, the horrible smell of disinfectants, bleaches, vomit and piss all combined at once. And if that isn’t bad enough, the loud noises of the doctors yelling, the nurses banging different equipment around. Lucky I don’t get motion sickness the sea of moving rainbow of scrub-clad staff pushing every which way, would have forced me past queasy. My hand went to the small of Ian’s back, his eyes met mine grounding me soothing the anxiousness within. It was not difficult to locate Stephen in the chaos since Wade stood out like a sore thumb in his patrol uniform at the end of the bed. His face etched with concern as he stared at the lifeless lump in front of him. Stephen had the blankets pulled up over him almost past his shoulders, his hand fisted in the blankets with them tucked protectively under his chin. “Hey,” I nodded stiffly to Wade as we approached then shook his hand. “Sorry about calling so late, but I know how desperate you have been to find Stephen,” Wade said apologetically. Before I could even say a word, Ian had walked to the side of the bed staring down at the poor kid, his face a cacophony of color, with bruises and cuts to his face. Stephen had managed to fall asleep, I have no idea how. Ian turned his head to me, the pain evident in his eyes. It was easy to read his thoughts, “How could anyone do this to a kid?” I swear I saw Ian’s whole body shudder. The damage done to Stephen had to be new by the coloring of the bruises along with a fresh deep cut to his forehead. Dammit. “Where did you find him?” I asked Wade as Ian resignedly slumped into the visitor's chair next to the bed his eyes fixed uncomfortably on the young man. “Disturbance call, when we got there the young Stephen was the only one in the alleyway. He was having difficulty breathing, the poor guy was in shock by the time we arrived. Stephen has been beaten pretty severely, luckily I don’t think anything is broken, well I hope not anyway,” Wade said worriedly. “Did he manage to give you any details as to what happened? Who did this? Anything at all?” I asked hurriedly. Wade wearily shook his head as his gaze fell back to the boy in the bed. “Thanks for sticking with him Wade, this kid has been through enough. Do you need to go back to the house?” I looked around, “Where’s your partner?” Wade rolled his eyes, “I’m off the clock, it was the end of our shift, my partner wanted to go home. Not his problem, a homeless person beaten up…,” Wade angrily shook his head, “My own fault really. I didn’t want to call it in, I thought you wanted to handle this yourself, so I had him drop me here once the ambulance took Stephen away.” I reached out gently tapping his upper arm, “Thanks, bud, I appreciate you doing that for me.” “No problem, we really should call Child Services and get him somewhere safe to stay though,” Wade commented. Ian stood up, “Please let me, I know someone. They will find him a safe place.” “Sure Babe, go ahead. You going to call Theo?” Ian nodded as he passed me, walking back toward the waiting room to make the call, “He knows a Senior Case Worker, he’s a good guy, he won’t let anything happen to Stephen,” I assured Wade, who still looked worried. “Do you mind if I stick around until he’s released?” Wade asked sombrely as he stared at Stephen. “Please. This kid needs all the support he can get,” I answered him with an encouraging nod. Wade and I talked about work while we waited for Ian or the doctor to come back, Ian made it back to us first. “I’ve spoken to Theo, he and Derek are on their way,” Ian said sleepily, “I told them to bring us coffee.” “Cheeky shit!” I mused. Ian took up residency in the visitor’s chair next to Stephen’s bed. Eventually, the doctor came kicking us all out of the small space. Well, except for Ian because he refused to leave Stephen alone and scared. By the time the doctor finished his examination, Theo and Derek had joined us, with real coffee in hand. My heroes. The doctor pulled back the curtain, his face showed surprise that the crowd for Stephen had multiplied. “Who’s responsible for Stephen Carter,” he asked firmly. One by one we introduced ourselves shaking hands with the doctor. “Detective. Adam Price,” I offered. “Patrol Officer Potts,” Wade said then looked to Theo. “Senior Case Worker for CPS, you can call me Theo,” he said giving the doctor his card. “Derek, I run the Shelter and Youth Centre downtown,” also handing him a card. “Ian Wright, Stephen’s Biology Teacher,” Ian shook his hand, the doctor frowned as he looked at Ian warily due to the unique vocation he had provided among us. “Okay,” he said stretching out the word, still looking at Ian as if he were out of place. I stepped closer to Ian, scowling at the man who thought he was superior. The doctor looked at his notes while clearing his throat nervously, “Mr. Carter has received quite a beating, I’d like to get some x-rays make sure nothing is broken. We’ll suture up the gash on his forehead and give him some pain relief. All of you being here has saved us a lot of time, so we can get him moved through the red tape fairly quickly. I’ll be back once all the tests are completed, I’d like to have Stephen at least stay until later this morning, and we have the results,” With that, the doctor moved on to another patient; we went back to waiting. Ian gave me a surly look which had me back step a little, “Sorry, I went a little caveman. I know you can handle yourself, but I didn’t like the way he treated you,” I said sheepishly. His face softened a little, “S’okay.” Now that Stephen was awake, he was sitting up in the bed, Ian sat by his side occasionally talking to him trying to instill some kind of comfort. I can’t imagine what Stephen is feeling apart from the pain. I guess Stephen is scared, he has no home, he can’t go to school for some sort of normalcy or stability, probably no money, and he’s surrounded by all of us. Ian is good with teenagers, so patient, kind, a source of comfort and safety. I am constantly in awe of the man, it’s so hard not to have my eyes glued to him most of the time. “What’s going to happen to me now?” Stephen asked out loud his fingers playing with a loose thread on the blanket. Theo stepped in, “Well for starters, you aren’t going back on the street, it’s not safe. I’m going to find some emergency accommodation for you,” he said firmly. “Oh,” Stephen answered quietly, he was visibly shaking. Derek took over then, “Can I have a private word with Stephen,” his eyes meeting the young man, “if that’s okay with you Stephen?” Stephen nodded his head once in agreement, his gaze not leaving Derek’s as he seemed to shrink in his bed at the sight of the intimidating man. Derek and Theo were both tall, big, solid men, if I hadn’t met them through Ian as part of the extended family, I would have assumed they were roughneck bikers if I was going on appearance. In actual fact, neither had ever ridden a motorcycle nor had any affiliation with bikers. They are both reasonably gentle in nature but fierce when it came to protecting and helping kids. I really like them a lot. Derek replaced Ian in the visitor's chair, Ian pulled the curtain around the bed as he joined us. Derek was talking with Stephen for quite a while before an orderly came with a wheelchair to take him away for the tests, and X-ray’s the Doctor had ordered. “He can stay at the shelter,” he said to Theo curtly, “did you know he was one of the three that hurt Liam and broke his arm,” he turned on Ian. “Stephen may have been there, but he never laid a finger on Liam. He is just a much a victim as Liam was at the hands of those other two assholes,” I said knowing the full story. Derek’s body visibly relaxed as he exhaled, “My apologies Ian, I didn’t mean that to sound the way it did. Stephen told me a lot of what has happened to him. I’m angry, not at Stephen and certainly not you Ian.” “It’s okay, I’m angry myself. I wish I would have seen he was in danger before all of this happened to him,” Ian said sadly, “is there anything we can do to help?” I nodded wrapping Ian in my arms giving him a quick hug, “Yeah Babe, we are all going to help, we just need to figure out what Stephen needs. He’s not alone, I promise.” While Stephen was getting tests and x-rays done the rest of us strategized on how to help him. It would be easier with input from him, but it filled the time. Everything takes so long to get done in a hospital, I’m surprised people leave them alive half of the time. “I hear congratulations are in order,” Theo smiled. I grinned, well, I thought I was grinning. By the smirk on Theo and Derek’s faces, I was sporting a big goofy smile. How could I not, I’m so happy that I get to spend the rest of my life with Ian. Not to mention our two beautiful kids, we have great friends, my folks are close by, I would also wage good money that Ian’s parents would follow to Kentucky in time. It feels like everything is falling into place. The orderly returned letting Stephen get back into the bed with Ian’s help. Once the boy was comfortable, Ian sat back down next to him. I heard him telling Stephen what was happening next so I continued my conversation with the others. “Thanks,” I blew out a breath, “I’m still pinching myself that he said yes, I don’t know why, but I am.” Derek snickered, “Don’t worry that’s how this one felt too,” he indicated to Theo, “don’t let his gruff exterior fool you he’s a big softy.” Theo stared daggers at Derek. “Watch yourself, Hon, there aren’t any witnesses at home,” Theo teased Derek. “Promises, promises, my love,” Derek pinched Theo’s side. Ian barked out a quick laugh, which startled us. All eyes were pointed in his direction waiting for an explanation as to the cause. “Stephen said you guys are grossing him out,” Ian said. We thought we had been chatting quietly and didn’t know anyone could hear us over the racket in the room. “Don’t worry Stephen, they gross me out all the time,” sounded from my side by an out of breath Payne, “Sorry, I came as soon as I could get someone to stay with Dad.” “Nice pink sweats, Shorty,” I cocked my eyebrow at her, Payne has never struck me as someone who would wear pink. “Bite me, HotShot,” she elbowed me hard in the gut hard enough that I lost my breath a little, “it’s peach, and I look hot.” “Geez, Shorty you’re a freakin’ weapon!” I exclaimed. Payne winked at me over her shoulder while she went over to Ian giving him a peck on the cheek then sat on the side of the bed. Payne, Ian, and Stephen started on a conversation forgetting the rest of us were even there. The next couple hours felt like eight while we waited for the Doctor to come back. We hung in there; our first concern is to make sure Stephen is going to be okay. The hospital didn’t release Stephen until seven this morning which is why we are dragging our ass into bed now. Ian and I didn’t have the energy to finish our night like we had planned. Standing next to the bed I undid my pants and let them drop to my ankles. “What’s wrong?” Ian asked yawning as he was climbing between the sheets. I sat down on the side of the bed trying to flick my shoes off, “I’m so tired, I don’t have the energy to get undressed,” I answered yawning, it really is contagious, watching Ian do it made me yawn too. My stubborn shoe finally came off my foot, the other toed off easily. I lifted my legs out of my pants while taking my shirt off, then climbed into bed next to Ian. He was too far away, so I grabbed him by the waist pulling him to me. His head flopped onto my chest, he hooked his leg over mine as we drifted off to sleep snuggled together. <>-<>-<> Goin' to the chapel and we're gonna get ma-a-arried Goin' to the chapel and we're gonna get ma-a-arried Gee, I really love you And we're gonna get ma-a-arried Goin' to the chapel of love “Damn it, Payne,” I groaned leaning over to the nightstand, Looking at the time on my phone as I brought it closer, ten-thirty in the am. Not only had Payne changed my ringtone she’d changed my screen saver from Pat holding Riley to her poking her tongue out at me, “I’m gonna kill that woman.” “Tell whoever it is to go away – sleeping,” Ian grumbled into my chest. “Lo’,” My voice gravelly from lack of sleep. “Sweetheart its Mom, you told me to give you a wake-up call for brunch. We’re heading over to Liam, and Will’s now. You sound really tired do you want us to make excuses for you?” I yawned, “No Ma, but can you tell them we’ll be late. I want to drop by the shelter and check on Stephen. Please don’t tell them anything about Stephen either, well, there’s a lot to it and it may cause problems.” I stated. “No problem Sweetheart, we can do that. Take your time,” Mom said kindly into the phone, “Ian’s parents got in fine, the kids have been a dream so no need to worry. I love you, Son, we’ll see you soon.” Man some days my Mom drives me crazy, but days like today she proves herself to be the awesome person and Mom she is, “Love you too,” I replied then ended the call giving Ian a nudge, “We have to get up Babe. Apparently, there is still a big bad world outside our house.” “Tell this so-called world we need five more minutes,” Ian chuckled half asleep. I should have just let Ian have his five minutes. Instead, I spent fifteen minutes trying to get him out of bed. <>-<>-<> “Hey, come in the office,” Derek said after the security guard let us in the shelter. He led the way, and we followed, “Sit guys.” “How’s Stephen?” Ian asked before I could even open my mouth as we sat in chairs across the desk from Derek. Derek shifted in his seat, tilting his head, “He’s as well as…” he gave a half smile. “Sure,” I nodded. “I don’t know how to say this, but we might have a problem. There are stringent rules about staying in the shelter, you either have to be at school full-time or have a job,” Derek started. My stomach dropped, this kid could really use a break, “Okay, well, schools out. Can’t we help find him a job?” “Yeah, we could. The problem with that is once he has a job, there is still the matter of accommodation. Theo believes because of his age, the fact that he’s gay, and the violent history,” Derek held up his hand before I could object, “he’ll only be able to get into a group home. However, I do have a better idea,” Derek smirked, “If Stephen agrees to get his GED as well as a job I can justify keeping him here longer without resorting to foster placement. Once he’s got enough money saved, we can find him some share accommodation.” “Let’s do that then…” I remarked. “Stephen told me last night he wanted to be a vet. Do you think you might have time to help me, see if we can convince someone to give Stephen a chance? A real chance at a better life,” Derek asked me in earnest. “Yep leave it with me, I’ll do whatever I can to help the kid. He could use a break right about now,” I answered with a grin, “you coming to brunch?” “Sure am, just waiting for Theo. He’s on his way, I’ll see you guys there,” Derek said then stood, we hugged as it is the standard greeting and farewell of the extended family, then we left to head for Will and Liam’s.
  21. 53 points
    ---Teddy— Blake’s words bounced around in my head for a little while as I quietly sat on the couch and tried to reflect on it all. I did ask all those questions back in high school, but we’re not those same kids anymore. Ryder’s not that innocent shy kid he once was, and I’m no longer naïve enough to think I can save someone. We’re talking like the universe is pushing us together, but maybe it pulled us apart for a reason. Maybe things are just too broken and painful to fall back into place. “Hey.” Oli forced out as I heard light footsteps begin down the stairs. “Blake said you needed to talk to me.” “Blake needs to mind his own business.” I exhaled, as my younger brother took his place across from me. Oli shrugged his shoulders but didn’t say anything. I could see caution in his eyes as though he was expecting bad news. “He tell you anything else?” “No.” He quickly shook his head. “Just bands I should listen to.” I nodded my head and leaned back in my seat, trying my hardest to stall for as long as I could. “Sorry we couldn’t let you downstairs, we just figured you didn’t want to hear about pregnancy and,” “Teddy.” He interrupted, seeing right through me. “You see anything on the news about Messiah?” I forced out, trying to keep eye contact. “No, I’ve been at school all day.” He answered in a sigh. “And stupid mom and dad took away my phone.” “You’re thirteen. You don’t even need a phone.” I answered as he began to lie back in his seat. “So you haven’t heard anything?” I asked, realizing I was starting to lose his attention. “No,” He groaned, at the repeated question. “Is this some type of test or something?” “I wish it was.” I exhaled, sitting forward in hopes it would grab his attention back. “So, you know how a few days ago you were talking about accidental overdosing?” I asked, finally growing serious with him. “Yeah.” He cautiously responded, now looking directly into my eyes. “That’s not what happened with Ryder,” I began, bracing for what his reaction might be. “You can’t go around telling people but, but that night he was trying to kill himself.” The life in his eyes seemed to dim and I could tell what I was saying wasn’t adding up. “You don’t understand, do you?” “I do.” He finally let out, beginning to stare off. “But, you’re wrong. You guys are wrong.” He shook his head, starting to enter denial. “You don’t know Ryder, and you-you guys guessed! He wouldn’t do that, just listen to his music! He would never kill himself!” “Oliver,” I bit my lip, unsure where to even begin. “It-it’s not a guess. I’ve seen it before, and this case, it matched up perfectly. You don’t mix the things he did when you’re just messing with drugs.” “That’s why it was an accident!” He yelped, too excited for his own good. “He was trying to get sober and maybe he forgot how much to take, he,” I reluctantly stood up and crouched down in front of him. “I spoke to him,” I began to explain, trying my hardest to get through to him. “Trust me, he was trying to kill himself.” “Maybe he just told you,” “Oliver.” I interrupted, grabbing onto his hand. “I know that you’re old enough to understand this, and I get it’s hard to hear but he tried to kill himself.” I could see a combination of anger and disappointment brewing in his eyes as he thought it all over. “You’re so cold hearted! You must love sharing this news!” He suddenly began to shout as it clicked in his head. “You did it! Everyone is finally more miserable than you! Good job Teddy!” “That’s not what I’m,” “You always hated that I liked him,” He pouted, letting his anger get the better of him. “You couldn’t wait for him to mess up before you threw it in my face!” “Oliver!” I reprimanded, accidently squeezing his hand a little too tight. “You’re such a dick!” He cried, ripping his hand away and attempting to push me to the ground. “Stop it Oli!” I exhaled, grabbing onto both his arms and holding them back against him. “I really need you to relax.” “And I really need a better brother!” He spit, trying his hardest to squirm free of my grip. “Well you’re stuck with me.” I groaned, letting him go and giving him another push down onto the couch. “Now are you going to let me talk?” “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say!” He pouted but didn’t stand up. “You just want to tear everything down! This is probably the best time in your life! You’re probably barely even trying to help him, you,” “Oliver!” I shouted, walking over to him and shooting him a stern look. “What the hell is your problem? You’re such a brat! Remember what we spoke about yesterday? Remember when I told you about me and Ryder?” “Yeah, and that he hurt you! So just fuck him right?” Oli shook his head, trying to kick me away from him. “He can go burn in hell! After all, isn’t that what you want?” “I can’t do this.” I shook my head, falling back into the chair across from him. “I-I just can’t with you. You think you know it all? Fine! Then go back upstairs.” “I will!” He pouted, standing up and walking towards the stairs. Yet as he reached the halfway I heard him stop. I felt his stare on me from above as I still struggled to put all the pieces together myself. “I’m not going to feel bad just because you’re trying to look all sad.” “You’re so stupid.” I shook my head, still not looking up. “You talk like you know everything, but you’re just a clueless little kid.” I spit as the words flowed out. “You think that I want to believe Ryder tried to kill himself? You think I want to see him in pain every day?” I asked, but got silence in return. “I used to fall asleep holding him. I-I used to talk to him every single day. We were supposed to get married, we had a plan and all.” “Stop lying, you try,” “Ask mom or dad. I’m not lying.” I interrupted, staring off into my own world. “He was going to propose at the end of the school year. His grandma suggested it, and it just felt right. He was my fucking world Oliver. Then it all fell apart.” “You’re just telling me this so that,” “Fine!” I finally let out, jumping to my feet. “You want proof! Let’s give you fucking proof!” I shouted, finally losing the last of my patience. I rushed up the stairs and pushed past him, trying my hardest to make a point. I heard his light footsteps behind me as he desperately tried to keep up. As we entered my room I opened a draw and pulled out the old white C.D. case. “He gave me this before he left for Messiah’s first real tour.” I let out, opening it and forcing the C.D. right into my laptop. As he saw my attention redirect towards the computer he quickly took the case out of my hands and looked it over. “It-it’s fake.” He let out in disbelief. Before he could say anymore I quickly scrubbed through the C.D. making sure to stop every now and then so he could hear Ryder’s voice. Until finally I reached the end of the last song. “Hey Teddy,” Ryder giggled as the music stopped. “If you’re listening to this it means you’re at the end of the C.D., and maybe you actually miss me!” He laughed. “But probably not because you have your parents, and Blake, and Liz, and my Grandma, and even in a few months Oliver! Or Olivia! But I think my grandma’s right about it being a boy.” Oli’s face began to change as he heard his own name. I couldn’t fully read the expression; it was some type of mix between shock and sadness. “Anyway, what I’m saying is if you do miss me, well, don’t you stupid ass! You have so much going on right now! So many amazing friends to hang out with! But if that doesn’t help, if you’re having a bad day, well we’re in this together.” Oli quickly looked up to me as he heard those words. “You’re the greatest thing to ever happen to me, you-you’re the reason I get up in the morning. I wouldn’t be here without you! Messiah wouldn’t exist without you! I love you so fucking much Teddy Haner. Never ever forget that. I’ll talk to you later, I love you.” I turned my chair towards the laptop, pretending to be busy as Oli stood there, letting it all hit him. Every now and then I would glance over at him but I could tell the small speech didn’t add up. That it wasn’t consistent with his version of what had happened. “How’d he know?” Oli finally let out, beginning to stare at me. “How’d he know what?” I sighed, wishing that he would just go to his room already. “My name.” Oli forced out, still not grasping what he had heard. “Was this a prank? Are you trying to,” “We were dating when mom was pregnant with you.” I interrupted, not wanting him to fantasize more than he already was. “He’s the one that suggested the name Oliver.” Oli slowly walked over to my bed and sat down, trying his hardest to get a grip on anything that was happening. “What?” I asked, leaning back and looking at him. “What part of this don’t you understand?” “You two weren’t that close.” He shook his head, looking at the C.D. case in his hands. “Mom and dad always said it was just a summer thing. They-they said it wasn’t like life or death. I-I thought the video of you and Ryder on stage in Atlanta was him being dramatic. I thought it was a gay rights thing.” I let out a sigh, realizing that yesterday’s conversation had never fully registered in his head. “It wasn’t.” I let out, trying my hardest to not let my emotions show. “We were it, he was my soul mate. We only dated for three months, but everything we did, we did together.” I shook my head. “I was there when Broken Home was being recorded, hell, that signed copy you have in your room was the first ever made. Same with the red E.P.” Oli grew quiet as the pieces finally started to connect. “Why’d he do it?” He finally exhaled, looking down at the floor. “Why’d he try to kill himself?” As I heard his question I quickly stood up and sat next to him on the bed. “He’s really sick.” I exhaled, cautiously putting my arm around him. “His drug problem, that’s barely even the beginning.” I exhaled, as he moved closer to me. “He has major depressive disorder, and extremely bad anxiety. Back when we were kids he convinced himself he was a curse, he told himself that anyone that got close would only get hurt.” I tried my hardest to stay strong for the two of us, but could feel my own resolve starting to fade. “And his life only confirmed it. His parents died before he was five, and when he finally found happiness his grandma passed.” I shook my head as flashes of the police officer at our door ran through my head. “It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t like she was sick and we knew it. One day she just had a spell of dementia and got hit by a car. She was just gone. No one got to say goodbye. No one got to see her again. It was just, the end.” I could feel his eyes observing me as he heard my words. I know he’s heard these stories before from being a fan, but I think seeing the emotions on my face, seeing the sadness engulf me, well it finally made it all real to him. “I don’t get it.” He shook his head. “Then why’d he cheat on you? Dad said you weren’t that serious and you learned that after,” “Stop thinking about what mom and dad said, I-I have no idea what they were thinking or why I let them tell you that bullshit.” I shook my head, knowing my next bone to pick was with them. “He-he cheated on me because he thought he could protect me. He thought that if I hated him it would be easier to move on. He was scared if I stayed with him his curse would catch up with me.” “But there is no curse!” Oli yelped, getting too excited for his own good. “You have to tell him that!” “It’s not that simple.” I exhaled, trying my hardest to hide the tear or two that had escaped my eyes. “I told him that over and over and over again. But it-it’s something that he has to realize on his own.” Once more I could see Oli get trapped inside his own mind. “Wh-what if I ever get like that?” He asked, starting to think about himself. “Ryder always looked so strong. I-if he couldn’t handle it, then what about me? He’s so successful and smart and I’m not even half,” “Oliver, stop,” I exhaled, through a broken breath. I felt my hands go up and rest on his shoulder. “You won’t get like that. Yo-you have a family who loves you, and friends to talk to. He never had any of that. We love you so much, we, I-I’d never let it get like that.” He uncomfortably shifted as he heard my words. I could see relief in his eyes but suddenly it was tackled by something else. “I don’t have friends.” He finally let out, as his eyes drifted. “What are you talking about?” I asked, trying my hardest to reconnect our eyes. “That kid Mark always comes over, and then you have your band. You have plenty of friends!” “Mark only wants to hang out with his girlfriend now.” Oli mumbled, still not looking up. “And my band is stupid. They have no idea what’s going on most of the time.” “You’re thirteen. Mark and his girlfriend won’t last and before you know it he’ll be hanging out with you again.” I let out, trying my hardest to comfort him. “And don’t call your band stupid, give them an honest try, maybe you’ll have more in common than you think! Besides, if you don’t want to do any of that maybe you can get a girlfriend.” I let out as he finally looked back at me. “Or boyfriend!” “Girlfriend.” He replied, but I could see some uncertainty in his eyes. A few seconds of silence passed before I saw words forcing their way to the surface. “I, when did you know you liked boys and not girls?” “My whole life.” I shrugged, trying my hardest to think back. “I was lucky like that, but some guys don’t know until they grow up.” He shrugged his shoulders, but once more I could tell there was an insecurity growing. “But isn’t it like automatically set to liking girls?” “No,” I couldn’t help but smile as the hostility between us left. “There’s no default to sexuality. And sometimes it’s not set to one or the other, sometimes people like both.” “Oh,” he let out, thinking it over.” Can I, can I tell you something?” “Of course,” I nodded, reaching out my pinkie but he swatted it away, too old for something that ‘silly’. “I, the last time I hung out with Mark, I, we kissed.” He confessed as a blush began to engulf his face. “I don’t know why, I just leaned in then he did too. But he has a girlfriend, and I like girls, I think.” “It’s okay,” I shrugged; relieved it was something so small. “You’re young, and that, it’s completely normal. You know Blake kissed me when we were kids?” “No he didn’t.” Oli shook his head, slightly looking to my eyes. “I swear. It was a bet at a party, so we kissed.” I laughed, recalling the old memory. “He hated it so much, made everyone there swear to never tell anyone.” “Did they keep their promise?” He asked, finally putting faith in my words. “No,” I shook my head. “Sure, some kids laughed for a few days but no one actually cared.” “Oh,” He exhaled, and just like that I watched him begin to retreat again. “Oliver, I’ve been out my whole life.” I began, not sure what was going on with him. “I’ve been bullied, teased, taunted and all that comes with it. But then before it could keep happening I stepped up and owned it. They couldn’t call me gay because I just was. If they asked me to look at their bodies I called them hot and it made them too uncomfortable to keep teasing me.” I explained, gently squeezing his shoulders. “Always be proud of yourself no matter what you are, okay?” “Do you think mom and dad would get it if I did date a guy for a little while then just dated girls?” He asked, trying to form his own opinion on sexuality. “Mom and dad won’t care who you bring home as long as they treat you right.” I nodded with a smile. “Don’t worry about their gender. Just focus on how you feel about them.” He softly nodded his head and let my words sink in. I know there’s a large chance that he’s just exploring his own sexuality, and isn’t actually gay, but it’s kind of exciting that he might bring a boy home. He’s just thirteen but maybe having to take care of someone else will help him mature. And maybe if it’s a guy we’ll finally have something in common. “Please don’t tell anyone.” He let out after a few seconds of silence. “I just, I-“ “It’s cool, your secret is safe.” I comforted, letting go of him with a quick pat on the back. “If you ever want to talk about it more I’m around.” “When you’re not being such a butt maybe.” He teased, getting up and walking away, yet as he turned the corner I saw him linger a bit. “I’m sorry about what happened when you were younger.” He finally forced out, not sure if the apology was okay or not. “And I’m sorry about what’s happening now.” I forced a smile and nodded to him, showing that it was okay. He’s such a hard headed kid. The second he gets something in his head there’s just no budging him. It’s like world war three just to get him to admit he’s wrong sometimes, and yet when he calms down and we have moments like this, it’s just nice to have someone to talk to. ************************************************************************************* As I waked out of my room and down the stairs I couldn’t help but let the lingering sadness turn to a little bit of anger. I know it’s partially my fault for letting my parents lie to him, but what the hell were they thinking? I didn’t know they would let it get to this point. “Hey, dinner should be done soon.” My dad let out, as he and my mom set up the table and food. “We need to talk.” I let out, before they could say anything else. They quickly glanced to one another before he turned back towards me. “What’s up?” He asked, bracing for what it would be about. “Why’d you water down me and Ryder’s relationship to Oli?” I shrugged, confronting them about the relationship for the first time in thirteen years. Dad quickly looked back towards mom, unsure what exactly to say. “We just, we didn’t want him bothering you about it, or thinking that you were taken advantage of.” Mom spoke as dad tried to come up with something better. I shot her a confused look but saw dad step up. “We didn’t want him to think his older brother was weak and in pain.” He exhaled, looking directly into my eyes. “Seven years had passed before he even started to ask about it, and we, what were we supposed to tell him? That you were still upset about something that happened years and years ago? We didn’t want him to see you like that.” “But it was the truth.” I let out, slowly clenching my fist. “We know,” Mom spoke back up. “but that doesn’t mean he had to know it. We wanted him to know how strong you are, that when you got cheated on you weren’t afraid to kick him to the curb. We wanted him to have a good role model growing up.” “Except it was all bullshit.” I finally bit back. “You know I didn’t throw Ryder to the curb. You know I tried to get him to come back home.” My mom looked to my dad out of concern but didn’t say anything. “Besides, you guys didn’t make me look strong; you made me look like a dick.” “Teddy!” My mom let out, trying her hardest to stall the moment. “I’m thirty-one mom, I’ll curse if the situation deserves it, and right now it does.” I could feel my frustrations beginning to grow as I looked at them both. “Especially since he just yelled at me for leaving Ryder when he needed me the most, he thinks I’m cold hearted because of it all.” I shook my head, as they finally gave me their full attention. “He goes back and he sees the videos of eighteen year old Ryder crying on camera because of the cheating and being sorry, then he comes to you two and you’re talking about how strong I am for tossing Ryder away!” I yelped, but didn’t get a response. “He sees a young drug addict that needs help, and thinks I did that to him!” “We never meant for him to take it like that. If we knew we would’ve,” “Well he does.” I interrupted, not wanting to hear about the could’ve beens. A few minutes of silence passed before they finally looked back at me. “Why the hell did you make it sound like a summer stint?” “That’s what it was.” Dad shook his head, refusing to think about it. “It was three months in the summer a few years ago.” “Except it wasn’t just three months, and you know that.” I shook my head, frustration turning to anger. “What about that night I came home and told you about marrying him? Does that sound like a summer stint? Or that time I fell asleep in his arms because I was having a bad day. Because when mom got home you said we reminded you of the two of you.” “That’s enough Teddy.” He shook his head, not wanting to be reminded of the past. “Why?” I shook my head, forcing eye contact. “I don’t get why this house is so fucking weird about Ryder Sullivan! Oliver’s obsessed with him, and you two treat him like the ghost of Christmas past! I was head over heels for him at some point, so stop fucking lying to yourselves and making me look like an asshole!” “Theodore!” My dad shouted, finally having had it. “I said that’s enough!” “That is enough.” I nodded my head, standing up and heading towards the living room. “I don’t know why I fucking live here anymore. I’ll just bite the debt for a while and rent an apartment.” I saw my mother go to speak but my dad stopped her before she could. My dad hasn’t become a cruel man by any means, he’s still amazing and helpful whenever I need him, well, except when it comes to Ryder. He just doesn’t see it the way I see it. He takes responsibility for us dating, and eventually breaking up. He takes responsibility for my pain. He claims he pressured me to date him, and set me up for a broken heart. He thinks he hurt his son, and that, it must be a guilt like no other. *********************************************************************************** The second I hit the top of the stairs I saw Oli sitting on them, no doubt listening in on our conversation. “What are you doing?” He let out, as I pushed past him and made a b-line towards my room. “Packing.” I grunted, without hesitating. “But why?” He asked, quickly following behind me. “Because mom and dad still treat me like a kid and you listen in on everything I say to them.” I muttered, grabbing a suitcase from under my bed and pulling it open. “Oh,” He exhaled, walking over and taking a seat at my desk. It was weird, as I slowly began to pack he didn’t say anything, but as the suitcase reached its halfway mark he sat up. “What are you doing?” He repeated, trying to force eye contact. “Oliver,” I let out shaking my head. “Packing!” I repeated. “So if you could leave me alone,” “But you’re not actually right?” He asked, starting to grow worried. “Like this is just to make a point right?” “No.” I quickly shook my head. “I’m going to go sleep and Blake and Liz’s then go find my own apartment.” I forced out, too angry to think of an actual plan. “That’s stupid. Liz is pregnant, you don’t want to be around that.” He explain, trying to come up with something to stop me. “I’m a doctor; I see a lot worse than pregnant women.” I shook my head, not even wanting to know what a teenager thinks pregnancy is like. As I opened another draw I noticed Oli trying to shut my suitcase. “Oli!” “You’re not leaving.” He decided with a shake of his head. “I’m not letting you!” he insisted, taking a seat down on the suitcase, but the second he did the top folded in sending him falling head first right into the zipper. “Teddy!” he screamed as he fell. I went to grab him, but by time I got over he was already laying down in the suitcase. “You’re alright.” I sighed, reaching down for his hand and pulling him up. “This is why you don’t sit on suitcases.” As I got a good look at his face I saw fear begin to form in his eyes as blood flowed from his cheek. He quickly put his finger up to his face, but I grabbed his hand before he could see it. “You’re okay.” I lied noticing the short deep cut on his face. “Let’s just go get you cleaned up.” He nodded his head but knew something wasn’t quite right. The second we walked into the bathroom and he saw the cut on his cheek he began to freak out. “Teddy! Teddy!” He yelped, as his fear of blood got the better of him. “I, Teddy! My cheek!” “Alright, alright,” I waived off, trying my hardest to calm him down. “It’s not bad at all. I’ve seen so much worse.” I let out, taking a wet rag and wiping the blood away. “What’s going on?” Mom shouted, rushing over to the small bathroom. “What happened?!” “He tried to sit on my suitcase and fell through it.” I sighed with a shake of my head. “His cheek must’ve caught the zipper on his way down.” “That can happen?” She asked, nervously looking at the blood consistently flowing from his face. “You’d be amazing at what can happen.” I mumbled, taking a long look at his cut. “He’ll be okay though. Why don’t you keep the rag up against it, and go eat dinner with dad?” I asked as he gently nodded his head. “No more packing though.” He forced out, staring at me as he walked out the room. “I need you around later if it doesn’t stop bleeding.” I nodded my head but the second he went down the hall walked back over to my room. “What do we do if it doesn’t stop?” She asked as I rummaged through my closet for my emergency first aid kit. “It’s not going to.” I shook my head, finally finding the large red box. “He needs stitches, I just didn’t want him to freak out.” “Well where do we take him?” She quickly shook her head. “Can you come with us to the E.R. so he can get a good doctor?” I rolled my eyes, and walked past her into the hallway. “Or you can just get your son that’s a surgeon to do it.” “Oh, yeah,” She let out, quickly following behind me. “I’m sorry, I’m just, worried.” “Don’t be.” I exhaled shaking my head. “If he sees you’re worried he’s going to be worried.” I saw her nod her head but could tell it was going to be a long night. “What’s that?” Oli quickly gulped as he saw the box in my hand. “Dad! Tell Teddy to stay away!” He shouted, realizing what the emergency kit meant. “You can leave if you want! You can keep packing! I’ll stay in my room!” “Oliver, I’m sure he just wants to clean it out.” My dad exhaled, trying his hardest to calm down his son. “Yeah.” I nodded, dropping the box on the table and taking a seat across from him. “I just want to clean it out.” “You did that in the bathroom!” He yelped, trying to find a way around it. “I didn’t have cleaners and all that.” I explained, throwing on a pair of gloves. “It’ll only sting a bit, I promise.” He tried to pull away from me but our dad held him up straight so I could lightly go over the cut with a wipe. “Oliver,” I began, ready for a battle. “I know this might scare you, but you need some stitches.” “No I don’t!” He quickly let out. “I’ve had worse cuts! I don’t need,” “Do you want to go to the E.R. for them, or do you want me to give them to you?” I asked, but got no response. “Alright, E.R. it is.” I groaned, standing up, but the second I got to my feet I felt a hand try and pull me back down. “You do it.” He finally spoke, hand slightly shaking. “Just, don’t make it hurt.” “I won’t.” I nodded, but the second I sat back down and handed my dad the needle I saw him tense up. “Go run that over the stove to sterilize it.” I instructed as I began to take out some stitching thread. I watched as Oli tensed up more in his seat, worriedly watching our dad heat up the needle. “You’re worse than Ryder.” I exhaled, knowing the magic words to distract him. “What do you mean?” He asked, shifting his eyes towards me. “He’s terrified of needles.” I explained, as my dad handed me a warm small needle. “Whenever I have to give him an I.V. he freaks out.” “Really?” Oli asked as I began to thread it up. “Mhm.” I nodded, taking out a small flashlight and handing it to my dad. “Other than that he’s a pretty good patient though.” I continued, noticing how much he had relaxed. “Sit still this won’t hurt a bit.” I promised, pulling him closer and taking a good look at the small cut. It’ll only take like six stitches but boy is this cut deep. “He fights me at first, but if I go get a nurse he stops me and wants me to do it.” I nodded, starting to finally weave the needle into his face. “He said I’m gentle and it doesn’t hurt much, so trust me when I start you’ll have nothing to worry about.” I lied, already halfway through the stitching. “It might be a little pinch, but you won’t feel much.” “What are you doing now?” He forced out through a near clenched jaw. “I’m still cleaning it.” I lied, just about finished. “Just being extra careful.” “Oh.” He let out, but after a few more seconds I pulled the rest of the threat through and cut it. He took the rest of the thread from my hand as I slowly tied the end up and let him go. “Teddy! You lied! You already started it!” “Of course I lied.” I smirked, sitting back and looking at it. “You’d freak out if I didn’t. You’re a much better patient than your favorite singer though.” He fought off a large smile and finally relaxed into his seat. “Don’t get it wet in the shower, no contact sports or anything like that. I’ll take it out in like three or four days, okay?” “I want to go see it!” He yelped, rushing up and running back to the bathroom. “You’re a good doctor Teddy.” My dad let out, as I packed the box back up. I shrugged my shoulders but refused to speak. “I’m sorry for what I said before, and about what I’ve been telling Oliver. I-I should’ve realized it would all catch back up to us.” He forced out, trying his hardest to look me in the eyes. “I’ll be honest with him from now on.” I nodded, but I could tell my silence made both him and my mom uneasy. “Don’t leave.” My mom finally exhaled as I stood up. “If not for us, then at least for Oliver. You don’t have to stay forever just another year or two. Until he’s old enough to take care of himself.” Once more I fell quiet as I headed towards the stairs. “He was so upset over you leaving he needed stitches!” “I’m not leaving.” I forced out, looking back at them. “But not for you two, for him.” She gratefully nodded her head and let it go. I hope they’re serious about being honest with Oli. I really don’t get what the big deal is. Are they embarrassed about how hung up on Ryder I was? Are they embarrassed I got cheated on? Are they embarrassed of all the attention it got? Are they embarrassed of me? ************************************************************************************ Excitement peaked in Oliver’s eyes as he saw me unpacking the suitcase. We fight a lot but I know that if I ever tried to leave he would do anything he could to stop me. Even when he’s mad at me, even before he told me about kissing his friend, he just wants his world to stay the same, and I think I do too. The next morning was rough. The only time I spoke was to Oliver. I need my parents to know I’m pissed. I need them to know I’m not a little kid anymore. I’m ready to take steps forward in my life, and I’m not going to let them hold me back. The hospital was a sight for sore eyes, hell even going to Ryder’s room and starting to sign him out was easy compared to being home. “You’re quiet today.” Ryder let out as I filled out the various paperwork. “Are you still mad at,” “No.” I quickly interrupted with a shake of my head. “Just a long night last night.” “Were you here?” He asked, trying his hardest to start a conversation. “Home.” I replied, trying to get through the forms as quickly as possible “Oli needed stitches.” “Why?” He let out, trying to sit up but falling back down. “He cut himself on my suitcase.” I shook my head, thinking about what a stupid moment it was. Ryder grew quiet and looked away but after a few seconds looked back at me. “Going anywhere?” “I was going to move out.” I shrugged, but as he heard my words he shot me a confused look. “You still live with your parents?” He smirked, but quickly fought it off as he saw the look on my face. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” “Medical school costs a lot.” I shook my head. “Not like I could just move out while I was deep in the hole.” “Okay, but haven’t you been here for a few years?” He asked, trying to force eye contact. “Your debt can’t be that bad anymore, I mean being a doctor must,” “What is this twenty questions?” I interrupted, standing up and waiving for him to join me. “Let’s get you to the psych ward.” He fidgeted in the bed but didn’t stand. “You’ll still visit?” I nodded to yet another question, but this time I saw him growing serious. “If you don’t I’ll leave.” “I will.” I nodded, reaching out for him. Once more as our hands connected I felt my heart skip a beat. It’s still there. There’s no denying it. “I don’t know when, or how long I’ll be able to stay, but everyday I’m on schedule I’ll come visit, okay?” “Okay.” He nodded, but as our eyes connected once more I realized that it wasn’t because he was trying to win me over. It’s because he’s scared. The severity of the moment began to hit me but I quickly forced it out of my head and kept him moving. “You know you’ll be okay right? You’re in a safe place.” “I know.” He nodded, having enough strength to follow me. “I promise I wouldn’t send you anywhere that would hurt you.” As the words escaped my lips I couldn’t believe what I was saying. This is Ryder! I shouldn’t be able to let him off this easy! He-he’s the asshole that almost ruined my life! And yet when I look into his eyes, I just can’t stay angry. Once more he nodded his head but this time didn’t say anything. “Do you need help upstairs?” Mike quickly asked as he saw us walk through the door. “No.” Ryder shook his head, seeing the officer outside his door for the first time. “Ryder Sullivan.” He forced out, extending his hand. As their eyes connected and Mike shook back he realized that there was no need for introductions. “It’s been a long time.” Mike let out as we walked to the elevator. “Yeah.” Ryder muttered, looking over at the rest of the room. “You know that I was,” “Maybe we should catch up later.” I interrupted, noticing Ryder’s inner strength just wasn’t there yet. Mike nodded as he saw the same thing as me but Ryder stayed quiet. “Dr. Haner!” The nurse from yesterday called out, rushing into our elevator. “You don’t need to personally transfer your patient! You know we can do that for you!” “This one’s a different case Nate.” I forced out, as he observed the three of us. “But still, you’re just so busy.” He exhaled, side eyeing Ryder. “Then again I guess you are talented enough to handle it all.” “That’s what I get paid for.” I shrugged as the doors dinged open and we headed towards the desk. “You’re so funny Dr. Haner.” Nate complimented trying his hardest to stay relevant to the moment. “Dr. Haner to Surgery. Dr. Haner to surgery.” The intercom announced freezing me in my tracks. “Shit.” I sighed, looking down at my watch. “I can handle this.” Nate let out in a nod. “You go.” “Alright.” I nodded, knowing I had no other choice. “I’ll come visit when I get done, okay?” I asked, but got no response from Ryder. “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of him.” Nate replied as I stepped back into the elevator. I’m sorry Ryder, but my world doesn’t revolve around you. It can’t. I have a job to do and people to help. Nate’s a good nurse; he’ll help you get situated. Besides if all goes wrong you have Mike there with you. I can trust him to make sure it all gets done right, can’t I?
