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  1. 73 points
    *** The ride home was quiet. Very quiet. Drake began replaying snippets of his conversations throughout the day, mixing up Jimmy and Richard in his head as the cab traveled to his mother’s house. He felt drained, and as hopeful as his thoughts were for his parents, they paled in comparison to what else was creeping in and causing him anxiety. The other man in the backseat was not sitting as close as he normally would have, and Drake could feel the deeper distance it represented. Now that they were away from prying eyes, Jimmy had retreated from him. Drake didn’t like it, but he stayed silent. The chasm grew exponentially with each second when, after trudging wearily up the stairs and entering their bedroom, Jimmy announced he would be sleeping in the green room. Drake, stunned, stood unmoving as he gathered up a few items. Just as his friend reached the door, he found his voice. “Are you angry with me? Jimmy?” Slowly turning to face him, Jimmy shook his head. “Absolutely not. This has been quite the weekend so far, as you said, and I think it’s best to have some space. We’re both tired.” “But… I don’t need any space.” “I’m sorry, Drake, but I do. I’ll see you in the morning. Night.” He closed the door gently behind him, leaving Drake rooted in the same spot long after he heard the click of the latch. He thought about going after him to apologize again for what he’d said on the patio, but fear and uncertainty held him back. The man wanted space—he had his reasons—and Drake had to respect that no matter how distressed it made him feel. It’d been a weekend of mixed messages, all coming from him, and going after him would be one more. Finally, he found the strength to move. Desolation grew as he undressed, and he found it an effort to brush his teeth and wash up. Exhausted, mentally and physically, he collapsed on the bed, pulling the covers over and burrowing in. Twenty minutes later, he turned and looked across the bed toward the door. This was going to be a long night. Shuffling over to what had been Jimmy’s side the night before, he laid his head on the same pillow. Twisting his head and burying his nose in it, he was disappointed to find no scent of the man had lingered. Had Carla been here… had she changed the pillow cases? He felt ridiculous, and Drake silently admonished himself for being so needy. They’d only slept in the same bed for the one night, for God’s sake. Still, he missed his presence. The charade they were playing had put them in close quarters, and with that came some confusing overlaps between past and present. Whatever he was feeling now would pass, and surely Jimmy’s disappointment would fade. It had to, because he couldn’t stand the idea of them not being friends. He recalled Jimmy’s demeanor when they’d been talking about his parents, before they left the hall. He’d sounded apologetic when he called himself a romantic fool, but it was more than that. Drake now realized what it was as he pictured the man’s expression; he’d looked defeated. Defeated… Jimmy. A sharp pain in his gut accompanied the thought. Had he finally thrown in the towel? If that was the case, why didn’t Drake feel happy about it? Staring at the ceiling, he waited for his mind to settle. He slowly acknowledged to himself just how important it was for him to see Jimmy each workday; to have lunch together most afternoons, either in the office or at a restaurant, and to hear his voice coming from the cubicle in front of his. To be able to count on him like he had this weekend. Despite their abrupt end, the man had never wavered as a friend, once Drake let him back into his life. Looking back, there was no way he couldn’t have. He’d cared too much for the man… the person Jimmy was. Turning on his side, he hugged the pillow to his body. There it was. Just a hint of Jimmy invaded his nostrils. He didn’t question the fact it calmed him as he began the slow slide downward into sleep. His last thoughts were of getting his friend that Alexander McQueen tie he’d spotted at Nomad’s, on Queen St. It would go beautifully with two of his suits, and he definitely owed the man. Drake was sitting up in bed when the door opened at dawn. Jimmy, wearing briefs and a tee shirt and carrying his suit on a hanger, looked tired. He supposed he looked the same. “Hey.” “Morning. Did you get a good sleep?” “I’ve had better.” Jimmy stood just inside the door, studying him. “Me too.” “I thought I should come in here before Dot got up.” “It doesn’t really matter.” “Well, we’ve come this far. Do you need the bathroom?” “Ah, no. Go ahead.” “Are you sure? It’ll take me a while to shower.” “Yeah, I’m sure, but what’s the rush? It’s barely daylight.” “I thought maybe we could get an early start.” “You want to leave?” Drake’s heart did a high dive before plunging into his stomach. “It’s up to you, but I have stuff I need to do at home, and we’ve accomplished what we set out to do.” “Oh… yeah we did at that. Don’t you want another dip in the pool?” Jimmy shook his head. “Yesterday’s workout wore me out.” Drake knew that wasn’t the reason, and he floundered, struggling with how to respond. He’d planned to visit with Callie and Luke when they got home from the wedding party brunch at their hotel, but decided not to mention it. “What… what about breakfast? I could whip us up something?” “I’m not hungry, Drake, but if you want—” “No, that’s fine. Go ahead and shower. I’ll just tell Mom we’re heading out, and make some coffee. We can take it with us.” The bathroom door closed, and Drake allowed his expression to falter. There was no doubting his friend had retreated farther. Their departure hadn’t been set in stone, but they’d agreed on sometime in the early afternoon yesterday at the pool. Jimmy had wanted another swim before they left, but now he couldn’t wait to leave. This significant change was his fault, but he really had no idea what to do about it… what he should do about it. Doing his best to push away a feeling of shame, he went about packing up his stuff. He’d shower at home. He was in the kitchen when Jimmy came down, freshly showered, but unshaved, and still looking worn out. Had he slept at all? Drake turned back to staring out over the pool and the backyard. “That’s your coffee in the travel mug on the island, black no sugar. Are you all set?” “Yeah, I left my stuff at the front door.” “Mine’s in the car.” Sighing to himself, he turned and claimed his own coffee from the breakfast nook table. “Might as well get going then.” “I wanted to say goodbye to Dot first. Is she not up yet?” “She’s not here. Turns out she didn’t come home last night.” “What? Is she all right?” “Yeah, she’s at my dad’s house. I called her cell and he answered.” “Wow.” “Yeah, something else I never expected to happen. It could be innocent, but my dad sounded awfully chipper, and I wasn’t about to ask him why. Looks like you were right.” Jimmy gave him a strange look. “I was?” “About love being worth fighting for.” “Yeah, well, some love is. I hope they figure it out.” “Me too.” Some love is? They were not even ten feet apart, but it felt like miles in that moment. Jimmy took a sip from his mug. “That hits the spot. Shall we go?” He didn’t wait for an answer, and Drake followed him out of the kitchen, swallowing down his nervousness. “Oh, maybe I should leave your mom a note.” “If you want.” “Or I could text her.” “Or that. You want her number?” “I have it.” “You do?” “Uh huh, she gave it to me last night. Your dad and Callie did too. So, I guess I’ll send them all texts, thanking them and saying goodbye.” This weekend was one of surprising developments, but Jimmy managing to win over the whole family… almost, wasn’t really one of them. He should have expected it. “Have you got Preston’s number too?” Drake asked with sarcasm. Picking up his suit bag and grabbing the handle of his rolling suitcase, he turned back to Drake. “What do you think?” Drake smiled. “You want it?” “Fuck, no.” Loading up Jimmy’s stuff took literally seconds, and he was already in his seat when Drake opened his door and got in. He stared at the front façade of his mother’s house, but compared to two nights ago, it didn’t look so imposing. It didn’t look like a place to be avoided anymore. “Thank you, Jimmy.” He turned his head as he spoke. “I appreciate you coming with me.” “No thanks necessary.” “Look, I mean it,” he said, waiting for the man to look at him. It didn’t happen, so he gave up. “I usually leave here feeling like I never want to return, but I don’t feel that way this time.” “I’m glad.” “It’s all because of—” “Just forget about it, okay. I didn’t do anything special, and we both managed to get some closure, so it’s a win win.” His gaze finally flicked over to Drake for a second. “But you did do—” “You’ve thanked me enough already,” Jimmy said, cutting him off. “I was glad to do it. Sorry, but I’m feeling kind of tired, Drake.” “Oh, yeah, you look beat. Ah, lay back if you want.” Jimmy didn’t answer, but he did recline the seat a few notches and closed his eyes, sighing audibly as he did. Drake sighed too, but he did it quietly. He had to force his hands to unclench from the steering wheel so he could start the car. Closure, yes, but at what cost? He was pretty sure he knew the closure Jimmy was referring to for himself, but Drake wasn’t sure how he felt about it anymore. It startled him from some confusing thoughts when Jimmy sat up and took out his phone as soon as they hit the highway. Drake had turned the radio on at low volume on to dispel the silence that resounded in the vehicle. “I thought you were asleep. Are you texting my mom?” Jimmy nodded. “And Lawrence and Callie.” “Could you tell Callie I’ll call her tonight?” “Sure.” Drake kept his eyes on the road. He was tired, but not sleepy. “There. All done,” Jimmy said a couple of minutes later. “Not much traffic heading for Toronto.” “One of the advantages of leaving early.” “You were all right with leaving, weren’t you?” Drake hadn’t expected the question, but he was quick to answer. “Oh, yeah. We were awake anyway, and no one else was even home.” Jimmy settled back in his seat, his head facing the side window. “Jimmy? I’m sorry about what I said last night on the patio.” “No reason to apologize. You were just being honest about your feelings.” “Yes there is. I was being an ass, and—” “I really don’t want to do this.” He turned his head to regard Drake. “You weren’t being an ass. I told you I had no expectations, and I meant it… but, I guess I got caught up in playing your boyfriend, and that’s my fault, not yours.” “But you’re angry with me… I can feel it.” “You’re wrong. I’m angry at me, not you. I promise, okay?” “Okay. Are we still friends?” “Of course. Nothing’s changed between us. I’m really tired, though, so I think I’m going to close my eyes for a bit. Are you all right to drive?” “I’m wide awake, so yeah, I’m fine. We should be home before noon.” “Good.” When Drake glanced over, his eyes were closed again. They didn’t open again until three and a half hours later, five minutes from Jimmy’s apartment building. Drake suspected he’d been awake for the last hour, because his breathing had changed, but the eyes stayed closed. “We made it, eh? Sorry I wasn’t any company,” Jimmy said as he adjusted his seat and sat up. “No worries. You needed sleep. Do you feel like getting breakfast now?” “Um… not really… still not hungry. Raincheck?” “Sure.” Raincheck? Really? All the doubts returned for Drake. He might not be angry with him, but things had definitely changed. He swallowed down the urge to keep talking, hoping Jimmy just needed time and space. It was a long five minutes before he pulled into the complex entrance. “Here we are. Home sweet home.” “Home and laundry,” was the man’s muttered response. “Thanks again for coming with me.” “I’m glad you don’t dread going home anymore. Sometimes you have to stick up for yourself.” His hand was on the door handle, and his eye contact was fleeting. “You stuck up for me, Jimmy… I just followed your lead. I’ve thought about everything you’ve said this weekend and—” “It’s okay, Drake. You don’t have to say anything else. Look, I have to pee… my back teeth are floating.” He followed up with an apologetic half frown, half smile before he opened his door. “I’ll just grab my stuff.” “Ah, sure… see you tomorrow then.” “See you tomorrow,” was followed by the door closing. Jimmy didn’t look at him or say anything as he opened up the rear lift gate to claim his luggage. He did give a quick wave, though, as Drake drove away. Drake wasn’t a crier as a rule… not since his breakup with Richard. Yes, he’d shed a few tears this weekend, after his kitchen encounter with Preston, and maybe one or two out on the patio, but it surprised him when the flood gates opened on his way home to his empty condo. He experienced a sense of shame to go with feeling he’d lost something precious. He sat in his car in the underground parking, the tears more or less ended, replaced by alternating numbness and panic. It took him what could have been ten minutes or twenty to find the desire to open his door. At the elevator, he realized he’d left his luggage in the car. His legs felt like lead as he walked back. When he entered the condo, he stood and looked around, taking in the almost compulsive neatness of the place. Despite the furnishings, it looked like no one even lived here, and that depressed him even more than usual. Tossing his suitbag carelessly over his suitcase, he headed to the bathroom. His back teeth were floating too. A few minutes later, after contemplating and then forgoing a hot shower, he walked into his curtain-darkened bedroom. He hated the sight of his lonely bed, but that didn’t stop him from sprawling face down on it, full clothed. He tried halfheartedly to pry his shoes off with his feet, but he didn’t have the energy, so gave up. His eyes burned, his throat hurt, and his heart ached… and there was only one escape. He managed to curl up in a ball before he gave in to his exhaustion. The jarring sound of his ringtone startled him awake. It took a few seconds to realize the sound was coming from his shorts pocket. The brightness of the screen in the dark room made it too difficult to see the name of the person calling. “Hello?” “I thought you were going to call me?” Drake sighed and laid back on his bed, wincing at a protest from his back muscles. He must have slept on his stomach too long. “Callie. Hey. What time is it?” “Ten. Are you all right?” “Ten? Wow. Yeah, I was sleeping.” “Oh? Where?” “In my own bed… alone as usual.” “Well, that’s a shame… you should do something about that.” “Calliope, don’t even go there.” He rubbed the grit from his eyes as he listened. “Okay, but can’t a sister want her brother to get laid? Getting an early night then?” “Ah, no, actually, I’ve been sleeping since I got home.” Realizing his shoes were still on, he managed to push them off this time. “When did you get home? Dean texted me early and said you were on the road already.” “We were… is it really ten o’clock?” “Yes. What’s wrong, Drakie? You sound awful.” “I’m fine. I’m just… oh, Cal, I messed up big time.” “With Dean?” “Jimmy, yeah. I pretty sure he’s fed up with me.” “Right, Jimmy. Is this about what you said to him last night at the reception?” “Uh huh. He says he’s not angry with me, but he wouldn’t even sleep in the same room last night, and he hardly talked to me today, not that I can blame him.” “What does that tell you?” “What do you mean?” “You’re feeling bad, right?” “That’s an understatement. I think I’ve lost his friendship. He as much as said he’s given up.” “Friendship? Who are you kidding? You love him.” “Cal… I don’t know how I feel—” “Bull! You’re just afraid to say it.” “No I’m not… I don’t know what’s going on with me.” “Want me to tell you?” “Can I stop you?” “No. Look, my sweet but pathetic brother, you’re scared. I don’t care what you say, I know you. You think you’ve fallen in love with another Richard, and that’s just stupid. Do you honestly believe Jimmy doesn’t know what he wants?” “Sure, he knows what he wants now, but Callie, he sleeps with women.” “What, regularly?” “No. Not since before we went out.” “Then what’s the problem… did you just hear what you said? You believe him, right? You told me you trust him.” “About that? Yeah. I know we put on an act this past weekend, but he’s not a liar. I’m positive he wouldn’t knowingly lie to me.” “Then why in hell don’t you trust he knows what he wants?” “Because Richard thought he knew too.” “Ah, there’s the rub. You’re an idiot, Drake. He’s not Richard! I’m sorry that happened—I know how much it hurt and I would never make light of it, but you have to let it go.” “God, Cal, I have. I don’t care about Richard anymore. This weekend proved that to me in spades.” “And I believe you, but can’t you see how it’s still affecting you? I guarantee you would feel differently about Jimmy if there had never been a Richard.” “Ah… what?” “You would never have been this scared of the fact he’s slept with women, and it wouldn’t have become this big stupid deal in your head. I’m sure lots of gay guys have at one time or another.” “I haven’t.” He heard the sigh after he said it. “I don’t know… maybe you’re right.” “I am right.” Drake didn’t respond right away. He couldn’t argue with her. Richard had really fucked him up. “Drake?” “Sorry, I was thinking. Yes, Cal, you’re right. I’ve let it become too big a deal, but—” “No, don’t do that. No buts. So, what are you going to do about it?” No buts. Jimmy had said that to him yesterday when he’d told Drake all he wanted was a chance. He pictured the man, sitting in the water, trying to comfort him when he’d started to panic. “I… I don’t know….” “Do you know what you want? Forget Richard… do you know how you feel, because I do?” “Callie… you can’t just—” “Start by saying it out loud.” Drake groaned. “I’m still not sure.” “Yes, you are.” He groaned again. “Okay, yes, I am sure. I love him. God help me, I do.” “There you go… I’m proud of you, but don’t expect God to help you. You have to help yourself.” A smile slowly crept across his face as a heavy weight lifted. Yes, he did love the man; he didn’t think he had ever stopped, and it wasn’t as scary to admit as it had been when those feelings would occasionally poke through his guards. “When did you get so smart?” “It’s got nothing to do with being smart, Drakie. I just know love when I see it.” “Are we talking about Luke now?” “Maybe.” She giggled. “Maybe?” “Okay, yes. It’s no big secret, but I love him… he’s the one, Drake.” “I figured. And he’s a good one.” “The best. I think he’s going to ask me.” “Really?” “Yup. He’s pretty transparent, and I know something’s up.” “That’s awesome, sis.” “Thanks. It’s just between you and me, though. You never know… he could change his mind.” “He’d be a fool.” “Yes, he would.” She giggled again. “So, what are you going to do?” “Oh, back to me? Talk, I suppose… I hope… if he’s still willing. Jimmy’s wanted us to talk… like really talk, for a long time now, but I’ve been sidestepping because I didn’t think we had a future.” “And now?” “I’m ready, Cal.” “Because?” “I love him.” “And?” “And… and he isn’t Richard.” “Say it again.” “He isn’t Richard. I know who Jimmy is.” “And?” “I love him… I really love him.” “Good boy… there’s hope for you yet.” “Shut up, twerp,” he said, but he was grinning from ear to ear. *
  2. 72 points
    “Hey Troy,” I said approaching him, he had his head under the bonnet of a 2007 Commodore Ute. “Yeah Boss?” “Give it up for the day mate, come grab a beer. The customer doesn’t want it back until Monday.” “I don’t mind.” He smiled. “Nah, don’t worry about it mate. Aaron just got here, it’s been a hard week; we’ve earned a beer.” I slapped Troy on the shoulder, then directed him to where everyone had gathered. As we approached Aaron tossed both me and Troy a beer. “Mate, what have I told you about throwing glass around in the workshop?” I asked tersely. Aaron chuckled and pointed to the corner where we kept our cleaning equipment. “You told me the broom’s over there.” “Smartarse,” I grumbled. The Basher laughed and cuffed Aaron on the back of the head, “Dickhead!” “Basher!” Mags shouted from the office, “You better not be drinking out there, you’re driving me to see Nanna tonight.” “No Ma!” He downed the rest of his beer in three gulps, putting the bottle on the bench behind Aaron so Mags wouldn’t see it. His Mum came into the workshop from the office. “Have a good weekend gentleman,” she saluted us, “Tell AJ I wish him luck for tomorrow Aaron.” “Yes Ma’am,” Aaron answered, “will do. Thanks Mags.” Basher walked off to follow his Mum, then turned around lifting his chin looking at Aaron. “Ask Justin who came in for an interview today,” Basher said laughing raucously and winked before he ran to catch up with Mags. Aaron looked at Justin, then Troy, followed by Jim, finally setting his sights on me since no one was forth coming and all looked uncomfortable. “Who?” he asked energetically, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Troy looked between all of us looking confused. “Who came in?” he asked quizzically. “Brady Douglass,” I said through clenched teeth. “What? Wait… seriously?” Aaron said wincing. His beer bottle slipped from his hands, Aaron went to catch it and knocked it further from his body. The bottle smashed on the floor of the workshop. We all pointed toward the broom. Aaron hung his head, sliding his feet along the floor to get the broom. “Nobody move,” Aaron said sullenly returning with the broom, dragging the dustbin behind him. <>-<>-<> Justin broke up with his boyfriend Dean – finally and had been staying with me in the interim. Since it was Friday and the week had been all around shit, neither of us wanted to cook so we decided to go to “The Yard”, a local pub, to get dinner. We were sitting side by side at the bar having a well-earned beer while we waited for our order to arrive. “What are you going to do about your house?” I asked Justin. He’d moved out because his boyfriend wouldn’t leave. The house was Justin's, but he hadn’t wanted to stay while his boyfriend was still there. If it had been me, I would have thrown the guy out the door with his belongings following him. But Justin is nicer than I am, they’d been in an on again off again relationship for a long time, so I guess it was hard to let go. He shrugged his shoulder, “Sell it probably.” “It’s your house, Justin, have him removed… I’ll do it if you like,” I said chuckling into my beer. Justin smirked, “Too much drama, I’ve come to hate the place anyway. Too many bad memories now, it will never feel like just my place. It’s not like I owe that much to the mortgage.” He tipped his beer in appreciation to the heavens, “thanks to the inheritance from my Grandad. I could probably use a little bit of an upgrade. Something with space for me to build a workshop or maybe I’ll find a place with one. I used to love tinkering with stuff; Dean was too clingy, always whining I didn’t put in enough effort…” Justin trailed off watching the cricket on the television behind the bar. “Sounds fair, but while you have the opportunity why don’t you rent the place out and use the equity to buy a house you want to get the upgrade. Then you’ll also have an investment property, maybe wait until the market goes up a little,” I shrugged. Justin's eyes shifted to me while he nodded his head like he was considering it, “What do I do about Dean?” “Simple, he won’t move right?” “Nope,” Justin said popping the ‘p’ like he was bursting a balloon, “he thinks I’m coming back.” “He’s a dick,” I scoffed, “Anyway talk to him about renting the place, put it through a real estate. You won’t have to deal with him. I mean the guys an ass, but he’s not that much of an ass that he’d do any damage to your place. He’d have to move anyway, this way he can stay put.” “I can always help him move out if that doesn’t work.” I added – in my head. Justin nodded again. I could see the wheels turning. Our food was laid in front of us at the bar, the bartender replaced our beers, we thanked him and ate quietly while we watched the cricket. Until Justin brought up the subject, I’d been avoiding – the interview with Brady Douglass. Justin cleared his throat, “So about Brady,” “What about him, I’m eating my dinner, you’ll spoil my beer.” My eyes turned to daggers on Justin, “there’s no way in hell I’m employing that asshole…” “Just hear me out for a second,” he put his hand up to stop me, “look I’m with you about the Douglass family, but our only dealings with them were twenty-years ago. His interview was a disaster,” Justin chuckled, “but he was nervous as hell, but geez Ember, you’ve got to admit it would have looked funny as on YouTube, maybe interview fails of the year.” That at least made me grin. “Good, then I won’t have to worry about any backlash for not hiring him,” I grumbled, then shoving food in my mouth. Justin gave me that look, the one that says you’re being a Jackass. “What?” I asked disgruntled. “Come on mate, that’s not fair. I really felt bad for him. No sooner had you stormed out, he’d knocked the water all over the table and into poor Mags’ lap. We didn’t even get to interview him, I swear if you’d have seen his face… poor guy. Nothing seems to be going right for him.” Justin said sympathetically. “Yeah well, it’s not really my problem is it.” I tried to concentrate on my dinner and the cricket on the television behind the bar. “But–” Justin said. I rolled my eyes. “There’s always a but…” “–Short of getting another auto-electrician or mechanic, he’s going to be the best we can get. Brady is an electrical engineer, he’ll be able to keep up with me, and he’ll be a fast learner with the mechanical crap. My guess is he’s desperate for work, he knows the history you two have, that shows some balls or utter stupidity to interview with us; he and his son are living at his parent's place. You could see in his face, he’s in a bind; it’s not likely he’ll get a job doing anything with his degree around here. All I’m asking is we give him a shot, maybe a four-week probation or something. If it doesn’t work, we cut him loose.” “You can’t be serious Justin?” I asked incredulously, pointing my fork at him. “The way I see it, if we don’t, we are just as bad as he and his cronies were in high school. A bunch of bullies throwing our weight around because we can.” Justin sighed. “I’m not wild about this either Ember, but I need help. Brady will be able to hit the ground running, and I won’t have to turn away work.” He went back to eating his dinner. Well it’s hard to argue with that logic, isn’t it? But seriously Brady freakin’ Douglass… “Also, if I turn away work, it’s money out of your pocket, and one less potential customer in the future,” Justin said with half a mouth full. Ugh! Damn logic. Justin swallowed then continued, “Brady’s grown up Ember, he was humble and almost begging for the job. He’s guaranteed Mags and me he’s not here to cause any trouble…” “And what if it was Cameron Douglass, would you be asking me to do it then?” I knew I was snarky and being a royal pain. Justin paused and really thought about it. “Yes, if it were Cameron, and he was in this situation, and his demeanour was the same as Brady’s today. I’d say definitely considerate it, and do you know why?” he asked pointing his fork at me to emphasize his point this time. I snorted, “So you could lore it over him, get your thrills bossing him around?” Justin chortled, cutting his steak, “No…Yes, What? No, I wouldn’t do that.” I raised my eyebrow at him. “Okay maybe a bit of that, but mostly because we are friendly people and we give others a chance Boss.” Justin gave me a confident nod and shoveled in another mouthful of food to his wide open logical trap. “I hate you right now Justin,” I sighed, “fine have it your way, you can give him a go. But the second he’s out of line, says, does, breathes, even sweats one homophobic asshole thing his ass is out of there. With a black eye and broken nose from yours truly. You can have your four-week paid trial.” Justin smiled, “Thanks, Boss.” “I still hate you, keep him away from me, or I’m going to be bitching all over your ass the whole time,” I grumbled moving the food around on my plate. I really do hate him right now. I was looking forward to my steak. Jackass and his logic. “Uncle Ember?” I heard my nephew say from behind me. I swiveled on my bar stool, so I could see AJ, donning a smile by the time he could see my face. Justin did the same. “Oh, hi Justin.” He gave him a small wave. “Hey Bud, where are your folks?” I asked looking past him to see if I could see my sister April or his Dad. “Oh, um, I’m here with a friend from school,” AJ waved his friend over, and he quickly moved and stood next to my nephew smiling. “Uncle Ember this is my friend Novy; Novy this is my Uncle Ember,” he pointed to Justin, “this is Justin, he works with my Uncle, Justin this is my friend Novy.” The kid looked a little familiar, but I couldn’t place him, “Nice to meet you.” I shook his hand. He gave a good solid handshake. Novy did the same with Justin, he politely greeted us both shaking our hands. “You guys here by yourself? We can move to a table if you want.” “Oh no, it’s okay we are with Novy’s Dad for dinner.” My nephew pointed toward the door. “Cool, so Novy, are you in year twelve like AJ?” I asked curiously. They looked the same age, you can never tell these days. I sized up the kid a little, he was dressed well in designer clothes and very polite, not too polite it was sickly or fake, but like he was naturally a nice kid, good manners, he wasn’t stand-offish, he seemed relaxed around adults, his parents should be proud. “Yes, we just moved here from the city. It’s my first week at school. AJ has been kind enough to show me around and stuff.” He put his hand on AJ’s shoulder and pushed it gently, my nephew smiled. It would be just like him to take the new kid under his wing. The kid is liked and likes everyone, he is friendly and laid back, there’s not a malicious bone in that boy’s body. I smiled fondly at my nephew, AJ gave me a bashful smile, and I winked at him, so he knew I was proud of him. “Are you guys coming to watch AJ and me tomorrow? We are entered in the Moto over at The Oaks.’” “Uncle Ember and Dad are my mechanics.” AJ grinned proudly. “Yep, I’ll be there. Otherwise, this knucklehead would never get to race, he’s not really mechanically inclined are ya?” I ruffled AJ’s hair laughing. “I’m alright, I’m just… slow is all. I like to take my time, so I know it’s right,” my nephew whined while shooting daggers at me with his eyes and trying to fix his hair. “Oh Princess, your hair is fine.” I laughed and messed with it again. AJ swatted my hands away and tried to fix his hair. “Stop it.” his friend Novy by his side laughing. “Since you just moved here, do you have a mechanic for tomorrow, Novy?” Justin asked. “Ah, no. I have my Dad. He’s okay, but he’s better with electrical stuff than mechanical.” The kid shrugged his shoulder, he looked a little dejected for a second and recovered quickly. I looked at Justin, and I saw everything click into place, I had an awful feeling I knew who this kid’s Dad was. He just moved here, and his Dad is good at electrical stuff, I wonder who that could be? I internally rolled my eyes, oh for the love of god no way... “Well I’ll be there tomorrow if you need a mechanic so just yell, I’ll give you a hand. I’ll go over your bike in the morning before you race too if you like?” Justin offered, I could see he was trying to hold back a smirk. Asshole! He’d pieced together who his Dad was too. “You wouldn’t mind?” Novy asked excitedly, pumping his fist, the kids face lit up like a Christmas tree. Justin chuckled shaking his head, “No problem, any friend of AJ’s…” Justin smirked and tilted his head at the kid, “So Novy,” Justin cleared his throat, trying to compose himself, “that’s an unusual name, is it a nickname?” The kid shrugged his shoulder, “Kind of, it’s short for November. I found out recently, I’m apparently named after someone my Dad was in love with in high school, my dad’s gay and my mom doesn’t live with us now…” the boy prattled on with his story. I didn’t hear a word he said, it took every piece of energy I had to stay seated on the stool after being hit right between the eyes with a piece of four by two. What the fuck? Fuck I feel dizzy, my head was spinning, like one of those bad 80’s movie effects. At that moment, Brady Douglass walked through the door with Ricky Cummings deep in conversation; Ricky had a smile on his face, while Brady looked - intense. They’d been friends in high school, and Ricky was the quiet but friendly one of their crowd, never a dick like his buddy next to him. Ricky waved to us and turned toward the tabled area, and Novy called out, “Dad, come here a sec.” Brady stopped and looked at the boy and then saw us and the colour drained from his face and he froze, like a deer in the headlights. I could hear Justin bust out laughing and reached over to squeeze my shoulder. AJ shook my shoulder gently. “You okay Uncle E?” “Huh?” I looked up at AJ dazed, “What?” My nephew's eyes were as big as saucers. Brady ‘fucking’ Douglass was in love with me in high school. WHAT. THE. FUCK?
  3. 71 points
    “Morning,” I yawned, flicking the coffee maker on in the breakroom. “Yeah, morning,” Justin grumbled, ever the morning person, putting his lunch in the fridge. “Good weekend, huh?” I smiled. “Do you reckon I can crash in your spare room or the couch for a couple of nights?” Shit! “Yeah, sure, why? What’s up?” I asked leaning against the bench, my arms folded across my chest. “I broke up with Dean. It’s done, last time I fall for his shit,” he snapped at me. Thank God, Dean is a first-class douche bag, “Oh, speaking of assholes. How did the reunion go?” Rolling my eyes, I turned around to pour us both a coffee. I sat down at the lunch table with Justin, sliding his mug in front of him. “It started with Paul, do you remember him? Brady’s best friend.” “God, do I ever. He was an equal opportunity asshole, nobody was safe. At least Brady only tortured you, no offense,” Justin took a sip of his coffee, then cocked his head, frowning, “I wonder why that is?” “Dunno, anyway, Paul said something about a ‘Fag’ right when I walked past him. He made sure I could hear. I got in his face, and then Brenda Small came along and gave him what for and Aaron dragged me away,” I shrugged my shoulder. “Brady and Ricky were at the table, I’m not sure what happened, but that asshole Brady stood up, put his hand smack bang in Pauls' chest, said something to him, and Paul fell back almost with shock. Anyway, they left the reunion right after that and didn’t come back. Thank God,” Justin smirked, “Uh… that might be because Ricky is living with the guy that owns ‘The Yard,’ the pub next to the golf course. I don’t know if Ricky is gay, but I do know the other guy definitely is.” “Really? Well, there you go. Maybe Brady has grown up after all,” I answered curiously. “Um… Boss, while I’ve got you. Is there any chance you have enough in the budget for me to get an apprentice or at least some labour? I’m starting to have to turn jobs away, the caravans and motorhomes are rolling in now. I did a job for one of them putting solar panels on their van, now I’m getting enquiries from the whole grey nomad club as well as people they know. The panels are time-consuming on my own, and I can’t get the little jobs done. Most of the time I have to steal Troy once you’re finished with him or between your jobs to give me a hand.” I chuckled, “I wondered where he kept sneaking off to? Sure, I’ll talk to Mags, we’ll look at the books and see what we can do. Are you happy with just labour, for now? I don’t want to have Jim doing that kind of work. If he slipped or fell, I dread to think what he’d break. Plus, he’s great dealing with our suppliers; they all love him, he gets us discounts and freebies when he picks up our parts.” “Who wouldn’t love the guy?” Justin smiled warmly, “but yeah labour’s fine for now, and someone that shows up, not a dumbass.” “Leave it with me,” I said yawning again. The morning flew by we were so busy, I had given Troy a hard time for disappearing. Poor kid couldn’t stop saying sorry, I regret it now. If Troy says sorry again, I think I’m going to be tempted to throw a spanner at him. “TROY!” I called out. He came jogging from the back of the workshop with an alternator in one hand and a screwdriver. “S’up Boss?” He looked at me hoping he wasn’t in trouble. I chuckled, “Troy, can you please relax, you aren’t in trouble, I was just having a lend. Justin explained that he’s been borrowing you. It’s fine, but you should have told me.” I could see the relief sweep through his body, “Where are you up to with the SUV? Can I do anything to help?” “Uh… it will be ready by three, I just have to give it a test drive.” “Good work mate. When you’re done, we’ll give it the once over together, yeah?” Troy smiled, “Thanks, Boss,” he returned to the workbench. “How’s it going Mag’s?” I asked as I entered the office. “Too busy today, you have three more cars this afternoon, a service, pink slip and a clutch repair, I also have to ring these five jobs to come pick up their cars. And that’s only if we don’t get any walk-ins for a pink slip inspection.” Mags sighed. “Give me those, I’m going to have lunch, I’ll ring them at the same time. The SUV should be ready by three. Shall I call him with this lot?” I asked taking the paperwork from Mags. “If you can that would be great, I also have the job ad ready to go to the classifieds. I didn’t go through the agency. It’s a lot of money for someone to do just labour for the next three months. If we’re not happy with the response, I’ll go to the agency.” Mags told me. “You’re awesome lady,” I kissed her cheek, and Mags guffawed, “What would I do without you Mags?” “S’far as I can tell you’d be at home drinking beer watching tv with this mob, waiting for the delivery guy,” she laughed. “You’re prolly right,” I grumbled moving through the office to the break room. I cleaned myself up, then sat down with my sandwich after grabbing the cordless phone from my office. I ran through the list of pickups, they were mostly voicemail which is excellent. It makes it quick and easy without them being able to ask questions. I reached the SUV and saw the name of the owner for the first time, oh for the love of, damn it! Brady ‘fucking’ Douglass. I had a local landline number which was odd. I thought he was living in the city somewhere. A lady answered the phone and assured me she would pass the message onto her son. Fan-fucking-tastic, at least I didn’t have to speak to the asshole! “Hey Boss, what’s going on?” “Hey Jus, you’ll never guess who the SUV belongs to?” I sighed wiping my hand over my face. “You’re kidding?” He laughed, “Brady Douglass,” I grunted in confirmation. Brady hadn’t given me a hard time at the reunion, but I still hate that guy. I know it’s not fair, nobody is the same person they were at eighteen. It probably wouldn’t feel this way if he had not made my life a living hell in high school, even if it was twenty years ago. I am not even the person I was back then. I need to find a way to let it go somehow. I wonder if Brady will turn around and go straight back to where he came from now that his car is back on the road. I hope so, maybe I should check how Troy went with that, I don’t want Brady ‘fucking’ Douglass coming back. Nah, I’m sure Troy has done a fantastic job, I can’t do it to the kid; it would break his heart. Please almighty just make sure Brady doesn’t come back. “How’s your afternoon looking, Troy and I are flat out. If you need any help we might have to pull Jim, just don’t have him up on ladders and stuff. I know he’s capable and blah, blah, blah, but if he hurts himself, I’ll never forgive myself,” I told Justin. “I could actually use some help, I can handle all of the ladder crap for now, but I’ve got two stereo installs this afternoon. He’s better than me at soldering so win-win,” Justin shrugged his shoulder. “Great,” I stood and put my rubbish in the bin, “See ya Jus, let me know if you get stuck, I’m sure we’ll manage somehow. Oh, see Mags before you go home, she has the ad ready for your labour hire to put in the classified’s.” Justin’s grin nearly took up half his face, “Thanks, Boss, will do.” I went back to work, I had the pink slip done in record time, a piece of cake. I had Troy working on the clutch repair, while I did the service. Troy can do a service with his eyes closed. There’s no point getting him to do that kind of work if there are other jobs he can learn from. I always keep an eye on him, most of the time he asks questions if he’s unsure. The kid is cluey though, I’ll give him that. Last time I had to go to the city for a product conference, he had to replace a radiator. He’d never done anything like it before. Not by himself anyway. He got on the internet and found some information then rang my old boss Mike for advice, and had it ready and waiting for me to check when I got back. I like that people in this town trust us with their classic cars. We usually get three or four a week, the motors are easy, it is only sourcing the parts that can sometimes cause us a delay. That is the fun part though, going to the wreckers yard and climbing through the cars like a teenager, trying to find a part in the best condition you can find. It’s like a treasure hunt. Once the service was done, Troy had the car ready for the new clutch to go in. We managed to finish everything by three o’clock. “Boss, I need to test drive the SUV quickly then you said you would look it over,” Troy frowned. “Shit! The owners not here yet, hop to it. Maybe we can get it done by the time he gets here.” Troy grabbed the keys and made a hasty retreat, and Jim was out back washing the finished vehicles, Justin had caught up and sent him back over. It’s incredible how much people appreciated their cars being clean when they collected them. Jim loves to do it when we’re busy, I think his wife likes it too, quieter at home. Now that there were no cars in the workshop except the one upon the hoist. I took the opportunity to quickly sweep the floor and move any tools back to their rightful home. We are pretty good about putting them back after we use them but on busy days we get distracted and forget. Troy drove the SUV into the back entrance, cut the engine and popped the hood. He had a grin like a kid on Christmas morning when he climbed out of the car. “Purrs like a kitten, Boss, I even managed to fix the air-conditioner,” Troy chortled. “What was wrong with it?” I frowned. “The plug came out of the back,” he laughed, “there was nothing wrong with it, I plugged it back in and wah-la!” Should charge Brady two hundred bucks just for being a douche bag his entire life. I shook my head; I’d never do that. We’ve always been prided ourselves on how we charge our customers, we’re fair and never do any work that will cost the owner without their permission. “Great work, maybe it’s a good thing you’ve been hanging around Justin’s workshop,” I smiled at young Troy. He blushed, nodding his head, I could tell he was excited on the inside but trying to act cool. He’s like a puppy, you give him praise, and he laps it up. Sometimes I half expect him to drop to his back with his arms and legs in the air so I’ll pat his belly. I laughed at the thought, he looked at me quizzically, and I waved him off. Grabbing the clipboard holding the paperwork, I moved toward the SUV to inspect Troy's work. I had him start her up, the engine did indeed purr like a kitten. I heard the door to the office slide open, “Boss, I need the paperwork for the SUV. Mr. Douglass is here to pick it up,” Mags called out. “Alright coming,” I grunted back. “I’ll quickly clean her up if you can stall for five minutes, then take her round the front,” Troy offered excitedly. I don’t blame him, it was his first repair that I’d assigned him. He’d done others, but they were because I wasn’t around or they were nothing special. This I had let him do it all, diagnose, order the parts and do the repair. If he knew how big of a deal it was that this repair is perfect, he’d shit a brick. I wanted it done right, I do not want any reason for Brady to complain or ruin the reputation we’ve built for the past eight years. I swiftly took the paperwork and gave it to Mags in the office, I tried my best to ignore Brady standing in the reception area. Luckily he had his back to me. Let’s just say my traitorous body liked the view of Brady from behind, if I had been at a bar and I hadn’t known it was him, I’d have approached him without a second thought. I didn’t really take much notice of Brady at the reunion, I was actually too focused on trying to rip that dickhead Paul’s head off. I was aware that Brady was sitting at the table when I double-backed after that wanker Paul opened his obnoxious foot-rest. The next thing I knew Aaron was pulling me away as his wife approached. I’m almost certain she had been Brady’s girlfriend in high school. The next thing I knew Paul was on his arse and Brady was walking out the door with Rick Cummings. Well, fuck me if the guy didn’t go and get all hot on me. Although he’s wearing a suit and I can only see him from behind – a very hot view. He’s tall about my height maybe a couple of inches taller, his shoulders are broad tapering down to a smaller waist. His jacket hung over his arm, and his white collared shirt, tucked neatly into his pants shows off his back nicely. Oh, my God, he turned around, his face no longer had the baby-faced good looks he had in high school. Brady had filled out beautifully, he was now all man and had that nerdy, intelligent look down pat. The stylish glasses adorning his face made it worse for me. If I didn’t know him, I’d be weak in the knees. His look is everything I’d always been attracted to. Damn Brady Douglass, I hate you. Busted! He looked up at me at that moment, his hand went up to get my attention. “Your car will be around in a minute, Mags will give you your invoice,” I grumbled harshly. “November…” He tried to say something, but I hastily made my retreat back to the workshop.
  4. 70 points
    Adam was the first to wake up and was in the kitchen brewing up a pot of coffee when Rob walked out. “Good morning, sleepyhead. What do you say about us going out for breakfast?” Adam poured himself and Rob a cup each. He passed Rob his and leaned against the counter. “Sounds good, Dad,” Rob added cream and sugar to his coffee and sat down at the island bar. “Do we have anything planned for today?” “I have my meeting with Jace, my business partner, this afternoon. You don’t have to go if you don’t want too, but I would like for you to go. There’s a game tonight, Lightning vs. the Rangers. I was planning on going to the arena for the game. You’re more than welcome to come, I already added you on to my season ticket account.” “I’ll go to both the meeting and to the hockey game tonight. Neither are my team, but hell, live hockey is always good.” Rob paused a moment. “Would you be mad, if I asked you to buy me a Lightning Jersey?” “It’s part of the season ticket package.” Adam grinned at his son. “They have a chip sewn into the sleeve, that you swipe, and it goes to your season ticket member account. Who do you want on it? Or do you want your own name?” “Stamkos or Hedman.” “That’s doable. We can head to the arena after breakfast and get your jersey.” They sipped their coffees, in silent contemplation. I wonder why Dad wants me to go to the business meeting with him. Rob let out a long sigh. “Um, Dad… the other night, you and Grandpa, talked about school… when do I have to go back, and which one?” Adam cleared his throat and sipped his coffee, giving him some time to think. “Hmm, that is a good question. Let me ask you one. Was there any sports you were active in?” “I did some lacrosse and hockey for my school in Boston. I could do without either if they are not played here.” “It seems that you’re in luck. First, we need to wait for Sylvia. She’s been trying to get your school records from Massachusetts, so we can enroll you here. It should take a few more days, so you’re stuck with your old man for a bit longer.” He chuckled, and Rob smiled and laughed as well. “Second, we have a few options. If you want to play lacrosse and hockey, then the public high school we are zoned for, H. B. Plant High School has both. They are also a pure team in the Lightning High School Hockey League, meaning all players come from that school. If you want to stay home and be home-schooled that is an option for you. You can also stay home, and go to the Hillsborough County Virtual School, where it’s work at your own pace, and all online. Or, we can find a private school for you. I’m not sure if you’re religious, and if you follow the Catholic faith or not, but Jesuit High School, is an all-boys private school, and they have a pure team as well in the high school league.” Adam paused a moment to take a drink of his coffee. “I’m leaving the choice up to you, Rob.” Rob shook his head stunned. “I… I… don’t get you, Dad.” “What do you mean?” “You've done so much already. You've changed things and included me so much, and now you're saying I can choose my education?.” Rob shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t get it. Mom wasn’t like this.” Adam nodded and walked over to his son. He reached over and squeezed his shoulder lovingly. “Ah…” He took another swallow of his beverage. “This is how I see it, Rob I love you. We’re still getting to know each other, and all our little quirks. “Now, you are also sixteen-years-old. You’re old enough to drive with a restricted license here in Florida. You can get a part-time job if you wanted. You’re a couple of years from being considered an adult, where you can vote, or go into the military. Hell, right now, you’re physically capable of fathering your own child, if you were straight and seeing a girl.” Adam paused. “What I’m getting at Rob is this. You’re a young adult. So, instead of treating you like a child who doesn’t have his own opinions, likes/dislikes, and your own agency, I decided to treat you like an adult. Yeah, I’m the dad, I have to enforce the rules, be there to give you guidance, but it would be a mistake to treat you like a child instead of an adult. That’s how I see, and feel, about it. Does it make sense to you?” Rob nodded. “It does Dad. I… I’m still trying to get used to all this.” He let out a long calming breath. “Let me think about the school choices, and I’ll let you know later. But… why do you want me at the business meeting?” Adam sat down facing Rob, next to him at the island bar. “Two reasons really. It could be yours one day if it becomes successful, and I thought it could be something we could do as a father and son project. I’ll be honest, yesterday afternoon, I was considering pulling out of the deal. However, after our naps, I thought better of it, and got to thinking that we could do it together.” “You… you are serious. You want me as a partner?” Rob sat dumbfounded. I can’t believe this. Am I dreaming? “Yes, I’m serious. Granted there are some legal things we need to consider, but it’s not something we can’t work out.” Adam tilted his head and gave his son a smile. “What do you say? Want to give it a shot?” “Sure… sure, Dad… I’ll try.” Adam smiled proudly. “Good. Now, go get dressed, and let’s get today started. I’m thinking, First Watch. Unless there is a place you want to go?” “What’s First Watch?” “It’s a breakfast, brunch, and lunch place. They have a spot here in Downtown Tampa, and several more around the Bay.” “That sounds good. Mom used to take me to IHOP or Waffle House.” Adam laughed a little. “There were many times, that your mom and I went to Waffle House. Often drunk as a skunk. Good times.” Adam sighed with the happy memory. “We could go there if you want?” Rob shook his head no. “Nah. I rather try this new place.” Rob looked away sheepishly. “I know we’ll go there eventually, but I rather go someplace different with you.” “I get it. You want to keep the special memories of the two of you there.” “Yeah.” Adam gave his son, a reassuring hug. “Alright… go get ready, and I’ll meet you in the library.” He kissed Rob on the top of his head, and they both left to shower, change, and get ready to go. ~.~ Adam and Rob met up in the library before heading out. They each dress separately, but somehow managed to match again. They both wore black jeans shorts and black tennis shoes. Rob wore a grey Hockey is for Everyone, Boston Bruins GLBT Pride shirt, while Adam wore a Lightning Blue t-shirt that read ‘On Point’ with Lightning player Brayden Point’s name and number-21-right above it. They shared a chuckle. “I thought you were in the closet up north?” He pointed at Rob’s gay pride shirt. “I wasn’t at school, and mom knew I liked guys. She asked me not to tell anyone else in the family, as she thought I was just going through a phase. I kissed a girl once, and I didn’t like it.” Adam nodded. “And now we know why, she didn’t want anyone else to know.” He gave Rob a reassuring hug and grabbed his wallet and keys. “Let’s walk, and grab a downtowner. You got your wallet, watch, testicles, and socks?” “What?” Adam chuckled and clasped his son’s shoulder. “Something my Dad loves to say. He got it in the Army.” “Oh… yeah, I do. Not sure why, no cash.” “Here… we’ll work something out for an allowance.” Adam passed him over a couple of $20’s. Shit… Didn’t think about if he had cash, and he’ll need some if he wants to go out by himself. The pair walked out of the house and up the sidewalk to the northern section of the island. They talked and joked around as they went, and Rob spotted a teen boy coming out of the house down the way and getting into the car in front of the house there. He looked to be the same age and height as Rob, with bushy shoulder length dirty blond hair and a copper sun-tan over an athletic frame, but it was the shirt he was wearing that caught Rob’s attention. The teen was wearing a Lightning PRIDE T-Shirt. Damn, that guy is gorgeous. I hope the shirt means he’s gay, and not just a supporter. Hope we go to the same school. The car with the teen in it backed out, and they waited for it to pass. Adam waved to the driver, a woman, who shot him back a smile. While Rob and the teen locked eyes with each other. The teen pointed at Rob’s shirt and gave him a thumbs up before the car was put into gear and drove off. “Dad, did you know there was another gay boy over here?” “Yup.” “Are there a lot of gay guys around?” “Average for any area, but we are close to Ybor City. It’s also called Gaybor, because of all the GLBT activity down there. Stores, bars, and Hamburger Mary’s.” “Hamburger Mary’s?” “Bar, restaurant, and drag show. They do a lot of special events, some for charity. Their Drag-Bingo is awesome.” Adam smiled and pulled Rob into a one-armed hug. “So, I saw you got a thumbs up from him. What did you think?” “Um… he was cute.” Rob blushed deeply. “Are you trying to set me up?” He pulled out of the hug, with a smile on his face. “Not really. I didn’t know what time they headed out. Although… I know he is single, and he’s sixteen-years-old.” “How do you know that?” He perked a brow, looking at his Dad. “They came by last week, him and his mom. A fundraiser for a GSA club at his school, and we started talking. His mom is the Homeowner’s Association President and wanted to invite me to the next Homeowner’s meeting. Because we are new to the neighborhood and hadn’t been to one yet, she felt the need to personally invite us.” Adam laughed. “Half the neighborhood knows I’m gay now, and I have a gay son.” They walked on and crossed the fence-line into the business area of the island. Adam took out his phone and used the app to order a downtowner. The downtowners were a fleet of open-air electric cars that were free to use. They had a limited area in which they operated. They didn’t wait long for it to arrive. ~.~ The pair arrived at First Watch and were sat at a table right as the morning rush was starting. Breakfast went well; they both ended up ordering the Floridian French toast. “This is a nice place Dad. Kind of busy.” “That it is. Lots of the downtown-based city and county workers eat here.” He pointed at one lady sitting at a wall table. “That’s the judge in our custody case.” Rob nodded, speared a bite of French toast, a slice of banana, a slice of kiwi, and dipped it in some syrup. That woman holds the fate of my life in her hands. I… I… don’t know what I’ll do if she strips me from Dad. I don’t want to leave him. He ate the bite and speared himself another one. There is a way out if that happens. Just end it all... Where the fuck did that come from?!? They finished breakfast in silence. Afterward, they took another downtowner from the restaurant over to Amalie Arena. They walked in past the McDonald’s Ticket Office, turned right underneath the main staircase, and into the Tampa Sports shop. They ordered Rob’s Lightning Jersey with Victor Hedman’s name and number-77-on it. They made arrangements to pick it up in a couple of hours, with the Season Ticket Member account chip sewn in. With time to kill, Adam and Rob grabbed the TECO Streetcar Line and took it over to The Florida Aquarium. Adam showed his sponsor card and got them inside. After a brief stop at the Guest Services deck, to add Rob to the account, the father and son pair made their way upstairs to the exhibits. They paused walking into the ‘Florida Wetlands’ zone, a large atrium area that was hot, humid, and filled with animals and plants from the Everglades, to watch the river otters play. “This is wonderful Dad.” Their path through the exhibits took them from the large atrium and into a cooler part where small aquariums were located before they got to the more massive ones. “Would you believe Dad, that I wanted to go to school for Marine Biology?” Rob’s face shone with child-like wonder. “I just didn’t know where.” “There are a couple of schools here that are really good. Eckerd College across the Bay and the University of South Florida here in town, both have programs.”’ “That’s cool.” They walked further and entered the massive coral reef exhibit. Rob stopped and stared at the hundreds of fish, turtles, and sharks that swam around. “Amazing…” Adam smiled as he watched his son. “Just so you know I come here at least once a week. I find it very relaxing, helps me focus, and I started doing volunteer work while I was waiting for our house to be built. I also pledge money for a sponsorship for the aquarium. We can come here every day if we wanted.” “That’s awesome Dad.” Rob smiled. I’ll be here all the time! I wonder if I can volunteer as well? They finished their trip, a little before noon, went back to Amalie to pick up Rob’s jersey, and caught a downtowner to take them home. ~.~ Adam and Rob sat at a table inside Starbucks in the business district of Harbour Island. It was little after 2:30 pm and they were waiting for Jace to show. Jace had called to inform them he was stuck in downtown traffic behind an accident, leading to the Island’s bridge. The father and son pair sat in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. Adam sipped on a freshly brewed cup of regular coffee, while Rob drank a Caramel Frappuccino. Adam smiled and got Rob’s attention. He made a wiping motion on his nose and pointed at him. Blushing Rob wiped off the spot of whipped cream that was on the tip of his nose. “There he is.” Adam stood up, as Jace approached. “Heya, man… Welcome.” He shook the man’s hand, and they both sat down. “Sorry, I’m late. Traffic was murder coming across Channelside. Some guy got hit by a cab.” He took the coffee Adam slid over to him. “No worries man… shit happens. I hope he’s alright…” Adam sipped his coffee. “Jace this is my son Robert Turner, don’t call him Bob or Bobby. Rob, this is Jace Stratton. He’s my business partner in the brewery project.” “Nice to meet you, Mr. Stratton.” “Likewise, but please call me Jace.” Rob nodded to him. “So, down to business then?” They sat and talked about business plans. Adam and Jace discussed the properties and the benefits of leasing over building. They included Rob in the conversation as well, with Adam explaining to Jace why he wanted his son involved. Rob excused himself and went to the men’s room. “So, Jace… do you have any issues with Rob being involved?” “No, I don’t. You’re the controlling partner, so it’s your choice. He’s thoughtful, and has some good ideas.” “Thanks. I’m hoping that it helps him acclimate to Florida, and helps him get over his troubles.” “Have you thought how you’re going to handle it?” “Well, we’re already in a 60/40 partnership. I’m thinking I’ll give Rob 10%, out of my share. Then we’ll be 50/40/10. However, Jace, I might need to lean heavily on you. I spoke with Carol earlier when we were out, and there’s an issue developing in the custody case.” “I’m sorry to hear that. Just let me know what you need me to do.” “Will do. Thank you, Jace, for being understanding.” “You’re welcome. I can sympathize with you… My sister went through custody issues with her kids. It’s a hardship, I don’t ever want to experience.” His phone chirped. “Now, if you will excuse me, I need to head back to the office, and get some paperwork done.” They shook hands, and Jace was packing up when Rob walked back over. They said their goodbyes. “Well, it’s a quarter after four… I think we have enough time to head home and get ready for the game. We can eat at the arena, food and drinks are included in our Lexus Lounge package. Plus we can get in at 5:30.” “Alright, Dad…” Rob paused. “Is something wrong?” “Hmm? What do you mean?” “Well, you look troubled…like something is weighing on you.” Adam sighed. “Nothing that can’t wait for tomorrow, and right now, is really not the place to discuss it.” Rob nodded, and they left Starbucks and headed for home, and then for the game. ~.~ Rob and Adam sat on the couches in the family room. They still wore their game attire, and Rob was buzzing from the experience. The Lightning had defeated the New York Rangers 5-3, and after the game, they walked home from the arena. “Jesus, Dad... I never thought I would be able to experience something like that. The seats you have, the club experience, and then Thunderbug showed up with… with that gift for me.” His smile lit his face. Rob still held the certificate that read ‘My First Lightning Home Game’, and the signed game puck, autographed by #86 Nikita Kucherov. “I’ve been to games before, and had some autographs from the Bruins, but this was different!” “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. What was your favorite part?” “When the Tesla coils went off. That was a blast. The food was awesome.” Rob rattled off a few more moments from the game he enjoyed. “I love how Tyler Johnson has his own goal song.” “Johnny B. Good… Stamkos has one as well. They play MC Hammer’s Hammer time for him. You know, ‘It’s Stammer time.’” They both shared a laugh. “Wait till the playoffs, if they make it. They do an ice projection before the game. You can see an old one on YouTube from the last season they played the Pens.” They talked a bit more about the game, just chilling before talked turned to different subjects. “So, Dad… I think I made up my mind about school.” “Alright, which option did you want to go with?” “I want to go with the public high school you said it was Plant High School? I was a sophomore in school back in Boston, so that’s two years I should be able to play hockey and lacrosse.” “If that is what you want, we’ll get you enrolled, as soon as I get your records from Sylvia.” Rob nodded. “So, um… about earlier today, you said it wasn’t the right place to talk… so, what’s up Dad?” Adam let out a long breath as he stood up, and went to the kitchen. “I’m grabbing a Bud Light.” He grabbed himself a beer from the fridge, and another for Rob. “You’ll find that being an adult, Rob, involves a lot of alcohol.” He passed Rob his and sat across from him. He took a long pull from the bottle and watched as Rob sipped his. Rob’s face took on a worried look. “While we were at the aquarium when you were over looking at the sharks, I got a call from Carol. Your Grandpa Turner is contesting the custody, and is acting in his role as the executor of your mother’s estate to try and contest the will as well.” “What the fuck, does that mean?” There was heat to Rob’s voice, and he was visibly shaking. “I don’t want to go back to foster care! I won’t go back… I’ll run away…” “Rob, settle down…” He got up, and moved to Rob’s couch and sat down next to him. “You’re in Florida now, and under our laws. You’re protected here.” He put an arm around his son and pulled him to cuddle on his chest. “Carol is working on it. We also have a solution for the back child support as well.” “But… but… what is he contesting?” “You’re mom left you the house, most of her possessions, and in the will stipulated that I was your father, and her wish was that you came to me. With the exception of your material items, the house and contents are to be sold, and the money entered into a Trust fund for you until you were eighteen. After I was granted temporary custody, I acted as your guardian, to secure the house. Carol sent one of her partners to do all the paperwork, and well they found that your mother’s family had already ransacked the house.” “What the hell… do they really hate me, to do all that?” “I don’t know… I do know that they hate me, and are trying to find anything they can to use against me in this case…” Adam paused and drank a large portion of the bottle. “Including using the rape case that Tibot started. The records were sealed, not expunged like I was lead to believe, and that’s what they are using. They think I might molest you.” “Holy shit, Dad… what are we going to do?” Robs tears stained his cheeks, as he leaned into his father’s chest. “We’re going to do what we must do. As I said, we’re in Florida, and playing by Florida’s rules. So, don’t fret. Tomorrow, we’ll go to our therapy session, and we’ll do our home visit with Sylvia. Then from there, we’ll do what we have to do. I am not letting you go. Wild horses will not pull us apart.” They sat on the couch, cuddled together for a few more moments. After Rob calmed down, Adam took Rob to his room, wishing him a good night before retiring himself. ~.~ Rob gathered some night clothes and went to his bathroom. He stood under the shower head letting the water run down his body. Why do they hate me so much? Is being gay that bad to them? He rinsed his soap and shampoo off and got out of the shower. After drying off, Rob slipped on boxers, and lay down on his bed, covering up. He was tired but his brain wouldn’t shut down. Eventually, a fitful sleep brought him good dreams, filled with experiences of the day, and capped with the gorgeous dirty blond haired boy in the Lightning PRIDE t-shirt. ~.~ Adam stepped out of his shower and stood naked before the mirror drying off. The worried look on his face stared back at him, and he threw the towel across the room in a burst of anger. “Damn it. Damn it all.” He grabbed the towel from the floor, hanging it up to dry, and slipped on some boxer-briefs before he headed into the bedroom proper. He sat down in the sitting area of his bedroom, turning on a small desk lamp, to read by, with a cup of hot tea, and a copy of a Jim Butcher novel. The book and tea were forgotten, as he stared off into nowhere. I will not lose him. I can’t believe his grandfather would do this. The law is on our side. The paternity test, our plan for the back child support, and the fact they signed away custody, all help my case. Not to mention, the assault Rob suffered in the Massachusetts foster system. He let out a long sigh and took up his phone. He switched on Grindr and started looking for someone he could hook up with. He scrolled through a few profiles when the notification tone went off, and he went over to the messages. Adam stopped and stared at his phone. If I go on a booty-call, who’s going to be here for Rob? Do, I even want to bring back a one-night-stand back to the house? He looked at the message he was about to send and started to delete it. He shut the app down and laid his phone down. Well, I have my hand for now… He let out another long sigh and sipped his herbal tea. He picked up the book and started reading, and soon was lost in a story about Harry Dresden.
