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    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 53 The light reflected off the lake in glittering displays as the water parted before them. Everywhere Kellar looked, there was beauty from this new perspective. When they’d first left the marina, the sun was freshly up, but two hours later it was bathing their shirtless, trunk-clad bodies in sublime and welcomed warmth. Kellar was learning a lot about boating from his mate, from the rules of the water, to the handling of the eighteen-foot craft. The steering part was easy, and it quickly became his favorite thing. The hand throttle of the outboard motor was amazingly sensitive, and controlling their direction and speed became addictive as he lounged in comfort on the padded bench seat. He’d just finished maneuvering them into a small granite-walled inlet like he’d been doing so for years. As they’d advanced into it, ripples disturbed the watery sheet, creating continual circles before fading to nothing once the boat came to a halt. Silence assaulted them after the motor shut off. Tobyn, tossing over the compact anchor, informed him today was as calm as the lake ever gets, and that boating in rough water was a totally different experience. “I think I’ll prefer this. I’m not sure I’d like being thrown around in bad weather.” “Yeah, even in a twenty-four-foot inboard, the waves can be tough to handle when you’re out in the middle. This is perfect for your first time on water… don’t want to scare you off coming out here.” “I’m already hooked. What’s an inboard?” “It means the motors are inside the boat. They don’t hang off the back like this one, and you control the boat from a captain’s seat. All those bigger-hulled boats out there on the lake are twin inboards, meaning they have two motors in the stern that work in unison.” “So, it’s a size thing?” Tobyn chuckled. “Pretty much, size and power, yeah. Ready to fish? There’s a deep spot on the left where I’ve caught smallmouth before.” He pointed to a shady area. “That’s the best place to cast your line.” “Smallmouth? “Bass. They usually put up a better fight than largemouth do. So, ready to catch one of those feisty suckers?” “You bet. I used to pester Don to take me fishing, but he never did.” “He sounds like such an ass.” “Maybe he was. I used to think he was okay, but I guess I never really knew him. I gave up expecting him to be a certain way because I had no clear idea what a dad was supposed to be like back then. He was always in his office, or at a church function, or doing something Karen wanted. He never took Warren fishing either, not that I remember.” “You are too forgiving. We should bring your brother out with us one day.” “That would be awesome. Hey, my line won’t move… it’s stuck.” “Here, give me that.” Tobyn sat down beside Kellar, their splayed legs touching, and took the fiberglass rod from him. “It’s not stuck. See. You have to slide this little thing on the side. That’s the lock. This is a good reel, but it’s an older design, and it should be Kellar-proof,” Tobyn teased. “Here’s your pole back. Try not to get your line tangled.” “I’ll try not to,” he said with a roll of his eyes as he fiddled with the lock. “Okay, cool. That’s more like it.” “Do you want me to put your worm on for you?” Tobyn asked with a smirk as he opened the Styrofoam carton of wrigglers. “What do you want to do with my worm?” Kellar raised his eyebrows and returned the smirk. “Well, now that you ask… I’d say screw the fishing, and take care of your big worm, but that’s not what we came out here for.” Kellar nodded, taking in his mate’s almost naked body. He couldn’t help the stirring. “Babe, you’ve fished lots of times before, right?” “Oh, heck yeah. Hundreds of times. Why?” “I was just thinking.” Tobyn looked up from baiting Kellar’s hook. “What about?” “I was thinking we could kill two birds with one stone.” He wiggled his eyebrows and Tobyn laughed. “You mean two worms, don’t you?” Tobyn looked down at Kellar’s now tented trunks. “Well, there’s no reason I can’t still fish while you look after other stuff.” Now Tobyn really laughed. “It’s only been a few hours. What’s got you all fired up again? “Jeez… all this talk about smallmouths and largemouths and feisty suckers and handling my worm and holding my rod. Not to mention you’re almost naked. What did you expect?” Kellar whined. “I think you’ve been trying to get me horned up.” “That was just fishing talk, you bonehead.” Tobyn’s eyes traveled back to Kellar’s groin, the tip of his tongue showing itself as he licked his lips. “Here, you’re baited and ready to go. Start fishing… I have something else I need to take care of.” “Are you sure? I was just kidding… don’t you want to fish?” “Nope, I already caught me a big one and I’m not throwing it back.” Kellar groaned as Tobyn gave his trunks a sharp tug and reeled him in with a deft touch. Yeah, this fishing thing was awesome. The boat was due back at one in the afternoon, and they made it with fifteen minutes to spare. Kellar was close to euphoric after his first outing on a body of water. Following Tobyn’s short but intense fishing expedition inside Kellar’s trunks, they’d settled down to actually fish. Kellar had a blast hooking and landing the first one, a two-and-a-half-pound smallmouth that cleared the water a few times as it fought the line. Tobyn sat back and watched, cautioning him more than once not to move around so much. Kellar was in awe when he finally had the little warrior in the boat. “He’s a beauty. Do you want to keep him?” Kellar looked from the iridescent, gasping prize to his mate. It didn’t take him long to shake his head. “Good. We practice catch and release on the lake system as much as we can, and we encourage all our clients to as well, unless they are actually catching dinner. We’ve maintained a healthy fish population for centuries by only taking what we need for our own food stores. Do you want me to take the hook out? I’ll show you how to remove it with pliers so there’s little damage to the fish.” “Yeah, I want to learn everything. Now I see why so many enjoy doing this. The little guy put up a heck of a fight.” He watched his mate closely, and after that, he was able to do it for himself. Between them they’d caught seven fish with Kellar catching four, earning him bragging rights for the day. Kellar was looking forward to telling his fish stories to Warren, and at some point, having them share in new ones together. “Thanks, Tobyn. That was awesome. Man, I’m starving.” “We’ll get you filled up in a few minutes. I'm hungry too.” They were in the process of getting in the truck and leaving the marina. “It’s a lot different when you’re out there, isn’t it?” Kellar was taking a last look at the lake as Tobyn drove out of the parking area. “It is. We’re lucky here, that’s for sure. Vega only had the forests, but Morningstar has the water as well. One day, we’ll take a boat up the river. I know of some good fishing spots that are very private.” He wiggled his eyebrows, causing Kellar to chuckle. “When the time comes, I imagine it will be hard for a lot of our new members to leave this place. It gets inside your soul.” “That’s for sure. How many do you think Morningstar could support on a regular basis?” “Good question. We’re a wealthy pack, you know that, right?” “Yeah, I pretty much figured it out.” “As a member, you can see the financials anytime you want. Anyway, Mom says one day she’d like to see a hundred-and-twenty members at Morningstar, so I guess that’s the best answer I can give you. I never thought it was a big deal before, but we own another tract of land to the northeast on a two-lake system. It was bought a long time ago. I think Fendral might have made the decision, but I could be wrong. Maybe one day we’ll put it to use in the same way we have here.” “Wow. I didn’t know that. How big is it?” “Not sure, exactly. It’s a large parcel… a thousand acres, or thereabouts, surrounding one end of the bigger lake, but we can ask Mom to be sure. I know it’s accessible by road, but it’s remote. I remember her saying it wasn’t serviced. That was years ago, though, so maybe it is by now.” “There’s always solar, or wind generators, so power lines aren’t a requirement.” “True, and satellite phones if there’s no cell service, and satellite internet. What are you thinking? You want to homestead, mountain man?” Kellar laughed. “No, I’m happy where we are. Morningstar is perfect, and we have our cabin to escape to. I was only thinking positive, about one day outgrowing this place with new members. We could have a population explosion in the coming years, and Elinor and Denver are getting it started.” “We could,” Tobyn said wistfully. They arrived at the lodge, and he shut off the engine. “I promise you one day we’ll have children of our own.” A startled Tobyn turned to him. Hazel eyes examined his face for a few seconds. “I have you, and that’s all I need. Besides, you can’t promise something like that, nor do you need to.” “You’re all I need too, and maybe you’re right that I can’t promise, but it’s a feeling I have… don’t ask me why because I have no idea… I just know I do. The earth mother has done right by us so far, hasn’t she?” Tobyn smiled. “Yes, she has. And so have you. I want to believe it could happen, but….” “Stop. We have a lot of life to live yet, Tobyn. Have faith, and trust me. We are going to be dads someday. Now, come on. Let’s go eat.” Only a few stragglers were left in the dining room when they arrived. Sitting down facing the entrance, Kellar watched as Elinor escorted Denver to the front door. There was no missing their happy contentment, and he flickered to see all was in good order. Morningstar’s new hope had grown substantially since the day before. The progression of life in its infancy had always fascinated him. “Wave goodbye to Denver, babe. I’m assuming he’s about to head back to the garage.” Tobyn twisted, waved to the couple, and turned back. “He looks proud as a peacock. How’s my mom?” “Mother and child are doing great.” “Awesome. I wonder when they’re going to make the announcement.” “It’s just a guess, but I know a lot of human women wait until the fetus is three month’s old.” Tobyn screwed up his face. “Fetus? Ugh. Can’t you just say baby?” Kellar laughed. “Well, officially it’s an embryo for about eight more weeks, and then it’s a fetus until it’s born, but for you, I’ll refer to it as your brother.” “Brother? Oh my God… are you serious?” “No. Gotcha!” he whispered. “I already told you I couldn’t be sure for a couple of months yet, not until it’s eleven weeks or so, and even then I won’t tell you. That’s for your mother to decide, if she even wants to know what the sex is.” “My mate’s a jerk,” Tobyn muttered. “But you love me, right?” Kellar couldn’t help grinning. “Yes. Even when you’re mean.” Without having to order, Heather brought them the special of the day. Two huge helpings of a beef and noodle stroganoff, along with a plate of warm homemade rolls. They dug in, and conversation gave way to more important matters. After a few food-shoveling minutes, Kellar slowed down, and took in the healthy glow the sun had left on Tobyn, who was continuing to take his meal seriously. It was one of those moments where he let his feelings surface, and gave thanks this handsome man had turned out to be his mate. He was the luckiest of shifters. “So are you ready to hit the road?” “What?” Kellar’s musings had him lost as to Tobyn’s meaning. Where were they going? “You know… continue our search. Have you been thinking about us maybe putting it off?” “Oh, sorry. No. Why? Have you?” “Not at all, but I’ve been thinking a lot about Warren.” “Oh, really?” Kellar tried to look alarmed. “Shut up. You know what I mean. His wedding and his change.” “I’ve thought about it too, but we’ve already decided it’s best to wait until the fall, and I know Warren really is fine with it. Don’t worry… he’s not pretending.” “Cool. Just checking.” Tobyn grinned. “So, what do you think? Mom says Arthur remembers Dryden and Sioux Lookout now. Those places aren’t that close to Thunder Bay.” “It is a lot of area to cover. I wonder if Thunder Bay has another significance for him. Maybe the conclave was near there, and that’s why he remembered it first.” “Makes sense. His old pack grounds may turn out to be between those other two places. There’s a little highway that runs between them.” “Only one way to find out, and the earth mother will help us.” “I know. I don’t mind the uncertainty… it’s an adventure.” Tobyn looked like a little kid as he finished spooning up the last of his lunch. “Speaking of Arthur, there he is with his beloved.” Kellar gestured with a chin motion toward the entrance, waving as he stood to greet the advancing couple. “Are we interrupting, dear?” Miss Sybil asked as she neared the table. “Absolutely not, ma’am. I always look forward to seeing you and Arthur.” “We always look forward to seeing you,” Tobyn corrected as he stood and kissed Miss Sybil’s cheek in greeting. “Hello, Arthur.” “Good afternoon, Tobyn. Good afternoon, Cahlar.” After copying Tobyn’s greeting to one of his most favorite people, he turned to her mate. “Good day, Arthur. You look well.” “I am well. I remember Auriga pack. Sybil says I’m right. She remembers too.” “Are you saying that’s where you came from originally?” “Yes.” “That’s great,” Tobyn interrupted enthusiastically. Kellar gave his mate a grin before refocusing on the elder man. “Do you recall anything else?” “Not about the pack, but there was a town called Valora. I liked to go to Valora for penny candy. I had a brother, but I don’t know his name… he might have been younger than me. I’ve tried, but….” “Hey, that’s enough. You can’t rush these things, and you’ve given us all we need.” Miss Sybil was standing beside her mate, and she wasn’t smiling. In fact, her forehead was creased with frown lines. “Would you like to join us?” “I’d like to talk to you, Kellar, to both of you, but not in the dining room.” “Is something wrong, Miss Sybil?” Tobyn asked. “No, dear. It’s about visions I’ve had. Littles ones which, early this morning, became one bigger one.” There was a reticence to her tone. It was almost a dread that Kellar picked up on. He noticed the whiteness of her knuckles as she gripped her mate’s hand. Arthur’s demeanor gave away no clues. “Well, we’re finished lunch now. Would you like to go elsewhere… our house, or yours?” “Either would be fine. Tobyn, do you know if your mother is busy?” “I don’t think so. She’s in her office. Denver left right after we got here. Have you seen anyone else go back there?” he asked Kellar. “Nope. No one has come or gone.” “Good,” the seer said, looking away. “I would like her to hear what I have to say. It’s something she’ll be interested in.” “Let’s go get her,” Tobyn said, standing up with his eyes on Kellar. “She’s making me nervous, doc.” “Me too. Have you ever seen her like this?” “No. It’s not like her to avoid eye contact.” Kellar quickly copied his mate and stood, wondering if their mission was going to be affected in some way. Did Miss Sybil foresee a problem, or danger? “I’m ready. Maybe we could talk in Elinor’s office?” “That would be fine,” Miss Sybil responded, still not meeting their eyes. They all took seats inside the roomy office. A slight breeze stirred papers on Elinor’s desk. She literally glowed, but only Kellar and Tobyn knew the reason. It was possible, though, the seer could have her own insights. “I hope we’re not interrupting your day, Elinor. I suppose I could have waited until the evening, but….” “Of course you’re not, Miss Sybil. Paperwork gets boring and I welcome any excuse to avoid it. I had a lovely lunch with Denver earlier, and I’ve just been going over some ancient accounting ledgers and jotting down any trends I see… a tedious and boring way to spend time.” She smiled as she looked curiously around the room. “What is it you think I should hear?” Miss Sybil glanced from Elinor to Kellar, and here gaze settled there, apparently with some effort. “I have a story