  22. 53 points
    With nothing else pressing, and with Dean finally off the hook as far as his former job, the duo left for the drive north. The moving truck would be heading out in two days, which gave the boys some wiggle room for sightseeing and being alone with each other. Planning the route was only made difficult by having to set a travel plan with all the packlands they would go through. Most of them were small and didn't care if the duo stuck to the highway. One even invited them to have a meal with the Alpha pair and their Betas. Kao had gotten the call for that one when they were just leaving Nevada and crossing into Utah. He answered, saying "Kao Whitmore-Saechao," which brought a HUGE grin to Dean's face. "Beta Whitmore-Saechao, this is Beta Levi Hawkins of the Salt Lake Pack." The voice was light, sweet, and Kao knew instantly that a "Good Mormon Boy" was on the other side of the line. How this would go was beyond Kao. "How has the drive been so far?" "Beta Hawkins, the drive has been superb. No rain, no traffic, no construction." Kao kept his tone light, but he felt a bit wary. He had met two kinds of Mormons at BYU: The Live and Let Live and the Other Type. "Wonderful. Alpha Perkins has asked me to invite you and your mate to join us for a meal when you come through Salt Lake City. To put your fears at ease, you will not be persecuted for being gay. Neither the Alpha nor Beta pairs will tolerate such bigotry. If I may be so informal, my little brother is finding it very hard to transition from male to female since we don't respond to human hormone treatments." There was a soft chuckle. "I have to catch myself to remember pronouns. HER name is Melody." Kao was open-mouthed with surprise but quickly recovered. "Please, let's be informal. I had enough of the Elder this and Elder that when I went to BYU. I can't imagine trying to transition as a Lycan." Kao grinned at Dean's amazed look. "But sure. Dean and I would love to share a meal with you and your Alphas. We should be near there around 8 pm. Is that too late? We could have breakfast before we head out in the morning." Since the Beta had contacted them to say they were sharing a meal, it was safe to say they would have full permissions to spend the night. "Since Alpha Mate Tiffany doesn't get off work until six, I think that would be great. I will warn you that Alpha Perkins will be trying to talk shop. We've been trying to get alliance talks with Homestead for a few months, but Acting Beta Andrews advised against anything until you guys were ready to move. Solidarity in the hierarchy and all." Levi's tone was understanding and a bit frustrated. There was something going on that made it to where Salt Lake needed access to Homestead lands or resources. "While I cannot give a guarantee on an agreement, I know Dean and I will make time to listen to Alpha Perkins. This way we can bring direct information to Alpha Davenport on the needs of Salt Lake." There was a slight exhale on the other end. It told Kao he had said the right thing. "Thanks, Kao. Really, it will mean the world to us if we can at least negotiate a non-hostility treaty. But I will leave that part to Alpha Perkins. I will text you the address and we'll see you around 8 pm." "Perfect. See you then, Levi." Dean glanced over with a serious expression on his face as Kao hung up. "That does not sound good at all." "I know. My first impression is they need access to our territory or something we have, and it's vital. Something personal, I'm guessing, by the tone Levi used." Kao sat back and looked down at the phone when the text came in. "How big is the Salt Lake Pack?" Dean asked as he switched lanes, flipped off the slow driver, and went the actual speed limit. "Big enough to be a threat to most of the small packs in the area combined. Maybe on par with Homestead or Cali Sands." That was a sizable pack. "So pretty much, if they want a non-hostility treaty, they face the threat of violence from some other power. What could threaten them?" "Any other pack. Cali Sands is too far to be a problem, the local packs to small unless they joined up to take down Salt Lake." Kao thought for a moment. "The Adobe Pueblo would be a problem if they were not already allied with Salt Lake." "Would the ECP be a problem?" Dean asked. He had heard enough problems coming out of that pack. "Only just. They don't share borders, but if Alpha McLeod decided to expand rapidly, he could absorb or eliminate any pack between ECP and Salt Lake." Dean nodded. "Too much work for Angus." His brow creased in thought. "What's north? Into Canada?" "Small packs, but not much else. Why?" "Something the Little Dude told me about a hiking trip into Canada. I think Homestead expanded to cover the border and beyond." Kao nodded. "They did recently bring in a small pack of six without an alpha. They held a large territory for such a small group. About the size of Rhode Island." That was large enough for a pack of two hundred. Dean pressed the call button on his steering wheel. "Hey, Uncle Dean." "Little Dude, your dad or Pat free to talk shop?" "They're dealing with an issue in North Dakota. Papa Travis and Grandpa are here though." "Can you get them both?" Dean had a germ of an idea. He heard Dylan bellow for them and in a moment he heard Travis and Alan come into the office. "Travis, Alan, it's Dean." "Problems on the road?" asked Alan. "Not with our drive. We're passing through Salt Lake tonight..." Dean began Travis cut him off. "Remus is going to be talking about the treaty." It was not a question. "Got it in one. Now, with a safe buffer between his pack and anything large enough to threaten it without warning, why would he need a bare minimum of a non-hostility treaty with us?" "He's going north. Some of his people have gone missing, as have some of a few from smaller packs near ours. Which is why Jon and Pat are in North Dakota talking with a few trackers and Gene. If Salt Lake makes a bold move north, it could leave his pack at half strength and open to threats, or it could lead to fighting with the packs up in Canada, which consist mostly of Solaris and other solitary types." It made sense to Dean and Kao now. "So he wants either a few of Homestead to guard his lands, join so he doesn't have to send more troops, or not try for a sneak attack while he's away and we can hammer and anvil him." Dean could see why time was a factor here. They could already be dead, but Salt Lake was holding onto hope. Faith is such a fickle thing at the best of times. "Exactly," said Alan. "As Acting Alpha, I authorize you to make a decision concerning Salt Lake. Jon trusts the pair of you, shifty blighters that you are," there was an obvious joking tone in his voice, "and you've grasped the situation quickly. In other words, it's your call and the Alpha Pair and Designates will support your decision." "First really big task and you need a scapegoat. Gotcha." Kao got a chuckle from the other side of the line. "We'll touch base with you if anything seems questionable." Dean cut the line after some small talk and they continued their drive, stopping off for fuel and some travel junk food. So many new smells, so many new faces, and more than one were Lycan. It wasn't so much the Lycans that bothered Dean as it was the general...niceness. So many smiles, waves, held doors, polite children... When had he crossed over into the Twilight Zone? He was used to big cities, rudeness, callow disregard, apathy. This was all new territory, and he was nervous because none of it was fake. "Yes, they really are this nice," Kao said to his mate with a grin. "It's not natural. Humans are selfish and myopic. Do I smell as nervous as I feel?" Kao just laughed and nodded. "Hope no one finds it offensive." "One look at your license plates and all is understood." Kao's grin was huge. Dean's custom frame around the plates read "HORN BROKEN – WATCH FOR FINGER" which was all anyone needed to know. "Wonder if any of the locals are calling about 'new people' in the area," Dean mused. "Yes," came a soft reply from behind, and Dean jumped, his pupils contracting to pinpoints, "those in charge have been told." The speaker was tall...very tall...and lean like a swimmer, with long jet black hair, tawny skin, and merry green eyes. Lycan, but a type Dean did not know very well. There was something very feminine about this undeniably beautiful young man. "You must be Dean and Kao. I'm Melody." "Levi's sister," Dean said with a grin. Those two words won a huge grin from Melody and an honest flush of pleasure scent. "Not used to that reaction, or lack thereof, are you?" She shook her head. "I'm from California. You're not the first trans I have met." When she took Dean's offered hand, he bent over to give it a courtly kiss. Kao could not smother his giggle at Melody's scarlet blush. He felt no threat or jealousy as he had seen Dean do the same with many other women. It was just an old custom he found to his liking. The ladies were not opposed, either. "I...uh...have been asked to lead you through security at the estate." Melody cleared her throat to try and sound official, but there was no hiding that giddiness. No one did that hand kiss thing to her, so it was a very unexpected pleasure. "Lead on then," said Kao with a smile. An hour later they were pulling into the drive of a stately Victorian home. Security had been no problem. Even without Melody there, they would have found it welcoming as the guards had photos of them in the guard house. Waiting on the steps were two small families. "Welcome to Salt Lake City, Betas Whitmore-Saechao. I am Alpha Remus Perkins." Remus was a Southern born-and-bred gentleman right out of Gone with the Wind. Although that era would not have had black gentry. "My mate Tiffany," he said with a twinkling smile to the very tall and stunning blonde, "and our two pests, Sarah and Rogan." The two children, Sarah being the elder, were a beautiful combination of their mixed parents. Caramel skin, light eyes, statuesque even in the gangliness of youth. "And my beta, Levi, to whom you spoke earlier." There were handshakes all around, with a big welcoming hug for Melody from everyone. Yup, no bigotry here. Very refreshing, but slightly more understandable with the mixed marriage. As they were walking into the house so Dean and Kao could wash the travel dirt off themselves, Kao overheard Sarah's whisper to Melody. "He is fiiiiine." Which made Melody chuckle. "Which one?" "Yes," was Sarah's remark. The interior of the house was tastefully done and Dean did not feel like he was in a museum. It felt lived in and cherished. It was a home, not a showpiece. "Did you know we are fiiiiine?" asked Kao, putting the same amount of I's in the word as Sarah had. They were washing their hands and faces with the provided towels and sinks. "Let me guess: another teenie-bopper crush," Dean grinned. Not the first time. "I think I'm only a few years younger than Alpha Perkins." "Two years," said Kao with a grin. He knew quite a bit about the various packs across the US. "I so do not need a teen girl crush. I'm old enough to be her dad." It was still flattering. "What's twenty years?" Kao asked with a laugh, ducking as Dean tossed the towel toward him. Their own age difference was not a factor, but this was pushing it. "It's twenty-five...as in twenty-five to life." That got a chuckle from just outside the open door of the bathroom. Alpha Mate Tiffany Perkins stood there with an open grin on her face. "Don't worry about her. She crushes on every gay guy she meets. That way her dad won't realize one of them MIGHT be straight and get 'The Talk' from him." Dean laughed. "I'd be doing the same. Save my daughter from guys like me." That got a humorously raised brow. "Hey, I'll admit, until a few years ago my biggest sin was fornication. Never lied about it, never will. Next would be pride, but when you look this good..." He struck an absolutely fake pose. Both knew he was just playing the fool, but it was his reaction to this situation that Kao was noting. Dean was not worried and would handle business when it came. Until then, be relaxed. Tiffany looked at Kao with a smirk. "He always like this?" The phrasing and lack of poise told both Dean and Kao that Tiffany was not brought up Mormon. Something about it struck something within Dean. She seemed familiar...something in her smirk. "Usually, but I've almost got him potty trained." "Yup, only missed twice last week." That sent Tiffany into a fit of laughter and Kao into a fit of blushing. Dean pulled Kao in for a smooch, not feeling the least bit self-conscious or wary. Relax, dude, we won't get tarred and re-feathered here. Kao got the message and shook off the first reaction of shock and caution. Tiffany caught it. "Beta Whitmore-Saechao, I speak now as Alpha Mate of the Salt Lake City Pack. I will not suffer any to be persecuted or mistreated due to matters of race, religion, gender, sexuality, or former and current pack relations. You are free to express your love for your mate any way you deem fit without fear. Should anyone in this pack act differently, notify me and I shall remind them of my edict as Alpha Mate." Her phrasing told them both she was responsible for the open nature of the pack. Perhaps Alpha Perkins was more ambivalent or less opinionated and supported his mate's passion for the subject. "I thank you for your words, Alpha Mate Perkins. It is difficult to act so openly when it has ever been my way to hide it." She took his hand with a soft smile. "You are mated to a strong-willed and charismatic man. You are Beta to one of the largest packs in the Americas. My advice to you is to go forward with your head up and proud. Not only do you represent your pack, you represent your mate. Both hold you in very high esteem." Kao bowed his head with a smile of his own. It would take a long time to get used to being treated as if he mattered. Dean looked at Tiffany and nodded. "Your sister is Brigit Whitebear," he said so certainly. Tiffany nodded. "Half sister. Same father...and mothers." It made sense to Dean now. Strong opinion about same-sex couples, her mothers brought in a surrogate to have kids, one for each mother if not more. "So, when you get back to Homestead, tell that mountain of a nephew of mine that Tonny Tiffy sends her love." "The Klondike bear is your nephew? I am so sorry," Kao said with such false sincerity that she laughed and gave him a hug. "You'll fit right in with Homestead. Come, follow me or you'll get lost." After a wonderful and delightful supper, the adults went to the back porch to talk. Dean's banter, which had the entire family laughing, was gone now. It was time to talk treaties. "We have been given full permission and authorization to open treaty negotiations on behalf of Homestead. Please, tell us what is so important?" Remus nodded. "No dallying with you. I like that. Bluntly, we have lost a few members of our pack who went on Missions into Canada. We are planning on sending some scouts north overland, which will take us right through Homestead. If it comes to violence, which we all hope not, it could spill over onto Homestead's people or lands. We may also come under fire from a few rogue groups around the fringes of the area." Kao nodded. "We thought as much on our way here. Who have you lost?" Beta Hawkins spoke up. "My little brother Jordan and Creston Miller, who went with him on his mission." Personal indeed. "What is it you would like in a treaty with Homestead?" Dean asked. Alpha Perkins took over. "If nothing else, an agreement that we can have safe passage to and from during this recovery." Kao noted that Remus said recovery. He wanted this to be non-violent. "If forces oppose us, we will not be held responsible for damage done to Homestead and its peoples. This is all we ask." Dean and Kao just looked at each other. "Homestead offers its support with manpower, resources necessary, and even assistance with keeping your territory safe during the recovery. Any force that wishes to enter Homestead will be met with our own forces." Dean was having to stop himself from smiling at the hopeful looks in their eyes. "Some of which are a certain mountain and his mate." A grateful smile broke out on Tiffany's face. Kao took up the discussion. "In addition, Homestead will grant open passage for any and all members of Salt Lake City Pack who wish to travel through or to its lands with the understanding that SLCP will extend the same to Homestead and its peoples." Dean nodded. "I know Jon...Alpha Davenport will let people come and go so long as they're not douche bags, but this is a formality." He thought of something. "We also would like to offer a sort of exchange program of sorts. Cross training for our forces. We have tracking specialists and I am sure many of our younger members could benefit from your members' specialties. This one is my idea, but I know it works. I worked briefly with Cali Sands under Beta D'Arlene and learned quite a bit from her." Remus was momentarily speechless. "Honestly...I don't know what to say. Your extension of this much...it means a lot to us. We're a peaceful pack, and it kills me to think of our boys lost somewhere. Thank you. I do have to ask...are you sure Alpha Davenport will ratify this treaty?" "The only thing Jon may not is the exchange thing, but I can make him see reason. I can guilt him like no other." Dean's conspiratorial whisper expelled a lot of tensions. "So, we can draw up the document, fax it over to Jon. You'll probably get Alan, his pop, but Homestead has a lot of Alphas." Remus shook his head. "Lead by council...yet it works for them. Levi will get everything typed out so we can sign and send it off to the Lycan Council for records." When Kao and Dean were brought out of sleep by Dean's cell blaring "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," which is Jon's ringtone, they were somewhat surprised. "Dude, it's 4 am. The hell do you want?" He put it on speaker. "I'm just getting home after forty-one hours awake, so waaah." Jon's tone was tired but playful. "I want to tell you I am so proud of the two of you. The SLCP treaty is perfect. Who added the exchange program?" "Dean did, blame him," said Kao through a yawn. He snuggled deeper against Dean's side. "It's awesome." "Then I thought of it," teased Kao, making both men chuckle. "Any changes while we're still here?" "Nope. Anything else will be handled as needed. You guy get an hour or more sleep, then get on the road. I miss ya." They could hear it in his voice. He did miss his best bud and his new bud. "Gotcha. Now go to bed. Beta's orders," said Dean with a grin. He hung up on Jon knowing the other would be laughing and telling his husband what an asshole he had for a Beta. Still, it meant a lot to both that Jon had called just to say he was proud. After a hearty breakfast, and some farewells with much thanks, the duo were back on the road and head for home. Where home was, neither knew because Pat had handled it all. The house, the area, getting both jobs within and without the Pack. All of it. Obviously, the movers knew where to go, but neither Dean nor Kao thought to ask about the place, and being this close, they would let Pat surprise them.
  23. 52 points
    ---Teddy--- As breakfast wrapped up it took everything to hide the anger beating inside my chest. Ryder could see something was wrong, but didn’t touch it. I think he’s just relieved that I’m not angry at him! But why would I be? He’s an addict, and he did what addicts do when you shove drugs in their face. Plus he came to me with it! There’s no way I would’ve ever figured it out, he’d gotten away with it. And honestly he could easily get away with it again if he wanted. But now I know he won’t, I know he’ll come to me if something happens. I-I’m starting to trust him again, and nothing is more valuable than that. “So,” Ryder began, starting to push the remnants of his food around. “Since I’m moving in a few days, I, um, I need you to grab my suitcase from the house in the cemetery.” “I can do that.” I nodded my head. “Do you have keys to the house?” “Yeah.” He quickly nodded his head, thinking it over. “They’re in the pants that I came in with, so wherever those are.” “I have them.” I nodded my head, remembering the small plastic bag sitting in my office. “But the shirt is totally torn to shreds.” “You’re kidding.” He exhaled, dropping his fork and looking up. “Nope.” I smiled, trying to figure out if he was joking around or not. He let out a deep sigh and looked into my eyes. “I’ve had that shirt since Messiah started,” “You’re so full of it.” I laughed seeing that he was trying to be serious. “I’m not!” He insisted. “I loved that shirt! Why’d you guys have to tear it apart?” “I don’t know, I didn’t do it. Go ask the paramedics!” I cackled, trying my hardest not to laugh in his face. “It was probably covered in vomit anyway.” “Probably?” He asked. “So you haven’t even seen it then? Oh my god, you guys threw it out?” “Of course we threw it out!” I replied with a shake of my head. “It was torn, and covered in puke. We’re not keeping that.” “You guys suck.” He muttered, leaning back in his chair. “Where am I even going to sleep? In the guest room?” “That’s Oliver’s room now.” I shrugged, not having had put real thought into it. “We have a pull out couch in the basement, or, um, you could always just sleep with me.” I let out quickly, trying my hardest to sneak it in with as few questions as possible. “Are you okay with that?” Ryder asked as I nodded my head yes. “Okay.” He agreed. “But that doesn’t mean anything happens.” I explained, being as clear as possible with him. “It’s just so you’re not alone, and so I can easily check on you.” “I understand.” He quickly nodded his head. “Is Oli excited?” “What do you think?” I asked in a laugh. I let out a deep sigh as my eyes caught my watch and stood up. “I have to go back to work, and you have to go to therapy.” I instructed as he slowly stood up with me. “We’ll do this again sometime?” I asked, unsure if he had enjoyed it or not. “Whenever you want.” He shrugged his shoulders. “My schedule is pretty booked, but I’m sure I can squeeze you in.” He teased, giving me a playful bump as we walked back towards Mike. Relief doesn’t begin to describe the feeling I felt as I watched Ryder walk back into his room. We managed to eat together and just be, well, a normal couple. We didn’t bring up the past, or what happened between us, we were just, boyfriends. I was happy, and for once, so was he. ************************************************************************************* My good mood seemed to carry on into the rest of my day, but the second I saw Nate I felt all the anger inside begin to bubble again. He literally drugged Ryder, then shared false personal information about me. I, he’s broke so many rules and laws last night alone! This madness, it ends, now. “Nathan.” I called out, walking up to him. “I need to speak with you in my office.” “Am I getting a raise?” He teased, following me back behind the desk and into a small room. “Something like that.” I muttered, taking a seat at my desk. “So I saw you filed the overdose against the hospital insurance.” “I did exactly as you instructed.” He happily nodded. “I guess it was good to be honest about it. Honest? Honest! I don’t even think he knows the definition of the word! “Is that what you were?” I forced out as I started to grind my teeth. “Well yeah.” He nervously nodded seeing the look on my face change. “Why? Is something wrong?” “You tell me.” I forced out beginning to stare him down. “Look, whatever the patient told you, I’m sure there is a good explanation.” He shrugged. “He is a sick man after all.” “Don’t use the fact that our patients are ill to discredit them.” I warned in a strict tone. “Did you give him cannabis oil last night?” “No! Of course not!” He yelped. “I would never do that.” “But you did.” I stood up and stared into his eyes. “Right now I have reason to believe you gave a recovering addict a hospital vaporizer. And I’m willing to bet if I drug test him I’ll find signs of it.” “How dare you accuse me.” Nate let out, trying his hardest to fake shock. “He’s a drug addict, of course you’ll find weed in his system.” “I don’t care what he is.” I shook my head. “Because I’m willing to bet that the THC levels in his system are inconsistent with someone who wouldn’t have been able to smoke for a little over a week and a half.” “THC levels aren’t always accurate.” He forced out in a gulp. “And you don’t know where he’s been. He could have,” “There’s a cop outside his door at all hours, and he doesn’t have pockets or furniture in his room to hide anything!” I shouted, as my patience quickly faded away. “The only way he could have smoked is if someone brought him it!” “Well he did have that visitor earlier that day, maybe he brought something.” Nate shrugged his shoulders. “Me and my brother were there when he left. Ryder was stone sober.” I angrily muttered, staring deep into his eyes. “Plus whoever gave it to him said they weren’t ‘over me’.” I explained as the look on his face changed. “and they tried to start a rumor that I date nurses, doctors and patients.” “I, but you do.” He gulped breaking eye contact and looking over to the desk. “No I don’t.” I shook my head. “The only thing I’ve done over the past few years was go on one date with you. And to be clear we didn’t date. We went out for dinner once, and it ended right after.” He let out a breath and shook his head. “I’m just protecting you.” He exhaled. “You, a highly respected surgeon are going to date a drug addict?” He asked as he shook his head. “Just think it over for five seconds. The man is so depressed he can’t even get out of bed for more than an hour!” “I don’t care what or who he is. Who I date is none of your damn business.” I scolded, staring him down. “God I do you one favor and it’s like,” “Favor?” Was all I could manage as I began to see red. “Favor.” He repeated in confidence. “Now you see what an addict is, he can’t even control himself around weed.” “I knew he was an addict, that’s why he’s here trying to get better.” I seethed as tension filled my body. “And you messed with that. Do you understand what a violation of hospital rules and state laws that is?” “So is dating your patient.” Nate shrugged, trying to pull from his bag of tricks. “Oh really?” I asked as he nodded his head. “Is he my patient?” I asked, but got no response. “Go ahead, is he a patient here in the E.R.?” “Well, no, but what about when,” “Were we dating when he was in the I.C.U.?” I asked, but once again got no response. “Do you even know for sure that I’m dating him now?” “I, uh, yeah.” He nodded his head. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be wasting all your time with him.” I exhaled a deep breath of anger and held out my hand. “Give me your badge.” I calmly instructed. “No.” He shook his head. “I didn’t do anything wrong, and you-you can’t fire me.” “Nathan, I will press charges against you if you do not hand me your badge right now.” I warned, showing him nothing but anger. “The hospital won’t let you.” He refused, trying his hardest to hold his head high. “They won’t?” I asked in a laugh. “I’m the only one here dumb enough to have kept you on! I had to stop the maternity ward from firing you! But now I see that they were so very right, and I was so wrong.” “You know what? Fine! I’m better than this hospital anyway.” He let out, ripping off his badge and slamming it into my hand. “Good luck dating your washed up trash. He’s just going to kill himself anyway.” “He asked me to go easy on you.” I let out as he turned his back to me. “He asked me not to blacklist you from any nearby hospitals, but seeing as he’ll kill himself anyway, I don’t think I’ll listen.” “I um,” He nervously let out, turning back around. “I, please Dr. Haner, I,I,” “If you want to work as a nurse again I suggest you move to the other side of the Rockies.” I shrugged, sitting back down and turning to my desk. “I please!” He pleaded as I suddenly stood back up and headed towards the exit. “You, you can’t,” “I can and I will.” I nodded my head as he followed me back to the desk. “Now if you’ll excuse me,” I exhaled snapping his badge in two and throwing it into the trash. “I’m going to go check on the ‘washed up trash’ who’s won eight Grammies upstairs.” “I’m taking this to the board.” He finally decided with a shake of his head. “Excuse me.” Cait let out as she passed the desk. “Only hospital staff is allowed behind the desk, I need you to move please.” I couldn’t help but smile as she figured out the scene. “I, I am hospital staff!” He insisted, looking over at her. “Then can I see your badge?” She asked as I quickly caught up to her. “That’s what I thought.” She shrugged as he grew quiet. “Now please just save yourself the embarrassment and leave before we call security.” “Whatever! This place is a shithole anyway!” He cried out as we both backed into the elevator. “It’s a terrible fucking hospital! We don’t even have,” Were the last words I heard as the door shut. Goodbye Nate, I hope I never have to see your sorry face ever again. “Ryder fill you in?” I asked, turning back towards her. “Yup, he told me everything.” She nodded her head. “So naturally I ran downstairs to catch the fireworks.” “You’re such a dick.” I laughed as our eyes connected. “Hey, I have a new opening, I can even offer you a raise and a,” “Keep your money hotshot.” She smiled. “The Psychiatric ward is my home. You’re never pulling me from it.” “Come on,” I whined. “Like I was saying, I can offer you a raise, and even,” “Theodore.” She cut off as we both exited the elevator. “I love you, but nothing you can offer can ever get me to leave.” “Okay.” I defeatedly exhaled noticing how strong her will was. “But if I can ask, why?” She shrugged her shoulders at first but thought it over. “A week and a half ago Sully wouldn’t say a word to anyone. He barely wanted to be alive.” She shrugged. “But now, now he told both you and me about his slip up. Do you understand what amazing progress that is?” She asked as I was frozen by her passion. “I mean, I know he’s still in hardcore denial, and he has a long way to go, but just, look at that progress Dr. Haner!” She excitedly shouted. “I, I want that for every patient in this ward, and I’m not going to leave until I have it, even if that means I die trying.” I nodded my head and couldn’t help but smile at her ambition. “Oh god.” She rolled her eyes. “Don’t give me that dorky look.” I shrugged as laughter took over and she quickly started to walk away. “I love you Cait.” “You better!” She replied in a laugh. The rest of the day seemed to go by a lot easier without Nate around. Actually, the next few days did too! He tried his hardest to protest it, but at the end of the day there was just too many discrepancies with him to justify keeping him on board. His record was plagued with complaints by both patients and staff, and well, pissing off a celebrity patient doesn’t exactly help that! Last I heard the board had supported my decision to fire him, and was even entertaining the idea of pressing charges! I-I don’t think I’ll ever even see him again! At least, I pray that’s the way things go! ************************************************************************************* As the days came and went I realized work wasn’t just happier without Nate around, it was easier too! Not having to constantly fix someone’s mistakes, or redo something yourself, it saves so much time! Yet as the days flew by I found myself in a new challenge. The old sound of dirt and gravel being kicked up began to fill the air as I approached the old house in the cemetery. Ryder thinks this is going to be a problem for me, a whole big blast from the past. But little does he know I never stopped coming here. I never stopped visiting his grandma. As mad as I was at him, the hurt from her passing never fully faded. I meant it when I said she felt like family. She loved me like I was her own. Sitting with her while he was on tour, well those are some of my favorite memories from that summer. I wasn’t going to let her memory take heat because her grandson fucked up. No, not when it wasn’t the Ryder she raised. Or the Ryder I loved. “He’s back you know?” I asked the open air as I grew closer to her grave. “That’s why I haven’t been back in a while.” I let out. She’d want us to talk to her. She’d want us to believe her spirit is around. “Did you see him the night he came back?” I couldn’t help but ask. “He tried to kill himself.” I nodded my head. “But we saved him, and now, now he’s trying to get better.” I exhaled, bending down and resting my hand on her grave. “I’ll make sure he gets there. If not for me, then for you.” I let out, staring at the small grave. “I love and miss you Mrs. Sullivan. We all do.” As I stood up and began to walk back towards the house I was hit by a giant gust of wind. One that pushed me forward, one that told me I wasn’t alone. But still, no matter how many times I’d visited her grave, I haven’t stepped foot in that house since I was a teenager. I nervously gulped and forced the door open, knowing it would be easiest if I got what I needed then left. But still, as I walked through it I couldn’t help but get flashes back to that summer. Us sitting in his living room goofing around, us sitting on his bathroom floor when he drank too much, me sitting next to his bed as he stared at the ceiling, him playing music for me, our first time having sex and truly opening up ourselves. It all came swarming back to me, the good and the bad. I let out a nervous breath until I finally found the large suitcase, but froze as I saw a disaster of pills and alcohol spread all across the floor. This is it. This is where he tried to kill himself. I felt tears begin to sting my eyes as I thought it over. He must have felt so incredibly alone. So desperate for relief from his pain. A wave of emotions swarmed me as I looked it over. Suddenly all I could feel were the negative emotions, as though the house was coming to life. I quickly grabbed his suitcase and went to make my way to the exit until suddenly I remembered the small picture frame on his night stand. The one he would always sneak looks at when he played music. The one that, whether he admits it or not, meant the world to him. I forced back some tears and quickly darted to the back of the house, grabbed the picture of him on his father’s shoulders and suitcase and ran out. I threw them both into my car and peeled out without looking back. If I never have to go back into that house again it’ll be too soon! Something in it, something is wrong. That wasn’t the house I knew, no, it’s a collapsing shell of its former self, with both its old residents passed on in some way. ************************************************************************************* I snuck both belongings in my room and made sure to hide the picture in one of my drawers. As happy as I think he’ll be to see it, well it’ll have its time and place. The important thing is picking him up from the hospital tomorrow morning and getting him settled in as quickly as possible. Hell! I even took the day off! My first in years! Yet as the Saturday morning sun rose I found my heart racing in my chest. “But why can’t I come?” Oliver whined, nearly following me out the door. “Because I have to fill out a lot of paper work before he’s discharged.” I exhaled, knowing what a war with Oliver bringing home Ryder will be. “You’ll literally be living with him in an hour or two. You can wait.” “Fine!” He grumbled, slamming the front door behind me. I let out a deep breath and shook my head, oh Ryder, you’re in for a much crazier ride than you bargained for! The drive to the hospital felt the longest it ever has, and so did filling out all the paperwork to get him the hell out of there! I didn’t even see him while I was signing all the papers. He was pulled in to talk to this doctor and that doctor, and to set up a schedule for the coming weeks. It was determined that he’ll stop in with me four days a week and wait around for group and individual therapy. Then either I’ll take him home on my lunch break, or my mom will pick him up, if she’ll even agree to it! When I had handed in the last of the paper work, and Ryder was finally finished I finally got my first look at him in street clothes, and what I saw, well it sent my heart into overdrive. It’s like he had took his style from High School and ran it by a stylist! He wore skinny dark jeans ripped at the knees, with a dark black shirt and leather jacket over it. He left his hair messy as the length began to show, yet it all worked for him. “Ready to go?” He asked, nervously standing in the waiting room. “I, yeah.” I quickly nodded, trying my hardest to get over his look. “Are you?” “Since the moment I got here.” He nodded, turning back towards Mike. “I, thank you Mike. I don’t think I’ll be able to find the words to express it. I-I was wrong about you.” He nodded his head. Did Ryder just admit he was wrong?! I must’ve hit my head or something! Mike nodded his head and shook Ryder’s hand. “You don’t have to find the words, just buy me a beer and we’ll be even.” He let out but quickly caught himself. “Let’s change that to a Pizza.” He recovered, remembering the circumstances that had brought us all back together. “Sounds good.” Ryder forced a smile. “We’ll all go one day soon, if that’s okay with you Teddy?” “Yeah, I-it sounds really nice.” I smiled, grabbing Ryder’s hand and starting to lead them both to the elevator. “So Mike, it must be nice to not have to come here every day.” “It’s not bad.” He shrugged. “I got to stand inside a nice heated building, and for the most part I’d knew I was going to be safe all day.” He forced a smile as he saw concern enter my eyes. That’s right, it’s easy to forget how much Mike risks every day. I mean, northern New Jersey isn’t the wild west, but still, shit happens! “But I am excited to go back to patrolling, it’ll be nice.” He smiled. “But let’s not count our chickens before they hatch. Job’s not done until Ryder’s in the car.” I nodded my head, and the second the elevator door opened we quickly made our way to a side exit and to my hidden car. As expect a member of the press noticed and rushed over the hound the healing rock star. “Keep moving.” Mike instructed blocking the approaching press member. “I’m sorry sir, Mr. Sullivan isn’t taking any questions.” He instructed, trying his hardest to block the camera with his hand. “Ryder!” A voice sounded out as I stepped into the driver seat and Ryder jumped into the passenger’s side. He went to slam the door, but the man grabbed it before he could. “What are your thoughts on Drazo’s comments?” Ryder ignored them and tried his hardest to pull the door shut. “He said you’re done with music. He said metals time is over. He said he’s taking back the charts.” Ryder stopped the tug-o-war and let out an ominous laugh. “You want to know my thoughts?” Ryder asked, as I nervously gulped. “He can try all he wants but I set the standard too high for him or any other musician to catch me. I’m still the king. There’s only one throne and it’s still mine.” He warned in a terrifyingly low voice. “All the artists today, they needed me to know what style would come next, and now that I’m gone they’re running around like chickens without heads. But I’ll be back, and that little electro shit Draco will fall right back into my shadow.” Ryder warned, finally slamming the door shut. I let out a breath and quickly threw my car into reverse. “You’ll be back?” I couldn’t help but ask as I hit the open road. “Somehow, some way.” Ryder nodded his head. “I, I’ll get back to music, it’s the only way I’ll survive.” I mimicked his nod knowing he was right. Ryder’s words kept replaying in my head. Was he too cocky, or full of himself? Maybe. But he is looked at as the face of music. It’s only 2030 but they already call him the greatest musician of the century. It’s all a game, to see who can turn out the best music and brand it in a way that’s unlike anyone before. And Ryder’s right, no one has been better at it than him. He revived a genre, and brought it back to the public eyes. He’s the king, it’s his throne, and the second he finds himself again, well everyone better watch out.