  5. 69 points
    My mind keeps flicking back to the other day when I went to pick up my SUV from the repair shop. I had been waiting in the reception area for my car and the invoice. I couldn’t believe my eyes, there he was again – November. Twenty-four years I’ve been pining for this man, all through high school and still now he makes my heart race. He stared at me for two seconds, told me my car would be ready in a couple of minutes and he was gone again. I attempted to apologise for that jackass Paul, but he mumbled something about my car and walked away. Not that I blame him, I suppose, there were not too many people happy to see me at the reunion either. If I knew back then what I know now… Man, I need to get a job, it’s hard being in this house, my parents’ house. Instead of feeling like a grown man, I feel like a complete failure. Don’t get me wrong, my parents are nothing but supportive of my son and me, they know I’ve got my ass in a jam here. Since we were kids, they only intervened when shit got bad, and really how much worse could this get. Mom and Dad are paying my bills and giving us a roof over our heads; although, knowing how well I seem at fucking up my life at the moment, I guess more could go wrong. I went for a job interview Monday before I picked up my car, it did not go well, that’s putting it mildly. It was a teaching job at the local TAFE, technical college. The interview panel was less than welcoming, I was so nervous I’m sure I came across as a bumbling idiot, how could I not, I sounded and acted like I was somewhere between drunk and mentally impaired, Brady, get a grip you’re falling part at the seams. I can’t let one little set back get to me; as soon as I get a job, any job, I’ll be able to find a small house. I’m so lucky that my parents have a business and take their cars to The Chop Shop for maintenance. I managed to get the bill on a thirty-day account, so I have some extra time to pay. Well, that’s not going to happen if I just sit around. I’d already been through the internet sites and nothing in my field – Electrical Engineer – for hundreds of miles. Next is the paper and go through the classifieds for local jobs, Jesus what am I going to do, get a grip Brady. In the midst of my self-indulgent woe is me bullshit, one job caught my eye, it was a labour job, helping out an auto-electrician for three months, ok not exactly my field, but I’m sure I can get my head around it. Plus I can look for something else, it’s only temporary for three months. The money isn’t too bad either, it would be enough for my son and me to move out of my parent's place, once I pay off the repair bill for the car. The job ad only had a phone number to call no email to send a resume. In this day and age, I find that a little strange but being an auto-electrician it might be a sole trader. I called the number, and a woman answered. “Good afternoon, The Chop Shop, Mags speaking, how may I help you?” Oh Fuck! Should I hang up? Shit! Now she’s going to think I’m an incompetent idiot who can’t use the phone. Crap! I haven’t said anything in five seconds. Crap! What is wrong with me lately, earth to Brady, focus! “Hello… hello,” the woman said impatiently. “Oh um… Hello!” I should just say ‘wrong number’ and hang up. “Yes, how can I help you?” she asked impatiently. “I’m ringing regarding the job ad in the paper?” “Right, do you have any experience in automotive repairs or electronics?” “No, not to speak of, but I am an Electrical Engineer if that helps. I’ve just moved back to town and in need of a job. I’m a quick study and happy to do any further education needed. I’m a hard worker…” “You realise you’re overqualified and underqualified at the same time?” She said with a chuckle. I chortled, “Yes Ma’am, I do. There aren’t any jobs in my field around, this is a small town, so I’m willing to change my career path.” Man, I sound like a desperate idiot, please don’t let her hear how desperate I sound in my own head. She sighed, “What’s your name?” Shit! “It’s Brady, ma’am, Brady Douglass,” Silence. Crap, I shouldn’t have called. “Are you still there Ma’am?” I asked nervously, I think she might have hung up on me. “Yes, I’m still here,” she sighed and was silent again. I was about to hang up when she spoke, “Look, Mr. Douglass, I’m not sure…” “Please let me just speak with the owner, I guess by your tone you know who I am.” It’s time to go for broke what have I got to lose, “I really need a job, I’ve moved back to town with my son. I have nothing to my name, and I need to work to support us. I promise you I won’t cause any trouble. Please I just need the opportunity to meet you guys and show you I’m worth the chance, I’d be happy to answer any questions or any undertakings in an interview. I know this certainly isn’t the best way to go about it, but please, I’m desperate, I have three-hundred dollars in my account.” I felt my eyes stinging, I’ve gotten myself all worked up. This poor woman is going to think I’m a lunatic. “Okay,” she audibly sighed through the phone exhausted, “Email me your resume, I’ll think of some way to get you an interview. Be here at ten am sharp tomorrow, you’ll be interviewing with Justin and me. But I’m warning you, your interview will be excruciating, and then you have to get past the boss, and I think you two have some, unpleasant, history. Be prepared to fight for the job because you’re already behind the eight ball. And I warn you if you mess with November he’ll be the least of your problems, you’ll have me all over your ass.” “I’m not, I wont, I swear to you. Thank you, thank you, so much,” fuck now I’m groveling for work. The money is too good to pass up for a labouring job. The lady gave me the email address and ended the call, I fell back into the chair for a moment feeling like I had just gone ten rounds with 210lbs of velvet glove. I sent my resume straight over to her. Right now I only have to make it through the door without being thrown out. Awesome! Great! It’ll be fine, no problem. Shit! I’m so screwed. <>-<>-<> “Hey Ricky, it’s me, Brady,” “I wondered when I’d hear from you, how’s it going?” I could hear the smile in his voice. “I’ll be better when I get out of this house.” I sighed. “Eek, that bad?” I could hear the concern in Ricky’s voice. “Are your folks giving you a hard time mate?” “Nah, not really,” I said as I fingered a knot in the wood of the table. “It’s just, you know I need to get a place for me and Novy so I can feel like I can breathe.” Ricky was patiently silent, he’d always been that way. He’d let people think, and say what they wanted in their own time. His Mom was very much the same way with all of us when we were younger. “There are plenty of two bedroom houses around for rent, why don’t you look for something that will do you at least for now?” Ricky said after I had been quiet for too long. “At least then I won’t have to see the look in my Dads eyes every time he walks past me; not condescending, more, I don’t know, sad, maybe, concerned. But a place to stay of our own will have to wait until I pay this invoice off for the car repairs. I just feel so hopeless at the moment.” God I’m such a downer, how can he handle listen to me bitch and moan. “Ugh! Are you available for dinner tonight, something simple, cheap maybe the pub?” I asked hoping he wouldn’t mind me whining in his ear some more. “Sure yeah, we can catch up. How’s the job hunt going?” I fisted my hair in frustration, “I just had the world’s worst interview. I’ll tell you about it tonight. Is it okay if I bring my son?” “Absolutely, we’ll go to ‘The Yard,’ they have a decent not too expensive menu,” “Oh good, I wont have to do the dish’s for my meal then.” Ricky just laughed. “So six-ish?” “Perfect, I’ll see you there. I’m sure the interview wasn’t as bad as you think,” Ricky said chuckling. I scoffed, “Oh trust me I’m glad it wasn’t recorded, it would have gone viral in fifteen minutes.” He laughed, “See you at six.” I tossed my phone onto the table and sat in the chair with my hands covering my face. I’ve never been so embarrassed in all my life. I can’t believe I did that to myself, how pathetic can I get, seriously. How far am I going to go, for fucks sake Brady, you’ve never been this much of a dick since high school and that was exclusively to November? “Hey, Dad,” my son’s cheery voice perked me up a little. I lifted my head to see him, “Hey son, how was your day?” I smiled warmly, his friend standing next to him looking a little more than uncomfortable. He seemed nervous somehow, I guess I would be meeting a new friends parent also. He shrugged his shoulder, “Good, school is school. This is my friend AJ, can he stay for dinner?” “Uh, yeah I can’t see why not,” I stood and shook AJ’s hand, “nice to meet you AJ,” “You too sir,” he smiled. “We’re going out to ‘The Yard’ for dinner, can you please ring your parents and ask if that’s okay with them? If it is, I’ll drop you home afterward.” I told AJ. “Oh sure, no problem, I’ll just…” he pulled his phone from his pocket, pointing and walked toward the living room so he could talk with his parents. “You okay Dad?” I could hear the concern in my son’s voice. “Yeah Bud, long day is all,” I smiled hoping he’d accept my answer. “Okay,” my son observed me like he was trying to see if I were telling the truth. AJ came back into the dining room, “My folks said it’s fine,” he said smiling. AJ must be a good kid, he looked my son’s age about seventeen and didn’t even blink an eye when I asked him to call his parents. Most kids their age these days do whatever they want – parents be damned. I’d be happy for AJ to hang around; it’s nice my son already has a friend in his first week of school. I smiled at my son and his friend while I stood up, “We’ve still got a couple of hours before we have to leave why don’t you guys get some of your homework done?” “Cool, come on AJ we’ll study in my room,” the boys left together to study, and I sat back down and stewed a little longer. My mind kept wandering back to the interview, what a cluster-fuck that was, I feel sick every time I think about it. I don’t even know why I was so insistent on getting that job; it’s not even really in my field. Maybe I’m excel at self-sabotage? It could be because my brain is so focused on November, for the love of god, I can’t possibly still be in lust… love… who knows, maybe it’s just the thrill of the chase, but what ever it is I have got it bad. It’s not like I really even knew him in high school, I was secretly infatuated with him. November was gorgeous, smart, and sweet, it seemed like his life was so easy, he was gay, out and proud. Well I wouldn’t say that, he was out, the rest I don’t think he really cared about. November went about his life like every other kid, except all I could do was torture the poor guy, and in turn, my entire crowd latched on and made his life a living hell. I groaned at the thought of how horrible we must have made his life back then. The guy should have decked me the minute I walked through the door for the interview, I deserve it, maybe that’s what I need, him to knock the stupid out of me, what am I cock-drunk or something. November’s eyes, those beautiful eyes, the way they went cold and his whole demeanor changed from friendly to hostile whenever I saw him, I’m such a shitty asshole. I deserve everything he dishes out. If I am going to be living here in this town, for the time being, I would at least like to try and apologise; not that he’d ever let me, but I have too, I was, no am, such a fool. The lady I’d spoken to on the phone – Mags, she told me when she introduced herself, guided me from the reception area and took me back to a small office. When I entered the room for the interview, she sat down; November was talking with another guy I’d recognised from high school. I think he was in my brother Cameron’s year, well at least Cameron has his shit together now, I don’t get it, but Jeez, Cammie and I were total arses in High School. Mags told me to take a seat and then she cleared her throat, November and Justin – I found out later – turned their heads to look at me. Justin started laughing humourlessly and shaking his head. November stood from his chair, I’d seen that look in his eyes before, too often, and it was all down to me, he swore and left the room brushing straight past me. I suddenly stood up, I tried to stop him to apologise but knocked over a glass of water, it spilled over their paperwork. I couldn’t stop apologising while bumbling and trying to help clean it up, and only succeeded in making it 10 times worse. Mags was telling me to stop, she’d fix it. Justin was laughing so hard he almost fell out of his chair before trying to help clean up my mess. The voice was yelling in my head, your village is calling, they’ve lost their idiot! With a jolt, I’m in the office surrounded in total chaos, Mags was polite, but suggested that I go now, they’d be in touch. I heard a loud crash come from the workshop as I was leaving, it was worse than any walk of shame anyone could dream of. Then just as I got to my car, all I could hear was November’s voice, “BRADY-FUCKING-DOUGLASS, you’re kidding me Justin, right? Fuck’n kidding me.” Fuck this day!
  6. 67 points
    *** Drake paced around his condo, phone in hand; the conversation with Callie had ended more than an hour before. She’d caught him up on what was going on with their parents, but he’d found it a struggle to concentrate on her words after having his personal epiphany. Still, he’d absorbed the gist of it. He found his way to the balcony, and forced himself to stand still as he looked out over the lights of the city. According to his sister, their father had stayed for dinner when he finally brought their mother home, and they’d even spent time outside afterward, sitting by the pool and talking in hushed tones. Callie hadn’t been able to hear the conversation from her bedroom window, but apparently it had appeared both serious, and friendly. Drake remembered her saying their mother had giggled a few times, and that their dad had done his deep, rumbling belly laugh in response. For a second, a picture formed which took him back in time… to when his parents had been happy. It was a lot to take in, but one thing for sure—his sister was beyond excited—and if Jimmy wasn’t so much on his mind, he probably would have been too. Sighing, he went back inside and sat down. Admitting to himself he’d fallen in love with his friend—his best friend—was only a first step. He didn’t know exactly when it had happened, but there was no longer any denying it. He didn’t want to… he wanted… Jimmy. He’d fought it, or maybe ignored it was more accurate—but it hadn’t worked. Going out with Dean had found him comparing the two—always in Jimmy’s favor—and that had been unsettling, yet still he'd been incapable of letting his feelings fully surface. But things had come to a head over the course of the weekend, when he was given no choice but to face what was in his heart, and he was glad for it. Jimmy had forced him out of his safe little cocoon just by being himself, and while he still had some of those same fears percolating, they no longer seemed daunting. Instead, there was a bigger fear firmly planted in his gut… and the thought of Jimmy turning away from him for good was the reason for it. Drake looked at his phone for the umpteenth time, trying to formulate what he wanted to say to the man. He’d thought he had it when he finished his shower, but faltered as he began to make the call. Yeah, he was scared. He kept seeing his demeanor from that morning, and the same reticence when he’d dropped him off. It worried him. Maybe it was too late to talk about giving a new relationship a chance. Finally, he tossed the phone on his dining table, concluding it could wait until tomorrow, if not before work, maybe during lunch. Jimmy had been very clear he wanted distance from him. He really had to stop throwing his phone like that. He should have been hungry, but he wasn’t. A handful of soda crackers and a few sips of ginger ale were all his stomach could handle before he turned out the lights and headed back to bed. Hours later he was still awake. He kept walking the knife edge of uncertainty. What he really needed was to see Jimmy, and for him to work his magic, convincing him he still wanted Drake, and that his heart would be safe… that loving the man wouldn’t hurt him. He was ready to take the leap, because Jimmy was worth it. At the core of his being, he knew that… and he knew he’d been a colossal fool. Arriving at work earlier than usual, Drake picked up two coffees and a couple of cheese tea biscuits from the café on the ground floor, something he’d done many times before. Mondays were his days. On the elevator ride up, he was filled with anticipation, hoping the Jimmy of yesterday had disappeared. Sleep had been elusive as he chased his thoughts in circles, but he did manage a couple of hours before rising at six, and when he opened his eyes everything came into focus. He had to trust the man he loved… he did trust him… and he had to tell him that. Turning the corner, he was able to see into part of Jimmy’s cubicle. He was already there. Drake could see one foot sticking out, and his heart moved into his throat. Sandra’s shift didn’t start until nine, an hour later than theirs, so there was only the two of them in this section of the floor. “Hey,” he called out as he neared. “Hey,” was returned, but it wasn’t Jimmy’s voice he heard. “Len?” Drake’s heart sunk when the wrong face came into view. “What are you doing here?” “What do you think?” he asked with a grin. “The iron man finally called in sick.” “He did? Did he say what was wrong?” Len peered at him curiously. “I didn’t talk to him, Drake. Human Resources called me last night to tell me I was subbing for Jimmy today, so here I am.” “Last night? Oh, right. Of course. Anything you need?” “Nah, just like riding a bike, and I already checked… nothing’s pending, so no headaches to deal with yet.” “Yeah, Jimmy doesn’t leave loose ends. Well, welcome back to our little corner of the world. Here’s a coffee for you, black no sugar.” “Hey, thanks, Drake! That’s how I like it, and perfect timing… I was just going to run down to get one. There was too big a lineup when I came in.” “Well, now you don’t have to.” The smile Drake had pasted on was beginning to slip. Jimmy hadn’t called in sick in the year he’d worked with him… not in the entire year and a half he’d worked for the big communications company. Was it because of him? The phone rang, and Len said, “I got this.” It was perfect timing too, for Drake to escape to his desk. Maybe Jimmy really was sick. Swallowing down a spike of fear as he sat down, he began typing a text to the man. “Sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. Let me know if you need anything. Len is filling in… even drinking your coffee… he’s a nice guy, but he’s not you. J Feel better.” Thirty seconds later, he pushed send, sipping his coffee while he stared at the phone. But there was no response, not that he should have expected there would be. Ten minutes later, sighing, he turned on his computer to see what was waiting for him. Fortunately, Len, while friendly, wasn’t the garrulous type, and Drake was able to bury himself in his tasks. Before he knew it, the man was at his side asking if he wanted to go get some lunch. Startled, Drake considered it, and then realized there was something he needed to do. “Sounds good, Len, but I’ve already eaten two tea biscuits. I have an errand to run. Raincheck?” Raincheck? He already had one of those from Jimmy. “Sure. Maybe tomorrow if I’m still here.” “Tomorrow for sure, and if you’re not, we’ll sync our lunch hours and get together next week. I didn’t realize the time. I should get going.” Drake stood up, grabbed his phone, and slid into his jacket. “See you in an hour.” Drake made it back with a few minutes to spare, walking to his desk with another coffee and a plastic-wrapped egg salad sandwich. Sandra and Len were both on the phone so he just waved as he walked past. Still no response from Jimmy. It was disappointing, but if the man was really sick, understandable. He decided to send another text. “I hope you’re getting lots of rest. Do you want me to bring you anything when I’m done here?” Maybe being ill was the reason Jimmy had been so withdrawn the day before? Drake wanted to believe that, but it wasn’t an easy leap. It could have been a combination of Drake’s out-of-line remark and coming down with something, though. At any rate, he couldn’t shake the bad feeling in his gut. He arrived home feeling lost… stuck in limbo until he and Jimmy talked. The idea of eating held no appeal. Sitting on his couch, shoes and suit jacket still on, he stared at his phone after tossing it on his coffee table. Fighting the urge to pick it back up, he rolled his head back and stared at the plaster ceiling. He’d expected a response by now, but it hadn’t happened, and sending another text would likely elicit the same silence. Jimmy was avoiding contact. He was avoiding him. Frustrated as he was, he refused to give in to the despair that threatened. He could be wrong, in which case Jimmy was seriously ill, and there was only one way to find out. With determination, he stood and retrieved his phone, dialing as he left his condo. Drake was nervous as hell as he parked his SUV in visitor parking. Was he doing the right thing? Maybe not, but he had to know Jimmy was all right, and more selfishly, he had to know they were all right. Everything had changed since he’d admitted to himself he loved the man… his walls were down, and he was feeling extremely vulnerable. Jimmy’s forgiveness was something he desperately needed. A long time had passed since the last time he’d been there, but he found ‘J Calloway’ right away… it took him thirty seconds before he was ready to push the buzzer. Half a minute later, he pushed it again. Nothing. Was the man too sick to get up and answer? Maybe he was at the doctor, or even worse, the hospital. Drake’s stomach clenched as he tried one more time. In frustration he yanked on one of the double doors, catching himself off guard when it flew open, the edge smacking his forehead. Rubbing the spot of impact, he cursed as he looked up to see the automatic closer had been disengaged. Was this an omen? Should he go home and wait for Jimmy to contact him? On the ride up, he took deep breaths, trying to convince himself he was doing the right thing. When the elevator door opened, the hallway of the fifth floor brought back memories, and he headed right without needing to look at the numbers. Jimmy’s place was at the end, on the left. Swallowing, he knocked softly. There was a muffled sound before the door opened. An absolutely stunning girl… woman… stood in front of him. “Yes?” “Ah, hi. I’m not sure if I have the right apartment?” “Depends on who you’re looking for. Are you a delivery man?” “Delivery man? Oh, no, this is chicken soup for my friend.” “Oh. Do you mean Jimmy by any chance?” she asked, her smile warm and friendly. “Yes.” He looked back the way he came before he met her eyes again. “I’m Drake. We work together, and I thought he might need—” “Drake? Hi, I’m Victoria. It’s so nice to finally meet you. Come on in… he’s in the den working away on his computer.” “That’s okay. I ah… I just wanted to make sure he was okay, and bring him this”—he held out the soup he’d ordered and picked up from his favorite restaurant—“so could you give this to him please, and tell him I’ll see him at work?” “Why don’t you just give it to me yourself, Drake?” Jimmy appeared behind Victoria, dressed in a robe, his expression unreadable. “Oh, hey. You’re looking not too bad. I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to intrude… ah, I pushed the buzzer but there was no answer. Um… it’s soup from Warrington’s… it’s really good.” “Sorry, that damn buzzer system’s been down since yesterday. Thanks for the soup, but Vic and I just ate. I’ll put it in the fridge for later.” He tilted his head and pinned Drake with a questioning look. “So, why would you think you’re intruding?” Drake had already taken one step back, anxious to leave, but that look held him in place. “Ah… because I just showed up at your door without any warning, and you have company… we… we can catch up at work when you get back.” “Hey, I’m not company, and besides, I was just about to go myself, so we’ll have to get acquainted another time,” Victoria said before turning and giving Jimmy a peck on the mouth. “Good luck tomorrow, cubbie.” Cubbie? Not company? Did she live here? Drake reeled for a few seconds before he realized Jimmy would never have kept that from him. But he couldn’t ignore the fact she was here, nor could he ignore the obvious closeness between them. This was the girl he’d been sleeping with right before their first date. “Thanks, Vic… I still haven’t decided yet.” His eyes were focused on Drake as she moved aside to leave. “It’s not much notice.” Those eyes didn’t leave him as the beautiful blonde spoke. “You know you have to jump at these things when you get the chance.” “I know, I know. I’ll call you.” “You better.” Finally, Jimmy shifted his attention to Victoria, and they shared a look that wasn’t missed by Drake. “Bye, Drake. It was sweet of you to bring soup.” She touched his arm as she moved past him and walked away. He watched, still struck by how gorgeous she was. “Are you coming in?” “Oh, if you’re… yeah… sure. Are you feeling better?” Jimmy closed the door and for a few seconds they were chest to chest in the tight space. Drake could smell his familiar scent, and it reminded him of their night sharing the same bed. “I’m not sick.” “You’re not?” Jimmy didn’t explain further. “I’ll just put this in the fridge. It smells good, but I’m stuffed with Thai food.” Drake waited uncertainly as the man walked into the galley kitchen to the right. So his gut feeling hadn’t been wrong. Jimmy wanted distance from him. “I love Thai food,” he said, just for something to say. “I know. There’s leftovers if you want some.” “Oh, no, I’m full too.” Jimmy closed the fridge door and stared at him. “You are? You couldn’t have had much time to eat?” Damn. “I had a late lunch.” “I see. Let’s sit in the living room… here, give me your jacket and I’ll hang it up.” “Okay, thanks. I should have changed after work.” He handed Jimmy his suit jacket before remembering. “Can I have that back for a second?” Gripping it with a tremble he hoped wasn’t noticeable, he removed the long thin box from the lower inside pocket. “Here, this is for you.” Jimmy stared at the offered box, as he hung the jacket in the closet. “What’s this?” “Nothing much. Open it.” After taking it, he did, and regarded the dark blue tie thoughtfully. “Alexander MacQueen?” “Yes. I thought it would go well with your navy suit, or the charcoal one.” “Or my lighter gray one. I almost bought this a week ago, but I decided it was too extravagant. Why did you do this?’ “To thank you.” “For?” “This weekend. What you did really helped me out, and I… I wanted to show my appreciation.” “Drake, I told you—” “I know, but just accept it, okay?” Jimmy returned his gaze to the box, the slight shimmer of the subtle dark blue swirls in the fabric on display. “It’s beautiful. When did you get this?” “Today, during lunch hour.” “Nomads, on Queen?” “Yeah.” “Wow. You’ve been busy. Thank you.” “You’re welcome. So, you’re not really sick?” “No.” “Is it because of me?” “Drake….” “It’s okay, Jimmy. You don’t have to say it… I screwed up.” “No, you didn’t. It is what it is, and I accept that. I needed space today to make some decisions about my life. Sorry I didn’t respond to your texts, but—” “What does that mean? What decisions?” Fear gripped Drake by the throat. “I wasn’t going to get into this yet… sit.” Drake perched on the edge of the leather couch, anxiety preventing him from making himself comfortable. “Get into what?” “The fact I need to make some changes.” Drake swallowed a couple of times, not trusting his voice as he searched Jimmy’s gaze. “I mean it when I say I accept how things are… I really do, but I need to put some distance between us for a while.” “I… I don’t want that,” he stammered out, pretty sure he knew what was coming next. “We’ll still be friends, Drake, but I need to move on. It’ll be better for you too if I don’t work there anymore. All I do is complicate your life.” “No, that’s not—” Jimmy held up his hand to stop him. “It is what it is,” he repeated. “So, you’re quitting?” “I’ve sent out my resume to a few places today. Vic helped me update it, and I’ve already gotten a response, believe it or not. Rogers Communications has a position that could suit me.” “And there’s an interview tomorrow? That’s why Victoria wished you luck?” “Yes. I have to confirm it by eight in the morning which means they’re likely conducting a bunch of interviews.” “Don’t do this… please.” “I have to.” “No, no you don’t. We’ve always said our company is so great because it promotes from within. You’ll be moving up any day now.” “You’re not hearing me.” Jimmy hung his head for a few seconds. “I am. I know I didn’t want to listen to you in the past, but things have changed… it won’t take much to convince me we can have that chance you wanted.” “Drake, come on. I’m not going to try to convince you of anything. It would be a mistake. Just the fact you have to be convinced proves that.” “Mistake? Okay, I said that wrong. I shouldn’t have said convinced. I’m willing to… I’d like to… to start over again. I know what I feel, and I know it’s what I want. We want the same thing, Jimmy.” “Do we?” “Don’t we?” Jimmy sighed, rubbing his hands together before entwining his fingers so tightly that Drake saw his fingers whiten. “If you'd asked that Saturday, at the pool, I would have said yes. Hell, I would have yelled it at the top of my lungs.” “And now?” “I don’t see it working.” “Why not? Is what I said so terrible?” “No. you were only telling me how you felt, and I finally listened.” “Jimmy, please—” “Okay, Listen. You’ve been really hurt in the past—and I know how damaging that can be—Travis made me question everything about myself, and then Lucas, who was almost as bad in a different way, did the same. My point is, you’re never going to trust me because of what happened with Richard, and you’re never going to believe I don’t want to, or won’t, sleep with a woman again. It would always be in your head.” “That’s… that’s not true. I trust you. I trust you more than anyone else I know… I told you that already, and I meant it. I trust you as much as I do Callie.” “Be honest, Drake.” “I am.” “No, you’re not. Tell me… what was your first reaction when you saw Victoria?” His stare was challenging. “Ah, I was surprised to see her, and I thought she was very beautiful….” “And?” “And she was nice, and I could see how much you care about each other… cubby,” he said with a nervous smile, trying to lighten what had become an awful conversation. Jimmy didn’t return it. “And you wondered, didn’t you?” “Wondered what?” Drake asked, but he already knew what he was getting at. “Why she was here, and if there was something going on. Tell me it didn’t cross your mind, and be honest for both our sakes.” “I don’t know, Jimmy. I was nervous when I arrived, and she answered the door and seemed so at home here, and I didn’t know how gorgeous she was, and you were in your robe, and she kissed you on the lips, so, yeah, maybe the thought occurred to me… but just for a few seconds. Isn’t that understandable?” “Yes it is… I finally get it, Drake. We are products of our past.” “But I’ve changed.” “Changed? You said to me once I was gay for now. But, just like Richard, I could revert. How long before any trust dissipates and fear takes over? You were ready to bolt today, Drake. I saw it as plain as day. I could practically read your mind. You wanted to run the second you saw Victoria. I heard it in your voice before I even saw your face, and I won’t put myself through that.” “Okay, I admit, I was rattled, but I knew I had to trust in what you’ve told me.” “Until you don’t,” he said with clear resignation. “Are you saying you don’t want that chance anymore?” “It’s not about what I want. It’s about not getting hurt again… you're not the only one who’s afraid of that happening.” “I know you aren’t Richard, and I know how I feel—” “I like women, Drake. I think the world of Victoria, and I won’t throw her friendship away for anyone.” “I would never ask you to.” “I know you wouldn’t, but if I went to dinner with her, or a movie, or I fell asleep on her couch, wouldn’t that affect you? I know it would be innocent, but would you?” “Yes.” Jimmy raised his eyebrows, indicating his doubts. “And I love to dance, and women are great to dance with—” “I’m sorry I said that about you and Bindy. It was wrong, and I have no excuse.” “Don’t… don’t apologize. You were just being honest about what you felt. You’d just dealt with your ex, who kissed you, and I get that, but it made some stuff very clear. I needed that clarity once and for all.” “Once and for all? That sounds pretty final.” “I know you don’t like to hear the word, but I need closure too.” Drake didn’t know what to say. He really didn’t. Was Jimmy right about him? Would his fears creep back in? His first instinct was to think that would depend on Jimmy, but instantly knew that wasn’t fair or true. It would be on him. “Are you okay?” “No.” “I’m sorry.” “Karma’s a bitch, isn’t she?” “Drake—” “Don’t, please. I get it. I’m damaged goods—I already knew that.” “No, you’re not… not any more than I am, or anyone is. You were the smart one here. You were right all along. You knew where you were at, and now I do too.” Drake scoffed. “Yeah, that’s me—smart as a whip. So, I guess you won’t be at work tomorrow. Good luck at your interview. Maybe you can wear your new tie… it should make a good impression.” It was difficult to keep bitterness from his voice, but he tried. He stood up, anxious to do what Jimmy had accused him of earlier. Bolt. “Thanks, but I haven’t responded yet.” Jimmy followed him to the door, not trying to convince him to stay and talk some more. Yup, this was final, and Drake knew he damn well deserved it. “Let me get your coat,” he said as he reached into the closet, brushing against Drake. Sadness emanated from the man. As much as it hurt, Drake didn’t want Jimmy to feel any worse than he so obviously did. “You have to do what you have to do… I understand.” “Do you?” “Yeah, I’ve been an idiot, but I’m not stupid. I knew it might well go this way when I came here, but I had to try.” Jimmy frowned at his words, and his mouth opened as if he was going to say something, but nothing came out. Silently, he handed Drake his jacket. “Thanks,” he said awkwardly. Instead of donning it, he draped it over his arm. “Drake?” “Yeah?” “I just need a little distance, and then we can go back to being friends if you want. We can still go to lunch while I work out my notice.” “So you have decided?” Jimmy shrugged, still frowning. “Not about the interview tomorrow, but about finding another place to work, yeah.” Drake nodded, indicating an acceptance he wasn’t feeling. He opened the door and walked out. “See you, Jimmy.” “Bye, Drake.” He was halfway to the elevators when he heard his name called out. He stopped walking and half-turned to face the man. That frown was still in place, and his head was slightly tilted to one side. Drake waited for him to speak as the next few seconds slowed to a crawl. “Ah… sorry, but I can’t help feeling I’m missing something. Is that all you… why did you come by today? You never have before, not since….” Drake bit back the truthful answer. What was the point? “To bring you soup. I thought you were sick.” “Oh… okay then. Thanks.” Continuing on, Drake got a few steps further before he came to another halt. Slowly he turned. Jimmy was still there, still watching him. Fuck it. “But mostly I came to tell you I love you. It is what it is, like you said, but I figure you should know that. Good night, Jimmy.” His heart was pounding, but he didn’t turn around again. One of the elevators opened up as soon as he pushed the button, and he sighed with relief as he got in. He didn’t need to look to know Jimmy was still standing in the same spot. It seemed an eternity before the door slid closed, and his descent began. *
  7. 66 points
    “What I want you've got And it might be hard to handle Like the flame that burns the candle The candle feeds the flame, yeah, yeah What I've got's full stock Of thoughts and dreams that scatter Then you pull them all together And how I can't explain Oh, yeah Well, well you (Ooh-ho, hoo-ooh, ooh-oo) You make my dreams come true.” Damn song has been stuck in my head for two weeks, since Pat’s birthday party. Always the first verse and then back to the beginning. Grr! “What do you say, Riley? Is it driving you crazy too?” I picked up the frying pan, then set an egg on each breakfast sandwich. Riley bounced in the high chair, hitting her hands down on the tray like she was demanding her breakfast. “What I want you've got And it might be hard to handle Like the flame that burns the candle The candle feeds the flame, yeah, yeah” “Dammit!” I said frustrated. Two strong arms slid around my waist, Adam’s body warming mine as he came closer kissing my neck. “You make my dreams come true.” Reaching up behind me I ran my fingers through his hair, holding his head in place. “I love you.” I sniggered. His hands slid back as he grabbed two handfuls of my ass. “This is mine later,” he growled. “You didn’t get enough last night?” I asked quietly knowing Pat would be down any second. Adam made a noise that rumbled in his chest and through my back. “I’ll never get enough of you.” I put the pan down, spinning in his arms, and lay one hell of a good morning kiss on him. His hands went into the back pockets of my jeans, pulling me closer to him. “Seriously, will you two ever stop?” Paddy laughed, then kissed Riley. “Morning, angel girl.” “Nope!” Adam said smiling. “Might as well make peace with it now son, your Dads love each other.” Pat smiled, putting a couple of toy blocks in front of Riley. “That part I actually like.” Pat smiled warmly. I breathed in Adam before releasing myself from his embrace. “Okay men, I’ve made egg and bacon sandwiches, do you have time to sit and eat or do you want them to go?” Adam picked up two of the plates and walked to the table, “We have time,” he said. I grabbed the other sandwich and Riley’s bowl, following him to the table. “Thanks, Dad,” Paddy said before inhaling his sandwich. “You’re welcome.” I fed Riley while eating and humming that damn ‘Hall & Oats’ song. I had boiled an egg and mushed it up with a tiny bit of butter and the tiniest bit of Miracle Whip for Riley to try now that she was starting to eat solids. The first couple of spoonfuls were hilarious. I put the spoon to her lips first so she could get a little taste. She licked her lip, smacking them together then leaning forward mouth wide open to get the rest. Once it was in her mouth, her whole body shuddered, Riley’s tongue kept poking out trying to expel the evil within. We couldn’t help but laugh at her misfortune. I did the same again, she repeated the process, but this time she kept some in her mouth getting a taste for it. “Have you fed Rain, and put her out to do her business?” I asked Paddy. “Uh-huh, I’m taking her over to Will’s to play with Cash and C.C. while we’re at golf,” Pat said. “Are you sure you don’t want to come? You know Mom won’t mind watching Riley,” Adam asked. Hell no! “I’m good, thank you.” I chuckled. “I’d rather watch paint dry, you guys have fun.” “We will, I’m determined to beat Grandad today,” Pat said with the fire of determination in his eyes. I laughed, “Good luck with that, just don’t make any bets on the outcome.” Paddy grumbled something unintelligible. “Can you ask your folks if they're coming to New England for Thanksgiving?” “Yep, will do. If they are, I’ll get Mom to call you. Payne will be calling sometime too, her and Amy are coming as well since your Mom invited them and her Dad’s going to stay with his sister for a while to give Payne a break.” “That’s great, Payne’s always fun. I’m glad things are working out them.” Adam smiled as he stood from the table, taking his plate and putting it in the dishwasher. While he was there, he started on the breakfast clean up. “Leave that, I’ll fix it up. You guys should get going; you know how your Dad is if you’re a minute late.” I rolled my eyes, his Dad was a stickler for when it came to being on time. “Thanks, Babe,” Adam said while he washed his hands. “You ready Pat? You’re driving; we’ll take your Jeep.” “Sweet,” Pat said. He couldn’t move quick enough, his plate was in the dishwasher, next thing I know Rain was running around, and Pat was standing in front of us with his golf clubs while he tried to put the leash on Rain. Adam was watching Pat fondly, sometimes I think he is still in awe that he’s a father to a teenager. “Come on Tiger,” Adam said chuckling. “Bye Dad, see you later.” Pat stomped off, Rain under his arm rolling his golf clubs along behind him. “We’ll see you at Will and Liam’s, I’ll text you when we leave the clubhouse.” Adam kissed me. “Love you.” “Love you too. Have a good round,” I said hoping that was the right term for golf. <>-<>-<> About an hour after the boys left, I gave Riley a bottle and put her down for a short nap. It was a good time to get some marking done. “What I want you've got And it might be hard to handle Like the flame that burns the candle The candle feeds the flame, yeah, yeah What I've got's full stock Of thoughts and dreams that scatter Then you pull them all together And how I can't explain” “Dammit,” I sighed. Maybe if I turn on the radio or put on some music the song will go away. As I headed to do just that the doorbell rang. On the other side of the security door stood a couple about my age with worried and scared expressions on their faces. “Can I help you?” I asked. “Uh…” the woman said looking at her husband anxiously. “Are you Mr. Wright, Patrick’s father?” the man asked quickly. “Yes, is everything okay?” I answered panicking. “No,” the lady said. My heart started thumping in my chest. “I mean yes, I’m sure it is.” She frowned. I stared at her, worried something was wrong. “Calm down, love,” the man said to his wife putting his hand gently on her shoulder. “Excuse me, have we met?” I asked; this was getting weird. The man stepped closer to the door, so I took a step back even though I knew they couldn’t get through the locked security door. “Sorry, we didn’t mean to frighten you. We’re Vince and Deborah Drake, Declan’s parents,” he said. Declan, who the hell is Dec… Oh Shit! “Oh, sure,” I said trying to remain calm, unlocking the door. “Did you want to come in?” “Thanks,” Mr. Drake said, putting his hand on the small of his wife’s back guiding her into the house; while I locked the door again behind them. The couple followed me to the kitchen. “Would either of you like a drink, tea, coffee…” “Sweet tea if you have it, please,” Mrs. Drake said politely. “We only have unsweetened.” “Um… water is fine then.” “Okay.” Mrs. Drake just smiled sadly as I put the bottles of water in front of them and sat down indicating for them to take a seat. Once they were seated, Mrs. Drake began. “Is Pat here, or your wife by chance?” Mrs. Drake asked. Wife? “I don’t have a wife, I have an “Adam”, but he and Pat are out playing golf with the rest of the family at the moment.” “Oh, this is humiliating,” the woman mumbled raising my hackles to the defensive. “Excuse me,” I growled. “Oh god, I’m so sorry.” Mrs. Drake fidgeted glancing at her husband quickly; her face bright red. “I didn’t mean that the way it came out. I… meant me, not you…” the woman sighed, hanging her head for a moment. “Declan has only referred to you as Pat’s parents and I assumed a man and a woman. Not that I care, but I just assumed. I didn’t mean to off–“ I put my hand up to stop her rambling. “It’s fine,” I said shrugging a shoulder, “you didn’t know, no offense taken.” The woman sighed and relaxed a little, but I could tell she was still uncomfortable. I’m really in no mood for guessing games, and the woman looked like she was about ready for a nervous breakdown. “Are you okay?” I asked because her discomfort was making me anxious. “No… No, I’m just embarrassed,” she said just above a whisper. “Well don’t be; no harm done. What can I help you with? Is Declan okay?” I said in a no-nonsense tone. “Um…well… Declan was here the other week for Pat’s birthday,” Mr. Drake said, as he rubbed his wife’s back to calm her down. “When he came home, and since then, he won’t stop talking about how Pat’s last name was O’Rourke and that he was adopted.” “That’s correct,” I said. “But he’s Patrick Wright now though.” The man nodded his acknowledgment. “Well you see, Declan is also adopted, he came to us when he was a baby. His birth name was also O’Rourke, the two boys are very similar and we can’t help but wonder if maybe they are related in some way or even brothers.” The man swallowed nervously. “I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to drop this on you, but it seems really important to Declan.” My entire body began shaking, somewhere deep down I’ve been expecting this but now that it’s here, I’m not sure how to handle it, or my own reaction to it. I could feel my chest tightening. “I know… I know how this must be a shock to you,” Mr. Drake said. “Do you know if Pat had any siblings?” “No, I don’t. His file showed he was an only child.” My head was starting to pound. I couldn’t sit still, their eyes never left me, even though they were polite it felt like an interrogation. “That’s disappointing,” Mr. Drake said defeatedly. “And so why are you here?” I asked cooly. “Declan is our son. We’d do anything to make him happy. Although we have our concerns, we’d like to follow this through somehow. Find out if he and Pat are related.” Mr. Drake said. He can’t be serious. I sat silently panicking, my mind was racing and I wasn’t sure what to say or do. Riley cried out through the baby monitor. Saved by the crying baby. “Excuse me for a moment.” I swallowed roughly, my throat was scratchy from the emotions I was holding back. I went upstairs to grab Riley, her face lit up when I entered the room, and she stopped crying immediately. Before picking her up, I turned the baby monitor off. “Aw, baby, were you being ignored.” I picked her up kissing her cheek. “Did you have a nice nap? Let’s change your bum then you can come meet some people.” As I walked down the stairs, I heard the front security door close. Shit! The Drakes had escaped before we could get anywhere, Adam was almost running through the house. “Who’s in the kitchen?” Adam asked bluntly. “Declan’s parents.” I answered nervously. “Who?” he said confused stopping to look at me while I spoke. “Declan’s parents. They want to talk to us about–”I’d just noticed Adam was soaking wet from head to toe. “What the hell happened to you?” I asked frowning. “It’s not funny.” Adam barked. “I wasn’t laughing,” I raised an eyebrow at his reaction. “Sorry.” He flicked his hand forward on his head frustratingly. “My ball went in the water hazard, I went to get it, but I slipped, I tried to save my self and ended up going ass over tit right into the drink.” He put his arms out looking down at his wet self. “Please tell me Pat isn’t with you?” I asked, Adam not picking up on my anxiousness. “No. He’s still at golf, they’ll take him to Will and Liam’s for brunch. We’ll meet them there.” He stomped past me. “You’d better dry off, then come into the kitchen and meet the Drakes.” I know I should have said more but he was a bit pissy and I didn’t need him coming to join us with all guns blazing. After everything we’ve been through as a family, Adam tends to protect us feircly and ask questions later. Not exactly what we need in this situation. “Oh, I don’t know who that is but I’ll be down in a minute,” he grumbled. I made my way back to the kitchen slowly, I really didn’t know how to deal with these people. The dread seeping through me, our family is about to change because of them. “Sorry about that,” I said to two amused faces. “You heard that huh?” “Yeah!” Mr. Drake said trying not to show his amusement. The three of us chuckled nervously together it seemed to break a bit of the tension. “This is Riley, our daughter.” I lifted her hand and waved at the people across the table. What the hell am I doing? I’m not sure if these people are friend or foe right now. “Adam’s just going to dry off, he’ll be down in a moment.” It only took Adam a few minutes to dry off and change, he came into the kitchen going straight to the fridge for a beer. He grabbed two out, opened them both sliding one in front of Mr. Drake, who eyed his wife sideways for a moment before accepting the beer after getting no reaction from her. Mrs. Drake was oblivious staring into space. Probably thinking the same thing as me, what if they try to take my baby away from me? My hands were still a little bit shaky with a feeling of nausea in my gut. But hopefully, no-one else could tell. I was trying to keep it light, so I didn’t lose my shit. Adam kissed Riley then me before sitting at the table knocking the top off his bottle. “So what’s going on?” Adam said swallowing about half his beer. I introduced him to the Drakes, then recapped why they were here. “Okay,” Adam elongated the word. “So what is it that you’re looking for?” “We honestly don’t know, if the boys are blood relatives I think we should understand that and then see if it would be good for them to know that and have a relationship if they want it. Declan seems to think they are, but I don’t want to disappoint him if they're not.” Mrs. Drake said is if in a daze. “We knew that it was important to talk with you first”. Adam nodded along taking in what the lady was saying, but I could tell his mind was reeling, the cogs turning a mile a minute. He leaned forward resting his arms on the table around his drink. “How old was Declan when you adopted him?” Adam asked evenly. “He was just a baby, not even a year old,” said Mrs. Drake. “So he’s been a happy kid in a loving home for what? Fifteen years almost?” Adam tone was forbidding, and intense, “He’s a lucky kid, how much do you know about Paddy?” The Drakes both stiffened and looked at each other. “Not much at all really, only what Declan has told us which isn’t much past that he thinks they are related and Patrick’s characteristics,” Mr. Drake uttered sheepishly. My heart rate when up, Riley started fussing she could definitely feel the tension between the four of us. I was ready to pounce, I can’t believe they came here without knowing anything about Pat. I handed Riley over to Adam, to try and have him calm down. Adam stood up, bouncing Riley gently trying to get her to settle. I took a deep breath. “Pat’s life has been completely the opposite of Declan’s. This is the first stable home that he has had. He’s been in and out of foster care Some of the situations have been abusive. He would go days without food. He’s endured bruises, broken bones, abuse, you name it. When he first came to live with me, he slept with his shoes on in case he needed to escape, run. It took a long time for him to settle, he’s just finally started to believe we are his family for good, finally feeling like he is part of a family.” I said, my chin was quivering, my eyes were stinging at the thought of what Pat went through. “I am NOT going to do anything to jeopardize that!” Mrs. Drake looked horrified, Mr. Drake’s knuckles were white from holding his beer bottle so tightly. “We had no idea,” Mrs. Drake said, her eyes glossy with tears. “So you can see why we won’t be party to anything that will upset him anymore, he’s finally happy. We love him, and we will protect our son.” Adam put his hand on my shoulder standing behind me with Riley in his arms. I wiped away the tears in my eyes, then looking up at Adam. He seemed as upset as I did. “That poor boy, if we’d have known Declan had a brother you know we would have taken them both, don’t you? There is no way we would have let them be separated.” Mr. Drake spoke, his voice rough. The four of us sat in silence, the weight of the situation heavy on all four sets of shoulders. Mr. Drake drank from the bottle nervously. Mrs. Drake snaked her hand over holding her husbands. Adam sat back down now that Rile was settled again. “This isn’t the right time honey, we can’t do this to Patrick.” She said sadly. What? My face must have asked what I was feeling. Mr. Drake addressed the about face. He cleared his throat, “We both aged out of the foster care system, if anyone knows what Pat went through, it’s us. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to find each other when we were sixteen, able to protect one another. We have three children, Declan has two younger sisters, all three are adopted.” Mr. Drake smiled affectionately at his wife, covering their clasped hand with his other. “Declan will have to be patient. This is a lot to dump on you and you both need some time to absorb it all. Then we can figure out the next steps. In the meantime, we’ll try to make sure Declan doesn’t put any pressure on Patrick.” I can’t even explain the relief that went through my body. I even felt Adam relax a tiny bit next to me. Adam gave me Riley and eventually saw the Drakes out. He came back to the kitchen. “Wasn’t expecting that,” Adam commented as he slumped into the chair next to me. “How are you feeling about this?” “I honestly don’t know.” I paused trying to gather my thoughts, “It was kind of thrown at us, we haven’t even had time to think. I feel a million different things. I know I’ll be happy for Pat if they do turn out to be related. But as for me, all I feel right now is scared.” Adam nodded his head leaning forward and playing with Riley’s hand. “Me too.” “How do you think Pat is going to take this?” “I don’t know that either, I couldn’t even begin to guess. We’ll have to be cautious and do what anyone else would do – wing it.” I cuddled into Riley, at least I know she’s going to be okay. “We should talk to him tonight, I think. Tackle this head on, if anything he has a right to know if he has a blood relative. But he may feel a lot of conflicting things. We have to be there for him. I think this will ultimately have to be his decision.” Adam crossed his arms over his chest. “I agree,” I said nodding. “Do you want to cuddle your daughter, babies cure everything.” I faced Riley toward Adam and made her dance for him. Adam smiled, then cuddled her into his chest. “You okay, Babe? Really?” Adam asked, his eyes showed their concern. I blew out a breath, “I’m barely holding it together. The one thing I’m happy about is they have no intention of interfering with our family by trying to take Pat. Not that they probably could, but who knows… I guess we’ll see. What about you?” “I don’t know, like you said, we’ll just wait and see how this pans out I guess. It’s all we can do right now, we’ll just have to keep a close eye on Pat, his feelings come first. Things are about to get crazy, I guess.” Adam gave me a weak smile, kissing Riley gently before laying his cheek softly on her head while his eyes were watching me. <>-<>-<> It was getting late in the evening, I’d just put Riley down for the night, we’d had dinner a couple of hours ago. My men were watching television so I went to join them so Adam and I could talk to Pat. “You look happy.” I smiled at Pat. Sitting down on the couch next to Adam, I snuggled into his side. Pat was in the love seat with Rain. They were watching a cooking show of some sort. “Your Grandad couldn’t stop bragging about you at lunch today.” Pat scrunched up his nose. “I still didn’t beat him,” Pat grumbled while he mindlessly petted Rain, who was settled in his lap. “Patience, my son, keep at it; you’ll beat him eventually.” I smiled. “I guess.” Poor kid, he’s only been playing golf for a few months, but he wants the ability of Tiger Woods without the effort. Somehow his Grandad brings out the competitive side of Paddy. They have become really close, and love to rib each other. Adam turned off the television and Pat gave him the stink eye. Before speaking Adam cleared his throat, Pat and I waited expectantly for what he had to say. “Paddy,” Adam said, then kissed the top of my head, “Uh… the Declan’s, I mean Drake parents… dammit. The Drakes, Declan’s parents came to see us today.” Our son frowned, “Okay, what’d they want?” I sat up straight, leaning forward so I could somehow be sitting closer to Pat, before I spoke. “Well, it seems Declan is also adopted.” I rubbed my hands down my jeans nervously. “Ha! Cool,” Pat said smiling. “Maybe,” Adam blurted. Pat frowned at Adam’s outburst. “It seems Declan’s birth name was also O’Rourke,” I said feeling Adam stiffen next to me as we waited for Paddy’s reaction. Adjusting his shirt, Pat sat up straight, seemingly a way to comfort himself. His fingers feathered threw Rain’s fur, as she yawned and then laid her head back down. Pat’s eyes pensively pasted on the wall ahead, his brow furrowed. We waited for him to process the information. “So.” Pat swallowed audibly, looking over to me and Adam. “Does that mean Declan and I are brothers?” “Uh… we don’t know. You could be,” Adam stated in a soothing tone. “Huh!” Pat answered quietly. “The D–” Pat cut Adam off. “But if we were brothers, or related even, wouldn’t it have been in the file before we were adopted?” Adam glanced over at me. “We would have thought so, yes,” I answered while Adam just looked confused. Pat closed his eyes, his body sinking into the chair adjusting Rain in his lap. “Am…” Pat swallowed, his voice meek and scared, “am I going to have to leave?” I swear I felt my heart break. “Over my dead body,” Adam growled, “you’re our son.” “What?” I practically leaped into the space next to him. “Of course your not leaving, please don’t even think it. We’re a family, always will be,” I pulled Pat into me. That didn’t really help Pat any, he still looked, well… about a million different things: confused; hurt; angry; sad. You name it, I’m pretty sure he was feeling it. Paddy’s eyes filled with tears. “Then what do I do?” Pat’s voice was strained. “You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to Pat, the choice is yours,” I said. “Just remember it would just mean that your family is getting bigger and you would have a sister and a brother” He paused, his face contorted with pain and a pensive crease in his forehead. Paddy shrugged. “Do you think Theo would be able to find out? Or what if we did one of those DNA tests that you talked about in class?” I scrubbed my hand across my mouth. “You’d have to get Declan and his parents’ permission for that. But if everyone agrees it might at least be a quicker way to find out if your blood relatives,” I said out loud but kind of thinking to myself at the same time. “If that’s what you want Pat, it’s entirely up to you. There’s no right or wrong here.” “Do you think Theo would look into it if it comes back we are related?” Pat asked, he wiped more tears out of his eyes. I smiled warmly, “I’m sure he’d do just about anything for you Paddy.” “But Pat, remember that you are our son and that is not going to change whatever the result” Pat returned with a sad smile, his eyes dropped to Rain as he pet her. “Everything is going to work out, you’ll see,” I whispered to him. It felt so good when Pat’s body relaxed into mine, he stopped fighting within himself letting go and gathering strength from me. “I love you Dad,” Pat said wiping his eyes again. “I love you more.” I smiled tightening my grip on Pat. “Come here, you are not too big for a hug” He didn’t fight me, Pat put his arms around me and squeezed me tight. “Can I think about it?” “Absolutely, take your time. You have to be comfortable with your decision.” Adam told him. “Is it okay if I go to bed?” Paddy asked that was remnant of his past. “Of course it Bud, just make sure you take Rain out to do her business before you turn in.” I reminded him. Pat nodded as he stood, Adam was standing waiting to hug Pat. He wrapped his arms around our son. “Love you buddy, we’re here for you, don’t forget that.” I heard Adam say to Pat before kissing the top of his head. “I know, love you too, Dad.” Paddy took Rain out for her last chance to do go to the bathroom before we locked up for the night. Once Pat was upstairs and out of earshot, Adam turned to me. “This is going to be hard to navigate, isn’t it?” “Yep,” I said nodding my head slowly. “Are you okay?” Adam asked as he pulled me into his lap. My head rest on his shoulder. “I have no idea, I can’t help but worry what’s going to happen. I can see Pat retreating every second back to the kid he was when he first came to live with me. We can’t let that happen.” I lifted my head so I could look at Adam. “We won’t. We’ll just have to keep reminding him, he’s loved, and that we’re here no matter what.”