to tell, so I’ll just get on with it. My visions have become quite reliable lately, and I believe one I had as the sun was rising, was quite accurate.” “Was it about our search?” an impatient Tobyn asked. Kellar felt the grip on his hand tighten. “No, dear. This one was about the past. Your mate’s past.” “Mine?” “Yes.” She glanced down and up, and again Kellar saw the reluctance in her. “It was revealed to me what happened to your parents. I know how they died.” Kellar’s throat dried out as he absorbed her words. His parents? Their death? Only the contact of his mate kept him sitting. “Do you want to know?” was asked softly, with a note of uncertainty. Not yet trusting his voice, he nodded, getting a measuring look from the seer. “I fear this could be difficult to hear, but I believe it’s important for you to know. My visions can be random, but they’re are never frivolous. By that, I mean they always serve a purpose. Would you like for us to talk alone? In private?” This time Kellar shook his head. “All right. Good. It’s best for all of you to hear this at the same time.” She hesitated, looking even less composed, but she continued. “Your mother… her name was Gisla… is that right?” The sudden squeak of Elinor’s chair startled him, but he kept his gaze focused on the seer. He sat up straighter, the fear that had been threatening to suffocate him, suddenly dropping away. He needed to know. “Yes, ma’am. Gisla and Roland were my parents. You actually heard my mother’s name in your vision? You hear sound?” “Sound accompanies some of them, yes, but I didn’t need to hear her name. I recognized her. I could never forget that beautiful face.” A choking sound came from Elinor, and he glanced over to see a woman stunned. He returned his gaze to Miss Sybil. “What’s going on? You recognized her? You… you knew her?” His eyes darted back to Elinor, wondering at the pained look on her face. “Your mother was my best friend’s daughter. Esther and Fendral were her parents, and before you ask, I’m sure of what I’m saying. I saw you as a young boy, and there was no mistaking that face either.” Kellar slumped back in his seat. Slowly, he rotated his head, needing to see Tobyn’s face. His mate appeared just as blown away as he was. “Fendral is your grandfather? How is this possible? I’ve never heard of Gisla….” “Gigi,” was uttered by his own mother as he focused on her. “Mom? Gigi is Gisla? She is Kellar’s mom?” “Yes. If Miss Sybil says it was Gisla, I believe her. I’m just as shocked as you all are. Gigi was my best friend.” “Why are you calling her Gigi?” Kellar asked, trying hard to control the anxiety rising in him. Tears were beginning to roll down Elinor’s cheeks. A short laugh choked its way out, sounding as much like a sob as anything. “Your mother hated her name. She thought Gisla was awful, especially after a few boys started calling her Geezer. She did not think it was funny.” Tobyn handed her Kleenex so she could blow her nose. “I can’t believe you’ve been her son all along. I’m so happy a part of her has survived. It was hard to give up hope she was alive, but I did. I knew she would never have left me wondering for so long if she had a choice.” A new batch of tears poured out. “I must say, you don’t look at all like her.” Kellar wiped at his own eyes. “What… what did she look like?” Elinor faltered, and then rose, turning to the tall filing cabinet behind her. The top drawer contained an old cardboard photo folder she took out and handed to Kellar across the desk. He flipped it open and found himself staring at two teenage girls, arm in arm, smiling at the camera. The one on the left was so obviously Tobyn’s mother. The one on the right hit him like a sledgehammer. That tantalizing memory that had slipped beyond his grasp for years and years, coalesced as he stared at the old photo, and he grabbed at the thread of it. He was staring at his mother as a young girl, but like a specter before him, he slowly envisioned her more mature face. It snapped into focus, and Kellar was struck by how pretty she was with her hair floating around her face. He was strapped into a car seat, surrounded by strands of waving oat grass, and he could see her place the end of her finger on her lips, and he could hear her ‘shush.’ Her cautionary words followed. ‘You must be quiet for mommy, Kellar. Not a peep, no matter what you hear. Daddy and I will come back as soon as we can, and we’ll take you to meet your grandpa Fendral like we promised… be our brave little man… I have to go away for a little while… remember… you must stay quiet. You must stay quiet.’ Kellar’s eyes refocused, and he was no longer that little boy. He was a grown man staring at a photograph of his long-dead mother. Where had that memory been all these years? Was it some kind of vision? An urge to run came over him… to let his wolf free and run till he dropped. He fought it, gaining strength from the warm hand that was now on his arm. He turned his head and stared into emotional hazel eyes. “I remember her,” Kellar whispered to his mate. “I remember that day. I remember her leaving me in the ditch where the police reports said I was found, and I can hear her words as if it was yesterday... she mentioned my grandpa Fendral... and I can see the tall grass swaying above me.” He turned his attention back to the seer, who was busy wiping at her eyes. “How could I remember that? I was only four-and-a-half. I could never remember any of it before.” “The photograph… it triggered it, and yes you were young, but you’re a shifter, dear… a very special one who can remember the pattern of every living thing you see. Keepers are born with some memories, and seers can glimpse the past, so I’m not surprised you could recall your last moments with your mother. You encompass so much of our race, and I have no doubt you are guided by the earth mother. Maybe at some point you’ll experience a memory of your father.” Kellar was too overloaded to examine Miss Sybil’s speculation. “What happened to her? Who stopped her from coming back for me like she promised?” One stifled sob, and the woman visibly steeled herself. “She couldn’t. I’m sorry, Kellar. Gigi and your father did what they could to protect you, but they couldn’t save each other.” “Was it hunters?” The woman nodded. Her expression was resolute, but Kellar sensed her turmoil at having to confirm who was responsible. He owed it to her to make it easier. He turned his gaze to a sniffling Elinor. The mention of hunters had hit her hard, and it showed in the compassion of her words. “Oh, God. I’m so sorry. I’d always hoped those horrible men hadn’t gotten to her. Gigi was a light in all our lives.” “It’s all right, Elinor,” he said soothingly. “It was a long time ago, and it was something I suspected once I learned about hunters. The explanation of my parents hitting a moose never made sense, because how could I have ended up so far away, sitting unscathed in a car seat? And the police couldn’t come up with an answer for why the car burned, other than the gas tank exploding and feeding an electrical fire. It all sounded stupid, and the reports said I didn’t have a mark on me, and neither did the seat.” He didn’t like that her shoulders were shaking. His thoughts went to her coming child. This was a pivotal time for the new embryo. “Finish telling me about why you call her Gigi.” It worked, and he got a smile out of her. He waited while she blew her nose again. “Your mother was such a character, Kellar.” One short bark of amusement escaped before she began her recollection. “We went to town one afternoon—Fendral drove—so she could pick out something with her birthday money. She ended up choosing some old movies from a bin at the video store. She loved movies, and she loved musicals.” Elinor dabbed at her eyes, but her voice was strong again. “One of those movies was a Best Picture winner from the fifties or sixties called Gigi. It starred Leslie Caron, and as soon as we started watching it, there was no denying your mother’s resemblance to her. “Anyway, after it was over, she declared she wanted to be called Gigi from that moment on. We all went along with the idea, and while Fendral and Esther frowned on it at first, even they started calling her Gigi. Your mother always got her way.” “Yes, she did. It took me a while to come around because I thought her name enchanting, but how could I not?” Miss Sybil said, also smiling now. “What was that song she used to sing from the movie?” “Oh… it was sung by Maurice Chevalier… yes—‘Thank Heaven for Little Girls’—she would even sing it with the same French accent he did.” “That’s right, I remember now. Your mother had a beautiful voice, Kellar, and she was such a captivating child, strong-willed and determined. She was a leader… never a follower.” The room went suddenly quiet. Tobyn took the picture from his mate. “I’ve seen this so many times and I had no idea Gigi was your mother. You were always sad when you looked at this, Mom,” he said, looking at Elinor before he returned his attention to Kellar. “Mom’s right. You look nothing like her.” “Yeah, I can see that. What color was my mother’s wolf?” Elinor answered the question after sighing. “The same color as the hair on your head. It was the richest, chestnut brown. I never thought of the similarity until now, because her hair itself was a dark honey blond. Her wolf was a most unusual color, and Esther’s wolf was the same.” It was strange to suddenly learn these things. He needed to know more. All of it. “Did you see my father, Miss Sybil?” Kellar had to swallow the extra saliva that came from nowhere after he asked the question. He knew nothing of his father other than he was likely a healer. “There is much more to my vision, but I can tell you that looking at your face is the same as looking at his. I saw him as a young, brave man, not so much older than you are now, and your features are identical. His hair was a darker brown, almost black, but that was the only difference. Even if I had not recognized Gigi, I would have known that man was your father.” “His wolf… I guess you didn’t see his wolf?” Miss Sybil dropped her head at the question. “I did see his wolf, I’m afraid. He was white, and from what I saw, he was powerful… and ferocious.” Her words were whispered, and her head stayed lowered. “Miss Sybil? I need to hear what happened. Don’t worry about how it will affect me, okay? Not knowing has left a hole in me. I know this is hard for you, and I understand what’s coming has to do with their death.” The seer raised her head and stiffened her spine. “You are a remarkable young man. You should know your father fought, but there were three hunters, and your parents were trapped.” “Trapped?” “In their vehicle. I’m not an expert on cars, but it was square like a jeep.” “Yes, it was a 1988 Jeep Cherokee. I remember reading about it being completely burned out in a file I peeked at. Sorry… go on,” Kellar said. Miss Sybil hesitated, but she kept her eyes on Kellar. “What I have to say next is not easy.” “It’s okay. I’m fine, really.” The seer nodded after pulling Arthur’s hand closer. “Once your mother hid you, she ran back to their car. Your father was waiting and as soon as she got in, he changed directions, doing a U-turn and driving away. It was obvious they were trying to put as much distance between you and them as they could, but they didn’t get very far at all. A huge pickup truck rammed into them. I don’t know where it came from, but it hit them so hard the Jeep spun around before it rolled to a stop. Your dad’s door was crushed, but he was alive. Your mother wasn’t moving… I’m so sorry.” “I know you are. I feel bad putting you through this, ma’am.” Kellar felt numb, but what he was hearing played into what he already knew. “The police reports said my parents were burned beyond recognition.” He couldn’t bring himself to use the same words the investigator had. “That’s because one of them threw something into the back seat that exploded. I believe it’s called a Molotov cocktail. It was a bottle with a burning rag stuffed in it. Your father tried to open his door, but it was badly dented. He was screaming at those men… but he couldn’t get out. One of the hunters was laughing, taunting your father—that’s when I saw his wolf—he shifted and came partway out the window at the man, and he managed to slash his face with a paw before the other older one hit him repeatedly with this club thing. It was awful, but it was over quickly. Your father shifted back and gathered your mother in his arms. The younger one threw another one of those things in the Jeep from your mother’s side—he was the one with a rifle—and another explosion filled the car with flames. That was the end of my vision.” “My father slashed the hunter in the face?” “Yes, he did, and it was an effective one. He caught the man by surprise, and left him bleeding and cursing. He called your father an unholy demon.” Kellar turned to his mate and they both said Reznick at the same time. “Could it be? That bastard killed my parents?” “I don’t know, doc. It would be a hell of a coincidence. That scar fit with shifter wolf claws.” “What can you tell me about these hunters, ma’am?” “There were three of them, and they were big men. One was probably in his late twenties, and the other two were around fifty to sixty. One was definitely older than the other. They looked alike… I would say they were definitely related… and they looked Slavic. That’s all I can tell you, I’m afraid.” “You said one had a club?” “Actually, two of them did. Long ones, with metal rings around them… three or four metal rings.” “So, they were more like thick staffs than clubs.” “Yes. That’s a better word. Am I right in thinking these were the hunters you dealt with recently?” “They have to be”—he looked at Tobyn, who nodded with certainty—“and if that’s the case, they’re all dead now. Ma’am, are you sure my mom was… gone… before the flames touched her?” “She never stirred after the Jeep came to a stop. Not once. She must have hit her head because your father was wiping away blood as he held her.” “Thank you… for telling me this.” “Are you all right, dear?” Kellar looked at his mate, bringing Tobyn’s hand over with his own, and holding them tight to his chest. He took a deep breath. “I will be. It’s a relief to finally have answers, and now I have a real memory of my mother. I’ve always felt it there, but this was the first time I was able to grab hold of it.” “I have so many little stories about Gigi I can tell you if you ever want to hear them,” Elinor said, her voice full of sympathy, “and I have more pictures of her at the house you’re welcome to take and keep.” Kellar mustered up a smile. “I’d like that.” His thoughts had traveled to Fendral. He had a living relative, but one he couldn’t talk to. It was time to find the man… the old grey wolf. He sighed loudly. “What are you thinking?” Tobyn asked with a note of expectation in his voice. Kellar’s gaze moved from his mate to the other people in the room. Arthur had stayed quiet, but he too had a look of compassion. “That this is so ironic. I have found a family here… something I never thought I’d have. My mother was taking me to meet my grandfather. I remember her words clearly now. She was bringing me to this very place. This was always meant to be my home, at least some of the time. I’m guessing that was the purpose of this vision.” His eyes returned to Tobyn. “Doc, isn’t it obvious? Morningstar isn’t just your home, it’s your pack.” “I know.” Kellar sighed again. “And I’m thankful. I already felt like I belonged, but now, even more so.” “I don’t think you get what I’m saying. The purpose isn’t what you think… it has to be to reveal your birthright. As Fendral’s only living relative, you are the rightful alpha of Morningstar. The bloodline remains unbroken.” It took seconds for Tobyn’s words to sink in, with all Kellar’s thoughts and emotions going every which way. Did he just hear his mate right? His questioning gaze fell on Elinor, and she was nodding in agreement. Miss Sybil was nodding too. Holy fuck.