  24. 52 points
    September 12, 2003 Tribeca, NY Brad It was a beautiful afternoon, about 75 degrees and sunny, so I’d taken my laptop up to the rooftop deck. I found JP and Stef there, drinking tea and reading. “Good morning,” I said. JP, as was typical for him, greeted me then re-immersed himself in whatever he was reading. “You seem to be in a good mood,” Stef said, which almost ruined the mood he was talking about, since it almost implied that I shouldn’t be. “I am,” I affirmed. “Have you heard from Jake?” he asked. “I have not,” I said, then sighed, knowing that I’d have to open up to at least Stef on this issue. “I’m wondering if he’s running away from me.” JP looked up from his article. “You certainly do know how to pique JP’s interest,” Stef said. “My conversation was evidently not as stimulating.” “Everything about you is stimulating,” JP said to Stef, then focused on me. “And how did you scare Jake away.” “I made out with him,” I said. “He is one amazing kisser.” “If you had said you showed him your erection, that would have made more sense,” Stef joked, referring to how hung I was. “He told me what his deal is, at least as regards being kinky,” I said, and almost laughed at how they both looked at me with full attention. “You are going to enlighten us?” JP asked, which was hilarious, because he had to be dying to know to actually ask me about it. I smirked at him to annoy him, and almost laughed when it worked. “He only barebacks, and he only bottoms,” I said. “That is very dangerous,” Stef said, and seemed as horrified as I’d been. “Just because HIV is not a death sentence anymore is no reason to actively seek it out.” “It is still a death sentence for some,” I said sadly, thinking of Kevin, who was doing pretty badly. “I talked to Cody yesterday, and even though he’d tried to be upbeat for me, he got pretty sad when he told me that Kevin isn’t doing any better.” “That is unfortunate,” Stef said sadly. I quickly switched the topic back to Jake, before we let Kevin’s situation completely depress us. “Jake claims that he is immune to HIV,” I explained. They both paused and looked at me blankly as they thought about that. “That sounds like nothing more than a convenient excuse,” Stef pronounced. “I think it is possible,” JP said. “I have read about that. There are supposedly some people who seem to be lucky in that regard.” “I talked to Jack yesterday, and he said the same thing,” I said nervously. “Are you planning to bareback Jake?” Stef asked. “I’m thinking about it,” I told him, then grimaced. “Jack sure wasn’t in favor of it.” “That is quite a risk,” JP noted. “It is, and it kind of puts me into a Catch-22,” I said. They stared at me, waiting for me to explain. “If I fuck him, I take the risk that he’s lying to me and that he is positive, and that he makes me positive. If I don’t, I’m basically telling him I don’t believe him, and that I don’t trust him.” “I would hope you remember that trusting someone in a business or professional capacity does not necessarily mean you should trust them regarding personal issues,” Stef said. “Yet in this situation, when things are so intertwined, I can understand your dilemma,” JP said. I gave him an appreciative look, since that was my read on it as well. “Jack scared the shit out of me by regaling me with all the other nasty diseases I could possibly contract,” I grumbled. “He covered everything from gonorrhea and syphilis to anal warts.” “That is probably not a bad thing for all of us to consider,” JP said, even as we cringed at the thought of all the various STDs that were out there. “He used to be a top, but he was shot in the back, and that caused nerve damage,” I told them. “So he can’t fully get an erection.” “Then sadly, we are kindred spirits,” JP said. “We have a new pill to try,” Stef said to JP hopefully, even as he patted his knee in a loving way. “We are going to try Cialis.” “Good luck,” I said. “Jake says those drugs won’t help him.” “That is unfortunate,” Stef said sympathetically. “That was the one thing that was positive about my call with Jack,” I said. “He told me that they’ve made a lot of progress on treating spinal injuries, and that maybe they could help him out.” “I suspect he would appreciate that,” Stef said, which was an understatement. “But I am assuming that, being a top yourself, you would not be overly upset by his disability?” “I’m not,” I told them, then grinned. “He has an amazingly cute ass.” “That would be an added incentive,” JP said. “It sounds, based on what he told me, that he’s only a bottom because that’s pretty much all he can do, but I could be wrong about that,” I told them. “Regardless, I like the guy, and I find him really attractive.” “It sounds like you had a nice interlude,” JP said. “Interlude?” I asked, teasing him. “Yes,” he snapped slightly, making me chuckle. “What makes you think you scared him away?” “Our conversation ended on a positive note, and was actually pretty positive throughout,” I said. “But he was suddenly intent on going to Washington, and it seems that he could have put that off until today.” Jake had made it seem like he’d been totally focused on working on solving the land problem, but I thought there was more to it than that. “Maybe he felt vulnerable after he revealed so much of himself,” Stef suggested. “That is possible,” JP said, but he sounded skeptical. “It is also possible that, in addition to that, he was leaving to give you some space to contemplate things.” I blinked a few times as my mind processed that. “If he’d have been here, especially last night, I would have felt pretty pressured to sleep with him or not.” “I would think those would be your only two decisions,” Stef said, giving me shit for explaining that badly. I gave him a faux dirty look. “It would have forced me to make a decision before I had a chance to work my way through it,” I said, getting what JP was saying. “That was a really nice thing for him to do.” “It was, if that is indeed why he did it,” JP said, reminding me in his typical way that we were merely speculating. He took that opportunity to change the subject. “I had a chance to update Wade on our conversations about Lord Preston.” “What did he think?” I asked. “He did not express an immediate opinion,” JP said, then looked at me curiously. “What do you think?” “I’m skeptical,” I said. “This whole thing isn’t adding up.” “You do not think Jake was being honest with us?” Stef asked. “That would certainly make your decision to sleep with him easier if he was not.” It would be frustrating and annoying if he decided that Jake wasn’t reliable and trustworthy before I’d found out the truth about him. I didn’t need Stef questioning Jake’s every move and statement. “I don’t think that’s it,” I said, struggling with how to explain my intuitive feeling on this. “Based on what he told me, I have to believe that Lord Preston is either a blithering idiot or a virtual genius and sociopath.” They began to mull that problem over. “Those would appear to be incompatible traits.” “They would,” I confirmed. “I don’t know much about South African society, but I’m supposed to believe that he’s quite the A-list person. I find it hard to believe he’d be so readily accepted by polite society if he was a drug lord.” “I would think that his title and his breeding give him an instant entre into their elite social class, but I tend to agree with you. Organized crime bosses are not generally welcome in such circles,” JP said. “If he’s a blithering idiot, then he’s walking into a trap in Mexico, and they’ll make short work of him,” I said, thinking through my two options on Preston. “What if he’s not?” JP asked, just to get my thoughts. “What if he is quite shrewd?” “Then there is a lot more going on here than we know about,” I said. “Let us hypothesize that is the case,” Stef said. “What else could there be?” “I don’t know,” I said, frustrated. “But you think Jake is being honest?” JP asked me. “I don’t know that either, but I think he is,” I said. “Look, I’m betting he’s getting intel from grunts on the ground. They’ll know what’s going on tactically, but they won’t see the big picture.” “If he were being thorough, would he not have vetted that information and put it into the proper context?” Stef asked, and seemed glad to have something to snipe at Jake about. “I don’t think that’s all him,” I told him. “He found out what’s happening in Mexico, and that’s all we could really expect from him at this point.” “One would hope that when the playing field is expanded, the rest of us would be able to offer some insights,” JP said. “I suspect that’s what our meeting on Saturday is about,” I said. “I wonder if Elizabeth Danfield or Alexandra Carmichael have the big picture?” Stef mused. “I doubt Elizabeth does,” I opined. “I think if she knew, she’d have been more active in this situation. Wade’s been at Goodwell with her for a while now, and he told me he sensed confusion from her.” “He shared that with me as well,” JP confirmed. “I have no idea what Alexandra knows, and I’m not sure it matters. I’m not likely going to be able to get much information out of her, at least not without a price,” I said with dread. “If this situation continues, where we do not know what is going on, it may be worth the price,” Stef said. “Another missing link in this whole thing is Lord Preston’s wife,” I said. “Mike told me Alexandra said he would not like her, because she was devoid of honor.” It bugged me that I’d all but forgotten that fact, and wondered if it would end up being important. “Perhaps the Marchioness has a role in this,” JP mused. “Yet another person we will have to try to investigate,” Stef said in a grumpy way. I decided we’d talked about this enough, so I changed the subject. “I talked to Will. He and Darius are at the hotel. I told them they could come back whenever they wanted.” “Our schedule is flexible enough to accommodate that,” Stef joked, since we had nothing to do today. Today was the day we were supposed to go to New Jersey, but I had dealt with enough over the past few days, and I’d ultimately bailed on that plan. I’d had a very unpleasant conversation with Jeanine’s mother when I’d called her and told her, but I decided that it was worth it. “How did it feel to have both of your sons running off with significantly older partners?” “You don’t think older men are sexy?” I asked, pushing Stef into a corner. “I am also most interested to know your thoughts on this,” JP said, piling on to give him a bad time as well. “I think they can be very sexy,” Stef said. “I just wondered how you felt about the age difference?” He got a nasty look from JP, inasmuch as one could get that kind of overt facial expression from him, since Stef was poking at me as if trying to start an argument. It was a wasted effort on his part, because I wasn’t going to fall into that trap. “I don’t think it makes much difference what I think,” I said honestly. I was quite aware that my sons would not welcome or tolerate my involvement with their decisions on whom to fuck. “But it really didn’t bother me.” “That is a bit surprising,” Stef said, probing. “Will and Darius are responsible, and mostly make good decisions. In this case, they’re walking into the situations with Patrick and Bellona with their eyes wide open,” I explained. “I also don’t think either one of those liaisons is more than a fleeting hook-up.” “Patrick is very handsome,” Stef said. “I was kind of surprised that I liked him,” I said. “After he snaked Ella away from Darius, it would have been more likely that I’d keep him pretty far away from me.” “I am not sure that ‘snaked Ella away’ is an accurate way to explain what happened,” JP said, with his fussy sense of justice. “Well, if snake is a metaphor for his dick, I’d say he did,” I joked. “For a fashionista, he’s pretty down-to-earth, and seems just like your typical bro.” “You like him because he is not bitchy and flamboyant?” Stef challenged. He could be both or either of those things, so it was no wonder he was asking me this question. “No, I like him because he’s not a huge drama queen, and because he’s nice to Will,” I said. Our conversation was truncated when JJ came out the door, pausing briefly to put on his stylish sunglasses. “It’s nice up here,” he said pleasantly. “It is,” Stef agreed. “How are you this morning?” I looked at my watch. “I think calling this morning is a stretch,” I joked, since it was already 11:30. “I took my time getting ready,” JJ joked back. He was in such a good mood it was almost disturbing, and a bit surreal. “You look good,” I said, and he did. Even when he had been skating, his muscle tone had always been subtle, and now it was even more hidden since he wasn’t constantly on the ice. I grimaced to myself when I thought that he’d turned into a twink. “What are your plans for the day?” Stef asked him. “There’s a new store on Fifth Avenue I wanted to check out,” JJ said. “That sounds interesting,” Stef said, smiling, even as he got up to leave. “I called for the car already,” JJ said, smirking since he’d known Stef would want to go. “I figured we could get lunch while we’re out.” “Then we will see you gentlemen later, for dinner,” Stef said to us. JP and I stared at them in surprise as they left, since this whole departure was unexpected, and since Stef and JJ were neither one of them speedy when they went somewhere. “It would seem we are on our own for lunch,” I said. “Perhaps we should go back to that pub around the corner?” “That sounds like an excellent plan,” he said, and so we walked back to the same pub we’d gone to when I’d arrived from China, and drank almost as much as we did that time. September 13, 2003 New York, NY Will “We are ready to leave,” Stef said to me. “Give me a minute,” I snapped, then apologized with my eyes. It wasn’t his fault Zach hadn’t called me on September 11, and it wasn’t his fault that Zach hadn’t called me on September 12. “I just need to make a phone call.” “That is fine,” he said soothingly, which was almost more annoying, but I managed to control my emotions and just smile at him. I waited until he left the room, and then called Zach. I didn’t think he’d answer, I didn’t think there was any way he’d actually man up and talk to me after blowing me off, so it didn’t surprise me when my call went to voice mail. I listened to his standard, phone-company derived greeting, then left a message: “Hey Zach, it’s Will. I just wanted to wish you good luck on your game today. Get a touchdown for me!” I smiled when I thought about how he’d react when he got it, how he’d feel guilty and like total shit. Darius had coached me on this; on how much smarter and better it was to take the high road. It may be the smart thing to do, but it certainly wasn’t the easy path to take. I’d been pretty messed up after September 11 came and went with no call from Zach. If it weren’t for Patrick’s amazing sexual healing, I’d have probably been a basket case. I smiled when I thought about him, and what a total animal he turned out to be in bed. He wasn’t aggressive and dominant like Carullo, but he was definitely in charge, he certainly had some stamina, and he was surprisingly resilient. It was almost tough to keep up with him. Almost. I was sitting on the bed, staring at my phone, when Stef walked back into the room. I stood up abruptly, feeling bad that I was dicking around when everyone was ready to leave. “Am I interrupting you?” “No, I just finished my phone call, and I was thinking about it,” I said, then sighed. “I called Zach and left him a message to wish him luck today, even though I’m pissed off at him for not calling me since I got to New York.” “He did not call you?” he asked, shocked. I just shook my head. “I am sorry. There is only one reason I can think of for that to happen.” “What?” I asked curiously, even though I was dreading the answer, that he’d tell me Zach had found someone else. Then again, I already knew Zach had found someone else; he’d found Joe. “He must have become completely absorbed into the world of college sports. I saw this happen to Jeff Hayes, and we all saw it impact Matt. It is almost like a supernatural being that has captured him and hauled him off to its lair.” “I get that, but it just shows how I’m so off his radar, and completely not part of his life anymore,” I said sadly. Stef reached over and wiped away the tear that fell out of my eye. His touch was gentle and caring. Stef decided to change the subject, evidently having decided that there was nothing more we could do to solve my problem with Zach. “I have not had a chance to thank you for what you said at the dinner.” “I meant it,” I told him honestly, “and Darius agreed with me.” “I assumed since you said it, you meant it,” he teased. I smiled. “It was a good opportunity to tell the world how much we appreciate you.” “And since you are honoring JP at the talent show, this was an opportunity to do the same thing for me, so I did not get jealous,” he concluded, raising his eyebrow in an accusatory way. “I didn’t think I had to worry about you being jealous of Grand,” I said, tossing it back at him directly. “You do not,” he said firmly. “I always think of you guys as a team, so when we do something for Grand, in my mind, it’s for you too,” I told him. “At the same time, it’s important to single you out once in a while.” “I appreciate that you did that,” he said. “Your approach is exactly as it should be. JP and I are partners, not competitors.” “Good,” I said. We smashed our fingers together, a sign stronger than saying ‘I love you’, then followed that up with a meaningful hug. He patted my cheek then walked out, giving me a minute to pull myself together. I sighed and walked out the door, bracing myself for a round of chaos. “You are sure you do not want to join us?” Stef asked JJ. “I really don’t want to deal with Mary Ellen, especially since Alex and I are at a good place,” he said. “If I see them there together, I may just really fuck things up.” “I would have thought you may enjoy that,” Stef teased. JJ chuckled. “It has some appeal, but I’m good.” It was obvious to me, at least, that JJ was staying here to wait for Carullo to get back. I wasn’t sure if Stef got that or not. Dad gave JJ a big hug, but avoided a long conversation, probably because he was so hungover. We’d picked him and Grand up at that neighborhood pub last night, and it had taken Darius, JJ, and me together to lug their drunk asses back to the condo. They’d both been hilarious. “Be good,” Darius said, and gave JJ a perfunctory hug. They’d kind of worked things out, but JJ still had some ground to cover with Darius. In actuality, probably the next time they saw each other, they’d be fine, but as of right now, Darius was keeping a distance between them, and it was obvious in the way he said goodbye to JJ. “They say ‘save the best for last’,” I joked, as I took my turn. He swallowed hard, which meant he was going to apologize or do something similarly demeaning. “I really am sorry for being such a dick.” “It’s over, remember?” I said. I didn’t want him carrying a bunch of guilt around. “Take care of yourself, and let me know how things work out with Carullo.” “If they work out,” he said skeptically. “I think he’s one of those guys where if you chase after him, he’ll run away from you,” I said. “All you can do is be pleasant and fun so he wants to be around you.” “I don’t know if I can do that,” JJ said, cracking me up. “Then just focus on the part where you don’t chase him,” I said, laughing. “Chasing him will probably work just as well as chasing Zach,” JJ said, which was true, but the comment seared into me, since he was a touchy subject. “Zach doesn’t need to worry about me chasing after him,” I said coldly. I gave him a warm but not overpowering hug, then followed the others out to the elevator. “We probably should have flown down there last night,” Stef said. “A few of us were in no condition to fly,” I said, smirking at Dad and Grand. They ignored me, but a closer look at my dad made me think his skin was almost green. The elevator doors opened and he pushed past us, charged through the lobby and out the front door, and puked in the gutter. “Dude, you’re like a bum,” Darius said, shaking his head in disdain even as he walked past Dad. The rest of us did the same thing, and then waited in the limo for him to pull himself together. “Better let him sit next to the window,” I said. He gave me a dirty look, but it turned out to be a smart idea, since twenty minutes later he had to puke out of that very same window. “It is a good thing Jake is not with us,” Stef said. “That is most unattractive.” “Whatever,” Dad snapped softly, then gave Grand a really nasty look. “How come you never get sick after you drink so much?” “I think it is because alcohol kills bacteria, and since I am so pure and perfect, it has no battles to fight inside me,” Grand said in his pontificating way, which was both cute and hilarious. “You, who are saturated with evil, clearly have a much tougher battle.” Dad rolled down the window and puked again. “Clearly,” Stef said. We got to the airport and boarded the plane, headed for Charlottesville. As soon as it took off, Dad vanished to the back, to the guest bedroom, making all of us chuckle. “No keg stands for him,” Darius said, referring to Dad. “He could do them just fine, it’s keeping all that beer down that would challenge him,” I said. “So how was your time in New York?” Stef asked Darius. I had to hide my grin, since I knew where he was going. “Okay,” Darius said in his clipped way. “And how was Bellona?” Stef asked, raising an eyebrow. I repressed a chuckle and got a dirty look from Darius. “Good,” he said. “It seems appropriate that we are flying to Goodwell when this topic comes up, since it is at that location that you told us you wanted us to be more interested in your sex life,” Grand said loftily. “It is most appropriate,” I said, mimicking him. Darius sighed. “It was one of the best times I ever had.” That surprised even me. “Indeed?” Stef asked. “Most of the women I’ve been with are my age, and no matter what I do, they always hold back a little bit. It’s like there’s some guilt thing that tells them they’re not supposed to have that much fun. The girls my age that do, they seem to come with other issues.” “Makes sense,” I said, since I could see how my female friends were all worried about being too slutty. “With Bellona, she doesn’t give a shit about that at all. She knows how much fun sex can be, and she wants to enjoy it,” Darius said. “It’s pretty obvious that she finds me to be hot, and that’s kind of awesome.” “It is very validating to be worshiped,” Stef joked with a smile. “No shit,” Darius said. “And she doesn’t say no.” “What does that mean?” Stef asked. “If I want to have sex, she’ll have sex with me,” he said. “She doesn’t say that she’s tired, she doesn’t suggest we do something else, she goes for it, and when she does, she puts herself into in completely. She’s not just doing it for me.” “I wonder how much of that is due to the fact that she appreciates how attractive you are?” Grand asked. “That’s part of it, but I think another part is that she’s a confident woman who knows what she wants,” Darius said. “Or maybe because she’s older,” I said, getting a dirty look from Stef. “Well don’t women peak at an older age than men?” “Research suggests that men hit their sexual peak when they are approximately 20 years old, while for women it tends to be in their mid to late 30’s,” Grand said, sounding like he was quoting an academic journal. “Cool,” I said. “The best is yet to come.” “Bellona is older than her mid-30s,” Stef noted. “Maybe she’s a late bloomer,” Darius joked. “So that means Patrick is past his sexual prime.” “Dude, if that’s the case, I would have been scared to be with him when he was 20,” I said. “He’s an animal.” “Ella didn’t think so,” Darius said, kind of blowing our minds. “She talked to you about sex with Patrick?” I asked. “When we went to Goodwell after September 11,” Darius said, even as we all worked not to let that memory drown us in sadness. “She told me that no one ignited her body like I did. She said Patrick was nice, but not all that enthusiastic.” “Perhaps Patrick is more stimulated by a male partner than a female partner,” Stef mused. “Cool,” I said, even as I began to think about Patrick in a whole different way. “It’s still a dick thing to do, talking about the guy she’s with to someone else.” Yet another thing to put in my reasons-to-not-like-Ella file.
  25. 52 points
    “Are you sure, Cohen?” Captain stood in the corridor outside my door. I was dressed in a pair of loose pants and a short-sleeve shirt. The air outside my room was colder, so I shivered again. “Yes.” Okay, so maybe part of the shivers were from what I was about to do. I reached for the jacket that I’d been given that would identify me as part of the maintenance crew. I could put my strength to use. “You’ve met with Luca and Priella. You’ll be on their crew. I’ve been assured they’re both great teachers.” I nodded. My heart was pounding, and my chest was tight. But I could do this. I needed to. It was two people; I’d met them in a session with Lakshou. They were both past rescues, which should have made me uneasy since I was so unsure if I was still a weapon, but with my permission Lakshou had explained about the ports and implants and the changes to my brain. Neither of them had anything like that, and they didn’t look down on me with pity but they still understood. I didn’t feel like I had to protect myself from them or protect them from me. They knew what I was afraid of, and they said they would have no problems disabling me if necessary since they both carried weapons and I’d be unarmed. Again, that should have made me nervous, but I was more reassured than anything else. “What time is it?” “Priella will be here soon to get you for just a half-shift rotation. You’re still recovering,” Captain said. “Aparoe already told me to take it easy.” I tucked my hands in the pockets of the coat. “Thank you for letting me do this,” I said softly. “We’re here to help you, Cohen. I don’t want you cooped up all the time, and if you feel like working, that’s okay. You don’t have to stay on the maintenance crew. You can explore the different jobs on the ship as we travel. Maybe by the time we reach a habitable port, you’ll have an idea of what you’re good at.” Besides killing? I kept that one to myself. The idea of being physical with anyone, for any reason, was still an intense craving as well as a power aversion. I wanted to touch and be touched so badly, but I was more afraid of what might happen so I tamped down on the need. Aparoe still came by every day and scanned me, and I noticed they touched me in some small way each time. They kept it brief and light, but it helped. Being near Captain didn’t help. I still remembered the intense warmth of his body the first time I dared allowed myself to touch him, the feel of his muscles bunching as he carried me out of my cell, and the scent of him that had surrounded me taking away the sterile torture of my existence. But I wouldn’t let myself hurt him. I curled my hands into fists, still hidden inside my pockets. “Hi, Cohen!” Priella strode down the corridor. She was a tall human, with a wide face and prominent cheekbones with sharply carved features. Her open smile faded as she stiffened and saluted Captain as soon as she noticed him beside me. “Sir!” “At ease.” Priella’s hand dropped to her side, but her body was still tense. Why? I looked at Captain, but he was still relaxed beside me. His uniform jacket was open at the neck, the high buttons on the collar opened. “I’m going now,” I said slowly. I didn’t really get the complicated leave takings the people did, when it would seem fairly obvious I was leaving since I was walking away, but I tried to fit in so I gave the Captain time to object before I walked away from him. Priella swung around and walked beside me, close but without touching. She glanced over her shoulder a few times. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to the captain,” she said. “He’s tall.” He was taller than most of the humans I’d seen on the ship, but many aliens were taller. “His quarters are just down the hall from mine. His office was turned into a room for me,” I offered stiltingly. “Wow, so you see him a lot?” What was a lot? I shrugged. And was it some sort of big deal? Would it upset someone that I got to see Captain a lot? Or if he was ignoring someone else to be around me? “Okay, okay. No pumping you for information about officer’s row until we’ve had you working with us longer. Are you ready to work?” I nodded. I kept my mouth shut about having to take it easy. I didn’t want to come across as lazy or a complainer. We got down to the maintenance bay and got to work. At first, I was just handing them tools, but eventually, over the course of that shift and the next, they started to explain what they were doing to the shuttles that were stored on the ship. We were standing at the rear of one of the atmo shuttles when someone ran a anti-gravity bin into the shuttle. It was currently hovering, the clamps off, because one of the stabilizers was missing. Luca was standing beside me, and the shuttle was just inches away when I stepped in front of him and grabbed it. I grunted and pushed, straining my arms as I locked my stomach and leg muscles and braced. No one wanted to write a report on a broken piece of equipment crushing a crew member. I wouldn’t have to do it—Priella and Luca were co-leaders, but I’d have to write up my own report to add to theirs. It would be a lot less stressful just to stop the shuttle. So I did.
  26. 52 points
    ---Teddy--- It’s not rare for me to think of Mrs. Sullivan every now and again. Maybe it’s a sign that I was never fully over Ryder, but that’s not the way I see it. She was an amazing caring woman who I was lucky enough to stumble across in my life. She always had advice to give and a smile on her face. She was always joking, teasing and laughing. Her life was just as depressing as Ryder’s, hell, maybe even more. Yet, she smiled her way through it, and that, it’s something I’ve always admired about her. “It’s because you’re born from the same soul.” I heard her words echo in my ears. “And now life is pulling you back together.” “Dr. Haner!” I heard a nearby nurse shout as I snapped back to reality. “Are you okay? Can you do this?” “Yeah. Yeah.” I shook my head, shifting my gaze into the big room full of press and cameras. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this room get used.” “What about during that flu epidemic a few years ago?” He asked, taking a look in himself. “Wasn’t here.” I shrugged, turning back to him. “This is only my third year.” “That’s right, you’re just a baby.” He teased, with a smile. “I guess it just feels like you’ve been here forever.” “Guess so.” I shrugged hearing the chatter in the other room getting more and more impatient by the second. “I better start before it turns into a circus in there. Wish me luck.” “You don’t need it.” The nurse winked, giving me a nice supportive pat on the back. The second I entered the small room I was overwhelmed by flashing lights and cameras. It’s been a long time since I had to deal with anything like this, and I haven’t missed it for a second. I’d spoken with Ryder’s agent to get our story straight, but still the whole thing just seemed, unnecessary. The press knows enough and they’ve been showing the video of the ambulance picking up Ryder over and over. People are smart enough to piece together it was a suicide attempt, and if they aren’t, well maybe they should be spared the story. “I’m Dr. Theodore Haner,” I began as I reached the small podium. “I’m the head trauma surgeon for the emergency room here at St. James. Late Thursday night Ryder Sullivan was brought to us because of an alleged suicide attempt. However that has not yet been confirmed. Right now he is under my care and is being observed for any alarming tendencies or health issues.” I exhaled, staring at the row of cameras. “Keep in mind that I will not go into detail about the patient’s records or diagnosis, but if you have any questions I will take them.” “Dr. Haner! Dr. Haner!” the crowd let out before finally once voice rose above the rest. “Why is it only an alleged suicide attempt?” “Currently we just do not have enough facts to say anything definitive.” I lied, trying my hardest to give Ryder privacy. “But haven’t you spoken with him?” Another asked, lunging forward. “Isn’t he conscious?” “He is conscious and in stable health.” I nodded my head. “However any conversations we’ve had are private.” “So you have spoken?” Another let out as I nodded my head. “How does he sound? Will he ever sing again?” “That’s a question for him.” I dismissed, turning towards the next reporter. “How will this affect his attempts at sobriety?” A new reporter stepped up. “Is he still trying to stay off of drugs?” “Honestly,” I exhaled. “this is a giant fork in the road for him. Whatever this was, he’s lucky to have survived it. If he values his life, he’ll find a way to come out of this sober.” “So then this was life threatening?” A faceless voice asked. “Yes.” I coldly confirmed. “When he came in he barely had a pulse. However we have a great staff here, and they worked relentlessly to make sure he would survive.” “Dr. Haner is there any truth to the rumors that you once dated Ryder Sullivan when he was first getting started in music?” I felt the look on my face change as I heard the question. I exhaled a deep sigh and eyed down the reporter who asked. “Whatever romantic relationships once existed between me and Ryder Sullivan are long over. Right now I am his doctor, and will treat him in what I believe is the best way possible.” “So just to confirm, you were the teenager he dated,” “Have a good day.” I interrupted, seeing the turn the conference had started to take. As I walked off I heard more and more clicks of the cameras, no doubt excited by the twist in drama. “Where are you going?” The same nurse from before asked. “To go talk to him.” I sighed, trying my hardest to fight the anger I could feel inside. “Are you sure that’s the best idea?” He asked, rushing up to my side. “I need to check on him anyway,” I groaned, as his door came into sight. “might as well get it all out of the way at once.” “If this is hard for you, if it’s a conflict of interest, you can always swap,” “I’m aware of what I can do.” I bit, starting to finally lose my patience. “I’m sorry,” I quickly shook my head. “I’m just very stressed right now.” “It’s okay,” he nodded and forced a smile. “If you want to talk you know where to find me.” “He was cute.” Mike observed as the nurse walked past us both and to the desk. I rolled my eyes and quickly walked into the room without answering. “You did good.” Ryder let out, looking up at the T.V. “Where did you get that?” I groaned, walking over and taking the remote out of his hand. “One of the nurses.” He shrugged, shifting his gaze to me. “I’m not in prison you know? I can have fun things like T.V. or music.” “Yeah, well you’re not allowed to have anything with any sort of toxic material in it.” I grumbled, angrily sorting through the cart in his room. “You think I’ll kill myself with a remote?” He asked, trying to get me to look back over to him. “Wouldn’t be the stupidest thing you’ve ever tried.” I spit, finally looking over at him. He let out a sigh, and slouched deeper into his bed. “Still mad at me?” I shook my head and took a second to recollect my breath. “I’m sorry. Today’s just hasn’t been my day so far.” “Why not?” He asked, and for the first time since he arrived he captured all my focus. “Just a long shift, and I had to drive Oli to school this morning because he slept in, then the press conference, and it all just, it’s a little more than I bargained for today.” I cut myself off realizing who I was talking to. “I’m sorry,” he exhaled, trying his hardest to maintain eye contact. “You shouldn’t have to clean up my mess.” “Not your fault the press is childish.” I dismissed, taking out my keys and reaching for his arm. “You’ll behave if I unlock this right?” “I’m not Hannibal Lecter.” He teased, as I finally unlocked his hand. “I get why you’re doing it, but I won’t hurt anyone. Especially not you.” “Why? Hurt me enough for one lifetime?” I let out without thinking of what I was saying. The small forced smile on his face faded as my words hit him and the normal depressed look took back over. I went through my normal routine of checking him before finally falling back into my chair. “Incision still looks clean, heart sounds better, and you’re a little less yellow. How your stomach?” He stayed quiet and slowly let his eyes drift. “Ryder, how’s your stomach?” I repeated, but once more I got nothing. “Ryder.” I called out one last time. “I’m not playing this game with you. How is your stomach?” Frustration boiled over as his silence filled the air causing me to spike my pen down onto the floor. I sat there for a few more minutes as we both stared off into the distance. “Alright, what is it?” He shook his head and declined to talk once more. “This isn’t working.” I decided, but as I went to stand he turned back towards me. “Sit.” He exhaled, his voice sounded distant and cold. “I just, I didn’t think you were actually treating me like every other patient. I thought it was a game.” He continued as his eyes fell away. “But every time I try to joke with you, you shut me down, and then, then you’re just left throwing medical bullshit at me.” “You’re my patient.” I shook my head. “How did you expect this to go?” “I’m more than your patient Teddy.” He exhaled, still staring off into the distance. “I know you read my letter, I know you know,” “You know what Ryder?” I interrupted, not caring to hear any more. “That I know you still claim to care about me? That everything you’ve done these past fourteen years was a mistake? That you did it because you were in pain?” I asked but got nothing. “We were all in pain Ryder, and none of us walked away drug addicts.” “What do you want from me?” He forced out, voice growing lower. “I want you to stop.” I groaned, falling back deeper into my chair. “I just want you to cut the shit. I want you to stop playing with my head. I want to stop being so angry at you, but I can’t.” He shook his head and turned his back to me. He didn’t have to say anything for me to understand what that meant. I know what he was thinking. “I want you to want to be alive.” I finally let out, grabbing his shoulder and forcing him onto his back. “I want to forgive you. I want to fall for you again.” “But,” he led, not letting himself be satisfied by words. “But you really hurt me Ryder. You cut deep.” I shook my head, letting my weight rest back into my seat. “You told me I was your world, then you threw it all away.” He went to respond but before he could I let out a sigh. “And I know that was your way of dealing with everything. I know that deep down that was your way of loving me. I know that you only tried to kill yourself because you thought it would fix everything.” “I don’t think it will, I know that if I,” “But,” I reminded him, sticking to my original statement. “That wouldn’t fix anything. It would just break it all over again. We promised each other a lot when we were teenagers, but when I told you I loved you. I meant every last word of it.” I confessed as he stared at me, unsure what to say. “I-I haven’t been the same since we broke up, and as mad at you as I am, if you were gone, like really really gone, I-I’d hate everything about this life.” “You still care?” he let out, trying his hardest to make sense of what I was saying. “Yeah.” I admitted, finally being completely honest with myself. “I never stopped.” “Then what do I have to do?” He asked, sitting up and staring at me. “How do I show you I’m different? How do I get you back?” “I don’t know.” I shook my head, waiving for him to lie back down. “Just right now, I need you to get better. I need you to get clean and go to the psych ward for a little while. I can’t promise you that I’ll ever be okay with dating you again, but if you show me the effort.” I shook my head. “If I see you’re really trying to change, it’ll go a long way.” He nodded his head and watched me for a little longer. “How many more days until you’ll sign me over?” “Tomorrow.” I nodded, pretending to look over his charts. “Psych ward is just down stairs.” “And you’ll still come visit?” He asked, nervously tapping his fingers against the side of the bed. I slowly nodded my head and connected eyes with him. “I’ll try on one of my breaks to come see how you’re doing.” He nodded his head, but kept quiet too scared of ruining the moment to talk. I heard the creak of his bed as I got up and sorted through the cart to find a fresh I.V. bag. “It’s cool.” He finally spoke, seeing what I had in my hands. “I don’t need one. I haven’t had one since the one you gave me yesterday anyway.” “That’s even more of a reason for me to give you one.” I let out, focusing on hooking it up to the stand. “I’ve been drinking so much water.” He pleaded as I shook my head. “Don’t lie to me.” I scolded, glancing back towards him. “If you were telling the truth I’d at least see one or two water cups.” I shook my head and pulled the stand over. “I’m sorry, I’m not leaving it to a suicide patient to monitor their own hydration.” He let out a long groan but saw my point. “Can you at least let me use the bathroom like an actual human?” I ignored his question as I pulled his arm to me, and focused on hooking it up. “I’m not playing around!” He squirmed, moving his arm away from me. “It hurts! And I, it’s embarrassing!” “Fine, be a baby about it.” I gave in, trying to straighten out his arm again. “Just let me do this.” “I’m not being a baby.” He grumbled, finally letting me have his arm. “You shove a tube up my dick, and poke me with needles, I’m not being a baby, I’m just reacting!” “The only patients I have that are still scared of needles are children.” I let out; accidently missing the vein and having to pull the needle back out. “Teddy!” he yelped, feeling the needle come in and out. “Just get a nurse, just get a nurse,” he repeated, as I zeroed in for it again. “It’s Dr. Haner around here.” I reminded him as I finally got the needle into the vein and flipped the block off. “And you’re lucky it’s just needles. After seeing your will I should smother you with a pillow.” He tried to hide the blush on his face, but there was nowhere for him to turn. “I really was leaving everything I had to you.” “I know.” I exhaled, finally standing back up. “But like I said when we were younger, money doesn’t impress me.” He nodded his head as our eyes connected for a few seconds. Please Ryder, please give me a reason to chase you again. Please show me you’re changing. Please get better. I need you more than you know. “I’ll go get you a nurse for the catheter and Velcro restraints.” I shook my head, quickly ruining the moment. “No!” he exclaimed, as I opened the door and waived one over. “Do it yourself! Please! Your nurses are,” “What is it Dr. Haner?” One of the stronger nurses asked as she walked over to the doorway. “I want to change his straps to the Velcro ones, and can you get someone to take out his catheter. I think he can handle a nurse accompanying him to the bathroom.” She nodded her head and rushed off to find a new pair of restraints. “A few minutes ago you were crying for a nurse.” I shrugged, as she walked way. “Besides you’re going to need one every time you go to the bathroom, so it’s good to start getting to know them.” “But this is different.” He shook his head, as the nurse walked back towards the room. “You’re at least gentle!” “Oh trust me.” I exhaled as our eyes connected once more. “You don’t want me pulling tubes out of you while I’m still angry.” “Teddy!” He whined as the nurse rushed past me. “Teddy?” She repeated, rushing to his side. “You two must be close.” She observed looking over to me in hopes I would help. “We grew up together.” I forced out, walking over and reaching for him. “Come stand with me.” He nodded his head, but the second our hands connected I could feel my heart begin to race. It took some effort, but before I knew it he was leaning against me. It feels like I’ve been waiting fourteen years for this moment, and now that it’s hear I just, I don’t know how to feel. “Well remind me to start calling you Teddy.” She teased, finishing one strap and working on the other. “He doesn’t go by Teddy anymore?” Ryder forced out, trying his hardest to stay stable. “Here it’s either Dr. Haner or Theodore.” She explained, glancing back towards me. I shrugged my shoulders and forced a smile. “What can I say? After around eight years of schooling I don’t want to be called anything but Doctor.” “I like Teddy better.” Ryder teased, making sure to take advantage of the moment. “I’ll drop you.” I threatened as the nurse finally stepped aside for him to crawl back onto bed. “You used to hate when I would call you Theodore.” He exhaled, as the nurse began to strap him in. “Still do.” I dismissed, turning towards the nurse. “Alright I’ll leave him in your care for now.” “That’s alright, I’m done.” She laughed, walking away from him. “We’ll get a newbie to do the rest.” “They’ll be good though right?” He asked, looking at the two of us. “Good enough.” I teased, closing the door behind us. The nurse let out a long hum as we gathered at the nearby desk. “That’s the most lively I’ve seen him since he came in.” “He’s been like that ever since he woke up.” I sighed, putting away his chart and slowly taking off my white coat. “With you maybe.” She shrugged, looking back at Mike guarding his door. “But to the rest of the staff he’s been the textbook definition of depressed. Quiet, no eye contact, irrational, sleeping all hours, just, what you would expect from his case.” “So then why not with me?” I asked, forcing eye contact with her. “He’s scared Dr. Haner. I know I don’t have to explain that to you. He just tried to kill himself.” She exhaled, looking into my eyes. “But with you, he-he sees his old friend. He’s comfortable with you Teddy. You have a real chance to turn his life around.” “Names not Teddy.” I raised my eyebrows, ignoring the rest of what she had said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” “You can’t run from it Dr. Haner, sooner or later it’ll catch up to you.” She warned in a light voice. I shook my head and kept moving as fast as I could. It’s not that I’ve been trying to forget who I am, I just, I needed to make a name for myself and Teddy, it’s a bit childish. Sure, my old friends and family still call me that but I’m Theodore now. What else can I say? I’m a surgeon that needed something professional, sue me. ************************************************************************************* As I pulled into my driveway I couldn’t help but shake my head as I saw Blake’s car. I just want to eat and go to bed. I really don’t need this right now! “What’s up?” I exhaled, walking through the door and seeing him on the couch talking to Oliver. “Man, do you ever get off of work on time?” He teased, standing up and shaking my hand. “Emergency room never closes.” I reminded him, leading him downstairs just like I would when we were kids. “You stay up here and do homework or something.” I instructed, as Oli jumped up to follow us. “Come on!” He whined, looking to Blake for support. “I barely get to see Blake anymore, and he was giving me old bands to listen to!” “I’ll come talk before I leave alright?” He asked as Oli quickly nodded his head. “For now I need a doctor’s advice about Liz’s pregnancy. Unless you want to hear about morning sickness, swollen feet, cravings,” “No! No! No!” He let out, jumping back down on the couch. “I’ll see you later.” “Why does he listen to you and not me?” I groaned, as he shut the door behind him. “You just have to know how to talk to him.” Blake shrugged, wandering down the stairs and sitting across from me. “He’s just a kid.” “That’s easy to say when you don’t live with him.” I grumbled, looking away from him. “Then maybe it’s time to finally move out.” He suggested, leaning forward slightly. I rolled my eyes but didn’t answer. Rent’s cheap, food is free, and I have people to live with. I’m going to trade that all away just to live alone? No thanks. Besides medical school wasn’t exactly cheap, and sure I’ve been making a nice amount of money but that debt still isn’t pretty. “Don’t give me that look, it really wouldn’t be,” “What’s up with Liz?” I interrupted having heard the moving out speech one too many times before. “Nothing.” He shook his head as the smile faded from his face. “I just said that so Oli would stay put. I saw your press conference on the news at work today.” “Has Oli?” I asked, and he quickly shook his head. “But it’s only a matter of time.” He exhaled. “I think you should speak to him about it. It-it’s not something he’s going to take lightly.” “Then my dad can handle it.” I shrugged. Blake moved his mouth to the side and sat back. “What?” I let out, seeing the disproval on his face. “Nothing.” He sighed, looking over at the old pictures of us. “You just never used to be this selfish.” “Selfish?” I repeated beginning to stare him down. “Yeah, selfish.” He doubled down leaning forward once more. “You always used to put your family first. Your brother needs you, and you’re just going to leave it up to your parents?” “He’s not my kid.” I shook my head. “They can tell him what they think is right, and I’ll mind my own business.” “He’s not your kid, but he is your little brother. That’s family man.” Blake began, clearly irritated by what I had said. “You know you can explain it ten times better than your parents, you’ve seen depression first hand. You know how ugly it is. Hell! You treat suicidal patients all the time! So grow a pair and go have a conversation about it with your brother.” “Did you just come here to yell at me?” I groaned forcing eye contact with him. “No.” He exhaled as the anger on his face began to fade. “Liz was supposed to come too but she’s had the spins all day. We just want to see how you’re doing. We honestly had no idea that you were the one treating Ryder.” “I’m doing fine.” I shrugged, refusing to open up anymore. “Don’t do this.” Blake shook his head. “Don’t shut me out again man.” “What do you want me to say here?” I asked feeling a bit of frustration boiling. “You want me to tell you that I watched Ryder’s lifeless body wheeled in front of me? That I have to see and talk to him every day? That as mad as I am, I still, I-I just, forget it.” I groaned, redirecting my eyes to the floor. A few minutes of silence passed before I felt Blake’s hand reach over and rest on mine. “It’s okay you’re not over him. It’s okay that you have a lot of shit you need to work through. But I-I don’t want you to go back to the way you were after, well after it all happened.” I stayed quiet as he squeezed my hand. “You shut me and Liz out hard. It took us a whole year to even start to recognize you again. I can’t watch you go down that road again.” “What if I start to fall for him?” I let out, finally looking back up at Blake. “I had to hold his hand today, and it just, it was like those sparks are still there. Like I’d been waiting forever for him to touch me again.” Blake shrugged his shoulders and thought it over for a few seconds. “Everyone will think you’re crazy. Your parents and Liz will freak out hard. I-I have no idea what I’ll even say, but you’ll become brother of the year.” “I’m not goofing around right now, I’m being serious, what if,” “I know.” He interrupted in a somber tone. “It’s funny. All those years ago I listened to you ask the same questions. What if I date Ryder? What if everyone at school hates me for it?” he mocked in a high pitched voice. “But you followed your heart and did it anyway. And sure, it didn’t end well.” He sighed, looking back into my eyes. “But I’ve never seen two people more in love than the two of you were, and maybe, if the universe put him back in your life, I don’t know man. You do what’s best for you but don’t fight your heart. You’ve done enough of that these past few years.” “I’m so scared.” I confessed shaking my head. “I’m so worried he’s going to crush me again, but, do you know what I did today?” Blake tilted his head and nodded for me to continue. “I promised that if he gave this an honest chance, that if he showed me he was trying to change, that maybe I’d be okay with giving him another try.” Blake fought off a grin as he stood up. “That’s the Teddy Haner I know.” He nodded, walking over and giving me a light push. “Always seeing the good in people, always helping people.” “Stop!” I yelped, shoving him back as if we were kids again. “I need advice here!” “The problem is you’re not asking for advice, you’re asking for an answer.” He shrugged, slowly moving towards the stairs. “But only you can answer that question, and I-I’ll support you no matter what.” I nodded in gratitude as he started the short descent. “And for fucks sake actually talk to your little brother. He’s not a bad kid.” I rolled my eyes but fell back in my seat thinking it all over. Is it really this simple? Do I really go back to falling for Ryder? Can I go back to falling for Ryder? I get it, him leaving was what he thought was the best, but what if he does that again? What if he has another depressive episode and calls it quits? I just can’t trust him, and that, I don’t know if it’s something I can overcome.