  8. 60 points
    Eyes closed, CJ adjusted the headphones over his head. The train’s rocking provided a familiar, comforting feeling. A year after Election Day 2016, he and Owen were on the way to New York City, memories of his involvement in Hilary Clinton’s campaign fresh on his mind thanks to the recent interview with Trip. He smirked realizing how much he had changed since moving to Washington and in particular, during the time he worked as a surrogate for the former Secretary of State. Reticent about being a public figure, he fought against revealing too much personal information while on the trail. Remembering what a mess his feelings were at the time, the smirk became a silent chuckle. He tried to keep people from knowing about his personal life, yet he was quick to reveal he was gay. A conversation with Congressman Joseph Kennedy III from Massachusetts helped him get over his publicity phobia. Saving the life of an elderly woman in Charlottesville the previous summer thrust him into the spotlight once again and he thought he handled the notoriety much better. At the time, he gave Charles Beauregard Houston III the first interview and subsequently replied to every other request from reporters. The same day he spoke with Trip, he agreed to give him an exclusive concerning his experiences and feelings on the first Tuesday in November 2016. He enjoyed the interaction and was certain it would not be the last time they worked together. The article appeared in the latest issue of The New Yorker and he already had several messages about it. He would reply to them over the weekend while he and his fiancé plunged further into public view. This was their first visit to New York since August when they spent a few days on Fire Island. While CJ played a mean air-drum, the shoulder nudge disrupted his revelry. He turned his head and pushed aside the Bluetooth device covering his ears; the Aussie’s crooked grin filled his vision. “You listening to them again?” CJ nodded and leaned over to peck at his boyfriend’s cheek. They had attended the Imagine Dragons concert at Washington’s Capital One Arena on Sunday; days later, he was still playing their music non-stop. He noticed one of the train’s occupants frown while the two men kissed so he leaned in and did it again. Fuck the judgmental assholes if they could not deal with it. “Damn right I am. Their new album’s so fucking good I may never listen to anything else. My new anthem’s gonna be ‘Whatever it Takes’. I do love the adrenalin in my veins the way the song says.” The late-afternoon Amtrak Acela Express leaving the nation’s capital was crowded with business people and tourists heading to New York City for the long weekend. Veteran’s Day fell on Saturday this year, so the Federal Holiday was celebrated on Friday. “What time’s Chipper getting in again?” Cristiano Humberto Israel Pereira, Jr. was flying from Miami to celebrate his twentieth birthday with them, his sister Cristina, and a handful of friends. “His flight lands at Newark about an hour before we get to Penn Station. He’ll prolly be waiting for us at the apartment.” The Manhattan Upper East Side co-op owned by CJ’s fathers and their friend Dr. Matthew Calhoun had become a second home to CJ and Owen. Visits alone or with friends were a frequent occurrence, more often than not during three-day weekends. Over time, they accumulated enough of a wardrobe in the large New York City pied-à-terre, their traveling luggage consisted of a backpack each. “CJ! Ozzie! Damn it’s good to see you. Welcome back to the City.” Ajax Karalis was three years older than CJ and two younger than Owen. He worked as a doorman at the building on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 76th Street, taking over the spot vacated after his father retired, while studying to become a graphic artist at Hunter College. “You’re looking good, mate.” Owen shook hands with the Greek-American man while CJ stood a step behind, admiring their friend’s looks. Ajax’s bright blue eyes sparkled as he tipped the cap emblazoned with the building’s address upwards. “Thanks, Ozzie. You guys ready to party this weekend?” “Damn right, bro. And you better be too.” CJ swatted the man’s hand away and instead wrapped him in a hug. So what if it was not considered proper protocol for a tenant to be so chummy with an employee? He was without doubt in a ‘fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke’ type of mood. “What’s your schedule?” “Working the late shift today. Brought a bag with clothes Chipper took up to the apartment already. Tomorrow I’ll work morning ’til mid-afternoon. Then I’m off 'til Monday.” Upstairs, they heard the shower running through the open bedroom door. Two units were joined years before to create a three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment with double living space and two kitchens. CJ always thought the second cooking area should be turned into a fourth bathroom and the living space of the smaller unit enclosed to create additional sleeping space. As it was, the couch in there turned into a double bed for those times occupancy rose. CJ walked into the master bedroom belonging in name to Matt Calhoun but which Chipper took control of whenever it was the younger set visiting alone. Strolling into the bathroom, he leaned against the counter top and stared at his friend through the glass enclosing the shower. “What’s going on, bud?” “Hey, CJ! Glad you and Ozzie finally got here.” Chipper dismounted the showerhead from its bracket and ran it over his body, rinsing away soapsuds. “Dude, I’m sooo ready to party…” He turned off the water, shook his head, and ran a hand through his brown hair. It was cut short and stylish as it had been the last few times they had seen each other. The college sophomore went through several lengths, styles, and colors in the past, but contrary to what most people would expect, as he entered college the wildness dissipated. CJ raked his eyes over Chipper’s body; his friend was not as bulky as CJ’s or Owen’s but he was in damn good shape. Although he often shaved his chest, a trimmed carpet of soft-looking fuzz now fanned across his pecs and trailed down the center of his torso. The hair ribbon merged with the coarser growth surrounding his genitals. “Looking good, bud. Glad we both avoided the freshman fifteen. Bet you’re getting laid right and left looking like that.” “I do okay. Tell you some of the stories later. So, are you and your studly boyfriend ready for PRIME time?” Chipper referred to the Chelsea neighborhood bar they planned to be at after dinner. “Fucking A, dude. Ready to get my drink on!” Chipper’s laughter reverberated in the confined space. “Listen to him! While in the spotlight during the campaign last year, he wouldn’t even look at a bottle of booze. And now he’s ready to party it up.” “Tonight it’ll be mild. The three of us have to be up at dawn tomorrow. But watch out Friday and Saturday nights!” “Dude, I can’t believe your dad quit his job. What the hell happened and what’s he gonna do now?” “You’re gonna shit after you hear about it. Finish up in here and I’ll tell you the whole story. Oh, and he’s going to work with Papa Brett in the family businesses from now on.” They ordered pizza and ate while catching up with each other’s lives. The death of Owen’s sister and the couple’s travel to Australia to see her and attend the funeral left them in a somber mood. Chipper had already returned to the University of Miami by the time his friends were back in Washington. CJ recounting his time in Israel with Levi Olken and Ezra Dawani-Olken, and Owen talking about Levi and Ezra’s wedding in Washington improved the atmosphere. By the time Chipper finished telling about hookups in Miami with fellow students at the Frost School of Music, they were laughing and ready to head out. The crisp November evening forced them to wear more than a t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops; Chipper kept bragging that was the most he ever wore in South Florida whenever he went out. They rode the train to the 23rd Street Station and walked the final blocks to their destination. The bouncer at the door smirked while he checked their IDs and banded their wrists. CJ suspected the big bruiser had an inkling two out of the three were not real. “Hey, handsome. How about three blowjobs?” The bartender’s head popped up when he heard the request; rummaging through a cooler, he had failed to notice the three men approach. Sean frowned, uncapped the bottle in hand, and placed it on a napkin in front of a customer. “Sure thing, sir. Which one of you’s gonna come back here and chow down first?” “Asshole! That’s what you have Ethan for. Where the hell is he anyway?” Sean Owen Brody ran a hand through his flame-colored curls and frowned. “Not coming out tonight. He worked late and decided he needed to rest since he has to be at the office early tomorrow.” “On a holiday?” “Guess that’s what happens if you’re low man on the totem pole. Only a half-day, though.” The bartender placed four glasses in front of him and reached for a shaker to mix the requested cocktail. Owen leaned against the bar and watched their friend work. “You guys still coming out with us tomorrow night, right?” “Damn right we are. Why do you think I’m working today? Ethan said to call him when you get done at the photo shoot tomorrow. He’s spending the weekend at my place, so he may be walking funny by the time he returns to work on Monday.” “Yummm! Fresh meat!” CJ, Owen, and Chipper looked up to see two guys walking towards them. They rose with the sun, showered, ate, and headed to Queens. They were early and there was nobody around, so they sat on the stoop by the front door of the abandoned warehouse being used for the photo session. “You here for the shoot with Clive?” The same voice posed the question. The speaker was a tall, gangly guy who revealed a mane of burgundy hair when he pulled off the knit cap. “I haven’t seen you before. You guys new in town?” “Who are you?” CJ had stood, wary of two strangers approaching in a somewhat deserted industrial area. It was the black guy next to him who replied. “That’s Ken. He’s harmless. But don’t bend over in front of him.” The guy flipped his ball cap around and stretched a hand out. “Marshall. And I’ll take a guess you’re the three newbies Clive told me about.” “I guess that’s us. CJ. The blonde’s Owen and the other guy’s Chipper. Do you usually have to wait when you do one of these things?” “Honey, waiting is the job.” Ken squatted in front of the door and lit a cigarette. “Waiting to get the assignment. Waiting for make-up and hair. Waiting for wardrobe. Waiting for the photographer to be ready. Is this your first time for real?” “Second for me.” Chipper took a step and offered the crouching man his fist to bump. “Those two played hard to get for a year before they agreed to do it.” “No shit?” Marshall sounded surprised. “A famous fashion photographer wants to use you and you wouldn’t do it?” “They’re not in the business, Marshall.” Clive had opened the front door and stood smiling at the five men. “Morning, gentlemen. Come in, come inside. We just got here and used the back door. We didn’t have a key for this one. CJ, Ozzie, the crew’s so looking forward to this.” “Hang on a minute.” Ken dropped his smoke and crushed it under the heel of what looked awfully close to a ballet slipper. “You chase around trying to convince three unknowns to pose for you. Me? I beg for the job and only get it after I blow you?” Marshall slapped his companion’s back so hard the guy stumbled and almost fell. “That’s ’cause you’re a ho, gay boy! Not all of us rely on the casting couch to get work. Anyway, you’ll blow anybody.” “Wrong! They have to be breathing. You didn’t complain the time I did you while your girlfriend was out of town, straight boy. So, what’s the deal, Clive?” “Not that it’s any of your business, but I met them in South Beach last year. They were having lunch at an outdoor café and I approached them. CJ had some privacy concerns because of a project he was involved with at the time. It took a while for us to hook up. For the record, you had the job already when you pulled me into the bathroom stall at the club. “But don’t get too cocky. These three are part of a group of friends and I wanted to use the six of them. Unfortunately, the redhead in their gang is in the Army and deployed who knows where. I chose you as a stand-in for him. One of their other friend’s black and that’s whose place Marshall’s taking. We have one more guy coming to stand in for their skater buddy.” CJ shook his head and grinned; he grabbed the backpack and walked into the empty industrial building. Empty was a relative term. There was no manufacturing equipment in sight, but trash littered the floor and broken-off pieces of machinery and battered office furniture remained behind when the space fell into disuse. Dusty, cobwebbed clerestory windows filtered daylight into the cavernous room. A series of lights and a paper backdrop were to one side, while metal racks full of clothing and a few chairs around a three-section portable screen were tucked against a wall. He assumed that was the changing area. The privacy partition was one of the items his attorney Rachel Stout added to the contract CJ asked her to review. There would be no stealth nude shots. The place was crowded with people hustling equipment into the warehouse. A raised rear garage door revealed a parked panel truck. Clive introduced them to his staff: a hair and makeup artist, three wardrobe assistants, a couple of gophers, and a fashionably dressed woman, representing Italian Vogue, wearing sunglasses indoors. With Chipper prodding them, CJ and Owen agreed to pose for the magazine’s spring feature on men’s suits. CJ had no idea why they were shooting business attire in a dump like this. The potential artistic vision escaped him. Once the last model arrived, they all clustered around Clive while his assistants rolled in a cooler and a cart loaded with sacks and boxes from a catering company. “Okey dokey. Thank you all for coming and sorry for making you work on a holiday. Chipper lives in Miami. CJ and Owen in Washington. Since all three go to school and have busy schedules, as soon as I found out they were planning a New York trip, I had to make it work.” The hair lady ran clippers over beards, leaving behind manicured scruff. She wet, and styled their hair, applied varying amounts of product to their faces, and passed them over to wardrobe. Each man had their own clothing rack. Clive asked for sizes and measurements in advance, but CJ was amazed how much tinkering it took until the photographer was satisfied with their appearance. Anyone looking at them from the side not facing the camera would notice the number of clips and pins used to make the outfits fit without wrinkles or bulges. No wonder nothing ever looked as good on real people as it did on a fashion spread. “How you doing, CJ?” Owen removed his current outfit and handed each item to one of the assistants to hang back on the rack. They had been at it for a while, taking pictures of each model individually and in shifting groups; Clive called for a break while they prepared for the final portion of the shoot with all six human mannequins together. “Okay, I guess. Getting a little cranky. I’m still glad we decided to do this. It’s a good experience. But if Ken grabs my ass one more time, he’s gonna get slapped down. It was funny at first but it got old really quick.” CJ had a foot up on a chair while unlacing his shoes when Ken walked behind him and ran both hands over CJ’s ass. “You mean like this, college man?” “That’s it!” CJ was not kidding about getting cranky. He was up early, had survived on coffee and bagels since then, and his patience had worn thin. Whirling around, he clamped a hand around the man’s neck and frog-walked him backwards until Ken’s shoulders hit one of the concrete columns. Startled and maybe scared, the man stared wide-eyed at his assailant. “You listen to me, pretty boy. I’m not one of your play things. You so much as look at me again, I’ll fucking crush your throat. And that goes for my boyfriend too. We’re both off-limits.” “Leave him alone, CJ.” Chipper rushed over and pulled at CJ’s arm. “Ken, I’d listen to him if I was you. He has couple of black belts. He could kill you with his hands before anyone could interfere. I don’t know if he has it with him, but he carries a loaded gun around too. Don’t piss him off anymore.” The confrontation ended as soon as it began. Owen forcefully shoved back one of the crewmembers who tried to intervene, daring him to lay a hand on CJ with a piercing stare. Clive took Ken by an arm and propelled him towards a corner of the derelict space while talking. Marshall draped an arm around CJ’s shoulders while chuckling. “He’s had that coming for a long time. Please don’t hit me. I’m not interested in your ass.” CJ stared at the black man at his side, shook his head, and started laughing. “Sorry, I’m definitely not used to this shit. I can usually control my temper but…” “It’s cool, man. Ken’s harmless but he doesn’t know when to stop. I’ve worked with him before. I’m used to his bullshit. Worst part is with his looks and body, he gets what he wants more often than not.” “Still, I shouldn’t have done that. I better go apologize to him and Clive.” Following the outburst, Ken seemed leery of being too close to CJ; he had to overcome any fears he harbored when the photographer forced them to stand together and even lean against each other during the next round of photos. At one point, he asked if it was true CJ carried a gun. “I do most of the time back home. And when I go on motorcycle trips. But don’t worry, I didn’t bring it this weekend. New York gun laws are as much a pain as those back home.” “So you’re a biker, huh?” Yep. So’s Ozzie. And both my dads. And―” “You have two dads?” The surprised response to the revelation led to more questions and explanations by CJ, Owen, and Chipper. By the time Clive called an end to the day, Ken was back to being flirty but kept his hands to himself. Ethan was waiting for them at the apartment when they returned to Manhattan―CJ had left a key for him at the front door. The friends had not seen each other since the August weekend at The Pines; the reunion dissolved into a hug fest with enough backslapping to land someone in traction. “I should have been there. I could have told this character trying to grab either you or Ozzie can be dangerous to one’s health. At least he was lucky Ritchie wasn’t there.” The conversation about Ritchie first and then other members of the Squad didn’t falter when Ajax walked into the living room naked while toweling his hair. “Are you guys going to shower or what? I promised my girlfriend we’d be at the restaurant on time. I better not be late if I want to get laid tonight.” “Like Marina not being around would keep you from fucking. You’d just jump all over Chipper’s ass.” CJ jumped off the couch as the man threw the towel at him. “I’m going, I’m going. Come on, Ozzie. I’ll wash your back and you can do mine.” Eventually, they made their way to Añejo. CJ had made reservations for the group at the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant. He had read good things about the Mexican eatery opened years before by a Top Chef contestant. The immense selection of tequila brands and agave cocktails may have also influenced his decision. “I’m surprised this place’s still open. I haven’t been here in ages.” Damien Prado, Cristina’s boyfriend, was older than the others. In his mid-thirties, the investment banker met Chipper’s sister while she interned at the same Wall Street bank he worked at. “We could have gone somewhere nicer, you know? I told Cristina I would pay tonight since all of you are still in school or recent graduates.” He lowered his voice and spoke to CJ. “Well, except for Sean. I’m not sure he could afford an expensive place either. I mean, he’s just a bartender.” “OUCH!” CJ’s outrage at how hard Owen stepped on his foot dissipated after he saw the warning stare. “Sorry, mate. Almost tripped myself up there.” Damien’s sotto voce comment was apparently loud enough for Owen to hear and the foot stomping was a preemptive strike. CJ thought his boyfriend knew him too damn well. Hearing Prado brag about money and put one of his friends down had him ready to lash out. Instead, he tried to make nice, not wanting to spoil the evening. “Don’t worry about that, Damien. Ozzie and I will take care of dinner. After all, we invited you and Cristina to be our guest.” “I don’t know, CJ. I mean, this could be a tad too rich. It’s nice you want to treat your friend, but I don’t want you running up a balance on your credit card.” Ethan intervened and kept CJ from trashing the man. “How much do you know about CJ, Damien?” “Oh, not much. Cristina’s told me he’s gay and has two gay fathers. He was involved in the election last year and he’s a student at Georgetown. I guess his family has a friend with a place in New York he stays at when in town. Cristina mentioned someone named Matt. But otherwise…” “Okay, one thing wrong in there.” Ethan, Damien, CJ, and Owen were standing apart from the others while they waited for their table. “The apartment they use is owned half and half by Dr. Calhoun and CJ’s dads. I guess Cristina didn’t share that.” “Oh? I wasn’t aware they could afford something like that. Apartments on the Upper East Side aren’t cheap.” CJ slapped his forehead and shook his head; he suspected this was the beginning of a long evening. “My dads do okay, dude. And don’t worry about my credit card. One of them’s an accountant and he’s taught me carrying a balance’s not a good idea. What with all the interest they charge. So I pay it off every month. Why give money to blood-sucking bankers?” “You guys look too serious. Come on, our table’s ready.” Marina Anastasi looked beautiful and CJ had told her so already. She hugged them all but CJ noticed Chipper’s embrace was longer and tighter. He smiled, thinking his friend was going to get doubly lucky for his birthday. “We have tequila to drink. And I can’t wait ’til we go dancing after dinner. I’m not missing out on the dance floor with you boys.” “Ajax’s your boyfriend, right?” Damien followed when the girl laced arms with CJ and Owen and led the way. “Yes, he is. Our parents were friends since before either one of us was born. We grew up together.” “And he’s a doorman at the building these guys stay at?” “For now. Hopefully he’ll find a good job as a graphic artist once he graduates.” “I’m surprised he socializes with his building’s tenants. That’s uncommon.” CJ steered clear from sitting next to Damien and it seemed others wanted to avoid him too. He ended up between Cristina and Chipper. He thought he would avoid talking to the irritating man but could not resist a response. “Ajax’s more than our building’s doorman, Damien. He’s a friend. And anyway, none of us care too much about what any of our buds do for a living. Hell, one of my besties’ going to be a motorcycle mechanic. Another one’s going to be a pharmacist, and a third one’s in the Army. But we’re all the same. Just because someone has a college education or money doesn’t make them any better than anyone else.” Damien did not look convinced but at least he did not pursue the topic further. The round of tequila shots they ordered arrived accompanied by a bowl of lime wedges and a salt cellar. The first cocktail of the evening seemed to animate the group further and CJ had a hard time following the different conversations. Cristina ended up grabbing his attention. “That was a beautiful save-the-date announcement you guys sent out, CJ. I was sooo happy to get it. And a bit surprised. I didn’t think you’d be doing it before graduation.” “We figured we might as well. Ozzie and I know we’re gonna be together forever, so why wait? I hope you’re planning on being there.” “Oh, definitely!” Cristina placed a hand on Damien’s arm and looked at him. “I added it to our calendar as soon as I got it. Have you guys figured out the details yet?” “We’re still working out some things.” Owen glanced at CJ and gave him a tender smile. “You try and plan anything with a thick-skulled Cuban. You’ll realize it’s not easy to find compromise when you have different ideas.” “Hey! I’m not that bad! So, Cristina, how do you like being out in the real world?” “It’s different but I’m enjoying it.” Cristina had graduated from New York University at the beginning of summer and started a management training program at a bank soon after. “I’m still learning. The bank wants us to be familiar with all areas of operations.” “I think that’s the same at most reputable businesses.” Ethan passed the salt to Marina and picked up a lime wedge; the server had just delivered their second round of shots. “I’m going through the same thing at the law firm. They keep rotating the attorneys I work for. I’ve been involved in a divorce case, patent infringement litigation, and a wrongful death suit so far. I thought I’d get a break since my dad’s a partner and I interned the past two summers but nooo. I‘m low man on the totem pole until the next batch of rookies comes in.” “Spoiled bitch!” Chipper’s comment elicited a middle finger from Ethan. “I still love you, brother. Okay, since the first round was for my twentieth, this one’s for Ethan’s twenty-fifth.” Wiping his lips with a napkin after downing the shot, Damien seemed unaware they were celebrating two birthdays. “When’s yours?” “A week from tomorrow. At least this year it’s on Saturday. I’m glad I won’t have to go to work the next day hung over. CJ’s the lucky one. With his birthday being two days before Christmas I’m sure he’ll be partying his ass off again.” “What are you doing this year, CJ? If you’re flying people somewhere for a party you better include me and Ajax this time. Or am I disqualified because I’m a girl?” There was a little pouting on Marina’s part. “Nothing special this year. I’m thinking the next big celebration will be for the twenty-first. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to invite females to that one.” Marina stuck her tongue out at him when he tried to look disappointed and resigned to his fate. “No more boys-only ski trips. Too many friends and relatives with girlfriends or wives.” CJ watched Damien lean towards Chipper and whisper something in his ear. “Oh, man. You wouldn’t believe CJ’s eighteenth.” Vigorous nodding by others around the table seconded Chipper’s comment. “He flew us all to Colorado and we spent a week on the slopes in Vail. It was sick! I’m hoping his dads don’t sell the place we stayed at. It could become a good party house for us in the future.” Damien looked at CJ with a surprised expression. “You flew everyone out there and your dads own a condo in Vail?” “Ummm, not a condo. It’s a big chalet. You can fit like twenty people in there. They don’t use it often but I’m thinking the same as Chipper. I want them to keep it.” CJ avoided commenting on his paying for everyone to fly out there but Damien did not let the matter drop. “And you paid for everyone to go? How many people?” “Mate, my boyfriend’s one of the most generous men you’ll ever meet.” Owen rested a hand atop one of CJ’s. “He spends money on others more often than on himself. There were over a dozen of us. We all had such a good time I think we’re ready to go back soon.” As the food arrived, conversations drifted towards plans for the upcoming holidays. CJ was surprised when Cristina mentioned Damien would be flying down to Tampa with her to meet her father; he had not realized the relationship between his friend’s sister and the older man was so serious. When the server approached the table with suggestions for dessert, CJ asked Owen to order him something and excused himself to use the restroom. The server brought one last round of tequila and placed a black folder containing the check in front of CJ. Damien was quick to object and reach for it. “No, no, no. I’m taking care of this. Remember, I can afford this a little easier than any of you.” Maybe it was the discussion of the apartment in Manhattan or the lodge in Vail but Damien seemed a little hesitant when he looked at CJ. A seed of doubt had been planted in his mind. Ethan, Sean, and Chipper shook their heads and chuckled while a benign smile creased CJ’s face. “Too late, mate.” Owen’s glee suggested he enjoyed showing up Damien. “If I know my boyfriend, he handed his credit card to somebody when he went to pee. I bet you he told them to add an overly generous tip and close the charge.” The smile on CJ’s face grew when Damien opened the folder and found the charge slip and CJ’s American Express inside. “Black Amex?” There was surprise and a touch of respect in his words. “You shouldn’t have done that, CJ. I wanted to treat you guys.” “No way, man. This was all our doing. Chipper and Ethan are two of our closest friends. This was a birthday present to them from me and Ozzie. Tell you what, you can buy the first round wherever we end up next.” “Did you have fun?” The remainder of the evening was as enjoyable as the meal. CJ limited his drinking trying to avoid a hangover; he knew there would be more alcohol consumption Saturday night. Although he was tired when they returned to the apartment, he was not too drunk. “I did, mate. But next time we come up, we meet Cristina and Damien just for coffee if we have to see them. Don’t think I can stomach another night of him telling us how much money he has. How important he is. Or him being so stupid not to realize you have a heck of a lot more and deal with as many well-known individuals as he does.” “He’s a dick! But as long as Cristina likes him…” CJ left the sentence unfinished when he started thinking about what the guy’s reaction would be if he did end up as Cristina’s plus-one at the wedding. Maybe then he would stop bragging about his wealth and connections. “I thought he would get a clue when Chipper and Ethan kept on about the Colorado trip. Or when Sean talked about meeting all the dads’ friends and you. And how everyone was so nice to him even though it was an awkward situation. Damien should have realized you and your dads have money but don’t flaunt it. It wasn’t until he saw the card you used I think he started to realize he may have misjudged you.”
  9. 59 points
    ---Teddy--- As I sat there, another faceless voice in a giant crowd, I couldn’t help but smile. I remember thirteen years ago when this all seemed like a dream. I remember watching him play the barn. I remember going to warped tour. I remember when they told us he didn’t sell enough albums. I remember when he was just Ryder Sullivan. But here we are today. Millions of fans and album sales later, and yet he’s barely changed. Sure, his life hasn’t been perfect, but when it comes down to it, he’s still the same man he was becoming back then. No, he’s better. He’s no longer afraid to give his opinion. He’s no longer afraid to talk to people. He’s no longer afraid to be himself. As I glanced over to my younger brother I couldn’t help but see the same qualities in him. An enormous smile spread across his face from ear to ear, showing he truly was in heaven. I wish I could go back and bond with you. I wish I could’ve been the brother you always wanted me to be. But I guess hindsight really is 20/20. All we have left is where we go from here, and I promise it’ll only get better. Somewhere in their set I got lost in it all. The fire, smoke and sparks were cool and all, but my mind was on the man in the middle. Something was so different about him up there. I’ve seen him perform so many times before, and sure, he’s always connected with the crowd. Yet, I’ve never seen it like this. It’s like he’s giving them the absolute last of what he has left. Like he’s completely emptying the tank. “You’re wanted backstage.” I heard one of the bodyguards tell Oliver. “Come on.” “I-I don’t know.” He nervously stuttered. “Ryder told me that,” “I know what he told you.” The security interrupted. “But you’re wanted backstage.” As Oli nervously stood up I noticed my dad whisper something to my mom. “I’ll go with him.” I shouted, seeing the concern spread through our family. Oliver slowly nodded his head before looking over to Mark. “You want to come or stay?” “I, uh, I think I’ll stay.” The teen forced out over the music. We both nodded before following the bigger man back into the club and towards a hidden exit. “Is everything okay?” Oli asked in a gulp. “Just fine.” The man replied. “You’re just requested.” “But Tommy is he?” “All the band members are fine.” The man grunted, growing tired of the questions. I nervously placed my hand on Oli’s shoulder as we walked, anxious to find out what Ryder could be planning. I get he wants to surprise the kid, but he’s got him genuinely worried! The music seemed to grow louder and louder the closer we got to the stage, until finally we were climbing a small black staircase. The sights and smells of being backstage haven’t really changed all that much, they’ve just gotten, well, bigger! As I looked down at my brother I couldn’t help but laugh. Amazement entered his face as his eyes carefully scanned everything around him. From the staff desperately shuffling around with the bands back up instruments, to the pyro techniques trying their hardest to ensure everyone’s safety. “You.” A man with an earpiece shouted as he saw Oliver. “Are you ready?” “Am I ready?” Oli gulped as two other people rushed him with a jacket and some other supplies. “You’re going on.” The man dismissed as the stage hands tried their hardest to make him look the part. “Did Tommy not tell you?” “Tell me what?” Oli asked as his hand began to tremble. “You’re surprising Ryder,” The man answered in a groan. “Of course he didn’t tell you!” He angrily shouted. “After this song the lights are going to go down, and you’re going to switch places with Tommy to give him a break.” “A break?” I repeated. “Yes, I would say he’s earned one, wouldn’t you?” The man impatiently asked. “Sure.” Oli quickly nodded. “But I, this, this is, it’s a stadium!” “Glad to see you’re not stupid.” He sarcastically dismissed. “He’s just a kid.” I defended, beginning to stare down the stage manager. “He’s also a musician.” The man corrected. “He’ll have to get used to crowds eventually.” “But this, this isn’t just a crowd.” Oli gulped. “This, there’s like, like, sixty thousand people out there!” “You have less than a minute.” The manager warned looking over to me. “Get him ready.” “Oliver.” I quickly began, turning him back towards me. “Ever since you heard Messiah you dreamed of going to their concert, and now, now you have a chance to not only be here, but play a song with them!” He nodded but his hand only seemed to shake more. “It’ll be just like at my engagement party, you and them vs the world.” “But that was different.” He anxiously defended. “That was like thirty people.” “Really? Because it was the most important moment of my life.” I warned. “And you killed it. You were absolutely amazing.” “Yeah but,” “But nothing.” I shook my head. “That couldn’t’ve been easy by any means. Then, on top of that, you just played on national T.V. a few days ago! Oliver, you were born for this.” “But what if I mess up?” He asked in a panicked voice. “What if I’m not good enough?” “Thirteen years ago Ryder asked me the same thing.” I couldn’t help but smile. “And you know what I told him?” Oli eagerly leaned forward as he awaited my answer. “What if you are? What if you’re the best thing to ever happen to music but you let your fears get in the way?” “What’d he say?” Oli prodded, scanning me from top to bottom. “I think you could put that one together.” I couldn’t help but laugh as I turned him around to face the stage. Sure enough, Ryder was still moving a million miles an hour. When he goes up on stage, well there’s no quit in him. He slams his foot on the gas pedal and never takes it off. “Ready?” The manager asked as he rushed back up to us. “Yeah.” Oli nodded through a deep breath. He took a few steps forward before suddenly turning around and wrapping himself around me. “Thank you Teddy.” He forced out before letting me go and returning to the manager’s side. Suddenly the song came to an end and all the lights shut down. I saw some motion at the side of the stage as the two drummers tried their hardest to discreetly switch places. Before I knew it, Tommy was standing next to me, staring into the black stadium. I heard Oli roll through the drums as he tried his hardest to get his bearings as fast as possible. “What the hell was that?” Ryder asked as the lights kicked back on. “Scared the shit out of me.” He laughed as the crowd began to scream at the guest behind the kit. “And Tommy, drumming through it wasn’t funny.” Oli gave him one last run through as the crowd grew louder and louder. “I know I know,” Ryder dismissed. “Everyone loves Tommy, but like a great man once said, he’s a fucking ass hole!” The crowd grew even louder as Ryder stood there clueless of who was behind the kit. “You mean me?” Oli nervously asked into the microphone. Ryder quickly swung around and laughed as he finally realized who he’d been talking about. “This wasn’t planned.” He instructed the crowd. “Just, how the hell did you get here?” “When a mommy and a daddy love each other,” Oliver began, but a loud blare of guitar cut him off. “Smart ass.” Ryder dismissed as the crowd yelled and hollered at their conversation. “Now that we have Oli, what do you say we play something new?” “You mean play something I wrote that Tommy can’t keep up with.” Oliver teased one last time. “Someone cut his mic.” Brandon joked turning back to the drum kit. “He’s not wrong.” Joe chimed in getting the crowd to yell once more. “Whatever.” Ryder dismissed. “I just know the crowd didn’t come to hear us bicker, did you?” He asked as he was greeted with shouts. “Didn’t think so!” He exclaimed. “This one’s a new one, and it’s called Twist of Fate.” As the song began and Oli kicked it into gear I couldn’t help but laugh at how nervous he was. I always knew his confidence was a bit of an act, but still, he’s so good I never expected to see him doubt his skills. Especially since he works so hard to master them. This wasn’t something he was born with, nor something he’s just lucky with. It’s something he grinded away at since he was a little kid. Something he’s obsessed with. “He’s really good.” Tommy remarked, watching him closely. “You really think that?” I asked, glancing over to him. “No doubt in my mind.” The older drummer nodded. “He’s a bit of an asshole, but what are you going to do?” “You have a soft spot for him.” I teased with a growing smile. “It’s not a soft spot.” Tommy rejected, watching him closely. “I’m just, I’m passing on everything I know.” “I’m sorry?” I asked as my face grew serious. “My time’s numbered Teddy.” He shook his head. “We all know that. I don’t know how much longer I have,” “But Ryder said that you told him,” “Forget what I told him.” He dismissed. “The last thing I need is their pity.” He’s trying so hard to act tough, but I can tell he’s scared. I can tell he didn’t want to worry his friends. I can tell he doesn’t want them to be in any pain. “I just, I don’t know when I’m going to go.” He clarified in a brave breath. “But now I know when I do, well there’s someone to pick up where I left off.” “It gives you peace?” I asked, but got a quick roll of the eyes back. “Not everything needs to be so emotional Teddy.” He spit, staring at the drum kit. “Oliver understands.” I nodded and grew quiet as we watched the rest of the song play out. It really was something special to see Oliver up on stage in front of sixty-thousand people. I could see signs of nerves, but for the most part he was locked in and killing it. He looked like a natural back there playing with a band he had idolized for so long. When the song finally ended Tommy quickly made his way back on stage. “Alright, fantasy camp is over.” He announced into a microphone. “Tommy’s still here mother fuckers.” The two drummers nodded to one another as respect flowed through their locked eyes. I know I was scared about Tommy being a new role model for Oliver, but now I understand. I see their connection and I know how important it is to the both of them. Have no fear Tommy. Oliver will carry on the torch. “That was amazing.” I encouraged as Oli walked back stage. “You did so good.” I reached out for him. At first he hesitated, but quickly gave in and embraced me once more. “Thank you.” He forced out as his body shook from excitement. “Do you, do you think we can watch from here?” “Sure thing.” I nodded as he turned back to watch the stage. I felt my hands rest over him as we watched the rest of the concert together. Just three months ago this would’ve been impossible. One of us would’ve killed the other before we got this close! But not anymore. Not since Ryder came back into my life. ************************************************************************************* The rest of the concert was jaw dropping. Messiah really does put on something special, especially for their last show. Their last few songs saw special effects I could hardly believe. I was left amazed by their use of fire, lights and smoke. It sounds so simple and yet they found such a complex way to use them. But as their set list finally ended they played an encore, then another and finally a third! But this time they came out to what looked like a much smaller stage. The drums were moved forward near the cat walk and small walls of amps were built around it, giving the illusion that they were in a small space. “For the final time, let’s kick it old school.” Ryder announced as the crowd roared at him. “This last one, it’s for all of you who want to give up. There’s always a reason to stay. This one’s called Surrender.” Their last song seemed to be the most emotional I had ever seen them. It was clear they had all come to terms with what this song meant. That they weren’t bluffing when they said this was it. When the song finally came to an end, a teary eyed band stood on the catwalk arm in arm as fireworks shot off behind them. I don’t know exactly how long they stood there staring at the crowd, but for a while it felt like time was standing still. As though the moment was never going to pass. Yet, just like everything else in life, time has a way of pushing you forward. With one last waive Ryder turned away from the stadium crowd and headed right towards us. I quickly let Oli go and rushed up to him. “I’m so proud of you.” I comforted him as we embraced. “I can’t believe it’s over.” He exhaled, hugging me closely. “It’s just one chapter.” I reminded him. “You have so many more ahead of you.” He nodded his head and held onto me for a little longer as his band mates surrounded Oliver. Before I knew it my parents and Mark arrived back stage and joined the bittersweet goodbye. It wasn’t easy on any of them, but I could tell it was what needed to be done. They were all ready to finally move on, and Messiah, it was just holding them back. “We’re so proud of you.” Both our parents supported as they reached Ryder. My smile seemed to grow wider and wider as the emotions of the night came to the surface. I hope you feel all our love Ryder Sullivan. I hope you know how much you mean to us. “So I was thinking,” Ryder began as he and Oli slipped away from the bigger group. “Being up on stage and all is fun, but something about it, it’s just,” “Nerve racking?” Oli finished for him. “Yeah.” Ryder sheepishly nodded his head. “And if you’re not careful, the spotlight, it destroys people.” “So what are you saying?” Oli gulped, looking at him closely. “What if Unity is different?” Ryder asked. “What if, what if we have a different stage presence?” “Hmm.” Oliver thought. “What if we’re just outlines on the stage.” “That’s a good start.” Ryder nodded. “But I think we need something a little more unique.” “Holograms!” Oliver yelped in excitement. “You know Gorillaz? We can do something like they did! Except now we have the projectors for it!” “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Ryder excitedly asked. “I get to design yours!” “No way! You’re going to make it look,” “Guys.” I interrupted in a laugh. “This can wait until tomorrow. For now, just take this in.” “Fine.” Ryder submitted in a laugh before mouthing something to Oliver who happily nodded. I shook my head but before I knew it Ryder took me by the hand and started to walk with me. “Theodore Haner.” He began as we walked out towards the now empty stage. “Did you ever imagine life would be like this?” “Not in a thousand years.” I laughed as we stared off into the near empty arena. “It wasn’t perfect, was it?” He asked, taking me to the edge of the stage. “No.” I shook my head as we took a seat. “But it’s ours, and in the end, it all worked out.” “I always knew it would.” He teased with a smile. “So did I.” I giggled, as I laid my head against his shoulder. Thirteen years ago he told me there was always a place in his heart for me. That no matter what he would always love me. When I was seventeen that sounded so profound and deep. I thought I had lucked out and found my soul mate before my life even started. But then everything happened, and by twenty-one I couldn’t stand the idea of love. It all seemed so fake. It seemed like everyone was lying to one another just to get laid. I was trying my hardest to get back into the game, but I just couldn’t. That is, until ten years later when he finally came back into my life. It turns out there was a place in my heart for him too, I just didn’t know it. There was a hole he left I was trying to fill with anything and everything. And now that it’s full again. Well, there’s nothing I wouldn’t give to keep it this way. Way back when I thought I was saving you Ryder Sullivan. Little did I know you were saving me. ----------------------------------8 years later------------------------------------- “Dad!” A young voice cried out as I desperately tried to get lunch together. “Dad!” The voice repeated louder. “Dad!” “Yes James?” I finally caved as I looked back at the ten year old. “Oz said Daddy and Uncle Oli’s music isn’t good.” He whined as I finally handed sandwiches to the small trio. “Nuh uh!” The six year old protested. “I said one of their songs isn’t good!” “Oz is free to think what he likes.” I instructed them. “You’re not forced to like your dad or uncle’s music.” “I think it’s amazing.” The third child added. “I think it’s amazing too.” Ryder encouraged as he slowly made his way down the stairs. “And today’s the day for music.” The three children jumped to life as they heard his words. “Thanks.” I sarcastically complained as I began to clean the kitchen. “Didn’t just take all morning to get them to eat or anything.” “Come on Teddy,” Ryder smirked. “Take a chill pill.” “Yeah, take a chill pill.” James echoed from the table as his younger siblings surrounded their other father. It wasn’t exactly an easy road, but assembling our little mixed family was one of the best things Ryder and I did since we got married. I know we have more than enough money for surrogacy, and who knows, there’s still time for a fourth! But adoption just felt right for the first three. There are so many kids out there looking for a home, that it just felt wrong ignoring it. “He’s giving you that look again.” Ryder giggled glancing over to James. “I know he is.” The ten year old shrugged. “I’m used to it.” “I can’t look at my oldest son?” I asked, walking closer and resting my hands on his shoulders. “You can.” He nodded his head. “Especially since I’m your favorite.” “You wish.” Ryder giggled as he pushed our daughter to me. “That’s his favorite.” “I don’t have favorites.” I defended, letting James go and scooping up Nikki. “But whoever eats their lunch will make a case for it.” “It’s not happening.” Ryder warned in a sigh. “Besides everyone’s coming over for the barbeque soon.” “That’s tonight.” I dismissed, sitting Nikki back in her chair. “Do they know that?” Ryder asked in a nervous laugh. “Your parents said they’re on their way.” I couldn’t help but laugh in frustration. “Did you clean the grill?” I asked as he shrugged. “Did you clean our backyard?” “We have that patch of grass,” “We’re not sitting surrounded by gravestones.” I warned him as he let out a sigh before quickly making his way out back. The house in the cemetery turned out to be a better idea than even Ryder had thought. The renovations brought out the old classical style of the house, while also modernizing it. We were even able to give ourselves a small buffer of space without graves around the house! Ryder turned a house that used to haunt him into one he’s raising his family in. One that’s full of laughter and love. The summer’s day was a perfect example of that. Our kids and family hung around, spreading as much love as they could. It was everything I had ever dreamed of and more. The perfect guy by my side with a trio of crazy kids surrounding us. My parents and brother there with us and of course Blake, Liz and Hayley. I heard Ryder let out a laugh as Hayley chewed Oliver’s ear off. “She totally has a crush on him.” “Oh yeah.” I smiled. “Blake wants to kill her.” “I think Oli does too.” Ryder cackled, waiving the now twenty-one year old over. “You finish writing those songs you were working on?” “You finish writing yours?” Oli mirrored back, but all he got was silence. “That’s what I thought.” “I have three kids.” Ryder defended. “What’s your excuse?” “I had to take pictures.” Oli bashfully answered, trying to stand up straight. “For your modeling career?” I asked, trying my hardest to hide a laugh. “It’s not modeling.” Oli corrected. “They’re endorsements. They make me money.” “Because you need more of that.” I teased, drawing a sigh from him. “You’re one to talk. Ryder said you’re still a workaholic.” Oliver shot back. “Dude!” Ryder yelped, as he got dragged into it. “I’m sorry.” Oli sighed. “But he’s pushing my buttons again! You know how it gets!” “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Ryder complained as he reached behind him and grabbed the guitar. “You starting this time dad?” “No way.” The older man laughed. “I need time to work up to it.” “Alright,” Ryder nodded. “Oliver?” “Nope.” He stubbornly shot down. “James?” Ryder offered but the boy simply blushed and grew closer to his grandfather. “Guess it’s you.” I laughed as Nikki walked over and fell into my arms. “Then you have to play.” Ryder ordered, trying his hardest to hand Oliver the guitar. Oli shrugged and quickly scooped up Oz from next to him. “I have one of your kids.” “Was that a threat or a statement?” Ryder laughed as he began to strum the guitar. “Both.” Oli teased as he began to fly Oz through the air. I went to say something but before I could Ryder’s playing grew louder. Soon the meaningless strumming turned into a song he played the kids every night. A song he had grown up hearing. “So, so you think you can tell Heaven from hell Blue skies from pain Can you tell a green field From a cold steel rail? A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell?*” I felt Nikki beginning to fall asleep in my arms as her father’s voice filled the air. I wonder if she knows how lucky she is, I wonder if they all know how lucky they are. Ryder’s committed to giving them the world. He’s committed to being the best father he can. He’s committed to showing them the sky’s the limit. And why shouldn’t he? Next years a new year, this summers a new summer, and tomorrows a new day.
  10. 56 points
    CJ and Owen returned to Washington exhausted from the trip. The previous week’s events left them drained but too emotional to fall asleep on the plane. The following morning, CJ woke up much later than usual, climbed upstairs in search of coffee, and discovered he and Owen were alone in the house. He sipped from the heavy ceramic mug while staring at the backyard through the kitchen window; he tried to figure out what to do. The contemplative mood ended when he reached a decision. Calling Brett, he made plans to pick him up around noon and asked him to get in touch with César and have him meet them for lunch at Forbes Grille. The dads were somewhat subdued the previous evening after CJ and Owen flew in from Sydney. They did not spend much time together―the younger couple fell asleep soon after eating―but Owen made them aware his sister loved the immense flower arrangement they sent to the hospital and his parents were grateful for the generous contribution made to Cancer Council Australia in her honor. César stood as Nelson Wheatley―Forbes Grille’s maître’ d―escorted Brett and CJ to the table. “You look a hell of a lot better than you did yesterday. How’re you feeling?” CJ gave his dad a kiss on the cheek before sitting. “Still tired but I’ll be okay. I don’t ever want to go through a week like that again.” “And Ozzie?” “Still lost. I invited him to come with but he turned me down. Not that I blame him, last thing he needs is another emotional explosion. Left him answering e-mails and messages on Facebook.” “Is that what we’re going to do? Have an emotional explosion over lunch?” César sounded somewhat defensive. He studied both his parents. Brett appeared relaxed, but César seemed tense. “Hope not, Dad. I don’t want to fight with you. But we have to settle this shit. Ozzie and I are getting married next year. I hope we have your approval. But there’s no way―” “CJ―” “No, Dad, let me finish. We’re getting married, period. And there won’t be a pre-nuptial agreement. You either accept the fact Ozzie’s the man I want to spend the rest of my life next to without any caveats or I move out.” “Caveats?” Brett leaned back, crossed his arms, and grinned. “Leave me alone, Papa. I’m being serious here.” “So am I, dude. I just need you to use little words so I can understand.” When CJ made to speak, the retired Marine raised a hand to silence him. “And you need to give us a break. It’s not every day we have a son tell us to fuck off.” “Look, CJ.” César rested his hand atop his son’s. ”I screwed up. Brett made me realize it while you were out of town. I allowed the accountant to speak instead of the father. We love Ozzie. We think you two are right for each other and approve of the two of you getting married. Both of us think a pre-nuptial agreement would have been right but I guess that ship’s sailed.” “You can say that again. No fucking way am I signing anything like that.” Anger tainted CJ’s calm demeanor. He could feel his heart beat faster than usual. “We know that now. You can stop being pissed, okay? We screwed up how we approached the subject.” Brett was serious and for once did not make any jokes. “Of course you have our approval. And of course we want to be part of it. You said next year. Have you guys picked a date?” CJ relaxed into the cushioned chair as the tension escaped his body. The rigid line of his lips twitched and the corners attempted to tick upwards. “Thanks. I’m not sure how I would have handled it if you weren’t part of it. But trust me, I was ready to do it. If you guys weren’t in the picture, we planned on getting married at city hall before school started this year. But if we’re going to have a real ceremony, we’re thinking of June twenty-third. I checked online and the place we want to do it at is available. I put down a deposit to reserve it. But I want to talk about a couple of other things.” “Shoot.” The table’s atmosphere felt less edgy after the fathers caved. “Rod’s old apartment’s rented, right?” “Yep. A couple of GU seniors signed a lease for the coming school year.” “Good. I’d like to take it over after they leave. Ozzie and I would like to move there after the wedding.” César gave Brett a quick glance. “Are you sure? The two of you can stay in the basement as long as you want. You have a key to lock the door and the elevator.” “Thanks, Dad, but I think it’ll be good for us to live on our own.” The old, mischievous CJ returned. “We want to walk around naked all the time and fuck on the kitchen counter if we want.” “Sup, teach. Got presents for you and your bro.” Trey Mourning straightened as he took the last step into the Prospect Street townhouse’s basement―at almost seven feet tall it was a close fit on the staircase―and tossed a bag towards the couch. CJ lay with his head on Owen’s lap so the Ausssie raised an arm and snatched the projectile out of the air. Conversation halted for a moment as everyone in the room turned to glance at the newcomer. “Hey, Trey! What’s going on, bro?” Ritchie rested the end of his cue stick on the floor and tossed it back and forth between his hands. CJ grinned every time his brother tried to sound and act cool, wanting to be one of the boys when dealing with the older guys. He was in the rear portion of the space playing against their friend Gina, but the appearance of the Georgetown University Hoyas basketball player seemed sufficient incentive to interrupt it. The two had interacted a few times since meeting but not as much as the kid did with some of his brother’s other friends. “I didn’t know you were coming over today.” “Yeah, kind of last minute thing. It surprised me you guys were all staying in on a Friday.” The tall African-American athlete touched knuckles with Ritchie and waved at the girl smiling at him from the far end of the pool table. “I finished writing a report for my English class and wanted to see if your brother could read it over for me. After I e-mailed it, he texted inviting me to come over and hang. Move your legs, CJ.” After meeting Patrick Ewing―the school’s former standout hoops player as a student and new coach―at the time of his hiring, CJ agreed to take an unpaid position with the basketball team. As Special Assistant to the Associate Director of the Academic Resource Center for Student-Athlete Services, he was a glorified tutor without a specific portfolio. Team members could ask him for help but the real reason for the job and title was to facilitate his interaction with recruits without conflicting with NCAA regulations. “I’ll look at it tomorrow morning and send it back with comments. If I have any.” CJ swung his legs off the couch’s arm and onto the coffee table, patted the vacated space, and motioned to Patrick sitting on the floor with his back resting against the couch. “Scoot over a bit, Paddy.” “Thanks, guys. I hate Shakespeare, but A Midsummer Night’s Dream ain’t that bad. The fact I already read it in high school may have something to do with it.” Trey leaned over CJ and fisted Owen. “What’s up, Ozzie?” “Not much. It’s weird being at another uni working on a third degree. I’m going to be so overeducated nobody’s gonna want to hire me. What’s in the bag?” “Oh, Coach sent those for CJ and Ritchie. They’re team shirts. He put Abelló on the back of both. CJ’s number twenty since he graduates in twenty-twenty.” Trey turned around to look at Ritchie who had repositioned the cue stick and leaned over the table about to strike. “Yo, little Abelló. We didn’t put a number on yours ’cause we don’t know what year you’ll be starting at GU.” Ritchie looked at Gina and rolled his eyes. “I think this game’s over. Come out front while I straighten out the dumb jock.” Ritchie leaned the stick against the wall and stared at Trey as he sauntered towards him. “One, my last name’s Peterson not Abelló. Two, I won’t be a Hoya if I can help it. I wanna be a Falcon.” While CJ, Owen, and the others chuckled, Trey looked confused. “What’s he talking about?” “Ritchie and I have the same mother but different fathers. Guess we never brought that up around you. When our mom and her husband died, Ritchie came to live with us.” CJ watched the confusion on Trey’s face dissipate. “And the Falcon thing? He wants to be a pilot. The dads hooked him up with flying lessons this summer and he’s been talking about applying to the Air Force Academy for a while. His dad was in the Air Force.” “No shit?” Mourning’s surprised expression and reply made everyone snicker. “His dad was in the Air Force? And one of your dads was a Marine? Damn! This house’s like being at the Pentagon.” “Brett’s still a Marine, Trey. Once a Marine, always a Marine.” Carson sat on the floor by Patrick; Wingnut sprawled between them, legs in the air, enjoying the belly rubs and behind-the-ear scratches. “And if you want to feel all patriotic, we can have my dad come over. He was in the Army. My brother would be here if he wasn’t on active duty. He’s in the Army too. Oh, and if we call our friend Tank, we can have a Navy man. All we need’s a coastie.” “What’s a coastie?” “That’s somebody in the Coast Guard.” Carson returned his key after he moved to a dorm room in Harbin Hall at the beginning of the semester, but seemed to be over at the townhouse more often than not. He kept complaining about the guys in one of the rooms in his corner of the building blasting Southern Rock all the time. “I know somebody in the Coast Guard. But she’s stationed in Juneau.” CJ looked at Gina as she plopped down on the orange beanbag in front of the television set. “One of your girlfriends?” His smirk made the woman flip him off. A native of Alaska, Gina Nichols met CJ the previous year at a GU Pride event and hung out with him on and off until she went home after spring semester. “Nah, I worked on a fishing boat over the summer and she came on board for an inspection. We got to talking and hit it off. Next time I was in port overnight, I had dinner with her and her girlfriend.” “You worked on one of those boats in the fishing shows on Discovery Channel?” Trey had met Gina a couple of times but their time together had been limited. “I thought it was all men on the crews.” “Don’t be a chauvinist, Mourning. Women can do whatever men can. Alaska fishing’s still male dominated, but a few of us have cracked the door open. And no, it wasn’t one of the TV show boats.” “From what I’ve seen it’s hard work.” “It is, but the pay makes it worth it. I’m at GU thanks to scholarships and loans. So I try to make as much money as I can over the summer to carry me through the year.” CJ nudged Owen and tilted his head towards the side table. “Let me have the stack, Oz. Speaking of summers, this is for you guys.” He riffled through the ivory colored envelopes and selected two of them, each emblazoned with the name of one of his classmates. “What’s this?” Gina turned the opulent stationery over and ran a finger over her name inked in exquisite calligraphy. “It’s a save-the-date announcement. We’re getting hitched at the end of June. You’ll be getting invitations in time.” “Thanks, CJ, Owen. That is wonderful. Congratulations!” Gina used the proper words but her face indicated some worry. Trey, on the other hand sounded elated. “This is awesome! It’ll be my first gay wedding. Is it gonna be a big one?” “A little bigger than we originally thought.” Owen had been grumbling about the number of people the dads insisted on inviting. “But what the heck, we plan on having a party and that’s all that matters.” Gina held the envelope and stared at it. “I’m not sure I can be there, guys.” ”How come? You have to be there. I’m gonna be my brother’s best man.” Ritchie was still thrilled about being asked to stand next to CJ. “I need to get back to Alaska, Ritchie. The administration in the White House’s not being real friendly towards students. I’m not sure how much money in grants or loans will be available in the future. I need the job on the trawler so I can afford my senior year in school.” A corner of CJ’s mouth bent upwards as he glanced at his boyfriend. Owen gave him a discreet wink and squeezed his knee. “What if you didn’t have to worry about the job? Let’s talk about next summer in a couple of weeks. Ozzie and I may have an idea of how you could make enough money to pay for a year of school. You might not have to go fishing for it next year.” “Cute pun. Do I have to kill somebody to make all that money?” “Nah! The two of us and the dads know enough people, something will come up. Look at Carson. I hooked him up with a dream job and a free place to stay this past summer. We might be able to do something similar for you next year or the one after.” “Sounds good to me. Hey, Trey, you’re from Miami, right? How’s your family? Did the hurricane do much damage to their place?” Gina adroitly shifted the conversation’s focus away from her; CJ did not fail to notice the maneuver. “CJ and Ritchie told us their grandparents refused to evacuate but did okay. Except for losing power for a few days, I guess.” “Yeah, I talked to CJ last week. I was scared for the ’rents but they did okay. My parents live in an area called Coconut Grove that’s full of trees. Dad said the canopy’s much thinner now and they still have piles of debris out front. They lost power too, but Dad installed a big generator a few years back so they were okay.” “My grandparents did the same. And the other set lives in a retirement home with hurricane-resistant windows and a generator so they were safe too.” CJ glanced at his brother who had taken a seat on the floor. “I think Ritchie and I were more scared for them than they were.” “Damn right I was scared. I thought Miami was gonna take a direct hit. We all stayed up most of the night watching the eye of the storm approach Florida. Mr. A was still pissed off at his parents for not coming up here to stay with us.” “Are you and Ritchie going down to see them now that things are settling down?” Carson stood and walked towards the refrigerator in the back room. “I’m getting a Coke. Anyone want anything?” “Thanks, I’m good. Ritchie and I both wanted to go down this weekend but the dads wouldn’t let us. What with school and all.” CJ shrugged. “But Papa Brett’s going there tomorrow to check on them. The guy who oversees the company’s construction projects is going with him. They want to do a full inspection of the house to make sure there’s no hidden damage.” Patrick leaned back, rested his elbows on the floor, and shook his head. “I’m still surprised Brett’s going down instead of César. I mean, they’re his parents after all.” “We were just as blown away by it.” Owen shook his head and looked astounded when he first heard the plan. “The dads explained Brett was the one qualified for it. Plus, César and CJ have a meeting with a financial guy Sunday night.” “On a Sunday?” Trey sounded surprised. “They’re having a business meeting on a Sunday night? Doesn’t your dad take weekends off?” “Most of the time he does. But get this: they’ll be meeting in one of the suites during the football game. Not sure how much business there’ll be considering the amount of food and alcohol at those things.” “Damn, Abelló. Luxury box for a Redskins game? Rough life you got there, bud.” FedEx Field, home of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins, located in Landover, Maryland, was almost an hour away from the Prospect Street townhouse. Taking advantage of a beautiful Sunday night, César and CJ decided to ride the motorcycles. “So, Dad, who are the owners of this box again? And why were we invited?” They locked the helmets on the bikes and walked towards the entrance to the stadium. “Short answer? Roland and Plummer’s a privately held wealth management firm and they want our business.” “Yeah, thanks. That clears things up.” Head shaking accompanied CJ’s sarcastic tone. “It’s what you already mentioned before. How about a little more info? Like what am I supposed to do?” “Be yourself. They’re clients of Ernst & Young but I have nothing to do with them in an official capacity. I think one of EY’s partners mentioned who we use to help manage our portfolio and these guys have been giving me a soft sale for weeks. They’re bound to turn up the heat tonight. Let’s just play it by ear.” “I’m good with that.” Inside the stadium, they made their way to the third level where the suites were located. “Hello, Jeremy.” César extended his hand towards the bespectacled older man standing at the bar. “César! My friend! It’s good to see you. Where’s your other half?” “Out of town. Hope you don’t mind I brought one of the boys instead.” He took half-a-step sideways closer to the bar. “This is our son, CJ. CJ, Jeremy Plummer. Our host and one of the founding partners of Roland and Plummer.” “Good to meet you, sir. Thanks for having us.” “Nice to meet you too, young man. This may work out well. One of the guys I’ve been thinking of assigning to the account may be closer in age to you than to your father and me.” The man’s assumption he would need to assign someone to work on their account did not go unnoticed by CJ. Jeremy scanned the crowd and locating who he searched for, raised a hand to get his attention. “Hey, Karl, get over here.” Lowering his voice, he spoke so only his guests could hear him. “He has no idea you’re potential clients or he’s being considered to work with you. Let’s keep it that way for now.” “Hey, boss. What can I do for you?” Karl was somewhere in his twenties and about CJ’s size with a conservative cut of dark-straw hair. “Just wanted you to meet two of our guests. Gentlemen, this is Karl Moore. He joined our firm this past summer after graduating from college. Karl, César Abelló here is a partner at Ernst & Young, our accountants, and this is his son CJ.” “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Abelló.” He shook hands with the older man then turned his attention to the son. “What’s going on, CJ?” “Not much, man. More than ready for some football. Mr. Plummer mentioned you started working for the company this summer. How do you like the job?” CJ’s curiosity was genuine but also part of the approach he honed while working on the 2016 presidential campaign. Displaying interest in someone else made them relax and open up even more. “Dude, so far, so good. Been meeting lots of people and training. It’s amazing how much they don’t teach you in school. Are you an accountant like your dad?” “Nah… Still in school.” CJ had no idea if Karl was qualified as an investment advisor but thought as a salesman he would do well. He was handsome, friendly, and articulate. César often remarked his proficiency as an accountant was good but what earned him rapid promotions was his ability to keep clients happy and lure new ones. “I’m a sophomore at Georgetown.” “Yeah? That’s cool. You look older. I kinda miss college. All that pussy...” Karl looked around the suite for a moment before returning his attention to CJ. “Gotta watch my language.” He sounded sheepish. “At least there’s no women around here tonight. I bet a good-looking guy like you has the bitches falling all over trying to get in your pants. Hey, let me get you guys a drink. What would you like, Mr. Abelló?” César looked away when CJ rolled his eyes at him after the pussy comment and the tight smile on his face told his son he was trying to control his laughter. “A beer would be good, Karl. Thanks.” “What about you, CJ?” Karl had already reached inside the bar fridge and retrieved a bottle. “Just a Coke for me.” “Awww, come on, man. Have a drink. It’ll put hair on your chest.” CJ glanced down at his torso and the hair peeking through the open neck of his shirt. Shifting his eyes to his father, another roll of the eyes accompanied his look of surprise. “Dude, I’ve got plenty of that already. We rode our motorcycles tonight. And since I’m not legal, I don’t want to smell like booze if we get stopped by the cops on the way home.” “Too bad. So, what type of motorcycle you have? Like one of those Ninja things?” The four men traded bits of biographical information, chatted with other guests, bantered about college sports―Karl had played football at his school―and professional teams; the possibility of César and CJ becoming clients never came up. CJ glanced at his phone when it chimed; it was Owen calling and the smile was automatic. “Excuse me while I take this.” CJ ambled towards the chairs at the front of the box and took a seat. “Hey, babe. What’s going on?” “Watching TV with Ritchie. We’re taking a break while he’s upstairs getting us a snack. You know that documentary I recorded? The one on Discovery Channel?” “Yeah, something about ranching and farming?” “The title’s Rancher Farmer Fisherman, and that’s the one. I’m keeping it on the DVR after we finish. I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s all about grass roots activists working with NGOs and government. The Nature Conservancy plays a part in the initial segment.” CJ failed to notice Karl following and standing behind him until the account executive gave his shoulder a jock-style shove. “Dude, tell your girl you’ll call her later. Gotta stand up for the national anthem.” “Oz, hafta go. Talk to you later.” CJ returned the phone to his pocket and swiveled to look at the man behind him. “That’s okay, Karl. I’m sitting this one out.” He pointed towards the opposite end of the field where the visiting players were all on the bench. ”Just like the Raiders are doing. If Trump’s going to call me a son of a bitch I want to show my displeasure with him.” “Dude, the President was talking about those jerks who make millions of dollars but have no respect for the flag. Not about people like you and me. Come on, stand up.” He punctuated the comment with a harder shove to CJ’s shoulder. “That’s not going to happen. You want to stand, you stand. I prefer to sit this one out.” Both had kept their voices low so CJ was certain nobody else heard them, but he noticed César and Jeremy Plummer were now standing right behind them. “Man, you’re disrespecting our country and you’re disrespecting my boss. You’re a damn guest. Act like a man instead of an unpatriotic fag.” The accompanying shove was hard enough it pushed CJ forward in his chair. He lost his composure. CJ grabbed Karl’s wrist and surprised the man by pulling hard towards the ground causing the former athlete to lose his balance and fall to his knees. He was unsure who could hear his clipped words and he did not care. “Listen to me, dickwad. You shove me one more time and I’ll break your goddamned arm. Not that it matters, but yes I’m a fag. I’m also worth as much or more than those players.” CJ noticed his father’s eyebrows climb; it was unheard of for CJ to brag about his wealth. “I took the comment by that white supremacist piece of shit in the White House personally. And don’t fucking talk to me about respect for the flag. My other father’s a Marine and I take every opportunity possible to honor him, his service, and what he fought for. And that was the rights of all Americans to do what we believe is right.” “CJ, you okay?” César leaned down and placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Yeah, Dad. I’m fine.” He released Karl, wiped his hand on the empty chair next to his, and stood. “But I’m going home. Thank you for inviting me, Mr. Plummer. Sorry I have to go. You may want to tell Karl to ice down his wrist or it’ll swell up.” “Hang on. Don’t go yet. I think I heard echoes of Mr. whatever-his-name-was and the Pledge of Allegiance. Are you sure you’re okay?” Before CJ could reply, Plummer spoke up. “Really, César? Is this how you raised your son? Lousy job you did if you ask me. He’s our guest and this is how he behaves?” CJ watched as color filled his father’s face. “Really, Jeremy?” Repeating the man’s words, the tone of voice was angry and mocking. “You’re going to lecture me on how to raise a child? Wasn’t your kid arrested for selling drugs?” Plummer’s face registered surprise. “Oh, yeah. I know about that little incident. We talked about it in the office after someone heard about it.” CJ could not recall seeing his father so angry. A warm feeling coursed through him as his dad stood up for him. He also noticed Mr. Plummer looked nervous, scanning the suite occupants, as if his son’s problems were a secret he did not want to discuss in public. “I think that’s a private matter. Your son’s behavior’s public and offensive. I’ll be calling the managing partner tomorrow. Maybe he needs to reconsider your employment or we’ll reconsider who audits our books.” César squared his shoulders and stood ramrod straight. “You go ahead and do that. It won’t much matter after I tender my resignation. And you can kiss potential fees from managing our investments goodbye. It’s about time I took over running the family finances myself.” He gave Karl a dismissive glance. “Kid, I hope you realize you just cost your employer a lot of money. The fees for managing a ten-figure account would have paid your salary several times over. Let’s get out of here, CJ.” “I can’t believe I go out of town for a couple of days and the whole world flips.” Brett returned from his foray to Miami Monday afternoon and after a quick stop at the offices of Third Line Development, was home early enough to fix dinner for the family with CJ’s assistance. “By the way”―he pointed at his husband with a grilled chicken leg―”Rosario’s all worried about what you’re gonna do with your life now.” “I got a little of it this morning. Mami called but I had to cut the conversation short. I promised to return it tonight. You wouldn’t believe the shit storm my resignation caused in the office. Meetings and calls to New York and London headquarters all day.” “How long will it take for you to get out, César?” Owen was surprised when CJ and his dad returned home the previous evening hours before expected. When he found out what took place at the stadium, his jaw dropped so far CJ joked about having something he could stick in his mouth. “It’ll be about a month or so. They buy my interest in the company and I’m out. Transferring clients to other partners won’t take long.” CJ was still upset with himself for losing his temper the previous evening. “I’m sorry again, Dad. I should have just stood up for the national anthem and avoided the confrontation.” “Okay, buddy, last time. I’m proud of you for standing up―pun intended―for what you believe in. It’s the way Brett and I have tried to raise you and Ritchie. Stop blaming yourself for doing what’s right.” “I’m proud of you too, CJ. My dad would have been pissed at you, but I’ve learned a lot since he died and I came to live here.” Ritchie was shocked the previous evening but once his brother explained what happened in detail, all he did was give CJ a hug and a kiss. “I hope I grow up to be like you.” “Not sure you have what it takes to be a politician, dude.” Brett ducked to avoid the slap César aimed at his head. “And anyway, CJ, what happened to your diplomatic skills? I think last time you used fists was that fight you mentioned in Nashville. And from what Ozzie said then, you were like toying with the guy instead of trying to hurt him.” “I don’t know. This Karl guy just pissed me off. He shoved me a couple of times and I let it go. The third time he pushed me hard enough all I wanted to do was hurt him. I think part of it is my increasing anger with the Cheeto in the White House. Ever since Charlottesville I’m so pissed I try and avoid anything he says. But that’s hard to do. So when Karl defended Trump…” “Well, whatever brought it on I’m grateful for the result. Been trying to get your dad to quit the accounting firm for a heck of a long time. Figures you’d succeed where I couldn’t.” Brett put his fist out to bump. “Thanks!” “That reminds me of something.” CJ turned his eyes towards César. “When you talked to Karl at the end you said our account would be ten figures. When did we become billionaires?” Ritchie’s jaw dropped; he barely paid attention to family finances and the revelation was obviously a surprise. Owen had a better idea of the family’s wealth but he looked astonished; he and CJ had never discussed details. Brett smirked and turned his attention to his husband, motioning with his hand, encouraging a response. César sighed almost as if he did not want the discussion to take place. “First, it’s all of us together. And it happened sometime in summer. You all know we’ve been divesting ourselves of west coast real estate for the past few years. Selling prices have been higher than we expected. The proceeds we’ve invested in the stock market. And since the market’s gone gangbusters…” “But hasn’t a lot of that money been used in Papa’s projects?” “Nope. Third Line’s leveraged to the hilt. We’ve borrowed most of the money used. The interest we pay is lower than what our stock portfolio’s earning.” César paused and stared at Brett who picked up the explanation. “One reason we’re looking for a new manager is our fear Wall Street’s gonna tank sooner than later. Our bank’s guidance’s not enough right now. Their Private Banking investment services are more geared towards complete management with little or no client input. We want to diversify our portfolio, have a say on how it’s done, and consider more real estate and other ventures. Take money out of the market ahead of a correction or downturn. Not all of it, mind you. But a good chunk. It’s why we’re happy to finance the house for you and Ozzie.” CJ winked at Owen and smirked. “Glad we could help! I know I’ve spent a lot of money in the last two years and I was a little worried.” “Nah…” Brett dismissed the concern with a wave of the hand. “You haven’t put a dent on the money and the Capitol Hill house’s a good investment.” “Good to hear. Ozzie and I will be spending more pretty soon.” The third weekend in October, CJ and Owen canceled plans to go away for the weekend on the motorcycles and instead of leathers donned formal wear. “Last weekend it was Ezra and Levi getting married, next weekend’s the HRC Dinner, and the weekend after that we’re in New York.” Owen sighed as they strolled through the silent auction display. “Are we ever going to have a quiet weekend at home again? I kinda miss the days when our friends would come over and we could just hang out in the basement.” They were at the Four Seasons Hotel for the annual gala sponsored by the Citizens Association of Georgetown. The year’s event, titled “The Streets of Georgetown,” was meant to highlight Georgetown’s unique and historic blocks. Residents, organizations, businesses, and politicos came together to celebrate Georgetown and CAG’s mission of historic preservation and community improvements. “Me too.” CJ squeezed his fiancé’s hand and bumped him with a shoulder. “Sorry I twisted your arm into coming tonight. I’d never been to it before and Dad was insistent. You have to admit it’s nice to hang with some of the neighbors we wave at all the time.” “It’s okay, I’m just not feeling it tonight. I realize our social obligations have increased, that some of our close friends scattered after graduation, and that our schedule will get more complicated in the future. We keep this up, I’ll need to buy another tux. I feel like as soon as I get this one back from the cleaners, it’s time to wear it again.” “At least when we’re in New York in two weeks, it’ll be friends and casual clothes. Maybe we can do a little shopping while we’re there. Sounds like wardrobe update time.” A week later, CJ gushed over how beautiful Gina looked. She ditched the boots, jeans, and flannel-shirt uniform, applied a little makeup, and wore a simple black dress with a gold heart pendant around her neck. “Damn! I hate to sound sexist but you look gorgeous.” “Thanks, CJ. And thank you, Ozzie.” Owen had been sitting in the middle row with Ritchie, but stepped outside to open the front passenger door for Gina when they stopped in front of the GU campus. “He’s right, mate. You look lovely. If I wasn’t gay…” “Yeah, well, if you weren’t gay I’d still be, so forget it. Hi, Ritchie. Hello Mr. Abelló, Captain Davenport. Thank you for inviting me tonight.” She waved at the dads sitting in the back row of the Escalade. CJ convinced his fathers to purchase six tickets to the 2017 Human Rights Campaign National Dinner. He suggested inviting Gina to attend the event with them. After explaining he wanted them to spend time with her so they could get to know her better, they acquiesced to the request. It was the kind of expenditure most college students could not afford and they were happy to introduce the girl from Alaska to the upper crust of Washington gay and gay-friendly society. Brett made a beeline for the bar as soon as they stepped inside the Washington Convention Center. “Who else needs a little liquid courage to face the next few hours of boring chit chat?” “Shut up, Jarhead.” César reached for his husband’s hand and squeezed. “I swear, we can dress you up but we can’t take you out in public. Behave.” “Hey! All I did was ask who wanted a cocktail and looking at our crowd, they all have their hand up. Forget it, Ritchie. No booze for you tonight. What do the rest of you want?” CJ and Owen were old hands at cocktail parties; they had attended countless black tie events since the Australian moved to the nation’s capital. Unlike the previous year, Ritchie stuck with his brother instead of César and Brett while they circulated through the items on display for the silent auction, martini glasses in hand. CJ and Owen bid on a couple of offerings while greeting people they knew and ended up going home with a painting by an artist named Shag. “It has a fifties or sixties vibe to it,” he said when César asked him what attracted him to it. “Reminds me of all the mid-century modern architecture in Miami.” “Where are you going to hang it? Are you starting an art collection?” The teasing tone made Owen grin and CJ roll his eyes. “My bedroom for now. You can have the Hockneys I stole from my old one on the second floor back. Ozzie and I are going to need something to hang on the walls when we move out anyway. As for starting a collection, not sure about that.” CJ’s playful approach emulated his father’s. “That’s your department. Maybe I’ll just wait until you and Papa die and I can inherit all the stuff I like.” “Asshole!”