  2. 71 likes
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 52 “So, what are your plans?” “We’re not sure yet, Mom. Arthur has given us the name of that town, Dryden, northwest of Thunder Bay, so we have something to go on. Everyone has settled in nicely, so we’re not really needed here now, are we?” “Needed, no, but Tobyn, you and Kellar haven’t had any chance to catch your breath. Don’t you want to take it easy for a while? My goodness, you’ve just found Hugh’s mate, and….” “Hugh found his own mate, Elinor.” “You know what I mean, Kellar. From what you’ve told me, you two were there for Hugh in every way when he needed you, and don’t try to tell me it was easy. So, back to my question. What’s the rush?” “The rush is that shifters are still dying, Mom, and we want to cover as much ground as we can before the weather changes and winter sets in. That’s when we’ll stick close to home.” “Close to home?” “You don’t miss anything, do you? Yeah, Morningstar most of the time, but we plan to spend a lot of days at the cabin too. We like it there, and you’ve seen how much work my mate has put into it.” Tobyn turned to Kellar and winked. “It’s best to prepare her now.” “Good thinking.” Elinor sighed deeply, leaning back in her chair. “It is a lovely place. You know I worry when you’re gone.” “We do. All we can tell you is we’ll be careful, and before you say it, just because we’ve said we think the hunters’ numbers have shrunk considerably, we know the threat is still there. Kellar and I will never be caught unawares.” “We could spare a couple of members to go with you now. I’m sure Percy would love to go with you, and he’s already faced a hunter….” “Mom, please. We’ve been through this already. Yes, Percy has come face to face with a hunter, but it was Ian who pulled the trigger, and there’s no way in hell we’re going to ask him to leave Joanne. Look, we understand your concerns, but this is a time for the pack to jell. I have no doubt we’d get a lot of volunteers if we asked, but we honestly think we’d be better off continuing to do this on our own. Remember, being able to communicate without others knowing is a powerful advantage.” “Good job, babe.” “Thanks. She’ll never be completely on board with us going off by ourselves, though.” “Okay, okay. I’ll stop being mom… for the time being,” she said unconvincingly, “and don’t think I’m not aware you do that ‘talking amongst yourselves thing’ with me.” Both Kellar and Tobyn stayed quiet, but grins slipped onto their faces. “Stop looking so smug, the pair of you,” Elinor said with detectable amusement. “Oh, did I tell you I’ve almost talked Clarence into joining our council? He’s thinking it over. Ingram and Maynard really like him, and so do I.” “Ingram just wants more time out on the lake.” Elinor laughed. “True, but the poor man. Did you know Dot got queasy when he took her on a boat ride for the first time? She says the water’s not for her. He didn’t show it, but I’m sure Ingram was disappointed. If anything could keep him on solid ground, it’ll be his mate.” “Maybe she’ll get used to it,” Tobyn said, chuckling at the man’s luck. “But you’re right about Clarence. He’s an impressive man, and he’s learned from his mistakes. He’s without ego, and he puts his members first.” Elinor nodded her agreement. “I’ve seen that in him—we’ve had some good talks—and that’s exactly why I’d like to involve him in the day to day running of Morningstar.” “He’s a great fit,”Kellar agreed. “I hope all the alphas we meet are as fair and welcoming as Clarence was.” When a frown creased Elinor’s face, he regretted his words. The mother in her was resurfacing, and he could picture the scenarios she was imagining. “That’s the thing about shifters, though. After not knowing any for most of my life, I haven’t met a single one I didn’t like.” Hopefully, that helped. “Well, there was Logan for a while there,” Tobyn pointed out with an exaggerated shudder. “God, he was a jerk, wasn’t he? Unfortunately, we met his tumor before we met him.” Kellar grimaced at the memory, and then smiled. “I love watching him with Tilly. He expresses himself, but only after Tilly has. It’s cute.” “He’s a man in love, doc. I expect there will be a wedding there soon too. Probably right after Adelin’s.” Elinor snickered. “Just between us, Logan showed up here after breakfast, before he went off to the marina—says he loves working there and doesn’t care if he ever sees lumber again—and asked me about weddings at Morningstar.” “Really? Wow. That was fast.” “Don’t misunderstand, Toby. He was wanting to know if his dad would be allowed to perform a wedding ceremony here, if he doesn’t join the council. I told him of course Clarence could do it no matter what he decided. He’ll still be an alpha even if he doesn’t take a leadership role. He was pretty happy after we talked, but asked me not to mention our conversation to Tilly.” “So, he’s thinking about it,” Tobyn said thoughtfully. “He probably got a wistful vibe from his mate over Adelin’s upcoming wedding. She’s not easy to read sometimes, but Logan’s a pretty smart cookie. He showed as much in the challenge of getting Vega over the hump. He was in tune with the members, which was pretty impressive to witness considering he spent years suffering constant pain and mood swings. He was the one who called for a vote, and remember his talk at the table, doc, about setting aside logging and concentrating on what makes Morningstar strong?” “Yeah, I remember. There’s nothing wrong with his brain now, that’s for sure. He’s his father’s son, babe, with the same talent for diplomacy you have, and that got hidden for a while because of the tumor, but it never disappeared.” Elinor had gone quiet, looking from one to the other. “We’ve added so many good people. It’s been ages since I’ve felt I could relax, and not worry about our future every waking minute.” “All this responsibility has to weigh a person down,” Kellar mused. “You should start taking it easier now… you’ve earned it.” “Thank you, dear. All these new members have changed the atmosphere of Morningstar so much. I don’t feel the pressure I used to. It gives me more time to enjoy life. Me and Denver. He can leave later and get home earlier now, and I’m going to try to do the same. I would like more family time,” she said, wearing the tiniest of smiles. “You know, don’t you?” Kellar gave Tobyn’s mother a direct look. For a second, Elinor looked like a deer caught in headlights, and then she relaxed. “I didn’t, not for certain. It’s awfully early.” Her gaze went to Tobyn. “What are you two talking about? Mom?” A smile grew on Elinor’s face. “I believe Kellar just verified what I’d only hoped until now. You can tell already?” Kellar nodded, his attention focused on his mate. “Are you saying…?” “That you’re finally going to be a brother? Yes, it would appear so.” Elinor was beaming. “Holy crap. A brother? I… I always wanted to be a brother.” He turned to Kellar. “You can see it?” “Yes, I can see it.” “Can you tell what it is?” “Yup. It’s a baby. That’s all I can tell you. It’s a tiny little thing right now, but it’s made a home.” Elinor leaned forward, her arms reaching across the desk. “Are you happy about it, Tobyn?” “Are you?” “Oh, my, yes.” “Then so am I. It’s kind of a shock, but Kellar predicted it a while ago. Hell, yeah, I’m over the moon. A baby. Wow. Does Denver know?” “No, he doesn’t. I didn’t know until just this moment, but I had a feeling, and of course there was a physical sign indicating I could be. My cycle has always been reliable. I was dying to ask if you could detect whether I was, Kellar, but at the same time, I’ve been afraid to get my hopes up.” “I saw it right away, Elinor.” “Right away? What do you mean, right away? Like, the day we got back from Vega?” Tobyn asked. “Yup. I can see a pregnancy from the time the egg is fertilized and the cells start to divide.” “And you didn’t tell me?” “Nope.” “How could you keep that a secret?” “What… do you think you should know before your mom does? That wouldn’t be right. Besides, it hadn’t made it to the womb yet.” Tobyn looked at his mother and grinned. “I guess my mate is your physician now, and he’s invoking some doctor confidentiality thingy.” Elinor giggled, but then she gave Kellar a penetrating look. “Does everything look okay so far?” Kellar didn’t miss the apprehension the question held. Years of stillborn children could not be forgotten overnight… probably never. “All I can say is nothing appears wrong. There is no color there that shouldn’t be, and the zygote’s aura is strong. You can relax, Elinor.” “Thank you.” She let go of the breath she’d been holding as she said the words. “Zygote?” Tobyn asked. “The beginning of your brother or sister, babe. It’s really early yet, but it’s becoming an embryo as we speak. It has just attached itself to the uterine wall, which means it’s about two weeks old, give or take. No more than three.” “Oh, okay. Does it have a pattern already?” “No, but it has a glow that’s an opaque white. It’s the reason I noticed it.” “Cool. How do you know all this stuff?” “All I used to do, night after night, was read those journals. You’ve seen them at the cabin. And to be honest, I’ve studied it in human women whenever I flickered and saw a pregnancy. I’ve seen babies at every stage. It’s fascinating,” Kellar said with a shrug. “You’re definitely hired.” Tobyn stood and walked around the desk. “My head is spinning, but I’m stoked as heck and I need to hug my amazing mom.” Instant tears formed in Elinor’s eyes at her son’s words, and she giggled again. “That’s another sign. My emotions have been all over the place the last few days, and I knew it had nothing to do with Vega.” She stood up and walked into her son’s arms. The sight of them sharing the moment had Kellar experiencing some emotions of his own. Finally, the payoff for defeating the malaise was beginning, even sooner than expected, and it was fitting Elinor was starting it off. Come hell or high water, this baby would be born alive and healthy. Kellar would ensure it. And yeah, he was Elinor’s doctor. He was every members’ doctor, and that was fine with him. It was what he was born to do. The timing of Clarence’s arrival, an experienced alpha, was even more fortuitous given this new and important pregnancy. The earth mother at work again? It was ten-thirty in the morning, and this time they were determined to get out on the lake. Tobyn was practically vibrating from hearing of a new sibling on the way, and a new baby for the pack. Kellar had to caution his excited mate not to let anything slip as they walked through the sparsely-populated dining room and out the front entrance of the lodge. They didn’t even make it to their vehicle before a strange truck pulled into view, moving slowly. “Who the heck is that? There are signs to direct the tourists.” “I can’t see through the glare on the windshield,” Kellar said. A scent reached him through the open windows. “Hey, that’s Connor.” At the same time, they heard the heavy rumble of a big dually coming from the farm road, still a fair distance away. “And that must be Hugh,” Tobyn said, his attention still on Connor’s progress. He waved the man forward, and the truck responded, edging up its crawl and pulling in next to them. Kellar walked over to the driver’s side, with Tobyn in the lead. “Hugh’s supposed to have met me here… well, at the road down there”—Connor pointed back from where he came—“but, he wasn’t there.” He looked extremely agitated. “Hi, Connor. Good to see you. No worries. He’s on his way. We can hear his truck, and it’ll be about a minute before he drives around the corner.” Tobyn’s words seemed to calm Connor enough that he visibly relaxed. “Oh good. I was worried something had happened to him. I, ah… I thought it would be busier around here.” Kellar reached around Tobyn and put a hand on the relieved man’s shoulder. “It will be when lunch starts. Are you guys doing okay? We didn’t see Hugh on the grounds yesterday.” “Oh, yeah, he was with me. He called someone named Charles and took the day off. I brought him back before first light this morning and dropped him off at the marina road. That’s where he said….” “Speak of the devil. There’s your mate, looking just as stressed as you do. Not easy being separated, is it?” “Fuck, no.” Connor blew out a huge breath. “It’s hell. Is it always going to be like this?” Kellar chuckled. “It gets worse, and then it settles down. No complaints from us though, right, babe?” “No, but we’re never apart, except the one time, and I don’t even want to think about what that was like,” Tobyn said, stepping out of the way as Hugh hurried over from where he’d parked. “Sorry, Connor. I got caught up in something and I couldn’t leave until it was finished. A stupid cow got out of the pasture when I let go of the gate… I was having trouble keeping my mind on the job,” he said sheepishly as he finally acknowledged the other two men. “Hi Kellar. Hi Tobe.” He returned his attention to his mate. “Are you coming out of there?” “Don’t you have to ask permission first?” Hugh shook his head and chuckled. “Permission? No. I guess I didn’t explain it right. I only meant I wanted to ask one of our leaders for their approval to show you around. It’s a courtesy thing for your first time here. Humans aren’t allowed in the private areas as a rule… it’s for our safety and security. Once you’re introduced as my mate, we’re all good. You’ll be one of us.” Hugh seemed to be out of oxygen when he finished. “Hugh, calm down and breathe,” Tobyn teased. “Mom’s in there, and she can’t wait to meet Connor.” Connor was in the process of stepping out. “She knows? You told her about me? What did she say?” Hugh didn’t answer at first. Instead, he pulled his mate close, and they held the embrace for half-a-minute. Kellar could hear the deep inhales of each other’s scent, and moved closer to his own mate, waiting for both men to have their fill. Yeah, hours of separation will do that. “No, I didn’t get the chance, and I wanted to get my work done so I could meet you. I figured we’d tell her together.” “Kellar and I told her, Connor. You can’t keep anything from my mother. So, you guys spent the whole of yesterday together? I’ll take that as a good sign,” Tobyn uttered to the still entangled men. Hugh snickered as they finally let go of each other, except for clasped hands. His breathing was much calmer. “You could say that. He’s smarter than me, but we have so much in common it’s scary.” “Hey, I’m not smarter than you,” Connor objected. “I’m just an idiot savant when it comes to computers. You figured out why my one stove burner wasn’t working in two minutes, and it stymied me for two months.” “That’s true. I guess I’m the smart one then.” “That’s not what I said.” Connor’s smile was brilliant as he stared upward at his mate. “We’re equally smart.” “Works for me. Are you ready to be introduced?” “As your mate? Yeah, I’m ready.” “You guys are so cute. Connor, it’s a good job you didn’t meet this guy when he was a kid. He was so goofy looking, you would have run away.” “I highly doubt that. He’s exactly what I’ve been looking for, and just look at him now.” Connor wore his own goofy look as he locked eyes with his mate. Kellar flickered and watched their colors interact. Things had changed. “You guys started the joining, didn’t you?” “Doc! That’s none of our business.” Tobyn gave him a wink they all could see. “Sorry, but it’s pretty obvious, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” “We are guilty of a few lip locks… okay, a lot of lip locks,” Connor said unabashedly. “That’s it, though. Hugh wanted to wait for even that—give myself time—but I didn’t see the point, because I’m not going anywhere.” “Yup. Those lip locks will do it, and there’s no turning back now. I’m happy for you both. Everyone will be… you’ll find nothing but a warm and genuine reception here, Connor. Tobyn and I will say it first. Welcome to Morningstar. Where are you going after you see Elinor?” “I’m going to show Connor everything, but first he’s going to meet my mom,” Hugh said with a big smile on his face. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud in my entire life.” Connor groaned at the other two. “I’ve never met a mom before.” “You’ll love her. I guarantee it,” Tobyn said. “She’s an absolute sweetheart, and she always has cookies.” “See. Nothing to worry about, and you’ll get sweets as a bonus.” Hugh slid a hand up his back and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “She’ll love you, I promise.” “How do you know that? She hasn’t met me yet, and she doesn’t even know you’re gay.” Hugh laughed. “Well, she’s going to find out, isn’t she? Don’t worry. My mom only cares about my happiness, and you make me happy. It’s only been her and I, for so long, and now she’ll have you to dote over… fair warning, but I don’t think you’ll be complaining. I still can’t believe how you’ve handled me being a shifter. I’m so lucky.” Connor sighed and smiled at the same time. “What’s to handle, Hugh? The earth mother picked you for me, and all I have to do is look at Kellar and Tobyn to see she knows what she’s doing. I don’t just get you… I get your beautiful wolf. You’re an animal lover’s dream,” he teased. “You’re not the only one who’s fortunate here.” “See how amazing he is, guys. He’s been saying stuff like this since we went on our first walk. I thought it would be me having to reassure him, but it’s the other way around.” Tobyn chuckled. “You don’t have to convince us, bud. We’re Connor fans already. So, if you don’t mind me asking, how are you going to handle the being apart situation? You were both freaked out when you got here.” “Yeah, we can’t keep doing this. Once was enough, right?” Hugh’s lips grazed his mate’s forehead. “This morning was five hours of hell.” “Same for me, and I didn’t like it, no. It’s hard to concentrate, but Kellar said it gets easier after it gets worse.” “I did say that, but it’s something you two have to work out, and the sooner the better if you’re anything like Tobyn and I.” “We just had our first taste of separation, Connor, and while I would do anything for you, all our talk about taking this slow just isn’t going to fly. Working in two different places, miles apart, is going to be torture.” “Do you guys want to talk about this in private?” Kellar asked after Hugh’s impassioned words. “Doc, come on. They need us right now. They need a nudge. Connor needs a nudge.” “I don’t like interfering.” “What are you talking about? That’s all we do. We have our noses in everything.” Tobyn did a quick eye roll. “No. We need your insight. You’ve been through this,” Hugh said with a plea in his voice. “See?” “Yes, dear. You’re right.” Kellar returned the eye roll. “Do you know what I was thinking about all morning, while we were so far apart?” Connor searched his mate’s face before nodding. “Brian.” “Yes, Brian. I know you think you’re safe at Davidson’s by yourself, but tell that to my wolf when all he wants to do is run back to you. If you were on pack grounds, we’d both relax, and I wouldn’t be scared out of my mind and imagining all kinds of awful stuff. We have plenty of work for you here, the same as you’re doing now if that’s what you want. And your dividend check would be way more than what that cheap bastard pays you.” Connor snorted. “You should be in sales. You do make good points, but we’ve only been together a couple of days. Don’t worry about Brian. I’m not… and I really don’t like to be pushed. I’ve been there and done that.” Hugh sputtered. “I’m sorry, Connor, if it seems like I’m pushing… God, I would never try to bully you. I’m having a hard time after this morning, but I’ll go along with whatever way you want.” “I know that. I do. But, I don’t do well with pressure, and you’re talking about me uprooting my life after two days… everything’s moving too fast.” “But you’ve started the joining,” Kellar said softly. “This is part of that ‘something more’ we talked about. When Hugh says his wolf wants to run back to you, he’s downplaying it. It’s like being clawed from the inside. It hurts, and it hurts bad. If we think our mate could be in any kind of danger, even if it’s only a chance, well… it’s not fun. I think you might be downplaying something too. You say Brian isn’t crazy, but that’s not what your injuries say. He twisted your wrist after it was broken, didn’t he? And he did something to make your ankle worse after it was almost healed. Am I right?” Connor’s jaw had literally dropped. “You can tell that?” “Yes.” Suddenly, eye contact was impossible for the dark-haired man. Even Hugh’s eyes were avoided. Tobyn stepped in front of the two of them. “I look at you guys, and I see something strong… something great. Nothing from the past matters now you’ve found each other. You’re earth mates, and not wanting there to be distance between you is one of the best things about that, once you accept it. My advice, Connor”—the man met his gaze—“and maybe I’m out of line, but I truly think you need to move onto pack grounds as soon as possible. Make picking a house part of your day here if you don’t want to move in with Hugh just yet, but can you honestly see yourselves sleeping in different places at night? Kellar and I never could, even when we thought we were just friends.” “He’s right. You can’t fight the fact you need to be together. It’s a losing battle. And yes, it’s moving fast, but that’s part of being earth mates. We have more than enough help, so maybe an option is for you, Hugh, to take some time off and spend it at Davidson’s with Connor,” Kellar suggested, in an effort to help. “I would gladly stay there. Just say the word.” Hugh’s gaze was on his mate. “I can’t ask you to do that.” “You can ask me to do anything, and I will. You’re my mate.” “I believe you mean that, but… let’s talk about it later, okay? Shouldn’t we go meet the leader now?” “Good idea. Are you all right? I didn’t push you too hard, did I, because….” “Stop, Hugh. I’m fine, and no you didn’t. I needed to hear all this. You’ll figure out I can get stubborn for no reason.” “Boy, that sounds familiar,” Kellar said, grinning at his mate. “Shut up, mountain man. I got there, didn’t I?” “Yes, babe, you did.” “I love you, Kellar.” “My beloved.” Kellar winked. “Can you guys come in with us?” Connor asked. “Ah, safety in numbers?” Kellar asked with a grin. “Yes. I’m pretty nervous about today. I don’t want to let Hugh down.” Tobyn laughed. “Look at him”—he pointed to the attentive man—“as if you could ever let him down. I understand, though. We’ll go in with you, and if it helps any, my mom happens to be in a really good mood.” A wide-eyed Connor shook hands with Elinor. The surprise on his face caused smiles from the other three when she moved in and hugged him. “Welcome to Morningstar, Connor. I’m so happy Hugh has found his mate. He spent as much time at my house as he did his own, growing up. Frankly, I’ve never seen him look so happy.” Elinor had another fan. Connor melted into the embrace. “Thank you, ma’am. I’m just as happy as he is.” “Good. You should be. That boy has become a wonderful man. My goodness, you’re so handsome. No wonder he looks like a cat that swallowed the canary.” Hugh was standing back, grinning like a fool. “I lucked out, didn’t I?” “Yes, you did,” She agreed, stepping back while still holding onto Connor’s hands. “Tobyn tells me you’re good with computers. We need someone with expertise as we go forward. He and Kellar want to set up a safe way to communicate with any packs we find in the future, while keeping our existence a secret. Could you do something like that?” “Absolutely, ma’am. That’s a pretty simple thing to do.” “Wonderful. Now, what are your plans? Will you be picking out a house today? We still have some very nice ones available. Tilly’s frame two-bedroom would be worth a look. It’s bright and cheery, and it’s available in the next few days. And there’s a stunning, older log home that’s in great shape. It’s not big, but it has amazing views and a wonderful setting. Do either of those sound interesting to you?” “Ah, yes, they do, but… no, ma’am. I won’t be looking at homes today”—he glanced over at his mate, whose brave face fooled nobody—“unless Hugh wants to move. I haven’t seen it yet, but his house sounds really nice. I’ll be moving into that one with him, but thank you for the offer, and the suggestions.” A strange noise came from Hugh, but Connor kept his eyes on Elinor. “Good choice. What are you waiting for, Hugh? Take your mate to see his new home. Make sure you’re back here for lunch so he can meet our rowdy group,” she said, smirking. “Yes, Elinor. We’ll be back after Connor meets Mom. And after he sees our house.” Hugh stepped up beside his mate and took his hand. “She’s kidding. The pack members aren’t rowdy, but they will be excited to meet you. Did you mean it?” “Mean what?” Connor asked innocently. “You know what. Did you?” Connor sighed before he nodded. “Yes, I meant it. I just needed a few minutes to work things out in my head. I will gladly move in with you here at Morningstar. You were right about everything, and I can’t fight it. I don’t want to fight it because I don’t want to be away from you either. But, I can’t desert Lorne. I need to be there until he comes back. He’s supposed to be back tomorrow or the day after, so I think I need to give him one week’s notice after he gets home. How do we handle that?” Hugh wrapped his arms around the smaller man, lifting Connor’s feet off the ground and spinning him around. “You’re incredible with how generous and accepting you’ve been with this whole thing. Thank you.” “Could you put me down and stop embarrassing me, please? We aren’t the only ones in the room, you know. People are watching us,” he attempted a scowl but laughter burst out when Hugh shook his head ‘no.’ “Elinor, I need to take some time off from my responsibilities here.” He did set Connor back down, but didn’t take his eyes off those pale blue ones. Kellar, holding hands with Tobyn, was captivated by what had taken place in front of them. “I guess you were right. Our nudges did some good.” “I usually am, aren’t I?” “Yup. It’s kind of cool there’s another gay couple living at Morningstar.” “Two more, doc. One couple just doesn’t know it yet.” “Take whatever time you need, Hugh,” Elinor responded, looking equally mesmerized by the scene before her. “Look after this new member of ours. He’s a delightful young man.” “Yes, he is, and I will. I definitely will.”
  3. 71 likes
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 50 Two full days had passed since their arrival back at Morningstar. There would be travel back and forth for some, over the next few days, but for now the newly combined pack had all its members in one place. It had been a hectic transition in many ways, but exciting as well. Morningstar had an infusion of new blood, and no one took it for granted. They all knew what it meant to the now hope-filled future of shifters. “I love your hair when it’s wet,” Tobyn said when Kellar exited the master bath. “Sweaty wet or shower wet?” “I’ll take either. Sweaty wet usually means you’ve been working hard at making me happy, and shower wet means you’re all ready to do it again.” Kellar belly-laughed. “I’m at your service anytime, wet or dry. Should I forget about getting dressed?” Tobyn grinned as he finished pulling a tee shirt over his own wet hair. “While I prefer you naked, I’ll have to take a raincheck. Duty calls.” “So, duty means lunch with Warren?” “Among other things. I’m sure there’s a million things to take care of—hey, maybe we should try to avoid my mom… nah, that’ll never work—and your Vega fans need to see their Cahlar.” Kellar first chuckled, then pouted, and then rolled his eyes. “Yes, master.” “That’s my mountain man. Now, get a move on before I change my mind and confine you to the bedroom.” Tobyn deliberately brushed his body against Kellar’s as he left, causing goosebumps to rise. “Damn! Fine. I’ll be ready in two shakes of a lamb’s tail,” Kellar called after him. “Down, boy,” he muttered to his penis. “Hey, bro. Sorry I’m late. Hey, Tobyn. I had to give Dougal a hand with a transmission before I could get away. Those suckers are heavy.” “No worries, man.” Kellar and Tobyn both stood for quick one-armed hugs. “Sit. I ordered the burger and fries for all of us. How’s Dougal fitting in?” Kellar asked, once they were seated in the busy, sun-filled dining room. “He’s a character… it’s a lot more fun at the garage now that the pressure’s off, and Denver and him keep going down memory lane. Some interesting stories for me to listen to. I’m glad I finally get a chance to sit down and talk with you guys, though. It’s been insane around here, hasn’t it?” “Yeah, but a good kind of insanity,” Tobyn remarked. “Everyone has a house picked now—without any real arguments—and, for the first time in decades, we have enough members for all the work… more than enough.” “Yeah, Adelin and I went for a walk at dusk last night, and it was cool to see lights on in so many homes. There can’t be that many empty ones left, are there?” “Mom says there’s fourteen in good shape, and a few older ones that need work, but that number will increase by a couple, once all the mates are living together. I guess we could soon be looking at organizing a building crew.” Conversation stopped as their food was delivered. “Isn’t it great how many shifters are in here? I just love it,” Marjorie exclaimed as she fussed over their table. “Hey, what about me?” Warren asked. “Oh, sweetie, you’re considered one of us, you know that,” she said, giving his arm a pat. “Anyway, Joanne is much easier to deal with because she has lots of help in the kitchen… well, that’s one of the reasons. That Ian is a delicious drink of water.” A giggle erupted before she continued. “Heather can serve fulltime now, instead of going back and forth, so everyone is happy. We can’t thank you boys enough… yell if you need anything else. Oh, Warren, sweetie, I’ll be right back with your drink. Sorry, I forgot it. Coke?” “Yes, please, Marjorie. That would hit the spot.” Kellar watched her walk away, and thought about how everywhere you looked in the dining room, people were smiling and laughing. His eyes settled on Joanne’s ex, Dolan, pleased that he looked as engaged and happy as everyone else. “Back to the mates moving in together… that’ll probably happen in a couple of days at the most. Watching Dirk and Sarah the last day and a half, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already given up his place. The man can’t wipe the grin off his face. I don’t think I ever saw him smile before he met her.” “Yeah, no one can describe him as taciturn now. He was even talking at dinner last night, and, I actually heard him laugh,” Tobyn said with an amused head shake. “I love too, how involved the kids are. They’re like a little pack of their own, running all over the place and helping everyone get settled.” “And the Vega shifters love having them around,” Kellar added. “Their faces light up whenever they see a kid. Bertram’s a little star.” They all chuckled at the thought of the irrepressible little fellow who seemed to have springs for legs. “The new members are a nice bunch of people, that’s for sure, and it doesn’t faze them one bit that I’m human. I’ve never thought much about kids before, but I couldn’t imagine a place without them,” Warren mumbled around a mouthful of food. “That must have been a tough situation to live with every single day. No wonder they keep saying how much they like it here. Speaking of which, you guys realize you’re everyone’s heroes, right? It’s all Tobyn this, and Kellar that. You’ve rescued two packs now. And what’s all this stuff about a prophecy, anyway?” he asked with a poorly concealed smirk. “Oh, jeez. Is that going around?” “You bet it is. I had to ask why some of the Vega members were mispronouncing your name, and was told about how you resembled some famous dude’s wolf in a painting. They call you the savior. Good job on the healings, man. Do I need to start bowing when I see you?” “Don’t take this too personally, Warren, but fuck off.” “Oh, touchy, are we?” “Don’t push your luck,” Tobyn warned with a grin. “Kellar thinks all the talk will disappear, but between you and me, not a chance. Your brother may hate attention, but he’s become a bit of a legend.” “Oh, come on, babe. Not you too,” Kellar said with a groan. “Sorry. Okay, let’s talk about something else.” “Hey, not before I say how proud I am of you, bro. I get cred when I introduce myself as the exalted one’s brother.” “Not as good as being the savior’s consort,” Tobyn said smugly, and Warren laughed. Kellar almost choked on his french fry. “Okay, you’ve had your fun. Can we stop now? Please?” “What do you think, Warren? Remember, I’m the one who has to live with him.” “I say, okay… for now.” Warren grinned, and Kellar had the urge to throw something at him. Instead, he said, “Thank you for small favors.” It was time to change the subject. “Where’s Adelin, dude? You guys are usually glued at the hip.” “You’re one to talk. Someone could tie your and Tobyn’s hands together and you wouldn’t even notice.” “True that,” Kellar said around a mouthful of burger. “So, Adelin?” “Oh yeah… she worked at the store this morning, training Millie and Ulrich. Right now she should be at Logan’s house helping Tilly go through it.” “Which house did he end up picking?” “The three bedroom across from Miss Sybil’s and Arthur’s place, one down from the school. The girls think it’s great, and apparently Logan likes being close to the old guy.” “I thought Tilly loved her house,” Kellar said. “She does, but it’s only a two bedroom.” Tobyn wiped some ketchup off the corner of Kellar’s mouth with a napkin. “The times, they are a changing.” “That, they are.” Warren was watching