  27. 52 points
    ---Teddy--- As I let my little brother go I couldn’t help but take a longer look at him. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time we’ve hugged one another in, forever. It’s so weird to me how into Messiah he is. It’s so completely and utterly bizarre. But at the same time what did dad think was going to happen? This is his way of showing our father he’s found his own big metal band, and the fact it gets a rise out of me, it only makes it better. “I’m sorry I said no one wants you here.” He exhaled, still nervously standing off to my side. “It’s alright,” I dismissed, pushing the envelope further into a pile of papers. “I shouldn’t’ve lost my temper in front of you like that.” “Are you that mad at him?” Oli asked, trying to wrap his head around it. For his age Oli is so incredibly naïve. He doesn’t understand what heartbreak is like, or how badly it can mess someone up. He’s seen the millions of videos and pictures of me with Ryder, and yet I don’t think it’s ever connected in his head that we were real. Then again, he’s only thirteen, and my parents have been coddling him, too terrified to let him go. After all, look what happened when I chased my heart. “I don’t know,” I exhaled, taking another long look at him. “Have you ever seen the video of me and him in Atlanta?” I asked, as he thought it over. “Back on Messiah’s first tour?” “Yeah.” He nodded, trying to put it all together in his head. Once more I saw that roadblock go up in his eyes, but this time instead of letting it go I’ll explain it. For the first time in his life I’ll tell him my true experience with Ryder Sullivan, and not the one my parents try and waive off to save everyone the pain. “Do you remember what he said?” I pressured, as he thought it over before nodding his head. “He said you saved him.” He answered, but instead of putting the pieces together his eyes stayed fixated on me. “So then why did you give up on him?” I let out a long sigh as he braced for some screaming. “I didn’t give up on him,” I let out, staying calm. “Where did you hear that?” He shrugged his shoulders but didn’t speak. “It’s okay, I won’t yell.” “It’s just, if you liked him that much, how come you broke up?” He forced out, letting his youth show once more. “How could you save someone, and then leave them?” “I never left him.” I replied, trying my hardest to see where he was coming from. “He left me. After his grandma died,” I hesitated, thinking back to the old woman who always used to make me smile. “he started shutting me out. He forced his way back on tour then cheated on me.” “But mom and dad fight.” He interrupted, finally speaking freely. “They fight all the time, and if-if you were willing to save him, then why’d you leave after he messed up once? It’s like you saved his life just to quit on him.” “You think I broke up with him?” I asked, as he slowly nodded his head. “That’s what mom and dad always said.” He shook his head as confusion entered his eyes. “They told me he cheated on you so you threw him to the curb.” For the time I finally understand where he’s been coming from this whole time. He was just a baby when it happened, he never actually saw the pain I was in. After all, what was I going to do, sulk every day for thirteen years? But he can always find the interviews of young Ryder; the interviews where he spoke about the tragic loss of his grandma, and the heartbreaking end to his relationship. He sees Ryder as the victim, and me, well as the dickhead who quit. “That’s not what happened.” I finally replied, taking a long look at him. “I, after he cheated on me I gave him a choice. Come home or we’re through.” I shook my head, beginning to feel the pain from that day. “As much as he hurt me, I-I never wanted to end it.” “Well what’d he say?” Oli quickly asked, trying his hardest to finally tie everything together. “He told me he’d see me around, then hung up.” I shrugged as my brother’s eyes fell to the floor. “The store was the first time I spoke to him in fourteen years.” Silence filled the air as he tried to figure out what to say next. What to do next. “The cheating is just the start of why I’ve been so mad at him.” I shook my head, unsure why I was even explaining this much. “He left me Oli. He blocked me on everything. I went from talking to him every single day to nothing. And sure, time heals, but that, it sucked.” “Oh.” He finally exhaled, looking over to the window. “You guys never told me that much.” As any type of happiness fell from his face I couldn’t help but feel slightly guilty. “Why do you like him so much?” I finally asked, taking an interest in him for the first time since I was in medical school. He hesitated but as he saw I was being serious shrugged his shoulders. “He’s just cool.” He forced out. “Next year I go to the same high school he went to, and he-he turned his life around.” This time as he spoke he looked up into my eyes. “One day he was going to kill himself, and the next he’s the king of music. I know he’s not perfect but, one day I want to do that.” “You want to be a rock star?” I asked, slightly tilting my head. “No, well, maybe.” He answered, still thinking it all over. “I want to be like Uncle Martin. I want to produce music the way he produced Messiah. And I don’t know. If Ryder can go from zero to hero, then maybe I can too.” I exhaled another deep breath as I heard his words. Oliver isn’t the only kid Ryder’s inspired. All over the country kids have come out saying nearly the same thing as Oli just did. They all want to be famous. They all want to be the next Ryder Sullivan. I could see in his eyes that there was something else there, another reason why he identified with Ryder so much but I didn’t push him. I didn’t want to risk him shutting down on me. “Oliver,” I spoke up, forcing his eyes to dart back to mine. “If you want to produce music, or even make music, you go after it with everything you have, okay?” He nodded his head, but grew quiet once more. “And I’m going to try my hardest to help Ryder but, but I’ll need you to give me some space about it all. So no asking me a million things about it, okay?” “Yeah.” He quickly nodded, as a small smile resurfaced on his face. “I mean, maybe this can help you scare him straight! Accidentally almost overdosing must be so scary!” I went to say something, but as I realized the news hadn’t yet fully broke I bit my tongue. “Yeah,” I nervously let out. “It’s a really scary thing.” I watched him carefully as he turned back out my door and down to his own room. I honestly don’t know what to make of him, or our relationship. He’s so young and innocent, and that, it annoys me. I just wish he would get it already, that he would grow up and fully act his age. But then again what am I asking for? Am I asking for him to be miserable like the rest of us? Am I jealous because he gets to be so carefree and relaxed? The fog of questions seemed to lead right into my shift that evening. I just couldn’t clear my head from it all. There were moments when I was performing procedures that I was able to find a flow, but at the end my mind was just, hazy. That is, until I found myself approaching the door Mike was guarding. “Still out here?” I politely asked, as he moved aside. “For another hour.” He shrugged, forcing a smile. “Then I’ll be back here tomorrow afternoon.” “Well don’t worry, the fun never stops around here.” I teased, opening the door and slowly backing into it. Mike nodded his head as I closed it behind me and turned to a sleeping man under sheets. Only as I grew closer I realized he wasn’t sleeping at all. Instead he was staring off at the wall next to him. “Ryder,” I snapped my fingers, trying to get his attention. “Ryder, I need you to look at me.” He stayed quiet and kept his focus, just like he used to when we were young. “If something hurts you have to tell me.” “Everything.” He forced out, still looking at the wall. “Everything fucking hurts.” “Alright, well I need you to be more specific.” I explained, beginning to look over his chart. “My head, my heart, my stomach.” He shook his head, just saying whatever he could to shut me up. “Ryder.” I repeated, pulling a seat next to his bed. “I really need you to be specific. We’re not kids playing doctor. If you want my help then I need you to go into detail.” “Fine.” He grumbled, turning his head towards me. “My head hasn’t stopped pounding since I woke up. My stomach is on fucking fire and every time I take a shit there’s blood. The upper right side of my chest just hurts, and the cut near it sucks. Oh, and my dick hurts because you shoved a god damn tube up it!” His eyes were full of a fire and anger I had never seen before. I went to back down, but as he finished I stepped up to him. “Let me explain something to you Ryder. I understand you’re heavily depressed, and I know you’re probably confused, angry, and irritable from not being high, but you’re in the ICU.” I began, forcing eye contact with him. “The doctors and nurses here are overworked and underappreciated, if you talk to anyone on my staff the way you just spoke to me, I will have you tossed onto the street. Do you understand that?” “Whatever.” He muttered, turning his head away from me. “It’s not whatever Ryder.” I continued, standing over him. “These people saved your life, and despite how ungrateful you’re being, they’d do it again in a moment’s notice.” He shook his head and ignored my words. “Fine, have it your way.” I sighed with a roll of my eyes. I walked towards the cabinets on the far side of the room but as I pulled out a long needle I noticed his eyes return to me. “What’s that?” He asked, slightly moving away from where I was approaching. “I need to examine you.” I exhaled, putting the needle into a tray and throwing on gloves. “And to do that I need to untie you, but I don’t really feel safe around you right now, so this will sedate you for a little bit.” “You don’t need that.” He quickly shook his head, taking a look at the long needle. “I’ll be fine, I promise I will, and you have a cop outside the room for help if you,” “Are you seriously afraid of needles?” I chuckled with a shake of my head. “You won’t even feel anything.” “I’m not afraid. I’ve just been poked with enough stuff today okay?” He asked, clinging to one side of the bed. “Just please, put that down.” “You’re a grown man.” I exhaled, turning around and putting the needle back in its original spot. “Man up and deal with your fear.” “I’m not scared!” he insisted, easing back into the middle of the bed. “You better not be, because I’m giving you an I.V. before I leave.” I shook my head, noticing his face slightly cringe. “Let me explain something else to you.” I exhaled, pulling keys out of my pocket. “We put metal chains on you because we’re worried about your violence during withdrawal. If you can behave yourself until tomorrow I’ll have them switched out for the Velcro belts.” He nodded his head and extended his hand to me, desperate to be set free. “If you swing at me or try and escape I’ll lock you up and ship you to a crazy house.” “I won’t.” He insisted, still holding out his wrist. “I swear.” I exhaled a deep breath as I slowly un-cuffed one of his hands, then the other. “Alright, lower your gown to your waste.” I instructed as he carefully sat up. “You first,” he teased slowly pulling the top part of his hospital gown down into his lap. “And if you want me to show you how to use those chains,” “Do you need another doctor?” I asked, refusing to play along with his games. “Because if you’re going to be immature I can walk out that door, and,” “No, no, no.” He let out, falling back onto his bed, too tired to stay sitting up. “I’m just playing around.” “I don’t play with my patients.” I warned, throwing on an even newer pair of gloves and taking a long look at the incision on his chest. “I’m not just any other patient, I,” “To me you are.” I interrupted, not wanting to hear what else he had to say. “Does this hurt?” I asked, putting my hand near where I had cut. He winced in pain, but not more than anyone else would’ve. “And you say your stool has blood?” “Like my poop?” He asked, as I lightly felt his stomach. I let out a sigh and nodded my head. “Yeah, not a lot, but its there.” “Well that’s not surprising considering the amount of pills and alcohol you consumed.” I concluded happy with what I was seeing. “If it continues into the next few days I’ll sign you up for a colonoscopy. Your skins still slightly yellow, but other than replacing your liver there’s nothing I can do about that for now.” I exhaled, picking up his chart once more and looking at the blood test they had ran while I was gone. “Hmm.” I let out, taking my stethoscope and placing it on his chest. “What’s hmm?” He asked, but I waived him quiet as I tried to listen to his heart. “Do you have any type of heart defect?” I asked, picking my head up and running through his charts once more. “No,” he let out, staring me down. “Why?” “No trouble breathing?” I asked, taking a seat next to him. “No.” He repeated, still staring at me. “Teddy. Why?” “Just not a fan of what I heard or what I’m seeing.” I exhaled, looking back up at him. “I’ll keep you here for another couple of days.” He let out another long groan and tried to turn away but the pain from his chest was too much. “I just want to go home.” “Go home?” I asked, trying to look into his eyes. “If you’re going to get better you’ll transfer to the psych ward after this.” “That’s not happening.” He quickly dismissed, still not looking at me. “The second you can sign me out, I’m gone.” “What else is new?” I rolled my eyes, putting the chart down and going to stand up. “Don’t act like you want me to stay.” He shook his head in a sigh. “Like you said, I’m just another one of your patients.” “I don’t want you to stay.” I confessed, looking over at the door. “But I don’t want you to leave either. And if you kill yourself, I will blame myself.” I exhaled, reminding him about the letter he had written. “Don’t do that to me.” He grew quiet for a few seconds before turning back towards me. “When I said I didn’t cheat on you I meant it.” I shook my head, and slowly walked over to the cart at the far end of the room. “Your dick was in that guy’s mouth. That cheating enough for me.” I grumbled, putting more focus on finding an I.V. bag than the words I was saying. “But it wasn’t real.” He pleaded, as I carried the bag over to its stand and started hooking it up. “It was just for the video, nothing else happened. I swear to god.” “You swear to as many gods as you want.” I instructed, reaching over and cuffing him back up. “Who knows, maybe one of these days one will forgive you.” “What do I have to do Teddy?” He asked, watching me carefully. “I’m sorry, alright?” “I know you are.” I nodded, pulling his arm towards me. “But that doesn’t mean things go back to the way they were. I-I have a life of my own now.” “Oh,” He exhaled, watching as I put the needle at the end of the tube. “I, maybe you shouldn’t do this while you’re all worked up. I mean, don’t the nurses usually,” “Not my nurses.” I interrupted, forcing his arm straight. “I have two hands. I can do stuff like this myself.” I held the top of his arm tightly for a few seconds before finally finding the vein and stuffing the needle right into it. He winced a little, but stayed quiet as I taped it in. “All done.” “Wait.” He called out as I walked towards the door. “I-I don’t want you to leave angry.” “I’m not angry.” I lied with a shrug of my shoulders. “I read your note. I came in here and examined you. I’m not sure what else you want.” “If you stay with me, I’ll stay.” He finally exhaled, as I reached the door way. I let out a deep breath before turning back towards him. “I have other patients I need to go,” “Not right now.” He shook his head, trying his hardest to look into my eyes. “Just in general. If you, if you keep visiting me I’ll stay and go to the psych ward and all. I’ll go through all twelve steps if I need to.” I leaned against the door and kept my eyes on him for a few seconds. “I can’t date you.” “I know.” He softly nodded. “I just, I need a friend right now.” I gathered all the inner strength I had left and nodded my head. “Okay, I can do that.” He let out a sigh and relaxed into his bed as he heard my words. “Don’t get too comfortable. When the bag empties I’ll have a nurse change out your catheter.” “Wait! I thought you had two hands!” He yelped as I opened the door. “Not for that stuff.” I raised my eyes brows and quickly shut it behind me. “Just twenty more minutes Mike.” I nodded, as he moved to the side. “Then you’re free.” “Yeah,” he nervously laughed. “You, you two seem pretty comfortable in there, not that I was listening I just hear things from time to time.” “Comfortable is a strong word.” I let out with a shrug of my shoulders. “Dr. Haner just has amazing bed side manners.” A nurse let out, overhearing our conversation. “He could have a conversation with a brick wall.” “He always could.” Mike smiled, looking over at the nurse. “Oh, you two grew up together?” She asked, walking to the nearby desk and grabbing a clipboard. “That’s cool. It feels like Dr. Haner knows everyone around here.” “Tell me about it.” I rolled my eyes, heading back towards the desk. “Think you can do me a favor and monitor R.S.’s heart over the next two days? I don’t like what I’m seeing.” “No problem.” She nodded, taking his chart from me and adding it onto her stack. “You know Dr. Price wants you to run a press conference about him in the morning?” “If Dr. Price wants a press conference Dr. Price can do it himself.” I sarcastically smiled, pulling another patient’s clipboard from behind the desk. “He wasn’t the surgeon.” She shrugged, beginning to walk away. “Sorry Dr. Haner, this falls on you.” “What do you care?” Mike shrugged, noticing the nurse was gone. “You love being in the spotlight.” “Not when it comes to him I don’t.” I groaned, motioning towards Ryder’s room. Mike nodded his head but stayed quiet, too scared to say the wrong thing. “I’ll see you tomorrow man.” I waved off, heading down the hall and to another patient’s room. “See you.” He let out, turning back and looking into the window of Ryder’s room. When will the universe just leave me alone? I just want to be Dr. Teddy Haner for a while. I don’t need Mike coming in here and trying to be friends again, or Ryder waltzing in and throwing my head back into a loop. I was just starting to get everything back together, and now, now it feels the most broken and confusing it has in a long time.
  28. 51 points
    I surreptitiously glanced at the people with Ss’merit. They were all aliens, not a human among them. I didn’t recognize all of them, but there were a few species I knew. Were they like me? I saw ports on one short alien with no hair, just a rigid crest running from his forehead and down his spine. They were. I was so fixated on the ports that I didn’t hear what Lakshou and Ss’merit were saying until Ss’merit abruptly turned and led the others off. I took a quick breath in and let it out slowly. “Who was that?” “Ss’merit.” Lakshou shifted in his seat. “He is the passenger facilitator aboard. He escorts guests usually, but he’s also in charge of the rescues we bring on board.” “Why haven’t I met him before?” “A sub-faction of his species are among the inner circles of the Brox Consortium. Not everyone trusts them because of that. Ss’merit is defensive, which I can feel, but I don’t know if it’s because he’s trying to hide things or if he’s just trying to overcome the perception the Ss’eenui are all willing to harm other species to gain power.” Lakshou shook his head. “He usually avoids me.” “He looked creepy,” I admitted. “Yeah. That doesn’t help their cause much either. Some species just don’t get along with them, humans included. But the captain doesn’t always get a choice in his crew.” Lakshou’s ears flicked sideways, and then he clapped his hands together once, as if to close that discussion. “Okay, what would you like? We still have some time before your order is ready.” The rest of our trip went smoothly, and I was back in my room before I realized how tense I was. I wasn’t sure what I’d expected to happen, but I was glad to be alone. I took a sonic shower and then put on some of my new clothes, relishing the softness and warmth. We’d eaten, and I wasn’t thirsty, so I curled up in the bed and turned on the vid to catch up on more that I’d missed over the years. Time had always gone in fits and spurts. Sometimes it felt like the same day went on endlessly and other times the days blurred together so seamlessly it felt like they were speeding by before I even realized it. Aparoe and Lakshou visited, and I made short trips outside of my room, but without answers about the mess in my head, I was scared of befriending more of the crew, even if they encouraged me to. It’s hard to get to know someone when you’re afraid you’ll have sex with them and then slit their throat, or air chamber, or speech sac. There were several kinds of aliens I’d seen before and knew, but more I didn’t. When I surreptitiously studied them I would later wonder if I was looking because I was curious or if I was searching for ways to use them the way I’d been trained. Breathing exercises and meditation with Lakshou helped, but I kept feeling this sense of impending doom. It made me happy Captain had been keeping his distance, though I saw him occasionally in the hall considering his doors were just a short distance down the call from mine. I was waiting for Lakshou, since Aparoe had already been by to run some tests and check my health, making their noncommittal noises. I’d already figured out they were coordinating their visits. The door chimed, and I slowly walked over to it. “Oh.” Instead of Lakshou, Ss’merit was standing outside my door. “Hello.” He dipped his head once, his single eye unblinking as he stared up at me. “Hello. My name is Ss’merit. I wanted to speak with you in regards to your adjustment to your new life.” The alien was shorter than me, which I hadn’t realized before because I’d been sitting. He was very… intense though. “I’m fine, thank you.” “There is much to learn that I can help you with,” he insisted. “We can speak inside your room, or go elsewhere.” He glanced up and down the hall. “Your choice.” I crossed my arms over my chest. “I’m already talking to Lakshou, and Captain has assured me I’m safe here. I have no intentions to leave this ship anytime soon.” I barely resisted touching the ports on my head. I wouldn’t be safe to be around anyone. “My interests are solely for your well-being.” Ss’merit didn’t move, and I didn’t either. I was reluctant to let him into my space, and I wasn’t going to go anywhere with him either. “Easy for you to say. I’m being taken care of by a medic and counselor. I am fine, thank you.” I tried to end the conversation politely. “Don’t you want to speak with your fellow survivors?” I hesitated. He had me there. Especially the one with the ports like mine. “No.” I shook my head. “I don’t want to think about that hell or talk about it either. It’s time to move on.” I put my hand on the door sensor. “I don’t need your help.” The door slid shut on his objections and his oddly intense stare. I wrapped my arms around my chest and moved over to the table. I curled into the chair and studied the flat surface, rubbing my finger along the smooth surface just to feel it. I had no idea what I was going to do for my future, regardless of what I told Ss’merit. Maybe it was time to find the Captain and ask what I could be use with my limited skill set. There had to be something I could do that would be helpful.
  29. 50 points
    We walked further down the passage enjoying being down here. Everyone seemed to be enjoying being out…of their homes and out of the cold. This was a whole new world for Peter as well. I couldn’t image what it was like before, but from Peter’s reaction it had been a vast improvement. This was going to become a city underground. “This is great!” Peter nodded toward more signs that said what was above to shop and find various items. There were also other signs advertising future things like restaurants and other shops and stores. It was sort of heading toward a modern mall look and feel. “And it won’t have to be for just the winter!” I said happily. “This will be year-round.” I turned walking backwards a second, looking at Peter’s face. “If anything…this like the North Pole!” I watched his face grow puzzled. “The North Pole? I know it’s cold out, but…” “Not the North Pole in the Artic, I mean the North Pole, like Santa’s North Pole in those movies and shows I watch.” I grinned more. “There are times here when it doesn’t snow and the weather is clear…cold, but clear. Right?” Peter nodded. “Sure.” “This can be Santa’s domain!” I said and nodding. “Yes, I know he’s Svyatyi Mykolai here for St. Nicholas.” I cocked my head. “Do you know of pavuchky?” Peter nodded chuckling. “Yes, we know about the Christmas Spider…the poor who couldn’t afford to decorate the tree and the web turning into silver and gold Christmas morning.” I nodded. “Starting tinsel! And the Christmas tree?” Peter grinned now drinking his coffee. “Yes, the story of the little boy on Christmas Eve that knocked on a poor man’s house, that man taking him in, fed, cleaned him up and even put him to bed only to be awaken by choir of angels and that little boy was Jesus himself! The beginning of Christmas Trees with the bow and tinsel and all that.” He chuckled. “We were part of the Ukraine many times and their customs, stories and traditions were here as well.” “Yes!” I nodded. “I just love the season and the stories, but there could be so much more here to winter…like sculptures in the snow! An ice hotel! The possibilities are endless. It would boost tourism!” “Tourists in Makarovia.” Peter said incredibly, thinking about the idea. “That will be a first. We probably can’t do it this year, but next year, sure.” “We could do it this year! We can get the ball rolling.” I said putting my arm around him. “The snow and ice sculptures…even the ice hotel! That doesn’t have to be due to the Christmas Season or any holiday.” I grinned at him. “I tell you again and again, with so many people like us in this country…there are bound to be artists who will love to do it!” Peter grabbed me closer and rested his lips on my forehead. “I love you, Eric.” He chuckled. “I love that you are loving Makarovia.” “I know you love me, Peter.” I stopped bringing him in for a kiss. “This country grew you. I adore Makarovia. I adore you.” He laughed as he returned the kiss. “I know you do.” “What do you think, Your Highness?” A friendly voice asked pleasantly. Turning, I saw Fedir and his husband walking hand in hand. “Fedir!” I suddenly launched myself at the smiling man, hugging him quickly. “It’s great to see you!” I turned to his husband Kurt. “I’ve never really met you but once, Kurt! Hello, again!” And I hugged him, too. Peter smiled at the surprised Kurt. “My husband is a big hugger.” I turned to Peter. “What? Of course, I am. Handshakes are just so…distant. Fedir and I are friends! Kurt and I will be.” I smiled at the blonde man. “Well, I don’t want to be accused of being distant.” Peter grinned and hugged them both. “I can’t believe this!” He waved at the passage. “This used to be just…a hole.” “Not anymore!” Fedir waved with his coffee. “Don’t worry, this decaf.” He wiggled the coffee he was drinking. Kurt rolled his eyes. “Your doctor said no caffeine, Fedir!” He nodded to me. “He never listens. It’s great to have you here, My Lo…” “Kurt!” Fedir interrupted in mocking irritation. “I told you, he doesn’t like the titles.” He waved at me. Kurt nodded and smiled. “It’s great to see you…can I call you Eric?” “I insist.” I said. “It’s great to see you, Eric.” Kurt said and turned to Fedir. “I want you around! You will do what the doctor said!” “See?” I said as Kurt confirmed what I’d said to Fedir before when he dared to have his one drink after locating the many files and letters on the escaped World War II people in Makarovia. “I know.” Fedir said sadly. “Only he takes what the doctor says to cut back on and Kurt wants me not to do it at all!!” “Better safe than sorry, honey!” Kurt said as he must have said it again and again. Fedir smiled at Kurt and then looked at me and shrugged. “He loves me.” He looked at the many people down here and smiled. “Things are getting crowded here. I think it’s great! Things are really changing in Makarovia.” “For the better?” I asked. “Definitely.” Kurt said quickly. He bounced a little. “They found this big…” he looked at Fedir. “What was that? A lava bubble?” Fedir nodded. “When this part of Makarovia was forming millions of years ago, there was a large bubble apparently and it solidified. They’re opening a Grotto like something there!” He frowned at Kurt. “Which you won’t let me go when it does!” “They haven’t even started construction, Fedir!” Kurt said back he looked at me and pointed at Peter. “Does he irritate you sometimes?” He thumbed at Fedir. I nodded. “Sometimes.” Peter’s eyes widened. “When do I do that!?” He demanded. “Plenty of times! Like when you get fixed on something…when the professor got under your skin at Northeastern and you forgot…” I pointed at Fedir and Kurt, “he forgot to greet me.” I waved my hand. “A lot of times you do that!” “Yea, well, you bring me back!” I bounced again and looked at Fedir and Kurt. “Ain’t love grand?” I said in English. It wouldn’t translate into Makarovian or Ukrainian. It took them both a minute before Fedir nodded getting what I said. “Yes, it is.” He bumped Kurt pulling him in for a kiss. “Right now, most of the people in Styria are loving being able to have somewhere to go.” Kurt waved at the passage ahead. “See what’s coming and what’s here.” He said smiling. “Go! Enjoy!” I hugged them again. “You can come visit now! Do that, or do I need to make that a Royal Command? Frequently, understand?” I said and we walked off. “We’ll come to see you?” “We’d love to have you.” Fedir grinned. “We’ll be here, My Lord.” He said pointedly at me, knowing he annoyed me. We did go further through the newer, wider passages. “This is happening in Skoal, too.” Peter pointed to another sign. “There are a lot of people here now.” I said reasonably. “Not a lot to do outside now…it makes sense.” We returned to the palace and walked into the family communal room as we caught Olek and Helga in a…well, they were kissing and in an embrace that…was very personal. I chuckled. “Well, not to be left out…” I grabbed Peter and pulled him in for a kiss of our own. Olek broke from Helga. “Well, we were here and…” Peter broke our kiss only to say. “You don’t need to defend love to us, Olek.” Olek kissed Helga again quickly and turned more to us. “So, what did you think of the new passages?” Peter nodded. “They were pretty impressive. All the new businesses opening. Where are you getting the personnel?” “We have more people now and many who need something to do. Makarovians, British and American.” Olek said. “Personnel are not a problem.” “With this new influx of people…” I said hesitantly, “there still is the consortium to consider.” “Yes.” Olek sighed. “I think when we were starting with the novelty of the uranium we were more in danger, but I think…I hope…the world knows it’s ours. Even the Ukraine and Russia have backed off. Those that want to take it know now that won’t be possible. There are always those that will try to take control, but with the new people here. It will be harder.” “I hope so.” Peter said quietly. There were new improvements all over Makarovia. Now that there was more money coming in those improvements were well on the way. New heating units were being installed in the palace. With these improvements, there was the need for new laborers to make the improvements. There were so many more people in the palace. Not just workers for the palace or laborers, but Olek’s office was in the palace and there were more people seeing him, bringing reports and other Makarovian things the king had to be appraised of. The mixture of East and West for upcoming Christmas Season was going to be interesting. Eastern Orthodox and Western religions were now simultaneously being observed. The Santa Claus the people from the West was now being seen more as well as Svyatyi Mykolai, Makarovian’s and Ukraine’s version of St. Nicholas were being seen. Not all the stores were underground naturally, but there were now entrances from underground to gain access to these stores. There was still none of those large malls or chain stores overly decorated for the upcoming Christmas. Most Makarovians who could, shopped online. Most had ordered a while back to make sure what they wanted to give was here in time. Who needs that Christmas rush anyway? Makarovia took on a whole new meaning for me. As cold as it could be, it was beautiful. Peter and I ventured out during the daylight of the afternoon. Standing on the bluff near the palace everything was covered in pristine white with that clean feeling that came with snow. The hush that was always accompanying scenes like this was…amazing. Almost no traffic on the streets as everyone was moving around underground. The river that ran by was frozen now on the surface. I saw a movie a long time ago, “The Silver Skates” or something where there was a village that skated on the canals that ran by their village. The Netherlands, I think. Here as the day got brighter there were people skating on the river ice! Then I noticed someone on a large patch of ice near the river. They are erected a series of raised wooden seats near what was clearly a skating rink. “Peter,” I pointed to the man and ice, “what’s he doing?” Peter looked and grinned. “That’s where the guys play hockey.” “And you used to play hockey on it?” I asked. “Yes, I did.” “Don’t you like hockey?” I asked. “Sure, but I don’t have time…” “You do now!” I said brightly. “Isn’t there scheduled games or something?” Peter gave a shrugging nod. “Well, there can be, but usually guys just gather and…just play at the warmest part of the day. It takes place in a couple of hours. It’s just understood.” “You have your equipment.” I said knowing he did. “Sure, but…” “Why are you hesitating? Why can’t you play?” I saw his eyes looking tempted. “You want to, I can tell.” I pointed at his gray-green eyes. “I haven’t in a few years, but…” “You’re a prince now and above it now?” I challenged with a grin. Peter chuckled. “Nooo…I was a prince before, but…” He grinned at me. “Are you going to play?” I shook my head. “I can’t stand up on ice skates; weak ankles or something. That’s probably why could never stand on pointe. Besides, in Charleston, there wasn’t enough ice to learn to skate. Even Asheville didn’t have that much.” I waved at the surrounding white. “Not like this.” Peter was giving in. “Tell you what.” He said poking me lightly on the chest. “You talk Olek into playing and I will! He was a good player.” “I bet he was.” I grabbed his hand and was dragging him back to the palace. Up in Olek’s office we went in as he was talking on the phone again. After the call, he looked up and smiled. “Hi!” “Can you take a couple of hours away from…this?” I waved at the many papers on his desk. “I suppose, for what?” Olek asked. “Hockey!” I said happily. “Hockey!?” Olek’s eyes widened as he repeated a little stunned. “As in you and Peter, down on the ice and playing hockey.” I said leaning over his desk at him. “You can I heard. I want to see you do it.” “I haven’t played in almost a decade!” Olek groused. “Then, I say it’s way overdue!” I grinned. “Peter will play only if you do.” “I’m in my forties!!” Olek objected. “So? You’re in great shape!” I said pointing at him. “I’ve seen you naked and know you are. Come on. I love hockey.” “But he won’t play.” Peter said to his brother. “Ice needed, remember? I told you that. I can’t skate on ice.” I said back at Peter. “No ice, no ice hockey.” I turned back to Olek. “He wants to.” I waved at Peter. I looked at Olek. “You do, too!” I pointed to his face. “I can tell.” “I don’t even know where my skates are!” Olek said with his hands out defensively. “I have an extra pair.” Peter said now smiling. “We have the same size feet.” Olek frowned at the collaboration, but he was just as tempted as Peter was. “Come on, the Ivanov boys back on the ice!!” I said excitedly. I watched him mull it over in his head. “Well, it has been a while…” he smiled. He looked over at his desk. “I suppose…” “Olek.” I said softly. “You’re king. Is there anything here that can’t wait?” I waved at the papers on his desk and to his computer. “They’re getting the ice ready.” Peter added tempting his brother more. “Only a couple of hours from now they play.” Olek smiled at his brother, knowing what Peter was doing. “Let me make a quick call.” He grabbed his cellphone and hit a button. “Helga…I’m stepping away from the office a few hours…” he listened and nodded, “…no, my brothers want me to play hockey with them…” “With Peter.” I said loud enough for her to hear. “…with Peter. They don’t play hockey where Eric was raised.” Olek said looking mockingly pitying me. His smiled grew. “Right outside…okay?” He said happily. “Just letting you know I might not answer too quickly.” He grinned at whatever she said. “I will…I love you.” He said closing his phone. “Let me change!” He got up and saw Gretchen passing by. “Gretchen, I’ll be out of the office.” “He’s playing hockey!” Peter grinned. Gretchen looked surprised, but then smiled. “I think that’s wonderful.” She said nodding. “We’ll handle things here. We know where you’ll be!” Peter and Olek went to change and we went back down to the ground area to go to the makeshift rink. I was smiling at the number of guys that were assembled…and there were spectators. Gretchen had probably let people locally know the king was playing hockey. They came to see that. An older man, in his fifties looked up smiling as we arrived. “Your Majesty, Your Highness and My Lord, I got a call you were coming.” The man smiled bowing. “You want to play!?” I knew Gretchen had called. “Can we?” Olek asked. “Of course!” The man waved at the other men of various ages from their twenties to fifties gathered to play. “But they’re not going to easy on you.” He warned good-naturedly. Olek smiled waving at the men. “That’s fair.” The he got this predatory look. “I won’t go easy on them, either!” “Okay!” The man said happily. “Get those skates on and let’s go!” I watched as Peter and Olek put their skates on. They had dressed for the cold, it was three in the afternoon now, but still cold. They were given colors to show what team they were on. Olek and Peter decided they should not be on the same team. I did love hockey. There was a good difference between professional hockey, minor league hockey and this… These men were playing by rules I thought, but the term I didn’t know the Makarovian or Ukrainian word for highsticking. You know, the touching the other player above the shoulder. Cross checking? Hitting the other player with both hands on the hockey stick with no part of the stick on the ice. Head-butting? That shouldn’t need explaining. Hooking? Using the hockey stick to trip the other player. Elbowing? Hitting the other player with your elbow! There were all these other violations, but no one was stopping them. Hockey was not an easy sport and these guys…just like many, many who play got caught up in it and were determined to win! Fighting! Oh, yes. There were a few human beings that didn’t like hockey, but it seemed to me that any human being with a Y chromosome loved a fight! If not being in one, just watching one. Now the king and prince were joining the game! I was right. There wasn’t that much ice to skate on in South Carolina except in rinks, which you had to dress to go and…go! None of this, let’s go outside and skate like here. Peter and Olek, like every man out there seemed to have been raised to be on the ice. It was second nature for them as they easily skated out on the ice. The game began and as they played, that aggressive, primal nature just surfaced in no time. They were doing all of the violations almost immediately! Olek and Peter were doing them, too! No, this was no professional game or minor league game. I knew there would be blood! I saw Peter use his stick many times to slow or stop the other player from getting the puck! He did it to Olek! Olek did it back! They were having fun! I heard yelling and cursing at other players and to Olek and Peter who came right back at the men! Were they homosexual or heterosexual? It didn’t matter. They were men! I saw Helga arrive. She was wearing a thick fur coat, but watched as a player deliberately used his elbow to block Olek, hitting Olek in the face! Her gloved hands came to her face in shock shaking her head and walked over to me. “What possessed Olek and Peter to do this!?” She asked in disbelief sitting next to me. I looked a little sheepish. “I’m afraid it’s my fault.” “Your fault!?” Helga asked shocked. “Peter loves to play and hasn’t in a while.” I waved at the rink. “I had no idea they played so…rough!” I cringed as a man was hit in the face by another elbow. “Damn, that had to hurt.” “They could be killed.” Helga said weakly. I shook my head. “No. They won’t go that far.” I waved at Olek and Peter. “Look at the smiles on their faces. They are having fun!” “They could lose teeth or break an arm or leg.” Helga said holding her mouth as another player was speared in the gut with end of a hockey stick. “They may be grown men, Helga, but really…they’re a bunch of little boys!” I frowned as Peter was hit again in the face. “They are having fun.” Helga gave a reluctant nod. “I suppose.” She gave a groan and closed her eyes as Olek got hit again with an opponent’s stick in his midsection. “I wish it weren’t so…raw, but,” I waved at them, “Olek and Peter played here for years. They knew how this was played here and were eager to get out there.” “Why aren’t you!?” Helga asked. “I can’t skate!” I said again. “I would, if I could skate.” The first quarter ended and they switched the goals as was the rule they did follow. They started again. Peter’s team was down by three when the third quarter was to begin. One of the players called for a breather before they started again. Peter and Olek skated over to us. Peter had the beginnings of a black eye. Olek was bleeding from his nose, but both had big smiles. Even though it was cold out, they had both sweated and their hair was everywhere. “Oh, Sweetie!” Helga said reaching in her fur pocket and pulled a tissue and wiped Olek’s nose. “Are you enjoying yourself?” Olek nodded. “I am!” He looked at Peter. “Are you?” “Hell, yea!” Peter nodded kissing me. “I think I forgot how much fun this is!” I nodded kissing him again. “I thought so.” I ran my fingers in his hair. “Do you have to be so…” “Rough?” Helga added. Both Peter and Olek looked puzzled. “Yes. This is how it’s played in Makarovia.” Olek said simply. “It’s a rough sport.” “No penalty box?” I asked. “No penalties. Unless someone breaks a leg or something.” Peter explained. “It helps with aggression. They need an outlet, this does that.” They called again to start the last quarter and Olek and Peter skated back out on the ice. In the end, Peter’s team lost. Yet, they all congratulate each other as they broke up promising to do it again, but the evening was coming and the temperature would drop. Going back up the elevator Olek hugged his brother. “That was a good game.” He said bumping his head against Peter’s. He hugged me. “Thank you, Eric. I did enjoy that.” Helga nodded, smiling as she pulled Olek down the corridor. “Let’s get you cleaned up.” She looked at me. “I’ll take care of this one. You have that one.” She chuckled pointing at Peter. She put her arm around Olek shaking her head. “A bunch of rowdy little boys.” She muttered. In our room I got the shower on hot as I helped Peter undress. He was sore. I got him to look at me. “Did you have fun?” Peter nodded with a chuckle. “I did.” He kissed me deeply. “I really had forgotten how much fun it is.” I reached up and gently touched the cheek near his left eye I saw was swelling and darkening. “You’ll have a black eye.” Peter chuckled nodding. “Yes! It’s great, isn’t it?” He said proudly.