  11. 55 points
    “What? Humans don’t bond.” Captain jerked back, and I whimpered at the loss of his touch. “Who cares about that in this moment? Put your hand back on Kohen right now,” Aparoe ordered. His hand was even warmer than before and shaking slightly. Or was I shaking? I couldn’t tell. But I could breathe, and the pounding in my head and ache all over my body I’d felt for the last few days started to ease. “It looks like he’s just having a panic attack. He’s had them before.” “Has he?” Lakshou asked. “Captain Querry, since you brought Kohen on board, I’ve gradually adjusted to the unique signature of his electrical signals. The machinery in his mind has been dormant, and still is, but the parts of his mind that hold alien matter have been changing. I’ve been sensing what I thought were his emotions. “But I don’t think it’s that simple. Did you ever determine what all they did to him, Aparoe?” Lakshou asked. “No.” Aparoe’s voice was a quiet murmur behind me. “It’s too complex, and I don’t have scanning equipment that sensitive. Plus, the testing it would require would be too traumatizing.” I was starting to resent that they were talking about me while I was right there, but when I tried to speak, I couldn’t. My chest was too tight, and all that came out was a strangled whine. “Captain, there is a psychic connection between the two of you. I can see the mingling happen the second you touched him. He was barely breathing.” “He’s still barely breathing!” “I think that’s because you aren’t touching him the… right way.” There was a choking noise. “I… What?” “Think about it.” Aparoe held something over my head that beeped right in my head. I flinched. “Good. Good.” “Think about what?” Captain asked. “They had him in a suit that deprived him of all sensory contact unless they had him on some sort of test, he said. Things they made him do, even if he didn’t want to. The suit, plus the machinery in his mind, plus the alien biological matter all through his limbic system. That controls everything from emotions, to behavior, to memory, to even the olfactory senses.” Aparoe was telling Captain to think about it, but now that I wasn’t in danger of passing out and the pain was lessening, my mind was working again and I was absorbing everything they said. The intense need I felt for Captain? The way his scent calmed and drew me to him? The way the aliens had been able to change my behavior and my memories? Wrapping up most of my childhood in a fog that only cleared in snatches here and there? What they’d done to me had done far more than given me strength and agility. I wasn’t human. I wasn’t alien. I was something completely other. And I knew, if Captain rejected me again, I’d die. “When you took him from his cell, he was in your quarters. In your bed. We did not touch him without gloves on after we took off the suit, since we worried about infection. But you touched him, talked to him. He would have naturally bonded with you. And who better? You care about him, Everett.” Aparoe’s voice held sympathy. “I know this is hard for you, and why, but this young man needs you. Your past is just that. He may be young, but he’s lived enough for several lifetimes. Why not give both of you a chance to be happy?” “But, if this is because of some weird biology… what if it changes?” Captain’s voice dropped at the end. “What if we get back to the central systems, some government official debriefs him and convinces him to let them study what they did to him, and they can fix it. And, when they do, this bond disappears?” “Kohen? Let some stranger convince him to let doctors poke around his brain and do surgery? Because removing the alien matter would be the only way to change it. And that would probably kill him because it is literally grafted to his own brain tissue as if it grew that way naturally.” “Fear, Captain Querry, that’s what you’re feeling. And hope. Try to let go of the fear and hold on to the hope.” Lakshou was using his meditation voice. “I’m not telling you to go to your quarters, or his, and have sex with Kohen. I doubt either of you are ready for that. But both of you need some skin-on-skin contact and some time to come to grips with all this.” “How am I going to explain any of it?” “Actually,” Aparoe said, “his brain activity shows that he’s been conscious the whole time. He’s just so physically overcome that he’s incapable of movement.” “Are you serious?” A hand touched my face, cupping my cheek. “Kohen? Can you hear me?” I wanted to answer Captain, but I couldn’t. I tried for the second best thing, opening my eyes so I could see him close to me, touching my skin, but my eyelids barely fluttered. I sighed. “That’s okay, Kohen. That’s enough. Rest.” Captain’s thumb brushed the underside of my jaw. “I’m taking him back to my quarters. Deke, resolve this situation with the Trepharo. I want to know everything it knows.” “Yes, sir.” Captain grunted as I was lifted into the air. “You’ve put on weight since the first time I carried you,” he said. When he set me down, I was surrounded by his scent, and I knew I was in his bed again, not on the couch. “Skin-on-skin contact, huh?” Captain chuckled, and it sounded off. “Well, here goes.” Fabric rustled, the bed shifted, and I rolled. Aparoe had cut off my shirt then wrapped me in a covering from Lakshou’s temple, so my skin was bared. Then I was chest to chest to Captain, my head tucked into his neck. Utter contentment.
  12. 55 points
    “Null field engaged. All vulnerable areas of the ship have been sealed off. We’re going to start hunting on the level Kohen is on, as well as his quarters, and the level where the other rescues are sequestered. I’ve sent three teams, but with the null field, he’ll be aware that we’ve discovered his presence on board.” Deke’s methodical report reassured me, but I couldn’t relax. Not until they had him. It. They had no real gender characteristics when they were in their true forms but the bodies it had been using to follow me had been male, so it was probably male. Then again, the crew was mostly made of males, so it made more sense to have that form to avoid standing out. So it could be female. And none of that mattered at all. It was just a distraction so I wouldn’t have to think about that thing coming near me, and my growing fear this was just an elaborate trap. Could they have created an entire ship, a planet? Fooled me that well? How could I know different? “Kohen, you need to breathe.” Lakshou’s quiet voice startled me. I gasped, and my chest hurt. I let the screen fall to my lap. “That’s it. Keep breathing.” “What’s going on? Kohen?” Captain’s voice came from the screen, and Lakshou picked it up. “He needs a moment, Captain.” “Did something happen? Deke, send someone to guard Lakshou’s quarters.” “Not as far as I can tell.” Lakshou watched me, his horns glowing, but nothing could ease the doubts that swarmed and overwhelmed me, just like those flame wasps had covered Holldu’s body in stinging welts, leaving behind a poison that killed him. “Deke—” “I already sent someone, Captain, but they’re trying to be subtle. Relax, no one is knocking down the door to hurt your boy.” Their voices faded out, and I just let go. Since I’d let Captain take me out of that tiny cell, a lot had changed. No more suit. I now knew that I was different, and why, if not exactly how I was different or what I was capable of. The things I thought were tests were memories, which I sort of thought I’d always known but couldn’t handle. I had a job, friends, and I’d touched and hugged a man—who’d hugged me back—just because I wanted to. But all I thought I knew balanced on a single thing… could I trust my own mind to know what was true? Was this a fantasy? A nightmare? I’d been afraid I’d hurt someone, that the scientists and people would use me against the ship’s crew. Then we learned there were people on the ship working with the same people who tortured and abused other races for power. How could I help find out who was behind all that, if I couldn’t even trust that the walls around me and the people I saw were real or not? I curled on my side, hugging my knees to my chest. A light covering fell over me, but I didn’t move. Sleep would have been a blessing, but the vise around my chest only grew tighter. It was hard to breathe, so I had to focus on each breath, pulling one in and pushing the next out. A whole shift could’ve passed for all I knew. Lakshou kept the screen on, the vid link active between him and Captain and Deke. The reports meant next to nothing until I caught a note of triumph. “Got him!” Captain said. “He was trying to hide, but a crew member sniffed him out thanks to Kohen’s description of his scent. Thank you, Kohen.” Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t talk. I could barely breathe. Lakshou had been giving me space, but he brought the screen over so Captain could tell me thank you, since he thought I hadn’t heard him. I had, I just… I couldn’t…. “Kohen? Kohen!” Lakhou’s voice rose, and he shook my shoulder. It only made it harder to focus on the in and out. I was getting tired; maybe I’d just stop. Just for a little while. “Captain, he’s barely breathing.” “Overriding remaining lockdown protocols. I’m sending Aparoe and a medical team now.” Captain’s voice shook. Was he having trouble breathing too? Maybe it was something to do with the air. Surely they’d think of that, if we were being attacked again. Lakshou stayed by my side until the door to his meditation quarters slid open. He started to protest but stopped and sank to his knees when Aparoe came inside. Almost immediately after, Captain entered. He was breathing in great gasps, and I grew worried. As worried as I could be, as tired as I was in that moment, I couldn’t say or do anything to show it. But they needed to check Captain out, then run a diagnostic on the ship, not bother with me. Something must have been done to the environmental controls. I’d just been in the system, so I knew it hadn’t been properly maintained before this flight. Aparoe began running tests, just like they always did. I’d grown used to them, enough not to flinch away. Nothing Aparoe did gave any answers. The screen waved over my body remained stubbornly silent. I couldn’t tell Aparoe what was wrong, not matter how carefully I was cajoled. My lungs stayed tight, my chest screamed, and the room grew darker. And darker. And then a warm hand touched my shoulder, and peace and ease radiated from that gentle touch. I gasped in a loud breath, air scraping by my strangled throat. Lakshou’s gasp drowned out even that harsh sound. “By all that’s holy, you’ve bonded!”
  13. 52 points
    ---Oliver--- I wish I could say incidents like the pizza shop stopped happening. I wish that I could say I was able to live like every other teenager. But that’s just not reality for me. The doubters came out in full force as the Messiah album quickly sold out, and the online stores nearly crashed from the demand. Yet no matter how creative I was. No matter how much I pushed Messiah’s drumming forward. Tommy was the one who got all the credit. He tried his hardest to come out and say I wrote most of it. That I was the one behind the dynamic sound. But no one believed him. Pretty soon the name Oliver Haner became even more of a joke than before. People began to assume I was a running gag in Ryder’s music. That I just hung around him and got meaningless credits. People didn’t care about my interview, or the video of me yelling at that man in the restaurant. To them I was just another brat. But all of that ends today. With god as my witness the music world will know who Oliver Haner is. “You sure you’re ready for this?” Teddy asked as I angrily stared off at the wall of my dressing room. “I’m fine.” I grumbled, refusing to look over at him. “Eye of the tiger.” Dad proudly encouraged as they all studied me closely. “Eye of the bunny maybe but,” “Leave him alone.” Ryder instructed. “He’s pissed off enough as it is.” “It’s okay Oli,” Mark began, but as I turned to him he froze. “It’s not okay.” I muttered. “No one believes I wrote anything we put out. And that’s not how this is going down.” “Oliver,” Mom began, but Ryder quickly hushed her too. “He’s allowed to be angry.” Ryder announced. “Any of you would be if you were in his shoes. He worked his ass off and what is he getting for it?” “Nothing.” I answered for them. “Nothing but disrespect.” Ryder agreed. “But I set this up so you can prove them wrong. I want you to go out there and shut everyone up.” He lightly grabbed my face and forced eye contact. “And in two days when Messiah plays Metlife, you’ll see signs with your name on them.” I nodded but stayed quiet. Unity’s been doing fine, and the second the concert was officially announced, well tickets sold out pretty freakin quickly! Our second song was a hit just like I knew it would be. One that reached out to different genres and pulled in new listeners. But just like with Messiah, it was all about Ryder. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m dying for attention or fame. It’s just, a little credit would be nice! I mean it’s been a month! I shouldn’t have to drum on some late night show just to prove myself! Then again, I should’ve expected this because of my age. “We’re all ready for you both.” A woman in a headset poked her head in. Ryder nodded to me and before I knew it we were all working our way through a small hall. “Alright.” Ryder exhaled, turning to me. “You wanted to prove yourself to the world, well here it is.” He encouraged glancing over to the small stage. “Messiah fans, Unity fans, and anyone in between will be watching tonight. This is it. Do or die kid.” I slowly nodded my head and looked over at the small studio audience that was now yelling for us to take the stage. I felt Mark’s hand reach my back as he saw me starting to fall into my own head. “You’re not a joke Oli.” He rallied as our eyes connected. “It’s time for everyone to see that.” A soft smile overtook my face as I nodded before following Ryder to the set. The cheering turned to static in my mind as I took a seat behind the drum kit. Bright lights flashed on us then turned off as a man behind the camera began to count down. “We have two very special guests for you guys tonight.” The host began. “We’ll be talking to them later, but now playing their newest single Remedy, please welcome Unity.” Suddenly the lights flashed back on us, nearly freezing me. I took a big gulp but as I saw anticipation rising in the crowd I knew what needed to be done. I’ve come so far, I’ve done so much, and I’m not going to let it all be for nothing. I’m not going to let them turn me into a joke. “One, two, three, four.” I counted before jumping right into the song. As I dialed in and flashed my skill I couldn’t help but smile at the crowd’s reaction. There’s no doubt about it, I was made to be up on a stage. Everything about this moment, it’s just, it’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of. Being up on stage with Ryder Sullivan, playing a song we wrote together. Doing everything our way. The only thing that’s missing is all the theatrics! But that’s coming! Fireworks, confetti, sparks, fire, it’s all going to be part of our show. I couldn’t help but smile as he glanced over to me. Sure, there are some musicians standing back stage filling in the rhythm guitar and bass, but we’re actually doing it! We’re actually rocking this place! And the way the people look at him, the way they breathlessly watch him. Well, it’s something I’ll always be chasing. As the song came to an end I stood up and launched my sticks into the crowd, eager to gain as many fans as I possibly could. The host kept the applause going as he waived us over to a small couch. “How about that?” He asked, riling up the crowd one last time. The applause finally started to calm down as we both took our seats on the main stage. “So this is a pretty big week for you both,” He began. “You have Messiah playing Metlife for the final time on Sunday,” he paused as applause began again. “What’s that going to be like? Are you excited?” “Sure,” Ryder began. “I mean its bitter sweet. I can’t believe my time with Messiah is already coming to an end, but I guess that’s just life. One door closes and another opens.” “And this other door,” The host quickly transitioned. “It’s a gutsy choice.” He nodded. “The song you just played for us, it has so many elements from so many different genres, how do you go from playing heavy metal to that?” “That’s a question for Oli.” He shrugged, turning it over to me. “He’s the heart and soul behind the band.” “I-I don’t think music should be separated.” I began in a gulp. I know I’ve done an interview before but that was some morning show! The only people who watch those are adults too old for our music! This, this is the audience we want to target! “It’s like we’ve built up all these walls and separated music from itself.” I shook my head. “We started defining bands by labels instead of just letting them exist, and I just wanted Ryder to be able to express himself in whatever music he wanted.” “So it was your choice to take it into a kind of pop and EDM realm?” The host prodded. “It was a group decision.” I shrugged. “Our first song drew a lot of attention because it was classic rock, and now this song is drawing attention for how modern it is. I guess we’re just playing around and showing off our range.” “Playing around?” The host repeated in a laugh. “Your songs at the top of the charts.” I shrugged and turned to Ryder but he simply mirrored the look on my face. “Does that mean nothing to the both of you?” “It’s all about the music with Oliver.” Ryder began. “The popularity and the fame don’t matter. He just wants to put on a show. He wants to do something amazing.” “Then speaking of a show,” The host smirked. “Will we see Oliver behind the drums at any point on Sunday?” “No.” Ryder quickly shot down before any rumors could spread. “It’s still Tommy’s kit. Oliver was a enormous help in the studio and with writing, we mean it when we say he pushed us forward. But Tommy’s been training and saving his strength for this show. It’s his.” The host slowly nodded his head and looked back to me. “We’ve heard Messiah talk a lot about your influence in the studio, but because of your age people haven’t seemed to take you seriously. What do you think of that?” “It’s stupid.” I shrugged. “I could drum anyone under a table. I know Zach or Joe live streamed my drum battle with Tommy, but people turn a blind eye to it.” I complained. “So I guess at the end of the day I’ll keep doing my thing and let the success talk for itself.” “That’s very mature of you.” The host nodded. “I understand the first Unity concert is in New York in February, do you think that’ll change the way people see you?” “Maybe.” I swayed my head. “But I get the feeling people will always doubt me. “ “And what do you have to say to those people?” The host provoked as Ryder squirmed in his chair. “Nothing.” I shrugged. “They’re not worth talking to, but anyone who listens to our music, I’ll always make time for them.” “Oh yeah?” He instigated. “Yeah.” I confirmed in a confident nod. “It’s something I’ve always seen Ryder do, and it just, it reminds me why I write.” “How so?” The host encouraged. He happily relaxed in his chair as he realized I could fill the whole interview by myself. I let out a nervous laugh as I though it all over. “He just really connects with people.” I offered, glancing back at the older man. “He’s always said he writes for people so that they have something to relate to.” I began. “But he doesn’t just say that, you know? He goes out and he lives it.” I shrugged. “He talks to them every chance he gets and tries to connect with them. It’s not just about music with him, it’s about helping people.” “Is that true Ryder?” The host transitioned. “I think Oli makes me sound a little too perfect.” He smiled. “But yeah, that’s what I try to do. Am I always great at it? No. But it’s a part of music artists don’t buy into anymore.” He complained. “And it’s something I really want Oliver to recognize. We’re only here for the fans. We do this all for them.” “Can’t say I expected for a rock band to make things so, well, whole some.” He teased, drawing laughter from the crowd. “Especially not Ryder Sullivan.” “I guess people change.” Ryder softly laughed. “It’s amazing what someone can do with a second chance.” “But surely there must have been at least one crazy story coming out of the Messiah studio time.” The host provoked, looking over to me. “They just bicker like old men.” I shrugged. “They’re not as exciting as you guys think they are.” My words drew a big Oh from the crowd as they tried to figure out what I meant. “He’s not wrong.” Ryder laughed. “We’re not in our twenties anymore. We’ve slowed down a lot, this time it was mainly about music.” “And about Tommy being a giant fucking asshole.” I couldn’t help but tease. The second the word left my lips I saw people behind the camera begin to scurry. “On that note let’s go to commercial.” The host nervously laughed. “You did say the interview was too wholesome for a rock band!” Ryder teased drawing yelling from the crowd. “This was Unity. Check out their debut singles wherever music is sold!” The host announced as the red light behind the camera faded. There was a little more hustle and rushing around behind the cameras, but no one said anything to me. The host seemed slightly annoyed, but too bad! You have a rock band on your show, expect some cursing! And don’t they have a bleep button or whatever! How’s it my fault they missed timed it! “Oliver Harrison Haner.” Mom began the second we reached them. “You owe me a conversation when we get home.” “Yeah, yeah,” I dismissed. “I was just playing the role of a rock star.” Ryder narrowed in his eyes and began to stare me down as he hard those words. “What?” I groaned in a sigh. “You sounded unintelligent, that’s what.” He reprimanded. “You were close to earning everyone’s respect, but calling Tommy a fucking asshole, people aren’t going to like that.” “I was just kidding.” I whined. “Tommy’s right, everyone is way too stuck up!” “That’s it, be just like Tommy.” Teddy sarcastically rolled his eyes. “Ew.” Mark teased. “I don’t want you to be like Tommy, I want you to be like Oli.” I rolled my eyes and kept walking. “Come on,” Mark protested forcing eye contact. “I know you know that wasn’t a good idea.” “Wasn’t a bad idea either.” I grumbled. “No, but it gives the wrong impression of you.” He warned. “Think about it Oli, how do you want to be remembered?” I grew quiet at his question and followed my family out of the studio and into our tightly packed car. The ride home was quiet. I could tell they were proud of our performance, but there was an underlying worry working its way through the car. I know what they’re thinking, but I’m not going to get all crazy. It was just two words! They don’t have to crucify me over it! Soon enough my worries faded as I fell asleep on Mark’s shoulder. I know he’s still preparing to come out to his dad, but I just need that day to come already. The day when I can just be this comfortable around him no matter what. His dad will accept us, I know he will. ************************************************************************************* The second we dropped him off at his house I felt the car grow even quieter than before. Every now and then one of them would glance back towards me to see if I was sleeping or not. I guess I’m growing up faster than any of them could’ve imagined. When we stepped inside the house my mom went to waive me over, but my dad broke it up. I’m way too tired for a lecture right now! I get it, curse words are a no-no, but I’m a rock star! I’m not just any other kid! “Was what I said really that bad?” I sighed as I watched Ryder and Teddy slowly get ready for bed. “It wasn’t the greatest thing you could’ve done, but it’s far from the worst.” Ryder shrugged, not putting much thought into it. “Ryder,” Teddy sighed, glancing over to us. “It was pretty dumb.” “He’s thirteen.” He defended. “He’s allowed to slip up every now and then. Besides, your mom is going to lecture him enough in the morning.” I nodded my head and turned but before I knew it Mark’s words were bouncing around my mind. “I want part of our sales to go to fighting drugs and abuse.” I suddenly announced. “I’m sorry?” Ryder asked, shooting me a cautious look. “I want some of our sales to go to charity.” I forced out a little bit louder. “Mark asked how I want to be remembered and I, I want to make some difference other than just music.” “That’s great Oli,” Teddy encouraged. “But you shouldn’t be giving to charity just so you can get some good publicity.” “It’s not like that.” I rejected. “I don’t care if people know or not, it’s just, it’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since the whole thing with Chris.” “Okay.” Ryder slowly nodded. “I’ll work something out and let you know.” “You actually care that much?” Teddy checked, watching me closely. “I just, I see how much it effected you, and I can’t even imagine his family.” I shook my head. “I mean you haven’t even been back to work since,” “I’ve been back to work.” Teddy interrupted in a loud voice. “Have you?” Ryder supported. “You go in and do paperwork, but that’s not real work for you.” “I’m working my way back.” He defensively let out as the conversation shifted. “Besides so much has happened at the hospital this year,” “Like?” Ryder provoked, seeing what he could learn. “You coming in, losing my first patient, Nate, it was all just,” “Me coming in wound up being a good thing.” He tried to comfort. “And I know losing a patient is hard, but you have to get back on the saddle okay?” Teddy slowly nodded but I could tell it was a conversation they’d resume when I had left. “And my lawyers are filing a restraining order and defamation suit against Nate as we speak.” “But you’re not really going for anything significant.” Teddy complained. “We’re,” He corrected. “Going for his nursing license and making sure he can’t go anywhere near our family. We don’t have to ruin him Teddy, people deserve second chances.” Teddy rolled his eyes but as Ryder slowly got closer to embracing him I knew it was time to leave. It’s like they totally forgot I was even in the room! I swear to god I need to get a spray bottle for them or something! ************************************************************************************* The next day seemed to come and go pretty fast. Because of my slip up on T.V. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house or see Mark! I know she only grounded me for one day, but even that feels a little insane! They’re just words! I didn’t even mean it! That’ just how band members speak to one another! I know Tommy will laugh it off when he hears about it! My weekend was a slow crawl to Sunday afternoon, but when it finally rolled around, well it was ten times better than Christmas! I get to see Messiah tonight! I get to actually go see one of their concerts! I’ve been dreaming of this moment my whole entire life! I anxiously hung around the bathroom as Ryder slowly got ready for their final show. I’m pretty sure bands usually get ready at the venue, but not Ryder. Not with Messiah. He’s trying his hardest to grow past them, and maybe, well maybe being around them before their final concert would be too much for him. Besides, I can only imagine what the guys are getting up to right now! I couldn’t help but laugh as he checked himself out in the mirror. He’s been doing this for nearly fourteen years and yet he’s still worried about the way he looks! Yet, as much as I hate to admit it, he looks good! He wore ripped up skinny jeans, and a sleeveless shirt with a nice thin black jacket over it. It all did a nice job of showing his slim figure while also pointing out all the muscle he had built up over the years. The second he reached for his dark black make up I couldn’t help but take in a deep breath. I saw a smile grow on his face as he heard my excitement. Slowly but surely he drew a thick line from one side of his head to another. A look he’d always stuck with. With a spare hand he slowly waved me into the bathroom. I felt my heart double in speed as he dipped his hand back into the paint and recreated the black stripe on my face. “You’ll need to find your own look one day.” He warned. “But for now, you look pretty good.” I tried my hardest to hide the smile on my face, but I just couldn’t! Through it all, my singles, my boyfriend, my brother getting engaged to my idol, well this is still the most I’ve ever smiled in my life! The smile stayed on my face for the rest of the evening. From picking up Mark to making the drive to the big football stadium packed with cars and flags. “Oh boy,” Teddy sighed as I excitedly pushed my head against the window. “I think we’re going to break Oliver.” “Do you see all that?” I gasped at the rows and rows of cars in the packed lot. There were a few tents for people to tailgate under, and even Messiah flags being flown from temporary flag poles! Most people were even blasting different Messiah songs from their cars or speakers! “I must be dead.” “It’s not that big a deal” Ryder sheepishly laughed as he instructed our dad where to park. Security waived us blocked off area where few cars sat. “This is where we part ways.” He sighed, taking a long look at us. “Unless any of you want to come back stage.” “Maybe when it gets closer to the start time.” Teddy shrugged. “Wait? I can go back stage!” I exclaimed. “You can, but you won’t.” Dad laughed. “You should experience this like everyone else. Like you’re just another fan.” “Mhm.” Ryder agreed. “I want you to see this show properly.” “Fine, fine.” I grumbled. “But if Tommy messes anything up I’m coming down there!” “Deal.” Ryder nervously laughed as Teddy grew closer to him. “Behave yourself, okay?” He warned. “It’s not too late for me to pull the plug on this.” “You sure about that?” Ryder laughed looking over at the crowd of people around the corner from the blocked off entrance. “I’m not afraid to be the bad guy to sixty-thousand people.” Teddy giggled. “Because out of all those people, you’re the most important to me.” “Ewww.” I yelped turning towards Mark. “Let’s get out of here!” It took another fifteen minutes for Teddy and Ryder to say goodbye, but when we finally returned to the massive crowd I still couldn’t believe my eyes. Hundreds and hundreds of people wearing nearly the same exact thing as me! Every now and again people would glance at me then do a double take as they tried to figure out if I was actually me or not! “That’s Oliver Haner!” Someone finally shouted as we slipped into a guarded VIP entrance. I couldn’t help but smile as I heard some cheering from the crowd outside the big glass doors. “Looks like someone’s getting credit after all.” Dad teased as we made our way up escalator after escalator. When we finally reached our destination we found ourselves inside of a giant private club. Just like downstairs it was packed, but it seemed to be a more reserved crowd. One that had clearly wanted to see the show without being knocked around by the rowdier fans downstairs. Pretty soon the charm of big crowd grew lost on me as I clutched Mark’s hand tightly. I heard a giggle escape his lips as we quickly followed after my parents. The second we reached our section I felt a gasp escape my lips. Security hung around both sides as other people with family and friends passes filled the area. Our seats were front row with a perfect view of the gigantic stage. And when I say gigantic I mean gigantic! Huge LED screen lined the back of it as a giant Messiah logo stood at the top. The stage itself was huge with a long runway running out of it. The people down on the floor seemed like ants as they tried their hardest to get the best view possible. Before I knew it the opening act came on and sent everyone into a frenzy. Just like every metal or rock concert I’ve been to before, people pushed and pulled at one another. As much as I tried to enjoy the opening acts, well I just couldn’t! My mind was way too focused on the band I had waited what feels like my whole life to see. Hell, I couldn’t even sleep last night! I know I’ve recorded with them. I know I helped write most of the songs on their new album. I know Ryder is going to be my brother-in-law. Yet still, this is Messiah! And Ryder, well he’s even more of my idol now more than ever! It felt like hours as the sun finally set and the next band took the stage. They were great and all, but just like before my heart wanted what it wanted! Soon enough the LED screens came to life with various pictures of the band throughout their time. All the way from baby faced Ryder to the man he is now. Even pictures of me recording with them made it up there! The closer we got to show time the more anxious the crowd grew. They aggressively yelled and chanted at the large dark stage. Until finally smoke started to pour out of it, drawing even louder screams from the mob. “What do you want to be?” An older recording asked over the speakers. “Honestly?” A young Ryder responded in a nervous laugh. “I want to be the biggest rock star to ever live.” “Do you think you can get there?” The older voice asked, as a familiar song began to fill the air. “I know I can.” Young Ryder responded as all the lights in the stadium shut off. The song grew louder until finally the crowd picked up on it. Before I knew it everyone was screaming the Aerosmith song back at the stage. “Sing with me, sing for the years Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears Sing with me, just for today Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away*” The atmosphere grew electric as the crowd grew louder and louder. As the song ended a loud ominous sound filled the air. Just like all the Messiah concerts I had watched online a center light kicked on, showing a radio in the center. Different news broadcasts from the past twenty years began to taunt the crowd until finally it settled on one. “We’re hearing reports tonight that Ryder Sullivan of Messiah has made an attempt to take his life.” A woman announced. “He’s said to be in critical condition at St. James Hospital. Prayers are with his friends and family.” Pandemonium spread through the crowd as a big figure stepped out onto the stage wielding a baseball bat. All he had to do was pause as the crowd anxiously began to count down. “Three, Two, One,” The crowd roared as Ryder pulled back and smashed the radio. The second the bat connected sparks and smoke flew from the stage as it all kicked to life. The giant LED screen showed the various members of the band as they all took the stage and began to play one of their oldest hits. When it finally reached Ryder I saw a look I had never seen before. One that screamed happiness. For the first time since I had met him, well, he looks like he’s finally found his peace. *Dream On- Aerosmith (Aerosmith, 1973)
  14. 52 points
    Chapter 24 --Bailey— Bailey wriggled under the heavy blanket covering him, wanting to burrow even farther into the bed. Morning was trying to make itself known by casting its warm glow across the room, hitting the wall in front of him. Although, strangely, his alarm hadn't gone off. At the moment, he didn't care. For the first time in months, he felt at peace... safe... whole. Maybe he should bury himself in a ton of blankets every night. Then he remembered why he didn't do that. The heat. God, he was hot. And how many damn blankets had his mom thrown on him in the middle of the night? Bailey wriggled a little more—and... the blankets... tightened around him? Bailey fought to pull himself from sleep. White walls, not dark cream. Navy blue sheets, not his green. Where—? Oh, god. That's right. He'd stayed over in the dorms, in Declan's room. In Declan's bed. He froze at the moan from behind him... and the large body pressed up against him. Shifting. A hard length nudging him. A thick arm wrapped around his chest. The heavier weight blanketing his body. Declan. "...ailey... nhnn..." a breathy whisper tickled his neck. Bailey felt his own body respond instantly, and he gasped, driving his own hips forward into the mattress. He wriggled again as Declan's throaty moans shot straight through his core. "Mmmmm... Declan..." he groaned. Declan stilled instantly. Bailey gasped out a surprised breath at the sudden lack of movement. "W-what...?" Declan's confused voice huffed next to Bailey's ear. Bailey wriggled in Declan's hold, but that only seemed to snap Declan out of his haze of sleep even faster. "Oh, shit." Declan jerked back, attempting to pull his arm off of Bailey. "Oh, my God... Bailey... I... I'm so—" "You say that alot." Bailey smiled briefly into the pillow at Declan's adorable embarrassment, but he grabbed the thick arm as it tried to retreat. He could feel Declan trying to squirm his body away from where he'd been pressing Bailey into the bed. "Don't." Declan stilled with just that one word, stopped trying to pull away. "Bailey, I didn't mean—" Declan's voice was hoarse, rough with sleep. "I would never—" "I know." Bailey rolled under Declan's arm until he was on his back facing up at Declan who was at his side staring down at him. He allowed Declan's arm to loosen but not to retreat completely. "I meant to go back, you know, to Evan's bed after you fell back asleep, but I guess I fell asleep too. And I usually wrap around a pillow... but because you were there instead... I must have... you know..." He flopped the hand Bailey was holding, trying to make his point clear. Bailey squeezed Declan's wrist to stop his rambling, dropping his own eyes. "I had a nightmare, didn't I?" Declan just nodded, and Bailey swallowed thickly. "I'm sorry. Was it bad?" Declan shrugged. "I don't know what 'bad' is for you, but you got a little rough with the wall. Logan came in wondering what was going on." "Oh, God," Bailey groaned, hiding his face behind his hands. He felt Declan tug one hand away gently. "Hey, it's okay. It happens. Don't worry about it. I'm sorry you have them, you know, about your dad." "Thanks." Bailey patted Declan's arm lying across his belly. Silence hung between them for several moments, the air thick with unspoken words. Declan's fingers had started rubbing across Bailey's ribs where the shirt had ridden up in his sleep, probably an unconscious nervous movement Declan wasn't even aware he was doing. Bailey lifted his head slightly, enough to brush a kiss across Declan's pink lips. As he fell back, Declan followed, pressing for more. Bailey felt the tip of Declan's tongue teasing along his bottom lip, and he opened, allowing the tentative kiss to deepen. Declan's kiss was hesitant and unsure at first, much like it had been the first time. But it didn't take long for Declan to get over his uncertainty, and Bailey moaned at the delicious assault on his mouth. Declan eventually pulled back, panting. He looked almost pained, and Bailey realized how still Declan was trying to hold himself. "God, Bailey... I don't know... I'm sorry I—" "Hey, hey, it's okay," Bailey whispered softly. "I'm not exactly immune to you either." Declan lifted his head slightly, following Bailey's line of sight to the lower half of the bed. His eyes widened slightly. Bailey could tell that his admission eased some of Declan's embarrassment. Declan ducked his head, trying to look anywhere by into Bailey's eyes. The tinge of pink on his cheeks still very prominent. "Yeah, um, maybe I'll just head to the bathroom for a moment..." Declan mumbled, trying to extricate himself from the covers without touching Bailey any more than he already had. "Geez, Declan, lighten up," Bailey smacked at Declan's chest. "You act like you've never fooled around before." Declan froze, wide uncertain eyes staring at Bailey. "Ohhh..." Bailey abruptly realized why Declan looked so nervous and insecure. Declan probably hadn't ever fooled around before, because he'd barely admitted even being gay until just recently—whereas Bailey had had a boyfriend at his last school, and yeah, they had fooled around some, exchanging mutual hand jobs a couple of times. Declan, this big macho tough guy, was scared and uncertain, even as he obviously desired more. Bailey lifted his free hand and cupped Declan's cheek, the slight stubble rough under his fingers. "Hey, it's okay. This is new to both of us." Declan cleared his throat, his finger absently tracing a pattern over Bailey's belly. "Have you ever... you know?" Bailey quirked an eyebrow at him. "What? Had sex?" Of course his bluntness caused Declan to turn beet red, so Bailey took pity on him and didn't wait for him to respond. "No, not really." Declan's hand stilled. His fingers wrapping around Bailey's hip possessively, and Bailey smiled, certain Declan wasn't even aware of what his hand was doing. "What do you mean 'not really'?" Declan growled. Bailey's hand brushed Declan's jaw before stroking down his neck soothingly. "I mean, just a little making out, a hand job or two. I did have a boyfriend at my old school." "Oh, yeah. The one that outted you to your team." "I was already out. I just hadn't advertised it. It wasn't his fault my old team was a bunch of homophobes," Bailey said as the rough pad of Declan's thumb teased at his hipbone. "You didn't ever go on a date? Kiss someone? A girl, maybe?" --Declan— Declan sighed, relaxing a little bit more against Bailey's smaller body. This really wasn't what he wanted to talk about—his previous sex life or lack thereof. But it had helped distract his dick, which was slowly deflating—thank God. How fucking embarrassing was that! Waking up to find himself attempting to bury himself in Bailey. And then to see that Bailey had been turned on as well... Declan was sure his face couldn't have flamed any redder. Yet, Bailey didn't seem to mind, easily helping to deflect Declan's embarrassment over the whole thing. And that kiss. Oh, hell, that kiss. Yeah, he wanted more of that. And even of this... just lying next to Bailey, being this close to another guy he was interested in, practically cuddling. As his fingers stroked over taut muscles and sharp bones, he was amazed that he could actually touch someone like this without feeling guilty or ostracized for his desires—his thumb teasing at the edge of Bailey's sleep pants. It was freeing, really, to finally be able to give in to his yearning, one that Bailey had fully awakened in him. Maybe they could just lay here all day... "Declan?" Bailey's sleep rough voice brought him back to the present. What were they talking about again? Oh, yeah... his previous sex life. "Yeah of course, I've been on dates, kissed a few times, made out a little. But they were girls. Kissing them... well, they expected like romance and fireworks or something. And making out... well... Girls are different than—" Declan paused, staring down at Bailey. "Well, different than a guy. They're all soft and squishy. I realized a while ago I preferred more hard planes and rough edges." "Really?" Bailey teased. Declan smirked back, his eyes going darker. "Yeah really. Like broad shoulders and hips... like this." He ran his thumb over Bailey's sharp hipbone, sliding slightly lower. "And kissing you just now... so different. I don't feel like I'm going to break you, even though you are smaller like a—" Declan broke off, grimacing at what he'd been about to say. Comparing Bailey to a girl probably wasn't the best idea. Bailey chuckled. "Trust me. I've been called much worse than a girl." "You're nothing like a girl," Declan growled, dropping his head to kiss Bailey again. It was rough and possessive, nothing like he would ever consider doing with a girl. Bailey opened to him, and Declan felt Bailey's hand slip into his short hair, tugging him closer, accepting the grinding of their lips eagerly. Declan's grip on Bailey's hip tightened, his thumb scraping over the jutting hip bone. One part of his brain registered thicker raised lines under his thumb and wondered absently what they were? Did Bailey have some sort of cut or wound or something on his hip, like the one he'd seen earlier this week on his chest? But lost in the heat of the kiss—and his blood trying to rush south again—Declan couldn't focus on them. He should ask later... Bailey's hand drifted down, cupping Declan's neck before scraping over Declan's muscular chest. Declan hissed his approval into their kiss. Odd scar lines forgotten, Declan slid his hand around Bailey's back, intending to draw him closer. "—you guys coming or—? Oh, holy hell!" Micah's voice was like a bucket of cold water being dashed over them. Neither Bailey or Declan had heard the door to the suite bathroom opening. "Are you guys having sex?" Logan asked. Declan dropped his head to the pillow next to Bailey's, trying to hide his embarrassment. "Don't you guys ever knock?" "Don't you ever lock the door?" Logan shot back. "We always come over to get you for breakfast and you insisted nothing was going on between you two." Declan finally rolled over, sitting up on the side of the bed, while Bailey propped himself on one elbow. He saw Micah's smug grin as he leaned in the doorway. "What?" Declan groaned, knowing the guy was dying to say something. "I guess 'not yet' came sooner than you thought," Micah sang. Declan dropped his flushing face into his hands, trying to hide his embarrassment, when he heard soft giggling next to him. He lifted one hand and arched an eye at Bailey, who didn't seem nearly as disconcerted at being caught by Declan's suitemates. "Screw you," Declan finally snapped at Micah. "Bailey had a nightmare... and... and... I just fell asleep next to him after he fell back asleep." Micah pointed at the bed. "That was not just sleeping. It was kinda hot actually." Micah cocked his head, grinning. "Can you do it again?" Declan glared as Logan burst out laughing at Micah's antics at riling Declan up. Declan instantly reach over, grabbed a pillow and flung it at Micah. It hit him square in the chest. "Hey!" Bailey piped up. "We were using that." Micah held it out with two fingers. "Should I be afraid to touch...?" "Oh fucking hell!" Declan yelled, stomping across the room and snatching the pillow from Micah's hands. "You really are an ass." He forcibly turned and shoved Micah and Logan back through the bathroom door, starting to close it behind the two. "We'll be ready in ten minutes if you want to wait. Otherwise, go on without us." Micah poked his head back in. "Ten minutes? Is that enough time? Or did you already... you know... finish?" "GET OUT!" Declan roared, plastering his huge hand on Micah's face and shoving him back enough to close the door—and lock it. Loud hysterical laughter could be heard on the other side of the door. Declan slumped against it. God, he was so fucking embarrassed by Micah's ridiculousness joking around. He finally got himself together enough to face Bailey again. "Sorry about him." Bailey's face was flushed slightly, apparently not totally immune to Micah's insinuations, but he didn't look upset or angry, just amused. "Hey, that was actually the nicest reaction I've ever had when other guys have caught me kissing someone. At least he wasn't ready to beat the hell out of me, accusing me of corrupting his 'straight' friend." Bailey was crawling out of the bed, and Declan took in his swollen lips and the thin strip of skin peeking out between his t-shirt and where his sleep pants had slipped lower on his hip from when Declan had been rubbing it. Declan vaguely registered the harsh lines peeking out from under the waistband before Bailey absently hitched them up. What were those marks...? Fuck, did I scratch—? He froze as Bailey's words sunk in. Wait, what did Bailey just say? He'd been beat up for kissing a guy? Declan popped his head up. "Jeez, Bailey, has that actually happened?" Bailey shrugged. "Once." He grabbed his backpack as he stepped closer to Declan. Declan could feel the frown creasing his face, his hands tightening to fists. "Don't," Bailey said simply, laying a soothing hand on Declan's chest. He petted Declan, like he was attempting to calm a Doberman. "It was a while ago, far far away. Just think about it. Micah's teasing shows his acceptance. That's actually pretty awesome. Most of the guys here seem to be like that, which makes Heritage a pretty safe place to be, with a few exceptions—*coughs* Chris." Declan caught Bailey's hand, smiling down at him. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess you're right. I'm just not used to it being directed at me yet." "Get used to it. That's what guys will do. Harass each other, joke around. You guys seem like really good friends. You know he's not trying to be mean, and it's something new, so of course he's going to be all over it." Declan rolled his eyes. "Oh, yeah. Just wait until Evan hears about this." Bailey grinned coyly up at him. "Just hope that Justin and my team don't hear about it. They'll accuse you of taking advantage of little 'ole me." Declan sputtered, flushing again. "Oh, jeez..." Bailey just laughed, patting him again. "Oh, calm down. I'm just kidding." He turned to the bathroom. "I'm going to pee and change. You get ready to go too. I'm hungry, and you promised to help me with yard work today." And just like that Bailey had eased Declan's anxiety, causing him to perk up, excited to spend the rest of the day hanging around Bailey.
  15. 51 points
    Chapter Twenty-One “There is someone here to see you, sir,” the butler announced him. “He doesn’t want to say his name, but he has been here before. A certain Mr. Lopez.” Klaus quirked an eyebrow. Not the Lopez brother he wanted to see, that was certain. It was late, Hans was already asleep, and he was just burning the midnight oil, for no apparent reason. “May I suggest something, sir?” the butler spoke again. “This visitor looks rather strange. Maybe I should send him on his way?” “No, it is all right. I will see him. Just check him, would you, please?” The butler nodded and disappeared as silently as he had entered. Klaus rested his chin on his linked fingers, pondering. Why was Diaz paying a courtesy visit at such a strange hour? He had to give it to the man. Diaz was not scared to face the man who had put him in the hospital, with a broken leg. He looked straight at his visitor the moment Diaz walked through the door. Yes, that must have been painful. Yet, the man still tried to keep his head high. “Where is Jake?” Diaz asked directly. Klaus pointed towards the chair across from him. “Come in Mr. Lopez, and take a seat. You look like you could use a bit of rest.” The man looked haggard, more so than usual. There was an unhealthy pallor stretching on his face, lost in the stubble. But what was very noticeable was the limp he had, even with the short walk across the room. “Where is Jake, you motherfucker?” Despite the insult, the words had been spoken softly. Diaz seemed tired. “Just have him come down here. I want to take him home with me.” Klaus frowned. That was an unexpected development. “He is not here. And may I suggest refraining from insulting your host? It is bad taste.” Diaz snorted and shook his head, ignoring the correction. “Don’t make me search this big ass house. Just make him come here.” Klaus sighed. “I told you. He is not here.” Diaz searched his face and finally seemed convinced. “Are you fucking my little brother?” Ah, that explained some things. “As you can see, currently no,” Klaus joked, his eyes narrowing, as he measured his adversary. “What a fucked up asshole you are,” Diaz said with bitterness. “Don’t you have plenty of fags to fuck up the chute? Why did you have to turn Jake into your little bitch? He didn’t deserve this.” “Deserve?” Klaus murmured. “I think he deserves to be whoever he wants to be. And I did not ‘turn’ him, as you said. He is gay. I did not make him change his sexuality, as you imply.” Diaz shook his head, with a pained expression on his face. “That’s not … that can’t be. I know Jake. You did something to him.” Klaus shrugged. “I will not waste my breath trying to convince you otherwise. You are definitely not worth the effort. But now I should ask you. Where is Jake? And how did you come to the conclusion that he was involved with me?” “I know how to put two and two together. I don’t need to see you fucking him to know stuff like that.” Klaus could feel a migraine starting to take root deep into his temples. “How come you cannot keep tabs on your brother? It is not like you have much to do these days, anyway.” “I have plenty to do, asshole. He ran away. I thought he came here.” Klaus could feel tension rising in his muscles. He gripped the edge of the desk, in an effort to control his emotional reaction. That should have not affected him so much. He needed to learn where the boy was. “I’ll find him and I’ll take him home. Then I’m going to get this … thing out of his head. Couldn’t you settle for ruining the entire town? You had to go after my little brother, too?” Diaz spat in disgust. “You clearly understand nothing,” Klaus said slowly, careful not to let his true feelings known. He was not one to beat up a broken man like Diaz, no matter how much the guy wanted to provoke him. “What’s to understand?” Diaz raised his voice. “What did you promise him? Jake never wants anything. He’s a good boy. How could you convince him to do something so dirty?” “Trust me, Diaz, your brother needed little convincing to end up between the sheets with me.” It was not like him to be crass, but Diaz, apparently, needed to hear the whole truth. Most probably, Jake had not said everything. Maybe he had not been given the chance. “He was like a low hanging fruit. Ripe for the taking,” he continued, feeling a surge of bloodlust rising. “Bullshit!” Diaz paled even more. “He is an exquisite lover. I must say that I have met few who can compete with him on this level. He really does bend over nicely.” “Stop it with the fag talk. My brother is not like that!” Klaus exhaled slowly. “What your brother does and what your brother is, these are things that are completely up to him. Not you.” “Not you, either,” Diaz replied. “You had no right, asshole! No right to mess with his head, and make him think he’s a freak, like you!” “I should warn you, Diaz that my patience is running thin. I have already indulged you too much at this late hour and now with you insulting me under my roof, on top of all things. See yourself to the door.” Diaz got up and stumbled backwards. “You better leave this town, motherfucker,” he threatened on his way out, pointing a finger at Klaus. “You cannot watch your back forever. For what you did to Jake, you’ll fucking pay!” “Spare me the big talk. Out,” he ordered. At that moment, the butler appeared, and ushered him to the outside door. At least, Diaz knew not to overstay his welcome. And he was probably way too pissed with the idea that he could not, indeed, do anything. A fangless dog, that was what he was now. Since the butler had checked the guy for concealed weapons and come out empty, that only strengthened that belief. Diaz had been obliterated, and Klaus could at least say that was according to plan. There were other things not working as he wanted, though. Klaus took out his phone. Maybe Jake was going to finally pick up. Maybe he was somewhere, alone and scared, right now. If he had come out to his brother, maybe he was even hurt. The faint sound took him by surprise. Intrigued, he began searching for the source. The small package, wrapped in brown paper on his desk, lay there, cold and uncaring. Klaus put his phone down and proceeded to unwrap the package. He took out Jake’s phone and looked at it. That was unexpected. So Jake had run away, indeed. He had run away, from them both, without a look back. His entire body went rigid as he grabbed the offending object and threw it in the trashcan. It was clear as day what he needed to do. *** “Are you coming back with me?” Hans seemed shocked by his decision. “What about the business you run here? And what about Jake?” “What good would it do to have as much power and money as I do, if I am still going to behave like I’m a slave to someone else? I want a change of scenery. I can conduct business from the headquarters location, just as fine.” “Earth to Klaus,” Hans frowned. “What about Jake?” “Jake,” Klaus said, pursing his lips. “Jake, well, he made a decision, after all. I have no intention of getting in his way.” “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Hans asked. “That lowlife of a brother he has was here last night and informed me that Jake ran away from home.” “All the more reason to go after him.” “Please, do not interrupt me. Jake sent me back the phone I gave him. That is a clear sign he does not want to be found.” “For a man like you, it’s easy to find him.” “Yes, it is,” Klaus admitted, and his eyes became a tad unfocused. “Point taken. I do not wish to do so. Let me explain it better: there is no reason for me to do so.” “Wow,” Hans shook his head. “I thought you were in love with him.” “Really? What gave you that idea?” Klaus began arranging the things on his desk, nothing but busywork, to avoid looking at his best friend. “Geez, I don’t know,” Hans chose to be sarcastic. “Your own words. Jake is the most beautiful man I have ever met. Do you know what Jake did today? And how smart he is? You would not believe it. I must be with Jake. I cannot stand leaving his side again.” “Stop it already,” Klaus snapped and Hans finally shut up. “Nothing of the kind matters anymore. My … interest was misplaced. I am not going to chase him. He does not want me. And that leaves me no choice.” “And I thought you were the master of control,” Hans shook his head. “As a friend, I will only tell you this. You are making a huge mistake. The biggest in your life. You will not meet another like him.” “Really? Boys like him are everywhere you look,” Klaus said with a small shrug. He could not believe his own ears. He had never told a bigger lie in his entire life. “Keep telling that to yourself, buddy,” Hans patted his shoulder, a bit too forcefully. “One day, you might just believe it.” “I am in no mood to argue, Hans. I have to pack.” “Gosh, and I never thought to ever see the day,” Hans sighed. “I should not, but I will ask anyway. What day?” “The day I’d see you acting like a coward.” Klaus shot a dark look at Hans. But then his shoulders slumped. “Maybe,” he admitted. “I have already dealt with his rejection for much too long. As a friend, you should understand. I will not take this anymore. If I go after him, he will just tell me the same thing over and over again. And a masochist … that I am not. Plus, by now, he should have known better.” Hans seemed on the point to say something, but then he smiled. “Thanks for being honest for a change,” he spoke. “You’re my friend and I support you. Even when you do stupid things.” “Thank you, I suppose,” Klaus replied. He did not like Hans’s smile at all. Not one bit. He could almost hear the gears in the guy’s head turning. For what purpose? At that moment, he was too tired to care. *** Jake blew hot air into his cupped hands, as he waited for his coffee. The last two months had been tough, but he had managed to rent his own place, and find work. He was working two jobs, and he felt worn to the bone, but it still felt like the right thing. “Thanks, man,” he smiled at the guy behind the counter. He was rewarded with a big flashy smile back. “Hey, Jake, I was wondering if you ever want to, you know, go out and have some fun,” the young man spoke. Was he being hit on? It was funny how he could still not tell. The city was much bigger than his home town, and he had even identified a few places where gay people liked hanging out. Well, those places were advertised in the local magazines and there were flyers everywhere, it was not like his gaydar was functioning or something. “I still work two jobs,” he said. “I use Sundays just to sleep.” “Only for a few hours,” the guy smiled at him again. “We can just go grab a bite and talk. Brunch next Sunday?” Brunch. Stuff people from small towns like Jake’s had never heard of. “Yeah. That would be good,” he said and exchanged phone numbers with the guy. Well, that had to be a first. He had been busy finding work and saving up some money. He needed to repay Hans and also to start planning for the future. Getting a lover had not been one of his priorities. But maybe going out with a nice guy was a good start. And a way out from using all his free time only to mope over that asshole. Time heals all wounds, my ass, he thought. Memories of Klaus were fresh in his mind, like he had never left. Each morning, he still woke up to find the place next to him empty. From all the things, that was, strangely, the sorest point. That he could not wake up wrapped around that sexy jerk. Maybe it was his fault. He was the one still thinking of the guy. He was the one incapable of letting go. And it was time he did something about that. *** “Klaus Metzger, just the man I wanted to see.” Klaus turned and watched the young man in the black suit who had given him the eye for the entire evening walking towards him. He seemed the preppy kind of guy who was looking to get ahead in the world. By all means, he was passably cute. And his self-imposed celibacy should have come to an end by now, Klaus thought idly. He offered the young man his most charming smile. “And you are …” he offered. “Very much enthralled with you,” the young man said smoothly, while taking a seat next to him. “Flattering. What I meant is: I want to learn your name.” “Not a lot of fun, are you?” the young man patted his arm and smiled at him. “Not a problem. I can compensate.” Klaus’s lips twitched in displeasure. The man’s touch was irking him, for no reason. Maybe he could just fuck the guy and be done with him. And with his celibacy. It was unnerving how much he still thought about Jake. He had been approached countless times since he had gotten back to his home country. But somehow, he had felt that not one of the prospects could come close to what he needed. The only few times when he had felt a smidge of interest had been when the men had a dark complexion and dark hair. But each time, as he had looked at them, something had not seemed quite right. Like he suddenly had the eyes of a trained artist looking at a painting reconditioned by an unskilled hand; too many flaws. He tried to focus his attention on the young man next to him. The guy was just chirping away happily, full of himself, and sure that he was going to end up in bed with this prominent businessman with a reputation to be extremely generous with his lovers. “What do you want most? In the entire world?” he asked suddenly. “I am terribly sorry. I don’t understand …” “What would you like? The latest Mercedes? A house?” The guy seemed taken aback and his resolve faltered a little. Eventually he chose to laugh. “It is true, indeed, that I have expensive tastes,” he said, with a small flutter of his eyelashes, he must have thought seductive. His gesture was as fake as the décor of a theater from the 19th century. The paint was new, but there was nothing but mold growing underneath. “So say it. Consider that you have carte blanche. Complete access to all the money you could have. Just name one thing.” The young man shifted in his chair. He could sense something was wrong, but he could not tell what it was. Or how to act. “Well, I have always wanted to travel to Paris and shop on the Champs-Élysées. So maybe a platinum card, and a ticket to get there,” he said with a short, nervous smile. “Good,” Klaus said shortly. “If I were to give you these things you want, would you stop with these pathetic attempts to get me in bed? Skip all the tedious parts?” The guy gaped like a fish. Maybe he was a bit too harsh. Before, he would not have minded at all to be approached like that. “Uhm, okay,” the guy said slowly, like he was measuring his every word. Klaus laughed. The young man just confirmed he was a gold digger of the worst sort. He gestured for one of the waiters to come closer. “Everything the young man here present wants and is on the menu, put it on my tab.” He turned towards his companion. “Have a good night. Just be careful not to get smashed too hard on the champagne, it leaves you with a bad hangover. Rejection is just part of life.” He was pretty certain the guy said a few unflattering things at his retreating back. *** Jake tried hard to focus his attention on the boy sitting across from him. “Sorry, what did you say?” The boy smiled, but he seemed disappointed. “Are you in love, Jake?” he asked, genuinely interested. “Why would you say that?” Jake looked away, like he had been caught with one hand in the cookie jar. “You’re spacing out a lot. And, I don’t know, you have a look on your face. Like you’re remembering something. Something you truly like thinking about.” Jake sighed. He was just wasting this guy’s time. And his own. “I went through a nasty break up, actually,” he spoke. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” the guy patted his arm. “You’re nice,” Jake said. “But I think it’s just too early for me to move on.” “That must be true. Were you in love with the guy?” “Yeah,” Jake admitted. Still was. “Well, how about a round of pool? We can still be friends, I hope,” the boy smiled. “And, if you ever need to just trash talk the jerk, I’d like to hear that.” Jake laughed. “Nah, I won’t speak bad of him.” “Was he that much of a jerk?” his new found friend joked. “Sometimes. Not always. He was … too damn perfect.” “Wow. Now you make me want to hear the entire story.” “Maybe someday. I really need to get my mind off of him, though. Let’s just have some fun.” *** “Hey, buddy, how’s life treating you?” Hans’s voice sounded happy through the phone speakers. Ever since they got together playing games online again, they had been exchanging phone calls every now and then. It had felt quite nice to just log in to the server and have Hans and Stephen all over the chat, wanting to know about him. And gaming was the only pastime he was indulging in these days with the infernal working schedule he had. “Pretty well. Hey, listen, you should give me your details, so I can send the money to you,” Jake smiled while he arranged his groceries around the kitchen. “I finally managed to save up enough.” “Don’t bother about that.” “Hans, you promised,” Jake complained. “Yes, I know. But I also know that you will need the money for something else.” “Ah, don’t worry. I’m working two jobs, so I have all the bases covered.” “I’m thinking about some extra expenses.” “What do you mean?” Jake asked, squinting as he tried to check the expiration date on a carton of milk. “Well, something like a nice suit.” “What for?” Jake wondered out loud, and then it hit him as his eyes landed on the calendar hanging on the wall. “Ah, damn. I know you invited me, but, Hans …” “I won’t take no for an answer. You must have a few days off on Christmas.” “I do, but, come on, it’s like on the other side of the planet,” Jake tried to explain. “Don’t worry, Klaus will fly you in. And it’s still one month away. You have enough time to get your passport, right?” Jake sighed. “Hans,” he said softly. “I … I don’t want to see him.” “Why?” “Isn’t it obvious or something? I’m not over him. If I were to see him …” “You two need closure,” Hans cut his words short. “What’s that?” “You didn’t break up properly. Give the guy a chance. Give yourself a chance. I’m not asking you to get back together with him. I just want to see two guys I know and consider my friends having at least the chance to end up things the right way. Plus, I told you I want you at my wedding.” Jake pressed his head against the refrigerator’s door. The cool metal was supposed to help him think. “It’s kind of hard. I can’t seem to be able to just stop thinking about him,” he spoke. “Which I think is the same thing that’s been happening to him, too,” Hans replied. “I’ve never seen a colder fish in my entire life. I’m starting to think he’s going into a cryogenic state, or something,” Hans joked. “Look, just come to the wedding. You don’t have to speak to him, if you don’t want to. It’s not like I can force you to do that, and I don’t want to do that. But I think seeing him, talking and setting things straight will set both of you free. Don’t you want that?” “I think I do,” Jake mumbled. “Then it’s settled. Just bring yourself and don’t forget about the suit. If it were up to me, dress code would be casual, but my parents say they want a full-fledge wedding party. I cannot argue with them when they’re like that.” “All right,” Jake said. “Awesome!” Hans said happily. “Don’t worry about a thing. I will have all the arrangements made, even for your return back home. How does that sound?” “Okay,” Jake replied. “If you want me to see you tying the knot so much …” “Of course I do.” “But I’m still giving the money back,” he added quickly. “Fine,” Hans said with a theatrical sigh. “I can barely wait to see you again. We’ll have fun!” “Sure thing, man, sure thing,” Jake said back. *** “I need you to give a lift to a special passenger when you fly back from the States,” Hans said promptly as he leaned against Klaus’s desk. Klaus’s head shot up. “I have business there that I do not know of?” “You do now,” Hans said with a smirk. Klaus leaned back against the chair and watched his friend carefully. Hans looked like he was ready to burst with happiness. Yes, the wedding was coming, but that was not it. “You surely have some loose ends to tie up with the project,” Hans spoke. “And I need you to fly in Jake for the wedding.” Klaus blinked a few times. “Jake,” he said like the name was foreign in his mouth. “Yes, I invited him.” “How?” “Hello, it’s the 21st century, and Jake plays a killer ADC in our team. Stephen and I, we’re pretty sure that he dragged our asses out of elo hell, just because he has the skills of a platinum player. I think we’re actually the ones holding him back,” Hans whispered like he was sharing some big secret. “Well, he is skilled … at everything he does,” Klaus admitted, trying to quench the small bout of pride at his friend’s words. “But where do I fit into the picture of this happy MOBA-based family?” “You could play support,” Hans joked. “No, you couldn’t. You’d clearly be the assassin. The opportunist in you would not let you be anything else. Plus, I think you would cry if you didn’t score 20 kills every match.” Klaus chuckled. “With you, Hans, I feel like I never grew up.” Hans shrugged. “So, it’s settled? Go there, get Jake, come back here?” “That is a pretty expensive endeavor, don’t you think? I suppose you want me to use the jet?” “Of course I do. Just imagine how busy the airlines are this time of the year. Plus, don’t you want to impress your Jake a little?” “I am well beyond such childish games. Plus, if you remember, he is not my Jake anymore.” “Come on, man. Just hop on the plane and get him here. You must talk to him.” “I must?” Klaus snorted. “Yes. You’re still not over him. Give it a chance. On your jet, you will be able to say to him whatever you said you couldn’t. You could hear him out as well and the best thing is with just the two of you on the plane, he has to stay and listen. Then, move on, do whatever you like. Seeing you freezing gradually is no fun, trust me. Sometimes I wonder if your heart’s still beating.” “Hans, do me a favor, and tell Stephen to throw away all those idiotic romantic movies you watch. I know you would not have it in you to do it.” “He’s the one who’s selecting them. We have a really nice lineup for the holidays. Care to join us?” “Maybe next century,” Klaus joked. “All right. What you say makes sense. And I think it would be good to see the brat. At least, just to know he is doing well.” “So mature of you. I’m impressed,” Hans laughed. “As you should be,” Klaus replied with a small smile.