the two of them, and his expression was serious. “What?” Kellar asked. “Nothing. Okay, something. I need to ask you a favor… actually two favors.” “All right. Ask away.” “Would you consider being my best man?” “You’re getting married? Awesome! When?” “Well, that depends on you guys. We know you’ll be traveling, so it‘ll have to be when you’re home. Maybe after your next adventure?” “For sure, I’ll do it, but don’t you have to pick a date and do a lot of planning and stuff? Hell, I don’t want to hold you back, or….” “Doc, take a breath. Weddings are pretty casual for us. There’s not a lot to plan. We don’t do the flower thing, other than a bouquet of wildflowers sometimes, and there’s no venue, because weddings are held outside, at night, usually during a full or almost-full moon. There are old stories of weddings for our pack being performed a few hours before sunrise when Venus, the morning star, shines brightest, but that was centuries ago. It’s not a thing anymore.” “Oh. I didn’t know any of that. Will I need fancy clothes?” Tobyn snorted. “Just your finest pelt. Our tradition is those who stand with the couple do so as wolves if they can shift. Everyone in the pack is invited, from kids to adults, in whatever form they choose, so there’s no guest list, and of course there’s no photographer.” “Dude, it’s the smartest thing ever. If I was a shifter, we’d go for a run right after the ceremony, which brings me to the other favor.” “Wait… who performs the ceremony?” “An alpha or his designate always did in the past, but in our situation, weddings are done by my mom, Maynard or Ingram. Vows are whatever the couple want them to be. There’s this nice verse about the blessings of the earth mother which usually gets recited. It’s a pretty simple event, but it means just as much to us as human weddings.” “Doesn’t it sound cool, bro? I don’t even have to sweat over picking out the right ring.” Kellar grinned at his brother. He’d always hated weddings… all that fuss in a stuffy church. As a kid he’d thought them stupid, but something like this sounded… right. “Very cool. I’m in for sure, Warren. I’d be honored.” “Awesome. What about you, bro-in-law? Will you stand up with me too… on your four feet?” he asked with a chuckle. “I’d be honored too, Warren. Count my four paws in. Who are you asking to preside over it?” “Elinor… and we already did. Well, Adelin did the asking, and your mom said she’d be happy to. She mentioned there hasn’t been a wedding here in a really long time.” “No, I guess there hasn’t, come to think of it.” Kellar caught the momentary frown on Tobyn’s face before it dissipated. “I think we’ll have a flood of them soon, right, babe?” A smile lit his mate’s face. “Yup… to quote Bob Dylan one more time… the times, they are a changing.” “So, what’s the other favor?” Warren wiped his mouth with a napkin before speaking. “You remember me saying I was going to do the blood exchange and become a shifter?” Why did his brother look sheepish? Kellar nodded. “I remember. Are you having any second thoughts?’ “No, that’s not it. Adelin and I have talked at length about it, and I have no reservations at all, but… I don’t trust myself.” Kellar leaned forward slightly. “What are you talking about?” “When I become a wolf for the first time. Denver told me there can be a lot of anger the first few minutes, until a shifter gets used to it.” “He’s right… there is. So?” “Well, I remember yours… your first shift… and bro, seriously… I’ve done a whole whack of drugs. What if my brain’s screwed up from all those chemicals? No way do I want Adelin there—just in case I go loopy—but she wants to be. She’s insisting.” “She is your mate, Warren. Do you honestly think you could hurt her?” “I… I don’t know. I do know I don’t want to take the chance. She’s really adamant about being at my side, but the only way I could have her be there is if you are too… your big wolf. I want you there to kick my ass if you have to. Stomp on my head if I get out of line.” Warren’s expression held a plea in it, but there was also embarrassment at having to ask. “I wish you could sit on this side of the table and hear yourself. There’s nothing wrong with your brain, and there’s not a chance in hell you would hurt anyone, especially Adelin, but I’ll gladly be there if you want me. Not because I’m worried, but because you’re my brother, and I would love to share that moment with you.” Kellar smirked. “After all, you shared my first shift.” Warren smiled, and then started laughing. “I sure as hell did. You were one scary fucker. I was such an ass back then. I’m lucky you didn’t….” Warren’s laughter ended and his words trailed off as a different emotion showed on his face… regret? Shame? “That’s the past. We’re in a different place now,” Kellar said softly. “Right?” Warren cleared his throat. “Right.” “So when are you planning to do this? Before the wedding or after?” “It doesn’t matter, not to either of us, but we’ve been told it can take as long as a couple of weeks for me to become a shifter. So it’ll have to be when you’re here for at least two weeks.” Kellar gave Tobyn a questioning look. “What do you think, babe?” “It’s up to you. We talked about heading out in a week, but it could wait. We know from Mom that Arthur remembers something about the Thunder Bay area, so we only have a vague destination anyway.” “He might remember something more specific in the next day or two.” He turned back to Warren. “You know you can’t miss a day of blood exchange once you start?” “Yeah, we’ve been told the change won’t take if we do, and apparently we only have one chance. We’re not going to screw it up, but like I said, there’s no hurry. We know you’re under pressure to find more mates, so leave when you were going to, and we’ll wait until you guys get back.” He could tell his brother was sincere, and they did feel a lot of pressure, from guys like Dougal and Percy especially. Even Dolan, who’d lost the most in their first search for earth mates, made a remark yesterday about not forgetting him. Kellar, too, had picked up on Maynard’s wistful looks as he’d watched the closeness of Ingram and Dot. He was now the only leader without a mate. “Let’s see what happens in the next few days. It’ll be easier to travel and cover more ground in the summer, so fall makes more sense. I doubt we’ll be traipsing off anywhere in the winter. Who’s to say it won’t take three weeks of blood exchanges, so I want us to have plenty of leeway. I would hate to miss it because of some timing issue.” Warren beamed. “Thanks, bro… I would hate it too. I’m counting on you to be there, and fall sounds good to me.” They waved goodbye to Warren as he drove away, and proceeded over to Tobyn’s vehicle. It was a perfect day to be on a boat, according to Tobyn, and he wanted to check if one was available at the marina. Kellar was excited at the possibility of his first ever outing on water. They had just opened their doors when one of the big dually farm trucks pulled in beside theirs. It had a large wooden pen on the back, and in it, a horned sheep was visible. The musky odor of the animal assaulted Kellar’s sensitive nostrils. Hugh was the driver, and he hopped out and walked around to their side. “Hey, guys.” “Hey, bud,” Tobyn said. “Stopping in for some lunch?” Hugh shook hands with them both. “No, I’m not hungry… had a big breakfast, and there’s, ah… something I have to take care of first.” “Does it have anything to do with that critter in the back of your truck?” Hugh chuckled. “Kind of. That critter is a Canadian Arcott ram we’ve traded to a local farmer so he can improve his meat production. Today’s as good a day as any to deliver him… the horny bugger’s already primed for the fall breeding season, and he’s annoying the hell out of our ewes.” Kellar was watching Tobyn’s friend, and it was plain he was nervous about something; his words were coming out in a hurried ramble. Another one anxious for them to find his mate? He sensed a request coming. “It is a beautiful day, isn’t it? We’re just headed over to the marina. Kellar’s never been out on a boat before. Can you believe it?” Tobyn shook his head in mock disgust. “Oh… okay… ah… okay. Well, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, Kellar. There’s nothing like being out on the lake on a warm, sunny day. You guys sure have earned some relaxation time after all you’ve done for us. I’ll leave you to it, then. See ya later. Have fun.” He turned back to his truck with shoulders slumped. Kellar didn’t know him well, but his body language showed disappointment. “Something on your mind, Hugh?” he called out. “Yeah, what’s up with you, man?” Tobyn asked. “Is anything wrong? Did you want to ask us about looking for your mate?” Hugh turned back, his expression clouded. “No… it’s nothing like that… I… shit… I think I might have found my mate.” It certainly wasn’t what Kellar was expecting to hear. Mate? He knew every shifter pattern here, and none matched Hugh. “Why do you think that?” “Ah, I’m not sure… look, I don’t want to hold you guys up. We all have stuff to do. Don’t worry about it.” He went to turn away again. “Hold on, bud. If you think you’ve found your mate, Kellar can verify it. The lake can wait, right, doc?” “Absolutely. It’s no one on pack lands, though. You know that, don’t you?” Hugh nodded. “I do… it’s… he’s not a shifter… he’s human,” he uttered quietly. Tobyn glanced quickly at his mate with eyes widened. “He?” “Yeah, he. That’s why I believe he has to be my mate. I’ve never been attracted to a guy before. That stuff we did as kids doesn’t count.” “What?” escaped before Kellar could prevent it. “Cool your jets, doc. It isn’t what you think.” “I’m not thinking anything.” “Aren’t you?” Tobyn asked with a smirk. “So, you’re attracted to this guy? Maybe it’s love, Hugh.” “I don’t think so… but hell, I don’t know. He’s taken over my whole brain. I can’t sleep, and I can’t eat. I lied about having a big breakfast. I’m on my way there now, and the last thing I want to do is eat.” “On your way there, where?” Kellar asked. “Davidson’s farm. It’s a few miles from here. He lives and works at the place.” Kellar saw now, just how tired Hugh was. “When did you first see him?” “Ah… that would be a couple of months ago, but he was fixing a fence way up behind the barn when I went to pick out a couple of young ewes as payment for Bob. My eyes hadn’t improved yet back then, so I didn’t get a good look at him, but I felt… like… a pull. I thought I was just curious, so we marked the ewes and I left. I had this weird feeling when I drove away, but it wasn’t a big deal; after a few days it wasn’t as noticeable. I didn’t know much about mates back then.” “Who’s Bob?” Hugh jerked his head toward the back of the big dually. “Him.” “Oh, right. So, what happened to change things to where you couldn’t eat or sleep? Did you finally talk to the guy?” Hugh winced, and then nodded at Kellar. “I went back to Davidson’s a couple of weeks ago with the small trailer so I could pick up those ewes, but he wasn’t there. I could have waited until I delivered the ram, but….” “Who wasn’t there?” “Old man Davidson. His name’s Lorne, but no one calls him that. He was in the hospital for a knee replacement, and apparently he’s recuperating at his sister’s, so Connor, that’s his name, is in charge of everything. That’s when we officially met.” He groaned, looking dismayed. “I think I may have freaked him out.” “Why do you think that?” Tobyn asked. “Because I held onto his hand too long for starters. I don’t know what happened… he had to pry his hand away. He asked me what the fuck was wrong with me.” “Shit.” “Yeah, shit. You know me, Tobe. That’s not me. I freaked myself out too, but I told him ‘sorry,’ and said I was preoccupied with something, and had a brain freeze moment. He kept looking at me weird. I didn’t know what was happening, so I chattered on like an idiot. I asked him a bunch of questions about sheep… stuff I already knew… and I don’t even know what else. He probably thought I was on drugs or something.” “Relax, bud. I’m sure it’s not that bad. So, you really believe he’s your mate?” “Yeah… I tried to convince myself it wasn’t possible, but after I went a few days without sleep or food, yeah. It’s the only explanation, right? What the hell am I going to do?” Hugh rubbed his face in exasperation. He didn’t look all that far away from collapse, and when Kellar flickered, he saw a pale aura that backed his impression up. “We are going to see if you’re right. All I need is a glimpse of Connor and we’ll go from there.” “You’ll do that for me? What about your plans?” “What plans? Of course, we’ll do this for you. You can’t go on like this, not knowing. I take it he’ll be there now?” “Yeah, he will. Well, he should be… thank you. You’re right that I need to know, although I’m not sure what I’ll do if he is my mate.” “One step at a time,” Tobyn said. “Is he from the area?” “No, he moved up from the Lake Simcoe area… somewhere around Orillia, if I remember right. He’s kind of skittish, and he doesn’t say much, but that could be my fault. He’s the only worker Davidson has, and he has sheep, cattle and poultry to look after. Kellar?” “Yeah?” “Why would the earth mother give me a human male earth mate? I don’t see any sense in that.” “Seriously, Hugh? You’d ask such a question when you know what earth mates mean to our survival? The energy we all need?” “But a man? Why not a woman… at least then we could have children?” “Dig yourself a little deeper, Hugh,” Tobyn interjected with an edge to his voice. “Kellar and I can’t have children either, and I never question the earth mother. I just figure she knew my heart better than I did.” “I didn’t mean….” Tobyn cut him off. “Tell me something. Have you ever been seriously interested in a woman?” “Look, I’m sorry. You’re right. It was a stupid thing to say. I’m sorry, Kellar.” “No worries, but why don’t you answer my mate’s question. He’s only trying to help you understand something.” “I’m not trying to give you a hard time,” Tobyn added, with a little less edge this time. “You’re asking because you’re saying I’m gay?” “I’m saying if Connor is your mate, it means you stand the best chance of being happy with a man. I’m saying the earth mother knows this, just like she knew it for me and for Kellar. And if this guy isn’t your mate, then chances are you’re gay as hell.” Kellar snorted, and a contrite Hugh followed suit. “Yeah, I guess that’s what it will mean alright. I hope you guys aren’t mad at me for being such an idiot.” “It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for me either, bud. I fought the idea for a while, but I know now I never would have been happy with a woman. Kellar’s my mate because he’s everything I want. Now get in the damn truck and let’s go.” Tobyn grinned at Kellar. “You think we got him straightened out?” “I don’t think straightened out is the right choice of words, babe.” The little bit of tension left disappeared in the laughter that followed from all of them. Kellar winked at Tobyn before he slid in next to him and yanked the door closed. Hugh turned into a leafy lane and drove for about a hundred feet. He came to a stop at a standard wire farm gate chained shut to a sturdy post. On the other side, the hard-packed driveway continued through pasture land up to a huge barn and numerous outbuildings, with sheep-wire fence bordering each side. Tobyn’s childhood friend took a deep breath before laying on the horn for a good five seconds. Kellar noticed the sign nailed to a tree that said Davidson Farm: Lorne Davidson-Proprietor. It looked to have been put there recently, the painted letters fresh. His roving gaze took in cattle grazing in the fields ahead, to the right, while sheep dotted the opposite side. Movement from between two of the smaller buildings caught his attention. He squeezed Tobyn’s hand at the sight. Walking, or more accurately, limping towards them was a rangy, lean, dark-haired man. A quick flicker verified the pattern was an exact match for Hugh’s, except for the lack of burnt umber. He’d been right. Connor was definitely his mate. Kellar turned his head to look past Tobyn, and the movement drew Hugh’s attention away from the advancing man. Curious, apprehensive eyes met his, and he nodded. Tobyn sighed, and Hugh groaned. “You should be happy, bud. There’s nothing in this world better than finding your mate.” “I know, Tobe. I am, but… what the hell do I do now? How do I tell him he’s my mate, and oh, by the way, I can turn into a wolf whenever I want? Are you absolutely sure, Kellar? Forget that. Of course you are.” Kellar gave him a sympathetic smile. “Relax. The last thing you want to do is scare him off. It might not be easy, but it’ll be worth it, I promise you. Remember, if he doesn’t already, at some point he’s going to feel the same pull you do, so just concentrate on getting to know him. In the whole scheme of things, don’t forget