  30. 49 points
    ---Oliver--- I couldn’t help but smile as I looked over at the posters on my wall. I used to fall asleep dreaming of meeting Ryder Sullivan. Fantasizing about getting to play even one song with him. But now he lives here, and I’ve already played a song with him! Hell, I’m giving him albums of music to listen to! However he’s not at all the man I thought he was. He’s not big and intimidating the way they make him look in his music videos and on T.V. He’s not all that wild either. He’s actually been really quiet since he got here this morning. I know he’s in recovery, but still! I thought shit would really kick off when he got here. But me, well I guess I’m still the loudest in the house! “Oliver!” My mom shouted. “Dinner’s ready! Get Ryder and Teddy!” “TEDDY! RYDER!” I cried out walking down the hall. “DINNERS READY!” “I could’ve done that!” My mom disappointedly yelled back. “Then why didn’t you?” I shrugged, hearing Teddy’s door open behind me. Before I knew it a large hand landed on my shoulder. “Hey kid.” Ryder let out as we all walked down the stairs. “Eavesdropping on me and your mom wasn’t cool.” “Sorry.” I quickly gulped looking up at him. “I didn’t mean to, I was just coming downstairs and well, I couldn’t stop myself.” “We’ve already spoken about this.” Teddy groaned in a tired voice. “Remember our whole conversation about trust?” “Yeah.” I quickly nodded my head. “I’m sorry.” “It’s alright.” Ryder exhaled letting go of my shoulder and ruffling my hair. I couldn’t help but smile as he stepped in front of me. He’s so damn cool! My eyes seemed to zero in on the black ink that covered his right arm. Intricate designs of angels and demons fighting laid on it, while his left arm boasted three thick blank bands and designs of destruction and chaos all over it. The only color shining through was a small pride flag beneath all the destruction. I felt a nervous breath escape my lips as I walked into the kitchen and saw my mother staring at me. “Oliver, have you apologized to Ryder?” “He did.” Ryder answered for me before giving me a quick pat on the back to apologize to my mother too. “Yeah, sorry mom.” I quickly nodded. “We talked about it on the way downstairs.” She nodded her head but kept her eyes on me. “You’re on thin ice Oliver.” I nodded my head but before I could say anything my father stepped into the kitchen. “Hey dad.” I quickly let out, knowing I could hide behind him for the rest of the night. “Ryder’s helping me become a better drummer.” “That’s great.” He forced out in a monotone voice. “You’re still yet to sing for me though.” Ryder spoke up, trying to ignore my dad’s tone. “I totally sung for you.” I defended, thinking back to our performance together. “You sung with me, not for me.” He teased with a forced smile. “Okay, if you play a song with me tomorrow I’ll sing for you.” I negotiated with a devious smile. Ryder turned towards Teddy who gave him a quick head shake. “Sorry kid, doctors orders.” He shrugged. “Okay, but what if you just sit and play guitar?” I offered, trying my hardest to find a work around. “You were jumping up and down and singing this afternoon.” “You were doing what?” Teddy asked in a strict tone. “Like I told you, I just got a little carried away.” He shrugged, trying his hardest to escape Teddy’s wrath. “I’m going to hide every instrument in this damn house if I need to.” He warned looking from Ryder to me. “Okay, but in theory just sitting and playing wouldn’t raise my heart rate too much.” Ryder shrugged. “Besides doesn’t this thing on my wrist show me it? If it gets too high I’ll just stop.” “I know the two of you, and I know that neither of you are mature enough to make that decision.” Teddy warned, staring us both down. “Okay, but hypothetically if he says yes, what would you want to play?” Ryder asked, giving me a quick wink. “Since your band for today is Dream Theater,” I began starting to think it over. “Let’s play Panic Attack tomorrow.” My dad let out a short laugh as he heard my suggestion. “If you can play Panic Attack I will buy you that new drum set you’ve been asking for.” “Harrison!” My mom reprimanded beginning to stare him down. “He’s not going to do it.” Dad shook his head. “That’ll take him a good year to learn.” “I already have the whole beginning down, I just need the rest of it.” I shrugged. “I guarantee I can learn it by the end of the month.” “I don’t know.” Ryder joined in. “I’ve seen that song give grown men issues.” “Alright,” I sighed looking over at him. “Then how do I learn it?” “Keep running through it over and over again.” My dad suggested, slightly annoyed I wasn’t asking him. Ryder nodded his head along with the answer, but I could tell he was holding something back. “You disagree?” Dad asked, finally looking over at Ryder. “No.” Ryder lied with the shake of his head. “That works.” My dad rolled his eyes and moved back slightly in his chair. “Go ahead Ryder.” Mom interjected. “Harry could use being taken down a step.” Ryder uncomfortably shifted in his chair before finally looking back at me. “Break it into pieces.” He finally began. “Like practice the first bridge over and over again until you’ve got it down perfect then move onto the next.” “And that helps?” I asked, narrowing in my eyes. “It’s how I learn hard songs I want to cover.” He nodded his head. “It’s always helped make it doable.” My mom laughed as a smile began to overtake my face. “Uh oh.” She let out. “That’s all he needed to hear.” I saw my dad roll his eyes at the conversation as he slowly began to tune everyone out. “Will you help me practice tonight?” I asked, trying my hardest to bring him back into the conversation. “Me?” He asked, slightly surprise. “Yeah.” I quickly nodded. “If you want.” He agreed fighting off a small smile “Will you help too Ryder?” I spit out hoping that I could somehow bring them together. “I think I’m going to hang out with Teddy tonight.” He shrugged. “Maybe I’ll come down to check out your progress though.” “Wow.” Teddy let out, faking surprise. “My boyfriend picked me over my brother? I thought I was going to have to wait a few days for that to happen.” “Oh shh.” Ryder hushed lightly elbowing Teddy. “You’re the one who told me to go play with Oliver before.” I rolled my eyes and looked down at my food. I don’t get it. What does Ryder see in Teddy? How could he fall for such a killjoy? But still, I’ve never seen Teddy smile this much. It’s like they’re always having fun together. Even when they fight it’s like they’re just teasing one another. If this is what they’re like when Ryder’s trying to get better, what are they like when he’s healthy? The rest of dinner dad stayed quiet as mom tried her hardest to make Ryder feel welcome. I don’t get it. How can mom be so cool with him and dad be so angry about it? I mean I thought my dad was the relaxed one! What the hell is happening? Before I knew it I was sneaking off to the basement to escape into my own world. “Give me good rhythm old man.” I instructed as my dad took one of his guitars off the rack. “Something aggressive to warm up to.” “You got it.” He nodded as I slowly began to loosen up. A sinister fast paced riff filled the air fueling my arms and feet as I began to drum away. I can’t explain what this small kit means to me. No matter where I go noises distract me. It can be anything from the chirp of a cricket all the way to the pounding of a jack hammer. It doesn’t matter how loud or quiet it is, it just rips my thoughts away from where I want them to be. Yet when I’m drumming, when I’m the one making noise, no one can distract me. It’s too loud for my mind to wander. Too loud to think about anything else. As I followed Ryder’s instructions I could feel myself starting to improve. Before I knew it I was moving faster than I ever had before. The loose grip allowed the sticks to jump to life in my hand without ever actually coming loose. And when I was ready to practice my new goal, well I still ran into problems! But hey, at least I feel more comfortable. At least I feel like I can nail this! My dad couldn’t help but laugh as I kept messing up the same part over and over again. There’s just something about this song as it leaves the first chorus. A point where I have to smoothly transition from hitting the snare to a double ride on my cymbals then right to more cymbals and toms, but I just can’t do it! There isn’t enough space on my kit! I swear there isn’t! “Double ride giving you headaches?” Ryder teased as he led Teddy down the stairs. “Kind of.” I shook my head pushing one of my headphones off my ear. “I just can’t transition off it smoothly! And my dad’s riff isn’t helping! I just need to put the song on or something.” “I’m playing the song.” My dad defended. “You just need more practice.” “No, I need more pieces.” I complained. “Plus I’m out growing this one. The new one has so many octobans and cymbals! It’s like twenty pieces!” “It’s also like extremely expensive.” My dad reminded me. “So until you prove you can play it properly you’re just going to have to make do.” I threw my head back and let out a long groan. “A good drummer doesn’t need a bunch of pieces.” Ryder spoke up. “All they need is rhythm.” “That’s a bunch of B.S. and you know it.” I shook my head. “If I had more cymbals I could learn sooo much.” “What do you even need cymbals for?” Teddy asked. “I thought you wanted more actual drum stuff.” “Drum stuff?” I repeated in a grown. “Ryder, how can you date him?” “I don’t know. I have the patience of a saint.” He teased lightly bumping Teddy with his shoulder. “But I get what he’s saying. Going from three cymbals to six can make a big difference.” “Especially for me!” I yelped looking over at my dad. “Can’t you just get me the new kit and then I can prove I know how to use them.” “Absolutely not.” My dad shot down. “We have a deal. So unless you want to wait for your birthday you better get learning.” “But Christmas is in a week and a half!” I yelped. “Can’t I just put it on my list.” “Nope.” He shook his head. “That’d be a thousand dollar item Oliver, and I know for a fact you haven’t behaved well enough for Santa. You’re just going to have to earn it.” I let out another long groan but this time Ryder took a few steps towards me. “You know, growing up I didn’t have much. I had two guitars and a hand-me-down keyboard from a cousin, until I could finally pay for my own stuff.” He sighed looking into my eyes. “You don’t need all the fancy stuff to be a good musician, and sure, like I said having cymbals makes a difference but you have a crash, a ride and a hard hat. I know you can play something good on it.” “I still don’t get it.” Teddy shook his head. “Show him.” Ryder shrugged taking a step back towards Teddy. “Yeah me and my three cymbals will show him alright!” I bitched before sitting up and starting to ride away on the bigger one. I quickly switched between them to force as much variety as possible before I finally started tapping away at the kick drums. Before I knew it I was starting to play something a bit hip hop then quickly reversed it to eighties rock before going all in with my normal progressive rock style. With a devious grin I looked up at Ryder and began to effortlessly play one of Messiah’s biggest hits. The more I wanted to show off the sloppier I could feel myself growing. My stick twirls soon became a hazard as they nearly escaped my grip. “We get the idea!” My dad shouted, noticing how much my technique was dropping off. “Understand now?” I asked, looking right at Teddy. “I guess.” He shrugged, still not sure what to make of it. “Your brother is a very smart drummer.” Ryder began before I could complain more. “He was using those cymbals to imitate other styles and give himself a dynamic sound.” “But he loves heavy metal.” Teddy shook his head. “Why do you want to play other styles? I thought you wanted to be a rock star.” I let out another groan before shaking my head. “Because drumming isn’t just one genre.” I let out. “I want to be able to change it up constantly. I want to be able to play whatever I want. If you were an artist you wouldn’t use only one color right?” I asked trying my hardest to get Teddy on my side. “So why would I only play one genre?” “Is this the same kid who can’t stop getting detention in school?” Teddy teased as he faked surprise. “That’s because school is boring but drumming,” I let out starting to pound way at my kick drums. “It’s freakin’ art.” Teddy shot our dad a cautious look before shaking his head. “He’s totally playing it up so you’ll cave and buy him what he wants.” “Maybe.” My dad swayed his head. “But he’s always talked about his style like that. It’s why his band won’t let him drum. He switches it up too much on them.” “So you’ll get me the new set?” I asked trying my hardest to shoot him a puppy dog look. “Nope.” He shook his head. “Not until I see you play Panic Attack.” “I’m trying to ride on a crash symbal here!” I yelped confusing Teddy even more. “Alright this is way over my head.” Teddy surrendered. “I’m going to go watch House Hunters or something. You coming?” He asked looking toward Ryder. “Yeah, but real quick Oli.” Ryder began as he stared at me. “Play me the style you would play if you were famous.” “I mean like I told Teddy, I don’t want one style.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Not even if you were in a metal band?” He pressured seeing what he could draw out from me. “I mean I mostly play a progressive style so it would work.” I sighed. “But they’d have to deal with me drawing stuff from pop or hip hop or rap. Don’t get me wrong, nothing is as good as metal, but why not change it up a bit?” Ryder nodded his head but patiently waited for me to give him one last solo. I took in a breath and closed my eyes but this time when I played I let myself get lost in it all. I didn’t play any one genre, no, this time I mixed them like I had been talking about. I let my sound prove what I wanted to do. Prove what a good drummer I was. As I finished up I couldn’t help but smile at the look on Teddy’s face. That’s right. Contrary to what you think I’m actually a good drummer. This is actually something I understand. A field I’m actually smart in. Ryder gave Teddy another bump as they both turned and headed up the stairs. “I don’t get it,” I let out as the door shut behind them. “What’s your problem with Ryder?” My dad rolled his eyes at the question but stayed quiet. “How can mom be so cool with him while you hate him?” “Because your mother is letting herself be blinded by hope.” He shook his head. “Hope that everything will work out. Hope that Ryder’s learned his lesson. Hope that they’ll somehow get a happy ending.” “But you don’t think that?” I couldn’t help but ask. “Not a snowball’s chance in hell.” He denied. “Even if he does get better, they’re different people than they were. They’ll see that and break up.” “Well I don’t see it that way.” I let out. “I think they’re gonna make it.” He rolled his eyes once more but began to play guitar before I could say anything else. I think mom’s right. I think he just feels guilty from whatever happened back when they dated. He’ll get over it soon enough. After all, I’ve never seen him hold onto anger for more than a day or two! As my practice wound down and I went back upstairs I couldn’t help but study Ryder and Teddy on the couch. As Teddy yawned Ryder discreetly reached over and pulled him closer. It looks so natural to both of them, just like it does with my parents. And my mom, she didn’t even bat an eye. I guess Ryder and Teddy were right. My parents won’t care who I bring home. “Oliver.” My mom called out finally noticing me. “Go shower and get ready for bed, it’s a school night.” “But mom, I,” “Now.” She sternly let out sitting up in her chair. “We’re going to bed soon anyway.” Teddy nodded. “You’re really not missing out on anything.” “Fine.” I grumbled, slowly starting to climb the stairs. “Good night Oli.” Mom called out, trying to get me to turn around. “Night.” I forced out instantly receiving it back from the other two in the room. That night I slept like a baby. Maybe it was all the drumming or the excitement from the day, but whatever it was I was worn out! When I finally woke up and got ready for school I could hear a small fight breaking out from downstairs. “I’m not a damn babysitter.” My dad argued in a strong voice. “I’m not asking you to babysit.” Teddy replied trying his hardest to match our father’s intensity. “I just need you to check on him once an hour. He’s going to be asleep all day anyway, he doesn’t feel good.” My dad went to say something else but as I stepped in the room everyone grew quiet. “Just check on him dad.” I finally chimed in, refusing the let the debate stop just because I was there. “No.” He stubbornly shook his head. “I don’t want to.” “Fine, then I’m not going to school.” I shrugged. “I don’t want to.” “Do you see the example you’re setting.” My mom yelled walking over to my father. “You’re going to check on Ryder once an hour or you’re sleeping on the couch. And you,” she began looking over at me. “You’re going to school or you’re sleeping outside.” “I was just trying to prove a point.” I sighed as I heard my bus pull up outside the house. “Oliver.” She began again. “You missed breakfast because you slept in.” She groaned forcing a brown bag in my hand. “Now go, your hunger will teach you your lesson.” “I don’t even like breakfast.” I muttered as Teddy stood up and began walking me to the door. “Don’t fight with her, you’ll only get yourself grounded.” He quietly warned. “And thank you, for helping with dad.” “I wasn’t doing it for you you butt.” I teased as he opened the front door. “I was doing it for Ryder.” “Matters all the same to me.” He smiled, giving me a push out the door. “Have a good day at school.” “Yeah, yeah.” I forced out slowly heading to the yellow vehicle and climbing on. “You’re late Oliver.” The bus driver scolded. “Next time I’m leaving you.” “Sorry.” I forced out, biting my tongue and starting to walk towards the back of the bus. “Where do you think you’re going?” She started up again. “You know you’re not allowed to sit in the back of the bus.” “Come on, I’ll behave I just want to sit with my friends they’ll,” “Sit in the first row or get off.” She warned beginning to stare me down. “Whatever.” I groaned sliding in the booth and throwing on a pair of headphones. I hate adults! They’re all the same! Always yelling at me without actually listening. Always making snap judgments and ordering me around because I’m young. One day I’ll make them regret it, I swear I will. When we finally pulled up to the old school building and headed to homeroom I couldn’t help but walk right up to my bandmates. “I think you guys should consider making me drummer.” I boldly started. “Ryder Sullivan is working with me on drumming, and I’m learning a lot.” “Okay Oli.” Tyler rolled his eyes. “I’m sure he is.” “He is.” I insisted. “My brother’s dating him.” “Yeah and Beyoncé is my grandma.” He teased drawing laughs from the rest of our band. “Come on.” Colin chimed in. “We’re a week away from battle of the bands. It’s too late to change anything up. If we don’t come in first then we can talk about changing things up.” “Fine.” I grumbled, realizing it probably was too late to start changing things around. “And you don’t have to lie to impress us.” He let out. “It’s not like you aren’t a part of the band already.” “I’m not lying.” I argued feeling frustration boil. “My brother is dating Ryder Sullivan. You saw the press conference where my brother talked about saving his life and then walked off when they talked about them dating.” “He walked off because he didn’t want to fuel false rumors.” Tommy Anderson chirped in from a row over. “No one’s talking to you.” I spit, not even bothering to look at him. “It doesn’t matter, we’re all sick of you lying all the time.” He taunted standing up at his desk. “No one here even likes you. You’re such a fucking loser.” “Because you have so many friends Tommy.” I let out, giving it right back to him. “I do actually.” He smirked. “Unlike you. What do you have? These three pussies who don’t even like you and Mark Roberts? What an army you’ve built.” I went to speak but before I could he started laughing. “Oh and your buddy Ryder Sullivan.” He mocked drawing laughs from the class. “You’re just jealous because you wish you got to meet him.” I shrugged, trying my hardest to blow him off. “Why would I be jealous that your brother’s a fudge packer?” He asked finally starting to strike a nerve. “There’s no way he’s dating Ryder Sullivan, and even if he is I bet Ryder’s just using him. I bet Ryder fucks him in the ass all night long. I bet he fucks you in the ass too you faggot fan boy.” “Why don’t you come over here and say that to my face?” I asked, jumping to my feet. “I’ll fuck you up just like I did last week!” I shouted, looking around at the class. “Or did you all forget that? I beat him so bad he was crying for his mommy.” “Yeah well it’s a new week.” Tommy let out rising to his feet. But still, I could see fear in his eyes. His face still wore scratches and cuts from where my fists had landed. Reminders that he should stay in his lane. “Then come get some.” I dared matching his anger. “Oliver Haner!” Mr. Jacobs shouted walking into the room. “Do you want to go to the principal’s office again?” “Me?” I let out in a shout. “Tommy started it! You should’ve heard what he said!” “It’s not polite to point fingers.” Mr. Jacob’s lectured. “Both of you sit down and behave or you’ll both be out of here.” “Fine.” I grumbled falling back in my seat. I kept my head down until finally I saw my best friend Mark finally enter the room, no doubt late from talking to his stupid girlfriend. “You look pissed.” He teased grabbing the seat right next to mine. “What happened?” “Tommy Anderson ran his mouth.” I grumbled. “I swear to god I’m going to kick his ass when lunch rolls around.” “Don’t do that.” Mark shook his head with a smile. “You’ll just get suspended again, and I hate not having you around.” “What does it matter, you have Jess.” I grumbled, refusing to look at him. “So, you’re still my best friend.” He shrugged. “Just, relax. For me?” “Fine.” I caved finally looking over at him. His light brown eyes and freckles always found a way to get to me. They just, it, it confuses me so much! I-I’ve seen so many girls I like but it’s so much different with Mark, he’s just, just, different. As class finally began I tried my hardest to focus but just like all the days before every little noise distracted me. Tapping of pencils, whispers from class mates, lockers shutting in the hallway, it all just got to me. “Mr. Haner.” Mr. Jacobs let out. “What do you think?” “Uh.” I let out zoning back in and realizing I didn’t even hear the question. “I think you’re right.” “So you think animals and plants use energy the same way?” He asked in a sigh. “Boys and girls this is exactly why you need to be paying attention. Education is only as worthwhile as you make it.” I began to shrink in my chair as stifled laughter and eyes fell one me. Once again for the people in the back, I HATE adults! “Oliver the retard.” I heard Tommy spit to a few people in the back row. I grew quiet and angrily bit my lip as I waited for the first locker break of the day to roll around. As the bell finally sounded and we made our way into the hallway I felt my anger finally break. “Hey Tommy.” I let out, unable to fully control myself. “What do you want you pussy?” He asked but as he finally turned around I caught him across the face with a punch. “That’s for calling my brother a fudge packer.” I let out in anger. “And this is for calling me a faggot.” I shouted jumping on him and catching him with another fist. I may not be Teddy’s biggest fan, but no one, and I mean no one talks shit about my older brother except for me. As the red in my eyes finally began to fade I saw blood dripping from my hands and covering Tommy’s face. Before I knew it large hands pulled me off of him. Tommy went to stand up but quickly fell back down. Before anyone else could do anything I made sure to spit right on him. “Oliver Haner!” My teacher shouted, shoving me away from the scene. “Principal’s office NOW!” “You caused this.” I let out turning to him. “You told me not to point fingers, so I didn’t. I took it into my own hands.” “That’s enough!” He yelled. “Now go!” I shrugged my shoulders but happily walked away from the scene. Like I give a fuck. Like anyone would care if that was me lying there. I did what I had to to make sure the bullying stops. The first time I kicked Tommy’s ass people were quiet for days, now they’ll be quiet for years. As the principal saw the blood on my hands she let out a deep sigh and waived me to the bathroom. When I finally got back to her office I refused to speak until one of my parents got there. I’m not going down for this. I’m not getting in trouble for what Tommy started, or for my lazy ass teacher not doing his job. “Oliver,” My mom let out as she entered the room. “What did you do?” “Stood up for myself.” I proudly held my head, finally breaking my silence. “You call concussing another student standing up for yourself?” The principal asked in a furious tone. “This is your second fight in two weeks Oliver.” “It’s Tommy’s second fight too, but let’s keep acting like he’s innocent.” I shrugged, refusing to show any remorse. “Do you see what I’m talking about Mrs. Haner?” She asked. “He constantly gets himself into trouble then refuses to be sorry about it.” “Are you even going to ask me what happened?” I asked with a shake of my head. “Watch your tone.” My mom grunted pinching my ear then letting it go. “What happened Oliver?” The principal dismissively asked. “Tommy called my brother a fudge packer and me a faggot.” I explained, crossing my arms. “Then he said my brother gets fucked in the ass all night and I probably do too.” “I-I don’t believe that.” The principal exhaled, finally starting to take the situation seriously. “If it did happen you should’ve told Mr. Jacobs.” “I tried to.” I calmly let out. “He told me pointing fingers is rude.” “Well I don’t believe that for a second.” She repeated looking towards my mom. “I think it’s time for Oliver and River Edge Middle School to split ways.” “Absolutely not.” My mother shook her head. “You’re just going to reject his story off a whim? You’re not going to call in any other students and get their side? You’re not going to talk to his teacher about this? My son is a lot of things, but he is not a liar. I mean really? Fucked in the ass? They’re thirteen years old! They should have no idea what that means!” “I will but,” “But nothing.” My mother exhaled finally reaching her breaking point. “I have a grown man stuck in bed at home because his bullying was so bad in this school system it still has him all messed up. I’m sure he would hate to see that it’s still happening. Actually I’m sure he would love to go to the press with it.” “The school has perfect standing with the local press, they won’t take such slander they,” “I’m not talking local press.” She interrupted once more. “Because I’m talking about Ryder Sullivan, and we both know he hasn’t shied away from putting this school and Hudson in the spotlight.” “I-I,” “Oh I’m not done yet.” My mother shook her head. “If you do not do my son justice we will be suing this school on grounds of hate speech. I know for a fact Oliver didn’t make up the name calling, and the f-word is not something that’s allowed anywhere in my household.” “I’ll talk to other students.” The principal quickly nodded her head. “But for now Oliver is suspended for three days. I-I’ll call when we have all the information and update you, but I think its best you leave before the Andersons get here.” “Do your job.” My mom warned as I stood back up. “And Jacobs better be reprimanded for not doing his job. If he would’ve stepped in none of this would’ve happened.” “I’ve got it handled.” She sighed eager to get us out. “You better.” Mom scoffed, grabbing me by the arm and pulling me out of the small office and to the front doors. “Just the woman I wanted to see.” Tommy’s mom let out as we walked out of the school “Your child is an animal. You should lock him in a cage.” “Yeah well your child isn’t exactly an angel.” My mom shook her head. “At least my child’s never concussed anyone!” She shouted back. “We will be pressing charges.” “Be my guest.” Mom angrily laughed. “Because we’ll be countering with a hate speech suit. I don’t know what kind of household you run, but your son shouldn’t even know the word faggot.” “You’ve always been such a bitch.” Tommy’s mom let out walking right past us. “At least my boobs are real!” My mom fought back as I had to choke back a laugh. “Now I see where Oliver gets his charm.” The other woman sneered, slamming the door behind her. I stayed quiet as we got in the car and began the slow trip home. “Am I in trouble?” I finally spoke, scared to know the answer. “Were you telling the truth?” Mom asked. “And be honest, because we’re going to find out either way.” “Swear to god.” I nodded my head. “He also called me a retard when I didn’t know the answer to a question. I-I had to do something. He can’t just talk about me and Teddy like that.” She let out a long sigh before glancing over to me. “You and your father will have a long conversation about it back home, but if what you’re saying is right I don’t see any need to punish you.” “So what I did was good?” I asked as a small smile overtook my face. “No, no it was not.” She shook her head. “I didn’t see Tommy, but from what I heard it couldn’t’ve been good. You can’t solve all your problems with your fists, but I am proud you stood up for yourself.” She explained, trying to show me where the line was. “Like I said your father can talk to you about that.” Okay, maybe I didn’t handle it perfectly. But I’m still damn proud of what I did. I’m Oliver Haner. I’m crazy, and out of control but I’m not going to be anyone’s victim. I’m not going to let anyone make fun of me. I’ve seen what it did to Ryder Sullivan, and I’m not letting history repeat itself with me.
  31. 49 points
    “There is a very old saying in human culture,” Lakshou said. “One step forward and two steps back.” Aparoe tilted their head. “I haven’t heard that one.” They finished pulling out the supplements from their bag and putting the vials of powder on the small table in my quarters. “It is apt, though. Mentally and physically.” I’d been avoiding leaving my room for more than my shifts, and nothing tasted right. It was all too sweet, too spicy, too… textured. I scurried away from people. Priella had gone back to more of her old self, not too chatty, so that was okay. Work was a sanctuary because her and Luca seemed to understand my need to quiet and found me out of the way projects and places to keep me busy. Everyone in the department smiled and went out of their way to make me feel welcome. But I couldn’t help but wonder if they should. Doubts still bugged me, and even Lakshou’s meditation couldn’t banish my worries. “Use the supplements,” Aparoe ordered me. They raised one thin eyebrow. “Or I’ll have to take you in to medical to do a more complete work up. I’d rather avoid that.” “All right.” I wrapped my arms around my knees and scooted up closer to the head of the bed. They’d ambushed me on my rest day, early enough I wasn’t even up for the day. Aparoe had already done a quick scan, so they left. Lakshou smacked his hands down on the bottom of the bed. “All right, up. There’s something you’re going to want to see.” “What?” “We’re stopping at an uninhabited resource planet in this sector. The captain approved all the species we rescued having some time off the ship if they can handle the atmosphere. I’m going along in case anyone needs help acclimating to outside, so you won’t be alone.” “Outside?” My heart started to pound, and my mouth was dry. I swallowed repeatedly. I desperately wanted to go, but it had been so long since I was outside of the sterile environment of space. Could I step outside the ship and onto solid earth again? “You were held for a very long time. It’s okay to be scared.” Lakshou stood at the end of the bed, waiting patiently. “You don’t have to get off the shuttle if it’s too much for you, but even some time in a natural atmosphere would be good for you.” I hesitated. “What’s it like?” “The planet?” I nodded. “Warm, humid. Lots of water, lots of raw nature. As a waypoint in the travel lanes, it’s protected from any race wanting to colonize or terraform it. We’ll exchange our fluid reservoirs and replace our stores. The planet’s vegetation is mineral-rich. It’s perfect for the raw building blocks the dispensers need. There are very few predators on the planet, and most of the wildlife are large and slow-moving, no threat to us or the shuttles.” “How long will we be there.” “Half a shift, maybe. Captain Querry never likes to stay long when we’ve been on a rescue mission. He takes his duty seriously.” I could tell that about Captain. Who he was—the leader of the ship—was who he was at his core. It was the focus of his being. I’d trusted him almost from the first second he came into my cell. He had a firm strength but he didn’t scare me. His touch was too gentle for that. I fought down a blush, trying not to remember the dreams I’d had about him. Touch was something I’d pushed away for so long, but there were things I remembered from my youth—pleasures found in silence and secret at night in my narrow pallet—that were coming back to me. The slide of my clothing could awaken the member between my legs. It embarrassed me. I hadn’t gotten up the courage to do anything about it, the conditioning too strong to break. In my dreams though…. “If you want to come, you need to get dressed. Wear the uniform you have on the ship. You will need the grip shoes with the firm bottom to protect your feet, not the soft soles.” “I’ll come.” Lakshou left so I could get ready after I agreed to meet him in the shuttle bay. Everyone was so busy with the landing that there was no one to escort me. Apparently they weren’t worried about that. The entire ship would enter atmosphere, but the shuttles would travel away from the ship to gather more elusive materials. My steps were muffled in the corridor, but louder than I was used to, so I slowed down so I wasn’t making so much noise. “If you can’t do it….” “I never said that.” The hissed reply was vicious, angry, desperate even. “Two can keep a secret if one of them’s dead. Just remember that, if you get the urge to speak out of turn.” I stiffened. That didn’t sound good. Whoever was fighting was between me and the shuttle bay. I couldn’t go back. I chewed on my lip, then took a few hard steps. Someone walked away quickly, their footsteps rumbling like a run. I turned the corner, looking straight ahead. “Greetings.” I jumped, like I hadn’t noticed the man standing against the wall and nodded. It was the human, the one who’d been so nasty to Lakshou that first day while we ate. He opened his mouth, but I looked away and kept walking. Maybe he’d think I was ignoring him. Or just rude. I wish I could have seen who he was talking to though. It sounded like something bad.
  32. 48 points
    They walked home holding hands. Both had silly smiles pasted on and leaned into each other often to exchange a kiss. Patrons and staff of Martin’s Tavern mobbed them after CJ proposed and Owen accepted. The well-wishers included the establishment owner who refused to accept payment for the meal. “We’re home!” CJ shouted as he took the stairs to the basement. “Hurry up, the show’s about to start. Took you guys long enough!” “Ummm, Ritchie, could you record it? I don’t think Ozzie and I are gonna be able to watch it tonight.” “How come?” Ritchie stared as Owen walked past him grinning and waving on the way to CJ’s room. “What’s with him?” “Oh, he’s gonna skype with his family. And I’m pretty sure I’ll have to go talk to them in a minute.” “What… What’s going on?” Ritchie’s tentative tone told his brother he had better come clean before the boy worried too much. He dropped onto the couch and snaked an arm around the kid’s shoulders. “Well, it’s like this: I asked Ozzie to marry me and he said yes.” “YOU WHAT?” The brothers craned their heads back to find their fathers standing at the bottom of the stairs with Tom and JP next to them. CJ decided looking at them upside down was not ideal. He stood, displaying as much teeth as he ever had. “I said I asked―” “We heard what you said.” Brett lowered the volume a notch but his voice still boomed. “What were you thinking of? You are―” The remainder of the comment was lost when Ritchie tackled his brother to the couch and crushed him in a hug. “YES! That’s awesome! OZZIE! We’re gonna be brothers for real!” While César stood back, arms crossed over his chest, leaning against the railing, Tom and JP advanced towards the couch with outstretched arms. “That’s bloody fantastic! Welcome to the family, mate.” JP reached him first as CJ extricated himself from Ritchie’s arms and stood. “Thanks, Uncle Pope.” After the mauling his brother inflicted, he was now squeezed by first JP and then Tom. When he disengaged from the hugs, he looked at his fathers. César was still smiling but Brett scowled. “Dads?” “When’s the wedding? Do I get to be in it? Where are you going for―” Ritchie’s question barrage came to a halt when CJ raised a hand towards his brother while still staring at the dads. Brett was the first one to speak. “You’re too young to get married! The two of you can’t―” “Shut the fuck up, Jarhead!” César glared at his husband while stepping towards their son. “Congratulations, buddy. I think it’s great. You boys make a great couple. Where is he, by the way?” “I’m here.” Owen stood in the bedroom’s doorway. “I tried skyping Australia but Liz went nuts, started screaming she had to go find my parents and they would call us back.” “Come here, son.” César spread his arms, inviting Owen to come in for a hug. “Congratulations. And as JP told CJ, welcome to the family.” CJ stood alone for a moment, watching Brett’s reaction. “Papa? Are you upset? I want you to be happy for us.” Brett let out an exaggerated sigh, sat on one of the recliners, and shook his head. “I… I don’t know what to say. You’re so young. And you have school to think about. Why now? Why can’t you at least wait until after you graduate?” “Because I love him. Because I want to make sure he gets to stay in the US. Because I don’t trust the new guy in the White House not to change the rules. Because I want to spend every night with him for the rest of my life. Do I need to keep going?” “Shit! Fuuuck!” Brett shook his head and ran a hand over his face. “Goddammit, I’m not ready for this. I don’t want you to grow up. I want to have you around for a while longer.” “Oh, Papa…” He felt tears trickle down his cheeks when he leaned down to hug Brett. “I’m not going anywhere. We don’t even know when we’ll get married. To use the old cliché: You’re not losing me. You’re gaining another son.” Brett retreated into his usual way of dealing with tense situations. Inappropriate humor was his usual recourse. “I’m not sure I want him as a son. He doesn’t even speak proper English!” “Asshole!” “Fine! You go get married. It’s going to take me a while to process this shit. “ • • • CJ convinced Thiago to skip the dojo and instead accompany him to Town Danceboutique. The largest gay dance bar in Washington was hosting Sequins & Scrums―a drag event during DC Bëar Crüe’s Bëar Happy Hour. It was the first fundraiser held by the Washington Scandals Rugby Football Club to help finance their participation in the 2018 Mark Bingham Memorial Cup to be held in Amsterdam. “This is my first time at a gay bar. Are you sure we’ll get in?” Thiago held his girlfriend’s hand while standing outside the club. “Yeah, just follow me. I know the doorman. I’m hoping I can get you a wristband so you can order drinks.” “Why am I not surprised you know the right people?” Nadine reached over and pinched CJ’s cheek. “You look cute when you blush. I’m so excited about this. I’ve never been to a gay bar either. Heck! I’ve never been to a real bar.” “I’m glad you guys came. But I have to warn you. My dads and some of their friends may be here. I asked them not to come but Papa told me to fuck off and mind my own business.” “Why would you ask them not to come? Your dads are fun to be around.” “Really, Nadine? Would you like to go out drinking with your friends and have your parents drag along?” “It’s not the same. Your dads are young. And this sounds like something fun to do.” “Does that mean Brett’s okay with the wedding now?” Thiago had heard how the retired marine was not at first happy with the news of his oldest son being engaged. “Yeah, he’s fine. He was all scared we were going to get married right away and I’d be moving out. But let me tell you, he’s as obstinate as my other father. We’ve had to talk to the fucker every night to calm him down.” “Have you decided on a date?” “Nope. We’re looking at next summer. With Ozzie graduating this May, and then studying for the bar exam, we don’t want to worry about organizing anything right now. And based on what we’ve been talking about, we’ll need time to plan. I’ve got a feeling the dads are gonna go nuts and invite everyone they know. Instead of turning into groomzillas, we’re bracing ourselves for parentzillas.” “CJ!” The shout made the three friends turn around to see Devon Jefferson swagger in their direction. “Oh shit!” He shook his head, frustrated the night might be spinning out of control. “What the fuck you doing here, Dragon?” “Watch it, boy! Is that the way you greet your favorite uncle?” “Favorite uncle, my ass! Ozzie’s gonna kill me if all the Elite are here to see him.” “What’s the Elite? I’ve never heard of it.” Nadine accepted the kiss Devon planted on her cheek at the same time he shook hands with Thiago. “That’s the older version of the Squad, babe. They’re CJ’s dads’ group of friends and Dragon’s a member.” “That’s us! The old folks. The geriatric contingent. The over-the hill…” Dragon stopped talking and laughed when CJ gave him a hard stare. “Anyway, Matt and Dasan are in New York this weekend. Danno’s at his bar since your buddy Tank asked for the night off. Trip may show up so he can write an article about this. Otherwise it’ll be me, your dads, and JP and Tom.” CJ threw his hands up in defeat. “Fine. Whatever. You better not embarrass me in there. Okay?” Inside, they found a spot near the stage. CJ, Thiago, and Nadine all scored wristbands and were delegated to run to the bar whenever anyone wanted a cocktail. Brett showed them a stack of five-dollar bills the older men seemed to enjoy stuffing wherever they could find a spot in the outfits of the performers. “Ladies and closet cases… please put your hands together… direct from Pokolbin, New South Wales―is that like Bumfuck, Alabama?