  16. 51 points
    Last night had not been easy for Daniel. His initial reaction had been utter disbelief. ‘How could anyone, especially a kid, say such a thing’? Then, it was ‘how could anyone believe such a ridiculous lie. It was only after Jeff and Paul reminded him that the actual truth and verifiable facts would not be crucial elements once the accusation had been made public. The County Council would insist that he be placed on “paid leave” until this issue was resolved or until after the election. The election would be a foregone conclusion. No one was going to take a chance that they might be voting for a pedophile. Daniel would have a snowball's chance in hell of winning once this kid’s accusations were made public. The ensuing investigation could take months to resolve and cost Daniel a small fortune in legal fees. Daniel had turned down Jeff’s offer for him to stay the night with them. He also refused the offer for them to go home with him. He appreciated the offer but he just wanted to talk to Raymond and see how best to proceed. Daniel grabbed a glass of whiskey to calm his feelings. His denial had given way to anger and was now sliding into acceptance of his current reality. Now, his mission was to coldly and clinically engage the enemy. The objective was to prevent this kid from ruining his professional and personal life. Once Daniel had told his tale, Raymond was not a happy camper. Being in LA while his mate was in trouble in Texas was not an acceptable situation. Confronting the boy was of both, urgent and paramount importance. While Jeff was a gifted litigator, Raymond was not about to let this confrontation take place without him. He had the plane made ready for takeoff as soon as he could make it to the airport. When Daniel argued that his business shouldn’t suffer because of his personal problems. Raymond stated flatly that, “You and I no longer have ‘personal problems’ we have family problems. When it comes to problems, Family always comes first.” Raymond let his lover know that he could dictate the terms of this particular business venture. To put it bluntly, they needed money and they would happily wait a few days now that they had his word that they would soon have cash in hand. Raymond insisted he would act as Daniel’s legal counsel. Some other element of Law Enforcement should accompany them to make it clear that Dennis Crowder could be facing criminal charges. They had immediately ruled out using any of Daniel’s current staff for obvious reasons. The local Police Chief had refused to endorse Daniel’s bid for County Sheriff and Daniel wasn’t comfortable putting his fate in the hands of that man. None of the School’s Resource officers would be involved. The Texas Rangers were likely candidates but, again, not what they needed to expedite a resolution that wouldn’t be plastered across tomorrow's headlines. Raymond explained that if another uniformed policeman was present when they confronted the kid, he would be more likely to fold. Having another cop alongside Daniel, Raymond, Coach Stephens and Seth and Gary Hines would let the kid know the odds were against his lie being substantiated to any degree of credibility. That was when Daniel said, “Bill Wilson of the Highway Patrol would be just the man for the job. He’s big and tough as nails. And he’s gay and in the closet. He, of all people, should understand the situation and the importance of discretion.” Daniel called Bill Wilson as soon as he ended his conversation with Raymond. Bill Wilson was was familiar with the Crowder name but not the boy himself. He had been supportive of Daniel’s bid for Sheriff from the git-go. Bill was only too happy to be there during the confrontation. It was to be his day off but he would meet them at the school in full uniform and in his patrol car. Daniel had always prided himself on his ability to get to sleep in spite of being stressed and tonight was no different. He used a ritual that allowed him to recognize the need for a warrior to well-rested before an upcoming battle. That this specific battle was not a physical confrontation that might result in injury or death did not diminish its significance nor the need to be at his best when engaging the enemy. His only acknowledgment of Raymond’s early morning arrival to their bed was to snuggle deeper into his lover’s comforting embrace. The arrangements for the meeting had been set up by Coach Stephens to take place in his office immediately following Gary and Dennis’ gym class. He had already cleared their meeting through school administration as being a discussion concerning the possibility of some ‘voluntary coaching assistants’. Since the kid was sixteen he could be interviewed without his Mother’s awareness or permission. If nothing came of this and Dennis followed through on his threats, Gary’s presence would be of critical importance in challenging those accusations. Thanks to Tink’s efforts during an early breakfast meeting at the diner, each man was unobtrusively wired for video and voice recording. Gary Hines was not encouraged by Dennis’ behavior this morning. The few times he caught his eye Dennis’ simply sneered at him. Coach Stephens came in and silently signaled the last of the stragglers to vacate the gym. Just as the day before, Gary and Dennis were the last boys in the dressing room. Dennis had stalled in getting out of the shower and was standing naked in front of Gary who was clad only in boxer briefs. Dennis, unaware of Coach Stephens presence, began, “Gary, I know you don’t want to help me with this but I don’t really have a choice either. My old man is coming to trial and if I don’t follow through he could wind up doing some hard time. I don’t really even know him but I don’t want him going to the state pen because of me. Besides, there’s enough money in this for me to finally get a car, if we pull this off. All you gotta do is just like he told me, think about doing it to someone else and just substitute that ‘loser Lovan’ in his place. I don’t want to have to ‘out’ you to the whole school but I will if you don’t back me up on this. I know you hate doing this but I got no choice and neither do you. I guess misery does love company. “Lovan may lose the election but that’s small potatoes compared to doing seven to ten in Huntsville. That’s where they got death row. He says it’s especially bad for any white man going down there.” Coach Stephens made his presence known, “Who’s he, Dennis”? Just like the day before, Dennis’ emotions shifted from fear to anger and disgust. “It don’t matter to you who ‘he’ is. If you know what’s good for you-you'll keep your nose out of this and don’t mess with these people. They’re important folks around these parts and they can make sure you never work with kids like me again. You’ll be lucky if you aren’t made to register as a sex offender. That might happen to that loser Lovan. But, it’s a helluva lot better than doing hard time in Huntsville.” As if by magic, Coach Stephens was suddenly flanked by other men. The fact that ‘loser Lovan’ was among those present made Dennis have just a very tiny bowel movement. He complexion went from an angry red to a whiter shade of pale in less than a heartbeat. Bill Wilson spoke in a voice that echoed off the walls. “Dennis Crowder, I understand there is a reason to believe that you have been conspiring with parties unknown to bring false charges of molestation against Sheriff Daniel Lovan and Coach Charles Stephens. Those are both criminal acts in the State of Texas. Since you are over the age of sixteen it’s likely you’ll be tried as an adult and will face stiff penalties in the form of monetary fines and imprisonment in a state penal institution. Huntsville is a real possibility for when you fill out your next change of address form.” The silence was deafening. Raymond’s phone buzzed and got everyone’s attention. After a couple of swipes, he stepped forward and showed Dennis a very clear video of him having just threatened Gary with being ‘outed’ if he didn’t agree to lie about ‘loser Lovan’. The video had not played through before the room was flooded with a noxious odor as Dennis Crowded voided his bowels. While the silence could have been measured in seconds and fractions thereof, the reaction to Dennis’ humiliation was instantaneous. Coach Stephens grabbed the boys towel and wrapped it around him and half led, half dragged the boy to the showers. Seth Hines was the first to speak, “Get dressed son. The rest of us will meet y’all in Coach Stephens office. This is far from over.” They made their way silently to the Coach’s office. Once inside Sergeant Wilson laconically said. “That’s not the first time I’ve scared the shit out of a man. At least this time I didn’t have to clean it out of the back seat of my patrol car.” The observation might have garnered more than a half-smile or two had it been shared under different circumstances. While they waited, it was agreed that Raymond would proceed with the questioning from this point. The critical issues were to get the boy to identify his blackmailers, their specific threats, as well as monies already provided and promised in exchange for his cooperation. While everyone was convinced that Daniel’s political rival was responsible, they dared not suggest any name until Dennis himself pointed the finger at the guilty party. When Coach Stephens guided Dennis Crowder into his office it was as if he was coaxing a beaten pup. The boy may have been arrogant but that was in another lifetime. Dennis clearly understood Sergeant Wilson’s threat of jail time was, in fact, a very real possibility. Raymond suspected that Coach Stephens might have softened the boy up even further while he was getting cleaned up. In any case, the boy was totally crushed. Raymond relaxed his demeanor and softened his approach. “Dennis, no one here wants to see you go to jail. We can only agree that if you cooperate fully with this investigation that you will be treated as much like a victim as Gary or Sheriff Lovan. You did not come up with this conspiracy on your own. You were manipulated by people who have a lot to gain if they can destroy Sheriff Lovan’s chances of winning the upcoming election. We need to know who is behind this and how this all began.” Dennis had not yet looked at anything other than his own feet, Raymond insisted, “Dennis, look at me.” Dennis shifted his feet and sighed heavily. Finally, he raised his head and revealed an expression of utter defeat. His eyes were reddened by freshly shed and unshed tears. Raymond was convinced the boy was on the verge of a complete breakdown. It would be so easy for him to offer consolation and reassurances but he focused on what this boy/man had tried to do to the man he loved. Raymond hardened his heart. “Dennis, the only way things are gonna get better for you from this point forward is for you to tell the complete and unvarnished truth. Do you understand”? Dennis’ only response was a jerky nod of his head. Raymond shook his head and stressed each word as he said, “Tell me you understand and that you are going to tell the truth.” Then, he waited. The air was filled with tension. The pregnant pause was long enough for each man present to consider how Dennis might respond. Would he hold to the original intent and insist that Daniel molested him? Would he deny any knowledge or involvement in advancing said accusations? Would he offer up some version of the truth that was so self-serving that it cast doubt on any ‘clinically factual’ information he might share? There was a communal sigh of relief when the boy again nodded and said, “I understand. I can’t help my dad after this. I might as well get it over with. So yeah, I’ll tell you the way this all happened.” Raymond tried to hide his elation with the aloof persona of a disinterested interrogator. “Dennis, tell me about what really happened at that Boy Scout camp last summer.” Dennis sniffled and began, “Nothing really. I mean, I mean things did happen between me and Gary but nothing else. I barely remember Mr. Lovan being there. We just had a good time. A couple of weeks ago, just after I got off the school bus and was walking up to the house, a man pulled up beside me. He told me to get in but I told him, ‘fuck off, I don’t ride with strangers’. He told me we weren’t strangers because we had an old friend in common. That's when he told me he knew all about me and his old boss, Sheriff Johnson. I got in his car. “He gave me a cell phone. One of the cheap kind you have to buy minutes for before you can use it. That day he told me to keep it with me and be sure to answer whenever he called me. I figured he was going to insist on having sex. He never did. The phone could get the internet so it wasn’t totally lame. He called me a few times and bought me dinner and even gave me some money. At first, it was a couple of twenties then, within a week, he gave me two hundred dollar bills. It was then he started talking about this ‘loser Lovan’. At first, I didn’t know who he meant. Then he told me about how he was the guy who went camping with us Scouts last summer and I should remember him. He showed me a picture of a campaign poster, then I knew who he was talking about. He started saying how ‘loser Lovan’ probably had sex with boys all the time like Sheriff Johnson did. Sheriff Johnson had dated my Mom for almost a year. He took me camping and we would go skinny dipping and talk about sex. He had a really big... At first, it was really different and exciting. The things we did felt really good. But, then he got to where he wasn’t gentle or even cared if I had a good time. Finally, when he got too rough, I told him he would have to be not so rough, he quit coming around for a few weeks. I think he thought it would teach me a lesson. But, I got together with Gary and it was so much better with him I didn’t care if I ever saw Sheriff Johnson again. I guess he got the message because he broke up with my Mother and quit coming around. “Mr. Jones said there was videos of me and Sheriff Johnson doing stuff. He said there was a video of me on my knees and then on my hands and knees. I don’t remember ever seeing a camera but it sounded like some of the stuff we did together. I never asked to see the videos. I didn’t want to think about them. Then, Mr. Jones said he needed me to do the right thing and get Mr. Lovan away from having sex with boys like Sheriff Johnson did. If I told the cops ‘loser Lovan’ made me suck his dick like Sheriff Johnson made me, it would be helping some other kid to keep from getting fucked by another pervert like Johnson. I told him I kind of liked what the Sheriff and I did up until he started getting rough. That really made him angry. He said all men who did that to boys my age were perverts and deserved whatever came to them. He said ‘loser Lovan’ was at least as rough as the Sheriff and if I wasn’t willing to help good people do right, then maybe he should show some of my classmates the videos. I begged him to destroy the videos. He said he would but only if I helped in a good cause. Then he said that the good folks that were doing this was ‘well-heeled’. I didn’t know what that meant and he said it meant they had lots of money and were willing to help me get a car if I helped them with this. I asked what kind of car and Mr. Jones said ‘any kind of car $10,000 can buy.” Dennis looked at his feet again. He didn’t quite understand why he should feel embarrassed but he sure did. Every man present was taken aback by the idea that Jones had promised this kid who probably never held a hundred dollars in his hand a lump sum of $10,000. Raymond tried to imagine how he would have reacted had someone offered him such a princely sum when he was still sixteen. He didn’t want to explore that thought too much. Instead, he encouraged Dennis to continue. “When did he tell you that you would get the money?”. “You mean when did he first offer the money or when did he say he would hand it over?”. “When did he say he would hand it over?”. “He said I would get the money the same day I told my story to the police. He said he just had to personally verify that the story was being spread around.” Bill Wilson had been pretty much just observing up until this point. He leaned over and whispered into Daniel’s ear. Daniel listened for a moment and touched Raymond’s arm to get his attention. When Raymond looked at his mate, Daniel said, “Sergeant Wilson would like to talk to us outside for a moment.” Once the three men stepped outside the office and closed the door, Dennis looked at Gary, “I guess you hate me now for sure. I’m sorry I tried to get you involved. It didn’t sound so bad when Jones was telling me how simple and right it was. Helping my Dad was important and that money wasn’t to be for a car, it would have helped us move to California together. He only started spending time with me a few months ago. Maw always hated him. Grandpa never would let him set foot on the place. I don’t know what happened to him but he tried to talk to me and actually took some interest in how I was doing in school and about my plans. He has a friend in California who has a ranch and offered to give him a job. He wanted me to go with him. Then he got in some trouble at a bar with one of his brothers and, well, now he has to go to court and Jones promised to get him off or send him to Huntsville, depending on how helpful I was. I’m sorry Gary. I guess I haven’t been much of a friend to you, especially lately.” Gary glanced into his own father’s eyes and thought about how the man had been with him and guided him through all his years. He couldn’t imagine a life without his Dad being involved. Sometimes his Mom and Dad got downright nosey. But, he would be hurting without them in his life. Looking back at Dennis, he said, “Dennis, I can’t say that I understand why you didn’t just ask for help. Maybe, you didn’t feel like people would help you because of… well, people don’t care near as much as you make out they do. Maybe going to California would be a good thing for you. To be where people just know you and your father as the new guys in town instead of a couple of the ‘Crowder boys’. I can’t say that I’m ready to think of you as my friend after the threats and meanness and all. But, I sure hope things work out for you better than they would if you were known as the one who lied about Sheriff Lovan. Cause, Dennis, your lies would have been found out. Not only would you have ruined a good man’s life but you would have been tarnished much worse when the truth came out. I really hope you make it to California and do well there.” When Raymond, Daniel, and Sergeant Wilson returned the heavy pall that hung about the room was obvious. Gary looked questioningly at his Dad and got a nod in return. He addressed Daniel, “Sheriff Lovan, I think me and Dad have done what we could here in this situation. I don't’ feel much like being here right now and I think Dad agrees. I’m thinking I’ll play Senior Skip Day a little early and go on home. Or maybe Dad and I could get Mom to meet us at the Diner for lunch. What'd Ya say, old man”? Seth smiled lovingly at his firstborn. “I think your Mother would be more than happy to have lunch with us. Just so we understand each other, son, we both know your real motivation is a Double Decker Cheeseburger Deluxe with a double order of fries followed by a huge slice of warm peach pie melting a double scoop of vanilla ice cream… Damn, if that don’t sound just like heaven to me too right now. Let’s go, son. We’ll call your Momma on the way.” Dennis seemed to be even lower after having witnessed such a positive, loving, and more importantly, an accepting exchange between father and son. If his day could have gotten worse it would have from having been reminded that his own father might never accept a ‘gay’ son. To Dennis, the whole idea of having a father figure that was actually his real father was a recent concept. His biological father had only made his presence known a couple of months ago. When his Dad mentioned them moving to California Dennis knew he had to come out to his father before they could live together. He just hoped the man could accept having a gay son. After Seth and Gary left, Sergeant Wilson addressed Dennis, “Mr. Crowder, we have decided to allow you to collect your money. We’ve come up with a plan that will put you in the clear while completely ensnaring Mr. Jones. We want you to make your accusation to a Texas Ranger in the presence of Mr. Jones. You’re going to tell Mr. Jones that Gary has folded and will back up your story but only if the police ask him. You’re going to tell Mr. Jones that you’re scared and need him to go with you to see the Texas Rangers. The Rangers will already know about the lies you’ll be telling so you won’t be seriously challenged. Do you think you can get Mr. Jones to go with you”? “I’m not sure. Every time we’ve met it’s been after he called me. I never wanted to talk to him so I’ve never called him. I guess I could tell him the School Resource Officer set it up for me. He’s been pushing me to call the cops for almost a week. Where should I tell him to meet me”? Raymond spoke up, “We can set the meeting up at the diner. We can say you were too scared to go to any official police station. Just say your Resource Officer set the meeting up there so you would feel more relaxed.” Dennis thought for a moment and said, “I can do that. He knows part of my concern was being close to too many cops… no offense Sheriff.” The kid’s sudden concern for offending Daniel seemed a complete incongruity in light of the reason for their meeting. Daniel just shrugged. Raymond asked, “Daniel, do you think we could get this set up for right after school today? I can get Miss Julie to let us set up recording equipment in a back room at the diner.” Daniel didn’t hesitate, “Absolutely. The Ranger I’ll be contacting is one who filed an official complaint against Jones when he was still a Deputy. I don’t think his opinion has improved any since then. Let me make a call and see if he’s available. I’m not sure he’ll be able to make it today but we can try. I damn sure want this resolved quickly.” For the first time, Dennis saw a look on the Sheriff’s face that spoke of how hard the man could be. Dennis was glad he was not trying to lie to this man, much less tell lies about him. Daniel made the call and once Ranger Young understood the situation he agreed to drive down immediately. He insisted that he would bring his partner and both would wear body cams the whole time and whatever the cameras and microphones revealed would be considered evidence. Daniel assured the man he had nothing to hide. Ranger Young said he didn’t doubt that but everybody said that as Daniel well knew. Getting Jones to agree to stand by Dennis as he told his tale was much easier than anyone anticipated. Apparently, the man wanted to gloat at his rivals assured, imminent, downfall. This would be his moment of victory. There would only be a pretense at an election, Jones would win in a literal landslide. Once a frightened, worried, boy told his tale of being forced to humiliate himself before the big man, the big man would fall, ‘big time’ and it would all be thanks to Marjorie’s not so ‘little’ boy, Johnny Jones. His only stipulation was that Dennis rehearse one last time with the two of them alone in his car. They agreed to meet just outside the school grounds after the last bell. Jones would give Dennis a ride home after the meeting. He even agreed, at Dennis’ insistence, to have the cash ready when they met and would hand it over immediately after it was clear the Rangers were proceeding with an investigation. A quick call to Tink and Dennis was equipped with a fashionable leather choker that held a video/audio/location transmitting device. Unless it was taken off and examined closely it appeared to be just a remnant of a Boy Scout summer camp, leatherworking merit badge. Once Tink had trimmed down and custom fitted the choker, Raymond insisted that everyone carry on with their daily routine. Dennis went to class with a note from Coach Stephens. Raymond and Daniel left for their respective offices and Bill Wilson took care of chores as he would on any day off. If all went according to plan, Bill would be back in uniform and among the arresting officers later that day. Daniel was apprehensive and explored all the things that might go wrong. Raymond distracted him by insisting they have lunch, as usual, at the diner. When they arrived, Seth was leading his family out the door. Seth patted his belly and told Daniel, “Sometimes a healthy diet just doesn’t cut it. ” At this, he gave a faux accusing glare at his wife. “A man can survive on leafy greens, fish, and chicken breasts for only so long. A greasy cheeseburger and french fries is pert high on my list of comfort foods.” His wife returned his playful banter with, “You better have enjoyed that. Cause after that remark, it’ll be a long time before I’ll let you sneak off to the diner behind my back like you been doing at least once a week.” Seth looked crestfallen as he realized his “secret” lunches at the diner weren’t so secret after all. He looked questioningly at his son. “Don’t look at me Dad. I’d never spoil a good thing. You brought me along enough for me to keep quiet about eating here. Mom, never asked and I never told.” Mrs. Hines looked sternly at her husband and her son. “Well, both of you got some making up to do for trying to keep these excursions from me. The least you could have done was to have asked me to come along. My menu is intended to keep us all healthy. Eating out may be against what I’m trying to do for my family. But, it also means I don’t have to cook and I don’t have to clean up. Maybe we should discuss the family menu and eating out more often, when we get home.” Raymond and Daniel walked in the diner chuckling at the bit of family dynamics they had just witnessed. Miss Julie met them at the door. “Well, I swanny, you two are a sight for sore eyes. I was at a loss as to whether to keep your table open for lunch today. But, I see y’all got Dennis all squared away. Tink and his boys have been working for a bit in the back room where the meeting will take place. I told Tink and his crowd to have lunch on our soon to be billionaire Sheriff. I figured you could pick up the tab and worry about what I said over your iced tea. Have a seat at ‘your’ table and I’ll have your lunch out in a couple of minutes.” Daniel sputtered at several elements in Miss Julie’s greeting. The only challenge that actually found his voice was, “But, we haven’t ordered yet.” Miss Julie pulled back and twisted her head like a hen taking aim at a juicy worm. “Daniel Lovan, as an officer of the law you of all people should realize we humans are creatures of habit. Considering your mate has been gone for a couple of days, I figure this is the first day of your week. On the first and second day of the week, you both order the exact same thing. First, it’s a grilled chicken caesar salad. The second day, you both order the meatloaf special with mashed potatoes and gravy and succotash. On the third day, you each order from the menu making sure to order something different so you don’t seem to like too many of the same things. On the fourth day, you have meatloaf and Raymond here has the grilled chicken Caesar salad again. On the fifth day, you both order pork chops with applesauce, mac n cheese, and succotash. Then on the first day of the week, you two start over. Habits, they mean just one less thing we have to think about in our daily lives. Let’s face it, who wants to spend time contemplating our next meal. It’s not like you have to go out hunting, stalk it, kill it, gut it, skin it, build a fire, and then cook it. Today, I did all that, just for you.” Aside from having found Miss Julie’s vivid account of ‘olden’ days slightly off-putting, Daniel wanted to be pissed at the idea that he was predictable. It seemed that anytime Miss Julie said something that might be significant she added on some innocuous bit of trivia to sidetrack him from concentrating on what he had just learned. He would have to consider this notion further but suddenly the idea of a grilled chicken salad seemed very appealing. It would not weigh him down and the Caesar salad dressing Miss Julie had was the best anywhere. Before he could say anything Miss Julie had turned and headed for the kitchen and Raymond was heading for their table. Once seated, Daniel asked, “Do you ever think there might be something off about that woman?”. Raymond smiled as a server brought their iced tea. “Not at all. I think most women try to watch what their family eats. Even my mother disapproved of too many sweets. But, then she disapproved of just about everything.” For a moment, Daniel was confused. “No, no, I was talking about Miss Julie. Doesn’t she seem to sometimes say weird things”? Raymond chuckled, “Does the Pope wear a dress? Of course, she says weird things. That’s just Miss Julie. You won’t find a more decent, well-intentioned, human being anywhere. She has saved my bacon on more than one occasion. I can honestly say that I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been back in town and not visited the diner. Come to think of it, I’d have a couple of fingers left over. She means a lot to me. “If you listen carefully to what she says there’s always something that’s personally relevant, encouraging, and meant just for you. Of course, I find most of her advice coming back to me after the fact rather than at the moment it becomes significant. Still, I try to be attentive and trust her guidance. After all, it was she who told us about Raymond Cargill Adams Junior and now he’s on his way.” Daniel raised a doubting eyebrow. “Did you believe her when she said it? I’d forgotten all about her having made that remark until you just mentioned it. Are you going to take her word that the baby is a boy”? Raymond scanned Daniel’s face. “Let’s put it this way. Miss Julie got me taken in by Uncle Joe and Aunt Mellie. She made me feel like I had family here when my own mother never did. She has advised me at times that were crucial to my personal safety and emotional well-being. She encouraged me to go after you even after I had really screwed things up between us. As to our Son, we might not be buying anything blue for a while but you can bet I won’t even consider anything pink until I look between the baby’s legs. Surely you’ve heard? I mean, living here you must have had dealings with her when you were growing up here?”. Daniel shrugged, “I still think she says weird stuff.” Even to Daniels own ears, that remark sounded more like an adolescent than a seasoned lawman. Daniel’s memory flashed back to his youth, to a day when, with friends, he had stopped for ice cream and his buddies wanted to get into some mischief. Miss Julie had said something that made him go home instead. His friends made fun of him until they had to appear in court after being caught vandalizing private property. Suddenly, Daniel felt a little more appreciative of Miss Julie and a whole lot less adolescent. In spite of his strongest objections, Daniel found himself in Raymond’s Tesla along with Tink and Raymond’s two, ubiquitous, bodyguards. He was pleased to realize that the choker cam was working just fine and he was impressed that it allowed for two way communication. Once Dennis was outside the school grounds and Jones was pulling up in a shiny, obviously new, SUV, Tink disabled the speaker on the choker so nothing could be heard that was not intentional. The conversation in the SUV was what was to be expected. Jones pulled into the Walmart parking lot and turned to face Dennis. “Okay kid, here’s the thing. You got one shot at this and you better make it good or there’s no cash, your old man does some serious hard time and I will personally kick your ass from here to Abilene. I mean, I will leave marks on your face that will never heal. You’ll know pain more severe than all the drunks put together that I’ve happily beat the hell out of just for interrupting my evening nap. Some of those guys spent weeks in the hospital. You, kid, may not be so lucky... if you catch my drift.” Jones stared silently at Dennis, making sure that what he had threatened was crystal clear. Dennis gulped and with a sincere quake in his voice stuttered, “Ye, ye, yes, yes sir.” Jones offered a smile that made no attempt at appearing to be sincere. “Good. Now, to show you my heart is in the right place and that the folks appreciate you’re doing the right thing here, take a gander at this. Jones extracted a bundle of cash from the inside pocket of his jacket. He held it out to show Dennis the label read $10,000. Jones fanned through the bills to show they were the real deal. “Kid, you do the right thing and in a few minutes, this will be all yours. Just make sure you hold onto it for a bit before you buy your car. You’ve waited a while now, a couple of weeks won’t make much difference. If you suddenly show up at school in new wheels folks are gonna start asking questions. We don’t want that, now, do we?”. This time Dennis just shook his head. Dennis spent this time with Jones rehearsing answers to questions that he figured the Rangers would ask. Jones was pleased and even complimented Dennis on the emotions that showed up as the boy was questioned. Satisfied at last, Jones headed for the diner. It occurred to Dennis that he wasn’t cut out for a life of crime. His bowels seemed to indicate he would have to excuse himself in mid-holdup to take an urgent dump. As soon as they entered the diner parking lot Dennis let Jones know of his need. Jones said he would wait outside the men’s room just in case Dennis got an urge for his feet to run like his bowels needed to. Dennis was only wishing his choker had an on/off switch. He needed to go bad enough so that even with the possibility of being watched, he didn’t hesitate. After having seen him shit himself this morning this afternoon would offer nothing new. When Dennis exited the men’s room he found Jones in the company of a uniformed, middle-aged, bleach blonde, waitress. She had been saying something to Jones that the man found less than pleasant. She turned to Dennis and smiled in a way that he thought was the way mother’s smiled at children with whom they were well pleased. Miss Julie draped an arm across the young man’s shoulder. “Now, Dennis, I’m nobody’s Mamma but if I was, I’d like to think that my son would be someone just like you. Not perfect, but someone who tries hard to be a good person, inside. Those Rangers are waiting for you, so go in and tell them just like you practiced and everything will be just fine. The next time you come in I’ll have a freshly baked strawberry pie just waiting to be sliced for you and your Daddy.” Jones snarled at the ‘just like you practiced’ remark. Miss Julie ignored him, turned her back to the man, and said, “Follow me.” Dennis was surprised that the Rangers were not challenging his story but simply asked the same questions that Jones had asked in practice. He did notice that both men seemed to question Jones presence. Jones had introduced himself as, “A friend of the family. Just looking out for the boy’s interests.” It was clear to Dennis that these two didn’t hold Jones in any sort of ‘high regard’. They both made their disdain obvious. Before he knew it Dennis was back in the SUV with Jones heading for his Mother’s house. Once they were outside of town and heading to the ranch, Dennis asked, “So what about what you promised?”. Jones snorted, reached inside his jacket and pulled out the money. “Kid, you are a natural born whore. If I wasn’t straight, I’d look for someone like you to keep my pecker happy. Too bad for you, I like pussy. But, I’ll keep you in mind if I run across someone who might think I was doing them a favor by introducing the two of you.” With that, he tossed the bundle into Dennis’ lap. Dennis fumbled but captured the bundle. Chagrined, he offered, “Thanks for this but I was asking about my Dad. When is he going to be released?”. “Kid, I still got influence at the county jail. Your old man will be seeing daylight tomorrow afternoon at the latest. Just be sure you don’t let on that you had anything to do with the charges being dropped.” Dennis thought it strange that he was getting exactly what Jones had promised without destroying a good man’s life. His meeting with Sheriff Lovan made it all too clear the man was just as Dennis had remembered, strong, friendly, self-assured. A man with real integrity. He wished his own Dad could be such a man. Maybe in California, he could be. They were not even halfway home when flashing lights and sirens came screaming up behind them. Jones glanced down at his speedometer, muttered, “Well, fuck me”, and then tried in vain to recognize the unmarked patrol car. There was no doubt they wanted Jones to pull over. So he did. It never occurred to him that he wouldn’t be on his way as soon as he identified himself as the next County Sheriff. To show how professional he was, he pulled out his new registration and his driver’s license. He would be the picture of ‘cooperation’. The Ranger that stepped out of the unmarked patrol car was not someone Jones recognized. He would have been surprised and really pissed if it had been one of the two smug bastards that interviewed the kid. The Ranger stepped up beside the SUV and spoke through the rolled down window, “I need you to step out of the vehicle, sir.” Jones was shocked. “What’s the problem Ranger?…” Looking down at the nametag Jones added, “Ranger Bedford.” “Just step out of the car, sir.” Jones opened the door and began, “Do you recognize me? I’m gonna be the next Sheriff of this county. I need to know what this is all about. I’m sure we can clear this up without involving your superiors.” Ranger Bedford ignored Jones. “Turn around and put your hands on the vehicle. Are you armed or have any dangerous weapons on your person or in your vehicle?” Jones, still the epitome of cooperation, turned and placed his hands on his vehicle. “Ranger Bedford, if you just make a call we can clear this up right away.” It was at this point that Jones noticed that Ranger Bedford was working with a partner who had his hand on his sidearm in a very ‘ready posture’. The light was beginning to illuminate within Jones' brain. Something was going terribly wrong. Ranger Bedford hadn’t responded, he began patting Jones down and relieved him of a waistband holster and an ankle holster. Both guns were loaded and with rounds chambered. Luckily for him, Jones realization was slow in forming. Ranger Bedford breathed an audible sigh of relief once he had Jones handcuffed. His partner approached Dennis’ side of the vehicle and tapped on the window. Once Dennis lowered the window the Ranger simply asked, “Are you okay”? Dennis nodded affirmatively. The Ranger then said, “Good. Just wait here until someone comes to get you. Don’t get out of the vehicle until you’re told to do so.” He didn’t wait for a response before turning his attention to his partner. Meanwhile on the other side of the vehicle Ranger Bedford was addressing his prisoner, “Mr. Jones you are under arrest for conspiracy to commit slander and false imprisonment and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, child endangerment, aiding and abetting sexual assault against a youth under the age of fourteen and failure to report such abuse. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney during any questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed by the court. Do you understand your rights, Mr. Jones?”. Jones exploded, “What the fuck do you mean, I’m under arrest! That piece of shit Lovan is the one you should be arresting. He forced the kid to suck his cock, not me. I ain’t no fag. You got the wrong man! I’m innocent I tell ya.” At this point, the Rangers exchanged a look and burst out laughing. It was too funny that a career law enforcement officer would run through the most common cliches they encountered when a ‘solid citizen’ was confronted with the inconceivable notion of his/her being arrested. Dennis had been watching quietly from the passenger seat. Before the Rangers had Jones in the back seat of the patrol car, two other cop cars with flashing lights pulled up behind their patrol car. Sheriff Lovan got out of one and the tall State Trooper, Sergeant Wilson, got out of the other. Both men approached his door. Sheriff Lovan spoke first, “You okay Dennis?”. Dennis wasn’t sure what was going on. He half expected to be arrested right along with Jones. People didn’t generally care if Dennis Crowder was ‘okay’, now two had asked within five minutes. When he looked up into the Sheriff’s face he saw the man was actually concerned about how he was handling the situation. “I’m okay.” He took the bundle of cash from between his legs and handed it to the Sheriff. Daniel passed it on to Sergeant Wilson who proceeded to count out the money to verify it was indeed $10,000. Daniel looked back at the still irate Jones obviously trying to convince the Rangers of his innocence. Daniel could hear a word or two as the man yelled about how there was going to be payback once this mess was cleared up. One Ranger was entering data into the computer while the other was on the radio. Neither man paid Jones the least bit of attention. Daniel turned back to Dennis. “Do we need to let your folks know where you are and that you’re okay?”. “Naw, uh, no Sir.” Dennis looked down at his hands laying in his lap. My mother is probably down at the church doing something to guarantee her a spot in heaven. She’s way too busy with ‘the Lord’s work’ to worry about her ‘misbegotten issue’. Grandpa’s still at work and likely will be until nine o’clock or so. He just eats whatever Mom leaves out for him and goes to bed. He’s really busy at the ranch lately. I mostly take care of myself.” Looking up to meet Daniel’s eyes, Dennis asked, “What about my Dad? Mr. Jones said the charges would be dropped and he would be free tomorrow. We talked about moving to California so he could work on a friend’s ranch. It’d be a fresh start for both of us. I think grandpa would be okay with it and Mom would likely be glad to see the last of me.” “I hate to say this but your Dad is in jail for no reason. Seems like the bar owner was in yesterday stating that your father tried to prevent a fight his brother insisted on starting. The fellow who your Uncle attacked verified that your father was dragging your Uncle away when your Uncle sucker punched him and proceeded to break this other fellows jaw. Your Dad should never have been locked up. I think the initial mistake is understandable given your Dad’s arrest record. His being kept even after the bartender came to the jail and swore he was innocent is something I have to investigate. I suspect Jones may have some cronies at the jail still looking out for his interests.” Dennis nodded and said, “Mr. Jones said he had some connections or something like that. He was certain he could get my Dad out by tomorrow at the latest.” “Well, Son, I think it wasn’t that he could get your Dad out of jail, it was more like he couldn’t keep in him ‘in jail’ after tomorrow. That’s why I have to find out who did this and if it was an honest mistake or if someone intentionally kept an innocent man locked up. “In any case, your Dad should be out now. I’ve asked that they take him to the diner and have him wait there for you. I figured he’s seen all the county facilities he can stand for a while. Miss Julie knows to feed him good and to bill me for it.” “Thanks, Sheriff. I guess my Dad will have heard what this is all about by now. I was gonna come out to him before we headed out to California so if he didn’t want a gay son he could go out there alone. I hate to think about what my mother will say. It goes against everything she says she believes in but I think she just wants to be part of the crowd and says a lot of stuff to just fit in, kind of like the kids at school. She sure don’t live like she believes in any of the ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ kind of stuff. She hates all minorities. She insists that Jesus was a white man who just happened to have had long hair only because barbers weren’t available and he wore sandals because those were the only shoes available. I once made the mistake of saying he dressed like a transvestite and she grounded me for a month. She’s convinced that saying that was enough to guarantee me a seat in hell. I guess her bad mouthing our neighbors is allowed. Anyway, I still haven’t figured out how my Dad talked her into having sex the one time I was made. She seems so dead set against the whole idea of sex. She warned me that I would go blind or go insane if I played with myself. That was when I was nine. If she knew I was gay she’d probably send me to some ‘pray the gay away’ camp or just kick me out. It makes me thankful that her church doesn’t go in for human sacrifice, yet.” Dennis released a heavy sigh and looked around as though he was surprised he had talked as freely as he had. He had never told anyone some of the things he had just shared. Daniel felt an affinity for Dennis’s situation. It was almost a tale Raymond could have told. They both had strong-willed, ultra-religious mothers, and absentee fathers. Although, Raymond would have certainly envied Dennis for still having his father, even if he was showing up 16 years late. Daniel vowed to have a heart-to-heart with Dennis’ father. To maintain the integrity of the investigation Daniel was never alone with Dennis. When the convoy of legal vehicles headed back to town, Dennis rode in the front seat of Sergeant Wilson’s patrol car. He even got to turn on the flashing lights and the really obnoxious low pitched squawking siren. Once Dennis had given his statement and was allowed to leave, Raymond drove him over to the diner where the boy's father was waiting. When they pulled into the parking lot, Raymond had the guards step outside while he spoke to Dennis alone. Dennis was a bit nervous since he had thought his troubles were pretty much over. Raymond noted the concerned look and tried to calm the boy, “Dennis, you have nothing to worry about. You did the right thing and Jones will be in jail and never be a law enforcement officer again. He’ll find it hard doing time because no convict likes a former cop. They just don’t get along very well. You have a lot to look forward to. Your Dad has a job lined up with a ranch in California that is looking forward to his arrival. There’s a furnished house waiting and a part-time job for you if you want. Daniel, that is, Sheriff Lovan and I thought you deserved the money Jones was going to pay you. It’ll help you get a car. Once you finish high school a very low-interest loan will be arranged by the ranch to help you earn your degree. I think you’ll find the payment plan very appealing.” With that Raymond handed over a packet very similar to the one that Jones had given Dennis only hours before. Raymond turned and got out of the SUV. “Your Dad is inside waiting for you with some good news about California. Try to act surprised when he tells you all the details I just shared. Dennis didn’t say anything, he just turned and started walking toward the diner’s entrance. Suddenly he turned and ran back to Raymond and threw himself into a crushing embrace. Raymond patted the boy on the back as the kid clung to him. Shortly, Dennis released his grip on the big man and silently headed to the diner, to a much brighter future, and of course, to a slice of freshly baked strawberry pie. Raymond felt somewhat nostalgic as he watched the lonely teenager head into the diner. He shook his head to clear the memories from a lifetime ago. He called the guards back over and they headed for home. He could foresee a long, drawn out, evening for Daniel. He texted his love and told his mate he would see him when he got home. He would ask Runt to leave his dinner warming in the oven. By the time Raymond got home the news was already being broadcast that the Republican candidate for County Sheriff had been arrested on charges of conspiracy, aiding and abetting sexual congress with a child under fourteen, child endangerment and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Even to Raymond’s professional eye, it appeared that the news was saying that Jones had molested some kid under the age of fourteen. Already the local Republicans were calling for a delay on the upcoming election. Daniel came in at just past ten. Raymond was not surprised to learn that Jones lawyer, Sam McMurtry, had found a judge to set bail and Jones was again a free man. McMurtry had refused to answer questions as they exited the County Jail. He had said only that a press conference would be held the following morning at a time and place to be announced after he had time to discuss these ridiculous, unfounded, and obviously politically motivated allegations with his innocent client. It had been a busy day and Daniel was exhausted. His emotions had peaked early and kept elevating until it was clear that the case against Jones was rock solid. After a bite to eat they stripped off and lay together in bed just holding each other without words. Eventually, Raymond began massaging his lover’s tight muscles without, even once, allowing his raging hard-on to make contact with his lover’s skin. Daniel fell into a blissful sleep that Raymond envied even after he had quietly jacked off in the bathroom. Whether sleep came in a blissful fog or in a slow surrender, both men were awakened by the ungodly ringing of Daniel’s phone at 4:15 AM. The Deputy on the other end had some disturbing news. The local police had been called to what turned out to be Jones’ apartment. The door was standing open and Jones had been found dead on his kitchen floor. He was naked, with his hands and feet bound together. His genitals had been severed, stuffed into his mouth, and his throat had been cut. The coroner had advised the Deputy that blood patterns indicated the severed penis and testicles had most likely been cut off sometime before the final killing stroke that almost severed the victims head.
  17. 50 points
    September 14, 2003 Goodwell, VA Wade It was hard to imagine being more exhausted than I was right now. The preparation for yesterday’s meeting, hosting everyone, then the drama of having the attack force advancing on Goodwell, would have been tiring enough. But after the helicopters arrived, everyone had hurried to the Great Room to see what was going on. That meant we had to explain what had happened, what was currently happening, and what was probably going to happen. After that, we had to have lengthy conversations about it. No sooner had that been completed than we’d had interviews with the FBI as they worked to identify who exactly was attacking us. And now it was morning, and we were destined to have yet another meeting. I walked into the library, stifling a yawn as I did. I was surprised to see Alex looking chipper, and pretty much like his normal self. That was quite the contrast from the disintegrating puddle of a person he’d been yesterday. My mother looked pensive, which was probably not good, while everyone else seemed to be fighting a combination of shock and relief. “Good morning,” I lied. “I would like to take this opportunity to wish Will a happy birthday. He’s seventeen now.” “Thanks,” he said. It seemed like he’d been older than that for years now, so having him actually turn seventeen was almost a letdown. “I get to share my birthday with Riley.” “That’s very nice,” Mother said, then got serious. “What’s our status? What is going on?” “They estimate that we were attacked by a force of five men,” Jake said. “It’s important to note that that’s an estimate. I would have guessed six.” “How many did they kill or capture?” JP asked. “Three,” Jake responded. “That means that there are probably at least two other men out there, and these are trained fighters, so they are very dangerous.” Everyone looked around nervously, as if they would come bursting through the windows, machine gunning us all, at any minute. “We have adequate security at the moment, but it is probably not wise for us to remain here until they either catch the other men, or flush them out of the area,” I said. “I’ve made arrangements for us to leave in about an hour.” “I’ll need to pack,” Mother said. “In a minute,” I told her. “We will need to establish what happened, and what is happening, then we can devise a plan to deal with it. All of that can’t happen today.” “Well, then we shall have to converse again at some future point,” the Duke said. “Do they know who the attackers were?” Brad asked. “The men who were captured appear to be Latinos,” Jake said, which didn’t surprise any of us, especially after we’d heard them speaking Spanish last night. “Their country of origin is still unknown. The FBI suspects they are mercenaries hired by a cartel, and that means they probably had some guerilla warfare training in Central America.” “I think before we leave, it is very important that we express our gratitude to Jake Pike and the men he hired,” I said. “His deduction that there was a risk to us, and the quick steps he took to set up our security team, undoubtedly saved our lives.” “Really?” Mother asked. “Really,” I said firmly. “I was in the control room, and I watched the relentless advance of this group. They took out our sophisticated electronic devices, and tried to cut off our men from the house. And when one of the men was wounded, his cohort shot him so he wouldn’t be able to talk. That is how ruthless they are.” That got stunned looks from the room. “Then I am indeed most appreciative of your intuitive abilities, and your quick work,” the Duke said. He got up and shook Jake’s hand, setting a precedent for the rest of us to follow. Everyone got up in turn and shook Jake’s hand, except for Will and Brad, who gave him man hugs. “I want to suggest that you consider improving security here,” Jake said. “I would have told you that even before this incident.” “We haven’t needed it,” I said, “but it is probably a good idea.” “Think about this,” Jake said, a note of caution in his voice. “The attack last night failed miserably, but only because we were ready for them. If the guys I brought in hadn’t done what they did, they may very well have murdered everyone in this house. With my guys here, it was impossible for them to advance fast enough to achieve their goals before the alarm was given and outside help came.” “And as we noted, we are grateful for your help,” the Duke said, evidently thinking Jake was merely crowing about his achievement. “What I’m saying is that they were expecting Goodwell to have the kind of security it had before, and if that had been the case, they would have breezed right past it,” he reiterated. “But what I’m also saying is that they clearly had no idea we were onto their game.” “That could be a very dangerous assumption,” Mother said. Jake certainly had her attention. “That assault was a very costly failure for them, one I’d think was almost a disaster,” he said. “They wouldn’t have done that just as a gesture.” “I would think they’d assign little value to the lives of the men they lost,” Alex noted. “You would be wrong about that,” Jake said. “Those kinds of trained soldiers are very valuable, and a relatively limited commodity. But it’s worse than that, because when whoever paid them next goes to hire people like that, they’ll find their credibility in question. And think of what they’ve done. They’ve launched an attack on one of America’s oldest historic homes and America’s oldest families. You don’t think the FBI will be all over this?” “That makes sense,” Brad agreed, even as he thought about it. “It’s an embarrassment for them and their drug task force,” Jake said. “People will be asking: How did they let cartels operate a commando group in the US?” “So you are suggesting that because they lost three men, failed to achieve their objectives, successfully diminished their ability to recruit trained mercenaries, and invited the wrath of American law enforcement, they have incurred a devastating defeat?” JP asked for clarity. “That is what I’m saying,” Jake confirmed. “And you are hypothesizing that they must not have known we were somewhat aware and alert about their enmity, otherwise they would not have risked such a calamity?” “I am,” he said. “I would then point out that if you are right, they will now credit us with being much more informed,” Mother said. “Surprise will not necessarily be on our side in the future.” “That is probably the case,” I agreed. “In any event, if we are to get you all safely off to your destinations, I must give you time to go pack.” “We will have to plan for a follow up meeting,” JP reminded me. “We’ll work on that,” Brad promised, taking that burden off of me. “So we are to pack up and go home?” Alex asked, just for clarity. “That is my suggestion,” I said with a smile. “But you are always welcome here.” “Thank you for that, Wade. I am planning to stay in the US for a bit, but I probably will stay elsewhere, at least for this trip.” “It is most unwise for you to stay here after the carnage we have witnessed. Remember, Alex, that some of those men are still in the environs, and that you are most likely one of their key targets,” the Duke objected. “You are welcome to come back, but you should focus on your safety, and return to England with us.” “I hardly think the entire state is dangerous, and I would not let some miscreants scare me away, in any event,” Alex said firmly, showing some real courage, both in staying in the area, and in standing up to the Duke. “And what are you risking your life for?” the Duke asked imperiously. “I am going to go see my mother,” he announced. “I’ll fly back after that.” “If you want me to go with you, I will,” Mary Ellen said, which was pretty sweet of her, since I could tell she was ready to go back to England immediately. “It would be wonderful to have your company, but I would feel so much better if you were back in England with Ricky,” he said to her lovingly. “Alex, perhaps you would like to stay with me in the capital?” Mother asked. “My home is quite secure, and I would be able to help you track down your mother.” Mary Ellen and I looked at each other and cringed when she mentioned the security at her compound. It was a jail for those on the inside, and a fortress facing those on the outside. “That sounds like an excellent plan,” Alex said smoothly. “Thank you for your hospitality.” “It is most certainly my pleasure,” Mother said. “I must go pack.” That served to empty the room of her, Alex, the Duke, Nana, and Mary Ellen. I walked over and closed the door behind them, then turned back to talk to JP, Jake, Matt, Tiffany, Stef, and Will. “I think my mother is plotting to have Lord Preston killed.” “What makes you think that?” Brad asked. “I heard her on the phone yesterday, telling someone to ‘take him out’,” I said. “She gave me some ridiculous explanation as to what she was talking about, but based on her reaction in our meeting last night, I’m pretty sure she was talking about him.” “As long as he is alive, Alex and Ricky will be endangered,” JP said. “Why?” Matt asked. “I thought Lord Preston was the one who was holding his wife back?” “If Lord and Lady Preston find out that Alex’s mother is still alive, and that their existing children are bastards, one solution would be to ensure that their marriage is legal and to have another child,” JP noted. “You think they don’t know she’s alive?” I asked, even as I pondered that. “I cannot believe that they do,” JP said. “Why would they go through all of this effort, knowing there’s a loose end out there that could derail everything?” “So you’re suggesting that if Lord Preston dies, Lady Preston will find that she has two of his children, but they are bastards, and there really isn’t much she can do about it?” I asked. “Possibly,” JP said. “I wonder if there’s a way around that?” Matt asked. We looked at him, confused. “I wonder if there’s a way they could still make sure their marriage was legal?” “I believe there is some requirement for the parties to believe they are in a legal marriage,” Jake said. “It may be possible to claim ignorance and avoid having it declared illegal.” “I wonder if Lord Preston would be more useful alive than dead in that case?” Stef asked. “We’ll have to think about that,” Brad noted. “In any event, if your mother has given the order to have him ‘taken out’, I’m not sure there’s anything we should or could do to save him.” “In the meantime, we’ve taken extra security measures to help us leave this place,” I said. “Jake’s men will escort our groups to the airport.” “Is it possible that someone could ambush our plane?” Will asked, thinking of other ways they could get to us. “I mean, if they’re looking for us, it’s a pretty big target.” “Security at and around the airport has been increased,” Brad explained. “We’ll be fine.” Darius gave Will a smarmy look, as if he’d been a pussy for asking about the plane’s security in the first place, and Will glared back at him, so that served to send the rest of them off to get ready to leave as well. Within half an hour, I heard the all too familiar noise of a helicopter; only in this case, it was only the jet copter I’d hired to fly our British-bound passengers to New York. The craft arrived and took Nana, Mary Ellen, and the Duke off to catch the next Concorde. Almost as soon as the helicopter left, the big Suburban limousine pulled up to take JP, Stef, Brad, Will, Jake, and Darius to the airport. There was another vehicle there as well, only this one contained a driver and Ramon, who would ride along with the big Suburban to ensure it wasn’t ambushed. That, in turn, was followed by another car to take Alex and my mother back to the capital and a similar escort car with Joe along for security. Once they got back to DC, Alex could presumably work on finding his mother, and my mother could work on saving her tattered reputation. I somehow found time to meet with the staff and calm them down before the Suburban returned from the airport, only to compel it to turn around and take us to the airport. I was truly relieved when I was able to drag my tired ass out to the vehicle and head back to Boston with Matt, Tiffany, Riley, and Maddy. “Dude, I think that next time we have a family event, we should just have it in Boston,” Matt said. “Goodwell is like a curse.” I laughed at that. “This meeting may end up having a happy ending,” I said. “I’d prefer not to end up in a war zone again,” Tiffany said icily. “So would I,” I agreed. “Let’s put that behind us and focus on celebrating Riley’s birthday.” I’d said that last line cheerfully and enthusiastically, even as I begged my body for enough energy reserves to get through it without falling asleep. September 14, 2003 Charlottesville, VA Brad We were all nervous as we boarded Stef’s plane, wondering if there was a bomb on board, or if a surface to air missile would come soaring after us as we took off. We said very little, just buckled ourselves in and waited with bated breath as the plane took off. It wasn’t until we reached 10,000 feet that the tension began to ease, and when it did, it was replaced by exhaustion. “I’m thinking that we should take a nap, and then we can talk about this when we get back,” I suggested. “You can have my bedroom,” Stef said. “JP rarely sleeps much anyway, and I am doing just fine.” “Thanks, Stef,” I said. “I’m going to pass that offer on to Will, though. It is his birthday.” “I’ll let you have the big bedroom as long as you share it with Jake,” Will said, smirking at me. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s got a deal,” Jake said. “We’ll see you in a while,” I said, shaking my head at my son and his attempts to get me laid. I led Jake back to Stef’s palatial bedroom, and he immediately began stripping off his clothes. I was wondering if he was going to get completely naked, so I went more slowly, letting him set the pace. When he kept his boxers on, so did I. “Thanks for sharing,” Jake said. “This is pretty nice.” “It is,” I said. He got in on one side and I got in on the other, making me chuckle to myself, thinking we were going to bed just like an old married couple. “You were magnificent this weekend.” “I wasn’t the only one,” he said. He leaned in and kissed me gently, then curled up against my side and laid his head on my chest. I usually liked to be in that position after I had sex with someone, because that’s when I felt the most vulnerable, so I decided to project that onto him and assume he was relying on me to give him some much-needed security after all we’d dealt with last night. I was wondering if he wanted me to fuck him, then I heard his soft snores, and that was a little deflating, to think he must not have even thought about sex while I was here, laboring in my mind about it. My ruminations ended shortly after that when I fell asleep too. I was woken up when a hand poked at my shoulder. I looked up to find Will smiling down at us. “Doesn’t smell like sex in here.” “It doesn’t,” I confirmed. My voice, resonating through my chest and into Jake’s head, woke him up. “We’re landing in about half an hour. Thought you’d want some time to wake up,” he said. “Thanks,” I said, and then he left us alone. “You make a nice pillow,” Jake said, even as he kissed my nipple. “I was so tired, not even having your sexy body almost on top of me could keep me awake,” I told him. “I should probably head up to the City,” he said. “I haven’t been home in forever.” I couldn’t hide my disappointment. “I was hoping you could stay in Palo Alto, at least for tonight.” “Why?” “Well, it’s Will’s birthday, and he’d like it if you were around,” I said, playfully dodging his real question. “We probably need to spend some time talking about all of this shit, and planning our next moves.” “And?” he asked suggestively. “I liked sleeping with you,” I said honestly. “I liked sleeping with you too,” he said. Ironically enough, that seemed to be our cue to get up and put our clothes back on. “I’m sorry I bailed on you,” he said. “What are you talking about?” “On 9-11,” he said. “I should have stuck around.” “Why didn’t you?” I asked. “I threw some serious shit at you the night before,” he said. “I wanted to give you some space to think about it.” I smiled at him and kissed him again, even as my feelings for him swelled. “I was wondering if that’s what you were doing. I told Stef that if you did that, it was a really nice and thoughtful thing to do.” “I also had another errand to take care of, and I got that done while I was in DC,” he said. He handed me a piece of paper, and based on the letterhead, it was from a medical clinic. It delineated all the tests they’d given him, tests for STDs. “You went and got tested?” I asked stupidly, as that should have been evident from the paper he handed me. “I got your point, why this would freak you out, and you were right,” he said. “I don’t’ want you to feel pressured or anything. It was just a precaution.” “You were plotting to sleep with me,” I accused. “I’ve been doing that since I met Will that first time,” he said. “That’s no secret.” “I didn’t realize I was that tough to fuck,” I joked, getting a laugh from him, and then he got serious. “You’re more than just a fuck.” That got him a nice kiss. “And by the way, the tests were negative.” “That’s really good news,” I said, and felt my hormones starting to rise. “I talked to Jack about your condition.” He frowned at me, because that was pretty personal information. “He’s a doctor. He won’t talk to anyone about it.” “So did he tell you I was full of shit?” he asked defensively. “No, but he does want you to come see him when you can,” I said. “So he can run tests and determine if I’m really immune to HIV?” he asked, getting really bitchy. “No,” I said firmly. “He wants to set you up with a neurologist, to see if they can help you out with your other problem. He says they’ve made a lot of advances in that field over the past few years.” “Really?” he asked. I could see the hope in his eyes, something I, or probably any man, could understand. “Really,” I said. “Personally, I’m not sure it’s such a good thing.” “Why?” “Because I like that you’re a bottom. If you become a top again, that’s going to make things a little tougher,” I told him playfully, even though it probably wouldn’t be an issue. “I thought you were versatile,” he said. “If this works, we’ll find out if that’s true.” “I haven’t even fucked you yet, so don’t you think that’s a little premature?” I asked. “That will happen as soon as we get home,” he said, winking at me, and then he went out into the main cabin. I followed him, but he’d gotten me so horny, it was all I could do to make myself interact normally with everyone. We said little in the car on the way home, and once we got to Escorial, I snuck in through the back entry and led him in a roundabout route to my room, one that avoided everyone. “Made it,” I said, even as I locked the door behind us. “You’ve obviously done this before,” Jake said. “What?” “Snuck men into your room,” he said. “None as exciting as you,” I said. I kissed him again, and this time, neither one of us broke it off. We connected with our mouths so beautifully, it was surreal. Then almost instinctively we separated and took off our clothes in a slow, deliberate way, while totally focusing our eyes on each other. I got to take in his amazing chest, his washboard abs, his dick that wasn’t hard but was plumping, and his sexy legs. I pulled down my pants, then my underwear, and stood in front of him nervously, as if on display, even as my cock stuck straight out in front of me. “Holy shit,” he said, as he stared at my big cock, making me chuckle. “Dude, this is like a dream come true.” “We’ll see if you think that when I’m fucking you,” I said in a sultry way. He walked up to me and dropped to his knees, all but inhaling me with his mouth, and that was pretty awesome, because most guys couldn’t suck a dick as big as mine without letting me feel some teeth. Not Jake. He had this down. I pulled him up and led him to the bed, and guided us into a 69 position with me on my back, and him on top. I felt his mouth return to my cock and moaned, and then I dove into that perfect, muscular ass of his. I licked and probed him first with my tongue, then with a finger, and then I added some lube and pushed two fingers in. It’s as if that was his signal to move things forward. He took the lube from me and slathered some on my cock, then rotated himself so he was kneeling over me. In an incredibly slow and sexy way, he lowered himself down onto me. I felt my dick pressing against his hole, felt the resistance, and then with a slight ‘pop’, it was through. His ass absorbed me, and it was amazing. I thought about all the guys I’d been with, all the guys I’d topped, but none of them was like Jake. None of them could handle me so well, well enough to fully enjoy me, while still having a muscular enough ass to truly make it not just feel good, but to make it fun. He had some endurance, and I was worried that I’d get off long before him, but he expertly worked to help us make it last. Finally, in what was one of my more amazing orgasms, we came together, and after we were done panting, he pulled me to his chest and gently stroked my hair. I felt safe, I felt loved, and I felt satisfied in a way that I hadn’t felt since Robbie had died. September 14, 2003 Escorial, CA Will I heard my alarm clock go off, and smacked it a little too hard, so annoyed was I that I had to get up. My violent effort didn’t work, since I’d missed the button to turn it off and it kept blaring at me. Since it was 5:30, I hit the snooze button instead, luxuriating in lounging in bed and doing nothing for nine minutes until it went off again. I got up and took a shower, letting the water wake me up and revitalize me. Since it was my birthday, and after all the shit we’d dealt with in Virginia, I figured this would probably be a big-deal dinner, so I spent some time working on my hair, and I dressed nicely for a typical Sunday dinner at Escorial. I opted for the classic look, with gray slacks with a blue blazer, and decided to skip the tie since I’d done my hair in a more relaxed way. I smiled at my reflection in the mirror, at how that casual touch made me look so much better. When we’d gone to those events in New York, I’d had my hair gelled firmly into shape in a more slicked back look; but today I’d put in just enough product to keep it from going completely out of control, and it was so much more ‘me’. I walked up to the dining room and there were a lot of places set up. Since it was a big crowd, I figured there would be names indicating where people were sitting, and that was indeed the case. I walked around the table, and there were about four names I didn’t recognize, which was just a little confusing. I shrugged, and since I was early, I went out onto the courtyard. There was a staff member waiting to make me a drink, and there were several hot guys there, and that sparked my memory and explained those strange names. I’d forgotten that this was the time of year when we usually housed hockey players who were in town early for practices. They were all dressed nicely, wearing what they’d call their “rink gear”, clothes they’d wear when they were playing a game. “Hey!” Gathan said, and came over to give me a big hug. “Happy birthday!” “Thanks,” I said. “It’s good to see you! You brought friends with you.” Chris Kilpatrick, this guy who everyone called Klip, had walked up right behind Gathan. “I don’t know if you’d call us friends,” Klip joked as he pointed at Gathan. He shook my hand, but I frowned at him and stared at our hands, making him roll his eyes and give me a hug. “Happy birthday!” “I want you for my present,” I joked, even though I’d jump on this guy any day: he was a total god. I’d always thought he could easily model and I was right. On our trip to New York, JJ had shown me the latest Abercrombie and Fitch ad. There was this new young model in there, a guy named Trevor Donovan, who could be a dead ringer for Klip. “It’s probably time you learn you can’t always get what you want,” he said, cracking me up. “This is my little brother, Dillon.” I changed my focus to this guy who was with him, and just about shit a brick: this dude was amazingly hot. He looked like Klip, with the same basic facial features, and the same blue eyes, only his blond hair had a slightly redder tinge to it. I cringed internally when I thought it was close to the same shade as Buzz Dalby’s had been. I glanced at his left eye and noticed the black ring around it, the mark of someone who had probably gotten into a fight and had a shiner as a result. Dillon had a lithe, fit body as opposed to Klip, who was a lot bigger now that he was older. I searched my memory banks for visions of Klip as a freshman, and Dillon was pretty much like that. I grinned internally when I thought having both of them there in front of me gave me a prime idea of what Dillon would look like in a few years. Dillon was a few inches shorter than me, so probably about six feet tall. He was wearing a suit that was kind of tacky, and didn’t fit him very well. Not only that, it was some weird shade of brown that was pretty awful. I’d been staring at him, saying nothing as I’d totally checked him out, and that had made him nervous and embarrassed me. “Nice to meet you,” I said awkwardly, and shook his hand. It was weird, because when our hands connected, I could almost feel energy flowing between us. “Nice to meet you too,” he said shyly, looking down. Then he looked up, and our eyes met even as we were shaking hands, and the connection between us got really intense. He looked away, and I opted to bring in some humor to try and hide my embarrassment over how lame I was acting with this guy. “Dude, you do not look little,” I said to Dillon with a smile, making him chuckle. “I’m not,” he said, raising his eyebrow to flirt with me. His voice was so deep and melodic it was almost intoxicating. I love deep voices, and when this guy spoke, he just about turned me into a lusting pool of Jell-O. His blue eyes sparkled as he talked to me, but his most attractive feature was his mouth. It almost looked like he’d gotten a few collagen injections because his lips were a bit puffy, but that was because they looked like they were almost at a 45 degree angle to his face, and that gave the impression that they were big. They were almost pointy where they intercepted his face, and when they were relaxed, they opened slightly, exposing a glimpse of his two front teeth. His teeth were straight, but there was a slightly larger than normal gap between them. I thought that made him seem genuine, so even though he had these beautiful features, that slight imperfection in his teeth announced that this was not a surgically generated face. “Come say hi to the rest of the guys,” Gathan said, being a good host, but cock blocking me. I wanted to stay and talk to this guy, but Gathan had killed the mood. I wandered around with Gathan and greeted the other guys; most of whom I’d met, and took some time to chat with the two freshmen that were new to me. They were so funny, the way they were all nervous and freaking out, but that’s how the players had been every year the first time they’d been to Escorial. I got that. I knew this was a big house and that this could be intimidating to them. I put on my most charming façade and did what I could to help them relax, but even as I’d talked to everyone else, I’d found my eyes constantly going back to Dillon, and most of the time I looked at him, he was looking at me.
  18. 49 points
    August 1800 HMS Valiant Near Hellebæk, Denmark “Almost dawn,” Meurice said to one of his mates. Once again the officers and crew stood to quarters waiting for the sun to rise and reveal what awaited them. This was a major trading route, though, so the officers of Valiant stood on the quarterdeck with more than the normal amount of tension. It was entirely possible that the next few minutes would reveal a large merchantman less than a cable’s length away from them, charging at them like an angry bull. Fortunately, the sun rose to reveal nothing more dangerous than a few coasters some distance away. “Mr. Weston, you may dismiss the hands from quarters and get us back on course. Due south,” Granger ordered. “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. Granger began to pace the deck even as he subconsciously noted the activity around him. His senses were finely tuned to Valiant, so he could do this without anyone being aware of his scrutiny. In fact, they would only find out when their captain, with his evident eagle eye, pointed out something wrong that they had missed. “My lord, there appears to be a lugger headed toward us,” Grenfell said, interrupting his walk and his thoughts. “Indeed?” Granger asked, as stopped pacing and pulled his head out of his prior thoughts. “My lord, the lugger has raised a parley flag above Danish colors,” Llewellyn said. “Please raise a parley flag over our colors as well,” Granger ordered. The two ships closed rapidly: the wind was fair for Valiant, while the lugger had the ability to sail into the wind at a good pace. Granger waited until they were quite close, and then ordered Valiant to heave to. The Danish lugger hove to as soon as Valiant did, clearly mimicking her maneuver. “She’s lowering a boat, my lord,” Travers called. “Looks to be that same lieutenant aboard.” “Let us prepare to receive him,” Granger said affably. He waited patiently on the quarterdeck while the boat was hailed, and smiled broadly as Lieutenant van Hjelmeland pulled himself through the entry port. “What a pleasure to see you again, Lieutenant.” “The pleasure is certainly mine, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said. “Your colleagues were able to travel easily to Copenhagen, and have been accommodated there.” “Thank you for relaying that news to me,” Granger said. “Would you care to join me in my cabin for some refreshments?” “With pleasure,” he said. Granger led him to his cabin, to the quarter galley with its comfortable leather chairs, and poured them both a glass of wine. “This is excellent wine, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said. “It was a gift from a friend of mine who got it in France,” Granger said. “I have brought you some letters, but there is one that I must deliver to you personally, my lord,” he said. He handed Granger a packet, then one individual letter, addressed to The Right Honorable Viscount Granger, commanding His Britannic Majesty’s Ship Valiant. “Since this is obviously important, you will pardon me if I open it at once?” Granger asked. “It is from His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said. “He outranks me.” The charming young man grinned as he said that. “He outranks me as well,” Granger said with a smile. He opened the letter and was quite surprised by its contents. My lord, His Royal Highness has been pleased to learn that you are in His Danish Majesty’s waters. Your reputation as a distinguished sailor, and one who has navigated around the world, has intrigued His Royal Highness such that he has commanded me to request that you visit him at Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen, provided that is consistent with your current duties and responsibilities. The bearer of this letter can guide you safely to harbor. Count Bernstorff “His Royal Highness has invited me to call on him,” Granger said to van Hjelmeland, something he most likely knew. “That is quite an honor, begging your pardon, my lord,” the lieutenant responded. “Indeed it is,” Granger agreed. He wanted to read the other letters to see if Whitworth, Daventry, and Cavendish thought it was a good idea for him to sail blithely into Copenhagen, but to do that seemed to smack of weakness. In addition, to not immediately agree to call on the Crown Prince could be perceived as an insult at a time when Britain had few friends in these waters. “I am told you are to guide us.” “I am pleased be of assistance, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said. “Then let us get underway,” Granger said politely. He led the Danish lieutenant back to the quarterdeck. “Mr. Weston, we have been invited to visit Copenhagen. Lieutenant van Hjelmeland will guide us to our anchorage.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. “I will leave it to you gentlemen to get us on course, while I read the latest communiqués Lieutenant van Hjelmeland has brought me,” Granger said. “Of course, my lord,” Weston said. Granger went back to his cabin, even as he felt Valiant’s motion change as she got underway again. He had three letters, one each from Whitworth, Daventry, and Cavendish. Although quite different in style, they all three strongly recommended that he accept the Crown Prince’s invitation. Granger returned to the quarterdeck and joined Weston and van Hjelmeland as Valiant made her way toward the Sound. “That is Kronborg Castle, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said, gesturing toward a fortress that stood on the Danish side of the Kattegat, guarding the narrowest entrance to the Baltic Sea. “It is sometimes known to you English as Elsinore.” “It is quite imposing,” Granger said, even as he eyed this structure that Shakespeare had immortalized in Hamlet. His military eye was more tuned in, though, and if the fortress were equipped with large caliber cannon, it would make forcing this passage most unpleasant. Granger looked across the water to the Swedish city of Helsingborg, and was glad to note there was no corresponding fort on the Swedish side. If there were, and they were working together, traversing through this narrow strait would be a challenge even for a fleet. As soon as they passed Elsinore, Granger was alarmed to see three Danish 74-gun ships of the line moored across the entrance, forming all but a blockade. He was unsure as to the capabilities of the guns of Elsinore, but he was much more able to assess the power of these ships. “These ships are not always moored here, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said. “They have been placed here with news of the arrival of your fleet.” “They appear to be in a peaceful mood today, a fact I am most glad of,” Granger said with a smile. “You have nothing to worry about, in any event, my lord,” he responded. “You are a guest of the Crown Prince Regent.” “And knowing that, I have no fears for my safety,” Granger said, even though he had to bite back his nervousness as Valiant approached those formidable Danish broadsides. The Danish ships appeared to be in good repair, although since they were anchored, Granger did not have a chance to evaluate their sail drill. They followed the lugger astern of the central ship, the one that flew a Commodore’s broad pennant. Valiant dipped her flag politely, while Granger and the other officers on the quarterdeck removed their hats to their Danish counterparts, gestures which they returned. While they passed through the battleships unscathed, there was no denying the tension emanating from both Valiant and the Danish ships. Once past Elsinore and the Danish battleships, the Sound widened considerably, but buoys marking the shoal waters demonstrated how misleading that widening actually was. “This is the island of Hven, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said, gesturing at a small body of land almost directly in front of them. “It belongs to Sweden.” They followed the lugger to the left of the island, where there was more and presumably deeper water. “I am surprised there is no fort on that island,” Granger said. “There is really no need,” van Hjelmeland said. “Controlling the Sound is Denmark’s affair, not Sweden’s.” Granger wondered if the Swedes would be so willing to acknowledge that, but kept his thoughts to himself. As it was now the time for dinner, he led van Hjelmeland back to his cabin and treated him to some of Lefavre’s superb cooking. “You are Danish, are you not?” Granger asked him, as his mention of Denmark had been a bit detached, as if he was not identifying as a Dane. “I am a Norwegian, my lord,” he said proudly. “We have the same King, but we are a different country, at least in our minds.” “I fancy that Scotsmen must feel the same way,” Granger mused. “I have heard Norway is beautiful.” “Indeed, my lord?” van Hjelmeland asked curiously. “When I was off the coast of Chile, in South America, some of my crew members who had been to Norway told me it was very similar, and as that was a breathtakingly beautiful land, I assume Norway is as well,” Granger said. “Norway’s beauty is without parallel, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said proudly. “I hope that someday you will be able to see it for yourself.” “I think I would like that,” Granger said. They chatted away in a friendly way, but ate relatively quickly. As soon as they had finished and returned to the quarterdeck, a city appeared off their starboard view, as if it were mystically being hidden by the small Swedish island of Hven. “That is Copenhagen, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said, following Granger’s eyes. “If we were transiting into the Baltic, we would take the Hollander Channel to the left. That area with the buoys is the Middle Ground.” “The Middle Ground looks to be as wide as the channel itself,” Granger observed. “What is that structure in the middle of the water?” “That, my lord, is the Trekroner fort. Along with the Citadel, it forms the backbone of Copenhagen’s formidable defenses,” van Hjelmeland said. “We will anchor near it, but only because it conveniently marks an area where there is no shoal water.” By pointing out first Kronborg, and now Trekroner and the Citadel, Granger was conscious that van Hjelmeland was clearly trying to impress upon him how formidable Denmark’s defenses were. “That would appear to be a wise move then,” Granger said with a smile. “I have no desire to try to heave my ship off a shoal in front of the populace of Copenhagen.” Van Hjelmeland chuckled. “We will avoid that for today, at least.” The ship approached the fort, which appeared to be situated in the middle of the main waterway into Copenhagen. The King’s Channel was the channel to the right of the middle ground, running parallel to the Hollander Channel, and that is where van Hjelmeland ordered Granger to anchor. “A boat should arrive shortly to take us into the city.” “I am at your disposal,” Granger said politely. “I would think that, based on the hour, we will not be able to return you to your ship until at least tomorrow, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said. “That is understandable,” Granger said. “If you will excuse me, I will go to my cabin and make sure I have everything I need for a short stay ashore.” “Of course, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said politely. Granger strode back to his cabin and found Winkler waiting for him. “I am bidden to go ashore to see the Danish Crown Prince, and it is unlikely I’ll be back before tomorrow,” Granger said. “I will bring an extra shirt along, at least, my lord,” Winkler said, his tone indicating that he was planning to join Granger. “I knew I could rely on you to make sure I am well turned out,” Granger said with a smile. Winkler helped Granger into his best uniform, the one with all of his decorations, and then applied himself to packing up for their trek to Copenhagen. Granger was not surprised to find that Jacobs had joined them as well, and gave Winkler a knowing smirk, making the young man blush slightly. A relatively ornate barge approached them, and answered Valiant’s hail to acknowledge that this indeed was Granger’s ride. “The Crown Prince Regent has sent his own barge to get you, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said solemnly. “That is quite an honor His Royal Highness does for me,” Granger said. “Mr. Weston, I will be ashore at least until tomorrow.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. Granger strode off to the rail with Weston, so they were both safely out of everyone’s earshot. “I do not think there is any risk for my safety, or for Valiant, but if something should happen to me, you should seek out Lords Cavendish, Daventry, or Whitworth for guidance,” Granger said. “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said calmly. It was a strange situation, where tension levels were very high, yet Granger instinctively trusted the Danish to honor their word, and it seemed that Weston felt the same way. Granger followed Winkler, Jacobs, and van Hjelmeland into the barge, greeted the officer in command of her, and then sat on the rear thwart, taking in the environment. The others thankfully left him alone with his thoughts. Granger began to get his first impression of Danish opulence by studying the barge. He’d thought it was relatively ornate, but that had been based on his assumption that it belonged to an admiral, not the Sovereign of a nation. In that regard, it was quite understated. Granger was reminded of his own King, who was sometimes dowdy and most un-kingly, and at times did not seem overly concerned that his residences were in relative states of disrepair. But even compared to George III, these trappings were more akin to what a nobleman in England would consider appropriate. Granger internally rolled his eyes at what his French, Spanish, and Neapolitan friends would think of such utilitarianism. The monarchs of those countries had taken ostentation to an unbelievably advanced degree. The Danish Royal barge would seem positively common compared to the gilded monstrosities those countries would consider more appropriate. His eyes focused on Trekroner fort, and for all of van Hjelmeland’s posturing, Granger found the structure to be relatively benign. First of all, it did not even seem to be completed. There were no visible barracks or shelter for troops who would be there to man the guns and defend it, making them very vulnerable to attack by bomb vessels. If one did not look too closely, it was very imposing, but if one took a more measured look, it seemed to be almost a death trap for the unfortunate Danes damned to man it. His eyes focused on Copenhagen, a lovely city which seemed mildly eclipsed by the imposing Citadel. There was little Granger could find to complain about that massive defensive edifice. “Copenhagen is so completely surrounded by water, that it makes sense you would produce such brave and skilled sailors,” Granger said, smiling at van Hjelmeland. “In Norway, it is perhaps even more apparent, my lord,” he said. “There was a famous Norwegian Captain named Apkott. He survived a massive maelstrom, and when questioned about it, he replied simply that to know Norway was to know the sea.” “That is a trait our nations share,” Granger noted, reminding this man that Britain’s maritime heritage was equally impressive. They sailed to a small pier and disembarked, where they were led directly to a carriage that was nice in a similar way to the barge. Granger pondered that his own carriage was probably only a bit less ornate than this one. The ride was short, and led them around the Citadel and into the town. Near the harbor front, they came upon four stately looking buildings, all positioned to face a central statue. “This is Amalienborg Palace,” van Hjelmeland said. “Various members of the Royal Family live in these Pavilions.” Granger thought it looked more like four townhouses positioned in an odd way, but he kept his thoughts on that to himself. The carriage pulled up to one of the houses, and footmen arrived to help them out. Granger and van Hjelmeland entered the Palace, which was quite ornately decorated, seemingly at odds with its external plainness. Winkler and Jacobs followed at a respectful distance, looking completely out of place in this environment. A rather splendidly dressed chap appeared, and from the key on his coat Granger could tell he was a chamberlain. “His Royal Highness welcomes you to Copenhagen, and to Amalienborg Palace,” he said pompously in French. “As it is not yet the time for supper, we have prepared a room for you to refresh yourself after your arduous boat journey.” “I am most appreciative of His Royal Highness’s hospitality,” Granger said formally. He led them up the stairs to a room that was very nicely decorated, and was most likely some sort of state bedroom reserved for visiting dignitaries. It was quite an honor to be housed in such nice accommodations. “I will retrieve you in one hour to escort you down to supper, my lord,” van Hjelmeland said, as he made to leave. “I need to get in contact with my fellow Britons,” Granger said, obviously referring to Whitworth, Daventry, and Cavendish. “I do not think they have been invited to supper, my lord,” he replied, “but I will make sure they know you are here.” “I am most obliged,” Granger said, even though that was quite unusual. He would have expected the Crown Prince to invite the rest of the British delegation. That he did not made Granger suspicious, as if there was some reason for them to be divided. “A bit odd, my lord,” Winkler noted, after van Hjelmeland had left. “Indeed,” Granger agreed. “Let us use this time to see if I can burnish my appearance for his Royal Highness.” “As you wish, my lord,” Winkler said. With Winkler’s help, he was able to fully restore his appearance to what it would be if he were going to St. James’s Palace. He spent the remainder of his time gazing out at the inner harbor of Copenhagen, one that was protected not only by the Citadel, but by an imposing boom that would stop any unwanted interlopers and would be extremely effective in keeping out fire ships. Moored along the docks were nine Danish battleships ranging from smaller 60-gun ships to a larger 80-gun vessel. Those ships looked as if they were completely unready for sea, but they seemed to be in good repair nonetheless. As Guebertin had suggested, these were probably the backbone of the Danish navy, maintained safely away from Admiral Dickson and his ragtag fleet. A scratch at his door heralded the arrival of van Hjelmeland, who led him downstairs to a room that seemed to serve as a general reception area. A chamberlain announced him as he entered the room, much as would happen if he were at Carlton House. There were several people in the room, men and women who were presumably members of the Danish Court, but despite this panoply of well-dressed people it was quite easy to spot the Crown Prince. He was a handsome man who appeared to be in his thirties, with a long face and blond hair that was similar in color to Granger’s. Granger followed van Hjelmeland’s lead and approached the Crown Prince, bowing as he would to the Prince of Wales. “We are pleased to welcome you to Denmark,” the Crown Prince said to him affably. Granger was happy to note that he spoke English, which made sense, since his mother was a British Princess. “I must thank Your Royal Highness for your invitation to call on you,” Granger replied. “Your blond hair nearly matches my own, reminding me of the blood bonds between our two nations,” the Crown Prince said. “As my family is from Derbyshire, which was part of the Danelaw, I suspect that is even truer for me, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said, smiling broadly. “We will sup soon, and then I would like to hear of your exploits,” he said. “I am at Your Royal Highness’s disposal,” Granger said. He was introduced to the people who were present, most notably Count Bernstorff, the Foreign Minister. Granger found the man to be quite wily, and worried that Whitworth would underestimate his shrewdness. At supper, he sat next to Captain Steen Bille, an older and distinguished Danish Naval Officer who conveniently enough spoke English. The Danish Countess who sat to his right knew only Danish and German, so Granger felt less badly about all but ignoring her. “I had the honor of meeting your grandfather,” Bille said. “I have not seen him for a number of years, but fortunately his letters are quite entertaining,” Granger noted. “He is a man who, when he gives his word, it is an ironbound pledge,” Bille said reverently. “I must thank you for those kind words on his behalf and will certainly relay them to him when I get the chance,” Granger noted. “I have also spent some time in the East Indies, but I was there long before your brother,” he said. “I suspect that, even if you had met my brother, you would not have been able to be as effusive in your praise as you were for my grandfather, but you would have found him quite charming, nonetheless,” Granger said, smiling broadly. “So I have heard,” Bille said, smiling back. “It is most unfortunate that our paths have not crossed, and most surprising, since I was in the Mediterranean fighting pirates in 1797, much as you were.” “If memory serves, you were tackling Tunisian corsairs, while I have made myself the most hated man in Oran,” Granger said, getting a laugh from Bille. “Neither one of us is popular in those waters,” he said. Thanks mostly to Bille, the meal ended up being quite pleasant, although the food wasn’t nearly as good as the meals Granger was used to, courtesy of Lefavre. After supper, the women left them and the men retired to a room resembling a big library, chatting amongst each other. After a while, the Crown Prince withdrew from the room, which was evidently a cue for the party to disperse. Granger shrugged internally and prepared to retire to his room when a chamberlain approached him and bid him to follow him. He led him to a smaller room, one that was decorated in a similar way to the library, and one that was occupied only by the Crown Prince. “I have been looking forward to hearing of your exploits, Lord Granger,” the Crown Prince said. “Your reputation precedes you.” “I am flattered, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said. He shocked Granger by bidding him to sit in one of the leather armchairs, and by pouring him a glass of port. Such an intimate posture was almost unheard of. Then he quizzed Granger about his career, compelling Granger to recount his capture of the Oran Ruby, his visit to the Alhambra Palace, and his trip around the world. It was quite informal, and for Granger it was most uncomfortable, since he detested crowing about his own achievements, but he endured it. After he finished describing his capture of the Thetis and Santa Brigada, the Crown Prince sat back in his chair, adopting a thoughtful pose. “It is rumored that you are tasked to conduct Lord Daventry to St. Petersburg,” the Crown Prince said, almost an accusation. Granger wondered how he had found out about that, about his mission, yet resolved to give nothing away, and to keep his guard up. “I have been ordered to follow Lord Daventry’s directions, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said, deftly avoiding confirming the Crown Prince’s rumor. “I am unsure where that will take me.” “I think it is important for you to understand what awaits you should you pursue that course of action,” the Prince said. His tone had switched to one that was firm and rather unpleasant. “I am confident that you will appreciate what I am saying much more than your colleagues.” “I am of course glad of any information Your Royal Highness can impart,” Granger said calmly. “When you leave Copenhagen, you can sail back through the Sound and rejoin your Admiral Dickson, and forget this futile mission to see the Tsar,” he said. “On the other hand, if you sail east, you will be treading into hostile waters.” “While I certainly wouldn’t want to provoke a conflict, Your Royal Highness, I must certainly go where I am ordered,” Granger said, making it seem as if he had no real choice. He paused to mentally note that, in fact, he did not have such a choice. “Once you sail down the Hollander Channel, any ship you encounter will be hostile,” the Prince said, stating that as a fact. “We have received pledges of support in our arguments with your country, and in our attempt to seek justice in the Freya affair, from the courts at Stockholm, St. Petersburg, and Berlin.” “Your Royal Highness is telling me that if I enter the Baltic, any Danish, Swedish, German, or Russian ship I encounter will be, to all intents and purposes, an enemy vessel?” Granger asked for clarity. “That is what I am telling you,” he said. “That is indeed a most daunting challenge,” Granger noted, although it was what he had already been led to believe. “I did not want such an esteemed sailor to wander into a situation where he faced almost certain defeat,” the Prince said. Granger almost raised an eyebrow to challenge the Prince’s use of the term ‘certain defeat.’ “I must thank Your Royal Highness for your warning and your concern,” Granger said, forcing himself to sound genuinely appreciative in the face of these blatant threats. “There is something else to consider,” he said, and an almost sinister look spread across his face. “The Baltic will freeze soon, and it is sometimes possible that it will even freeze over the Sound, and even the Great Belt. I would submit that even if you were able to make it to St. Petersburg before that port freezes, you may find that you could not make it out of the Baltic before those passages freeze as well.” “I was not aware that the entrances to the Baltic froze, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said, letting that dilemma register in his brain. He hadn’t considered that getting out of the Baltic would be a problem, other than braving the Danish batteries that guarded it. “And while it saddens me to say this, it is unlikely that our issues will be resolved by the time you attempted to extricate yourself from this sea, and in that case, my obligations to my allies would force me to consider your ship to be hostile, and my batteries would be compelled to attempt to stop your exit,” the Crown Prince said. “You have enlightened me to a number of challenges I had not foreseen, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said. “For that, I am most grateful.” “I am hopeful that armed with this knowledge, you will be able to better explain things to your Lord Daventry. It is my experience that diplomats know little of the sea and the limitations it places on travel,” he said. “That is most certainly true, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said, smiling, even though his mind was roiling inside. “To them, it often seems as if it is as simple as going from one point to another, with no regard to weather, tides, or other hazards.” “Well, there are no tides in the Baltic, but there are other hazards aplenty,” the Prince said. He stood up, indicating that their conversation was over. “I must again express my appreciation to Your Royal Highness for explaining the risks I would face if I am ordered into the Baltic,” Granger said, standing as well. “And I must further thank you for the considerable honor you have done me by inviting me to call on you, and for giving me a private interview of such length.” “You are welcome,” the Prince said, then paused before going on. “Your diplomats here are either old and short-sighted, like Lord Whitworth, or young and impulsive, like Lord Daventry. I am glad to be able to explain things to a man who seems to comprehend the situation in a more balanced way.” “Thank you, Your Royal Highness,” Granger said, bowing as the Prince made to leave. “I will look forward to meeting you again under more pleasant circumstances,” he said, then left the room. A chamberlain arrived to take a somewhat flummoxed Granger back to his room. Of the things that the Prince had told him, only one thing worried him. He had no idea that, even if he were successful in completing his trip to St. Petersburg, escaping from the Baltic may not be possible. If he entered the Baltic now, it was entirely probable that he would not be able to exit it until March of next year.
  19. 48 points
    September 14, 2003 Escorial, CA Will I was talking to this hockey player from Minnesota named Justin, and he was a nice enough guy but kind of a tool, so that meant our conversation took a minimum amount of mental effort. That worked out well, because even as I bullshitted with him, I kept surreptitiously glancing over at Dillon, only to find him doing the same thing to me. I was intrigued enough to end my lame conversation with Justin and head over and interrupt his conversation with one of the other players. “Hey,” I said cheerfully as I interrupted them. “This place is the bomb,” Dillon said, referring to Escorial. “No shit,” the other guy agreed. He seemed to realize his glass was empty. “I’m heading to the bar.” “Enjoy,” I said in an encouraging way, both to be a good host and to get rid of him. I turned back to Dillon. “How long have you been here?” “We just got in today. Just enough time to get settled in,” he said casually. “After dinner I can give you a tour if you want,” I offered. “Sounds like fun,” he responded. He seemed to have a naturally flirtatious manner, so it was possible he was just playing around, but there was something about the way he looked at me that made me think it was more than that. There was a connection between us that was unique and intense. “So what brings you down here to Palo Alto? You don’t look like a hockey player,” I accused. He was a little classier than the other guys, and just didn’t seem like he fit in with their rough and tumble crowd. I thought that was ironic, since he was sporting a big black eye and wearing a suit that looked horrible on him. “Hockey’s not my game,” he said. “You look like you do something to stay in shape,” I said, since that was obvious, even as I moved my eyes up and down his body in an obvious way. He blushed again, which was fucking adorable. “I’m a fish,” he said. “I love the water.” “What do you do in the water?” I asked, barely hiding my excitement. There was no way I could be that lucky and find out he was a fellow surfer. “I play water polo, I swim, but my favorite deal is surfing,” he said casually. Happy fucking birthday to me! Talk about getting lucky. This god drops from the skies on my birthday and loves the same sport I do! I felt my face explode into a huge smile. “No shit? That’s awesome! That’s one of my favorite things to do!” “Really?” he asked, grinning back at me. “Really,” I confirmed, and with a firm tone so he knew I wasn’t bullshitting him. “Where do you live?” “Eugene, Oregon,” he said. “Beaches are a drive from home, and the water’s fucking cold, but that doesn’t stop me.” “That’s pretty hard core,” I said, stroking his ego. “I’ve never surfed in Oregon,” I said, trying to remember if I’d heard of any good surfing beaches. “I usually go to Florence, which can get pretty radical, or to Winchester Bay,” he said. “Cold water isn’t a problem, but the sharks can freak you out.” “No shit,” I agreed. “If the Great Whites are around, I bail. I haven’t really been bothered by sharks too much though.” “I’ve been lucky too,” he said. It was a risk, part of the sport. “Where do you go?” he asked. “If I’m here, I go to Santa Cruz,” I told him. “We have a beach house there. It’s a pretty sweet setup. We also have a place in Malibu, and there are some decent waves there. But my favorite is Maui.” “I’ve never been to Maui,” he said wistfully. “I’ll bet it’s the bomb.” “Totally,” I agreed. “We ended up getting this house right on the point that overlooks some great surfing beaches. I grab my board and walk down the trail, so it’s an easy commute.” “That’s awesome!” he said. Driving to the beach could totally suck, and once you got there, if it was popular, you had to figure out where to park. Having a place right by the beach was a major luxury. “So what are you doing here? Are you going to Stanford?” I wanted to ask him about his black eye, but that seemed pretty rude, so I was trying to be more diplomatic. It didn’t seem to help, because he got really nervous when I asked that, which kind of surprised me. “No, I decided to come down here and hang out with Klip for a few days. I hope that’s OK.” “Dude, that’s totally OK,” I said enthusiastically, so he’d know he was welcome. “I’ve got school this week, so I don’t know if I can get off early or not, but if I can, we should go to Santa Cruz.” I’d missed so much school with traveling and shit, I hadn’t planned to take a day off, but hanging out with this guy may give me a good reason to do it anyway. He may be worth a slight drop in my GPA. “That would be amazing,” he said. It was so cool to see his eyes light up just like mine would at the thought of surfing. “How long are you going to be here?” I asked him. “I’m planning to be back home by next Monday,” he said, but didn’t sound excited about it, and it didn’t sound like a required deal. “I have this big event on Friday night, but I’m free after that,” I told him. “Block your weekend and we’ll go surfing.” “I am so stoked,” he said. “I mean, I was having a good time, but it sucks to be this close to the water and not be able to catch a wave.” “You can still go over to Santa Cruz during the week,” I told him. “I can tell you where the best surf places are, and you can use our house as a base.” “I don’t have a car, so I’m kinda stuck doing what Klip wants to do,” he said. “You do know how to drive, though, right?” I asked, partly teasing him, even though some guys didn’t bother to get their license until they were older. Shit, JJ would turn 18 in a couple of months, and he didn’t have his. “I know how to drive,” he said, acting annoyed that I’d think he didn’t. “Can you handle a stick?” I asked, raising my eyebrows to definitely make it a double entendre. Only he was starting to relax and get used to me, so he played along with me. “Dude, I’m amazing with a stick,” he said, dropping his voice even lower and making it sultry. If he kept talking like that, I’d have to go back to my room and put on a jock to keep my dick down. “Good to know,” I said. “What else are you good at? You like to ride horses?” “Only done it a few times,” he said, shaking his head. “The horse spent most of the time trying to toss my fat ass off of him.” I laughed at that. “Maybe we’ll spend some time working on that,” I said. “We’ll see about that,” he said dubiously. “Your school starts pretty late,” I observed. “We’re on quarters,” he said. “I just graduated in May, so I’m starting at the local community college.” So he was a year ahead of me, at least as far as school went. “So you decided to come hang out with Klip until you went back?” I asked. He got really uncomfortable when I asked that, nervous enough that his eyes darted around like he was looking for an escape route away from me. “I thought it would be fun, and something different,” he said, only there was more. I was reading him pretty well, and that briefly reminded me of Zach. That made me sad enough and calmed me down so I didn’t act like a complete idiot around this guy. “I think you’re right,” I said. “I think it will be both of those things.” “I’m hoping,” he said. I noticed that it was getting later, and I had a quick task to accomplish. “I’ll be right back,” I said. “That’s cool,” he said, and looked bummed. I guess he thought I’d gotten bored talking to him and I was blowing him off. Rather than spending forever explaining it, I hurried off to achieve my goal. I went into the dining room and checked out the name cards. I found myself in between my father and Darius, while Dillon was down at the other end of the table. I changed things around so Jake was next to my father, I was next to Dillon, and Darius was next to Ryan and John. I went back out onto the patio and saw Dillon by himself, pretty much where I’d left him. “You miss me?” I joked. “No,” he said, sounding like Ryan, then he smiled. “Maybe a little bit.” “Good,” I replied. We were standing near the fountain talking when I saw Stef and Grand emerge into the courtyard. The staff member on bar duty handed them drinks, then they began to make their rounds, chatting with people and making sure everyone felt welcome. I had been mentally tracking their location even as we chatted, so I was ready for them when they walked up. “Well hello there,” Stef said to me. “You look very good tonight.” “I kind of went for the dressy casual look,” I said. “It suits you,” he agreed. “I’d like to introduce you to Klip’s brother Dillon,” I said to them a bit formally. “Dillon, these are my grandfathers.” “Stefan Schluter,” Stef said as he shook Dillon’s hand. “You will call me Stef.” “It’s nice to meet you Mr., er, I mean Stef,” he said, and shot Stef his gorgeous smile. “I think you are even more handsome than your brother, and that is saying something,” Stef said. “Klip’s always been the pretty boy,” Dillon said. “JP Crampton,” Grand said, and shook Dillon’s hand. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about both of you guys,” Dillon said. “We must have liars in our midst,” Stef joked, cracking us up. “Are you going to Stanford too?” “No, I’m just here hanging out with Klip,” Dillon said. “That is too bad,” Stef said. “It would be nice to have you around.” It was funny that Stef was almost flirting with Dillon, and most guys who were his age would have probably let that freak them out, but Dillon handled it just fine. “You’ll just have to come visit instead,” I said. “Dillon and I share a common love.” “I did not realize we were still talking about me,” Stef said, making us laugh. “In addition to you, we both love to surf,” I announced. “Now that is interesting,” Grand said, raising an eyebrow. “You must take him to Santa Cruz.” “That’s exactly what I’m going to do, as soon as I get a chance,” I said. I absolutely had to find a day at school this week where I could escape to do just that. “Did you see Dad and Jake?” “They were here earlier,” Stef said, and glanced around. They had shown up and had been glowing. “Guess they took a break,” I said to him with a grin. “They looked a little flushed. Maybe they overexerted themselves.” “I doubt that if they took a break, that solved the problem,” Stef said playfully, then we laughed at Dad and Jake, even though they weren’t here. “We are very glad you are here, and hope you will feel welcome and at home,” Grand said to Dillon, as he made to move on and end our little gossip session. “I already do,” Dillon said. They moved on to talk to Gathan. “Dude, I can’t believe I just met Stefan Schluter!” “Pretty impressive guy, isn’t he?” I said proudly. “The other guy is more intense,” he said, making me laugh. “We call him Grand. He’s a professor at Stanford, and used to be chair of the history department. You just met two of the smartest men in the world,” I said. “Wow,” he said. I saw my father coming through the door with Jake in tow. Their faces were still a little red, but they had idiotic grins on their faces. It was pretty obvious that they’d gone off and fucked again. I watched him and smiled, then chuckled. Sometimes it was so easy to read him. “What?” Dillon asked, since I was damn near giggling. “Now you’re about to really experience intense,” I said. He looked at me curiously. “You’ll get to meet my father.” “Hey!” Dad said, and gave me a massive hug. When we pulled apart, we connected with just our eyes, and he gave me an irritated look since I’d guessed he’d had a busy interlude with Jake. “This is Dillon,” I said, introducing him to Jake and my father. “Dillon tells me he’s a surfer, but I think he’s full of shit.” “As if,” Dillon said. “One way to find out,” Dad said. “We should go to Santa Cruz.” “Maybe we can figure out a day this week to head over there,” I suggested. “Let me work on that when I get into the office on Monday,” Dad said. “If not, there’s next weekend after the Talent Show.” “Talent Show?” Dillon asked. “It’s a school deal,” I said hastily, then responded to Dad. “Let me know. Dillon says he’s never been to Hawaii, so if he turns out not to be a slug in the waves, I’ll have to figure out a way to drag him over there.” “No dragging is required,” Dillon said, smiling at me. Dad and Jake went to say hello to Gathan, leaving us alone again. “Dude, are all those guys gay?” he asked, referring to Stef, Grand, Dad, and Jake. “They are,” I said, wondering how he felt about that, and wondering if anyone had told him that I was too. “That’s pretty trippy,” he said, and seemed like he was spacing out a bit. “Does that bother you?” I asked, miraculously keeping any hint of nervousness out of my voice. “No,” he said definitively. “It’s cool.” Grand and Stef headed inside, and that prompted me to check the time. I caught Gathan’s eye, and looked at my watch in a meaningful way, my hint to him to round up his boys. “Time for dinner,” Gathan announced. “Nice watch,” Dillon said. I’d worn my gold Breguet watch, one that I used for more formal occasions. “Thanks,” I said. “It was a gift from Stef and Grand.” “Gathan and Klip seem nervous,” he said, noting how they were getting everyone to head inside in a pretty assertive way. “The biggest faux pas you can commit here is to be late to dinner,” I told Dillon. “Dinner happens at 7:00 sharp.” “What happens if you’re late?” he asked. “Grand gives you dirty looks and makes you feel like shit,” I said. “Doesn’t sound so terrible,” he said. “He commands a lot of respect in our family, and he doesn’t usually express his displeasure very often, so when you’re late and you annoy him, it’s a big deal,” I said, even as I led him to the table. “At home, I’d just get yelled at,” he said, then glanced to the head of the table where Grand stood, welcoming everyone. “This is way more effective.” “You have no idea,” I said, thinking of how commanding Grand could be, which was pretty impressive for a short guy. “I’m sitting next to you?” he asked with a smile. “It wasn’t like that before.” “Plans must have changed,” I said obliquely, mostly to hide how embarrassed I was at being totally busted. “Great news for me,” he said to let me know he was glad about that. That got him a big smile. Dinner was an absolute blast. Dad was on a high from having fucked Jake, while I was stoked because I was sitting next to one of the hottest guys I’d ever met, and that tended to drive the mood, which was picked up and enhanced by the rest of the crowd. After dinner, we went into the television room, which was the equivalent to the Great Room at Malibu, the place people got together to hang out in comfortable chairs and watch television. This was the standard routine for birthdays in our family, where we ate dinner, came in here to open presents while the staff cleaned up the dining room, then we’d go back in there for cake. I made Dillon sit next to me, which got me a knowing smirk from Marie, but I was enjoying this guy too much to care. Last year I’d gotten some pretty amazing presents: I’d gotten my Ferrari from my father, and a building and a bar from Stef and Grand. This year was a more mundane year, with cool stuff, but nothing like last year. I was just fine with that. “Sorry I didn’t get you a present,” Dillon said after I was done opening gifts, and we were walking back to the dining room. “Dude, you just met me,” I said, laughing. “Yeah, but I’m here at your birthday party. I should have at least gotten you some Legos or something,” he joked, making it seem like this was a kid’s party. “Cool. I want one of those kits that make the Eiffel Tower,” I joked back. We had cake and everyone sang to me. I thought about how annoying I found that part of this thing, then chuckled to myself when I remembered that was pretty much JJ’s favorite part. He didn’t normally like being the center of attention at family events, but he got into it when people sang to him. I laughed out loud when I thought that someday he should hire his own choir to follow him around and chant all day. “What’s so funny?” Dillon asked. “I was just thinking about my brother JJ,” I told him. He looked at me a bit confused, so I took a few minutes to explain who JJ was, and that he lived in New York. When dinner was over, Gathan and Klip dragged the younger crowd down to the pool, while Grand and the older group went out onto the patio to smoke Grand’s nightly joint. I hung back from the young crowd, and it was cute the way Dillon stopped to wait for me. “You coming down to the pool?” “I’ll be there in a second,” I said. “I just want to thank them for such a nice birthday party.” “We didn’t even play pin the tail on the donkey yet,” he said, cracking me up. “We’ll do that later,” I said, flirting with him, making him chuckle. “See you in the pool,” he said, and took off after the group. He’d shed his suit jacket, so I just stared at his cute little ass as he ambled away. I walked out onto the courtyard to find everyone older than thirty already assembled. “Did you have a nice birthday?” Aunt Claire asked. “I had a great birthday,” I said emphatically. “Thank you all so much.” “Who was that handsome young man you spent so much time with?” she asked. “Dillon Kilpatrick?” I asked, smiling. “He’s Klip’s brother.” “He is very handsome,” Grandmaman said. “He is,” I agreed. “I’m going to go watch him swim, so I can see how handsome he is without a shirt on.” “Almost makes me want to go with you,” Jake said, giving me shit. “You’ve already got your hands full,” I said, and raised an eyebrow as I looked at my father, all but calling them out for being together. Jake and my father blushed while everyone else laughed. “See you later.” Stef chuckled. “Enjoy yourself.” I headed down to the pool and was surprised to find Dillon lurking around outside. “Hey,” he said when he saw me, making it obvious that he’d been waiting for me. “Hey,” I said in a really friendly way. “Looking for me?” “I had to go back to my room and grab something, and I heard your clomping feet coming down the hall,” he joked, to cover up the fact that he’d been waiting for me. “I don’t clomp,” I said. “Stef doesn’t like it. I’d get frowned at.” “You seem pretty worried about upsetting those guys,” he said. I looked at him for a second then started laughing. “That is so not it,” I said. “It’s about respect. I have a lot of respect for them, so I try to show them that by not doing things that annoy them. But if it’s important, I have no problem pissing them off.” “It’s hard to imagine Professor Crampton getting mad and yelling and screaming,” he said. “I can see Stef doing it though.” That was even funnier. “When Grand gets mad, he doesn’t yell, he gets extremely intense and assertive. Stef is even more interesting.” “How?” “Normally Stef is this fun and engaging person, but he didn’t become one of the richest men in the world by being a wimp. He has this really severe business mode, and when he uses that, it freaks people out,” I explained. “They both seem like they’d be pretty scary if you pissed them off,” he said a bit nervously. “You have no idea,” I said. “But they don’t get mad all that easily. The scariest of them is probably my father.” “Why?” he asked curiously. “Because Grand and Stef tend to hold back, but when my dad is pissed off, he’s all in, and he goes for the throat,” I said candidly. “I’ll have to remember not to get on his bad side,” he said. “Dude, you don’t have to worry about any of them. They’re nice guys. So unless you’re planning to do something on purpose to hurt them, you’ll be fine,” I said soothingly. “Besides, I’ll protect you.” “Gee thanks,” he said sarcastically. “Ready to play pin the tail on the donkey?” I joked, and led him into the pool area. September 14, 2003 Escorial, CA Brad “Will’s new friend certainly is handsome,” Stef said. Jack and Claire had gone home while Grandmaman and Frank had gone back to their rooms, so it ended up that it was just Stef, me, JP, and Jake hanging out on the patio, sipping our after dinner drinks. “He is,” I agreed. “I’m not sure what more we could have given him for his birthday. A guy who is hotter than Ryan, who is also an avid surfer.” “You’re assuming he’s into Will,” Jake noted. “That is a good observation,” JP said. “I would normally be cautious about something like that, but this time, my instincts are telling me that Dillon is as enamored with Will as Will is with him.” “I had not quite thought about it so succinctly, but I feel much the same way,” Stef said, even as he pondered that. I’d gotten the same vibe, but I didn’t mention my own views. “Then I would submit that he is most likely into Will,” I said in a lighthearted way. “I’ll have to try to go surfing with them.” “Like they’ll want you around,” Jake said sarcastically. “They’ll want me to surf with them,” I said, surprising him with how convinced and confident I was about that. “I think there is no one whom Will would rather surf with than you,” Stef said. “Although I suspect that Dillon could possibly change that.” “Our trip to Goodwell didn’t turn out like I thought,” I said, changing the subject. I didn’t want to sit here and gossip about Will’s love life any more than I wanted the rest of them talking about mine. “It did not,” JP agreed. “I cannot think about that entire meeting without remembering the debt of gratitude that we owe you,” he said to Jake. “As I recall, this is a team effort, so I would point out that I was just doing my job,” Jake said modestly, which made him just that much hotter. I began to ponder ways to escape so we could go fuck again. Just being around him fueled my libido. “And that is just so much nonsense,” Stef said. “I can understand why that ordeal last night would have fatigued you, though. I noticed you needed to take a break from the pre-dinner cocktail party.” Jake and I blushed, while Stef giggled. “Jake is the most amazing lover I have ever been with,” I pronounced. All three of them looked at me, stunned, although Jake’s expression was replaced by a smile in short order. “Well that is certainly saying something,” JP said, making me sound like I was a total slut. “It certainly is,” I agreed. “I would say the same thing about you,” Jake said, grinning at me. “Only I’m betting I have a bigger base for comparison.” “Perhaps you should both compile numbers on your various partners so we can determine who has more experience,” JP said in his professorial voice. His slight grin gave away that he was giving us shit. “It would be interesting to compare those numbers to yours,” I said. “All I know is that Jake makes me feel like I’m 19 again.” “Well before you both vanish back to your room, I would like to know your thoughts on our meeting at Goodwell,” JP said. “I think that based on what we learned about the Blankford Consortium, it may be a good idea to pass that information on to the Rubios,” Jake said. I grimaced at that, at getting more intimately involved with drug cartels. “I’m not saying that we do anything beyond letting them know what we suspect.” “What’s the best way to accomplish that?” I asked. “I think you should let me talk to my contacts down there,” he responded. “We should keep it at a lower level.” “I’m concerned about keeping our distance, but I do not see how sharing information at that level will cause us undo problems,” JP said. “I received an interesting phone call this afternoon,” Stef said. Jake and I looked at him curiously, while JP did not, probably because he already knew about it. “The government has not only agreed to accept those border properties as partial payment of Buzz Dalby’s estate taxes, they have agreed to value them generously.” “That’s quite a change of heart,” Jake noted. “I got nothing but resistance when I lobbied for that.” “I was not successful either, and I do not think the Dalbys were of much assistance,” Stef said. “Then who made the deal happen?” I asked. “Elizabeth Danfield,” Stef said. “I had to dig and probe a bit, but ultimately she was revealed as the source of government benevolence.” “Does that mean she’s on our side?” Jake asked. I shook my head. “You can never turn your back on her and think she’s on your side. All you can do is treat favors like these as being payment for either her past or future sins.” “As she has managed to cause us significant discomfort this year, I think it is reasonable to credit it against past sins,” JP said, his anger quite apparent beneath his smooth veneer. “I’m not sure that evens the score, but we have enough battles to fight right now,” I said. “Wade seems to think that Lord Preston is not long for this world.” “I would be surprised if he made it back to South Africa alive,” Jake said. “I mean, he’s got all kinds of people gunning for him.” “But not us,” I said. “I think this is one of those things where we are peripherally involved,” JP said. “I hardly think we’re on the sidelines when we just fought off a full-scale military-type assault,” I said acidly. “That assault was most likely aimed at the Duke and his family,” JP said. “I am not saying I am unwilling to support them, what I am suggesting is that we do not need to intervene unless they, or Wade, asks us to.” “So you’re saying that we can safely delegate that issue, and those decisions, to the Danfields and the Grangers,” Jake translated. “That is what I am saying,” JP said crisply. It was funny that he was no happier when Jake paraphrased his ideas than when Will did it. “It almost seems as if this whole conflict has now moved in that direction,” I mused. “What do you mean?” JP asked. “Well, I think I’ve resolved my legal issues with Alexandra’s plea, and I think that with the cession of those lands to the government that curse is lifted,” I explained. “What more do we have at risk?” “We may not have direct risks,” JP said icily, “but we owe it to Wade to support the battles he and his family must fight.” “I didn’t say that we didn’t,” I snapped, irritated that he would make me seem like an unreliable person where Wade was concerned. “Being supportive is distinctly different than being on the firing line,” Stef said smoothly. “I think that is what Bradley was alluding to.” “Thank you,” I said to him. “I’m going to bed.” “I’m going with you,” Jake said, leering at me. JP and Stef chuckled, even as we went inside and went up to my bedroom. We walked in and shut the door and all but ripped our clothes off. Thirty minutes later we found ourselves lying in the bed intertwined, totally satisfied. “I can’t get enough of you,” I said. “You make me feel like I’m back in high school.” “I feel the same way,” he said. “I want you to stay here,” I said firmly. “I’m glad. I didn’t want to drive back this late,” he said with a smile. “I want you to stay here,” I said again, letting him know I wasn’t just talking about tonight. With Marc, we’d talked about it and dealt with his insecurities in a long and drawn out way, but I wasn’t going there with Jake. “Okay,” he said simply. I smiled at him, kissed him, and then fucked him again.
  20. 48 points
    August 1800 HMS Valiant Off Hellebæk, Denmark His Britannic Majesty’s Ship Valiant approached the Danish port confidently, a white flag flying above her Union Flag. That confidence was reinforced by the intelligence they’d gathered from Guebertin, and the resulting suspicion that despite their outrage, the Danes were in no position to spark a conflict with Britain. “The Danes have not acknowledged our request for a truce, my lord,” Weston said. The Danish flag flew from the fort guarding the harbor in a jaunty way, and there was clearly no white flag above it. If the British were confident, the Danes seemed almost defiant. “Gentlemen, I am hoping you have packed up your things,” Granger said to his passengers. “Mr. Weston, beat to quarters. We have ample time, so you may do so in an organized way.” Granger’s last sentence was designed to help them avoid the chaos that a frenetic pace in clearing for action would cause, and an effort on Granger’s behalf to save Winkler from some of the resulting confusion. “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said, and within seconds, the Marine drummer began pounding out “Hearts of Oak,” and that was followed by the various bangs and thuds as all of Valiant’s internal bulkheads were torn down and all of her furnishings were stored below. Then there were the more obvious efforts, like rigging a net above the deck to prevent spars from falling onto the men below. Their efforts would be visible to prying telescopes from the shore, and there would be no mistaking what it meant. “Ship cleared for action,” Weston reported, slightly over a quarter of an hour later. “Excellent, Mr. Weston. I’ll have the guns loaded and run out on both the larboard and starboard sides,” Granger said. That was a very unusual way to enter port. “You are trying to intimidate the Danes?” Whitworth asked him. “I am,” Granger said. “We will see if it works.” Granger was hoping Whitworth would give him some guidance, but he found the crusty old diplomat to be less than forthcoming. In this case, since he had a strong hand, there was no reason not to play it. “My lord, the Danes have raised a parley flag,” Weston informed him. All eyes focused on the Danish flagpole, where a white flag now flew above Danish colors. “It seems that did the trick,” Whitworth said. “I will probably need a boat to take me ashore.” “Boat pushing off from the pier, my lord,” Weston said. “Heave to,” Granger ordered. There was no need to anchor in these calm seas, and it would make leaving just that much easier. “Your predictions appear to be off today,” Cavendish said to Whitworth in a smarmy way. “Presumably you’d do better if we were in Russia.” “Presumably,” Whitworth said, glaring at Cavendish, while Granger and Daventry hid their smirks. Cavendish didn’t miss a chance to bait Whitworth, and now that the young man had largely restored his confidence and wit, he all but ran circles around the old diplomat. Granger pondered that Whitworth had set the tone of their relationship from the beginning, so now he would have to live with the results. “I plan to join Lord Whitworth in Copenhagen,” Daventry told Granger. “I think I will join him as well,” Cavendish said. Whitworth was considerably annoyed that neither one of those men bothered to ask his permission or input, but he wisely said nothing. “I think it is important for me to deliver my dispatches, along with the news that you gentlemen have arrived in Denmark, to Admiral Dickson,” Granger noted. “I would recommend that you do that, and then plan to return here as soon as possible,” Daventry said. “I will either be here to meet you so we may continue our voyage, or I will leave instructions for you.” “Hopefully we will not have to dally here too long,” Granger said. He was mindful of the coming winter, even though there was no sign of that here, where it was warm and muggy. “We will not,” Daventry said. “Looks to be a lieutenant in the boat, sir,” Kingsdale said. A simple nod to Weston was all that was required for him to attend to receiving the visitor. The boat was hailed, and then in short order a handsome young lieutenant hoisted himself aboard. “Welcome,” Granger said, stepping forward and extending his hand, which the young man took in a friendly way. “I am Captain Viscount Granger, commanding His Britannic Majesty’s Ship Valiant.” Granger had said his words in French, which made the young man smile. He responded in excellent, if accented, English. “It is a pleasure to meet a sailor of such renown, my lord,” he said. “I am Lieutenant van Hjelmeland, of His Danish Majesty’s navy.” “I have brought some esteemed gentlemen to meet with your government,” Granger said, introducing Whitworth, Daventry, and Cavendish. The introductions took some time, of course, but when they were over, van Hjelmeland generously offered to take the three British aristocrats to Copenhagen. While they were loading their various trunks into the Danish boat, Granger pulled Cavendish aside. “I am going to miss having you here.” “The last few days have been magical, just as you had predicted,” Cavendish said. They had managed to heal the wounds that had separated them, but more importantly, Cavendish had seemed to find himself, and regain his confidence. “I think it is probably best for me to accompany Whitworth.” “I understand,” Granger said, “even if I don’t like it.” “It was not my first choice either,” Cavendish said. “Thank you so much for helping me.” “I think it was you who helped yourself,” Granger said. “And we both know that isn’t true,” Cavendish said. “I suspect that I will remain here with Whitworth and then return with him to England. I hope that you will allow that to satisfy my prison sentence.” Granger chuckled. “Consider yourself duly released from your jail cell. I have written a lengthy letter to Caroline, which I will send back with our dispatches. You will be welcome at our home when you return.” “Thank you, George, for giving me options, and a place to land,” Cavendish said sincerely. He noticed that Daventry and Whitworth were getting ready to disembark, so they took their leave of each other and went to join the others. “Good luck, gentlemen,” Granger said. And then they went over the side, the boat shoved off, and Valiant felt strangely empty, at least as far as Granger was concerned. “Mr. Weston, let’s get underway. Lay in a course due north. We will rendezvous with Admiral Dickson off Kullen.” “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. “You may return the ship to her normal state as soon as practical,” Granger said. August 1800 HMS Valiant Off Kullen, Sweden “Sail ho!” cried the lookout, pulling Granger from his thoughts. They’d been here off the Swedish coast for only three days, and he’d spent most of that time drafting letters and reports. It had also given him time to get into a rhythm of sorts with his ship and his officers now that he wasn’t encumbered with three influential passengers. “The entrance to the Sound, and he sights a bloody sail,” Meurice grumbled. “A blind man could guess that.” Granger chuckled, then hailed the tops. “What do you make of it?” “Several ships, and looks as if some of them are ships of the line, my lord!” the lookout responded. “I will be aloft, gentlemen,” Granger said. He was fairly certain these would be British ships, but it was prudent to make sure of that fact lest he be pinned by a hostile fleet against an equally hostile coast. He climbed up the mizzenmast to the mizzen top and pulled out his glass, scanning in the direction the lookout gestured. “I think that lead ship is the Romney, my lord,” he offered. “I do believe you are correct,” Granger agreed. “If I am not mistaken, that is the Monarch flying an Admiral’s flag.” “I think you’re right, begging your pardon, my lord,” he agreed. “Keep me informed,” Granger ordered, then grabbed a backstay and agilely descended to the deck. “It would appear that Admiral Dickson’s fleet has found us. I estimate seven ships of the line and several other vessels.” “That should get the Danes to pay attention, my lord,” Grenfell opined. “We will hope that is the case,” Granger said. Hearing Grenfell talk reminded him to look at the closest carronade, and he noted that they were fitted with Grenfell’s newfangled gunsight. “I see you have managed to modify the quarterdeck carronades.” “Yes, my lord,” Grenfell said with a grin. “We have only to calibrate them.” They’d performed some tests using Grenfell’s new gunsight, using the smashers, and they’d performed very well. The prior sites had caused the guns to be aimed too low, something Granger had noticed when they’d been in combat with the Turks off Oran. The next time they fired the smasher, the aim would be much better. “We will wait until we’re away from the fleet, lest we have to answer questions about our use of powder and shot while not in combat,” Granger said jovially. The Admiralty refused to allow ships to practice firing the guns, and that meant gun drill was an exercise in loading and running them out, only to unload them and repeat the process. Granger paid to stock in some extra powder for practice, but he wasn’t about to use it while under Dickson’s critical eye. “I will be in my cabin.” He strode past the marine and into his cabin, which was configured much as it had been, only this time the spaces that Cavendish and Whitworth had occupied would serve as an office for him and Daventry. “I’ve got your uniform laid out here, my lord,” Winkler said. “Thank you,” Granger said, and hastily put on his dress uniform, determined to cut a good figure, even if Dickson’s wardrobe was deficient. Llewellyn entered the cabin just as he was finishing tying his cravat. “My lord, Flag has signaled you to report aboard.” “Acknowledge, and have my gig swung out,” Granger ordered. He finished getting ready, then strode out onto the deck to survey the ships that were approaching. To Granger’s mind, they were a rag-tag lot. They consisted of one 74-gun ship of the line, the Monarch, which flew the Admiral’s flag. In addition, there were three 64-gun ships (Polyphemus, Ardent, and Veteran), two 50-gun ships (Romney and Isis), and the 56-gun Glatton. With the exception of Monarch, they were all outdated, designed to fight in the prior war. “Gig’s alongside, my lord,” Weston prompted. “I’ll be aboard the flagship,” Granger said. He took his satchel and descended into his gig; a quick nod to Jacobs was all it took to spirit the gig toward Monarch. Granger studied the ships closely as they passed them. Polyphemus and Veteran were interesting, in that they were 64’s and looked similar to what Valiant had once been, even though she was built to a different design. Ardent and Glatton were the most ungainly, having started their lives as ships designed for service with the Honorable East India Company, then hastily converted from merchantmen into battleships. They were notoriously ungainly and unhandy ships. Granger fancied that they were the two-decked equivalent of the horrible 2nd rates like Glory and Namur. Romney and Isis were similar to Leander, ships that were two big and old to catch a modern frigate, and too small to match forces with a modern ship of the line. Granger decided that if the Danes were intimidated by this group of ships, their defenses must indeed be seriously decayed. The gig pulled alongside Monarch, and Granger smiled at the worn but sturdy sides of this old veteran. She’d seen plenty of action in the American Wars, and plenty of action in this current conflict. She was some 35 years old, but still seemed solid and powerful, especially compared to her consorts. Granger pulled himself through her entry port and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by her captain. “I’m Captain James Mosse, my lord. It is a pleasure to meet you,” he said in a friendly manner. “The pleasure is mine,” Granger said, and shook his hand. He was an older man, some 55 years old, but gave off the impression of a bulldog, of a captain who was anxious to get into a fight and would not let go until he won. “The Admiral is waiting for you,” he said, and led Granger back to the Admiral’s cabin. It was decorated in a relatively mundane way, with only a few luxuries. It was utilitarian in a masculine way, with no flourishes or decorations to make it more appealing. The overall impression was that it was the cabin of an old sailor, which was appropriate. Unfortunately, the thing Granger noticed most wasn’t the cabin, but it was the body odor that seemed to emanate from Dickson in a most prodigious way. In a ship at sea, such smells were common and unpleasant, so for Dickson to manage to overcome that basic noxious level of fumes required a special level of stench. “Welcome, my lord,” Dickson said, although he didn’t sound overly friendly. “Thank you, sir,” Granger said. “I dropped Lords Whitworth, Daventry, and Cavendish off in Helleboek three days back, and a Danish lieutenant agreed to take them to Copenhagen.” He handed Dickson his report. “Did Whitworth mention what he wanted of me?” Dickson asked. “He drafted a letter for you, which is in that packet,” Granger said. “He directed me to meet you here, then to return to Helleboek to seek further instructions.” Dickson glared at Granger for omitting the obligatory ‘sir’ when talking to him, but Granger had noted that Dickson had been equally rude in omitting the ‘my lord’ when talking to him, and he was not about to stomach any nonsense from this old admiral. “Well then, let us see what he has to say,” Dickson said. “Have a seat, my lord.” “Thank you, sir,” Granger said, and sat down. He stared ahead, even though his eyes were on Dickson, as the man read his various letters. Granger recognized that he’d opened up his own report, and wasn’t surprised to see Dickson’s eyes narrow considerably. “You had this French ship, Corneille, clearly in your sights, and could have easily captured her, but you chose not to?” Dickson demanded, outraged. “I did,” Granger responded. “We are at war with France, my lord, and have express orders to capture ships from that country,” Dickson said in an almost sarcastic way. “I am familiar with the Corneille and her captain, sir, and was confident that we would gain more from not capturing that ship than if we did,” Granger said. “That is the decision you made? You made that decision, despite standing orders to the contrary?” Dickson demanded. “I did,” Granger confirmed. “I am most displeased with your lack of zeal as regards our enemies, my lord,” Dickson said. “I will expect you to be more aggressive when you next encounter a foe.” Granger fumed at this, and was quite aware that Dickson was approaching a dangerous point, a point where he was actually accusing Granger of cowardice. “I have executed my orders as given to me by Lords Spencer and Daventry, sir. I am sorry you do not concur with those two gentlemen.” The admiral’s eyes bulged, so furious was he. “You have boats all but dangling from the sides of your ship. What madness is that?” He was clearly changing tacks, trying to think of different ways to cause Granger problems. “Those are boat davits, and they are designed to provide more room on deck,” Granger replied coolly. “They are quite effective.” “What happens when you are hit with a gale, and all your boats are swept away?” he asked, although it was more of a snarl. “The boats are quite secure,” Granger said calmly. “I would think that the results speak for themselves. I have been using them for some time, including during my trip around Cape Horn, and have yet to lose one.” “Are they approved by the dockyard?” he asked in a very smarmy way. He was well aware that the dockyards were dominated by old men, men like him, who were opposed to change at almost any level. “No, they are not. I have been given special leave by Lord Spencer to experiment with them, with orders to report back on their effectiveness,” Granger replied. “If you can produce those orders, you can retain them, otherwise, you will remove them at once,” Dickson said. “Admiral, I have told you that I have orders from Lord Spencer, and if that is not sufficient for you, than you will have to remove me from command of Valiant and remove them yourself,” Granger said firmly. “Are you challenging me and my authority, Granger?” he demanded, almost shouting. He clearly expected Granger to back down in the face of his outburst. He would be surprised. “I am, Admiral,” Granger said. “I would have thought our mission and our roles were clearly laid out when we were in London. I will not be bullied and harassed by you.” “Your actions here, your words, amount to gross insubordination!” Dickson exclaimed. “Then you are welcome to arrest me and send me back to London,” Granger said confidently. “I am sure that will give me ample time to make sure you have a most excellent reception waiting for you when you eventually return.” “Now listen here you young…” Granger interrupted him. “The only reason that Valiant was allowed to function under your nominal control was to provide you with a share of prize money should we capture any ships,” Granger said coldly. “And while I was willing to tolerate that, I am not willing to be browbeaten just to satisfy your greed. I have my orders, Admiral, and I will execute them as given. Any interference from you risks intervention at the highest levels of the government.” “That does not change the fact that you are still under my orders,” Dickson asserted. “You are free to interpret things as you choose, Admiral,” Granger said coldly, even as he stood up slowly. “In the meantime, I have orders to return to Helleboek, and to continue my mission into the Baltic. If you have dispatches for me, I would appreciate it if you would give those to me.” Granger just stared at the man boldly, waiting for him to acquiesce. “You can get your mail and dispatches from Captain Mosse,” Dickson snarled. He had been foolish to pick a fight with Granger, a battle he was destined to lose, and had relied on the time-honored formula of discipline above all else to carry the day. That may have worked with an older, less-intelligent, or less well-connected officer, but it was of no use when dealing with Granger. “Thank you, Admiral,” Granger said politely. “As soon as I review them, I will sail for Helleboek.” Granger said. He didn’t wait for a response; he simply strode out of the cabin and was fortunate to find Dickson’s flag lieutenant waiting for him. Based on the man’s shocked and awed expression, it was easy to deduce that he must have been eavesdropping on their conversation. “Your mail has already been put in your gig, my lord,” he said politely. “Here are you dispatches.” “Thank you,” Granger said in a friendly way. He left Monarch and boarded his gig. “Back to the ship,” he said to Jacobs crisply. “Put your backs into it,” he said more loudly, to the crew of his gig. They obliged him, and got him back to Valiant in remarkably fast time. “Welcome back, my lord,” Weston said pleasantly. Granger forced himself to mimic Weston’s mood. “Thank you, Mr. Weston. There is mail in the gig, which you can distribute after we are underway.” “Aye aye, my lord,” he said promptly. “Set a course for Hellebæk,” Granger ordered. The other officers were a bit surprised that he didn’t signal the flag requesting permission to proceed, which was a very public snub directed at Dickson, but Granger decided that was preferable to asking for permission, having it denied, and thus being forced to sail anyway. Only after he made sure that Valiant was on the right course and away from the fleet did Granger excuse himself and retire to his cabin to read his letters and dispatches. The first letter was on Royal stationary, and upon opening it Granger discovered it was from the Lord Steward of the Household, the Earl of Leicester. The Lord Steward was the man responsible for overseeing the Comptroller of the Household, which made him Cavendish’s most immediate boss. It was a simple note telling him that while the King approved of his actions following the duel at Windsor, he was ordered to return Lord Frederick Cavendish to England at his earliest possible convenience. That didn’t overly surprise Granger, as he had fully expected the King to demand that Cavendish be released, but he had been nervous that the King would be angry with him for all but kidnapping Cavendish. Leicester’s letter made Granger guardedly optimistic that the King was not vexed with him. The next letter was from his father, who more or less corroborated Granger’s conclusion. He said that the King had been furious that a duel would be fought on his own property, and that it had negatively affected his health. Granger took that to mean that the King’s sanity had been worsened by the whole affair, something he felt quite bad about. He opened Caroline’s letter, and found himself smiling at having this link to her. He was so much happier, and so much more balanced, now that he was back on good terms with his formidable wife. Portland Place, London Dearest George, You have been gone but a brief time, but I already miss you terribly. The children are all doing well, and asking about you seems to be the one topic most on their minds. Your safe return occupies all of our minds, first and foremost. Lord Spencer informed me that he was sending you dispatches, and he offered to include my letter, so I am being more candid than I otherwise would be. Mr. Barnett is almost apoplectic over having his son sent to India, and has vowed to others, so I have heard, to extract painful revenge upon you. I would not worry overmuch about that. I have had discussions with friends of the Guild and expressed my extreme displeasure over their attempt to deprive Cavendish of his life. As I mentioned to you, I have painted that as the initial act of aggression, one that risked reviving the open conflict we have fought with that group of merchants who would give themselves such airs. In the end, they decided that they do not see this as a matter that involves them, and in fact, they have refused to intercede on Mr. Barnett’s behalf. It would appear that our informal détente with them still stands. Meanwhile, Mr. Barnett has hired a fast sloop to attempt to intercept the Psyche. Lord Brookstone was in town briefly, and I had occasion to talk to him of this matter. He told me that Psyche is known to be a fast frigate, and that in any event, the winds have been quite foul for a pursuit. They were unable to extract a Royal Order to release Mr. Barnett’s son, so even if the sloop finds them, Brookstone thinks it unlikely that Captain Preston will free him into their custody. It is all quite dramatic, but has had little effect beyond the fact that it has evolved like a good play on Drury Lane. Based on those being currently performed, this affair is much more interesting. The issue with the King has gone less well, so much that I am almost reluctant to tell you what I have heard. I am confident that you will ultimately see the truth behind the matter, and will not spend excessive time flagellating yourself. Evidently when His Majesty received your letter and learned of the duel, he became quite agitated, so much that he had to be restrained. His outburst became so violent that he lashed out at Her Majesty. Since then, The Queen has become so afraid for her safety she has refused to be alone with him. They were able to calm him, but that is a temporary state, or so I am led to believe. I learned much of this from your father, who stressed that this is most definitely not your fault, something I must emphasize, even though I know you will let the guilt envelop you. His Majesty was not well before this happened, and such a trigger was most likely inevitable. Your father, in concert with Lord Salisbury, believes that all of the King’s problems have, as their root cause, his absolute and total opposition to Catholic Emancipation. There is talk that when the Union goes into effect at the beginning of next year, there is sure to be a considerable battle between the King and Mr. Pitt over the Catholics, and I cannot see, based on how deeply the King feels his duty to the Church, that he will permit any accommodation to the Papists. In that case, we may very well see a change in the government, and I am wont to see how such a change would benefit us. When you talk to Cavendish, please give him my warmest regards. I am most concerned for him, as I cannot even begin to guess what kind of reception he will get when he next sees the King. His father refuses to even speak of him, so whatever happens, he will have no aid from that quarter. Please let him know that I stand ready to help him through the storm he may return to, and I have had occasion to talk to Arthur about this, and have secured his pledge to support Cavendish as well. With love from your devoted wife, Caroline Granger read the letter again, and compared it to the sterile communiqués he’d gotten from his father and Leicester. He did not hold that against those two gentlemen, since communicating without a private messenger was fraught with risk, but even their bald statements conveyed enough to corroborate Caroline’s assertions, not that Granger would have questioned them anyway. A knock on his door presaged the arrival of Midshipman Travers. Granger paused to admire the young man, who was maturing at a remarkably fast rate. “My lord, Mr. Weston’s respects and it is almost sunset,” he said. The nervousness and uncertainty he’d been enveloped with when he’d first come aboard had vanished, replaced by this officer who was growing in confidence daily. “Thank you, Mr. Travers,” Granger said, even as he stood up. “I think I will go admire this celestial phenomenon you have conjured up.” Travers smiled and followed his captain onto the quarterdeck, where the sun was just starting to dip below the horizon. “A beautiful sunset tonight, my lord,” Weston said cheerfully. “It is indeed, Mr. Weston,” Granger said, as he scanned their environs. “What is our position?” “We believe Helleboek is just below the horizon, my lord,” he said. There was no reason to press on at night, since they could not arrive at that port until morning anyway. “Heave to,” Granger ordered. “Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said, and turned to attend to that. While Valiant turned herself into the wind and hovered, as it were, waiting until morning when she could continue her voyage, her captain began to pace her lengthy quarterdeck. It was at times like these that Granger appreciated her size, and the fact that she had the quarterdeck of a ship of the line and not a frigate. It made pacing that much more satisfying when he could stride for a longer distance. Granger let his mind wander back to the letter he’d gotten from Caroline, and just as she’d predicted, he let the guilt overwhelm him. He had viewed the King as a sort of father figure, and truly cared about his eccentric monarch. Hosting Their Majesties aboard Valiant and spending time with them at Windsor had made Granger feel that connection even more. He would not admit it, less he be accused of being presumptuous, but he had almost felt as if he were part of the King’s extended family. To then see this man whom he idolized reduced to a state of mental incapacity, and to know that it was his letter which sparked that decline, was truly disturbing. Granger walked on, letting thoughts about this torture him, until he remembered the rest of Caroline’s letter, and used that to pull himself out of the depressed state he’d worked himself into. His letter may have been the trigger that sparked this latest outburst, but as she noted, it was his agonizing over Catholic Emancipation that was at the bottom of the problem. He smiled broadly when he remembered her last paragraph where she’d pledged to help Cavendish. She’d done that even before she’d gotten his latest letter telling her he’d invited Cavendish to reside at their home in Portland Place, and begging her to help him survive the challenges he’d face when he got back to England. She’d even gone so far as to enlist the help of Arthur Teasdale, and would presumably impose upon their other friends to do the same. Lord Spencer was quite fond of Cavendish, and had all but made him his protégé. Cavendish may not have his father in his corner, but he had a lot of other powerful allies who were there to watch out for him.