― Let’s hear it for AUSSIE BRIDEZILLA!” The master of ceremonies stepped aside as the DJ cued Down Under by the Australian band Men at Work. The patrons roared, hooted, and hollered when Owen pranced on stage. The ridiculous blonde wig he wore was covered by a white lace veil reaching down to his chin. When lifted, it revealed gaudy, glittery, make-up someone had generously applied. The incongruity of such a tall, muscular man wearing rugby boots, a short white skirt, and a stretchy white tube top brought peals of laughter. “That’s who you’re marrying, buddy!” Ethan had joined them and CJ almost spilled his beer when Owen’s fellow law student slapped his back. “At least he’s wearing compression shorts underneath. We don’t need to see his junk flopping around.” “Don’t be so sure about that, Ethan. Some of us wouldn’t mind seeing the man-bits flop.” Nadine squealed when Thiago pinched her. “Whatever…” CJ had a feeling it was going to be a very long night. “I can promise you one thing: That outfit’s getting burned when we get home. No way is he ever wearing that out in public again. And neither one of us will be wearing anything like that for the wedding.” Owen was a decent dancer but the shimmying and twerking were new. CJ knew his fiancé had taken a doobie out of the Harley-Davidson coffee can stash and thought it must have relaxed the heck out him. Owen was not uptight but he tended to be somewhat more reserved than the man now up on stage. “Here”―he slipped Thiago and Nadine a one-hundred dollar bill each―”when he comes over to us, give him that. Actually, just shove the bill somewhere in his outfit.” “CJ! That’s a lot of money!” Nadine was staring at the currency in her hand. “Yeah, but it’s for a good cause. I bet you my dads and his friends will be piling the bills on him too. Whoever raises the most money wins. I just don’t want it to look like I bought him the title.” At the end of the night, Queen Issa Fella of the DC Chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, helped crown Aussie Bridezilla as the Scandals’ 2017 Scrum Queen. • • • Spring breaks once again fell on different weeks—spread between early March and the beginning of April—for CJ, Owen, and Ritchie. As if that was not enough, the one week the three were in school was the week the University of Miami had its vacation. When Chipper flew up on Friday night, CJ was at the airport, anxious to see his friend for the first time since the previous summer. “Thanks for picking me up. Where’s Ozzie?” “Home. I came straight from the dojo. All I did was throw my clothes back on. Can’t you smell me?” “I wasn’t going to say anything, but yes, I do. I thought it was the Jeep. That maybe you and Ozzie had been fucking in here.” “Asshole!” Both cracked up laughing. Phone calls, e-mails, and text messages were not the same as being together in person as far as he was concerned. It was good to have one of his fellow Squad members back in town. “You’re such a douche. I see some things haven’t changed.” “Nope. Except for Harley.” “What about Motormouth? Have you seen him? What’s the change?” “I see him all the time! He’s been riding down to Miami like one weekend a month. That man confuses me. He’ll talk a mile a minute but then he goes and does something and doesn’t tell anyone. He got another tattoo.” “Really? What? Where?” Now more than ever he was jealous of Harley Wilkinson. This was the second stealth tattoo for the lanky skateboarder―he did not tell any of his friends in advance on either occasion―and CJ was still an ink virgin. He knew what he wanted, but the timing was not right just yet. Getting engaged had moved the timetable up, but he would have to wait a bit longer still. “Oh, man, it’s pretty cool. He got an American flag on the inside of his forearm. It hangs with a band of blue on the top and a circle of white stars in it. Red stripes run down the arm and the whole thing has a vintage look to it. Looks like it was brushed on and the borders make you think the paint’s ready to drip or the edges of the flag were torn. I saw it last Saturday when he came to visit. He had it done on Friday so it was pretty raw. I have a couple of pics on my phone.” “I can’t believe the dick hasn’t said anything.” He maintained regular contact with Chipper and Harley and exchanged sporadic communications with Brad. “That ain’t the biggest change. He’s said nothing about it but a couple of comments make me think he’s in love.” “WHAT? Harley?” The surprised exclamation made Chipper chuckle. “And it’s not with a car or a motorcycle! Like I said, he hasn’t said anything and I haven’t pushed. Honestly, I’m scared of talking about it. I’m afraid he’ll shut me out.” “Bullshit! He’d never do that. So did he meet a girl in Orlando?” “Nope. But he’s mentioned Kim Huang a couple of times. We can grill him this summer. He has a two week break at the end of June and plans on coming up here.” CJ wanted Chipper to stay at the Prospect Street townhouse but his friend refused. He was in town to plan his summer, and since he wanted to stay with Matt Calhoun during June and July, he felt it was right to do so during spring break also. During the day, while school was in session, Chipper pounded the proverbial pavement looking for a summer job. In the evenings, the Squad gathered in different places. The night before he flew back to Miami, they congregated in the Prospect Street townhouse basement. “Dude, I’m so happy you’re part of our group.” Chipper was hugging Tank a fraction of a second after the blonde bodybuilder walked into the game room. “Prove it, Chipper. Give him a BJ to thank him.” CJ’s quip earned him a slap to the head from Owen. “Ouch! Leave me alone, Ozzie.” “Then stop making nasty remarks!” “BJs aren’t nasty! They’re awesome.” Ritchie covered his mouth with both hands as soon as he uttered the words. All the other guys stared at him in silence. “Well, well, well…” Ethan draped an arm around Ritchie’s shoulders. “Seems the youngest one here has some recent experiences. Just remember, Ritchie, the irony of a blow job’s that although they may be down on their knees in front of you, they still have you by the balls.” “ETHAN! What the fuck?” CJ stared at his brother and shook his head. “You and I are having a chat tomorrow, bro.” He was glad he had asked Dr. Harding to discuss safer sex with his brother but now he realized he had to bring the dads into the conversation. He assumed they had talked to Ritchie about sex after the exchange with Pres earlier in the year, but needed to be sure. Who knew what the little imp had been getting into. “Leave Ritchie alone. If he’s getting blow jobs already, I say more power to him.” Chipper offered the boy his fist to bump. “And anyway, about Tank, what makes you think I haven’t thanked him already?” “Slut!” CJ had been spending time with Carson Sawyer―the student from Delaware he helped move into the dorms the previous August―and invited him to join the group this evening. Carson sat next to Ritchie and stared at the boy with his mouth hanging open. “Are they always like this?” “Yeah, they try to top each other with the stupid and sexual comments. You’ll get used to it. I have. Papa Brett told me not to be too quiet around them. They may start picking on me if I do. Cap keeps telling me the best defense’s a good offense.” Chipper lined up gigs at a couple of different jazz clubs for the summer. Two weeknights at each place. The pay was barely above minimum wage, but the jobs carried the potential for a lot more with tips. Both establishments advertised live music seven nights a week and Chipper would be performing on days better known acts were not. “Are you gonna blow Danno too?” CJ earned himself another smack to the back of the head from Owen. “Fuck no! He’s too old. And I don’t do the casting couch thing.” Tank was working as many hours as he wanted at Rogo’s and it was he who suggested a Sunday Jazz Brunch to Danno. It was an effort to attract increased tourist traffic during the summer vacation season when many locals left town. They were going to try it for eight weeks and Chipper was hired to perform during the test run. • • • CJ’s acceptance to Georgetown University led César and Brett to make a generous contribution to the school and purchase four season tickets to the Hoyas men’s basketball program. Their son could attend games as a student, but they wanted the ability to join him. The four seats would be for them, Ritchie, and Owen with either one of the fathers reserving the option to use them for entertaining business contacts. A week after Georgetown fired the team’s coach, the school’s athletic director called César. The university had identified a potential replacement and the school was looking for a venue to hold a small reception for the incoming coach and a handful of well-heeled supporters. They wanted to introduce the new-hire a day before making a public announcement. It was the invited individuals the school would turn to for the funds needed to pay the coach’s salary. The Prospect Street home was close to campus without an overt connection with Georgetown. They were looking to keep the news from leaking to the press ahead of the formal announcement―something hard to accomplish in Washington, D.C. Tank and Ethan agreed to serve as bartenders and wait staff; César and Brett assured university officials they could be trusted not to talk for twenty-four hours. The school would announce the hiring of Patrick Ewing as the new men’s basketball coach the morning after the reception. Ewing was a standout player at Georgetown in the early eighties, helping lead the Hoyas to multiple appearances in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual tournament. He was the first pick of the New York Knicks in the National Basketball Association’s players draft and was a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. His most recent position was as an assistant coach with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. At his father’s request, CJ wore a white, oxford, button-down shirt and his blue blazer, but refused to put on a necktie―he claimed he had enough of those during the political campaign the previous year. He also refused to change out of his faded-blue Levi’s or red PF Flyer Hi-tops. As usual, Ritchie emulated his brother in how he dressed. The two stood at the front door greeting guests. “Damn! You look gorgeous, Nadine.” CJ leaned in and kissed Thiago’s girlfriend on the cheek. “Hey, hey, hey! What ju doing flirting with my girl? Where’s Ozzie when I need him to distract you?” Ritchie’s voice cracked while he chuckled and tried to respond. “Next door. He’ll be here in a minute. And you do look great, Nadine.” “Okay, this gotta stop. Bad enough the gay brother flirts with her. But the straight one worries me even more.” “Shut it, Thiago. I like the attention. Just remember the reason you’re here is because it’s your birthday. And we’re using that as an excuse for me to be invited too.” Nadine eliminated whatever sting her words may have had by taking Thiago’s hand. “I’ll say one thing for you: you have interesting friends. One day CJ’s rubbing elbows with the President of the United States and the next he’s hosting a party for the head basketball coach at a major university. Lifestyles of the rich and famous.” “Okay, that'll be enough. Get inside already.” CJ touched knuckles with Thiago as he motioned them inside. “Tank and Ethan are already here. They’re setting up in the kitchen. It’s all finger food but it looks real good. The coach and the athletic director are in the basement talking to the dads. We’re standing here waiting for a couple of players to show up.” Owen slipped in the back door and walked behind CJ, wrapping him in a hug. “Hi.” “Hey, babe. Why don’t you take Thiago and Nadine over to get a drink? Ritchie and I have to wait for a couple of players to arrive. They’re expecting them downstairs.” “You want anything?” “Yeah, a bottle of water, please. I think I’ll skip the booze for now. What with some members of the Board of Trustees being here and all. Wouldn’t look good for them to meet a freshman while I’m holding a beer.” A moment later, he was greeting two of the school’s basketball players. “Hey, I’m CJ. My parents own the house. Coach and the AD are downstairs waiting for you.” “Thanks, man. I’m Trey―” “Dude, I know who you are. Trey Mourning. I’m a freshman at GU.” He took a step back when the other player shook his head and laughed at his teammate for having another fan. He headed towards the stairs when CJ pointed in that direction. “So, yeah, I know who you are and that you went to Ransom Everglades. I did my first year of high school at Columbus. Before I moved to DC.” “No shit? We’re both from Miami? That’s cool. Let me go downstairs before I get in trouble. I wanna talk to you some more, though. Okay?” CJ and Ritchie manned the front door until the two dozen or so guests all arrived. One of them, a female member of the school’s Board of Directors, was someone CJ had met the previous year―a DC Clinton delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. She was delighted to find out he was now a student at GU and on the spot removed the gold Georgetown University lapel pin she wore and placed it on his blazer. The evening was a typical cocktail party; the type of event CJ became accustomed to the previous year. The one significant difference was the small talk revolved around basketball instead of politics. He decided he liked this better. The athletic director, Coach Ewing, and Trey Mourning remained behind after the other guests departed. The seven-foot former player had spoken about what an honor it was to be entrusted with revitalizing the famed program at his alma mater and about his plans to recruit the best players available. He towered over CJ and Ritchie when he stood next to them in the downstairs game room. “I have a present for you boys and your fathers. And I have a request for you, CJ.” “What can I do for you, sir?” “You can start by calling me Coach, not sir. I saw the chair at the game table with the Georgetown seal on it. I’m assuming the other two schools are your parents.” “Yeah, one went to Florida and the other to Cal.” “I don’t think you have enough Georgetown memorabilia down here.” The coach extended a hand towards the Athletic Director who handed him a plastic bag he had placed atop the pool table earlier in the day. “If you find me a Sharpie I’ll autograph this for you and maybe you’ll hang it somewhere down here.” The coach opened the bag and retrieved a Hoyas basketball jersey bearing his last name and the number 33 on it. “YEAH!” Ritchie’s shout and fist pumping earned him a chuckle from Ewing. “Thanks, Coach. I’ll definitely have it framed and hang it down here.” CJ glanced at his dads and received approving nods from them before turning his attention to Trey. “Now we need to get one from your dad.” Trey’s father, Alonzo Mourning, was a star at GU a decade after Ewing. The Charlotte Hornets drafted him out of school and later traded him to the Miami HEAT. There he was part of the team winning the 2006 NBA championship. He was also a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. “I can arrange that,” the young Mourning said. “But only if you promise to invite me to hang out here with you every now and then.” CJ extended his hand to shake and seal the deal. “Done!” “Great, one of my players just bribed someone with a team shirt. I sure as heck hope that doesn’t violate any NCAA rules.” Ewing’s booming laughter echoed in the confined space. “And speaking of NCAA rules, I need to brush up on the recruiting ones. Once I’m certain it won’t violate any of them, I’d like your help attracting blue-chip players to the school, CJ. One of our Board of Directors members told me she met you last year during the presidential campaign. She said you were an outstanding public speaker and we should have you as a spokesman for the team. Would you consider taking one of the part-time jobs we reserve for students at the athletic department?” CJ was surprised at the offer. He glanced at his fathers for direction but received no help. One shrugged his shoulders and the other one rolled his eyes. “Ummm, I’m not sure I want to do that, Coach. I’d hate to take a job away from someone who might deserve it. I’d be happy to do whatever you want me to without payment. I’d rather the money go to a student who needs it to make ends meet.” Ewing clasped CJ’s shoulder and gave it a gentle shake. “She was right about you. You are ‘good people’ like she put it. I’ll be in touch. And if you ever need anything from us―like extra tickets to a game or anything like that―you call me. I’m adding your name and your dads to my list of special supporters.” • • • “Welcome back, Mister Abelló. We don’t see you often enough.” “How many times do I have to tell you, Nelson? I’m CJ. Leave the honorifics for my dads.” He stared into the man’s brown eyes while shaking his hand. “You remember my brother, Ritchie and my fiancé, Owen?” “Of course I do. Master Peterson, Mister Liston, welcome back to Forbes Grille. If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to the private room. Some of your guests are here already.” César’s fortieth birthday fell on a Thursday; Brett and CJ decided to celebrate it on the actual day instead of waiting for the weekend. They reserved the large, secluded dining room at the private club both César and CJ belonged to and arranged a special meal for twenty. The entire Elite, the Squad members in town, and Rod and Taisha were invited. Rodney Abelló―César’s nephew―was the same age as Owen and spent time with both groups, but did not consider himself a member of either. He told CJ he liked straddling the younger and older troupes. “Matt! Dash!” Dr. Matthew Calhoun and his partner Dasan Turner were the first people he saw when he walked into the room. When the two men separated and turned towards him, CJ realized they were talking to Thiago and Nadine. “Thanks for coming, guys.” “Right, like we’d be any other place tonight.” Dash clamped a hand on Matt’s shoulder. “I think Doc’s as excited as if this was his fortieth. I have to keep reminding him it’s not for another two years.” “Hi, Nadine. You look beautiful… As usual.” Ritchie ignored the men surrounding her and instead approached Thiago’s girlfriend and kissed her on the cheek. “Okay, that’s enough. You’re flirting with my girl again. Step away from her, Ritchie. Don’t make me hurt you.” Thiago was acting all possessive, wrapping an arm around the woman’s waist. “Dude, don’t threaten my brother. I’ll defend him, you know? You wanna throw down right here?” “Bring it on! I’ll have you on your ass so fast―” Nadine’s loud handclap stopped the posturing and made the guys turn in her direction―their friendly bluster brought to a screeching halt. “You two better dial back the testosterone level or I’ll have Tank sit on you both when he gets here. Where the heck’s Taisha? I need female reinforcements.” “I’m here, I’m here. We had to stop in Georgetown to pick up Carson.” Mrs. Taisha Abelló strolled into the room on her husband’s arm with the curly mop atop Carson’s head peeking above and behind her. Carson Sawyer―a freshman at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy―was being folded into the group of friends since CJ helped him move into his dorm at school. “Don’t blame me. I can’t help it if I have a late-in-the-day class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But I sure as hell wasn’t going to skip tonight. Not after I missed Coach Ewing’s party last month by going home to Delaware for the weekend.” “Dude, don’t worry about it. Get used to the fact the women are always going to stick together. And they’re always going to blame the men for whatever’s wrong.” Rod recoiled laughing, when his wife slapped his arm and left him alone while walking towards Nadine. “And no need to worry about missing the cocktail party either. Knowing my little cousin, he’ll have you hooked up with someone else just as famous in a day or two.” “Asshole!” The arm slap this time came from CJ. Tom, JP, and Patrick were next to arrive, followed soon after by Tank and Ethan. When Danno, Trip, and Dragon showed up a few minutes later, the only ones missing were César and Brett. The retired marine and his sons agreed to use “A Pirate Looks at Forty” as the theme for the party. The Jimmy Buffett song about a man looking back on his life did not parallel César’s, but the atmosphere it created had a South Florida vibe they agreed was right. Working with Nelson, they settled on Mojitos and conch fritters as appetizers, stone crab claws as the first dish and―in a nod to César’s Cuban heritage and South Florida, roast pork with white rice and black beans. “Chipper needs to learn this song. I bet he could do a nice jazzy arrangement to it.” Thiago left his girlfriend and Taisha alone when told the women were trying to figure out when they could all get together for dinner. “Did you burn a CD for them or something? I don’t think this place would play Jimmy Buffett as background music.” CJ glanced at his brother who was still trying to convince the server to get him a Mojito even after being told there was not a chance of him getting anything alcoholic. “Two. I did this one but Papa also handed him one when we met before. I’m not sure what that one has on it. He wouldn’t tell me.” “I know what’s on it.” Rod’s comment made the others stare at him. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m sworn to secrecy and so’s my wife. It’s the Karaoke version of a song.” “Oh, no! Please tell me Papa’s not serenading Dad. He can’t sing worth shit. He’s worse than I am.” Thiago spoke up in support of Brett. “Actually, CJ, he doesn’t sound horrible. He’s been practicing for a while.” “And how the hell do you know that? Am I the only one in the dark here?” “The captain asked me for help. I went over to his office a couple of times. I think you’ll like it. It’s the perfect song for him to sing to your dad.” “So are you gonna tell me about it?” “Nope. I’ve been sworn to secrecy too. Hey, that reminds me. Brett mentioned you had a meeting with the city’s mayor. What was that about?” “You saw her at the Coach’s party. She cornered me at one point, asked me to come to her office, and I was able to do it earlier this week. She offered me a summer job in her office.” “You’re going to be working for the mayor of Washington this summer?” Carson sounded both surprised and jealous. From what CJ had seen so far, if politics coursed through his blood, government administration did the same through Carson’s. “Nope, turned it down. I’m going to Israel for two weeks in July and that trip would be in the middle of the job.” “Are you serious?” Carson shook his head in apparent disbelief. “You turned down the opportunity to work in local government? Man, I’d kill for a job like that.” CJ tapped his friend’s chest with a finger. “Then you better not fuck up the interview. I turned her down but I gave her your name and contact information. Her Chief-of-Staff’s gonna call you to arrange a meeting.” “Oh, oh, sounds like Carson’s gonna owe CJ a blow job.” Rod bumped fists with Thiago as both cracked up laughing. “Oh, my God!” Carson’s mouth hung open for a moment in apparent shock. “Are you serious? I have to call my parents and tell them I’ll be staying in DC for the break. I can’t believe you got me a job at City Hall. Shit, I have to find a place to live this summer.” He hugged CJ so hard he would have crushed him had the man not been so muscular. “I love you, dude!” “Yeah, well, you can love him all you want but get your bloody hands off him. He’s taken.” Owen’s attempt at sternness was a dismal failure; he could not stop laughing. “And there will be no BJs, okay?” “Hey, you ain’t got the job!” CJ untangled himself from the hug, looked at Owen, and winked. “But, if―and that’s a big if―you do get the job, I’ll talk to the dads. I’m sure they’ll be okay with you spending the summer in one of our guest rooms in the basement.” “WHOSE BUTT DO I HAVE TO KISS TO GET A COCKTAIL AROUND HERE?” Brett’s shout made everyone turn towards the room’s entrance. CJ chuckled, turned around, and patted his behind. “Pucker up, Papa.” The words were barely out of his mouth when César and Brett were surrounded by their friends. CJ noticed the change in the background music. Buffett was once again praising Mother Ocean and singing about pirates and smuggling. Nelson Wheatly timed it just right by restarting the evening’s soundtrack to coincide with the guest of honor’s entrance. Once seated, the group attacked the stone crabs as if starving. CJ, seated at one end of the long table opposite his father, kept glancing at César and grinning. As the waitstaff removed empty plates and refilled wine glasses, he rapped against the table with his knuckles and once he had everyone’s attention, stood. “Thank you all for coming tonight. I’d like to offer the first toast of the evening. To my father, the best dad anyone could hope to have. The man who’s held me when I’ve cried and cheered me in my accomplishments. The man I know loves me and has my best interests at heart. Even when he grounds me for getting a speeding ticket!” “Hear, hear!” The reaction by Brett elicited chuckles and in unison, everyone raised their glasses. Each guest took a chance to speak between courses. Some told funny or embarrassing stories, others offered a simple happy birthday. After the meal, but before dessert was served, Brett mimicked his son’s previous action and attracted everyone’s attention by banging the table with his open palm. “My turn. When we were trying to figure out what to do for my hubby’s fortieth, the kids suggested Buffet’s “A Pirate Looks at Forty” as a theme. It harks back to their South Florida roots and growing up near the ocean.” Brett’s face was alive with mischief as he glanced around the room. “I grew up next to the ocean too. Even if it was the Pacific instead of the Atlantic. And I have my own soundtrack from days surfing and running around Southern Cal. Most of you know I’m a Beach Boys fan and have been known to sing along now and then. Even if my voice’s not the best.” “You can say that again!” “Shut the fuck up, CJ.” The words were almost drowned by the hearty laughter. “Just for that I’m going to stop talking and I’m going to sing.” He glanced at the door and nodded at the maître d’ who stood supervising the service, before fixing his sight on César. “This is for you, babe.” The retired marine gave a serviceable rendition of a song released fifty years before. His voice wavered at times while singing “God Only Knows,” but he persevered and was able to finish with a couple of dabs at his eyes. His were not the only ones shedding a tear; the fresh linen napkins placed in front of them while the table was cleared came in handy. CJ suggested Key Lime Pie for dessert but was surprised when two servers rolled a cart in the room. Twenty single-serve pies were arranged on a pastry tower, each holding two candles. He filed away in his mind what he thought was a great concept. Conversation was spirited while the guests ate until César stood and everyone went silent. “Thank you all for being here tonight. For helping me mark this occasion and for the contributions you all made to the Human Rights Campaign in my honor. I’m going to take a wild guess and assume CJ had something to do with that.” His son shrugged his shoulders and tried to look innocent but the nodding from most of the crowd confirmed César’s assumption. “As for tonight’s theme, I’m still not sure about it. I mean, I’ve been called a booty pirate before but I don’t know about the smuggling thing. Too Miami Vice if you ask me.” César paused until the loud laughter diminished. “Forty years may seem like a long time but it’s gone by in the blink of an eye. And I’ve been luckier than most. Supportive parents and a brother as my best friend helped me get through some difficult times when I was a teen. At twenty-two, I discovered a two-year-old dark-haired toddler who would become the most important person in my life. Having a kid at that age can derail many a life but I found it to be a blessing. “CJ was it until the night Tom and I went out and met JP and Brett. You all know the result of that chance encounter. The four of us forged a friendship which saw us married in a double ceremony and is stronger with each passing day. One drawback to that evening was CJ was no longer the center of my universe. He had to share the distinction with Brett from then on. “When CJ moved to Washington, I thought things could not get better. I had the two men who meant most to me together on a permanent basis. I could have lived the rest of my life like that and I would have been happy. “I must have done something right at some point. The Universe was not done blessing me. I had a husband I adore and a son I treasure but I was about to be fortunate again. Twice. Ritchie and Ozzie have helped our family grow and I could not be more thrilled. I could die happy today but I will not. I have too much to look forward to. “A wedding to plan a year from now. Several graduations to celebrate for my three sons and several of their friends. Welcoming grandchildren to spoil rotten at some point in the future. And having you, all of you, around me forty years from now when I celebrate eighty. Thanks again for tonight. I love you guys more than you can imagine.”
  33. 48 points
    Paddy was at the gym, boxing, we were going to Adam’s parents for dinner. My folks who were still staying with us for another week, were sitting in the back of the car with Riley. I offered the shotgun seat to my Mom, but she insisted on riding in the back with her granddaughter. Adam reached over and took my hand as he drove, flashing me a smile as he pulled my hand over into his lap. Adam pulled up in front of his parent's house, cut the engine and then all four doors opened like the mafia had arrived. We hopped out, I grabbed the baby bag from the trunk, while my Dad released Riley’s carrier from the car bracket. Mom walked ahead of us and was ringing the doorbell. Mr. Price let us in and then through to the dining room. The house smelt wonderful, whatever we were having for dinner was Italian, the aroma of garlic, cheese, and sauce made my stomach rumble. I chuckled sheepishly when everyone looked at me, “I skipped lunch today.” My folks and Adam both gave me a glare of disapproval, but I waved them off. I only missed it because Riley had been fussy and I was trying to get all the housework done so we could enjoy the rest of the week with my parents before they went back to Connecticut. It had seemed to be the best time to do it as the house was clear: Adam was at work, and my parents were with John and Bill. Riley was wide awake now, so I put her in the high chair at the table sitting down next to her. Adam came over to me and grabbed a bottle from the bag to warm up so we could feed her. Mr. and Mrs. Price had already set the table for dinner, “Mom doesn’t want to eat until Paddy gets here,” Mr. Price said as Adam’s Mom put a basket of Focaccia down on the table. “Make sure you have some of the bread Ian,” Mrs. Price smiled warmly at me, “is everybody okay with wine?” She received an affirmative all round, returning with two bottles and had us all sit at the table while she poured a glass for everyone, we munched on some delicious cheesy bread, while Adam fed Riley a bottle. “Riley feels a little hot, Babe,” Adam said frowning with concern, his chin held the bottle in place so she could feed, then felt her head again. “Yeah, there is some baby Tylenol in the baby bag. I think she’s teething,” I looked over to Riley, she was trying to chew on the nipple of the bottle. I reached down into the bag and took out the medicine, passing it to Adam. He mixed some in with her bottle then went back to feeding Riley until she decided to fall asleep, the bottle was almost empty at that time. Once we were all seated around the table, my Dad cleared his throat, “Since we have you both here and Paddy hasn’t arrived, we’d like to talk about his birthday.” I cocked an eyebrow in his direction, “What about it?” Adam settled Riley back into the baby carrier, then joined the conversation, “Yeah, we are getting him a dog.,” he chuckled.” Our parents nodded in understanding, “We knew you were getting him the dog. But…” Dad looked around at Paddy’s other grandparents, clearing his throat again, “the four of us would like to get him a car,” Dad put his hand up as Adam and I objected. Mrs. Price continued, “It’s simple, you can’t afford to get him one. You’ve just bought the house, with the move, hospital, and legal bills we know it would be impossible. You won’t let any of us help with that so will you at least let us do this.” “It won’t be anything extravagant, just something that’s cheap to get around in,” My mom finished their argument. I looked over to Adam to see his reaction, as I expected too many thoughts running through his mind at once to get a read from him. He turned his head focusing on me, I shrugged, my lips turned down at the ends. There is no way I am happy about them buying Pat a car. Adam and I wanted to get him a car, but he seemed to want a dog. It’s what he mostly spoke about, getting a family dog. Then again they are his grandparents. “You promise nothing flashy, expensive, or a tank?” Adam asked warily, “it has to be economical. Pat has to be able to afford gas, insurance, and tags on his wage. If we agree to this, he has to understand that cars come with responsibilities.” It was almost impossible to hold in my laugh as Adam lectured our parents, they nodded along without argument, their smiles growing bigger as Adam spoke. They had won, and they knew it. Pat walked in the door a few minutes later, so the conversation turned back to regular family and goings-on. <>-<>-<> My parents went back to New England with the promise to return for Pat’s birthday. The last of the summer and school vacation went by so quickly. It was time for me to go back to work, and Pat to school. When Adam worked days, his parents wanted to look after Riley. It had been the same argument since the beginning of summer. We wanted her to go to daycare to learn to socialize, but Mrs. Price insisted she would join a Mother’s or Grandmother’s group so Riley could socialize under her supervision. Grandma made all sorts of plea’s and had no problems resorting to emotional blackmail. It is not that we did not want her to look after Riley, but we did not want to take up all her time. “Mom,” Adam said combing his fingers through his hair frustrated, “it’s a lot of work, you know that. Don’t you want to relax, spend time with Dad, travel maybe? You’re retired now, not a glorified babysitter.” Mrs. Price gasped putting a hand to her chest, “I am not a babysitter,” she slammed a kitchen cupboard, “I am her grandmother,” turning on Adam dramatically with flames in her eyes. I sat at the breakfast bar next to Mr. Price, our heads moving between Adam and his Mother as they took shots at each other. Adam’s Dad leaned over to me, “I have ten bucks on my wife,” he said biting a cookie, his eyes not leaving the verbal sparring. It felt like we were at a tennis match, I picked up a cookie bit into it, nodding my head. “Mmm, these are good,” I stared at the cookie for a moment, “Keep your money, there’s no way Adam’s winning this one. All your wife has to do is bring the tears, and he’ll cave. He doesn’t mind arguing with his Mom, but upsetting her is whole other ball game.” “Yeah,” Mr. Price sighed, “she’s got that one down pat,” he picked up another cookie. “Ian!” Adam said firmly, his eyes bulging, a hand out suggestively like I should step in. I gave him a thumbs up, “You’re doing great, talk about the travel again,” he rolled his eyes. “Not helping,” he stated. Shrugging a shoulder, I picked up another cookie, “I wasn’t trying to, I’m being supportive.” Mr. Price snickered next to me, “Good one,” he whispered leaning toward me. “You don’t want to be paying out all of those fees. Riley can come here and get looked after even better because we love her,” Mrs. Price played the financial card. Good one, that’s new. Adam pointed at his Mom, “If we agree it will only be for now, eventually Riley will need more socialization. Day care places are also set up for early education, not to mention exposure which will build up her immune system. Also we would paying you all right, you aren’t doing it for nothing.” Oops. She clapped her hands together in victory, happily bringing them to her chest, “Great, so we are looking after Riley while you boys are at work. Fantastic…” her grin was blinding. She’d backed Adam into a corner, and she had won again, “Who wants some afternoon tea?” Mrs. Price started busying around the kitchen. Well played! Mr. Price and I sat where we were saying nothing, no matter what, it would only end badly for us. Pat started laughing from the couch in the living room. He’d been so quiet I forgot he was there. “Well done Dad,” Pat laughed even harder when Adam shot him the bird, “Nan, can you help me convince my Dads we should get a dog.” “No!” Adam and I answered at the same time, eyeing each other conspiratorially. “Sure, what kind of dog do you want?” Mrs. Price asked her grandson, she stood up from where she had crouched, returning with a tray in her hand resting it on the kitchen counter. “Uh… I don’t know, a rescue dog I suppose,” Pat sat up on his knees. His arms crossed, leaning on the back of the couch, so he was facing the kitchen, “An Australian Shepherd would be cool, or a boxer,” Pat chuckled, “yeah, a boxer would be awesome.” “Huh! Well, there you go,” Mrs. Price chuckled, “let me work on them for you sweet boy, just give me some time,” she winked at Pat, opening the refrigerator. Pat dropped back down in his seat to watch golf on the television, grinning like a loon. “See,” she whispered, putting down some cheese and vegetables, “Now you know what type of dog to get Paddy.” “You’re unbelievable,” Adam said while he shook his head, closing his eyes in defeat. Adam-0. Mom-2. <>-<>-<> “PADDY BREAKFAST!” I called out for the third time in frustration. “I’m coming Dad,” Pat sounded off as he came pounding down the stairs rolling his eyes dramatically at my nagging. Adam was already sitting at the table feeding Riley her breakfast. “Did you pop in and see how Stephen is doing this morning?” I asked Adam, putting fruit in my and Pat’s lunch boxes. He nodded his head, “Yeah,” Adam grinned, “he has been at the vet's for a while now, everything seems to be going well for him at the shelter. Derek told me he’s made a couple of friends there too, which is great. He’s also managed to complete summer school so they are letting him go back to school on a probationary status, which I know you already know.” “It’s good though, I’m glad he is catching a break. I honestly don’t know how much more the poor kid could take. He puts on a brave face,” I shook my head, “I really think one more thing might have broken him for good.” Paddy was hoeing into his cereal, “He’ll be fine, Stephen has all of us. Liam and Will are going to make sure no one gives him any crap, We have his back. “Good,” I nodded. “Babe, why don’t you leave Riley here with me?” Adam asked I snatched her up out of the high chair to change her diaper and clothes for the day. I shook my head. “No, we are going to Nan’s house,” I blessed Riley’s face with little butterfly kisses, “aren’t we Angel? We are going to let Daddy get some sleep otherwise he’ll be grouchy with us tonight, huh?” Riley let out a baby squeal of agreement, her arms flapping and hitting me, “Fine,” Adam said as he wandered toward the stairs, “I’m not a grouch, you’re overly sensitive.” That gained a snort laugh from me, “If you say so, don’t forget to put your grumpy pants on Mr. Grouchy,” Pat snickered, as I spoke to Riley again, “Maybe we should buy Daddy some happy pants what do you say? We’ll throw out all his grouchy ones. Then after the night shift, he’ll be a happy camper. Yes, he will,” I kissed Riley’s cheek, “I’m going to get your sister cleaned up and say goodbye to your Dad. Be ready to leave in ten minutes or your walking.” Pat huffed a laugh, “Sure Dad, you’ve never left me behind yet. My bag is already packed so I’m ready as soon as I finish this,” Pat’s eyes met mine filled with hope, “my permission slip for Driver’s Ed?” Scrunching up my face, I tilted my head, “What permission slip?” “Nothing, nevermind, it doesn’t matter,” Pat said dejectedly. “It’s on top of your lunch box, signed, and ready to drive.” Pat rolled his eyes, “You’re so cheesy sometimes.” “I’m a dad,” I shrugged, “comes with the territory. So does embarrassing your kid when he makes you late for work. I’ll be right back down.” “Thanks, Dad,” Pat smiled picking up his bowl walking toward the dishwasher. <>-<>-<> The first few weeks of the school year went by so quickly, I can’t believe it’s almost October, and Riley is already five months old. Pat had settled into his sophomore year nicely, business as usual. My classes were full of pretty keen and engaging students, which makes my job fun and enjoyable. Adam was doing well at work without any fallout from all the time he had taken off. His station Captain was pretty understanding as were the FBI. Unfortunately, Adam is still stuck with Agent Wilson as his FBI partner, but he tried to avoid dealing with him as much as possible. Yep, things are good. I do not ever remember being this happy. I arrived at school going straight to my classroom lab, as I put my briefcase on my bench Quinn Petrovelli, the new English teacher was knocking on my door. He is also Pat’s girlfriend’s older brother. “Come in Quinn,” I said with a warm smile, “How was everything going?” He shrugged, “Not too bad, it’s a bit hard to tell at this stage,” he chuckled. Pulling my lesson plans out of my briefcase I asked, “What can I help you with?” “Uh… Sha mentioned you were the one in charge of the Peer Anti-Bullying program, I was wondering if you’d mind if I helped out at all?” He asked me nervously. “Really?” I am a bit surprised usually new teachers don’t volunteer for things like this, “that would be fantastic; we’d love to have you. The first meeting is next Tuesday after school if that suits you come along.” “I’ll be here. Thanks, Mr. Wright,” I stared him down, “sorry Ian, thank you, Ian.” “No thank you, Quinn. I look forward to seeing you there. Come grab me for lunch if you can’t find anyone to chat with.” I told him. “Great, will do. I better go, thanks again,” Quinn left the room grinning. At lunch, Quinn came to my door, “I forgot my lunch did you want to go to the cafeteria?” “Uh… yeah sure, just give me two seconds.” I quickly checked my phone in case Adam had called or sent a text. Cool! Nothing. He must still be sleeping my grumpy night shift worker, I hope he is sleeping anyway. I turned my phone off, tossing it back into my briefcase setting it beside my desk. “Let’s go.” I ushered Quinn out of the classroom. We made our way to get some lunch and have a chat. It is lasagne day today, one of the decent meals they prepare. Quinn and I both chose the lasagne with a salad and some juice. He pointed out an empty table for us to sit, so we made our way over. “So how were your first few real classes?” I smirked. Quinn snorted, “Tough, teaching isn’t for the weak. I can tell you that much.” No Shit! I nodded as I shoveled lasagne into my mouth. Quinn had a puzzled look as he stared past me. “What’s up?” Quinn discretely pointed his chin in the direction of my shoulder, “Nothing, that kid kind of reminds me of Patrick.” Turning to look over my shoulder, my eyes scoped around the area, sure enough, there was a kid who could probably pass as Paddy’s younger brother. He was smaller in stature, similar features, hair color that kind of thing. He was with Lee and another kid, they were headed to Will and Liam’s table which is also where Pat sits. He could easily be related to Pat. If not his brother a cousin or something. I glanced at the table of our kids, oh good, Stephen is sitting with them. He looks happy, he is laughing along with the others. “Hmm, yeah I guess he does look similar to Pat.” I focused on my lunch, “So how much of a hard time are they actually giving you?” Quinn huffed a laugh, “Not too bad, I mean it could be worse right. So far it’s a bit of ‘how green is this teacher,’ but I’ve held a firm hand without going over the top.” “Good for you, if anything stay consistent, they’ll know how far they can push you. Things start to settle down after a few weeks.” I told him. He blew out a nervous breath, “Thanks for this Ian, I don’t feel so out of sorts, I guess you could say, it’s nice to have your support.” “Anytime,” I smiled warmly. “How are you finding it living back with you folks?” I smirked. “Oh god, you had to go there. I have to remedy that situation and quick,” He rolled his eyes. “I love my siblings don’t get me wrong, but that house is twenty four seven chaos.” “Can you get a place, something small for yourself?” “Probably, but I think I am still young enough to get away with having a roommate for now. At least for the company. I have a buddy that’s dying to get out from under his parents roof too, so I might ask him if he wants to get a place together.” “That’s smart, it will also cut down on living expenses. You’re right about company, I lived alone for a long time it can be hard on the soul at times,” I gave him encouraging smile, but I wasn’t lying about the last part. Living alone in solitude can be great, but eventually it just gets lonely. <>-<>-<> When I arrived at the Price’s I left the pram outside on their porch. I decided to walk around to pick up Riley. I thought the fresh air would do us good. As I entered their home, I could hear Adam and his Mom laughing. I popped my head around the corner from the hallway to see what was happening. Mr. Price was on the floor with Riley on a blanket, she was dressed in only a diaper, her clothes sitting next to Grandad ready to be dressed. “Hey,” I said quietly. “Babe, come watch this,” Adam waved me over, his face lighting up. As I approached him he pulled me to his front, wrapping his arms around me as we watched Riley with her Grandad. Adam’s chin resting on my shoulder. “Watch,” he whispered in my ear, then kissed my neck. Mr. Price was sitting on his knees in front of Riley, he covered his face with his hands, slowly making the descent leaning toward her. Then at the last minute he opened his hands when he was several inches from her face. “BOO!” he said. Riley kicked her legs and arms around, giving off a squeal followed by that cute laugh that babies do. “Oh my god, do it again.” I said insistently. Mr. Price performed for us a few more times, on the third or fourth attempt, Riley got so excited she managed to roll herself over, then the hiccups set in. God she is so cute. Us four adults all stood straight and jumped backward staring at her. “Whoa!” “What the…” “Holy…” “Aww, she so smart.” We all looked shocked, well except Adams mom she was a proud Nan. Even the expression on Riley’s face said, “Wow, how did I get here.” Once she got over the shock and had settled into the idea of her new little trick her face lit up with a smile. Riley was even proud of herself. “Time for our little gymnast to get dressed,” Mr. Price picked up Riley smelling her diaper as he lifted her up, “Dear god guys, what are you feeding her,” he laughed screwing up his face, he grabbed her clothes and toddled off to her room. “Did you walk around?” I said still chuckling at Mr. Price. “Yeah,” Adam hugged me giving me a kiss hello. “Great, me too. The pram is on the porch.” Adam looked down smiling at me, “Hmm, nice we can wander home and get some fresh air.”