  21. 47 points
    The three hours dragged along, but Michael’s dads did their best to keep each other from worrying. Patrick told stories about his parents, and Peter shared memories of good times with his son. A nurse and a ward orderly, both male, came by to meet Patrick. He finally understood Peter’s comment about being jealous if the staff were younger, because the nurse was a forty-something handsome man, who pinged his gaydar nicely and transmitted a pleasant vibe when they shook hands. The other man was a hunky grey-haired Jamaican, who had them all laughing over a funny story about Patrick’s mum, ending up with: “And then she tells me ‘Mr. T., if every orderly was as dedicated as you, we’d be able to eat off the floors.’ So next week I brung her a square cake with white icing and a red marzipan bucket and mop.” He held out a photo showing him and a laughing Lizzie holding the remarkably tile-like cake between them. Patrick felt how pleased the man was with the praise he’d gotten, and how well the cake had been received. It sparked an almost forgotten memory. “I can remember her bringing the part with the bucket home and sharing it with Dad and me. It was one of the best cakes I’d ever tasted. She said one of her colleagues treated the staff on his birthday, and she managed to save the nicest piece to take home.” “My wife works in a bakery, which makes speciality cakes for all kinds of parties. Sure, it was my fiftieth birthday, but I had the idea from your mum always saying no nursing or doctor skills could make up for dirt or nasty germs. She made cleaning staff feel important and part of the heart team.” “Well, with the lecture the surgeon and Michael’s nurse gave us about hygiene here and at home I have no doubt they agree,” Peter said. “Patrick has hired professional cleaners, and I hope they’re close to your standard.” The male nurse smiled at the hunky Dane in a way which showed he appreciated the off-limit eye candy. “If not, I’m sure Michael’s grandmother will step in. She’s a most determined lady in spite of being very kind.” Patrick froze, but Peter was completely cool. “Thanks, Gerard. She’s my aunt, not my mum, but you’re right about her being the best granny for our son. And yes, she’s the perfect person to be in charge of his recovery. We couldn’t manage without her.” “Oops, sorry about that. I think my brain took a vacation. I knew she was an Auntie.” “More like all your blood went south,” the ward orderly teased him, and Patrick heard a faint giggle in the back of his head. Right, just the sort of joke that silly imp would enjoy. “Hey, it’s not every day we get such a handsome couple on the premises. I can’t wait to get home and tell Duncan about Lizzie’s son and his Viking. Can I take a picture of you two? My partner won’t believe my glowing descriptions otherwise.” As Peter and Patrick posed for several shots, the cardmaker felt inspirations for two cards simmer. He was intrigued by the friendly banter which showed the nurse was out and open about having an eye for good-looking guys, enough to have his straight colleague poke fun at it. He’d examined his own feelings for jealousy, when Gerard eyed Peter, but found none, and when the nurse mentioned his partner, Patrick knew why. There was a surge of love and pride from Gerard showing his absolute conviction that no matter how much he enjoyed ogling a handsome man, none of them compared to Duncan in his heart. The cardmaker got the distinct feeling both partners liked to share eye candy descriptions as innocent fun. “You gonna print me a couple of those to show the Missus?” Mr. T. enquired when Gerard finished, and the nurse nodded. “Could I have the name of the cake shop where your wife works, Mr. T.? We’ll want to celebrate with something special, when Michael comes home. Apparently, all Danes love cakes.” The ward orderly beamed at Patrick and gave him the name and address and a few hints on which cakes to try. Gerard chimed in, and it was obvious Mrs. T.’s cakes were renowned in the ward. “Would it be a good idea to buy a large cake for the staff here to share? We’d like to show our appreciation of all the hospital’s done for Michael.” Peter’s suggestion was met with enthusiasm from all, and they spent some time organizing how and when they should order the cake. Patrick had already decided he would ask Diane and Tania about ways to donate to the ward in order to help other children. Something in his mother’s name to keep her memory alive among the colleagues who had appreciated her kind heart as well as her skills. But the cake was a great idea for right now. After this conversation the nurse excused himself to get back to work, and Mr. T chased them out of the room to do his cleaning. “I always take the chance to do extra floor mopping when there’s no bed. And once the kiddo is back here, you don’t want me banging around with buckets and stuff.” They stood by the window in the corridor holding hands and chatting quietly. “I almost got jealous when Gerard was admiring your behind.” “What are you talking about, Peter? You’re the one he ogled, but I don’t blame him. You’re the most handsome man around.” “I guess he’s an equal opportunity admirer, but he certainly checked out your ass when you were looking at Mr. T.’s picture of your mum.” “Well, there’s no need to get jealous about other people looking, as long as they don’t try anything. I’ve no doubt you’ll be the recipient of plenty of wishful female thinking, what with having those rugged blond looks and a cute son. But I also know you’re mine, so they can look and sigh with envy as much as they like.” “True, and I admit Gerard’s admiration was quite innocent. Probably because he’s in a relationship.” “He thinks Duncan is the most beautiful guy in the world.” Peter looked around before replying. “Is that your ESP talking?” “Yep, I got clear vibes, and there’s no doubt they worship each other. Makes me want to design a card for them.” “Cool, I’m beginning to like the idea of my lover having a special talent. Apart from the ones in bed, I mean.” Patrick ignored the small leer and nudge. “You know, with the things I’ve been told about my mum, I’m beginning to think you’re right about her being gifted too.” “You’ll have to see if your children inherit anything.” “Children?” Patrick stared at Peter in shock. “I’d love for us to have more children together, and you can definitely afford a surrogate, right? Or isn’t this legal in England?” “I…uhm…I have no idea. I think most people have a friend or a sister help them out, but I don’t know of anyone….” The image of Fiona popped into his head, but he quickly dismissed it. As a deputy headmistress she wouldn’t be able to help, and besides it might bring back bad memories of her teen pregnancy. Had she given the baby up for adoption? Patrick didn’t know, but perhaps Fiona would confide in him, when they became close. “Well, there’s plenty of time to talk about this in the future. I just wanted you to know I’d love to see the son or daughter you’d father.” “Thank you, Peter. I’m sure they could never be as wonderful as Michael. And right now he’s our only son and priority.” They both turned when they heard Mr. T’s cheerful voice telling them he was all done. He waved away their thanks and proceeded to the next room. Back inside the two men tried to dismiss their worry about Michael by positive talk and hugs. They had no idea how the surgery was going. However, this was actually fine, since they’d been told ‘No news is good news’ in this case. Patrick even managed to persuade Peter to lie down on the sofa with his head on his lap. Stroking his hair gently made the Dane doze off for twenty minutes, which did him a lot of good. Shortly after eleven they were joined by Grethe and Alice. They had red cheeks and smiles on their faces, telling them about a nice walk in the sunshine after eating breakfast. They had only just sat down, when the surgeon entered. His pleased expression and smiling nod almost said it all. “I’m happy to tell you the operation was successful, and Michael will be perfectly alright once he recovers from surgery and rehab. Of course, we can never promise there won’t be unexpected complications, but the risk is very low and not something you should worry about. A few weeks of bedrest with careful physical activity and avoiding infections until the incision has healed, and it’s all a matter of rebuilding his strength.” There was a babble of joyful exclamations and thanks, as well as hugs and a few tears shed. When they had calmed down, Grethe and Peter asked more questions, and Patrick joined Alice by the window. “I’m probably being silly, but I can’t bear to hear any details. I just want to know Michael is fine.” She gave him a wobbly smile. “Oh thank God for that, I feel exactly the same. I’m so grateful Grethe is here to share these matters with Peter, so I don’t have to. We can support him in other ways, and I can see how much your presence means to both of them.” “You’d think having mums who were nurses we wouldn’t be squeamish, but I can’t stand the sight of blood.” “I think we can be similar to our parents in some ways and completely dissimilar in others.” “Or similar to one parent, but not to the other. Peter’s very much like his dad and not at all like his mum. Annika is a mixture, although to be fair she’s never had some of Marianne’s worst traits.” “I got the impression his mum’s objection to us as a couple stems mostly from her current husband.” They’d turned towards the window and lowered their voices, but Patrick kept glancing towards Peter to make sure he would be ready to walk over if needed. “I think my aunt is the sort of person who’s easily persuaded and guided in her opinions and ideas. That’s OK when it’s done by someone like my mum or Peter’s dad, but a problem when it’s someone like Sven.” On the last word, her voice dropped to a whisper, almost making the name inaudible. It reinforced his impression that no one liked to say the man’s name in Peter’s presence. Fine with him, but it was helpful to know Alice disliked the guy too. Peter looked towards them, and Alice must have noticed, because her voice suddenly became clear and full of giggles. “Yup, it’s true, our mums named us after their favourite story book characters. I’m Alice in Wonderland and Kim is the Kipling character.” “So me calling him Peter Plys was a lucky coincidence? Or is he named for Peter in Narnia?” Alice clapped a hand in front of her mouth to stop her laughing at his quick wits in taking up the diversion. Her eyes were dancing as she nodded, and Peter groaned and waved them over. The surgeon was checking a call on his pager, which had created a lull in their talk. Alice and Patrick approached and tried to compose themselves to listen to the doctor. “Sorry about that. Michael’s in recovery right now, but we’ve decided to bring him up here rather than let him stay there as first planned. His stats were stable by the end of surgery, and it’s nicer for him to be moved while asleep and wake in relative familiar surroundings. He should surface about half an hour from now. He’ll be able to hear you, but don’t expect any responses at first. He’ll be dozy and maybe a bit confused.” “Do we need to suit up?” “Just wear gowns over your normal clothes, no need for masks or gloves. But wash your hands and use the alcohol rub before you touch him.” “I’m going to do some shopping,” Alice told them. “Just text me if there’s a change of plans. I have Mum’s key to the house and the code for the alarm, so I can go there when I get bored.” “When did you ever get bored with shopping?” Peter teased her, and she smacked his arm. Alice left and the rest of them got busy preparing for Michael’s arrival. A short while later a porter wheeled a sleeping Michael into the room. The surgeon conferred quietly with the nurse following him, while Peter and Patrick held hands at their son’s bedside. Michael was on his back and a huge bandage covered his left side. The yellow skin on his torso contrasted starkly with the white gauze, and Patrick knew the colour came from the disinfectant and would soon fade. Thankfully there was no visible blood apart from the almost empty bag hanging next to the saline drip, both of which were replacing the boy’s lost fluids. Michael looked pale, but he was breathing easily and his pulse was calm, as evident by the monitor next to the bed to which sensors on the boy were plugged in immediately after arrival. A thin tube under his nose feed oxygen into his system, and his lips seemed a little dry. The white-blond locks were hidden under a light blue cap, but the boy still looked angelic. His arms were supported by pillows, so he wouldn’t move them too suddenly when he woke. “You can talk to him, just keep it quiet. And when he starts to surface, you can hold his hands, if you want.” They looked up to see the nurse smiling at them, and Peter nodded while wiping his eyes. Patrick moved a chair to the bedside and told Peter to sit down. “This way you can hold his hand and speak to him in Danish. I’ll be behind you, so he can see us both, when he opens his eyes.” Ten minutes later their vigil was rewarded when Michael began to stir and make small sounds. Peter increased the volume of his voice slightly and repeated the same phrase over and over. “Det er OK, Michael. Far og Papa er her.” It was easy to understand he was telling his son everything was OK and, his dad and Patrick were there with him. Patrick saw Michael’s right hand tighten on the fingers Peter had resting gently on the open palm. At the same time, his left hand twitched. Grethe, who was standing on the other side of the bed, enclosed the small fingers in her hand, mindful of the attached drip. The nurse kept an eye on the boy as well as the monitor and she seemed pleased and calm as she took notes. Suddenly Michael’s eyes opened, they were unfocused and blinked against the light, even though they had dimmed it. A small whimper of pain made Patrick wince and look at the nurse. She gave him a sympathetic smile. “He’ll be in pain for the first few days, even with medication. The challenge is to give him enough to make the pain bearable without zonking him out completely. We want him to be awake and moving about as much as possible. It’s better for him.” The next ten minutes Peter and Moster Grethe took turns to reassure Michael all was well, even though he hurt. He would squeeze their fingers and his eyes got clearer every time he looked at them. The nurse left for a moment and came back with a small cup of ice flakes. Patrick took it and used the small spoon to place a couple of them between the boy’s lips. Michael eagerly sucked the ice into his mouth, and he gave him two more helpings before pausing. He could remember his mother doing the same for him when he had a fever or after being sick, and he knew to go slow. “Far, det gør ondt,”[1] Michael whispered, and Grethe quickly translated for the nurse. “He says it hurts.” “Ask him where.” Grethe did and translated the whiny reply of ‘over det hele’ as “All over.” “Good, that means it’s a general soreness and not a sharp or specific pain.” She took a syringe and injected something via the vent in his drip. “Tell him this will help, and ask if he’s feeling nauseated.” “Har du kvalme?”[2] Michael shook his head at Peter’s question about feeling sick and asked for more ice. Patrick was proud he could guess the meaning of ‘mere is, Papa’ and slowly fed him the rest of the ice after getting a nod of approval from the nurse. Peter was doing his best to reassure his son the pain would decrease, but he was also honest about it hurting for several days. However, he emphasized the good news about the success of the surgery which would ensure Michael’s future health. The explanation was done in simple short sentences, which Peter translated for Patrick after each one. This gave Michael time to absorb the words, and after Peter had repeated himself a few times the boy seemed to catch up. “Ja, ja, far, jeg har forstået. Nu gør det heller ikke så ondt mere.”[3] The nurse was pleased to be told the pain had receded, and Michael was perky enough to tell his dad to stop repeating himself. She disconnected the empty drips and removed the cap and the pillows under his arms. Grethe wiped Michael’s face and neck with a cold cloth and he was allowed to drink more water if he took it slow. The boy would doze off for a while between periods of lucidity, and when he was awake he lay quietly and mostly answered any questions with a nod, a headshake or single words. Grethe and Patrick sat down next to the bed. Michael seemed content to hold their hands and listen to them talking quietly in English or Danish. Patrick went out around two o’clock to buy some sandwiches and drinks for them and he phoned Alice to let her know Michael was doing well. She was thrilled to hear it and thanked him for keeping her updated. “I’m not sure when we’ll be back at the house. Peter is reluctant to leave Michael’s side, which is understandable. Your mum says she’ll take a nap on the sofa after lunch, and I may stroll down to the shop for an hour or two, because there isn’t really much I can do. Michael is too tired to need entertaining but the nurse thinks he’ll be able to sit up for a bit late in the afternoon.” “That’s fine, Patrick. I’m going to the airport to pick up Kim and I’ll take him to your place and feed him. Text me when you leave for home and I’ll wake him up, so he’s ready to greet Peter. Until then I’ll assume no news is good news.” By five in the afternoon, Michael was well enough for the back of the bed to be raised into a half-sitting position. He’d peed in a bottle twice, and was able to stick his tongue out at his dad when Peter joked about him not peeing in bed since he was three. He progressed to eating yogurt and vanilla ice cream, and the nurse promised him a special treat for breakfast if he felt hungry enough. When the boy immediately said “Pancakes?” she laughed and told him she’d do her best to make it happen. Both Danes had been adamantly against Patrick leaving, so while Grethe slept on the sofa, he massaged Peter’s shoulders, took turns holding Michael’s hands while his fiancé returned the favour, and made notes about his card ideas. It was flattering to be needed simply for his presence when he’d felt useless, and Michael even whispered a few words about ‘sej engel med lyssværd’ which Peter translated as cool angel with light sabre. Patrick heard a faint huff of ‘my sword isn’t a silly light sabre’ and two giggles from the invisible entities in his head. When he sent out a silent but heartfelt thanks for keeping their son safe, there was a grumpy but pleased ‘you’re welcome’ from the hunky blond guardian angel momentarily hovering at the back of his mind before fading from his inner sight. He got the feeling the angel felt his duty was done, which he decided to take as a sign Michael was out of danger. It was worth the slightly uncomfortable idea of angels being around when you’d never been religious. At the thought, the naughty imp suddenly manifested in his head and rolled his eyes. ‘Yo buddy, we ain’t got anything to do with humans and their stupid notions of gods.’ To Patrick’s surprise the cute angel immediately popped in to agree. ‘Organized religion has nothing to do with us. The names of our abodes may translate as Heaven and Hell to humans, but they’re nothing like what people imagine.’ ‘Except, we have it hot, and you Angels are normally a frigid lot.’ The imp leered at the angel who promptly smacked the back of his head. They faded away accompanied by a mutter of ‘Aww, Angie’ and ‘Don’t call me that or else…’ leaving Patrick quite confused about the feeling of mutual love and attraction seemingly emanating from the arch enemies. He had no idea why he kept imagining these two or the Guardian Angel for that matter. At least, he hoped he was making them up subconsciously, since the alternative was simply too weird, even for a guy with ESP. By eight in the evening, Michael was ready to let his daddies go home after extracting a solemn promise from both of them about returning early in the morning. Peter had surprised his son with a new iPad with headphones, which could be used as long as it was in flight mode. Michael was thrilled at the possibility of watching cartoons, which they had downloaded for him. But he could only concentrate for ten minutes at a time before needing a rest. But the night nurse was optimistic and said a good night’s sleep would work wonders together with some fine-tuning of the boy’s pain medication. Grethe had gone out for a quick meal around seven pm and would be with him all night. When they arrived in the morning, she would go home to spend time with Alice and take a long nap. They’d arrive for normal visiting hours if Michael seemed well enough to have extra visitors. Of course, Kim would be with them, but neither Grethe nor Peter knew this. Nor did they mention Alice to Michael, in case she didn’t get the chance to visit. Thus, with a few extra kisses and careful hugs for Michael and Moster Grethe the two men set off for home. Patrick suggested Peter call or text his mother, even though Grethe had contacted her sister earlier to tell her the good news. While he was occupied with composing a text, Patrick sent off his own message to Alice to warn her they were on the way home. He’d set his phone to silent, to avoid alerting Peter when her return text saying ‘OK, we’re ready’ arrived. On the spur of the moment he also wrote texts to Fiona and John, and those enthusiastic replies to the happy tidings he shared with a pleased Dane. Everyone were both relieved and grateful to be safely and successfully past the hurdle of surgery. [1] Daddy, it hurts. [2] Do you feel sick? [3] Yes, yes, Daddy, I get it / I understand. It doesn’t hurt as much now.
  22. 46 points
    Chapter Twenty “Is that you, little bro?” he heard his brother calling for him. “Yeah, it’s me,” Jake spoke. “I’ll make you something to eat.” “With your cooking, I might be dead by next week,” Diaz joked. Jake helped his brother up on to his good foot and then guided him to the kitchen table. At least he knew how to make scrambled eggs. “How come you didn’t go running back to that asshole?” Diaz asked as he ate. “I’m no longer collateral,” Jake spoke as he fiddled with the cutlery. “Whatever business he had with us, that’s over.” Diaz seemed to ponder. “I thought fags were pussy ass bitches. He did a number on me, the fucker.” “I tried to warn you,” Jake said. “That guy, when he’s not working, he’s just training. He’s into some weird shit kung fu stuff.” “You should have tried harder and fired that gun,” Diaz mumbled. “And have us both in jail? Or worse? You don’t know this guy, Diaz.” “Yeah, I don’t know him. But I thought I knew you. And you chickened out. So what if we ended in jail? This shit isn’t a good life anyway. What do you do? Wash dishes?” “Diaz, just stop it. Any kind of work is good. Especially in our situation.” “Why don’t you go to one of those construction sites? They pay better, at least.” “I don’t want to go back to work for him,” Jake replied. Diaz seemed to ponder. “I suppose that would be shitty, yeah. But don’t worry, once I’m on my feet, I’ll be right back into action. And you won’t have to wash dishes no more, little bro,” he said. Jake shrugged. Whatever plans Diaz had, he didn’t want to hear. He could not give a damn about anyone’s plans. Later, after his brother fell asleep, he took out his phone and stared at it. Missed calls, unread messages. He had to get rid of the damn thing. *** It was quite a surprise, Klaus thought, as his eyes bore into the papers in front of him like he wanted to burn a hole through them. A very unpleasant surprise. Like a shard of ice that made him feel cold from the inside. He frowned. “Sir?” his secretary’s musical voice brought him back to the real world. “Are the terms to your liking? You have not said a word. I can have the legal team ...” “No, it is all in order, Martha,” he smiled at the woman who seemed relieved. Everything was in order except for one thing. And that had to be corrected. The past several weeks was enough time for things to settle down. *** Jake felt like he needed three nights of sleep. Working two shitty jobs was enough to make him a little crazy. Or just very tired. At least, Diaz was on the mend. Soon enough, they were going to be both working, and that meant he could catch a bit of rest. He kicked a stone and watched it roll. Until it hit a pair of perfectly shined shoes. His head shot up. “I think it is time for you to come home now.” “That’s exactly where I was heading until you blocked the way,” Jake looked away with growing unease. “You are not answering your phone, nor reading your messages. I believe this rebellious period should come to an end. You did not even go to work.” “Believe whatever the fuck you want.” The man started walking towards him. Jake looked around. The deserted street didn’t look to have too many escape routes. “I do not like repeating myself, Jake. Come home.” The hand on his wrist was warm, but Jake was done with being lulled into a false sense of security. He pulled his arm free. “Or what? Are you going to put a bullet through my head? Or beat me bloody?” he spat. Again, the blue eyes swam in hurt. Jake wanted none of it. Believed none of it. “It is true that we need to talk.” “Talk about what? Are you for real, Klaus? You held a fucking gun to my head!” he pointed two fingers at his temple to emphasize his words. “Don’t tell me that thing wasn’t real!” “It was real,” Klaus sighed. “Was it loaded?” “Yes, it was loaded.” “For fuck’s sake,” Jake pushed his hands through his hair in despair. “What do you want me to say, huh? That I’m crazy enough to like playing Russian roulette with you? That shit ain’t flying; I can tell you that!” “Do you suggest that I could have hurt you? The safety was on.” “No shit,” Jake spoke. “Well, I don’t give a fuck anyway. I don’t want your fucked up games. Just stop being in my way. Ah, and take this stupid phone. It’s yours, anyway.” He took the phone from his pocket and held it. Klaus made no move to take it. “I bought it for you. I do not want it back.” “Well, you should take it, because it’s not mine, either. I am not going just to break it or throw away your property; it’s too expensive.” “You can keep it.” “Fine,” Jake pushed it back into his jeans. “I’ll drop it by your house when I have the time.” He began walking. He could not stand one more minute to be around the man. He could not stand looking at him and think of all the stupid lies. And the time before. Before everything went to shit. “I will wait for you, then,” Klaus called after him. *** Jake was entitled to feel hurt. But he should have known better. Klaus tossed and turned. The boy should have trusted him. It did hurt like a bitch. Something of Jake’s language seemed to rub off on him. And sleeping alone was a bitch, too. He gave up and went to the window to light another cigarillo. The prey was proving difficult to catch. Maybe he could start to corner it. Then Jake would have to talk to him. And he could settle things, explain everything, and they could go back to normal. It felt unreal. Like a pain in his side that refused to go away. He could have just gone and forced the boy to come back. But the thought did not appeal. Jake had to want to keep up his part of the deal. After all, Diaz was free as a bird, despite being the most deserving of a few years behind bars in probably the entire town. *** That was the fourth place where they said they didn’t need any help. The situation was starting to feel creepy somehow. At least, Diaz was bringing home money, only he knew how. Jake didn’t care to know, and he didn’t want to get involved. Maybe that was the sign he had been waiting for his entire life. This town was a dead end, nothing more. He could lie to himself all he wanted, but the thought of dying while peddling drugs or doing something stupid was not his idea. It was maybe his brother’s, but not his. There were a few loose ends to tie up. It hurt like a bitch, but it was needed. He felt so stupid for still caring for that asshole. But he would have rather cut his hand than grab the phone and call him. They were going to forget about each other. Klaus was probably already swimming in supermodels by now. And one day, maybe he was going to get together with someone else. Not like Klaus. That was as definite as the scar on his arm. He went straight to the post office. Counting the few crumpled bills and change in his pocket, he spread them on the counter. “I’d like to send a package.” *** “What’s with you home so soon?” Diaz questioned. “I can’t seem to find a decent place to work in this shitty town,” Jake shrugged. “I’m thinking about leaving.” “Leaving? Why would you leave? You can work with me,” Diaz grabbed him by the shoulder. “Nah, I’ll pass,” Jake shrugged. Diaz threw him a strange look. “Ever since you went to live with that fag, you got all these crazy ideas in your head. We have to rebuild the Outsiders. It’s only you and me left now.” “Only you,” Jake shook his head. “I was never one of you, guys. You made sure I felt that. I was the fucking Outsider. Even to you.” “You were just a kid, little bro. I could not let you in everything. But now things are different. Come on. We’ll have fun, women, everything. Don’t tell me that fag made you like to take it up the ass, too,” Diaz joked. Jake recoiled from his brother’s touch. “Stop saying the word fag,” he said through his teeth. “Say what?” Diaz moved closer like he pretended he could not hear well. “I said,” Jake straightened his back and looked his brother in the eyes, “to stop saying the word fag.” “Are you taking that guy’s side now? He took our gang away from us, our home, he beat me up, broke my leg, and you’re on his side?” “I’m on no one’s side but mine,” Jake replied. Diaz’s eyes grew wide. Then he began shaking his head. “Nah, that cannot be,” he spoke. “What are you trying to say?” Jake sighed, and inhaled deeply, knowing it was now or never. “I’m gay, okay?” Diaz stared at him for a moment and then frowned. “Is April’s Fools or something?” “No. That’s who I am. And don’t worry, Diaz, you don’t have to support your little brother’s weight around no more. I’m leaving.” “Did that guy turn you like a little bitch then?” Diaz asked. “No. I was always gay.” “Like hell you were. You fucked girls. Don’t tell me shit just to piss me off.” “I never liked it with a girl.” “Bullshit!” Diaz swept the plates off the table, making them land on the floor and break into pieces. “Stop joking, little brother or I won’t mind beating the shit out of you!” Diaz pushes his index finger into Jake’s face. Jake remained calm. “I’m leaving tonight. If you have anything to say to me, just say it now.” “This is what I have to say to you.” The punch made him lose balance for a moment. But he regained it and put his fist into Diaz’s face so fast that the other staggered, both in surprise and because of the strength of the hit. Maybe he had picked up a few things lately too. “You don’t get to beat me up anymore, big brother,” he said bitterly. “If you can’t live with me being gay, I can. And I prefer it.” He went through the door without a look back. “Jake, come back here,” Diaz yelled after him. Jake just continued to walk faster. They had not had a good surgeon. Diaz now had a limp. And that meant he could not catch him. *** He waved for another car, but the driver didn’t stop. He could feel his jaw starting to hurt, where Diaz had hit him. That was not going to look good. But he had some money left from the time he had worked for Klaus to put a roof over his head until he found work. The least pleasant thing, however, was not how his feet were starting to hurt, or how his belly grumbled. The annoying little thoughts dragging on him like an elastic band, and all related to that guy. The further he walked away from his place of birth, the further he was getting away from him, too. And that put an empty space in the pit of his stomach that was making it almost impossible to breathe. A car almost blinded him, coming from the other direction. Jake was tempted for a second to give the guy the finger, but he was too damn tired for that. Maybe he could just find a place to sleep not far from the road and continue his trip in the morning. The driver that had just passed by him made a sudden U-turn, and Jake looked behind him. The silver Merc didn’t seem ominous by no means, but it was not like he could tell good guys from the bad guys lately. The surprising part was that the Merc stopped by his side. When the window slid down, he wondered if he should make a run for it. “Jake, buddy, what’s with you here?” Jake stared in shock at the last person he was expecting to see. “Fuck,” he murmured under his breath, as he looked back into Hans's face. “Come on, don’t just stand there. Get in, and I’ll give you a lift.” He looked down the road. There was a chance in a hundred he was going to get someone to drive him to the next town. And Hans was a nice guy, after all. “So where to?” Hans asked him, once he was seated comfortably inside. “Is it just me, or you’re traveling to the opposite direction of what I know to be your hometown?” Jake snorted. But he was thankful for the consideration. “I just need to get to the nearest town. Or just somewhere that is far enough from here.” Hans made a small non-committal sound. “Should I ask what happened?” he kicked the car into gear and they started moving. “Wait, what’s that on your face?” Hans frowned as he spoke. “Just tell me it was not my friend who did that to you or it means that I don’t know anyone anymore and I should lose faith in humanity.” “No, it wasn’t,” Jake hurried to talk. “It was my brother. I kinda came out to him or something.” “Then I’m surprised you don’t look worse,” Hans said in good humor. “I know how to run,” Jake replied. “It looks so,” Hans added. “Do you want me to call Klaus?” “No,” Jake said sourly. “I’m through with that guy.” “Something did smell fishy to me,” Hans spoke. “Klaus only speaks about work, and you’re never online. I should have guessed there was something wrong in paradise.” “Paradise?” Jake snorted. “It was not anything like it.” But it had been everything like it. Only it had been nothing but a fucking ugly lie, nothing else. “But what brings you here?” Jake chose to change the subject. “And you even left your boyfriend behind, it seems.” “Well, Stephen has a lot of work to do. And he’s not my boyfriend anymore.” Jake stared at the man in shock. “What? Did you guys break up? Why?” Hans laughed. “He’s actually my fiancé now. We’re getting married.” “Fucking A!” Jake exclaimed. “That’s pretty awesome, man! Congrats!” “I am here, actually, to invite you and Klaus to my wedding. I thought it was pretty important news not to deliver over the phone. And I wanted to see both of you losing it when I broke the news to you.” “Well, you can definitely say I’m losing it! It’s fucking great! I hope you guys will be happy and all that stuff people say to those ready to tie the knot.” “I also wanted to propose something else, but never mind,” Hans said quickly. “Ah, man, it’s like the biggest news ever,” Jake shook his head in disbelief. “But what did you want to propose?” “Ah, I’ll bring it up another time. Let some things chill.” “If you say so,” Jake said unconvinced. “Now that I told you my secret, how about you tell me yours? What made you make a run for it? And how is Klaus not after us this very moment, with a special unit, just to take you home?” “Long story,” Jake mumbled. “I have time. I’ll take you where you want to be, and then I’ll see to you getting settled. It looks to me like you don’t carry any luggage. Do you always travel this light?” “Okay,” Jake exhaled. “Well, maybe the story is not that long. He held a gun to my head, beat up my brother, and didn’t even say sorry.” Hans remained silent for a moment. “I doubt he had any intention to hurt you for real. And, while I don’t know your brother, I suppose he had it coming.” That Jake could not argue with. “Yeah, I guess. But ... I don’t know this guy, Hans. He ... I don’t have a fucking clue who he is.” “Well, did he explain to you why he acted the way he did? There must be an explanation for it. I know Klaus well, and this is not just me taking sides with my best friend. Despite his annoying personality, he always means well.” “I don’t know,” Jake shook his head. “I just ... I cannot. I need to set my head straight. Be on my own. Learn who the fuck I am, you know? Maybe that’s the problem. Not that I don’t know who he is, but that I don’t know who I am.” “Well, distance makes the heart grow fonder,” Hans said while watching Jake intently. Jake winced. At least, Hans was not quick to just take Klaus’s side, and that meant something. As little as he had interacted with the man, he was sure they were friends, to some degree. Hans had grown on him, in a way that not many people had. *** “Hey, don’t expect me just to leave you here!” Hans protested as he forced the cash into his hand. “And don’t worry. I’m not Klaus. You’re sexy as hell, but I want that money back to the last cent.” Jake snickered. “I will pay you back, don’t worry.” “And let us get you settled,” Hans said as he took out his credit card. “I’m paying for your stay, but then I’ll be on my way.” “Isn’t Klaus expecting you?” Jake asked. “He can deal with a bit of waiting. Plus, if what you tell me is true, he deserves it.” “All right. But don’t let him wait too long. He’s an asshole with that kind of thing.” Hans laughed. “It looks like you do know him well, Jake. Yeah, he’s a stickler for etiquette, when it pleases him.” “And … please don’t tell him anything about me. That we met and, you know, …. Everything.” “I won’t. I’m your friend, too, and if this is your decision, I respect it.” Jake could not say he wasn’t thankful for having Hans to help him. At least, this type of relationship was honest, and he didn’t have to question the man’s reason. *** Klaus was carefully perusing his correspondence when his butler let him know of Hans’s arrival. Anything was welcome to keep him occupied. It had been weeks since Jake had promised to drop by. His patience was wearing thin, and, for the first time in who knew how long, he felt like he had no clear idea what to do to make things happen. No, it wasn’t like that. He knew what to do, how and where to squeeze. It was all a matter of time, and then Jake was going to have to listen to him. And then things were going to get back to normal. “Hey,” he stood up and let Hans pull him into a bear-like hug. “How are you, my friend?” Hans pushed him at arm’s length and searched his face with inquisitive eyes. “All well. Business as usual.” “That’s what you’re good at, after all. But where’s Jake? I was expecting to see him running to the door, wagging his tail,” Hans joked. Klaus froze his face into an expressionless mask. “Oh, he’s not here.” Hans seemed taken aback. “I see you’re evolving, Klaus. How nice of you to leave a longer leash for your lover. Good thing you’re less of a control freak than usual.” “Trust me, that is nothing of the kind,” Klaus pursed his lips. “We are … taking a break, I think.” “Taking a break?” Why on earth Hans had to sound like a fucking parakeet at this very moment? It made a small muscle in his jaw begin to tick. “Yes, we had a bit of a misunderstanding, and now I need to let him cool his hot head off a little. He will come around, eventually.” “This sounds serious,” Hans’s eyes filled with worry. “Come on, spit it out. Don’t make me nag you until you tell me everything.” “I would appreciate if you skipped playing the best friend part, for now,” Klaus snapped. Now Hans frowned. “How about you skip being an asshole for a change? I don’t ‘play’ this role. You should know better.” “Yes, I know,” Klaus exhaled. “I am terribly sorry. I have no idea what is happening to me these days.” Hans nodded in understanding. “Apologies accepted. But I suppose you don’t take Jake’s absence as easy as you want me to believe.” “Maybe,” Klaus shrugged. “I don’t understand how you’re not after him, dragging him back. This is definitely new to you. I mean, everything is new when it comes to Jake and you.” “What do you mean? I never run after a lover.” “This is not just about any relationship you had in the past. Klaus, let me be honest with you. I don’t remember ever seeing you so invested in someone.” Klaus sighed. “Jake had to be unruly at the most inopportune time. I needed to settle things with his brother, and he chose to make an appearance. He just misunderstood my actions.” “Oh,” Hans murmured. “And did you explain to him what really happened?” “He is too stubborn to listen to reason sometimes. So, no, for now, he believes whatever he thinks he is entitled to believe.” “How long has it been until you two are like this?” Hans questioned. “I think a few months,” Klaus felt irritated by the question. “And aren’t you afraid he’s going to go down some wrong path? You know where he’s coming from, right?” “Well,” Klaus’s frown deepened. “If he wants to be a gangster, let him be a gangster. He knows what is on the table.” “Wow, I thought you would be more into making him take the right path. You don’t sound like yourself.” “In this matter, my friend,” Klaus ran one hand through his hair, “I must say … I want him to come back because he wants to. This, whatever happened between us, was never real if he does not choose me over that asshole of a brother he has.” “Oh, my … fuck me,” Hans chuckled. “You’re frigging jealous! I’ve never seen you jealous! Frankly, I think Jake should be examined by a team of CERN scientists to see what he carries in that pretty head of his because if he managed to make the Ice Man himself jealous, he might have the keys to some important mysteries of the universe.” “Stop joking. And I cannot be jealous. It is not like he is fucking his brother. Why would I be jealous?” “So making him choose between you and his family is totally normal,” Hans shook his head. “I do not make him choose.” “My friend, you’re a total bundle of contradictions. I’m this close to want to smack some sense into you.” “I think you should refrain from that,” Klaus replied sourly. “Well, it appears that Jake is not the only one with a hot head in all this. Anyway, I wanted to tell you something important.” Klaus examined his friend and pondered. “You are smiling like the famous Cheshire cat. What did you do?” “Well, you don’t have to be so annoying, but yes, I did something. The most important thing in my life to date.” “Hmm, did you buy a new house? I have yet to see someone with so much aversion for new property. Seeing that I am engaged in real estate businesses everywhere I go, that is a tad unnerving.” “No, something more important than that.” “Hans, you are testing my patience. Just do not tell me that you fell in love, because that I heard at least one thousand times in the past few months. Unless, of course, you were so excited for the new law that has just passed, that you went and did something stupidly romantic like getting on one knee.” Hans’s smile widened. Klaus chuckled. “Ah, you old devil. This is it, right? And what did he say?” “Actually, I was the one proposed to,” Hans said with satisfaction. “And of course I said ‘yes’.” “Wow,” Klaus leaned against his desk. “So when should we expect the happy event to take place?” “We both decided that Christmas is a wonderful time of the year to have the celebrations. And you are invited as the guest of honor, of course.” “Have you decided on a place for the event? I would love to offer my house, you know,” Klaus spoke. “That is wonderful news,” Hans clapped his hands. “Yes, it is,” Klaus said, and a bit of warmth returned to his voice. “I am happy for you. It was something you wanted for a long time, was it not? And do not worry; I know you just manipulated me into putting my house at your disposal for the party. That means that nor you or Stephen want a thousand people you don’t know at your wedding. You know the place is rather cramped.” “It’s perfect for what we have in mind. The only thing is, I want to invite Jake, too.” Klaus felt his lips twitching, seeking to form a grimace. “That would be difficult. The annoying brat is not answering his phone.” “But you know where to find him, right? I expect you to tell him the news,” Hans said. “I do know where to find him,” Klaus admitted. That could be the perfect opportunity. Klaus thought about it. It was worth considering, nonetheless. “So you are settling down,” he said after a small pause. “Yeah. He’s perfect, you know?” Hans said with a small smile. Perfect. Something usually difficult to achieve. But not impossible. He loved imperfections most now. “I also wanted to hold you to your promise from our childhood,” Hans added. “What promise?” Klaus asked. “You know, the joint wedding,” Hans said with a small smile. Klaus snorted. “That was just something stupid. Plus, I think the twins are already married with children by now. You know they were older than us.” “Joke all you want, but just think about it,” Hans smiled again. “Jake seems to be a commitment type of guy. And, just to be sure, you won’t have any issues with him straying, if you tie him up properly.” “Regardless of your choice of words, Hans, for me, it would be just a stupid idea.” “Why? You told me you wanted to take Jake with you to Germany.” “Yes, so we can continue what we have begun. But marriage? Sometimes, Hans, I think you know me too little.” “Again, you’re contradicting yourself. You know, you’re not getting any younger. And Jake, well, he does have a future. He might grow bored with you, and head over to greener pastures.” “And that is how I know you sometimes like talking out of your ass,” Klaus shrugged, but a small annoying seed fell and dipped right into his heart. “As I see it now, Jake and I are hanging by a thread. He holds it in his hand. If he chooses to severe it, I have no qualms about it. I am not like you. I do not believe in romantic nonsense, and happy-ever-afters.” “Oh, no,” Hans pressed his chest in a theatrical gesture. “The saddened prince decided he could live without love. And then he roamed the earth, trying to rekindle the flame in his heart to no avail.” “Frankly, Hans, you sometimes make me want to punch you in the face. We are not 15 anymore, nor will we ever be again. Jake was more interesting than many others I have met. But he is not the end of the road for me. I am not going to wait for him forever.” “As you say, my friend,” Hans shrugged and threw Klaus one shrewd look that seemed to see down right into the bottom of his heart. That night, he slept like hell. He had not thought about Jake finding someone else. And Hans had to come and just say that. Now, he could not get that stupid idea out of his head, regardless of how hard he was trying. TBC
  23. 45 points
    ALWAYS by Geoff Chassen Chapter 4 – SINCERELY, ME Billy and I got out of the car and it just dawned on me. What the fuck do I do now? Do I knock? Ring the doorbell? Just walk in? Shit! Yay Billy! He moved ahead of me and just walked in. “We’re here!” “In my room!” “Let’s go. I’m so psyched to do this song!” He leaned into me and lowered his voice, “Even more psyched to do it with you… and Noah, of course.” Oh. My. Fucking. God. He took my hand and led me into the bedroom. Noah was at his desk and doing something on his laptop. “Yes! There it is!” He apparently knew where to find sheet music for “Sincerely Me” from the score of the show… not just the regular sheet music. That was perfect because it would show each of us exactly what to sing and where to sing it! Noah printed out a copy for each of us and then hooked the laptop to the television on the wall. He even had a video of the show. I don’t know how the fuck he got that, but I’m pretty sure it wasn't 100% legal. He found the song and let it play, telling us just to watch it a couple of times and enjoy it. The third time he played it we followed along in the music, kind of half-singing our way through it. Noah was definitely in charge of this rehearsal, which I was more than happy to see happen. He pulled up the cast album for the show and said we should sing full out along with the cast a couple of times. “Okay, let’s see if there’s a good karaoke version on YouTube.” He did a quick search and shouted, “Holy shit! Perfect!” Billy jumped in with, “What did you find? Is it there?” “Yeah, there’s a full-out karaoke but… you won’t believe this, but I found one for each of the characters with the other two vocals.” I was confused. “Huh?” “Okay… Here’s one called “Sincerely Me – You Sing Evan” and Jared and Conner’s parts are on the recording. It’s perfect for us to practice on our own!” Noah pulled up the full-out karaoke version and we gave it a shot. Damn. It kinda sucked the first time… especially the back and forth parts. It was better the second time and by the time we got to the fourth time, we actually were getting it pretty good. The only thing we really needed to work on now was the harmonies. “Billy can play the piano. Why don’t we go out to the living room and pick out our parts?” And that’s what we did. Billy played each of our parts until we felt confident. It only took a few runs to feel like we had it nailed. We went into the kitchen for a drink and David was already filling glasses with ice. He had just brewed some mint tea and poured each of us a glass. We all went out to the patio and sat around the table. “Boys, it’s starting to sound really good. You already have a wonderful blend. Your teacher is going to be most impressed, I think.” “Thanks, Pop. I think Maddy came up with the perfect casting. And of course, none of this would be possible without Nick!” “Noah, none of it would be possible without you or Billy. It takes all three of us to make this song happen.” “Well boys, I think Nick nailed it on the head. Now… I’m going to go in and get dinner started. Billy? Would you like to join us for dinner? We’d love to have you.” “Gotta call Mom and see what she says.” Billy did just that and got the parental approval he wanted. “I’m in!” He looked over at me and smiled. I just blushed. Noah caught the little exchange and did the coolest brother thing he could have done. He went inside with David to help him out in the kitchen. Well, that left me alone on the patio with Billy McCallister... the boy who kissed me just a couple of hours ago. Of course, my total and complete comfort in social situations (not!) reared its ugly head and I just blushed and looked down at the table. “Are you okay, Nick?” “Yeah. I just have a lot of shit spinning around in my head. And I know we’re facing away from the house, but chances are real good that David and Noah are watching every move we make.” “Ya think? So I’m thinking we should give them something to look at.” “What? Huh?” Billy leaned into me and placed a finger under my chin and turned my head to face him. And yes… Oh my fucking God… He kissed me again! I could feel the heat rise to the top of my head. I can’t begin to tell you how happy that little kiss made me. And I can’t begin to tell you why out of nowhere I was consumed with fear and tears. “Nick? Nick? Are you okay? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have kissed you like that! I just couldn’t help myself! I’m sorry! Don’t be mad at me!” “Billy, it’s not that… I promise. It’s me. Compared to you and Noah, I’m just… I don’t know… I’m just one fucked up hot mess. You really don’t need me to fuck up your life.” “What?? What are you talking about? Damn, Nick! First of all, you’re cute as fuck… and during lunch, I just got so into you as soon as Noah brought you over to our table. And while you were getting your hair cut, all I could do was talk to Noah about how much I wanted to get to know you better… how much I wanted to spend time with you over Spring Break.” “You shouldn't, Billy. You really shouldn’t.” Great! The fucking tears were just flowing now. “But I want to, Nick. I want to learn everything I can about you. I want you to learn about me. God, Nick… do you know how scared I was to ask you out? I’ve never asked a boy out on a date in my entire life! Hell, I’ve never been asked out on a date by a boy. I was terrified… and when you said yes, I can’t remember ever being so relieved… or so happy.” Fuck me! Except for the disaster when that boy came on to me, kissed me, and getting the shit beaten out of me by the foster dad, Billy was my first kiss. It was the sweetest thing I can remember. But Billy kissed a boy that’s a phony. It’s all a lie. He thinks I’m one of them, not some low-life foster kid. Part of me knows I should tell him the truth, but the other part of me likes what’s happening so much, I want to just keep going on with the lie. Fuck me! Either way, nothing would work out. Why should it? “Nick? You there? What’s going on?” Oh well, the truth may hurt… but it’s going to come out sooner or later. “Billy, I’m sorry. You are so awesome… so sweet. But I’m not who… or what you think I am.” “What do you mean? You are the one who is awesome, by the way” “Oh God, Billy. I’m going to tell you everything… but I need you to promise not to tell anyone yet… especially Maddy.” “Of course, whatever you need. What are you? Some kind of ax murderer?” “No. Not anything like that. I haven’t DONE anything. Not really. You see, I’m going to be starting at your school next week. And if word gets out about this, I’ll never fit in. I’ll be bullied, probably abused, and definitely banged up.” “Yeah, I understand that. Westlake is a school full of assholes… probably more than your average school. this isn’t about being gay, is it?” “No, you already kinda figured that part out. But the truth is, my mother died last week… in prison. She was there on drug charges. I don’t know who my father is… she didn’t even know. All I can figure out is that he is most likely a black dude. That’s why I have different-looking hair and my skin isn’t your average white boy color.” “I’m sorry about your mom. I didn’t know she died.” “Thanks, but there’s nothing to worry about. We were definitely not close.” “So, you had a rough start. It was nothing you did. And damn, Nick… look how great you turned out in spite of it! That says a lot about you and your character.” “Billy, Noah told you I’m a friend who’s staying with them for a while. That’s only a half-truth.” Dammit! Billy took my hands in his and smiled at me! Better enjoy that now, ‘cause here comes the end of it all. “I’m not their ‘friend’ at all. Yesterday I moved in because I’m their new foster kid. I’m here because of all the kids they felt sorry for, I’m the one they picked. I’m so out of their… and your league. I have absolutely nothing to offer them… or you… or any kid in that fucking school. I’m pretty much on the bottom of the social ladder. I don’t deserve you… or Noah… or his dads. I’m sorry, Billy… I really am!” I really didn’t want to cry… and while I wasn’t sobbing, the tears were flowing like a little girl. Yeah, Billy McCallister definitely wants to go out with me now! But no… Billy fucking Mcallister scoots his chair closer to me and wraps me in his arms. What the fuck? “Nick. Shhh. Stop crying. You think you’re gonna get rid of me that easy? Sorry to let you down.” “Don’t, Billy. You don’t have to…” “Shhhh. Please don’t cry.” Billy took my head in his hands and forced me to look at him. His face was just inches away from mine and the fucker just smiled at me! I’m so confu… That’s when he moved in for the kill. He kissed me. No, he full-on kissed me! He full-on-tongue-in-my-mouth kissed me! He pulled away, still holding my face in his hands. “Nick Jacobs, don’t look. Don’t turn your head. But I guaran-damn-tee you that Noah and his dad are watching us right now.” I tried to turn to see if they really were watching from the kitchen, but Billy wouldn’t let me. “No, Nick. Don’t look. Look at me. Open your eyes and look at me, because this is way more important.” He kissed me lightly for good measure, I guess. And then he smiled again. I tried to smile back, but couldn’t seem to do it… I knew what was coming. “Nick… I want you to listen to me. This is real important.” I nodded and sniffled. “I don’t know for sure, ‘cause I don’t have any experience with this, but while my heart is breaking for you and all the bullshit you’ve had to grow up with… It seems to me the reason there is a foster kid program is so that kids like you… kids who haven’t had a break of any kind… just might get a shot at a normal, decent life. I’m so sorry for all the bullshit you’ve had to deal with… so sorry. But look where you are now… not last week. “The Whites are one of the most amazing families I’ve ever seen. I know you know that. You got an incredible break and I promise you, you’ve only just started to see what those guys can do for you.” “I get that, but I’ll always be the charity case… always the low-life.” “Shhhh. You don’t get to say that shit anymore… at least not around me.” Another kiss. Damn, Billy McCallister sure does like kissing. “So, I want you to listen to me. You are one of the most stunning boys I’ve ever seen. You already know I love your hair. And your skin…” He ran his fingers along the side of my face. “Your skin. It’s so beautiful and smooth, and the color? Can I just tell you how jealous I am that you never have to work on getting a tan? I have red hair and the whitest skin in Texas. I live my life covered in sun-screen. And you know something? I kinda like the contrast between us. It’s kinda cool.” “Whatever, but that doesn’t change that I’m living in a world where I don’t belong.” “Shhhh. You don’t get to think that anymore. If you don’t think you belong here, then let’s look at it this way. If you weren’t here… right now… I would never have met you. I would have never kissed the most beautiful boy I have ever seen. So you’re a foster kid… who gives a shit? I don’t, I promise you that. And I’m pretty sure you’ll learn things about me that will make me feel like I don’t deserve you.” “I find that hard to believe.” “Trust me, my parents drive me crazy, but one thing they taught me is that everything a person has in their past, even the things they want kept away from others, those are the things that make us who we are today. I promise to never tell a soul that you are a foster kid. That’s something you get to decide to share that with… and when to share it. “But let me tell you one thing… and this is what I want you to hear… Nick Jacobs… You are a beautiful boy, you have an amazing voice, your smile makes my heart speed up to the point I feel like I want to scream. And the Whites love having you in their lives. But most important… I like having you in my life. I like sitting here with you. I love that you feel safe enough with me to share your secrets. I love that you let me look into your eyes so I can see into your soul… your beautiful soul. Oh… and God help me, I love kissing you!” And he did. Boy did he ever! He had my toes curling and my cock was rock-hard. He broke the kiss when I started to moan. Good thing, too. Noah opened the door and walked out to us. “You guys doing okay? Everything good?” Billy wiped the tears from my face and looked up to his friend. “Everything is perfect, Noah. And just so you know… I’m falling hard for your foster brother.” “Yeah, I can see that. Wait! Nick… you told him?” “I had to. This amazing boy asked me out on a date. I couldn’t let whatever is going to happen happen based on a lie. He’s not going to tell anyone… not even Maddy, so I guess we’re good here.” “You okay? It looked pretty intense there for a while.” I looked at Billy. Billy fucking McCallister. This time I was able to smile. “Everything’s good. More than good.” Noah put his hand on Billy’s shoulder. “And you Billy… where did all that confidence come from? I didn’t think you’d be able to ask Nick out, let alone kiss him!” Noah leaned down to us. “And that was one helluva kiss, too! Jesus, that even got Pop going! Dad’s in for some fun tonight!” “Ewww! I just met your dads and that’s not an image I really wanted. I can never unsee that!” Finally! All three of us had a good laugh. “So, the reason I came out is that Dad called and he’ll be home in about ten minutes. Dinner is almost ready. Pop made stuffed pork chops. Nick, if you want, go into the bathroom and throw some cold water on your face. Billy… he might need your help. Hehe!” We went into the bedroom and Billy closed the door behind him. I went into the bathroom and splashed some water on my face. When I lifted my head up from the sink, He had a towel in his hands and he dabbed my face dry before he threw the towel on the floor and took my hand. “Is this your bed?” “Yeah?” “Good, ‘cause I don’t think I’d want you sleeping with Noah!” Billy pulled me down to my bed with him and wrapped his arms around me, pulling our bodies close to each other. “We have five minutes. You good with this?” “Oh God yes!!” Billy started kissing me again, only this time I gave back as good as I got. Our legs were twisted together and our hands were exploring each other’s backs. We were both moaning into each other’s mouths. The best part was we were rubbing our hardness against each other. After just a couple of minutes, I felt the pressure building up and before I knew it, I had reached the point of no return. Fuck me! If this Is what making out feels like, I couldn’t even begin to think what sex would be like! “Oh fuck, Billy! I’m gonna…” And yeah. It happened I came in my pants. Billy McCallister’s making out skills made me nut. How embarrassing is that? “Billy, I need to change my pants.” “Did you just nut?” “Yeah, I’m sorry! That shouldn’t have happened.” “Are you kidding me? That’s so cool! I’m just happy that you liked what we were doing! And hey... I don’t know, but it seems like you should never apologize for being so into making out that you cum. I take that as the highest compliment.” “I hope you enjoyed it, too.” “Yeah, another thirty seconds and I would have done the same thing. You are so fucking sexy, Nick!” We got out of the bed and Billy left the room to join the others in the kitchen. I went into my closet and found another pair of jeans and some fresh underwear. I stripped off what I had and took the towel that was on the bathroom floor and cleaned myself up. I slipped on the fresh clothes and went out to the kitchen just as Andrew walked into the house. He gave David a kiss which Noah and Billy didn’t even notice. As I walked into the kitchen to join the others, one thought stayed with me. Was Billy going to tell Noah what had just happened in the bedroom? Was he going to respect what went on between the two of us? God, I hope it’s the second option. No matter what Billy says, it was embarrassing as fuck. About halfway through dinner, I was able to relax about Billy spilling the beans. We ate outside on the patio and Noah sat across from Billy and me. He would just smile as he watched us together. I was 99.9% sure it was a smile of approval and being happy for us. And let me just tell you about dinner and David’s cooking. We had stuffed pork chops. The stuffing was kind of like a regular Thanksgiving kind of stuffing, but it had apples and cinnamon mixed in. So. Fucking. Good. We also had scalloped potatoes and steamed cabbage. It was hands-down the best home-cooked meal I’ve ever had! During dinner, I asked David and Andrew if we had any plans the next couple of nights. Andrew said he wanted to take me shopping for a suit, which I already knew, but we could do that any evening. When Andrew asked why, of course I started to blush. I just looked down at my plate and told the pork chops, “I kinda have a date.” “You can tell me. I’m afraid your pork chops aren’t the ones to give you an answer.” I looked up and told Andrew that I had a date and just wanted to make sure I was free. “Who are you going out with?” David and Noah just grinned when it was Billy’s turn to talk to his food. “That would be me. I asked him.” David couldn’t let the torture continue, so he filled in the blanks. “The boys ran into Billy and his sister at the mall. Not surprisingly, Billy took a shining to Nick… just like we all have. And apparently, they’ve decided to go out. Am I right, Billy.” Billy chuckled and lifted his head up. “That pretty much nails it.” “Well, you can pick the night you want to go and we’ll do our suit shopping any other time. Billy? Where do you plan to go?” “Well, I’m thinking of taking Nick to the Alamo Drafthouse and see Love, Simon.” I think Noah was more excited than I was! “Oh my God! That’s the perfect first date for my two favorite boys!” Billy and I just blushed while the others had a good laugh at Noah’s expense. The rest of dinner was great. I’m really getting more and more comfortable with my new family… and DEFINITELY am getting more comfortable with Billy. After dinner Noah, Billy, and I cleaned up the kitchen and dishes while David and Andrew went off to do what old gay guys do after dinner. While we were loading the dishwasher, Billy asked Noah if he was okay with our going out tomorrow night. “Are you kidding? You guys are my two favorite people in the world. I think it’s the bomb that you two are hitting it off!” Noah looked at me next. “So, you actually told Billy how you ended up with us?” “Yeah. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But if we’re going to start dating, I couldn’t let it be based on a lie.” “And don’t worry guys. I understand completely why Nick doesn’t want anyone to know. I won’t say a word to anyone… including my annoying sister.” We were wiping down the counters when Billy suggested we run the song again before he had to go home. We went into the bedroom and Noah pulled up the karaoke file. We ran the song and were totally pumped that it went so well. I guess taking some time away let everything sink into our brains. We all wanted to do it one more time and when we finished, the dads were standing at the door and were applauding. David told Andrew we had been working on it all afternoon and he was totally impressed, showering us with all sorts of compliments. The dads left us alone and we decided that Billy should come over at four to work on the song some more and then we could leave on our date at five. I walked Billy out to his car and we stopped just outside his door. “Billy, thank you for being there for me during my meltdown. You mean more to me that you’ll ever know. I’m glad I have you on my side.” “Nick, I’ve never had a boyfriend. Until today, I’ve never kissed a boy. This is new to both of us. I don’t really know what I’m doing here, but I do know that we can figure everything out as we go along. I know we’re not quite boyfriends, but I hope that’s an option we can explore sometime down the road.” Billy leaned into me and kissed me. It was a nice, light kiss… and one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever felt. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” “I’ll probably see you tonight… I’m pretty sure my dreams are going to be all about the amazing boy with the beautiful hair and amazing smile.” “Okay, Billy… that was totally corny… but really kinda nice, too. I’m probably gonna be dreaming about my new ginger hottie, too!” I gave him a kiss and Billy got into his car. I watched as he pulled out of the driveway and sighed as I walked back to the front door. I walked in and didn’t see anyone. Then I heard David call out to me from the bedroom. I walked in and was shocked to find all my new clothes neatly folded and on the bed. “What’s this?” David looked up and smiled, “While you boys were practicing, I pulled the bags out of the car and ran everything through the wash for you. Everythings ready for you to put away where you want them. Your dress shirts are already hanging in your closet. Now… we have The Voice on the DVR and we’re going up to the movie room to watch it. Would you like to join us?” “Sounds good! I’ll put my stuff away when it’s done.” We all made our way upstairs and settled in with popcorn, Dr. Pepper, and the Voice. Now, I’ve never seen this show before but damn! That’s some amazeballs singing there! When the show was over, I was inspired more than ever to do everything I can to make sure I do my best in the new theatre class. At least that’s one place where I’ll have at least three people on my side going in. As we were cleaning up our bowls and glasses, I had to say something. “Guys, before we call it a night, I just want to thank you… for… well, everything. I had some rough patches today and the thing that blows my mind is that for the first time ever, someone was always there for me. I want to thank you for that… and all the clothes… and the support you’ve given me. I’m still a little overwhelmed… and I’m sure there are going to be some more rough patches, but at least I know I have you guys to help me get through them. I can never thank you enough.” “Nick, David and I knew that you were the one we wanted to bring into our home when we decided to foster a kid. We want to thank you for being so incredibly special, so kind, considerate, and well, the perfect addition to our family.” Andrew reached his arms out to me and pulled me into a hug. David and Noah joined in and I found myself surrounded by the three most important people in my life. Three people who believed in me and cared about me no matter what has happened in my life. Noah and I went down to our room and the dads went to theirs to do whatever they do. No, I’m not going to think about that, okay? Sheesh! Noah closed the door and told me to get a couple of waters out of the mini-fridge in his closet. He grabbed his bong and weed and we went out to the deck. I guess this is going to become our regular end-of-the-day routine. After we got a nice buzz on, we went back inside and sat on the floor between our beds, facing each other. “Noah? Thanks for helping Billy and me. I think we might have something good here.” “Dude! I didn’t do a thing. All I did was tell him what I thought when he asked me if you might be interested in him.” “What did you say?” “Honestly? I told him that I had no idea. I told him that the only way to answer that question was to find out for himself. So you see, everything that happened today happened on your own… and I couldn’t be happier for you two.” “He told me I was his first kiss with a boy. It was mine too, really… I don’t want to count the one from the foster brother who kissed me without me wanting it.” “Yeah, I have to say he surprised the shit out of me. He’s never talked about a boy before. He’s only dated girls. When he asked me about you, I did everything to keep my cool… I didn’t want to scare him away from you. But on the inside, I was like ‘Whaaaaat theeeee fuuuuuck???’ I don’t think he noticed.” That and the buzz got us into a major giggle fit. We finally calmed down and I had to ask Noah for some help. “Okay dude, today was the first time in my life that I’ve ever been to a mall and my first time shopping for clothes. You saw how well I handled that. Tomorrow is not just my first-ever date, but I’ve never been to a movie theatre before. Tell what to expect. I don’t want to freak out on Billy.” “Sure. Well, he said he’s going to take you the Alamo Drafthouse. It’s just like any other movie theatre except every other row had been taken out and they put these long tables in. So you’re sitting at a table when you take your seat for the movie. When you get there a waiter will come up and take your order. Oh! And they have the best pizza! Just sayin’.” “And why is this movie Love, Simon the perfect date for us, like you didn’t get all girly excited about it!” And of course, that brought on another giggle fit. “Because it’s all about two cute gay boys in high school, and how they find each other. The dads and I saw it a couple weeks ago. It’s sooooo good!” “And what happens after the movie?” “That depends on you and Billy. It’s his first date with a boy, too. I guess if I were to give any advice, not like I’m Mr. Experience here… but do whatever both of you feel right about. If he wants to do something that you’re not totally comfortable with, let him know. But I’m pretty sure there will be some kissing involved. You two seem to have that part figured out already.” “You and David WERE watching, weren’t you?” “Well, yeah. When I saw you crying, I wanted to run out and make things right. But Pop wouldn’t let me. He said whatever it is, it was between the two of you and if things were going to work out, it had to be just between you.” “I guess I need to thank David, then.” “Nah. That’s one of those things that just happen when you’re part of a family. But you already thanked him… us… upstairs.” “Yeah. I meant every word, by the way.” I sighed and smiled. Yay! No tears! I might be getting used to this! “So what are the plans for tomorrow?” “I need to go to the gym and get in some workout time. You wanna come with? We have a family membership and it shouldn’t take much at all to add you to the plan.” “Well, I’ve never been to a gym before…” “Of course you haven’t. It’ll just be another cool thing I get to introduce you to.” “Sure, why not?” “Well, let’s hit the sack. I’m hoping to leave here around nine in the morning. You good with that?” “Sure. Sounds good. But I don’t have any gym clothes.” “I have some you can wear. I’ll ask David if we can pick some up for you on the way home.” “Okay… but we’re going to Walmart. They have everything I need there. Okay?” “Deal.” We got up and went into the bathroom. We brushed our teeth, took a piss, and shed our clothes. As soon as I climbed into bed, my phone buzzed. BILLYMAC: hey! you there? NICKOJACO: hey billy! just crawled into bed BILLYMAC: ooooh! what are you wearing? NICKOJACO: perv! but if you must know… i’m wearing a smile, that’s all. BILLYMAC: ooooh! that just made me hard! NICKOJACKO: stop that! you’re a bad boy! BILLYMAC: but i’m your bad boy if you’ll have me. NICKOJACO: well, i have a date tomorrow nite with a totally cute boy. it depends on that i guess. he might want me to be his bad boy. ya never know! BILLYMAC: haha! ur such a total goof! i like it, btw. NICKOJACO: hey, thx for being so awesome today. it was just what i needed. BILLYMAC: i’m glad. it was a pretty awesome day for me, too. NICKOJACO: can i ask you a question? BILLYMAC: sure NICKOJACO: i know this boy-on-boy thing is new for you, too. you okay with everything? BILLYMAC: way more than ok! I talked to maddy when i got home. well, she came to me and asked if you and i had a thing going. she saw us connect in the restaurant. NICKOJACO: no way! is she cool about it? BILLYMAC: totally. i told her everything about the day… not the foster part though. she was so happy. she really likes you, too. said she always though i was gay. NICKOJACO: no way! i didn’t think you were until you kissed me in the car. BILLYMAC: i didn’t know i was until i kissed you in the car! LOL NICKOJACO: that’s the kiss i’ll remember forever, ya know BILLYMAC: awwww! me too. you’re an amazing boy, nicky. you should know that. NICKOJACO: nicky? nobody calls me that. BILLYMAC: i do now. i want that to be my name for you… but only when we’re alone. i want to be the only person who calls you nicky. NICKOJACO: billy and nicky. has a nice ring to it. but nobody else gets to hear you call me that. until tonight, i’ve always hated that name. BILLYMAC: ty for such a wonderful day. ur amazing, ur kind, ur so fucking talented, and ur hot… totally hot, btw NICKOJACO: i should be thanking you. you made today a day i’ll never ever forget. it was the greatest day of my life. i'll always remember it… and you…. ALWAYS BILLYMAC: nite nicky. <3 xoxoxo NICKOJACO: nite billy <3 xoxoxo back Always.