  34. 48 points
    August 1800 HMS Valiant The Thames Granger boarded his ship, greeted by the standard honors he had become used to. “Welcome back, my lord,” Weston said cheerfully. Granger found his sadness at leaving home and his frustration with the mob vanish as he returned to this familiar milieu, and he was hit with Weston’s ever-present cheerfulness. “Thank you, Mr. Weston,” Granger responded. He looked beyond Weston and noticed another officer standing there, looking quite nervous. As he was wearing a lieutenant’s uniform, Granger gathered that this was his new second lieutenant, Edward Grenfell. It was impossible not to appreciate how handsome he was. He was about the same height as Granger, and as slim as Daventry, with a uniform cut in a very stylish way. His hair was a darker brown, almost as dark as Calvert’s, but without the reddish tints, and he had a long face with very engaging blue eyes. Without withering under Granger’s eye, the man stepped forward. “My lord, I’m Edward Grenfell. I’ve been appointed to Valiant.” “I was aware of your appointment, Mr. Grenfell, but I had expected you to arrive sooner,” Granger said severely. “I must beg your pardon for that, my lord. I arrived yesterday. I was up north, in Northumberland, and when my new orders caught up to me I made as much haste as possible,” the man said. He seemed truly contrite, so Granger relented. “As we are to sail shortly, your tales of your travels to Northumberland will have to wait for another time,” Granger said jovially, getting a smile from Grenfell. “I will be happy to entertain Your Lordship with tales of my journeys,” Grenfell said. Another man moved forward to introduce himself, but this man wasn’t nearly as attractive as Grenfell, and in fact he wasn’t attractive at all. He looked to be at least 50 years old, and was carrying about twice as much weight on his body as it had been designed to accommodate. His skin was leathery, and his face grizzled, giving him the look of an experienced mariner. “My lord, I’m Erasmus Schein,” he said, in an accent that seemed Germanic. “Welcome aboard Mr. Schein,” Granger said. “I am told that you know the Baltic like the back of your hand.” “I am not sure who told you that, my lord, but in that case, I don’t know the back of my hand all that well,” he said modestly, a characteristic Granger appreciated. “Well, in any event, you know it better than I do,” Granger said. “Welcome aboard.” “Thank you, my lord,” Schein said. “My lord, I’ve familiarized Mr. Grenfell and Mr. Schein with the ship, and they’ve both settled into the Wardroom,” Weston said. “I am glad to hear your good manners have not deserted you, Mr. Weston,” Granger said pleasantly. “As the tide will change in an hour, we will be sailing when that happens, provided our passengers manage to make it on board by then.” “You have but to give the order, my lord,” Weston said, which was as it should be. “Then I will leave you to make final preparations, while I go and see how well Winkler has organized my cabin,” Granger said. He walked directly aft, through the door that sealed off his world from the quarterdeck, and found his quarters set up much as they’d been when he’d originally sailed with Lord and Lady Elgin. On either side of the deck, two compartments had been created, while at the rear, the entire cabin was open, containing his huge dining table and hutch. “We’ve got things set up, my lord,” Winkler said, looking mildly exasperated. “I’ve set your cabin up here on the same side as Lord Frederick Cavendish, while I’ve put Lords Daventry and Whitworth on the opposite side.” “That’s excellent, Winkler,” Granger said. He walked into his sleeping cabin and noticed that there was a door there, the same one that was normally there when this other compartment served as his office. That made him smile, and fueled his libido, as he thought of Cavendish on just the other side of that door. He knocked, and when he heard Cavendish say “enter”, he did. “From the commotion, I figured you’d come aboard,” Cavendish said in a decidedly unfriendly way. “I have,” Granger said, somewhat surprised by his attitude. “Have you gotten orders to release me yet?” Cavendish asked. “I have not, and as we are to sail shortly, it seems you are to be stuck with us,” Granger said. “Quite frankly, I would have thought you would be happy to be sailing with us.” “This is no longer my life,” Cavendish said, referring to the world of the Navy. “You were not happy with your life ashore, yet when you were aboard one of His Majesty’s ships, I remember that your moods were much better. Perhaps you are exactly where you belong, you are just too short-sighted to see it,” Granger said, his tone progressing from factual to almost nasty. “I will leave you to mull it over.” He left Cavendish’s cabin, pausing briefly in his own to get his visage back to its previously cheerful demeanor. He really thought Cavendish would be happier about leaving London for a bit, and he really thought Cavendish would be happy to spend time with him at sea. As Granger saw it, he had saved Cavendish’s life and whisked him off to safety, risking some relatively nasty political repercussions for his efforts, and he’d done this even though Cavendish had avoided him as if he had the plague. He shook off his annoyance and puzzlement over Cavendish and went back on deck to see to their departure. No sooner had he arrived on the quarterdeck than Lord Whitworth pulled himself through the entry port. “Welcome aboard,” Granger said cheerfully, even as he went forward to greet him. “Thank you, Granger,” Whitworth said. “This is a damned convenient set up,” he said, referring to the gangway. “Indeed it is, and we have His Majesty to thank for it,” Granger said, remembering the party they’d thrown to host their sovereign. “Then once again, I am grateful for the favors he has done for me,” Whitworth said. He looked at the trunks that were being hauled aboard. “I fear I have brought a good deal of baggage with me Granger.” “We will find a place for it,” Granger said with a smile. “This ship’s design and modifications make storing things much easier.” “Indeed?” Whitworth asked curiously. “We have fitted iron water tanks into the ship, tanks that are designed to match her curved hull. Not only do they allow us to store our water in a much more efficient and compact way, they create a flat floor on which to stack things,” Granger said. “That has allowed us to dispense with iron shingles for ballast and stowage, and those two things have given Valiant much more space for stores.” “It appears I have indeed picked the right ship to take me to Copenhagen,” he said with a smile. “I hope that is true,” Granger said pleasantly. He looked at his watch and noticed that it was almost time for their departure, then looked up to see Daventry climbing through the entry port, followed by his two aides. “Welcome aboard,” Granger said. “I am glad to be here,” Daventry said then paused to greet Whitworth. “It is good to see you gentlemen again,” Granger said to Boles and McGillivray, Daventry’s assistants. “As it is to see you, my lord,” Boles replied for both of them. “While they are stowing your baggage, allow me to show you to your quarters,” Granger said to Daventry and Whitworth. He led them into Valiant’s great cabin, which was all-too-familiar to Daventry, and explained their sleeping and dining arrangements. “It was my intention for us to dine together this afternoon, and then we can sup with my officers and explain our mission.” “That would seem to be a reasonable plan,” Whitworth agreed. “Then while you gentlemen settle in, I will see to getting us underway,” Granger noted. “I will retire to my spacious cabin and luxuriate in the room you have provided me,” Daventry said with a grin. Granger strolled out onto the deck to find that Weston had things well in hand, and that he’d brought all the gear aboard. Stowing it would take a bit longer. Granger was impressed yet again by Weston, and what a competent officer he was. “We will sail immediately,” Granger announced. “I will give you the honor of conning us out of port,” he said to Weston. “Thank you, my lord,” Weston said, and was slightly stunned. Granger was placing quite a bit of confidence in his first lieutenant, and it was nice that Weston understood that. “Do try to keep us from running aground,” Granger teased. “Major Treadway, some music for our lads to work to!” “Aye aye, my lord,” Treadway said. He’d anticipated Granger’s order, and had his band assembled on the poop deck, so he had but to give the order for them to begin serenading Valiant’s crew and those ashore who paused to listen. Granger strode over to the side of the ship and gazed off at the city and the Tower of London, even as Valiant cast off her lines and was warped out into the channel. He acted disinterested as Weston conned the large ship slowly down the Thames, even though he was mentally noting every maneuver. Whitworth and Daventry kept him company, chatting about nothing of substance, as Valiant made her way down the Thames. Cavendish still hadn’t made an appearance; he’d remained sequestered in his cabin all by himself. It wasn’t until they reached the Nore that Granger was able to tear himself away to go dine with his esteemed guests. “That was well done, Mr. Weston,” Granger said, his voice emphasizing the praise in his words. “Thank you, my lord,” Weston said, grinning. “After we are off Margate, set a course east north-east,” Granger ordered. “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston responded. “Now that we are on our way, gentlemen, perhaps you would care to join me for dinner,” Granger said to Whitworth and Daventry. “With pleasure,” Whitworth answered for all of them. They went into the great cabin and found the dining room table set, and found Cavendish already waiting for them. “Cavendish!” Daventry said enthusiastically. “The last I heard, you were tempting bullets in duels.” “I seem to be a hard man to kill,” Cavendish said, trying to be upbeat. “A foolish man tempts fate too often,” Whitworth said in a scolding way. “As I recall, your duel precluded a very important meeting, one that we must now revisit.” “I did not ask for the intervention that interrupted your meeting, so I surely cannot be held accountable for that,” Cavendish said boldly, unwilling to be browbeaten by this distinguished diplomat. “Sometimes there is a silver lining to an evil event, and I think that in this case, we are fortunate that this whole affair has ended up with Cavendish on board, joining us for this mission,” Granger said, sticking up for Cavendish, even though he was annoyed with him. “That is your silver lining?” Whitworth challenged. “It is,” Granger said firmly. “I remember a few years back, after we had all but destroyed the Leopard off Imperia, I was so full of our success I hadn’t seen the obvious, that the French were trying to keep us engaged so they could bring superior forces to bear. Cavendish was the only one to keep a clear head, and but for him, I would probably still be languishing in a French jail somewhere.” “And His Most Catholic Majesty would be significantly richer,” Daventry joked, thinking that if Granger had been locked in a French jail he wouldn’t have captured the Galleon, or intercepted the Spanish Treasure Fleet. “Possibly,” Granger said, chuckling with him. “So I am happy to have such a cool and clear head to assist us, lest we let our own self-importance cloud our judgment.” His obvious jab at Whitworth infuriated the man, but Granger was following Cavendish’s lead, and standing up to him, suspecting that if he did not do so now, he would have a much more difficult time of things later on in their mission. “Thank you for your kind words,” Cavendish said to Granger in a friendly way, the first such interaction they’d had in months. “I am even more thankful that you have retained the services of Lefavre.” “Hear hear,” Daventry said. “Your chef is truly exceptional.” “I must agree,” Whitworth said, and in the way that often happened, Lefavre’s excellent cooking helped these four men work themselves into good cheer. After dinner Granger went back on deck to see to their progress, and stayed there until it was time for supper. It was strange to Granger that Cavendish was still sequestered below in his cabin, especially since the weather was so pleasant. He began to pace, even as he thought about the situation with Cavendish. He tried to figure the man out, and tried to decipher why he was so unhappy to be here. He had seemed miserable in England, and his letters had been all but despondent, yet now that he was gone, he was evidently more unhappy. He would trade potential death in a duel to be there? What would make him so determined to remain at home? Granger thought about Caroline’s revelation to him, about how politics was like a drug for her, but he didn’t think Cavendish was as engaged in that world as she was. It was also possible that he was worried about the King and his moods, and wanted to stay and support him. That motive had some merit, but Cavendish would be significantly wounded in the eyes of the King over this duel, so that alone would indicate that he wasn’t acting only to help his sovereign. “My lord, supper is ready,” Winkler said, interrupting Granger in the midst of his walk. Granger blinked once in surprise at being jarred out of his thoughts, then put his façade back on. “Quite so,” he said crisply. He returned to his cabin to await the arrival of his officers. They filed in at the prescribed time, and sat at the table, where Granger had put place cards to avoid the standard process where everyone sat in order of seniority and rank. He’d put his Sicilian midshipman, Prince Genarro, next to Whitworth, which had the effect of taming the arrogance of that sometimes haughty diplomat. “I fear that if we eat this well on the entire voyage, I will grow too fat for my breeches,” Whitworth said. “I will convey your compliments to my chef,” Granger said graciously. “Yet having a good chef is only part of the equation, Granger,” Daventry said with a smile. “The other part of that is having a charming host. In that regard, you would make the King’s fare seem pleasant.” “Hear hear!” said several of the men. “I fear you give me too much credit,” Granger said uncomfortably, “and I would worry that by taking away from his results, you would irritate my chef.” That got predictable laughs from most of them, since they were very aware of Lefavre’s temperament. “I usually host these events after sailing to inform you of our orders, and this occasion is no exception.” “I have deduced, based on our course, my lord, that we are not destined for India,” Weston said. His cheerful manner was such a tonic. “We are not,” Granger said, “and I applaud your ability to read maps.” That got a predictable laugh. “Thank you, my lord,” Weston said. “We are destined for the Baltic,” Granger said. “We are first tasked to deposit Lord Whitworth at Copenhagen.” “You make me sound like so much unwanted cargo,” Whitworth grumbled, pretending to be annoyed. “Your lordship is certainly not unwanted, but you have a bit of cargo with you,” Granger said, joking about Whitworth’s baggage. “As I am not sure how long I will be there, it seemed wise to arrive well equipped,” Whitworth said. “A prudent precaution and one we would expect from your lordship,” Granger said to Whitworth, making the man smile slightly. “After that, we are to convey Lord Daventry to St. Petersburg.” “Russia, sir?” Kingsdale asked, somewhat surprised. “Unless the Swedes or Germans have captured it, St. Petersburg is still part of Russia,” Granger said with a smile. “So we are to be nothing more than a glorified transport, my lord?” Weston asked. “And now I am feeling like cargo,” Daventry joked. Granger waited until the laughter died down. “Perhaps that is a more appropriate term to describe you than Lord Whitworth,” Granger joked, getting more laughter. “In fact, our mission may be quite hazardous.” “Sir?” Genarro asked, and then looked nervous for saying anything at this gathering. Granger gave him a supportive smile to let him know he was doing fine. “The Swedes, Danes, Russians, and many of the Northern German states have reconstituted their League of Armed Neutrality,” Granger informed them. “That means that we must consider any ship we encounter as probably hostile.” “How will we know which ships are hostile and which are not, my lord?” Weston asked. “You will have to approach them under a flag of truce,” Whitworth said, answering the question for Granger. “If they agree to parley, they will parley. If they do not, you will have to fight them.” “The fleets of those countries are quite significant, are they not, my lord?” Grenfell asked. “Indeed they are, so we must hope we can accomplish our goals without getting blown out of the water,” Granger joked. “When you are in Russia, especially if you have been admitted to a port, you will be safe,” Whitworth said. “At sea, it will be largely up to the admiral in charge as to how he handles you. Individual captains will be reluctant to risk a battle that could result in their being sanctioned.” “I can see why your lordship said this may be hazardous, my lord,” Treadway said. “Mr. Schein is here to help guide us through the navigational perils we face, and I suspect those will be more dangerous than enemy ships,” Granger said. “Sadly, my lord, you are correct,” Schein said. “The Baltic is a sea full of shoals, shallows, and sandbars, and it is made even more challenging by the fact that the sandbars shift around a bit.” “So a sandbar that was in one position last year, may now have moved into a different position this year?” Granger asked, unable to hide how much that worried him. “I think the shifts are not that dramatic, but over a period of years they most definitely change, my lord,” Schein said. “That makes charts that are more than a few years old somewhat unreliable.” “Then I am even more glad you are with us,” Granger said, then turned to Grenfell. “I am wondering, since all of your relatives and connections were mercilessly assaulting the Admiralty begging them to appoint you to a ship, why you were gallivanting about in Northumberland?” “Despite their efforts, I had feared my reputation with the Admiralty was so low that there was no hope for an immediate appointment, my lord,” Grenfells said. “You are woefully uninformed as to the Admiralty’s true opinion of you, Lieutenant,” Cavendish said, the first contribution he’d made to the conversation. “Indeed, my lord?” Grenfell asked. “I feared after my problems aboard Sceptre, my stock with Their Lordships had sunk to new lows.” “The Admiralty thinks that you are a talented and innovative officer,” Granger said. “You were posted to this ship because I am more tolerant of such progressive ideas.” That got a laugh from the table, since it was only too true. “His Lordship’s observation is quite accurate,” Cavendish said. Granger found that annoying, as if he required support in his arguments. As the captain of Valiant, he was the de facto autocratic ruler of this ship and her men. His word should be the definitive statement on a topic. “I would further note that your report on carronades, and how their aim is off, was taken quite seriously by Their Lordships.” “What did you discover about carronades?” Granger asked. “My lord, I did some testing, and found that the way carronades are aimed, they invariably fire low,” Grenfell said. “Indeed?” Granger asked curiously. “Now that you mention it, I remember when we last fired the smasher, our shot seemed to veer down,” Treadway mused. “So what is the solution to this problem?” Granger asked. “I developed a gun sight for the carronades aboard Sceptre, my lord,” Grenfell said. “The captain would not allow me to deploy them, but he did allow a limited test.” “Did they work?” Granger asked curiously. “They did. Since I’ve been ashore, I’ve done some more testing, my lord,” Grenfell said. “In fact, that’s why I was in Northumberland. There was a facility I could use. The sights worked well, but I was able to modify them to make them more accurate.” “Could you fit sights to our carronades?” “I could, my lord, if you would allow me to work with the gunner,” Grenfell said, smiling happily. “Then I would like you to do that, and then we can test them ourselves,” Granger said. “Experimenting with new-fangled technology is surely best left to those ashore or safely in port?” Whitworth asked. “On the contrary, at sea, when we are in action, that is when we need to have an edge the most,” Granger said. “And those are the times when we are best able to evaluate the performance of such a device.” “What happens if such an idea is dangerous and causes the loss of one of His Majesty’s ships and crews?” Whitworth challenged. “That is why the Admiralty gives some captains and admirals more discretion on this issue than others,” Cavendish said. “And that is one of the reasons why Lieutenant Grenfell serves on this ship and not a ship captained by an unimaginative man who will not open his mind to new ideas.” “Thank you, my lord,” Grenfell said, mostly to keep Whitworth from really lashing out at Cavendish. “As it is, we have been fortunate in that our experiments have been universally positive,” Granger said soothingly. “In this situation, we really do not have much to lose. If the sights do not work as planned, we can easily disregard them or remove them.” “How long will it take us to get to Copenhagen?” Whitworth asked, as if he were so annoyed he could not wait to land. “That will largely depend on the wind,” Granger said. Conversation became general and pleasant after that, but Granger was quite happy to see them go back to their cabins or their duties. He avoided further conversation with Whitworth by going on deck to inspect Valiant’s progress. He had been on deck for less than a minute when his mood began to change. It was a beautiful night, with balmy weather the likes of which one would expect to find in the Caribbean. The sky was clear, and the moon and stars were so bright it was almost like Granger could reach up and touch them. The calm seas lapped against Valiant’s sides as she made steady progress through the water, progress that was slow because the winds were so light. Yet it was those same light winds that made it so pleasant. “I had forgotten how pleasant a night at sea could be,” Cavendish said, as he came up and stood next to Granger. “Such beauty is deceptive, as a storm could be brewing just over the horizon,” Granger said with a smile. “I remember that weather as well,” Cavendish said with a grimace. “I sometimes long for this, for a ship of my own, to be able to be free of London and its entanglements.” “I find myself the most conflicted when I am getting ready for sea and when I am returning home,” Granger said. “Those are the times when the choices I make by leading this life come fully into play.” “I found coming home from a voyage to be the most disconcerting,” Cavendish admitted. “Why?” “It is as if you went to see a play with four acts, and you saw the first act, but missed the second act, and then you return while the third act is in progress,” he said. “And then, when the fourth act starts, you are expected to be a full participant, when you are still trying to decipher what you missed.” “I feel the same way, but I have never heard it put into such a comprehensible way,” Granger said. They walked over to the rail and gazed off toward the coast. “If I am not mistaken, that is Suffolk.” “It is ironic that your father owns so much land in Derbyshire, yet his dukedom is in Suffolk, where to my knowledge, he has limited holdings,” Cavendish joked. “And your father draws his title from a rock in the South Seas, and I would daresay he spends little time there,” Granger joked, getting a chuckle from Cavendish, one that ended abruptly. “He refuses to so much as talk to me,” Cavendish said sadly. “He is incensed that I have defied him by refusing to marry Miss Barnett.” “I was quite stunned by that news, that His Grace would wish to tie his family to a member of the Guild,” Granger said, letting his irritation show through. “It would appear that he places little value on my skills, and my person,” Cavendish said bitterly. “He is usually a very shrewd man, so it is strange to see him make such a huge error in judgment,” Granger said, smiling at Cavendish slightly to try to nudge him out of his bad mood. “If only he would see that he has made such an error,” Cavendish said morosely. “If His Majesty were his normal self, he could probably have helped smooth things over.” “He is not well?” Granger asked nervously. “The government and the gentlemen who surround the King would have everyone believe he is just fine, but he is showing signs of his sickness,” Cavendish said. “When I approached him on this topic, he suggested I confer with Lord Hertford.” “Lord Hertford?” Granger asked, surprised. The current Marquess of Hertford was a politician and a nice enough man, but Granger did not see why Cavendish should seek him out for advice. “He was referring to Lord Hertford’s father, who died in 1794, and was at one time the Lord Chamberlain,” Cavendish said. “That was under Lord North’s government, wasn’t it?” Granger asked. “It was.” “When I last saw him, he became agitated and asked me to send for Lord North,” Granger said. “It would seem that his mind has warped back some twenty years or so.” “Yet we are not back in the 1780s, so that makes things just a bit difficult,” Cavendish said cynically. “His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was less helpful.” “He did not step in and try to improve things with you and your father?” Granger asked, truly surprised. The Prince was known to be lazy and self-absorbed, but Granger had always thought, or perhaps hoped, that he’d step up and do better when it was his turn to wear the Crown. “He did not,” Cavendish said. “He told me he would, told me not to worry, and promised that he would speak to my father, but then he did nothing.” “Where does that leave you?” Granger asked. “I have been scrambling to try and figure out what I am to do, and where I am to live,” Cavendish said. “I got a letter from my father’s agent, informing me that I will no longer be receiving my allowance. That was substantially larger than my income from the Crown, so that has meant I must relinquish my rooms in the City and it means I will have to endeavor to still look spruce, even with worn clothes.” “You are always welcome in my home,” Granger asserted. “Why didn’t you go there?” “With all the drama we had, and the scandalous rumors that were flying around, I could not risk my reputation, or yours, or Caroline’s,” he said. He was referring to the nightmare where Caroline had seduced him and Treadway in the baths. “I would suspect that rumor has largely died off,” Granger said. He had encountered no evidence of it when he was home. “That is true, but if I move into your townhouse, and when you are gone I am there alone with Caroline, the wags will begin talking again. It will not require any facts, merely innuendo,” he said. Granger could readily see how that would happen. “Then I will help you lease suitable rooms,” Granger promised. “George, I cannot rely on your charity,” he said. “John Ward has allowed me to stay with him.” Those words flew through Granger’s psyche with the same force as if he’d been hit by lightning. So that’s why Cavendish didn’t want to leave England. He didn’t want to leave Ward. “That was very nice of him, to take you in when you had nowhere to go,” Granger said stoically. Before Cavendish could respond, Granger called to Grenfell, the officer of the watch. “Mr. Grenfell, can you explain why the foretopsail is so slack?” He used that comment to walk over to where Grenfell was standing. “I’ll attend to it immediately, my lord,” Grenfell said, horrified at being found wanting in his duties, even though the foretopsail hadn’t been so slack as to warrant a public censure. Granger waited until the sail was drawing as it should be, then went to his cabin, ignoring Cavendish who was still standing on the deck, where he could torture himself in solitude.
  35. 47 points
    Dean and Kao were more than ready to get out of the car by the time they pulled up to the house. It was everything they had heard about and more. It screamed 'country home' with every aspect. The decor, the picket fence, the smell of fresh bread just come out of the oven, big and burly lumberjack chopping wood in the back. Kao was grinning. "What's so funny, Kao?" asked Dean. "You're used to giants." Kao watched as Jessup Whitebear stopped his chopping and looked over with a raised hand. Brigit Whitebear came out drying her hands on a towel and the biggest smile lit her lovely face. "Well, well. Looks like a couple of lovebirds have come to roost for a bit. Dean, Kao, welcome to the Lone Wolf." She came over and gave them big hugs...only made bigger because she stood even taller than Dean. "What brings you this way?" She was already ushering them into the Wolf and into the kitchen where she dished up a few slices of cherry pie. "We're on our way to Montana and our official place in the pack, but had to make a bit of a detour and come see you and the place a mountain was born." Kao could not deny the look of loving pride Brigit had in her eyes. He knew both parents were so proud of their son who was not only mated, but a prominent Hunter for Homestead. "Also to bring tidings. Tiffany sends her love." "You stopped off in Salt Lake?" Her face lost some of the smile. "Have they found their lost ones yet?" "Not yet, but SLCP and Homestead are now allied to locate them and several others." Dean had no qualms about stuffing his face with the pie. It was, by far, the best cherry pie he had ever tasted. "With Colton on the trail, they'll be found one way or another. Which means your not-so-little mountain will be going along." "Then they'll be found. Only better pair are Quint and Dylan. So, how long are you boys staying?" "The night, maybe two. We have some wiggle room since we left with two days of free time." Kao was savoring the bites of pie since homemade was not a normal word for him. "Good. Been too quiet around here lately. After you've rested a bit, Dean, Jess could use a hand raising a few beams for a small addition. We're building a sauna out back." "No problem, Brigit." They both knew that the Lone Wolf never charged their guests money. All they asked for was a bit of help around the place. Kitchen dishes, wood chopped, maybe run for groceries. Anything that helped out around the Wolf or the small town near it. After a drink of water and some small talk, Dean went out back with Jessup and Kao stayed with Brig. "I see you two completed the mating," she said with a smile. "Yeah. With everything finally settled enough, we...or rather he, decided we were ready. This is kind of our mating-honeymoon trip." "Then you and I are going to make a big dinner to celebrate. And thank you for stopping in and sharing it with us." She gave a big mama bear hug to the lad, and they got to work on the meal. It would be one after which their mates would have to roll out of the room having eaten so much. "So, tell me everything you can about yourself. Then I can give you all the dirt on Zeke as I know he's going to tease you." Kao laughed. "I knew I was going to like you a lot." He proceeded to tell her about him. He covered the main things everyone would be privy to, his birth and training to be a Mediator, his schooling. Mostly, he talked of the stresses of growing up how he had. She listened while he told her far more than even Dean probably knew. Things only a mother could be told. How he hated his brother, how his brother would push him around, often physically. Kao spoke of how much he missed his mother, but of how Phuong had been there as sister and mother. He wiped away a tear but a smile was on his face. "She really is amazing. It's no wonder it falls to her to be the next Wind Master. Kai would've been a very poor choice. I would never have been able to keep the flock together. I'm too nice, too submissive. Phuong...she's strong in both mind and soul. She will lead the Flock into a more current era while honoring the past." Brig only nodded. "I can't wait to meet her." With a gentle one-armed hug, careful to keep her dough covered hand off him, Brigit pulled him closer. "I believe you wouldn't have done so bad. You may not have the strength of presence your father has or the depth of feeling of your mother, but you are Kao. To try to be them is only going to destroy the you that you are meant to be. To learn from them, and to strive to be the best person you can, is how you choose to live. I can see it in you, Alpha Davenport sees it, and I know that hunky shirtless man out there sees it." They both looked at their shirtless men. A more stunning pair would be difficult to find. "You, Kao, will be a good Beta for Homestead, and an even better mate for Dean." She tightened her hug a bit. "And if you ever need some mothering, you know where I am. From here on out, you are one of my boys as much as Quint and Zeke." "Yes, ma'am," said Kao with a sniffle. "Now...Zeke." After that, it was all gossip and embarrassing stories about her strapping son. His first word, which was "pizza", his first love, which was his childhood sweetheart Ian who used to ride on his back during full moon nights. "That still surprises me. Humans who know about Lycans." "It works out surprisingly well. Why, there is a she-wolf married to her human man two doors down. Never turned him, never felt the lack, and they have four children. Three boy pups and a beautiful little girl." The way she said it told Kao the girl was human. She chuckled. "The boys, triplets, miss Zeke an awful lot. He was a big brother to them. They're fourteen now, just had their first changes, and they worry too much about their strength when playing football with their dad." "I bet. Do they limit themselves in sports?" "All three love football and soccer, but they're all on the swim team. No big advantage to being a Lycan in that sport save for maybe endurance. They have their fun." Dean and Jessup were putting up the 'few' beams for the new sauna. Chat flowed easily between them. "That's a fine young man you have there," Jessup said. "Yes, he is," said Dean with a bit of a blush. "Still find it amazing to be with a man, being a straight man?" "You have no idea," chortled Dean. "Oh, I do. Save for Brig, I'm not a ladies man." "So it runs in the family." Dean was truly surprised. Jessup, big, burly, mountain man, lumberjack of a man was gay. "It does. My uncle is, I am, my son, my other uncle's girl. All the firstborns in my family swing both ways or play for the same team." Dean nodded. It was something to prove it had a genetic component. "Means nothing when you smell your mate though," he said with surety. Jessup chuckled. "Shocked all the family, me especially. A lot of bad feelings when I had to break up with my boy...for his cousin." Jessup's face was tinged pink. Dean couldn't help but laugh. That was a bad way to break up. "Is he okay with it now?" "Mostly. He's married to a lawyer down in Texas. Good man, better for him than I ever could be. He still calls me whenever he has issues. I guess I'm still That Friend." His tone was mixed, as was his scent. He still loved him as a friend, but there were probably some subjects he didn't want to know about. "That's tough. I'm just glad my lady love took it well. She and Kao are going to be good friends, which makes it easier for me." Jessup's grunt was eloquent. "I still love her, but it's not meant to be. So, does Zeke know about you?" "When he came out, I told him I knew he would be and why. Point of advice: if you ever have a gay son or lesbian daughter, never take them to 'check out' the area's scene." Dean died laughing, almost dropping the hammer on his foot. He could just imagine chatty Zeke pointing out the hot guys, commenting on their butts or other body parts, dissecting their attributes, and Jessup hanging his head in shame and embarrassment. Dinner was being brought to the table while Dean and Jessup took their showers. The heavenly aromas filled the house, and when the men, dressed in simple clothes, walked into the dining room to see a gourmet meal, their jaws dropped. The side table was covered in food. The center of the table had a scrumptious arrangement of Vietnamese foods from bamboo shoots and a chicken stew to spring rolls and moc, which was a meatball dish. Also, a chicken pho was served beside a dish Dean had never seen but wanted to try lots of. There was also a delicious mix of comfort foods. Shepard's Pie, meatloaf, and so many desserts the two men would be sick...and loving it. When they entered, both Kao and Brig gave a small bow. "Dinner is served, my mate," said Kao with such love in his eyes. "Have a seat, my heart," said Brig whose smile was warm and inviting. After sitting, Dean just looked at it. "Okay...I'm going out on a limb here. This wouldn't be a mating feast for us, would it? In a semi-traditional Vietnamese style?" He looked at Kao who nodded. "The two of you should open a restaurant. All this in three hours?" "When Kao told me you were newly mated, and I realized you hadn't really had a ceremony for it, I wanted to celebrate," Brigit said, with a firm nod from Jess. "Tuck in...before Jess eats it all." Dish after dish was served together. Sweet and savory. All of it lovingly made by Kao and Brigit. After only a few bites, Jessup paid Kao one of the highest compliments. "Brig, my dearest...get his recipes." Kao flushed at the praise. He could cook, mostly to the tastes of his heritage, but few had ever asked to get the recipes. In fact, Jessup was the first. "You like it that much? I know Dean does, he hasn't stopped shoveling." Kao's snarky comment tried to hide his obvious pleasure. "Kao, Jessup has only asked for one other cook's recipes, and that was my mother's trout bake. He's the pickiest eater I have met." The large man nodded in agreement. "Oh, he'll eat it, but if he gets seconds, he likes it." She beamed a smile at her mate. She had cooked a lot of his favorites just in case he hadn't liked it. Since he finished what the others hadn't eaten, it was safe to say Jessup loved it. * * * The days at the Wolf were wonderful for them. Simple work, simple living, wonderful family times. Kao had taken to calling their hostess "Mama Brig" which delighted her to no end. Dean let himself be adopted as an honorary brother to Jessup since he was only a handful of years younger than both and would not be a son. The triplets had come over to be introduced. "When you see Big Bro, tell him to come back. We need someone we can tackle and not worry about killing." Dean nodded. "Why not play with Jess?" "We want to have a chance of winning. We just bounce off him if we try to tackle him." "Try the tic-tackle." When they looked clueless, Dean demonstrated. He launched himself at Jessup who placed one foot back to brace himself. Dean was no gangly teen. When Dean impacted, he began tickling Jessup whose face lit up in shock and he began to squirm as Dean bore him to the ground. "Flag on the play!" Jessup called out and tried to catch Dean's faster hands. He couldn't, so he just tossed Dean bodily fifteen feet away. Dean landed on his feet as if touching down after a flight. The triplets took his place, much to Jessup's torture and Brig's delight. Kao leaned into her asking, "Ever miss not having more?" She smiled, and looked down at her midsection, and then looked at Kao. "No..." She nodded. He gave her a big hug and whispered, "Have you told him yet?" With the roaring laughter and noise from the playing, no one could hear the two talking. "I wasn't sure until yesterday. I'm hoping for a girl this time." Her small smile said she would love either, but she wanted a daughter. Kao hugged her again. After tearful farewells, they were back on the road to Montana. Pat had sent the address and it took another full day of driving, but they got to the camp as the sun was setting. The entire pack, or at least those who could make it on such short notice, was lining the country road leading to the camp with Jon, Pat, and Dylan standing there with the biggest grins on their faces. Alan and Travis stood to one side with Heather, Dylan's fiancee. Dean had been told there would be a small ceremony as Travis stepped down as Acting Beta and they took up the mantle. It started as soon as they got out of the car and halted in front of Mr. Andrews. "Travis Andrews, Acting Beta for the Homestead Pack, you are hereby relieved of your duties as Beta. Homestead thanks you for your years of service and guidance as you move on to take your place among the Council of Lycans for the northern packs of the USA." Dean had to say it, for whatever reason. Kao didn't tell him why. "It has been an honor and privilege to serve, Beta Whitmore-Saechao. You are to carry on in my place alongside your mate. To guide and advise the Alpha, to lead the pack in his stead, and to mediate disputes between members of this and other packs should you be called upon. Do you, Kao Whitmore-Saechao, and you, Dean Whitmore-Saechao, take up this mantle of authority?" "We do," they said together. Travis turned to Jon with the biggest smile on his face and a tear in his eye. "Alpha, I stand down as your Beta in the full knowledge that these two men will serve you as well or better than I. Do you accept my resignation and their promotion?" "I do accept." Jon's part was easy. At least his words. He pulled Travis into a fierce embrace. "We will all miss you, Travis. You will always have a home with us. Now go give those stuffy council asshats a good shakeup." Travis laughed and stepped back. Jon stepped forward. "Homestead pack, your Betas have come home to roost." A collective cheer went up as the mates were embraced and welcomed. Home to roost, indeed.
  36. 47 points
    Family Struggles Looking Out for You: The family finally arrived home from the hospital, after parking in their driveway, the chatter in the rear seat silenced as the children’s eyes focused on the house. Lincoln was practically bouncing in the seat, “Wow, whose house is this?” Kyle chuckled, “It’s all of ours, do you wanna go inside or would you rather stare at it from here?” Arabella snickered. “Get out of the car,” Levi elbowed Lincoln causing him to yelp. Blu took off his seat belt, turning to look at the boys in the back, “Knock it off the pair of you, come meet the dog,” Blu chuckled light heartedly. Lincoln hopped out of the car standing on the edge of the driveway almost in the yard. When Levi jumped out of the car he shoved Lincoln out of his way sending Lincoln flying into the yard, “Get out of the way wuss,” Levi shouted walking towards the house. “Jerk,” Lincoln mumbled as he got up brushing at the grass stains on his pants. “What did you say?” Levi asked as he got in Lincoln’s face. “Nothin’. Leave me alone,” Lincoln muttered. Kyle looked at his sons, “That’s enough Levi,” walking over placing a hand on the boy's shoulders. Levi yanked away walking to the front porch as Kyle led Lincoln to the house. Kyle unlocked the front door opening it, Khan shot out the door sending Levi stumbling backward grumbling as he watched Khan and his brother. Khan sloppily kissed Lincoln causing him to giggle as he wiped the slop from his face. “Who are you?” Lincoln asked as he scratched Khan’s head affectionately. Levi pushed past Lincoln going inside the house not waiting for any answers. Kyle knelt down giving his puppy some love, “This is Khan. He’s just a big baby. Aren’t you buddy?” he said rubbing Khan’s back. “Ok, Lincoln lets go see where your brother took off to,” Kyle said as they all went inside the house. As soon as they stepped inside the door Levi shoes were kicked off in middle of the foyer floor, without him anywhere to be seen. “LEVI!” Arabella called out as she took her shoes off placing them to the side, “Come and move your shoes.” “Later,” Levi shouted out. Arabella turned to Blu and Kyle, “I’m really sorry,” she bent over to pick up Levi’s shoes. Blu made her put them back where they had been tossed, “Arabella, it’s not your job to pick up after your brothers. You aren’t a guest here, you are living here. Let us,” Blu indicated to him and Kyle, “handle the boys. You need to concentrate on being fourteen and a sister. That’s what they need from you. ” Arabella looked away for a moment when she turned back to her guardians her eyes were shining with unshed tears. Blu put his arm around her shoulders pulling her into a quick hug, whispering, “Everything is going to be okay.” Kyle looked at how upset Arabella was giving her a sad smile, “Lincoln take your shoes off and go in the living room,” Kyle motioned. “I’m going to go find Levi and deal with him,” Lincoln toed his shoes off placing them by the door and followed Blu and Arabella into the living room. “I’ll be back Babe,” Kyle smiled as he walked toward the kitchen. Blu sat on the couch while Lincoln and Arabella stood looking around the room, “Sit down get comfy on the couch, or look around the room at the photos and knick-knacks if you want. We want you to feel at home here.” Lincoln went to the opposite end of the couch sitting down staring warily at Blu, “Hey Mister, what we supposed to call you?” Blu threw his head back laughing, “At school, you call me Mr. Waters, but at home, you can call me whatever you want, my first name is Blu, you can call me that if you like. Whatever you are comfortable with Lincoln.” Lincoln scrunched his nose up looking at Blu, “Like the color blue?” “Sort of, it’s spelled B-L-U,” he shrugged his shoulders, “my parents were kind of hippyish. I had a sister named Rain.” “Where’d she go?” Lincoln asked while he rubbed Khan’s head which was plopped in his lap. “She died a long time ago, I was about five I think.” “Oh, sorry,” Lincoln mumbled as he looked at Arabella, “that sucks.” “You’re right, Kiddo,” Blu chortled, “it does suck. Kyle said you like to play the guitar, or he’s teaching you the guitar?” “He’s been teaching me the guitar, it’s fun,” Lincolns face lit up as he talked, “But I have a hard time getting my fingers in the right places.” “Hmm, I think everyone starts out that way. Perseverance and practice will make all the difference,” Blu leaned closer to Lincoln across the couch, in a loud whisper he told Lincoln, “Kyle can spend more time teaching you here at home too. He has a room full of instruments.” Lincoln grinned as he played with Khan’s dog tags, “Wow, you think he’d do that?” Blu winked at Lincoln, “You won’t know until you ask, will you?” Lincoln shrugged his shoulders as he smiled shyly. Kyle returned with a brooding Levi in tow. Kyle pointed at the chair, “Sit down, and not one more word Levi.” Levi flopped over the arm of the chair, “Whatever.” Kyle sighed, “I think we need a family meeting,” he said looking at his brooding son. “First thing we need to do is set some rules, I don’t like some of the names you called me when I told you to pick up your shoes.” “Pfft,” Levi rolled his eyes. Kyle’s face turned red and showed frustration, “Levi, we aren’t your enemies. Every kid has to have some rules and boundaries.” Blu stood up, “Blondie sit down Honey,” he gently guided Kyle to the couch before he stroked out. “Look, kids, the rules, for now, are pretty basic. We’ll find some more along the way but for now, they are simple.” Blu held up one finger, “No name calling, it’s rude, hurtful and unnecessary,” he held up a second finger, “pick up after yourself, we aren’t your slaves.” Blu put his hands in his pockets while Levi stared daggers at him, “You will put your dirty clothes in the hamper in your room, not on the floor. Your clothes will be folded and left on your bed to be put away by you. We won’t go through your room, you will be afforded privacy as long as you prove you can be trusted. There will be chores to be done, you will do them. Homework is also a must if you have trouble with any of it you’re in luck you live with two teachers who will help out.” “Did I miss anything Blondie?” Blu asked. “Yes,” Kyle stood up walking over and leaning against the mantle of the fireplace, “You’re responsible for keeping your rooms clean. You will show people respect at all times. If you follow the rules and do your chores you boys will get fifteen dollars a week. Arabella, you will get twenty dollars.” “What’s she get more for?” Levi stared at Kyle with a snarl on his face. “She’s older than you are, when you’re fourteen we will increase your allowance,” Kyle let out a slow deep breath, “Any questions?” Lincoln sat quietly shaking his head. Blu nodded his head at the returned silence, “Let’s give you guys a tour of the house, then you can pick a room,” he said giving them the sign to follow, the first visit was to the kitchen, “this is obviously the kitchen. There is always fruit in the bowl,” he pointed to the fruit bowl sitting on the breakfast table, “if you need a snack between meals feel free to take a piece. There is usually bottled water and a pitcher of iced tea or lemonade in the refrigerator, help yourself you don’t have to ask. My advice, don’t put an empty pitcher or container back in the refrigerator if you don’t want to incur the wrath of Kyle. I learned that the hard way,” Blu laughed opening, shutting the cupboards and drawers showing the kids where everything was located so they could help themselves. “Follow me,” Kyle motioned pointing out the dining room and living room. Once they got to the top of the stairs Kyle pointed out the bathroom showing them the linen closet. “There are three empty bedrooms,” Kyle pointed to each of the rooms, “Each of you is free to pick one for yourselves.” Levi walked into Davis’s old bedroom looking at the vast space and huge bed and desk, his eyes were as big as saucers, “Wow,” He mumbled thinking nobody could hear causing Kyle to smile. Lincoln chose Kaleb’s old room, having a similar reaction. Arabella walked into Chris’s old room, smiling for the first time, Blu and Kyle noticed how different she looked when she smiled. “Do you like it, sweetheart?” Blu asked, “Over the weekend, we can make it more to your taste. Different colors and styles of curtains and linens for the bed and such. We can even paint it if you want,” Blu looked at the twins who were now arm in arm as they looked around Arabella’s room. “Same goes for you two, we can change your rooms to make it more you.” “Cool,” the twins said at the same time. Kyle smiled as the kids took in their new home, he leaned over whispering into Blu’s ear, “Babe, we need to call Mom and Dad. I think they’d have a heart attack if they showed up and we had kids without telling them or we could ask what they thought about becoming grandparents again. Then we could invite everybody to dinner at O’Shea’s Steakhouse.” Blu winked at Kyle, “Show them your favorite room Blondie, I’ll go make some calls. When do you want to go shopping for clothes they only have what they have on? “We could go to dinner, and swing by Wally World after?” Kyle said questioningly, “No offense, but the clothes they have on should be used only as play clothes.” “Sounds good, they are still growing. Plus I don’t want to send them to school with label clothes anyway, they’d just become targets.” Blu said kissing Kyle before he left to make some calls. Levi rolled his eyes when Kyle and Blu kissed, “Get a room, yuck.” Kyle laughed, “I have one more room to show you guys follow me,” He said motioning the kids. Once they reached the music room door Kyle stopped and smiled turning the doorknob, “This is my favorite room, if you guys want to come in here I want you to ask before you do,” Kyle pushed the door open revealing his piano, and all of the various other instruments that were hung or displayed in its appointed spot. Lincolns' eyes twinkled as he spun around smiling as he tried to take in everything his eyes saw, “Wow, Mr. Kyle this is soooo… Cool!” “Guys… oops I mean kids, sorry Arabella, call me Kyle or whatever your comfortable with,” Kyle turned and looked at a smirking Levi, “Not the stuff you were calling me earlier Levi,” Levi’s smirk disappeared as rapidly as exposed dry ice. The group returned to the living room Kyle sat on the couch Lincoln sat fairly close to him with Khan placing his head in his lap. Levi sat in the chair staring at his brother and Khan, “What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t he like me?” Kyle looked at the boy and then to Khan, “Maybe he sensed you were being mean to your brother earlier, just try to be nicer he’ll like you too.” Blu walked into the living room, “All set Blondie, they couldn’t seat us until 8:30 pm maybe we should go to Wally World first,” he leaned closer to Kyle whispering, “that way the kids can change into clean clothes.” Kyle cleared his throat smiling getting the children’s attention, “Let’s go to the car we need to make a quick stop before we go out to dinner.” ***** Once the family stopped at Wally World the crew headed inside Kyle and Blu both grabbed carts catching Levi’s attention. “If this is a quick stop why do we need two carts?” Levi asked skeptically. Kyle grinned mischievously at Blu, “See Blu’s getting old so he needs something to lean on when we go shopping.” Blu gave his husband a cuff on the back of the head and walked ahead with Arabella and Lincoln. He could hear Levi laughing his ass off as he left the two of them. “Okay kiddo, let's catch up with your brother you guys need a few things for school,” Kyle smiled at Levi who was still fighting to control his laughter as they headed toward the rest of the family. “Blondie,” Blu said as Kyle caught up, “I’m going to take Arabella to get some clothes and we’ll meet you at the place with the stuff.” Kyle nodded his understanding, “Okay let’s go do some guy shopping,” Kyle said to the twins who flanked his side as they headed into the boy's clothes department. The boys looked at various styles of clothes then debated colors once they picked items out they would look at the price tag and put it back. After fifteen minutes of repeating the same process, Kyle just started picking up the things the boys would put back. Each boy had picked out about ten different outfits and various styles of jeans, Kyle herded the boys to the fitting room to make sure the clothes fit the boys. Once they overcame the horrendous experience of ‘do these look okay?’ Kyle was becoming aggravated with shopping. They headed to the underwear which became an even bigger debate until both boys ended up with boxers and boxer-briefs. The next stop was for the boys to pick out shoes, the boys ended up with tennis shoes, a pair of boots, and a pair of dress shoes. Kyles cart was overflowing by the time the group met up with Blu and Arabella, “I think we got everything,” Kyle said leaning on the cart. “We did okay, but I will get Mom to take Arabella shopping tomorrow after school for feminine stuff. I tried to get her to just get them now but she became embarrassed and overwhelmed,” Blu said sadly. “Okay, sounds like a plan,” Kyle rubbed Blu’s back. “Just give her time Blu this is a new experience for all of the kids and us,” Kyle said quietly, Blu nodded leaning into Kyle’s side. Kyle glanced into electronics, “I’ll be right back everybody,” Kyle said as he headed in the direction he knew the cell phone display was located. Fifteen minutes later Kyle returned with a decent sized bag that was full, “I’m good now, let's go check out.” On the way to the check out the group stopped picking up new backpacks and lunchboxes. After checking out Levi was beyond irritated once he heard what the total bill came to for their stuff. He had his arms crossed staring at his guardians once they started placing their purchase in the hatch. “You shouldn’t have spent that much money, we didn’t need that stuff,” Levi huffed. Blu thought he’d try and get through to Levi before Kyle was in tears, “Levi and I are just going to the restroom Blondie, we’ll be back in a minute.” He gently steered Levi back into the store for a moment. They stopped just inside the door so the family couldn’t see them. Blu stood up straight mimicking Levi’s stance. The two had a staring competition for a few minutes. “Care to explain in a calm voice what the problem is Levi?” Levi glared at Blu, “I don’t have a problem.” “Okay, I do. I want you to drop the attitude and give that man out there a break. He is my husband and the man who wants nothing more than to make sure you are safe, happy, and healthy. You do need the things you were bought tonight, none of you have clothes that fit or for the upcoming weather. If you give him a chance you will find he is loving, caring, and a good guy. Let me ask you this; Has Kyle broken any promises to you?” “No,” Levi mumbled. “Has he ever mistreated you?” Levi just shook his head. Blu dropped his arms to his side, “Then why are you giving him such a hard time?” “We’re gonna get hurt when you send us away,” Levi muttered as he shifted on his feet. Crouching down so he was the same height as Levi, he lifted the boy's chin so his shiny tear-filled eyes met Blu’s, “I know you don’t believe us right now, but as long as we have a say in the matter, you kids aren’t going anywhere. You can fight, do the wrong thing, push us away all you want. But, we’ll still be here. We may have been harsh earlier, but you need to know there are rules, these are the same rules that apply to Kyle and me. Both of us want all three of you always from now on. All. Of. The. Time. Not just for now. So,” Blu said standing back up holding out his hand, “do you think you could drop the tough guy thing you are pulling off very well by the way and be nice. I know it would make Kyle happy, and if Kyle’s happy so is this guy,” Blu pointed his thumbs at himself then held his hand out to Levi again to make the deal. Levi hesitantly shook Blu’s hand, “I should probably apologize huh?” “Yes, I think you should. When we get to the restaurant pull him aside and you can apologize in private,” Blu said ruffling Levi’s hair with a warm smile. “Ugh, ok,” Levi smoothed his hair out sniffling and wiping his eyes with his shirtsleeve. Blu and Levi returned to the car both smiling, Kyle’s face lit up when he saw the young boys face. They all drove off toward the restaurant, Kyle pulled into a gas station on the way. Blu cocked his eyebrow at his husband. Kyle smiled, “How would everybody like to change into some of your new clothes?” The smiles and chattering commenced, Lincoln climbed over the seat to dig into their bags showing stuff to Levi until he got a nod. Once Lincoln got the outfits him and Levi was going to wear he crawled back over the seat landing his butt on the floor with his head resting on the console giggling. Levi smiled rolling his eyes, “if you’re the brain between us, we’re doomed.” Kyle and Blu cracked up laughing at the twins. After Kyle stopped laughing he got out opening the door for the boys, “Let’s go you goofballs,” the boys crawled out following Kyle who stepped to the back of the SUV opening the hatch for Arabella to get an outfit. “Babe, do you wanna walk Arabella to the restroom and wait outside the door for her while I get our wildmen changed?” “Absolutely,” Blu got out of the car going to the back to make sure Arabella had everything she needed then escorted her like a security guard to the bathroom. Kyle stood outside the bathroom stall as the boys snickered and clothes were thrown over the top at him. Kyle gathered the clothes and even shoes as they hit the floor when the boys came out Kyle was stunned at how different just being in nice clothes had made them. “Wow, lookin’ sharp boys,” Kyle said to the smiling duo. “Thanks,” the boys replied as they puffed out their chests. “Alright, let’s go find Blu and your sister,” Kyle smiled as the boys flanked his sides to find their missing family members. Blu wasn’t outside the restroom as Kyle thought, he went back into the shop looking out the window to see Blu and Arabella waiting by the SUV. He gathered the boys then they walked toward young Arabella who looked pretty, her beautiful curly hair clipped back off of her face, she was wearing a pretty floral dress that the wind moved as she stood next to the car. Her cardigan and shoes matched the lavender colored dress. Her arms were crossed as she shuffled foot to foot nervously, she was laughing at something Blu had said, she looked like a happy teenager. Kyle noticed the boys faces when they saw their sister all dressed up. The trio stopped beside the rest of the group. Kyle was astounded by his daughter’s beauty leaving him searching for the right words for her. “You look, beautiful Sweetheart, you couldn’t have picked out a prettier outfit,” Kyle smiled struggling to figure out if she would accept a hug, “Can I give you a hug?” Arabella nodded shyly stepping forward into Kyle’s arms, “Thank you, Kyle.” “You’re welcome, we’re gonna have to watch the boys in school they’ll be chasing you around,” Kyle smiled as Arabella blushed when he released the hug. Levi looked at his sister, “Wow, you’re pretty Bell.” “Ya, you look pretty,” Lincoln smiled sweetly at Arabella. Blu clapped his hands, “Okay, everyone in the car. I want to get to the restaurant before the Shit… oops,” he covered his mouth, “before Kaleb gets there.” The group climbed into the car and finished their short drive to the restaurant. Kyle stepped out of the car opening the boy’s door, “Okay you bunch of monkeys, out!” The boys giggled as the got out of the SUV, making monkey noises, “Okay maybe I’ll pick a different animal next time,” Kyle laughed as he closed the door. Blu walked toward the entrance bringing Arabella and Lincoln with him to give Levi and Kyle a chance to talk. He opened the door guiding the kids inside the restaurant, he moved off to the side while they waited. Levi tapped Kyle’s arm, “Can I talk to you alone?” “Ya sure bud,” Kyle nodded his head, “We’ll be right back Babe.” Blu grabbed a menu off the hostess and gathered the two kids and they started reading. Kyle and Levi stepped outside the door, “What’s up Levi?” Levi shifted his weight back and forth on his feet, “I uh… Well, I was a dick earlier. I’m sorry, this is so weird.” Kyle smiled taking a chance he put his hand on Levi’s shoulder, “Just keep trying to trust us, everybody is gonna make mistakes even me,” Kyle gently squeezed Levi’s shoulder and they both smiled. They returned to the group smiling, which surprised Lincoln he was so used to seeing his twin frowning. Lincoln leaned into his brother whispering into his ear, “He’s a good guy I’ve been tellin’ you.” “Ya, but you think you’re always right,” Levi smiled bumping shoulders with his twin. Blu walked to the host stand, “Hi, we have a party of eleven and a high chair for Waters booked at 8:30 pm.” “Is the rest of your party here yet sir,” the young man asked. “No, they’ll be here shortly. Trust me you want them to be seated as soon as they arrive. The little one with time on his hands will be...” Blu laughed. The host looked at Blu warily, “Certainly sir, just let me check your table is ready.” The man walked off, Blu turned and winked at Kyle who was trying to hide his face. “What? Tell me I’m wrong, Blondie,” Blu smirked. “No,” Kyle shook his head looking at the chandelier, “Kasey might use that as a swing,” he chuckled and the kids stared at the light with a puzzled expression. “Trust me you’ll learn,” Kyle said as he felt a tug on his pant leg. “Earn wha?” Kasey said as he started climbing up Kyle’s leg. “Nothin’ Kasey,” Kyle smiled and tickled the little one as he picked the little boy up. “Sop it I pee,” Kasey giggled uncontrollably with fits of laughter. Jared raced in the door frantically, “Thank god you have him, I swear we were both standing at the door waiting for Mason and poof he was gone.” The host came to the stand wide-eyed looking directly at the inferred menace in Kyle’s arms, “Please follow me, your table is ready.” The host led the way to the back of the dining room, far away from other diners. Blu snickered linking hands with Kyle. Kasey looked at the older kids once they reached the table, “Who yous?” Kyle knelt down beside Kasey, “These are your cousins, Arabella, Levi, and Lincoln,” he pointed to each child as he said their name. Kasey looked at each of them, “Bella, Evi, Ink,” the older kids giggled at the names he gave them. “Close enough buddy,” Kyle ruffed up Kasey’s hair. “Sop it Unc Ky,” Kasey glared kicking Kyle’s shin. Jared sighed when he saw his son kick his Uncle and picked Kasey up, “Sorry he just started doing that, I guess him and another kid at daycare decided to settle their disagreements that way.” Kyle laughed and stood back up motioning for Mason to come over, “Mason, this is our daughter Arabella,” Kyle smiled as he had an arm wrapped around her shoulders, “Arabella this is Mason, he lives with my brother Jared and helps raise Kasey.” Mason smiled extending his hand to the girl, “It’s nice to meet you, Arabella.” The young girl blushed pulling her cardigan sleeve down over her hand nervously, she looked at Blu, then Kyle getting the nod Arabella extended her hand shaking Mason’s but didn’t say anything. She looked up at Jared, “Hello, Mr. Jared,” then looked at the floor. Kyle smiled as he stood behind the twins placing a hand on each of their shoulders, “These are our twins, the one with the green glowing cast is Levi. And this one here is Lincoln,” Kyle gave each of the boy's shoulders a squeeze. Mason studied the boys, “Oh this is gonna be a nightmare once Levi’s cast is off to tell who is who,” Mason said as the boys chuckled. “It’s nice to meet the both of you,” Mason extended his hand to Lincoln who shook it hesitantly. Levi stared at it debating if he would or not before relenting and shaking Mason’s hand. Lincoln and Levi both mumbled shyly, “Nice to meet you.” “Guys I think you realize Jared is my twin brother,” Kyle laughed as Lincoln stared at Jared. “You ever try switchin’ clothes to fool your teachers in school?” Lincoln asked Jared. Jared frowned shaking his head, “No, we never got a chance to do that.” Lincoln shrugged his shoulders, “You shoulda it's sorta fun.” Kyle laughed, “Ok let's grab our seats before Kasey decides to terrorize the restaurant.” They were sitting at the table chatting without realizing Lily and Doug were standing behind them, both had puzzled looks on their faces as they looked at the newest additions. Kaleb and Davis rushed in behind them, stopping in their tracks as they saw what the pair were staring at. Jared looked at the four sets of bugged out eyes picked up his cell held it up and took a photo, “Uh… guys,” he said to Blu and Kyle pointing at the newly arrived foursome. The pair looked over their shoulder, excitedly standing up. They all hugged, then Blu asked the kids to come to their side. Surprisingly the did even Levi without argument. “Kids these are our parents, Doug and Lily, and Kyle and Jared’s younger brother Sh…Kaleb and his fiancee Davis.” Kasey shouted banging on his highchair, “Unc Boo say bad,” he held out his hand, “Quarta.” Blu rolled his eyes, stuffing his hand in his pocket bringing out a dollar bill giving it to the kid, “Here squirt, I’m good for three more,” he turned back to shocked parents and brother-in-law. “Mum and Dad, I’d like you to meet Arabella, Lincoln, and Levi. They are our foster kids, but we are hoping to make it more permanent,” Blu gave them all a warm smile lingering on Levi, then winking at him. Kaleb smiled pushing his way to the kids, “Ok, remember I’m the cool uncle and I can cook.” Levi smirked at him, “Cool uncle huh?” “Ya,” Kaleb stared at his nephew not sure what he was up to. “You look like a dweeb in the get up you’re wearing,” Levi chuckled. Blu eyed Levi giving him a silent warning, not only to behave but to try and let him know he was playing with fire and had no win in sight. Kaleb glared at his nephew as if the gauntlets had been thrown down, “Well at least I don’t need a glowing cast to find my way in the dark.” Levi chuckled, “I like you, you might be alright.” Lincoln let out the breath he was holding since his brother started. “That’s good I might actually cook you real food that your Dad’s didn’t claim to make,” Kaleb joked. “I don’t have a dad,” Levi mumbled. Kyle placed an arm around Levi’s shoulders, which caused him to look up at the man. “It’s ok bud,” Kyle said smiling down at the boy, “You have Blu and me.” Lily came out of her shock launching forward she took Levi in her arms squeezing him tight, reaching out with one arm grabbing Lincoln and pulling him into the hug. Arabella stood by and watched until Kaleb and Davis descended on her squishing her into an Uncle sandwich. Doug moved toward Kaleb and Davis, “Boys leave the poor girl alone, she doesn’t even know you.” “She does now,” Davis and Kaleb said laughing as they released the new niece. The two men backed away from Arabella, Davis whispering to her to make sure she was okay. She gave him a shy nod but giggled as she looked at the ground. Mom walked over to the young girl lifting her chin whispering something quietly. A secret to remain between the two of them. Blu watched his Mom affectionately as she acquainted herself with her new Granddaughter. Doug stepped in when he saw Lily wipe away tears, he put his arm around his wife and had a quiet conversation with Arabella. Once he was sure his two ladies were okay he moved over to the hellions with a big smile on his face. “Pappy… Pappy,” Kasey screamed as tears trickled down the little ones face, he definitely was not used to sharing his Pappy and Grammy. “Haw, oh, Come here munchkin,” Doug held out his arms so Jared could let the tyke free from his restaurant prison chair. The kid ran around the table and climbed right up his Pappy’s body and into his arms, “Who are these boys,” Doug asked his little man. Kasey pointed to each boy, “Evi, Ink.” “Hi Boys, it’s nice to meet you. Are you hungry?” “YES!” the twins shouted together. The entire family laughed including Arabella, Blu gestured with his hand for everyone to take a seat. Lily sat next to Arabella and they talked quietly amongst themselves. Blu quickly got up and went to his Mom crouching between her and his new daughter. “Mom, would you mind taking Arabella shopping tomorrow. I’ll give you my credit card, she needs underwear and a bunch of feminine products. Please make sure she gets everything she needs?” Blu asked his Mom quietly handing over his credit card. Blu noticed Arabella shy away, “Hey Sweetheart, don’t be embarrassed, you need them whether you like it or not. No one will say anything and Mom will take very good care of you. Maybe go to lunch together on me, get to know Grammy, she’s a bunch of fun. I promise.” Blu smiled squeezing Arabella’s knee then returned to his seat. The family dinner was a success the kids got to meet their immediate family. The evening was filled with a lot of banter between Kaleb and Levi, leaving the entire table laughing at the two of them. By the time dinner was over Kasey had fallen asleep in Mason’s arms, and the twins were fighting sleep. The family said their goodbyes before they all headed to their separate homes.
  37. 47 points
    I woke up cold. Turning over, I realized Peter had gone…somewhere. Rolling over, I heard why as the toilet flushed. I grinned as Peter rushed back rubbing his arms to keep warm and smiled at me. “Sorry.” He said rushing over and pulled the covers down over me, but didn’t get in bed. He was naked. “A robe would help with that.” I smiled at him. He nodded. “Yes, it would.” He hurried to the large metal box near the fireplace. Opening it, he fished a couple of logs out and tossed them on the still warm coals and grabbed the fireplace poker and stirred up the coals and rushed back, threw the covers back and dove in next to me. His cold skin and icy feet hit me and, “Oh! You’re cold!” I yelped. “Sorry again.” Peter snuggled up next to me wrapping cold arms around me. “You’re warm.” I chuckled as he didn’t back away, but pulled me closer. “I was.” I felt Peter shrug. “I had to go.” He said simply. “If I don’t add the wood, it will get even colder in here. What I did will warm the room again.” “I understand that.” I said as the shock of the coldness of his body was going away or I had gotten used to it. “Fire good.” I said using a voice like a caveman…at least what I envisioned of a caveman’s voice to be. “Cold bad.” Peter chuckled kissing my neck. Even his lips were cold to my warm neck. “Yes, Gundar.” “There are no central heat units.” I said asking for a confirmation of what I saw. “No.” Peter admitted weakling. “Running the vents would be hard.” There were vents in the chimney walls that began to blow the warm air coming from the burning logs warming the air. I could see it would be difficult to add those vents. Not impossible, but the whole structure was made of stone and what was there worked. Why fix it? The structure predated in…just everything. Pipes were added hundreds of years later. Electric wiring was only a few decades old in addition and any fiberoptic cables for cable or Internet only a few years ago. They did add these strategically along the walls. The new routers and wireless connections were very new and some wires could be removed now. Vents to heat would require more destruction and reconstruction. Having wood up here ready was vital to stay warm as that was the most important thing. “You told me, Olek told me…I just wasn’t prepared for last night.” I admitted turning toward him. Peter chuckled running his lips over my skin. “I knew you wouldn’t be. You couldn’t be prepared. When you’re here at the end of December and into January…that can be really cold.” He looked to the small window in our room. “It might be cold, but it might get up to ten degrees Fahrenheit today!” “Minus twelve degrees Celsius.” I said doing the calculations in my head. “That’s almost…balmy!” “Almost.” Peter agreed smiling at me. He wrapped his arms around me more pulling me close. “There are things, as I explained before, we can do to keep warm.” I kissed him. “Use any excuse is welcome. I love you, Peter.” “I know.” He mumbled as he was kissing me again and he was…heating up. Being in Makarovia, for me, for the first time in winter was showing me the challenge. Snow, wind and ice were everywhere. For such a cold climate, it was a very warm place to live. I mean emotionally. I did notice a new structure near the palace covered in snow and buried. It was a tunnel. Well, a temporary tunnel above ground tunnel now covered that allowed access from the palace to the underground passages in Styria. Adjusting the few hours difference was not difficult, but Makarovia was ahead time wise in the day. It was later compared to the time on the East Coast. Peter and I got up about noon! I noticed they were putting in more radiating heating units in the palace. Now that money was coming in more, they were making improvements all over Makarovia. I grew up in the South where it was often swelteringly hot. Keeping cool was the focus there. Here was the complete opposite. I’d just have to get used to it. We showered and dressed, putting on long underwear under our clothes. A sweater over my shirt because there were areas here where they really didn’t heat as much in the palace and Peter was showing me how things were. We came down for a meal for whatever this time dictated. Entering the dining area there was just Queen Alla. She was wearing a white, almost creamy beige sweater and pants (her signature color I found out) looking like what she was. A Queen and former model. Breathtakingly beautiful. She looked up and instantly smiled getting up. “It was late when you got here.” She said hugging Peter and then me. “Welcome home.” “Thanks.” Peter grinned back. “You look good, as usual.” “So, do you.” She looked at me with a smile. “Your first winter in Makarovia. What do you think?” I just did a shiver. She just let out a delighted laugh. “Yes, that about sums it up. Makarovia can be harsh, but it can still be beautiful. Especially now. This time of year adds an almost magically essence to everything.” She said looking dreamily at nothing, but clearly seeing something in her mind. I smiled. “Christmas…and the other holidays of this season…does weave a sort of magic. I always love it.” I chuckled. “There are some traditions I have I don’t want to stop.” “Oh?” Peter asked. “Did you do it last year?” I nodded poking him lightly in the chest. “You know what they are.” I smiled patting his chest where I had poked him. “All those programs I watched?” Peter nodded with a laugh. “Oh, yes. I wondered why you watched those children’s shows.” “Yes, they were for children at first, but not really.” I bounced. “Shows like Rudolph: The Red Nosed Reindeer with Burl Ives singing those carols, Frosty, all the Santa Clause movies…you saw me watch those. I never miss them.” Queen Alla’s eyes widened. “Never?” “Never.” I smiled. “Dad taught me, if you’re too old for Rudolph, you’re too old.” Queen Alla nodded. “I’ve never seen it, this should be interesting.” Peter thumbed over his shoulder. “I noticed the addition; the above ground tunnel?” Queen smiled and nodded again. “To access the underground. Things down there have really changed. We’ve added and are improving what was there. It’s still a work in progress, but I think you’ll be pleased. Since the military have time now, ours and the other countries…they have helped. I look forward to showing you.” Then she smiled more. “Or maybe you should both see it for yourselves. I think you’ll be pleased.” “There are more than just the tunnels now?” Peter asked. “The new arrivals will want things.” Queen said she hugged him. “You’ll see. Go!” I turned to Peter. “So, I won’t be the only one seeing something new.” From what I had been told, there were passages under Styria. I asked when I first flew over Makarovia and saw the…town, village…whatever, that was Styria, I asked where they got the gallon of milk, bread or just supplies. The new heating units for the streets and roads would help, but if it was actively a storm of snow and ice…I didn’t think even those would keep the roads clear enough to go out. I was a little later when Peter grabbed a coat and gave one to me. “Your people await, My Lord.” He said grandly to me with the exaggerated bow. I really growled at him. “It’s good I love you or we could be having harsh words…in English and Makarovian!” I took the coat and followed him to the elevator. There was an entry to this new tunnel just to the side of the palace wall that had to be shoveled, but was clear now. We walked into the tunnel’s entrance where we gradually went down. It would be dark day or night, so there were lights periodically placed, but it was still cold. Out of the wind, so it wasn’t bad. Then we got to a passage that was chiseled out of the very rock, there again was the passage that led off toward town. I had no idea! It made sense, though. To get that loaf of bread or gallon of milk…with that much snow and ice…you had to have them. “No wonder there isn’t that much traffic above.” I said. Peter was looking at it…seemingly for the first time. “Only in the winter was it used.” His eyes widened. “Oh, my god!” We were looking at the various construction slots and equipment around. The smell of wet concrete and paint was strong. I also heard a fan that was sucking the fumes out somewhere. We rounded a corner…sort of…it emptied to an intersection. An underground intersection and people were strolling down here with bags of things they had gotten. Men, women and children walked together seeing us and nodded with bows and a smile, but kept going! “Wow!” Peter gaped at all the reconstruction. “Mom was right! Things are changing down here.” He smiled bigger as many smiling faces that walked the passages. “But these passages have been here.” I said puzzled. “Yes, they were just…passages.” He pointed to the wall of the passage. “There were the openings to go up…to the street.” I pointed to a sign that said what was at the top of the worn stairs. “Depending on the conditions above, you still had to travel in snow and ice to get to a business.” He pointed to what advertised a market. “It’s like…Styria is now underground.” “This wasn’t like this before?” I asked. Peter gave a shrug. “Not as extensive as it is now, but this…” He waved to some fresh marks where the tunnel was widened. “These were simply…tunnels before…to get from one part of Styria to the other.” He waved at the wider tunnel and people. “This is much more!” I nodded thumbing up to the surface. “There is a hell of a lot of snow and ice up there. It makes sense to have this.” Peter nodded and looked back at another sign. “Makarovian Underground Transit?” The picture was of a modern shuttle on a rail. “That also makes sense.” I said. “The first will go from here to Skoal.” I nodded. “They begin soon. It’s projected completion date is for next fall.” I looked at Peter surprised. “Can they do it that fast?” Peter grinned. “Other than hiding, we know how to drill.” “It will make things better in Makarovia.” I read the board display. “They want to connect all of Makarovia. The whole project will take a decade to complete, but it would solve many of the problems you spoke about.” I smiled as I noticed familiar greenish color of the military in the United States with the unique lettering and probably in England, too. “I see the military is being utilized here.” I pointed to a business sign. “I told you! All the men here like us, there would be the trendy things! The Makarovian Gourmet Coffee Shoppe!” I drug him in the direction the sign said. Arriving, there were people waiting to get various hot drinks. The Coffee Shop was basically a holed out portion in the wall of the tunnel. It was clearly still under construction, but there were the wires, pipes and cords along the wall to have the business open! The other people saw us and bowed slightly waving for us to go ahead of them. Peter smiled pulling me closer in a one-armed hug. “You must understand. The Earl of Styria…the future Prince of Makarovia doesn’t like to…impose himself. He appreciates the consideration, but will say no.” “He’s right, I am saying thank you, but no.” I waved at them to go ahead. I watched as all of them pulled out cards to pay for what they got. “What currency do you use in Makarovia?” Peter smiled. “That depends on who is in charge; rubles, hryvnia and Euros.” The girl behind the counter smiled and bowed slightly. “Welcome to the Makarovian Gourmet Coffee Shoppe, Your Highness, My Lord. What can I get you?” I thumbed at Peter. “He’ll have a coffee! I just know it.” I grinned at him as he looked away. “I would like a hot chocolate.” I grinned and raised my hands apart. “A big one.” She nodded. “Coming right up.” Peter pulled his wallet out and took his card out with the VISA written on it. It was a card tied into the treasury. “So, that’s why there are all these cards.” I reasoned. Peter nodded. “There are banks in Makarovia.” The girl handed me the steaming big cup of hot chocolate. “Forgive me, but…” she pointed down the tunnel. “There is a branch open down there. Anyone can go to one and give what ever currency they have and convert it to a card. That card can be used to buy here.” She said simply. “It’s better than counting change in all those currencies and having the available currency to change back into.” She handed Peter is coffee. “Modern times! Improvements!” I took my hot chocolate from the young woman with a thank you, to which she returned with a slight bow. This sort of thing, I just was going to have to get used to it. “Places more remote will probably still have to come out and go through the snow to get to where ever. I would like one to The Grotto.” Peter chuckled putting his arm around me as we strolled down the passage. “I don’t think that was a priority.” He shrugged. “I don’t think they have the supplies needed now. Not to have the sort of business they do late spring, summer or early fall.” I waved at the many down here now. “They need something to do.” Peter looked at the many people walking. “These were just…” he shrugged, “tunnels. Maybe one or two could walk together, but this is so much wider…and lit!” “As I never saw it before, I can’t understand.” I brightened. “Now, there won’t be as much focus on redoing the village and town above!” “We really don’t have that long a season to be outdoors.” “Naturally.” I said. “That’s why we need places like the one you said would be a place for these marvelous people to have fun and get out of all that snow. We can have those great sunflower lights to grab sunshine and pipe it down. If not, they can relax in a warm place and just relax!” I sipped on the hot chocolate. “This is GOOD hot chocolate!” “Nothing but the best from now on!” Peter said sipping his coffee. “Good coffee!” The temperature down here was not bad. No wind and no snow. The surrounding earth kept the temperature steady. Why was I so lucky to be here when these changes were going to happen? These people had suffered a long time, but now were stepping out into a brighter world. It wasn’t fair or unfair, it simply was. “There aren’t any Christmas lights down here.” I said. “It isn’t Christmas.” Peter said simply. “The United States starts decorating after Halloween.” I grumbled.
  38. 47 points
    I sat there hoping, no, praying, Troy was going to come. I was after all a Christian as the cross on the chain round my neck implied. While I didn’t think God could actually help me now, maybe he could ensure nothing happened to Troy on his way here. He’d said he would come and to be fair he’d never let me down, but he was late and so I worried. In all honesty if he didn’t come I thought I might kill myself. As far as I was concerned he was the only person who made life worth living. We’d sort of paired up during the previous semester at school. We weren’t in the same homeroom but shared several classes, one of which was World Geography. Our teacher, Mr Edgar, set us a project about seismology and when he did so decided that he was going to make us work in pairs. ‘Collaboration is good for you; Plagiarism is not’ he said. For all sorts of reasons I was a bit of a loner at school – not at all the popular kid whereas Troy had a big circle of friends. At least that was how it seemed to me when I sat on my own eating lunch nearly every day while he was at a noisy table with several other boys and girls. So when after Mr Edgar had made his announcement Troy picked up his chair, walked round the classroom, put it down next to mine and said, “You wanna work with me on this Adam?” I nearly fell off my own chair in shock. He’d never really spoken more than a couple of words to me previously. He was more or less the typical jock. He was tall for a fifteen year old– just under six feet, slim but with a good muscular body that came from all the swimming and athletics he did – he was on both school teams. His clothes were always fashionable and usually bore the logo of one of the major brands whereas if mine had a logo it was of a brand nobody knew. My parents couldn't afford to buy expensive clothes for me, but at least they were in reasonable condition and always clean. He had blond hair that he kept cut fairly short, blue eyes and a spot free skin with a great tan all year round. I was about the same height as him, but I was thin without any decent muscles as I didn’t do any sport unless I had to – for me gym class was an endurance trial which I hated every time as I had no real coordination. At least I didn’t wear glasses so my green eyes could be seen when they emerged from the shock of black hair that normally fell down over my forehead and partially covered them. “Why me, Troy?” I sort of stuttered back to him when my brain had recovered. “’Cos I need a good partner for this as Edgar told me I’ve gotta get good marks on this project if I want a good grade at the end of the semester. You’re the one to make sure I get it – class brain!” He laughed as he said the last two words, but I knew he was right. Hard as I tried to conceal my brightness in class it slipped out on occasions. I’d learned long ago not to raise my hand when a teacher asked a general question to a class, but I couldn’t help it if I always gave the right one if the question was asked directly to me. At least I didn’t get bullied over it. I guess being tall helped and perhaps had I been shorter things might have been different. “Well, I’m not going to do all the work Troy. You heard what he said – collaboration not plagiarism.” “Yeah, I heard and maybe if I knew what it meant I’d not do it.” As he said that a big grin spread across his face showing his dimples to the full while his eyes sparkled. I decided to take a chance, “So that’s something else I’ve gotta teach you is it?” Now he laughed and fist bumped me on the arm. “I’m gonna like you, Adam. Come and join my table at lunch – please?” So I did and he introduced me to his friends, both boys and girls. Nearly all of them were the sporty types or cheerleaders and at first I felt very much like an interloper, but they all seemed prepared to accept me and within a couple of weeks I felt I belonged. But I very much suspected that if and when Troy no longer needed me, they would also go back to ignoring me. As lunch came to an end Troy suggested that I come home with him after school so we could have an initial discussion about our project. Nobody had ever asked me to go home with them before, so I was hesitant about doing so. When I asked where he lived and found out that it was in one of the richer areas of town I started to get worried. My Pa worked in a factory and we lived in a small house in the poorer end of town. If I went to his house then I’d have to invite him to mine and then what? He’d be certain to make an unfavorable comparison. I decided this wasn’t going to work. “I can’t tonight. Mom’s expecting me home.” “Call her and tell her you’ve been invited to mine – you can stay for dinner too if you like.” Oh lord, this was getting worse. If I had dinner with him and his folks then I’d have to offer the same for him and my mom wasn’t much of a cook. In fact I did a lot of our cooking myself. But there was an even bigger problem necessitating a big admission. “I can’t call her – I don’t have a phone.” Troy laughed. “No problem – use mine” he said fishing it out of his backpack and handing it to me after switching it on. We were allowed to have cells at school but they had to be switched off during classes or they’d be confiscated, although that wasn’t a worry for me! I went to take it from him when another problem occurred to me. ”How do you get to school, on the bus?” “No – I’ve got my own chauffeur,” Troy replied, laughing, “Mom picks up and delivers.” “I come by bike, so you’ll have to give me instructions on how to get to your place.” He thought for a moment. “No – when you’ve okayed it with you mom then I’ll call mine and tell her to bring the pick-up rather than the car. We can put your bike in the back of that and if after dinner you’re too drunk to ride home, mom will take you back. That’s a joke.” he quickly added when he saw the expression on my face. So I called my mom and Troy called his and that was how I made my first visit to his home. I was surprised when his mom arrived in the pick-up as she looked quite a lot older than mine. She was still good looking and well dressed, but I could tell she hadn’t had Troy just after leaving school like my mom had me. Mrs Connelly was friendly and welcoming enough and included me in the conversation as she drove us to their house. I knew when Troy had given me the address earlier it was going to be a nice place, but it was even better than I’d expected – set back from the road with its own drive and large grounds. When we went inside Mrs Connelly led us into the kitchen and offered us some cookies and a choice of milk, juice or cola to drink. We sat at the table and talked for a little while longer before she told Troy to take me up to his room and get on with whatever we were here to do while she got dinner ready. Troy led me upstairs and into his room; I was knocked over by what I saw. It was so large for a start – well over twice the size of mine. He had a queen size bed, a computer desk, wardrobe and a couple of chests of drawers. There were posters on the walls mainly of swimmers and athletes – I noticed all were male, although one especially stood out. It was of that British diver, Tom something or other; I can’t remember his surname, looking amazing in just a very tiny white speedo with red and blue stripes. The room itself was a mess with clothes, books and goodness only knows what lying on the floor and most available surfaces. I’d grown up under orders to keep my room tidy and it was how I now liked things to be. This looked so sloppy, but somehow went with Troy’s laid back attitude to life which was evident even from a distance at school. “Ah, shit!” he said. “I should’ve tidied up but I wasn’t expecting visitors.” “Why don’t you just clear the desk so we can sit there and plan what we are going to do?” I suggested as I walked towards it picking up a chair as I did so and pushing onto the floor the items of clothes that were lying on it. His desk stood in front of a large window that I guessed overlooked the backyard and as I got to the desk I naturally looked out of the window and saw in the middle of the lawn a swimming pool! It was a small pool, but nevertheless a pool. I really was on the other side of the tracks I decided. I sat down, pulled a couple of notepads out of my backpack and told Troy to sit next to me and switch on his computer which he did. Once he’d logged in I searched out some sites that I thought might be useful for our research and bookmarked them. I had a feeling I was very much going to be leading on our project. We’d only been there for a couple of minutes when Troy announced that he needed to be comfortable. He got up, went over to one of his chests of drawers and pulled out a pair of shorts. I’d turned to see what he was doing and with a smile directed at me he undid his jeans, sat on the edge of his bed and pulled them off and also took off his polo shirt before standing up clad only in his red boxer briefs and white socks before putting on a pair of black sports shorts to which he then added a black t-shirt. I’d suspected for the last couple of years that I was gay. I had no interest in girls and no wish to see their bodies. Boy’s bodies was another thing altogether and I loved the glimpses I’d get in the locker rooms before and after gym, but at the same time fearing my dick would give me away. I was a loner at school whom everyone ignored which suited me fine, but if it was discovered that I was gay then I was sure to be picked on. Bullying might be forbidden at school, but it went on, usually in subtle, but sometimes much less subtle, ways. There was no doubt my dick had reacted to seeing Troy in his boxers. I turned away from him and tried to adjust things inside my own boxers, hopefully without being seen. He made no comment when he resumed his seat and we went back to trying to decide on the basis of our project. I soon discovered that Troy was a fidget and found it hard to concentrate on one thing for any length of time, which I was sure went some way to explaining why his grades weren’t ever that good. But we made some progress and I outlined a few things that I wanted him to research and cover. I couldn’t help notice though that his right upper leg was now rubbing up against my left one and I was sure it hadn’t been when he’d sat down. After a while I heard a knock on his bedroom door and his mom poked her head round to say that dinner would be ready shortly if we wanted to wash up. That was when I got another shock as I’d wondered where a second door from Troy’s bedroom led and now found out that he had his own bathroom complete with shower! When we got downstairs I was introduced to his father who also seemed to me to be older than my own, but I decided that it was logical he’d be of similar age to his wife. Mrs Connelly apologised for the meal saying it was only chicken fried steak because she’d not been expecting a visitor, but it was the best chicken fried steak I’d ever eaten with a delicious gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans and soft rolls. I’m afraid I stuffed myself, but so did Troy and we both had space left for a large slice of homemade apple pie and ice cream. When we’d finished Troy and I cleared the dishes before we went back up to his room. He asked if I wanted to play an x-box game but I had to confess I didn’t have one of my own so wouldn’t know what to do. He still got one loaded though and explained to me how it was played – but I was pretty bad, no, make that very bad. I suddenly realized what the time was and said that I needed to go home, so we went downstairs and out to the pick-up with Mrs Connelly. When we got to my house Troy also got out to help me get my bike out of the back and as we were doing so he asked me if I wanted to come for a sleepover on Friday. If I’d been hesitant about his invitation to come to his house this evening an invite for a sleepover was on a far more scary level. Partly because I’d never had one before but also because now having been in his house I knew exactly how far apart our two families stood on the social scale. If I accepted it was an invite I could surely never return. “Err, thanks Troy but I don’t think I can. I have this Saturday job at the supermarket stacking shelves and bagging purchases.” It was true and I needed that job to top up the little allowance I got from my Pa. “Oh, that’s a shame – but what time do you start?” Without thinking I blurted out the honest answer of 2pm. Another kid did 8 ‘till 2 and I worked 2 ‘till 8. “So that’s not a problem then. We ain’t gonna get up early on Saturday but we can be up in time for you to get to the store by two. Mom’ll pick us up after school on Friday in the pick-up so you can stow your bike in there and if neither she nor my Pa is around when it’s time for you to go you can bike to the store like you normally would. How’s that sound?” To be honest it sounded great, but scary too. Why was Troy suddenly being this friendly towards me? Was it just that he needed a good grade in this class or was I like a little mouse being drawn towards a trap by a metaphorical piece of cheese? Was Troy hoping to get me to out myself as gay so he could announce it to all his friends and then very quickly, the entire school? But if that was the case why him and why pick on me? -------- When we got to Troy’s after school on Friday I insisted that we do our homework first, which pleased his mom no end. I always made a point of doing mine then to leave the weekend free, although with my normal weekend activities there wasn’t really any point. However, Mrs C was pleased saying that Troy always left his to do on Sunday night which meant he was as grumpy as hell when it came to getting up on Monday mornings. So that was what we did and by the time we’d finished Mr C was home from work and firing up the grill on the back patio. I’d brought a pair of navy blue sports shorts I’d changed into along with a white t-shirt while Troy was in red sports shorts and a blue t-shirt. Of course he had a basketball hoop on the side of house so we played ‘horse’ for a time while Mr C was taking care of the food. As I expected Troy ran rings round me, but he didn’t seem to mind and gave me a few pointers along the way. After that we sat down to these enormous steaks that simply melted in your mouth as you ate them – I’d never tasted anything like it – with various salads. That was followed by ice cream and some sort of meringue desert that Mrs C called a Pavlova. I’d never had one of those either, but it was delicious. By the time we’d finished eating it was getting a bit cool and nearly dark so when we went indoors his parents said they were going to watch TV, wished us goodnight and suggested that we didn’t stay up all night. So Troy and I went up to his room. Earlier he’d asked me if I was happy to sleep with him or if I wanted to use the guest bedroom. I‘d told him I was happy to share as long as he didn’t either snore or fart which had got me a fist on the upper arm in reply. I forgot to mention when I described his bedroom earlier that he had a 42 inch TV on the wall opposite the foot of his bed, so when we got into his room now he pulled out a selection of DVDs and asked me to choose which I wanted to watch. Of course they were all sci-fi or horror movies. He suggested that although it was still quite early it would make sense if we got ready for bed so we could watch the movies in bed. This was another luxury not available at my house where I had to make do with the screen of my laptop. Having no idea how he slept I’d brought a pair of pj bottoms with me, although I usually slept in my boxers or sometimes naked. I was thus glad when he suggested he use the bathroom first and when he emerged wearing just a pair of paly grey tight fitting Calvin Klein boxer briefs I knew the pjs weren’t going to be used! My only problem was that I had only a pair of cheap check pattern boxers to wear – our budget didn’t permit my mom to buy me other than basic underclothes and thus far in my life I’d seen no need to spend my own money on them. But seeing how good Troy looked in his I had a feeling that could soon change. We got into bed and Troy turned off the lights and switched on the DVD player and the TV, but before doing so he locked his bedroom door. We started off each well on our own side of the bed on our backs, but it wasn’t long before we’d moved closer to each other – I’m sure beds have a dip towards the middle – although we weren’t touching. Suddenly there was a real scary bit of the film and I jumped and let out a little noise of surprise. I now found that Troy had intertwined the fingers of his right hand in my left. I’d never had contact with another boy like this and it felt good so I squeezed his fingers to try and tell him I was happy. We stayed like that for a few minutes before he lifted our intertwined hands and placed them on top of his dick inside those CK briefs. I’d now gone hard myself and could feel his warm dick inside his briefs. I wasn’t sure where this was heading; I didn’t know what would happen next and whether I should be active or passive but I did know that I didn’t want to withdraw my hand! My other hand was also now engaged inside my boxers gently rubbing round my own dick and balls. Having let my left hand lie on his dick for a couple of minutes Troy began to move it gently up and down massaging his dick until I could feel a dampness on his briefs. “Adam, do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted to do this with you?” “No.” I sort of stuttered in reply. “I’ve wanted to be alo