  24. 45 points
    Beginning and the End: Blu couldn’t get through the period quick enough, the excitement was building for him to watch Levi’s reaction when he realized he was going for a ride in the Viper. There was a little bit of anxiousness for him to be able to drive it too. The chances he’d ever own one were minuscule, Kyle and he had better ways to spend their money. ‘Levi Dalton please report to the office,’ bellowed over the school intercom. He smiled when he heard the announcement, “Okay guys, that’s our cue for the class.” He had to speak louder as the kids started packing their backpacks. “Make sure you read chapters five through ten tonight, John Steinbeck is on the cards for tomorrow. AND I will be asking questions.” There were a bunch of moans made by his students. Blu waited for the last kid to leave, who seemed to be taking his time. He wanted to toss the kid out and his bag to follow. “Come on, Mr. Richards, time waits for no man. Move it,” Blu called out his leg bouncing with excitement. Keith rolled his eyes at Blu, “I have study hall next, why hurry?” “We aren’t all on your schedule young man, I have to see a man about a reptile.” Blu smiled. “Old people like weird stuff,” Keith mumbled as he slung his backpack over his shoulder heading for the door of the classroom. Blu laughed, “Good man, enjoy the rest of your day.” He couldn’t move fast enough to get to the office, he found Levi waiting on the chair outside the office looking worried. As soon as he saw his Pop he jumped up and ran to him. “I didn’t do anything, honest, I was in gym class,” Levi pleaded his buzzed hair still damp, even though it was barely visible since the boys had cut their hair in support of Cody. “Grab your stuff and follow me,” Blu said deadpan giving nothing away. Levi grabbed his backpack following Blu, “Is Dad gonna yell?” “I wouldn’t think so,” Blu gently guided Levi by the shoulder. He walked them both out to the Escalade, he unlocked the doors. “Jump in.” “Pop, Dad is gonna freak out if we both skip out of school. Can he give you detention too?” Levi asked as he climbed into his seat and secured his seatbelt. “Just get comfortable, your Dad knows where we are. So you can relax and don’t tell your brothers or your sister. Our secret.” Blu winked at Levi. Levi looked skeptically at Blu and turned his head staring out the window. The drive was short to where Blu had been instructed to go from Bryson by text earlier in the day. Levi still seemed worried, Blu turned the radio on. “Your choice bud, pump up whatever you want to listen to.” Levi smirked at Blu and flipped to the most obnoxious rap music he could find. Levi sat in his seat grunting and mumbling the words out as he stared at Blu. Thankfully, for his Pop, the drive wasn’t very long. Levi’s interest increased as they pulled into what looked like a private speedway. “P… Pop, this is a racetrack,” Levi bounced in his seat with excitement. Laughing at his son whose entire attitude had changed, he parked the SUV and hopped out. Levi sprung from the car with his backpack still attached to him. “You might want to leave that in the car, Bud,” Blu said pointing to the bag. Levi glanced over his shoulder, “Oh yeah,” he said smiling stupidly as he opened the door and threw it inside slamming the door afterward. “So what are we doing here?” Levi asked as he ran to Blu’s side like an excited puppy. “Patience, young grasshopper,” Blu said putting his arm around his son’s shoulder as they walked to the meeting point in the reception area as per his instructions. Once they were inside the building Blu spoke with the man at reception. He was older and didn’t look like he had any business greeting people with his serious demeanor. Levi rolled his eyes at the old man, “Thanks for shopping at Walmart,” he mumbled loud enough for his Pop to hear. Blu squeezed his shoulder hard for being rude and gave Levi a look of warning. “What he looks like he swallowed a grapefruit, sourpuss and all?” Levi said quietly. “Ah, hi, I’m Blu Waters, this is my son Levi. We are meant to meet Ben Shepard,” Blu said to the grumpy older guy. “Yep, right.” The man picked up a clipboard with a pen attached and tossed it on the counter. “Sign this waiver for you and your son and I’ll take you back to the instruction area.” Blu read over the waiver quickly, hesitated for a moment, but couldn’t resist when he looked at Levi with his hopeful puppy dog eyes. Levi didn’t exactly know what was happening but he had an inkling and hoping he was right. He signed the form for him and Levi, placing the clipboard back onto the counter. “Follow me,” the man said as he snatched the clipboard and started moving quickly. Levi and Blu looked at each other, then decided to move quickly and catch up to the man. They were taken through what could only be described as some sort of tunnel. At the other end of the tunnel brought them to a set of stairs, when they reached the top Bryson was standing with his father. Bryson’s face lit up, Blu thought that was nice, until he remembered Brent was a few feet behind him. He forgot the man was around these days, he was so unobtrusive in Blu’s life, he would forget the man was even there. “Hi Blu,” Bryson tossed the keys in the air as he walked past the pair, “Hello, Brent, so nice to see you again.” Brent smiled and pointed towards Blu and Levi. “Fine,” Bryson pouted returning to his customer. Levi snatched the keys from the air, “Pop, what am I driving?” Bryson smiled at the boy, “Blu, I like the little guy's spirit.” Blu laughed hardily, “He’s a wild Mustang this one, definitely not boring. Bryson this is one of my sons Levi, he’s a car enthusiast.” Bryson dapped Levi’s fist, “Far out little man.” “I really wanted Dad and Pop to buy the Viper, but nooo they wanted something with more room,” Levi said as he played with the keys in his hand. “Hey, we can always go back to the squishy Explorer with no tv, cooler, or separate music functions if you’d like,” Blu smirked. Levi shook his head, “No, no, no… We like the Escalade.” “I thought so, hey when your fourteen get a job and save by the time you get your license me and Dad will match whatever you have saved toward a car.” Levi turned toward Bryson, “How much is the Viper?” Bryson laughed and Brent joined in, causing both of them to get glared at by the boy. “Why don’t we get this test drive underway, it’s costing me money,” Ben Shepard said as he looked at the group. “Sorry sir,” Blu said sheepishly, “thank you for doing this for us.” Blu held his hand out to shake with Mr. Shepard. “Not a problem,” Ben leaned in whispering to Blu, “Gotta remind the youngsters who’s the boss.” Grinning at Mr. Shepard, and judging him at the same time, they were interrupted by a man in a driver’s racing suit. “Hi, I’m Mitchell, if you’d like to come with me we’ll quickly run through the safety procedures.” Mitchell led Blu and Levi into a changing room. “Okay gentlemen, there are safety suits for you to wear during the drive. They are in all sizes find one that fits, while you change we’ll run through the procedures and rules of the track.” Mitchell moves about as Blu and Levi changed, the young boy hanging on to every word the man said, taking it in. Levi was always a stickler for the rules when it came to serious safety and had no problem calling people out when they were doing something that could be considered dangerous. He was always the protector. Once the man had finished, and the pair was dressed in their safety gear, he took them both back out to the track where a shiny blue Viper sat. Levi’s eyes were as big as saucers. “Oh god, can I drive it?” the boy asked excitedly. Mitch laughed, “Sure, when you turn twenty-five or buy one of your own.” “Shoot, Pop, are you sure you don’t want to buy it?” Levi asked as he glanced at the car. Blu scoffed, “The second it comes in eight-seater we’ll consider it. But for now, I prefer to have you kids. Sorry, bud.” “But maybe for a graduation present from college.” Blu thought. “I should talk to Kyle about that and start saving. Meh, we’ve got at least ten years to worry about it.” Mitchell had the two get into the car, he explained about how the car handled and what to do as it was a circle track. “Take it easy for the first few laps, get a feel for the car then you can go faster. We have put a speed limiter in this car as the track is fast and people who drive it aren’t experienced enough to drive that fast. It still hits some pretty decent mph, a lot faster than the street. Do NOT go any faster than you are comfortable driving, there is no competition, this is a test drive. Understood?” Mitchell’s tone was serious, and his words were said with authority. “Now you will get the white flag when you have one lap to go, the next time around you will be expected to pull into the pits. There are serious consequences if you don’t. Am I making myself clear?” “Yes sir,” Blu said. “Pop, you can’t drive like Nan would,” Levi said seriously. Blu grinned at his son and tapped him on the helmet. “You ready Bud?” “Put the pedal to the metal, the thingy to the floor,” Levi re-enacted a moment from ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ which the family had recently watched. “Okay, and we’re off.” Blu put the car in first gear, Mitch yelled, “Go get em,” and tapped the roof as the car moved away. Indeed Blu was wary for the first few laps, gauging Levi’s silent response. The kid was grinning from ear-to-ear, on the third lap Blu pushed it a little harder, each lap he did the same until he hit a speed he wasn’t very comfortable with and dropped back five mph at a comfortable 160 mph. “Are you having fun?” Blu yelled across to Levi. Levi gave Blu a thumbs up, “Link’s gonna be so jealous,” and he continued smiling. Blu continued to concentrate on his driving, the next time around the white flag came out. He put a little more on the gas for Levi on the straight, then backed off as they came around turn four and rolled into the pit area. The car stopped where their entourage of car dealers and security were waiting for them. “That was incredible,” Blu let out a hasty breath of excitement. “Pop, we need one of these,” Levi rambled as he took off his helmet. Blu and Levi stepped out of the car, everything seemed like it was moving too fast around Blu, similar to when you step off a treadmill. “That was the most thrilling experience I’ve ever had,” Blu said to Brent grinning after taking his helmet off. Bryson smirked, “I can think of something more thrilling,” the young man stated louder than he meant too. Brent’s eyes grew in size as he looked at the smaller man. “Oh, I meant how was the ride Larry?” Bryson looked at Levi. “I’m not named Larry, it’s Levi. L-E-V-I.” Bryson waved his hand dismissively, “That’s nice,” as he ogled Brent. Blu narrowed his eyes at Bryson, then turned to Mr. Shepard. “Thanks so much for this, we had the time of our life.” Blu smiled. “You’re welcome Mr. Waters, I hope you and your husband continue doing business with us in the future.” Ben Shepard stated as he patted Levi’s shoulder, “And you young man come see me when you’re ready to buy yourself one of these babies.” “Oh, I will. Do you lay them away?” Levi asked as he took the opportunity to stare at the prized machine. Ben laughed, “I’m afraid not son.” “Darn it, okay.” Levi said, “let’s go so I can brag about this to Link.” “Come on, Bud, we have to get back to school.” ***** “Do you have your meeting tonight with your brothers?” Blu asked Kyle as they drove home. While Levi sat in the back regaling his experience from earlier in the day. So much for him making Lincoln jealous, if he was there didn’t appear to be anything but happiness for his brother showing from Link. Blu was keeping an ear in their direction, they would do something equally as exciting for Lincoln when the opportunity presented itself. Lincoln didn’t much care for cars, so he just seemed thrilled for Levi, smiling while his brother gabbed on. Kyle glanced in the mirror at the kids, “Yeah, we are meeting at the high school with contractors about renovations to consolidate the middle school into the high school next year.” “Cool, can you get a ride with Jare. I might take the kids over to see Mom and Dad, since Mom has her first chemo treatment tomorrow. Are you still taking Cody tomorrow?” “Jared and I are taking the Explorer so Mason has the good car to do some shopping with Kasey,” Kyle chuckled. “I sort of feel sorry for Mason, he doesn’t know how to say no to the shop-a-holic.” “True, he’ll have to knock that on the head pretty quickly.” Blu smiled. ***** Blu drove the Escalade and parked in the visitors parking at Kaleb and Davis’ building. The kids all jumped out of the car and quickly made their way to the entrance before Blu had even cut the engine. He hopped out, locked the SUV and made his way where the kids had actually bailed up Kaleb to give him a hug before he left. “Your Grandpa is a miserable grumpy old man, nothing like the rest of the family,” Kaleb said as he passed by Blu, punching him in the arm. “Ha, tell me about it.” Blu scoffed, then stopped. “Grandpa?” he said to himself. Blu turned to ask Kaleb what he was talking about but he was already in his car. “Oh shit!” The kids had already gone past the Javier the doorman and up the elevator. Blu waved at Javier going straight to the elevator. He pushed the button rapidly in succession willing it to go faster. He hadn’t seen his grandpa in over twelve years, the day he came out to the homophobic prick. The man was retired military, with an opinion about everything, and he had no problem voicing that opinion loud and proud. If he makes his kids uncomfortable or says any snide comments to them Blu was going to lose it. “What the hell is that man doing here?” Blu said out loud as he entered the elevator. His stomach was in knots and grew tighter the closer he got to Kaleb’s floor. At least if anything went down in the apartment, Kaleb and Davis’ place took up the entire floor. The elevator dinged, the doors opened as Blu took a deep breath before exiting into the condo. Blu made his way to the living room where the voices were coming from. When he entered the room both his Mom and Dad gave him a look of concern. He didn’t want to upset his Mom, so he would play the situation by ear, but he wouldn’t be bullied or intimidated by his Grandpa. “Hi Mom,” Blu said stepping over to where she sat kissing her cheek. “Dad,” he said to his Dad as the man stood and hugged Blu. “Sorry, son,” Doug whispered in Blu’s ear. “They arrived unannounced.” Blu broke the embrace and turned to his Mom’s parents, “Grandma, Grandpa, have you been introduced to my kids?” “You mean these heathens?” Franklin asked with a motion of his hand. “Huh, I see you’re as judgemental as ever,” Blu said. He stepped forward toward his Grandfather, his voice low so the kids couldn’t hear him. “Say what you want about me, but one more derogatory word about my kids, I will flatten you old man.” Franklin stared at Blu, “You’ve grown a set of balls, I’m amazed.” “Yeah, well, you don’t intimidate me anymore I’m not thirteen. So watch your mouth around my kids.” Blu stepped back then found a place to sit, a recliner near his Mom. Cody climbed up and sat on his lap. “Are you okay Pop?” Cody asked quietly. “Yeah, sweet boy, I’m fine.” Blu cuddled Cody to him, the boy really could pass on what strength he had to another. “Levi, did you tell Grammy and Pappy what you did today?” Levi smiled at his grandparents, “Dad got Pop and me a chance to drive a Viper. I wanted them to buy it, but they said there wasn’t enough room for all of us. It was really fast, and we wore these safety suits and helmets. Oh, and I tried to lay it away but the dealer guy said they didn’t do such things.” “Wow, that must have been exciting, Levi. How did that come about?” Lily asked. “When we bought the Escalade, Kyle made it part of our package to buy the SUV.” Blu chuckled. “He knows how to get a good deal.” “He’s another pansy, what’s this world coming too?” Franklin said snarkily. Doug opened his mouth to say something but Lincoln beat him to it. “Dad’s a great person, and so is Pop so quit talking about both of them.” Lincoln glared at the old man. “Link sweetie, come sit with Grammy.” Lily patted the couch while Doug moved over to make room for Lincoln. “Come sit with us Bud, Grammy needs a hug.” Doug smiled warmly at his grandson. Lincoln backed himself up until he sat between Doug and Lily. “Just as disrespectful as his father, a good tanning of their backsides would fix that problem,” Franklin said sternly. “You raise one hand and it will be your last,” Levi said heatedly. “Boys, enough.” Blu chastised the two boys sternly. Elsey, Blu’s Grandma huffed. “That’s enough out of you too Franklin, what do you expect when you were attacking his parents.” She turned her focus to Blu. “Your children are lovely Blu, I just wish we could have been here when you were growing up. I’m very sorry.” “Too little, too late,” Blu thought to himself. “Thanks, Grandma, we like them. They are pretty good kids.” Blu plastered a smile on his face. “So what brings you to Boston?” “Your Mom, she told me about her diagnosis and the treatment. I’ve come to make sure she’s okay and that Doug is supported too.” Elsey smiled affectionately at her daughter. “That’s nice,” Blu said, it was hard to keep the condescending tone to a minimum. “Your Mom tells us you are married now,” Elsey said sadly. “Yeah, for five years. We’ve had these guys for about six months, Cody here,” Blu wiggled his finger, tickling Cody, “he’s been ours for about six weeks. He’s Lincoln’s pride and joy. Aren’t ya buddy?” He chortled kissing Cody on the head. “Link and Levi are good big brothers,” Cody said as he smiled at the pair. “And what about you, young lady? I am sorry I’ve forgotten your name.” Elsey sheepishly put her drink aside and focused on Arabella. Bella smiled, “It’s Arabella, but everyone calls me Bella,” she said politely, not the least put out by her Great Grandma not remembering her name. “Bella, very pretty. How do you find living among all these handsome boys?” “I’m used to it,” Bella answered shyly, “I like them most of the time.” “Just like living with girls I’m sure,” Franklin mumbled with his arms crossed. “One more remark like that Franklin and you’ll be out on your ass. You are a guest here unless you have something positive to say keep your mouth shut. I won’t have you mouthing off in front of my Grandkids, that includes my son,” Doug said angrily. Franklin puffed out his chest and stared at his son-in-law. “How could you be okay with all of this?” Franklin asked, “It’s just not natural.” “I’ve always been okay with Blu, you… you… horses ass. I, unfortunately, let you speak for me. Just like I said before we came here, if you ruin this for me I will divorce you. Get over yourself. The choice is yours. You’ve kept me from my babies too long. I will no longer put up with your shenanigans and opinions. I have more birthdays in the past than are coming, I’m going to live the way I want, and that is in contact with my family.” Elsey crossed her arms and pursed her lips in after her feral tirade to show she meant business. Blu and his parents were wide-eyed and sat back in their chairs. It was very out of character for his Grandmother to go against her husband, apparently, Blu wasn’t the only one that found a set of balls. “Way to go, Grandma,” Blu whispered in Cody’s ear. Franklin stood up from his seat, “Mother it’s time to leave, you’re not thinking straight. Blu has always been an issue, when Rain died he started acting feminine.” Doug pushed himself off the couch and got into Franklin’s face. “You are leaving, and right now. You are no longer welcome at any of my families homes.” Doug pointed toward the front door. He then turned to Elsey, “You Mom, of course, are welcome to stay as long as you like.” “I can’t believe this world supports peter puffing homos, this is the type of situation Hitler himself should still be around to remedy. Blu, your mother should have miscarried you, the world would be a much better place without you, your sickness spreads so rapidly I can only imagine these children will be like you.” Franklin said irritably. Franklin looked up at Doug from the floor, holding his face after Doug landed a punch Sugar Ray Leonard would have been proud of. “Get the fuck out of this house, and don’t come back,” Doug growled picking him up off the floor. “Well, I’ve never been so disrespected by anybody,” Franklin said as he struggled to his feet wobbly. “Bye, bye, Franklin dear.” Elsey turned her back to face the rest of the family. “I’m so sorry.” Franklin straightened his shirt and tie before leaving in a huff. Lily had tears running down her face, pained as she observed Blu. He’d tried to make sure to hide his hurt from the comment but it didn’t really work. His Mom put her hand out for him to take. “I love you Blu, don’t think about what that man said for one minute.” Her voice quivering as she spoke. “Are you children okay?” Elsey asked concerned and embarrassed for what they just witnessed. Levi watched as the elevator doors closed with Franklin inside. “We’re fine Grandma, people have done worse to us,” Levi walked over placing his arm around the older woman’s waist. “Are you okay?” Grandma let out a sob, “You really are a good boy like your Poppy said.” She gathered Levi in her arms for a hug. A sneaking suspicion he was her favorite going forth. Blu tried to change the conversation and tension in the room. “So are you ready for tomorrow Mom, Kyle and Cody will pick you guys up at about seven?” Blu asked. Lily still held Blu’s hand with no intention of letting go, while Lincoln snuggled up on her other side. “I’m just going to check on Pappy, make sure his hands okay.” Bella left the room. “Nervous, I suppose mostly. I don’t know what to expect,” Lily smiled sadly. Cody took his baseball cap off, “It’s not that bad Grammy, you’ll lose your hair like I did. The treatments make me not hungry,” the boy smiled. “I get sick to my stomach but Dad and Pop have helped clean me up after. Link and Levi share their bed even though I make a mess in it sometimes. You have all of us to help you when you don’t feel good.” Lily transferred her hand to hold Cody’s, “I’m sorry you have to go through this Cody, I bet you’re glad tomorrow will hopefully be the last time you have to do treatment.” Lily gave the boy a loving smile. Squeezing Lily’s hand tightly Cody looked her in the eyes, “Grammy my treatments gave me all of you guys, I hate being sick but it’s worth it to have a family.” “Oh you sweet boy, Blu give him a hug for me.” A few more tears fell from her eyes. Blu followed orders squeezing Cody tight, then tilted him back trying to tickle him and smother his face in kisses. “POP! There are people here, I thought you agreed not to do that. Gross,” Cody giggled and wiped his face. “They were from Grammy, don’t wipe them away.” Blu laughed as Cody quit wiping his face. Bella came back into the room followed by Doug with an ice pack on his knuckles. “Uh… Pop, I think Pappy might have broken something we should probably take him to the emergency room,” Bella said as she grimaced. “I’m fine sweetheart. I promise I’ll have it looked at while we are at the hospital tomorrow. Okay?” Doug said trying to placate Bella. ***** In the middle of the night, Kyle woke up and went downstairs to get a drink. As he reached the bottom of the stairs he noticed flickering lights coming from the living room. Once he rounded the corner, he found Cody laying on the couch watching television. Kyle walked over sitting on the edge of the couch beside Cody, “Why are you up buddy?” Cody wiped his eyes, “What if I get sick again Dad?” Kyle picked his son up and hugged him, “Then we will all face that together Cody. You’re part of our family, whether you’re sick or not, we’ll be right there with you. Link would kick our butts if we weren’t.” Kyle kissed Cody’s head as he held the boy. “But what if it comes back Dad? It could be bad,” Cody wiped his face on Kyle’s t-shirt. “Stop thinking that way buddy, we love you. Our love is making you better,” Kyle hugged his son tightly giving him all the strength he could. “How about we grab a quick drink and a snack, then you can come up and sleep with Pops and me?” Cody nodded his head as Kyle stood up carrying the boy to the kitchen. After sitting him on one of the stools he poured each of them a cup of milk and grabbed a few cookies. “Here you go bud, don’t tell Pop we finished the chocolate chip cookies. It can be our secret,” Kyle said smiling at the scared boy. “Thanks, Dad,” Cody said as he gobbled his cookie down, chasing it with his milk. “You’re welcome let's lose the milk mustache,” Kyle giggled wiping Cody’s face. After their snack, Kyle picked Cody up and carried him back upstairs to the master bedroom placing him in the center of the bed before crawling in making a Cody sandwich. ***** At five in the morning, not long after Cody and Kyle had come back to bed Blu extricated himself from Kyle and Cody. He put on some sweats, kissed his men, then made his way to the living room. Levi was on his way to the bathroom. “Where are you going?” Levi asked. “For a run,” Blu said patting his belly, “too much good living with you kids. I’m getting fat.” “Can I come?” Levi yawned. “I just have to piss.” “You mean pee.” Blu corrected him. “Yeah, that.” Levi waived his hand groggily. “If you want you can come, I’ll grab us some water bottles meet downstairs in five.” Blu left Levi to get ready. Levi pulled on a pair of school logo sweatpants and sweatshirt before coming back downstairs. “Ready old man?” Levi asked a little more cheerfully. “Let’s do it,” Blu sang. The pair headed for the front door, only to be greeted with Teddy on the other side. “Your two security guys are ready, Bill and Tyrone will go with you gentlemen. Have a good run.” Teddy smiled. “Remember Levi, you need to do ten-second sprints, every two minutes. It’s baseball.” He called out as the four men jogged out of sight. Levi looked over his shoulder at Blu, “Pop, do you need oxygen? Bill and Tyrone can call an ambulance for you,” he chuckled. “Zip it, mouth. I’m out of shape. If we do this for two weeks you’ll be the one trying to keep up.” Blu panted as he tried to keep up with Levi. “Tomorrow we can bring Khan and tie his leash to your wrist, some stray will motivate him.” Levi laughed without showing any signs of fatigue. “Actually that’s not a bad idea. If you go jogging without me, make sure you always take Khan with you. Even with the security guys, it would make me feel better if he was with you to keep you safe.” Blu said seriously. “Maybe Brody can join us, we’ll be able to run circles around the other players,” Levi called over his shoulder before breaking into a sprint. Blu picked up the pace to sprint with Levi, not quite as fast but he held his own, kind of. When he caught up with Levi, he answered. “You should, if you're going to play sports, take it seriously it can take you places if you work hard enough. But even more, it will keep you fit, plus it could get you scholarships into good colleges.” “Yeah,” Levi turned around jogging backward to face Blu, “Now playing shortstop making his debut for the Yankees, Levi Waters.” He mimicked a big league announcer. “Hey congratulations, Bud, don’t forget your old Dads when you make it famous.” Blu laughed. “I’ll remember the little people,” Levi chuckled as he spun around and broke into a sprint. “You ready to turn around, that’s about two miles?” Blu asked. “Tired huh? Need a piggyback ride?” Levi smiled as they turned around. “Something like that, but we aren’t training for a marathon, and you’re young. We probably shouldn’t do any more than five miles at the time. It’s not healthy.” Blu was starting to slow down, his legs were burning. Levi looked over his shoulder noticing Blu had slowed down. “Are you okay Pop? I didn’t mean to push you so hard,” Levi fell into pace by Blu’s side. “Yeah, I just have to get used to this again. I ran all the time in college, my job was labor intensive so I had to stay fit.” Blu shared with Levi. “I’m glad we got to do this, it’s fun.” Levi smiled and waved his hand in front of his nose, “No offense but you stink Pop.” Blu moved closer to Levi putting him in a headlock as they jogged, the poor kid's nose stuck under his Pop’s armpit. “How’d you like that, get a gooooood whiff,” Blu said messing around and laughing. “Bill, Tyrone, shoot him this is abuse,” Levi gagged. Both of the bodyguards chuckled and had barely broken a sweat. “Some help you are,” Levi squeaked, “Teddy will fire you.” “You’ll be alright, ya big baby,” Blu said releasing the kid. “Why do old people sweat soooo much?” Levi chuckled as they reached the porch. Kyle opened the door and smiled at his men, “I saw these two great men coming so I figured I’d let them in the house. Come on in Bill and Tyrone.” He chuckled, “How was the run?” Kyle asked as he hugged Levi and Blu. “God you both stink.” “Hey, it’s Pops fault he put me in a headlock so I didn’t show him up,” Levi smirked, “I’m gonna take a shower, Dad, Pop needs better deodorant.” He raced up the stairs laughing. “How’s Cody?” Blu asked Kyle, quickly giving him a peck on the lips. “Nervous and worried what will happen if he gets sick again.” Kyle smiled sadly, “I told him we’d be right by his side if he did get sick again.” “He’ll be okay,” Blu said giving Kyle’s shoulder a squeeze. “Save water?” “Yeah,” Kyle said as he wrapped his arm around Blu’s waist. “I’ll get Cody ready after, he didn’t sleep much last night so I left him in our bed.” After showers, breakfast, and good luck hugs were given to Cody, Blu dragged the kids out to the Explorer to go to school. Much to Lincoln’s discontentment of course. Kyle waved at his family from the Escalade as Blu pulled out of the driveway first. Kyle and Cody made the short drive to pick up Lily, Doug, and Elsey at Kaleb and Davis’ condo, once they arrived Kyle texted to let the group know they were parked at the front door. A few moments later Lily, Doug, Elsey, followed by Kaleb came out to the Escalade. The doors opened and the adults got in the back with Cody and Kaleb jumped in the passenger seat next to Kyle. “Kaleb is coming with us. He told me to tell you so you wouldn’t get mad.” Lily giggled nervously. “Is everything okay?” Kyle glanced over at Lily and then to his brother. “Yeah, I was a little upset this morning. Kaleb insisted he had a light day and he wanted to come with us, mostly to keep you company and in support of Cody and me.” Lily hiccupped, something she did when she was anxious. “Well we are all in for an exciting day,” Kyle smiled as he glanced in the rearview mirror looking at Cody. “Everybody buckled up back there bud?” Cody nodded his head as he placed his headset on turning on his music. “Thanks for coming Kaleb,” Kyle said as he pulled into the roadway. “No problem Kyle,” Kaleb smiled at his brother, “You deserve our support for taking care of Cody and Mom. Oh, you didn’t get to meet Grandma Elsey. She’s a keeper, not as handsy as Nan but she’s a good woman, just don’t make her mad.” He chuckled as he looked back at the woman. Kyle looked in the mirror at the newest member of the family, “Grandma Elsey, I’m Kyle, Blu’s husband, it’s nice to meet you.” “You too Kyle, my Grandson has told me a lot about you. Your children talked about you a lot too. You have a lovely family, Kyle.” Elsey said with sincerity. “I’m sorry about how your husband acted,” Kyle said apologetically. “That’s okay dear.” Elsey sighed. “I should have left him years ago.” The older lady watched out the window, ending the conversation. No need to air dirty laundry. Kyle found a parking spot, “We’re here folks.” He said as he shut off the vehicle, before stepping out of the car. “Come on bud,” Kyle said as he stood at the passenger door waiting to scoop Cody in his arms. “This is the last time for you to do this Cody, I love you.” Cody sighed as he laid his head on Kyle’s shoulder, “Love you too,” he mumbled. ***** Doug had his hand checked while Cody and Lily had received their treatments. He had some bruising and a hairline fracture but was otherwise declared in good health. He was also given a sweet kiss on the cheek from the nurse for his actions. Cody made an attempt at joking about his Pappy looking like a boxer with his hand wrapped in a bandage to keep dirt out of the few cuts he had gotten. ***** Saturday morning Kaleb and Davis made their way to the surrogacy clinic, where their surrogate was being introduced to the fertilized eggs. Kaleb was all smiles, holding Davis’ hand from the time they left the condo. “This is it, Baby, we’re really gonna be daddies. I hope we made the right choice on Terri being the surrogate,” Kaleb kissed Davis’ hand that he had been squeezing so hard it was turning white. “They wouldn’t have recommended her if she wasn’t right, Leb. Everything is going to be perfect. I’m sure of it,” Davis said with as much positivity as he could, even though on the inside he was a nervous wreck. The surrogate walked into the conference room before having the procedure done and introduced herself to the pair of men in person, although they had spoken numerous times on the telephone. “I don’t mind you guys coming into the room while they perform the procedure, or coming to any of the check-ups,” Terri said thoughtfully so the men felt as included as any father should be. Kaleb thought it was a cool idea to be present during the procedure, although he passed out part way through it. Davis nursed Kaleb during the procedure, keeping an eye on the doctor. He asked questions as they went so he could be sure the surrogate was safe. Once the procedure was over the doctor, insisted that he check out Kaleb just to make sure it was just a normal response, not something else underlying. After smelling salts were flipped under his nose for the second time Kaleb woke up a little confused. “I’m not fucking pregnant Davis,” Kaleb mumbled with a glazed look in his eyes. The female doctor chuckled, “That could make me rich, but no you’re not pregnant Mr. Hansen.” “I thought we were here to be pregnant,” Kaleb looked around the room before grabbing Davis by the crotch. “Sorry,” Davis said to the doctor sheepishly, while removing Kaleb’s hand from his crotch. The doctor snickered, “While you might not be pregnant yourself, hopefully, your surrogate will be.” Kaleb smiled, “I didn’t have to fuck a vagina right?” “Oh my god, Leb. Jesus, watch your mouth in front of the doctor. Seriously.” Davis was beyond embarrassed. The doctor stood up snickering, “I think he’s fine, I’ll let you deal with your husband. The receptionist can give you the date of the next check-up.” The doctor walked out of the room repeating some of Kaleb’s comments to herself laughing as she done so. Davis helped Kaleb up. “Jesus Leb, you need to tone it down a little before they lock you up for mental illness, and me for thinking you’re okay.” “God Baby, every time I think about having to fuck a woman it sends horrifying images in my mind. It’s like a movie where the woman’s thing talks to me and yuck,” Kaleb cringed as he continued to recall all of the weird thoughts he had. “Maybe they should lock us up,” Davis mumbled as they walked out of the room. The receptionist chuckled when she saw Kaleb and handed Davis a card for the next check-up. ***** Two weeks later the family attended classes at the American Redcross building for CPR and first aid, as Kyle and Blu had both agreed to as part of the house renovation. Lincoln proudly held up his cards as the instructor gave them each their certification, “I can save lives now!” “God, you’re a moron.” Levi shook his head, “We’re all certified to do the same thing.” Kyle looked at the twins, “Do you really need to call your brother a moron?” “No, but he is.” Levi shrugged his shoulders. “How would you like it if Link called you that name you hate all the time?” Kyle asked Levi. “It would suck, and I’d hate it,” Levi mumbled. “Then what do you think you should say to Link?” Kyle prodded their son. “I… I’m sorry Link,” Levi said as he stared at the floor. “You’re pretty smart, I just hate how you show off.” Lincoln nudged Levi’s shoulder, “I’m not the one that plays baseball like it’s easy, heck I can’t hit the ball out of the infield.” “Maybe Cody and me can show you how to hit?” Levi smiled and nudged Cody. “Yeah, with some work the three of us could kick peoples butts together,” Cody smirked. Blu and Bella stood beside Kyle smiling as they witnessed the three boys bonds growing stronger. Pulling out his phone, Blu got the attention of the instructor. “Would you please take a photo of my family please?” Blu asked excitedly. “Absolutely.” the lady smiled. “I wish more families would do this together. You never know when you’re going to need it.” Blu and Kyle got the family standing tightly together holding up their certificates, while the lady took the photo. “Oh, that’s brilliant. Lovely,” she said handing Blu’s phone back to him. He showed Kyle the photo proudly. “I'm going to frame this and put it on the wall in the pool house, as well as all our certificates. Make it a feature,” Blu said smiling proudly looking at the photo. “I’m glad the construction will be done it ten days,” Kyle said while smiling at the photo.
  25. 42 points
    The twins held each other tightly for several minutes. Kevin could feel Devin’s love surging through his body. For weeks he felt he had lost his brother’s love, but it now seemed even stronger. “I’m sorry, Kev,” Devin said tearfully as he pulled away. “I’ve been a real shithead the past few weeks.” Kevin smiled slightly and responded, “Yeah, you have.” He playfully hit Devin on the arm. “Well, some of it is your fault, you know,” he replied as he softly hit him back. “How do you figure that?” “You could have told me,” Devin frowned. “I could have handled it better if you would have just talked to me about it.” Kevin walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. “You’re probably right,” he confessed. “But I was having trouble dealing with it myself. How could I expect you to understand? Devin walked over and sat down beside him. “I really am sorry. I guess we all make mistakes.” Kevin gave Devin a worried look and said, “Speaking of mistakes, Dev, you really fucked up.” Devin hung his head. “I know. I don’t know what to do.” Tears welled up in his eyes. “How mad is Dad?” “If I were you, I’d grab your balls so Dad can’t cut them off.” He laughed when Devin’s hand instinctively grabbed his crotch. “Seriously, Devin,” he reached out and held his arm. “You know there’s going to be consequences. It’s like I knew when others found out I was gay there would be problems. You’re going to have to deal with it.” “That’s easy for you to say,” Devin frowned. Kevin leaned back and laughed. “Easy for me to say! Look at all the shit I had to put up with.” Devin gave him a worried look and shook his head. “And I had to add to it.” Tears welled up in his eyes once again. “I’m sorry, Kev. I really am. For a while I was scared I was going to lose you.” Kevin smiled at his brother. It was as if all the weeks of hostility between the two had been washed away. He squeezed Devin’s arm. “It’s okay. Deep down inside I always knew we’d find our way back. We’re brothers. In fact, we’re closer than most brothers.” He reached out and put his arms around Devin and hugged him. “I love you, Dev.” He could feel Devin’s shoulders shake as he buried his head into his neck and cried. He put his arm around him and held him. After several minutes, Devin pulled away and wiped his face dry with his sleeve. He stood, held his hand out to Kevin and pulled him to his feet. “I guess we better get this over with,” he said worriedly. “I’ll be with you,” replied Kevin. “I already talked to Dad. I think he’s calmed down a little.” He started to grin. “He may decide to let you keep your balls.” He laughed when Devin reached down and grabbed his crotch again. Kevin headed for the door, but Devin reached out his hand and stopped him. He walked over to the picture on the easel. He then turned and smiled. “I like Cameron,” he said. “I’m glad you two are together. He loves you a lot.” “I know,” replied Kevin as he looked at the picture. “I love him, too.” He put his hand on Devin’s back and led him to the door. ******** Cameron had been waiting nervously for ten minutes for Kevin to arrive at school. He kept looking at his watch to check the time. “Where is he?” he asked Stanley and Charles who saw him waiting and decided to join him. Cameron had filled them in on the incident the day before. When Kevin and Devin emerged from his bedroom, their father and mother got up and left without saying anything. The twins were saying goodbye to everyone when they heard the horn honk several times outside. They put on their coats and rushed out the door. That was the last time he had seen Kevin. He tried to call him once, but his cell phone was turned off. “There he is!” Cameron turned when Charles pointed down the sidewalk. Kevin was rushing toward school. He kept pulling his backpack onto his shoulders. “Hey,” he smiled as he approached the other boys. He turned to Cameron and said, “Sorry, I’m late.” “Are you all right?” Cameron asked. “I tried to call you last night.” “You look like shit,” exclaimed Stanley. Charles poked him in his side. “What a night,” sighed Kevin. “I don’t think I got two hours of sleep.” Charles asked, “What happened?” He looked over at Cameron with a questioning look. He didn’t know if he had mentioned what happened at his house the night before. Cameron gave him a slight smile and nodded his head. “We had a family meeting that lasted half the night,” he informed them. “Dad really laid out some guidelines for me and Devin.” When he noted the worried look on Cameron’s face, he said, “It’s okay. Mom and Dad agreed I can still see you.” He wanted to lean in and kiss him when he saw the relieved look on Cameron’s face. “What about Devin?” Stanley asked. “I bet he’s grounded until he’s thirty.” “Almost,” replied Kevin. “Maybe twenty. Dad called the Vance’s late last night. Devin, him and Mom are going over there Thursday after dinner. I’d hate to be Devin.” “Shit,” whistled Charles. “I’d hate to be Devin and have to face Mr. Vance. That guy is plain ass crazy.” “That’s not all,” continued Kevin. “Devin has to get a job so he can help support the baby. Dad’s going to take him around this weekend to put his application in at some places. Everything he makes has to go to Ashley.” “Damn,” exclaimed Stanley. “He has to work and doesn’t get to see any of the money? Shit, that’s extreme.” “Dad says he doesn’t deserve any money,” explained Kevin. “He says he’s going to find out what it’s like to work your life away to support a family and never have anything.” “He has a point,” Cameron agreed. “Mom works all the time, and we hardly have anything. It’s been a long time since she bought herself something.” All three boys nodded their heads. Just then the bell rang. The boys had ten minutes until their first period. After a few quick goodbyes, Kevin and Cameron headed in one direction, while Stanley and Charles went another way to class. “I’m glad we can still see each other,” whispered Cameron as they were walking down the hall. “I know,” replied Kevin. “I was worried they were going to ground me too, but they didn’t. Mom was even all right with us seeing each other. I just can’t call you at night until my homework is done.” They reached Cameron’s class and said goodbye. Kevin had to run so he wouldn’t be late to his. ******** Kevin, Cameron, Stanley and Charles were sitting at their usual table eating lunch. They were excited about the upcoming game on Friday night. It was the first game of the season, and everyone was anticipating winning the city championship this year. Any loss early in the season could ruin their chances. The boys were happy because most of the talk about them being gay had diminished. Once everyone had gotten over the initial shock, most had fallen into a mood of acceptance. The derogatory words had been replaced by words of support for the basketball team. A winning team on the court would ensure support off the court. The boys had made a determined effort to be successful. “We’ve got to defend against that giant center they have,” remarked Charles. “I heard he likes to play rough when he’s under the net.” Charles rubbed his shoulder. “You’re not much better,” he remarked to Stanley. “That foul yesterday hurt.” “Aww,” grinned Stanley. “You want me to kiss it and make it better.” “Kiss this,” challenged Charles as he grabbed his crotch. The boys started laughing. Suddenly, Kevin stopped and looked across the cafeteria. The others followed his eyes to where he was looking. Devin was coming out of the cafeteria line. He immediately looked at the table where Ashley was sitting surrounded by Sherri and several other girls. Paul was at a nearby table with Gordon and a couple of other guys. After the altercation in the restroom with Cameron, Devin had hardly said anything to him. He hung his head, walked over to an empty table and sat down with his back to everyone. Without saying anything, Kevin got up from his seat and grabbed his tray. He then walked over and sat down across from Devin. Stanley and Charles looked over at Cameron. He shrugged his shoulders, got up and joined the twins. Minutes later, Stanley and Charles walked over with their trays and sat down. “You don’t have to do this, Guys,” Devin said sadly. “I’ve treated you like shit lately. I don’t deserve your friendship.” “Yeah, Fucker,” grinned Stanley. “You have. But you know what?” Devin gave him a puzzled look. “What?” “You’re our Fucker,” he smiled. “Thanks, Guys,” Devin replied sadly. He was quickly blinking to keep tears from appearing in his eyes. “Don’t get too emotional,” remarked Charles as he looked over at Kevin. “If you weren’t Kevin’s brother, we probably wouldn’t be sitting here.” He put his arm around Kevin. “That’s what friendship is really about. If Kevin can forgive you, then we can too.” Devin looked down. “I know it’s going to take you guys a long time to gain my trust. I’m not even sure if I was in your place I could.” He lifted his head and looked them in the eyes. “I really am sorry.” He looked sorrowfully at Kevin. “For everything.” “Damn,” exclaimed Charles. “This shit is getting too heavy.” The boys started laughing. “Let’s talk about something less depressing.” Stanley stood and shouted loudly, “Let’s kick some butt Friday!” He started dancing around the floor yelling, “Give me a V!” Students stood and started shouting, “V!” When he finished spelling victory, the entire student body was on their feet cheering. Kevin glanced over at the table where Ashley was sitting. None of them had participated in the revelry. He did notice her glance quickly at Devin and roll her eyes. ******** Devin waited nervously outside Ashley’s sixth period class. After the bell had rung ending school for the day, he had rushed out of the room and up a flight of stairs, so he could catch her when she came out. She was one of the last students to exit. As usual, Sherri was beside her. She stopped suddenly when she saw Devin. She scowled and asked, “What do you want?” “Can we talk?” Devin pleaded. When he saw the apprehension on her face, he asked urgently, “Please, Ashley?” He stepped toward her and hesitantly took her hand. “Come on, Girl.” Sherri reached out and grabbed Ashley’s coat sleeve and tried to pull her away. “No,” responded Ashley as she turned to Sherri. “You go on. Devin and I need to talk.” Devin let out a sigh of relief. Sherri cast him a dirty look before walking away. “Thanks,” Devin replied as he squeezed her hand. He was reassured when she gripped his hand tighter. He held her hand as they walked away and exited the building. They didn’t speak as they walked the two blocks to a small hamburger restaurant. It was a place they often frequented after school. Ashley went to the back of the restaurant and sat in the last booth while Devin got their usual order. He sat down and pushed the hamburger and small soda in front of her. She nibbled at her food while waiting for Devin to speak. After several moments of silence, he finally looked at her. “Look, Ashley.” He reached across the table and held her hand. “I’m sorry for what I said the other day. I was wrong.” She looked up at him and smiled slightly. “It’s okay, Devin. I guess both of us said some things we shouldn’t have.” “Yeah,” he smiled nervously. “I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.” They continued eating without speaking again for several minutes. He looked across the table and stared into Ashley’s eyes. “I’m going to do what is right. I should never have told you to get rid of the baby. If you want to keep it, then I’ll help you.” Ashley got up from her seat and sat beside Devin. She buried her head into his shoulder. He held her tightly as she cried, “I’m so scared, Devin. I don’t know what to do.” He grabbed her shoulders and looked into her tearful face. “It’s all right, Ashley. We’ll get through this. There’s someone I want us to talk to.” “Who?” “Cameron’s mom.” “Kevin’s faggot boyfriend?” She asked angrily as she tried to get up. Devin tightened his grip on her shoulders. “Do you care about me?” He stared into her eyes and waited for her answer. She thought for a minute and then nodded her head. “Then you’ve got to get over this obsession with Kevin,” he insisted. “He’s my brother and I love him. I should never have let you come between us.” “But...” she started to speak, but Devin put his finger over her lips. “Listen, Ashley. Kevin is my brother, my twin brother. There’s a bond between us that you or anyone else can’t break. The only way that we can make us work is if you can accept Kevin.” “Are you choosing him over me again?” Tears welled up in her eyes. “I’m not doing that, Ashley,” insisted Devin. “That’s the mistake I made the first time. I can love both of you. It doesn’t have to be about choosing between Kevin and you.” Ashley looked at him as tears fell down her cheek. “You love me?” “Of course, I love you,” he replied as he gripped her hands tightly. “I didn’t realize how much until I thought I was going to lose you.” She leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder. “That’s the first time you’ve ever told me that. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to hear you say. You always talked about Kevin. I could see in your eyes how much you cared about him. I only wanted you to feel the same way about me.” Devin kissed her gently on the lips. He pulled away and smiled at her. “We’re going to get through this, all right?” She smiled and nodded. “You’re going to be the mother of my baby.” He kissed her again. She buried her head in his shoulder and sighed. He rubbed her back as she nestled her head against his shoulder. When she sat back up, Devin looked at her worriedly. “Just how bad has your father taken this?” She started giggling when she noticed him put his hand in his lap and cup his crotch. “I think if you’d been around when he got the news, you might have had a lot to worry about.” She giggled again when she looked down at his lap. She reached out and took his hand. “But Father Brannigan has been coming by in the evenings,” she informed him. “He’s known my dad for almost forty years. They attended high school together. He’s about the only person my dad will listen to.” Devin gave her a puzzled look. “And?” “He’s not happy with what we’ve done,” she admitted. “But I don’t think he’s going to hurt you either.” She started giggling. “I think Father Brannigan has convinced him he’ll spend eternity in Hell if he does kill you.” “Thanks, a lot,” Devin replied. “That’s nice to know.” “When you come over tonight with your parents,” she said, “Father Brannigan will be there. I don’t think Daddy will go off with him there. So, it may not be too bad.” “Do you think you can invite the police chief?” Devin asked worriedly. Ashley squeezed his hand and laughed. “Seriously, Devin,” she assured him. “If he was going to do anything, he’d have done it by now. I think he’s beginning to accept the fact he’s going to be a grandfather. Just between us, I think he may even be looking forward to it a little, especially if we have a boy. He always wanted to have a son.” “Man,” sighed Devin. “I can’t believe this happened.” He looked over and saw the frown on Ashley’s face. “All right, I know it’s happened. We’ve got no one to blame but ourselves.” He took her hand and gripped it tightly. “But you know what?” She gave him a puzzled look and shook her head. “I’m glad we had this talk.” He leaned in and gave her a quick kiss. “I really do think I love you?” Ashley frowned, “You think you love me?” “Well, um...” stammered Devin. She looked at him nervously trying to correct what he had said. “It’s all right, Devin.” She squeezed his hand. “I’ll take it. We’re only sixteen. I guess it’s a little hard to realize what love really is.” “Yeah,” he admitted. “But at least now we’re heading in the right direction this time.” She rested her head on his shoulder and sighed deeply. They sat for several minutes without speaking. Both were reevaluating their feelings for each other. It’s a giant leap from liking someone to loving someone. Devin looked down at Ashley. “So, will you meet with Mrs. Lynch?” She thought for a minute before speaking. “I guess,” she relented. “Why do you want us to talk to her?” “She told me she became pregnant with Cameron when she was sixteen.” A surprised look appeared on her face. “Really?” “Yeah,” he said. “She’s really easy to talk to. I think she can help us since she understands what we’re going through.” She sighed and then said, “All right. I can’t talk to Mom. I can tell she’s disappointed with me. She wanted me to wait until I got married to have a child.” “My mother said the same thing,” replied Devin. “So, when do you want to talk to her?” “I’ll ask Cameron if we can come over Saturday.” She nodded her head. He then leaned in and kissed her again, this time more passionately. He grabbed her hand and helped her from her seat. “I guess we better get ready to face the fireworks tonight,” he said as he helped her with her coat. “Yeah,” she replied worriedly. “You don’t have the number of the police chief on you, do you?” Her frown turned to a grin. He leaned over and kissed her cheek. ******** Kevin was lying on his bed with his literature book propped up on his stomach. He was trying desperately to keep his eyes open as he attempted to read a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Sleep was quickly winning the battle. He was awakened when there was a light knocking on the door. He started to yell out when the door opened, and Devin walked in. He sat on the edge of the bed and toed off his shoes. Kevin looked over as his brother lay down, rolled over on his side and looked up at him. Kevin asked, “How did it go?” Just hours earlier, Devin and his parents had gone over to the Vance’s home to discuss Ashley’s pregnancy. Devin closed his eyes and waited a moment before answering. “All right, I guess,” he mumbled. Kevin could tell his brother was exhausted. He looked over at the alarm clock. It was almost midnight. “You still got your nuts?” Kevin joked. Devin opened his eyes and grinned. “Yeah,” he laughed. “I think if that priest hadn’t been there I’d probably be a eunuch.” “What’s that?” “Not really sure,” he confessed. “Dad threatened to make me one the other night, so I guess it’s a guy who has his balls cut off or something.” “So, what happened?” “Just a lot of talking,” he replied as he buried his head in the pillow. He then turned and faced his brother. “Everyone was telling us how wrong we were. You know, shit like that.” “So, what are you going to do?” “Ashley’s going to have the baby. She shouldn’t miss any school since the baby will be born sometime this summer.” He looked up and frowned. “I got to get a fucking job and help pay for it.” “Well, you are kind of responsible, you know.” “Yeah,” he sighed. “I know. It’s just I wanted to play basketball this year. I was going to ask the coach if I could come back. I guess that’s over now.” “Yeah,” agreed Kevin. “I guess so.” Devin rose up on his elbows and asked, “Are you guys ready for tomorrow night?” “I think so,” replied Kevin. “The coach says we look pretty good.” “That’s good. Me and Ashley will be there.” He rested his head back down on the bed and remained silent for a minute before lifting himself up on his elbow and looking at Kevin. “Can I ask you a favor?” “Yeah,” responded Kevin. “Anything.” “Will you ask Cameron if his mother can talk to me and Ashley on Saturday? She told me that she had him when she was still in high school. I like her a lot. I think she can really help us.” “I’ll ask Cameron tomorrow,” replied Kevin. He was happy his brother liked Cameron’s mother. She had been supportive of his and Cameron’s friendship, and he knew she would give his brother and Ashley the same support. Suddenly, Devin got out of bed and left the room. Five minutes later, he reappeared in just his boxers. He pulled back the cover on the bed and crawled in. Kevin asked, “What are you doing?” “I want to sleep here tonight? Is it all right?” “Yeah, sure.” Kevin got up and removed his shirt and pants. He then returned to bed and turned out the light. Devin scooted nearer to him. “This is nice,” he mumbled. “We haven’t slept in the same bed since we were about eleven.” He scooted closer to Kevin until their bodies were lightly touching. “Kev,” he mumbled. “Yeah, Dev?” “I love you, okay?” “Yeah, Dev,” said Kevin as tears welled up in his eyes. “I love you, too.” They lay quietly for a minute. Devin snuggled his body against Kevin’s. “Kev?” “Yeah?” “You’re not a retard, okay?” He mumbled sleepily into the pillow. “Thanks.” Kevin couldn’t help but smile to himself. Minutes later, when he heard Devin start to snore lightly, he put his arm around him and pulled him into his body. Devin wrapped his hand around Kevin’s arm. Soon both boys were sleeping peacefully. THE END
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