he has free will, though. You can’t just rely on the fact you’re fated.” “Yeah. I hear you. I have to do this right, or the rest of my life will be miserable.” Hugh opened his door and jumped out of the tall, still-running truck, shutting the door quickly to stop the door ajar alarm from chiming. Kellar watched him move to the locked gate and wait. “He’s right. There’s a lot at stake, and it’s not going to be easy.” “Hell no, it isn’t. Warren had three years and a lot of drugs to get used to the idea. We must seem like aliens to humans when they first find out our secret,” Tobyn muttered, staring at the man as he came closer. “He’s cute. Really cute.” “Hey!” “What? He is. They look like a good match, don’t they?” “Uh huh, they do. Connor could use some meat on his bones. It looks like he’s been through a lot.” “What do you mean?” “He’s had a bunch of broken bones… some recent. A broken leg, broken ankle, broken wrist, three broken ribs… wow… I wonder what the hell happened to him. He’s upset about something too.” “I can see that.” Connor had arrived at the gate, and after peering into the truck, began a conversation with Hugh, who looked back at the truck as well. Now he looked upset. “Something’s wrong, babe. I heard Connor say someone had a broken leg. Someone named Alice.” As Connor unlocked the huge padlock on the gate chain, Hugh opened the truck door to get in. “Sorry. I need to help him with something. One of Davidson’s best ewes broke her front leg, and Connor’s freaking out.” “Ah, so that’s who Alice is.” Hugh nodded, his attention still on Connor. The gate swung open and he drove the big vehicle through. The young man certainly looked distressed when his eyes passed over them as they went by. Tobyn turned to Kellar. “You could heal her, doc.” “I could, but how do we explain it to Connor?” “Tell him the truth. That you can heal with plants and a touch.” “I probably won’t need plants… not for a simple break… not anymore.” “Okay. We’ll tell him that. Is that okay with you, Hugh?” “Absolutely. Anything you can do would be great. I don’t like seeing him like this. He’s really worried about disappointing Davidson.” “Is his boss a jerk?” “I think he can be… Davidson comes across as gruff any time I’ve talked to him, and he got real pissed when I refused to budge on one of the ewes I’d picked out in the trade for Bob.” Hugh was watching through his side mirror. “Here he comes.” The rear door opened on the driver’s side, and Connor got in. Introductions were made, and it became obvious Hugh’s mate was painfully shy. Eye contact was fleeting and his words came out in mumbles. “Do we put Bob right into the pasture?” “Um… no. Behind the barn is a pen with a few older ewes in it.” “You want him in there?’ “Yes, please. I don’t want him fighting with the younger ram. I’ll give them a few days to get used to one another before I put him in with the flock.” “Sounds smart,” Hugh said, a little breathlessly. “Breeding season isn’t here yet, but they’re sure to go at each other if you put them together now.” “So, Connor, Hugh says you have an injured sheep,” Tobyn said, turning partway around. “How bad is it?” “Leg’s broke, and it’s my fault,” he said with head down. “She’s an escape artist and she got in with the cattle. One of them must have kicked her.” “Kellar’s a healer. He could help her.” “Healer?” The man's head came back up. The truck lurched on the uneven ground as Hugh turned and backed up to the pen Connor had pointed to. “Yup. He has a magic touch.” Tobyn smiled at the guy who had half his attention on him, and half on the positioning of the vehicle. “That’s good, Hugh,” he said, and the truck stopped. Turning to Tobyn, he asked, “Are you saying he can heal a broken leg?” “That’s what I’m saying. My mate is a special guy.” Connor’s gaze shifted to Kellar. “Your… mate?” “Yup… my partner. Kellar and I are a couple.” “Oh… ah… cool.” He opened the door and hopped out. Hugh, with a quick glance at them, pursed his lips, blew out a long breath, and did the same. “Was I too in your face?” Kellar chuckled. “No. There’s no other way to say I’m a healer.” “I meant the mate thing.” “Oh. No. There’s no wrong way to say that. You caught him by surprise, but mate, couple, partner… it all means the same to him, and judging by the way he looks at Hugh, I doubt he’s giving us much thought at all.” “True. I noticed that too. Should we help them out there?” “Nah, let’s stay here until they’re finished. The more time they spend together, the better it’ll be for Hugh. For Connor too. He’s feeling the pull as well; maybe not as strong, but there’s definitely something there.” Hugh opened Kellar’s door a few minutes later, after Bob was safely ensconced with his own little flock. “Connor would appreciate it if you could take a look at Alice. Would you mind?” “Not at all. Lead the way.” The black-faced, black-legged ewe was standing forlornly in the corner of a large wire pen inside one of the smaller outbuildings. One front leg was held awkwardly, with only a minimum of weight on it. With a quick flicker, Kellar saw the clean break in the front cannon bone. Nothing was out of position, but inflammation surrounded the fracture itself. “This will be easy,” Kellar stated as he glanced over at a kneeling Connor. “It will?” “Trust him. I’ve seen him heal people, and he really does have a magic touch,” Hugh said in a soothing tone. “We’d like it if you kept his ability to yourself, though,” Tobyn said with a direct look. “Oh, for sure. I would never tell anyone,” Connor said in earnest. “If you can do anything at all, I would be so thankful.” His voice carried more strength than it had previously. He really cared about this animal. “What kind of sheep is this one? She looks different from Bob.” “She is different. She’s a Suffolk. They grow really fast…,” Connor stammered out, his countenance showing how upset he was. “I hope you can help her. She can’t survive with a broken leg, so Lorne will want me to put her down and harvest her. I promise I won’t mention anything about any healing you can do.” Kellar nodded. “I believe you. Don’t worry—you won’t have to do that—she’ll be able to put weight on her leg in about half an hour. I just need her out of the corner. I need some space around her so I can put her to sleep.” Connor gaped at his confident words, but then shuffled closer to Alice, nudging her gently out of the corner; she acquiesced reluctantly, on three legs. He gaped again when Kellar touched the ewe and she dropped immediately to her side on the clean-smelling straw. The actual healing felt easier than it ever had, and required no deep trance at all. It was soon apparent how effective his talents had become when Kellar flickered to assess his progress. Not ten minutes had passed, and the bone was already knitting together. If he stopped right then it would continue to heal on its own, but there was no reason not to finish the job. As he worked, he divided his attention between Alice and Connor. Studying the man’s numerous healed injuries, he soon reached the conclusion these fractures had occurred over time. They were not from one catastrophic event. No, these had to be signs of drastic abuse. Who had done this, and why? Something else caught his attention. Something tiny that put Hugh’s mate in peril. Crap. Why did the earth mother keep doing this to him? It was fixable, but how was he supposed to explain what he saw to the young man? Hugh was sitting cross-legged beside Connor, a few feet off from Kellar and Tobyn. His gaze ran over the fated pair whose shoulders and knees were in close contact, and knew he had no choice in the matter. He was a healer above all else, and this was the earth mate of a shifter and a friend. “We have a problem, babe.” “With Alice?” “No. With Connor. He’s in serious trouble.”
  4. 66 likes
    Morningstar: The Malaise Chapter 51 The prostrate ewe stirred as soon as Kellar gave her a boost of wake-up energy. Flickering had showed the fracture healed and most of the inflammation gone. Within an hour, any remaining tenderness would dissipate. Connor was watching closely. “Is that it?” “Uh huh. She’s fine now,” Kellar assured him. “Alice can go out with the others as soon as she stands.” “Are you sure?” He looked dubious as the black-faced sheep struggled into a more upright position, looking calmly around the pen. “Shouldn’t we keep her immobile for a while?” “No need. The break is healed, and inflammation is practically non-existent.” “How… how can you possibly know that?” Hugh’s hand made its way to the top of Connor’s, in a reassuring gesture, but he didn’t seem to notice. He continued to stare at Kellar, waiting. “Because I can see it. Look… this will sound weird to you, but I can see colors in all living things. They present as a pattern, and I can see when that pattern is disrupted by an injury or illness, and I can see when it’s been put back to normal. Freaky, right?” “Yeah,” he said, drawing the word out. “I have heard of strange kinds of healing, but never heard of someone seeing colors before. Still, you did put Alice to sleep with a touch, right in front of me, so I can’t ignore my own eyes.” Alice chose that moment to leap up and shake herself like a wet dog. One bleat, and she trotted to the door of the pen. “Animals never say thank you,” Kellar said with a chuckle, but the real reason for his amusement was Connor’s look of disbelief mixed with child-like joy. “She’s not even limping. Oh my God. You really did it… thank you, man. I can hardly believe this.” “You’re welcome.” Kellar, still sitting in the straw, reached over for his mate’s hand, who gave it a squeeze. Tobyn was grinning from ear to ear. “Healing makes my mate happy.” Kellar smiled at him. He suspected the use of ‘mate’ for a second time was intentional. Tobyn was giving Hugh an assist for a conversation that had to come eventually. Connor’s eyes kept returning from Alice to their joined hands. “Told you Kellar had the magic touch,” Hugh said to the back of Connor’s head. “Pretty amazing, right?” The startled man spun around and locked eyes with those in a face mere inches away. He blushed, and so did Hugh. “You were right. Thanks.” He blushed deeper. “Why are you thanking me? I didn’t do anything.” “Yes, you did. You brought him here, didn’t you?” “I did at that.” Hugh grinned. “I guess I deserve credit for not coming alone.” He winked, and Connor smiled, making the move to stand up. “Hold on, Connor,” Kellar said. “There’s something we need to discuss.” Another hand squeeze from Tobyn. “You need to do this, doc.” “He already knows I see colors, so hopefully he’ll believe me.” “He will.” “What’s up,” Connor asked. He settled into a crouch on his knees in the deep straw. “I want to talk to you about your injuries.” “My injuries? What do you mean?” “I can see them… because of your colors. There’s a number of them.” A guarded look appeared on an otherwise open face, and Connor’s next words were clipped and defensive. “What do you expect? I fell down some stairs, so of course there’s a bunch of them. I don’t see what there is to talk about.” “Believe me. I wouldn’t stick my nose into your business without reason.” “Okay, look, I appreciate what you did. Like I said, I fell down a flight of stairs. I can be clumsy. I’ve always been a klutz.” Hugh was staring at Kellar, and he was appearing both confused and annoyed, probably because his mate was now agitated. “What’s this about, Kellar? What injuries are you talking about?” Kellar sighed, but as uncomfortable as he was, this man couldn’t afford for him to be deterred. “The thing is, I can tell how old each break is, and you don’t have to tell me what happened, but if you need any help, we’re here.” Connor flushed and looked down. “Break? What are you talking about? What’s he talking about, Connor?” Hugh had started to rise, his own agitation on display. “Hugh, it’s okay. I suffered a few broken bones in the past, that’s all. What else is there to discuss?” His head had come up, and he wore a defiant mask. “Is that it?” “No, that’s not it. Your most recent injury—your ribs—did you get x-rays at the time?” “No.” Connor frowned. “They healed on their own. Why?” Kellar took a quick glance at Hugh, who’d settled back down on the straw, but his light green eyes looked shades darker. He and his mate were touching again, and he wondered briefly if they even realized it. “I didn’t think so. A sliver broke off your upper rib, and it would have showed in an x-ray.” Connor looked at him blankly. “And?” “And, it’s worked its way to the lining around your heart. Have you had any pain in your chest lately… any kind of ache?” “Shit.” “Connor?” Hugh asked with a note of fear in his voice. “Kellar, what’s going on? Why are you asking that? Is he in any danger?” Kellar nodded. “I’d say so, yes. There’s inflammation along the lining for a couple of inches. I assume it’s producing a kind of angina pain that will only get worse. You need to go to the hospital,” he said to the now silent young man. “Fuck!” Connor opened his mouth to speak again when Hugh interrupted. “Come on. We’ll take you right now.” “Wait. I can’t go to the hospital. Are you saying this splinter could kill me?” “If it pierces the heart wall, it definitely will, unless you’re in a hospital at the time. It’s a lucky thing it hasn’t already sliced a blood vessel. You’re forty minutes away from medical help here. You can’t wait for something to happen and then go.” “Is this thing like a needle? Could it poke right through?” Hugh asked, his hands now gripping Connor’s arm. “Well, it has a point, but it’s more like a flake, and that’s worse. The sharp edge of it can slice, which is probably why it’s been able to move so far. I’m not saying it will do more damage today, but I’m not saying it won’t either. It’s sitting in a very dangerous place right now. I’m sorry Connor, but you can’t wait. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve read a lot of medical journals, and you need to trust me on this.” He bobbed his head up and down a couple of times in response, and a sheen of moisture glistened as he gazed at the three of them through pale blue eyes. “If I go to the hospital, he… he’ll be able to find me.” “Who will?” Hugh asked as soon as the words were out of Connor’s mouth. “The guy who broke my ribs in the first place. I… I don’t know what to do.” “Someone broke your ribs? Like, on purpose?” Hugh looked aghast. Connor stared down at the hands wrapped around his forearm. He put a hand over one of them. “Brian hit me on purpose. Broken ribs were just the result… that time.” “Who’s Brian?” “Look, Hugh, I appreciate your concern… ah, I mean we don’t even know each other.” “I really like you,” Hugh blurted out, blazing intensity directed at the smaller man. “You do? Oh. Why?” “I just do, okay?” Time stood still for Kellar as he watched the interplay. He let out a breath when Connor gave a slight nod. Hugh visibly relaxed. “You don’t have to tell me anything. I just… I’m sorry, but the thought of someone hurting you really pisses me off.” Emotions continued to play out on both their faces. It was clear a tentative connection had already been forged with Connor feeling it the same as Hugh did. He put his head down, and the words came out barely above a whisper. “Brian was someone I thought I loved… at first, but it was never quite right, and when I told him how I felt, it made him angry. He thought he owned me, and from then on he began to hurt me. I left, but he brought me back. He always brought me back. It’s why I’m working on a farm. I’m hoping he can’t find me here.” “Why do you think he’d find you at the hospital?” Tobyn asked. “We’re a hell of a long way from Lake Simcoe area. That’s where he is, right?” Connor wiped at a couple of stray tears. “Yeah, Atherley, just outside of Orillia to be exact. He’s a cop, so he can locate me anywhere in the province if I use any of my ID, like my health card. He always said he could find me wherever I went. But, I guess I don’t have a choice. I can’t go until Lorne gets back, though. I can’t leave the animals alone.” “But, Kellar said you shouldn’t wait. I’ll look after the animals for you. Davidson knows me.” Hugh was adamant, yet his mate looked uncertain. “You do have a choice,” Tobyn interjected. “Kellar?” Kellar nodded at his mate. “Are you sure this Brian guy is looking for you?” Connor shook his head. “No, but the longer I stay off his radar the better. Once he’s found someone else he’ll forget all about me. I know there was a guy before me who left him. I expect he tried hard to find me the first month or so, but it’s been four now. He’s not crazy or anything, and I wasn’t a prisoner… not really. If he is still looking, he’ll just try to get me to go back.” He lowered his head once more, but raised it again quickly. “Tobyn, what did you mean when you said I have a choice?” Tobyn raised his eyebrows, leaving the answer to his mate. Kellar suspected Connor was downplaying the danger. Someone who broke bones was not to be fooled with, and this ‘cop’ had done it repeatedly. “My mate means I can dissolve that splinter if you want. It’s still outside the heart, so it’s pretty simple. And as far as the lining inflammation, I can take care of that too. It’s only there because the piece of bone is causing irritation. But, it’s entirely up to you to decide.” “You’re serious? You can do that? Right here and now? No surgery?” “Hey, he cured our friend of cancer. Yes, he can do it,” Hugh assured him. “He’s gotten rid of brain tumors and stuff. He’s really good, and you need this out of you, like right now.” “Hugh, relax,” Kellar said. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, but a hospital might be the best option. He has to go today, though. We can pitch in with the animals if need be. It has to be Connor who makes the decision.” Hugh looked a little like a scolded puppy, and Kellar, despite the seriousness of the situation, fought the urge to laugh. The poor guy had it bad. It reminded him of the tumultuous emotions he went through over Tobyn in those first weeks. It all seemed a lifetime ago now. “I’d rather not go to the hospital. I really don’t know you guys, but I’ve seen what you can do, Kellar, and I trust you. Please, I want you to try to fix me?” Hugh’s sigh of relief was a huge one, and this time Kellar let his amusement show. Tobyn grinned too. “Okay, as long as you’re sure.” “I am. Will you be doing the same thing to me you did to Alice?” “Yes. I’ll send a dose of healing energy into your body, and that will perform the same as an anesthetic. You’ll be unconscious while I do what I do. I’ll put one hand behind your back and one hand on your chest, and then healing energy will be directed at the splinter. It shouldn’t take long to dissolve something that small. So, you and Hugh can relax. I won’t be trying to fix you… I will fix you. Do you have somewhere better than the floor of this pen?” “Oh. Yeah, of course. I have my own quarters. Follow me. I’ll just let Alice back out with the flock.” The ewe, who’d been laying quietly while chewing on hay, stood back up when they did. She immediately began voicing her demand to be put back with her buddies with continuous and loud bleating. Kellar held back with Tobyn as Connor and Hugh, with the help of long staffs, herded her through the building and outside. The sight of her trotting to the gate had Kellar feeling good. “They’ve gotten close fast,” Tobyn said in a whisper. “I’m dying to listen in on their conversation, but I won’t.” “I’ll bet Connor is asking Hugh about the ‘really liking him’ part.” He chuckled. “That came out pretty abruptly. Did you see the shadows under Connor’s eyes? He hasn’t been sleeping either, and they’re already at the point where they need to touch. I don’t think he would have opened up like he did if Hugh hadn’t been at his side. That cop sounds like a real son-of-a-bitch.” “Goes to show you, doc.” “What’s that?” “Not all monsters are hunters.” Kellar nodded as they waited at the doorway, giving the men some privacy. “I’ve never thought of it like that before. Hunters are crazy fanatics for sure, and for what they’ve done to shifters they seem bigger than life, but there’s a lot of other nutbars in the human world. As a gay couple, I think we have it better in our shifter universe.” “A lot of things are better in our community in my opinion. For starters, we have zero crime, and no one is out to hurt anyone else. Respect for others too, no matter who they are, is a given.” “True that, babe, true that.” The little frame annex on the end of an equipment shed was sparse but clean. There was a propane tank just outside the entrance that fueled an ancient-looking heater, as well as an old two-burner gas stove residing in the tiny kitchen. A jarring avocado-colored fridge, and a short counter with a sink took up the rest of the compact room. The washroom was rudimentary at best with a composting toilet and a shower Kellar suspected would drain into a buried grey-water tank, similar to his own cabin’s set-up. One large window provided a spectacular view out over a mix of field and forest, and a typical hand-crafted log bed, about the size of a small double, took up a good portion of the main room. Two chairs and a square table in one corner provided a place to sit and eat. The other corner had the smallest wood stove Kellar had ever come across. One chunk of firewood, standing up, would about fill it. Connor’s abode was not meant for entertaining. “Is this warm enough in winter?” Hugh asked as he looked around. “Believe it or not, it is. It’s well insulated, with two-by-six walls. I got here in February, and I’ve only had to use the wood stove a couple of times. The heater looks decrepit, but it works well. I know the place is small, but I don’t need much.” Connor appeared uncomfortable, maybe even embarrassed at showing them where he lived. “This reminds me a bit of our cabin, doesn’t it, doc?” It didn’t in the least, but Kellar understood what his mate was doing. “Yeah, it’s got that same coziness.” “Exactly. So, how did you end up in this neck of the woods?” Connor appeared startled by the question, but after a moment’s hesitation, he answered. “I guess you could say it was a fluke. It so happens I saw an advertisement online for a live-in job at a cattle and bison ranch. It said to apply in person, so I took the chance, spur of the moment, and decided to give it a shot. It was the opportunity I was looking for to disappear. The job was filled before I arrived, but the guy I talked to knew Lorne. Long story, short, the man who used to work here left after Christmas—at Lorne’s insistence, apparently—and he ended up hiring me on just before a big storm hit. It was perfect timing because Lorne really needed the help and I needed a place to stay.” “Have you always worked with animals?” Hugh asked, standing close to his as-yet-unknowing mate. “No, not always, but I grew up on a farm, and did this kind of stuff practically since I could walk. Turns out I would have been better off if I hadn’t left, but I thought I had to. I didn’t get along with my dad after I came out to him. I should have given him more time to get used to the idea,” he said with his regret clear. “I’m a computer geek to tell you the truth. That’s how I met Brian. I ended up as an IT tech for the cybercrimes division at the police station he worked out of. Taking that job was the worst decision I could have made.” “Because of Brian?” Hugh asked. Connor met his eyes and nodded. “I was looking for something, but he wasn’t it.” Hugh opened his mouth, but no words came out. He ended up looking away. Tobyn rescued them all from the awkward silence that had descended. “You must be pretty good to have gotten a job like that at your age.” “We could use a computer expert, doc.” “I knew that’s what you were thinking.” “I am good. It came naturally to me, from the time I was a kid, but this kind of work makes me happier. I’ve seen all kinds of stuff, and I’ve had my fill of that life. Here, there’s peace and quiet, and the animals aren’t out to hurt or take advantage of anyone.” He stopped speaking and flushed a bright red, hugging himself with his arms as he leaned back against the kitchen counter. Kellar felt real sympathy for what the guy had endured. Hugh had surreptitiously moved a foot closer to him, leaning the same way against the counter. A change of subject was needed. “How old are you, man?” “I’ll be twenty-two in September. Um, do you guys want anything? I can make instant coffee or tea, but I don’t have anything cold, other than water.” Kellar said no, and the other two shook their heads. “Are you ready to do this? It’s okay if you’re having second thoughts.” “Oh, no.” Connor slid a sideways glance at Hugh. “No second thoughts. I don’t have any doubts about your abilities, and I’m ready. I guess you want me laying down?” “Yes, please. Stretch out at the edge of your mattress, and we’ll be done before you know it.” Kellar pulled one of the chairs close to the bed while Connor got in position. Uncertainty hit him for a few seconds as to whether he should wait and procure the plant he would have normally used to dissolve the splinter, but his healer instincts overruled that doubt. The increased strength of his healing energy had just been proven again with Alice. If it worked without the aid of herbs for her, it would work for a human. No. Plants weren’t needed for this. Just like they hadn’t been needed for his and Tobyn’s injuries after the encounter with the younger Reznick. Still, he would never tackle a disease, or a poison, or dangerous inflammation without them. Instinct told him too his precious herbs would always have their purpose. As he sat down, Tobyn moved the other chair beside him so they were touching. He turned his head and smiled. They were a team in all things. Hugh, clearing his throat, drew their attention. “I’ll wait outside. Let me know if you need me.” It was pretty clear he was reluctant to leave, but he turned and walked out through the open door into sunlight. “Hugh?” He spun around at Connor’s call. “Yeah?” “Could you stay here? I mean… never mind. It’s nicer outside in the sun.” “I wouldn’t mind staying. I’d like to if I’m not in the way.” Kellar shared a look with his mate. “These guys are pathetic. Were we ever like this?” “Yup. We tiptoed around each other too.” “Jeez.” “Dude, you’re not in the way. Sit on the bed beside your friend and hold his hand. His heart is racing and you’ll calm him down. Sit!” Kellar ordered to a hesitant Hugh. The tall man moved quickly and settled himself in, reaching tentatively for Connor’s hand. It was accepted with equal uncertainty, but their fingers entwined in a tight grip, and Connor’s heartrate did slow. “There, that’s better,” Kellar said, fighting to keep his expression neutral. “Was I too pushy, babe?” “Yeah, but Hugh needs the help. They both do.” “That was my thinking.” The healing took longer than Kellar originally expected, but it was going well. Like with Arthur, his healing was able to branch out to different areas at the same time, but he curtailed its spread until he had the splinter dissolved and the inflammation taken care of. Healing a sliced pathway, and seeing just how close the splinter had been to doing real damage, Kellar gave fleeting thought to how much of his life was chance, and how much was influenced by the earth mother. In the end, it made no difference, because he was doing what he was born to do—of that he had no doubt. Once his patient was no longer in any danger, he concentrated on the older injuries. It was interesting to see all the calcification on both the ankle and wrist. It was double what he would have expected, and it was clear the accumulation on the ankle bones was the cause of Connor’s limp, making full flexing of the joint impossible. Cleaning up the mess was taking more time than dissolving the splinter had, but he was able, with some tricky fine-tuning, to restore full mobility. Moving on to the wrist, it became obvious it had been broken twice in a short span. What the hell had the guy gone through? It had to be a constant source of aggravation to the young man, and Kellar made sure it was in the best condition possible before he rose out of his trance. The first thing he saw was Hugh’s lips ghosting Connor’s. “What the hell are you doing?” His words startled Hugh, who looked to be in a trance of his own. “I was just… I couldn’t resist… I shouldn’t have done that, should I?” “Hell no!” a sleepy-looking Tobyn exclaimed from beside him, momentarily startling Kellar. “Do you realize a kiss can start the joining?” “Just a simple kiss?” “Yes! We’re learning that it happens more often than not. All it takes is an exchange of saliva.” “Shit. But there was no saliva. I barely touched his lips.” Hugh was looking both confused and contrite. “Is he okay now?” “Yes. He’s fine. The splinter’s gone, so he’s no longer in any danger.” “Thank you. And I’m sorry I kissed him. I wasn’t thinking. I was looking at his face and the next thing I knew….” “We get it, Hugh. Whatever happens is between you and your mate, but you need to know there’s no turning back once the joining starts, and it might be great for you, but is it really being fair to Connor? You want him to be making his decisions for himself, right? It sounds like he hasn’t been able to do that in the past with this Brian guy.” “Oh, God. You’re right. I don’t want to be anything like that bastard.” “Hey, you’re not,” Tobyn interjected. “No harm done. You weren’t trying to take away his free will; you were acting on strong feelings. We didn’t know about saliva at first either. You caught us both by surprise, so we reacted, and now you know. The rest is up to you, so calm down. Your mate is healed, and that’s the important thing. Now you guys can get on with the business of getting to know one another.” “Thanks, Tobe, and thanks, Kellar. It’s a good job you told me… but what if… okay, anyway, I knew you would do it. I’m so relieved to hear the words, though. What happens now? Does he sleep for a while?” “I can wake him up any time, but I usually let them come out of the induced sleep on their own. What were you going to ask? What’s on your mind?” “I was just thinking… what am I going to do if he wants to kiss me? I’m going to have to turn him down so we don’t start the joining. What’s he going to think if I do that?” “I don’t know, Hugh. You’ll have to play it by ear, but it’s pretty obvious he’s feeling the mate pull same as you are.” Kellar pulled Tobyn’s hand up to his mouth and kissed it. “What do you think, babe?” “I don’t know how you should handle this either. As hard as it is, you have to resist until he knows what he’s getting into. At some point, you have to tell him about being a shifter. There’s no avoiding it, and judging by the way you two are already connected, the sooner the better.” “What’s a shifter?” Connor asked, his eyes opening. His eyes searched Hugh’s face as he pulled himself up into a sitting position against the headboard. “Oh, fuck. He woke up fast.” Tobyn sent. “Fuck is right. This could go really bad. Poor Hugh. This is my fault.” “No, it isn’t. Should we leave them alone?” “I don’t know. This is a fucking disaster for Hugh. Look at his face.” “Don’t worry about that right now.” Hugh stammered out in a valiant attempt to downplay what Connor had heard. “The healing worked. Kellar fixed you.” He looked like vomiting was a real possibility. “I know. I heard. Thank you, Kellar,” he said without taking his eyes off of Hugh. “Answer the question, Hugh. And what’s the joining? What am I getting into?” “We’ll just leave you two to talk,” Kellar said, rising from his seat. Connor finally turned his head to the other side of the bed. “No, please stay. I’m guessing I wasn’t supposed to hear the conversation, but I did. Something’s been happening to me, and you guys know what it is, don’t you? Hugh’s afraid to tell me… I can feel it. Why can I feel it?” His gaze flickered to Hugh but came right back to Kellar and Tobyn. “Kellar, please…?” Hugh was asking for help, and his eyes were filled with the fear Connor had pointed out so accurately. He sighed. “You know how I can see colors?” Connor nodded. He didn’t look at Hugh, but their hands did stayed joined. “Well, you have a signature pattern made up of a multitude of colors, and it’s identical to Hugh’s. That’s what is happening to you. Matching patterns means you are mates.” “Mates? Like you and Tobyn?” “Exactly. We call it being earth mates, but others say soul mates or true mates. It means we are fated to be together.” “I don’t get it.” “I’m not surprised. We—meaning the three of us—we’re different.” “Shifters? Is that what you mean?” “Yes.” “I’m guessing it’s not some religious thing, is it?” Kellar chuckled. “No. You would be correct. It’s a physiology thing. We’re different… we’re human, but we’re more.” “Holy hell”—Connor sat further upright—“what the fuck does that mean?” “Oh, God,” Hugh finally uttered. “We should stop now. He’s not going to be able to handle this. We… we should go.” The anguish was not just in his voice; it was all over his face as he leapt off the bed. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to put you through this. We’re too different.” “Hey, Hugh. Wait! What happened? Why did he go?” Connor swung his legs over the far side of the bed and stood up carefully. “My ankle?” “I healed that too.” “Wow. Okay. I have to find Hugh before he leaves. What doesn’t he want to put me through?” he asked as he walked to the doorway. “Connor. Please wait. Hugh won’t leave, but he’s terrified right now. Give him a few minutes… he’s over by the pen Bob’s in, sitting on the ground.” The man turned and gave Kellar a questioning look. “How in hell do you know that?” “Because we can hear him,” Tobyn answered. “And before you ask the next question, sit back down… if you want more answers?” “Are you sure he’s over there?” “Yes,” they both answered. “He will only go so far away from you, trust us on that,” Tobyn added. Connor lifted his foot off the ground and swiveled his ankle back and forth. “I haven’t been able to do that for a year. I don’t have a clue what to think about anything. So, I have a mate, and that’s why I feel this way? Why everything… why I feel so different?” Kellar nodded. “And my mate is human, but more?” “That’s right.” “And he thinks I won’t be able to handle it?” “He’s scared to death,” Tobyn said softly. “You have to understand our kind only has one mate. You’re it for Hugh, and if you reject him… well… Kellar?” “It’ll hurt bad. It’ll hurt you too. You can go on with your life as long as the joining doesn’t take place… okay, there’s this process called the joining.” Kellar groaned. “I’m not sure it’s my place to….” “Well, it’s someone’s place. You can’t leave me hanging here. Okay, I know it has something to do with saliva. I heard you guys talking about it after Hugh kissed me.” “You felt him kiss you? How could you have possibly felt that?” Kellar was shocked because that happened as soon as he came out of his healing trance. Was his healing doing something different again? Connor shook his head. “I don’t think I actually felt it. I thought I was dreaming, but then I heard you guys talking and heard him apologize for kissing me.” He walked back to the end of the bed and sat, intensity emanating from him. “So, just tell me about the joining. I’m not fragile, and I know this is serious shit, no matter how weird it might seem. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Hugh since the first day I saw him, and all I saw then was his outline. And when we finally met, the fact is, I haven’t been able to sleep since. I’m messed up, so it can’t get any worse. If we kiss and there’s saliva, will I become whatever you guys are… something more?” Tobyn sighed. “Let me, doc. Joining can start with saliva, but it takes a while to complete, and it usually involves more than saliva. It’s an exchange of body fluids, like during sex. In your and Hugh’s case, saliva, semen, or blood. You won’t become like us if you complete the joining—that only happens if you want it to—but you will become something more. Your senses will sharpen for sure—your eyesight, hearing, and even your sense of smell... as well as your connection to Hugh—it will strengthen, and that’s about it. The joining is best explained as bonding, and it’s a strong bond.” “Blood? Are you…?” Tobyn snorted. “Vampires? No. Not to say they don’t exist, but no, we’re not vampires.” Relief flooded Connor’s face. “Vampires exist?” Tobyn nodded. “Humans aren’t the only children of the earth mother, but don’t believe all the ridiculous stories about them.” “Wow. All right, so… a strong bond doesn’t sound so bad. Shifters,” he said softly, and Kellar could see the wheels turning. “You change into something. An animal? Am I right?” They both nodded, and waited for the next question. “Oh my God. You’re serious?” They nodded in unison again. “What kind of animal?” “Wolf,” Tobyn replied. Connor’s upper body fell back on the bed with his hands covering his face. When he rose back up after a solid minute, he looked ashen. “So, is this like a wolf creature? Is that why Hugh didn’t want to tell me?” Tobyn snorted again. “No. Just a plain old wolf. We’re not werewolves. Those actually don’t exist. We’re magical creatures who’ve been around since the beginning of time, and we don’t hurt anyone. We don’t go on rampages, we don’t eat people, and we’re not contagious. Hugh didn’t want to tell you because he’s afraid it will scare you off, because most humans don’t like different.” Connor bit his lower lip in thought. “I get that. Most probably wouldn’t. So, I couldn’t be turned into one of you… unless I want to?” “That’s right, and it can’t happen by accident. It takes weeks of small blood exchanges, and if you miss one day it doesn’t take.” “Those exchanges… do they hurt?” Kellar chuckled. “Not when we did it as part of our joining. It was hot as hell to be honest.” “Yeah, it was,” his mate agreed, smiling broadly. “But, it could be done by pricking your fingers too.” Connor looked from one to the other. “I want to see it. I want to see a wolf.” “You do? Are you sure?” Kellar asked. “Yes, I’m sure.” “Okay. We’ll get Hugh, and he can….” “No. Not Hugh. Could one of you show me please?” “Why not Hugh?” Tobyn asked. “Because I don’t want to hurt him. It would hurt him if I freaked out, right?” “Yeah, it would hurt him.” “Then please, not him. I want to prepare myself. I don’t understand it… I don’t know him, but I do, and I would never want to hurt him.” “That’s sounds about right. It’s all part of being mates, and it’s the same thing Hugh feels. He would never hurt you. I’ll show you,” Kellar said, standing up. “No, I will,” Tobyn insisted. “Your big wolf might scare the crap out of him, doc. I’m more cuddly-looking.” “Oh, right. Good point. And yes, your wolf is adorable.” Tobyn stood and began shedding his clothes. Connor was quick to avert his eyes, but looked back when Tobyn morphed into his wolf. His reaction was to back up onto the bed a few feet. Tobyn yawned, sat on his haunches and watched him. “Beautiful, isn’t he?” Kellar studied Hugh's mate, and was relieved when he began to relax. “Yes,” was breathed out with awe. “I sort of expected it wouldn’t actually happen. It was so… wow. Can he understand us?” Kellar smiled, and received a blank look in return. “Of course he can. He’s still Tobyn in every way. He’s just in his wolf form. Does he scare you?” “No. I feel like he should, but, no, he really doesn’t. The change… it happens so fast. Does it hurt at all?” He laughed when Tobyn was the one to answer, with a shake of his head. He edged back to sitting at the end of the bed, a couple of feet from Tobyn. “Is it rude to touch you?” Tobyn moved forward and nudged Connor’s hand with his nose. It got him a surprised giggle from the dark-haired man. He reached out and patted the big head while Kellar smiled at his mate. They weren’t used to being ‘petted,’ and it was likely to be the only time it ever happened. Of course, maybe future pack children would change that. “You’re so soft. Thank you for doing this. I can see there’s nothing to be afraid of. I need to see Hugh. I don’t like that he’s out there upset.” Tobyn stepped away and shifted back, and once again Connor averted his eyes. Tobyn was quick to re-dress. “You’re welcome. Are you cool with all this?” “It’s strange for sure, but yeah, I am. I thought the healing was weird at first, but not anymore. I can handle this. It surprises me that I do, but I feel… calm.” “Good. Now, let’s go find your mate.” Hugh was laying back on the grass right where Kellar had said he was. An arm covered his eyes, but Kellar knew he was aware of them coming. He heard the sigh, before the distraught man sat up. “Hey,” Connor said. “Hey,” Hugh returned. “Ah, Kellar and Tobyn explained to me about shifters, and mates, and the joining.” “And?” “And, I want to see your wolf.” A frown creased Hugh’s face. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I don’t think you’re ready for that.” “Why not?” “Because I turn into an animal, Connor. It might scare you. Are you okay with even the idea of it?” “I’m not some shrinking violet, Hugh. I’m actually a pretty tough cookie, and if you’re going to be my mate, you have to learn that….” “You want to be my mate?” “I wasn’t finished. I was going to say your shifter wolf wouldn’t be the first one I’ve seen.” “What does that mean?” “It means I saw Tobyn’s golden wolf, and I didn’t freak out. Right, Tobyn?” “No, you didn’t. You handled it well. You’ve handled all of it amazingly well.” “See.” Connor’s smile was smug. “I don’t have any idea why we’re, ah… earth mates… but I know what I’ve been feeling, and I know your friends are telling me the truth. I could do a lot worse, and frankly, I have done a lot worse. I was searching for something, and I believe I’ve finally found it.” “Holy crap. I thought there was no way this was going to work. I don’t know what you guys said or did, but thank you,” Hugh said to Kellar and his old friend. He turned his attention back to Connor. “Do you feel the same stuff I do?” “That depends. What do you feel?” Connor asked, a small grin playing on his face. “Happy when I’m near you. Anxious when I’m not.” “Yeah, I feel that. Sleeping and eating has been hard since we met.” “Me too. So, you still want to see my wolf?” “Yeah, but not here. Maybe we could go for a walk and get to know each other a little more first?” “You know we can’t….” “Kiss? Yeah, I know. Unless we decide we want to start the joining.” Was that a tease Kellar heard in the man's voice? “Listen, why don’t you guys go for your walk, and we’ll take the dually back to Morningstar. We can pick you up later, Hugh, in Tobyn’s truck.” “I have a truck. I can take him back,” Connor offered. “I don’t want…,” Hugh blurted out and then stopped. “Should Connor be left alone tonight after his healing?” The plea in his eyes could be easily read. Kellar resisted the urge to laugh, and decided a fib was in order. “Actually, it would be better if someone kept an eye on him for the next twelve hours or so. Lightheadedness could occur if you overexert yourself, Connor.” The dark-haired man grinned. “In that case, I’ll bring him back tomorrow. Is that alright with you, mate?” Hugh was wearing a goofy fool’s grin as he looked down at Connor. “Absolutely. Keys are in the truck, guys.” They watched the new couple move off along a worn path through well-grazed pasture. Kellar smiled when their hands found each other, reaching for his own mate’s at the same time. Hugh could be heard commenting about how hungry he was, and Connor agreed he was too, and that he was a pretty good cook. The last thing he heard was Connor saying excitedly his limp was gone and his wrist worked like it used to. Kellar’s smile turned to a chuckle. “I think that was some of our best work to date.” “You’re not talking about the healings, are you?” “Nope.” “I agree. I started out wondering how the heck Hugh could convince a human they belonged together, and now I have no doubt they’ll make it.” “We should have known better. There’s always a method to the earth mother’s madness. I like him. He’s a special guy to be able to handle what we threw at him.” “I agree. Feels weird to be petted, though. My wolf liked it.” Laughter erupted from Kellar. “Let’s go home, and I’ll let you pet me.” Tobyn grinned as he looked over at his mate. “That’s an offer I’ll never refuse. We better feed you first, though.” “You know your mate well. So, babe? What was that stuff that didn’t count when you and Hugh were kids?”
  5. 64 likes
    July 2015 • Part II “You know something? For this being such a fancy car, it doesn’t have that much room inside.” CJ folded Wingnut’s wire cage and handed it to Owen to secure on the roof luggage rack. Owen stood on the rear bumper, stretching bungee cords from one end to the other. “Yeah, your dad’s ute’s definitely bigger. Is there enough room in the back for our bags and the dog?” “I’m stacking the luggage on one side and covering it with the cargo net. The pooch can have the other one. Or he can sit with your sister and my brother if he gets too rambunctious back here. Come on. Let’s go in, say goodbye, and get on the road.” Inside, they found Liz petting the dog and Ritchie hugging his grandmother while holding his grandfather’s hand. “I promise I’ll call all the time, Aba. And I’ll come visit.” “I know, I know. It’s still hard. First CJ and now you. It’s going to be lonely around here.” She turned to CJ and Owen when they walked in and wiped the tears from her face. “You two better take care of him and Liz during your trip. No drinking. Don’t drive fast. And if it starts raining, pull to the side. And call me when you get to a new place so I know you’re safe.” “Gee, Aba, you’re worse than Dad and Papa. They don’t even ask me to do the constant phone calls anymore. We’ll be fine. And we’ll call you. I promise to look after Ritchie during the trip and in Washington too.” CJ hugged his grandmother and kissed the top of her head before repeating the process with his grandfather. “Be good, Abo. I’ll bring Ritchie back for a couple of days the first long weekend we have after school starts. And you guys know you can always come visit us. We have plenty of room and we'd take good care of both of you. Think about it, okay?” Olga sniffled while nodding her head and walked outside with the youngsters. “What are you going to do with the dog when you’re at the parks in Orlando?” “Disney World has boarding services for pets.” CJ shook the folded cage to make sure it was secure atop the vehicle and watched the dog jump in the back seat, settling in the middle. “Guess the space in the luggage compartment will be empty and the two of you have to share.” He shook his head and chuckled as Ritchie and Liz climbed in on either side of the Golden Retriever. “We’ll drop Wingnut off before we get to the hotel and we’ll go visit him every day. Afterwards, we’re staying places where dogs are welcome. So he’ll be with us all the time.” CJ hugged his grandmother again and whispered so nobody else could hear. “I promised the dads I’d look after Ritchie and I will. Stop worrying about him. We’re doing the right thing for him and at least he’s been part of the decision to move. It’s not like you’re throwing him out. I love you, Aba. Take care of yourself and of Abo. We’ll call you once we get to Orlando.” As CJ backed the car out of the driveway, he caught a glimpse of his grandmother standing alone on the porch, wiping tears from her eyes. He knew she felt guilty about sending the young kid away; even after all the conversations she’d had with the dads, with him, and with his brother. He vowed he’d be coming back to South Florida as often as possible. He didn’t think his frail grandfather would be around much longer and with his Alzheimer’s advancing so fast, he wasn’t sure if the old man would even recognize him when he next visited. CJ wiped away a little moisture from his own eyes as he shifted gears and drove away. • • • “How you guys doing back there?” CJ turned and caught a glimpse of Wingnut laying down between Liz and Ritchie. The dog’s head rested on her lap and the girl stroked behind his ears while staring at the passing landscape. “We’re doing good, CJ. But I think my dog has a new best friend. He’s never been this relaxed when we’ve gone for a ride in a car before.” “That’s because my sister must have hidden pieces of bacon in her pockets. Wingnut’s just trying to earn a treat.” “You’re paying for that one when we stop, big brother.” Liz's threat was accompanied with giggles by both the back seat passengers. “You’re just jealous he likes me better.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah, just wait until he’s settled in Washington. He’ll have no choice but to be nice to me too. He’ll be seeing me every day.” Owen was behind the wheel and after glancing at the gauges on the instrument panel, merged into the left lane. “The sign said the Service Plaza’s a mile up ahead. I’m gonna stop there. We need petrol and I can use a coffee.” CJ remained behind and took Wingnut for a short walk while his traveling companions strolled inside the building. When they returned, he took over driving duties until they reached Walt Disney World. “Are we going to any of the parks this afternoon?” Ritchie asked as they followed the signs for the Best Friends Pet Care Facility. “Not today, bro. Once we drop the pooch off, we’ll go check in at the hotel. We’ll have lunch at one of the restaurants there. Then I’m thinking we can head over to Downtown Disney in the afternoon.” CJ looked at Owen for confirmation of what they’d planned and received an assenting nod. “We’ll walk around the place, do some shopping, and we’ll have dinner at one of their restaurants. And if we want to do any shopping, it’s easier to do it today. No need to carry bags around tomorrow.” “Did you guys know there’s a Harley-Davidson shop in there?” Owen looked at his sister and Ritchie. “We need to take pictures in front of it to make Harley jealous.” “Who’s Harley?” Liz asked. “He’s my brother’s best friend and he’s fun. Wait ’til you meet him. Last time I went to visit CJ, Harley took me skateboarding. But what he likes most are motorcycles, he’s named after them. He’s like the second in command of The Squadron.” “The what?” CJ glanced in the rearview mirror, saw Ritchie covering his mouth with a hand trying not to laugh, and Owen doing the same in the front passenger seat. “What the heck are you talking about, bro?” The reply came in a roundabout way. “See, Liz, my big brother has all these friends who surround him and act like they’re the Suicide Squad. You know, the group from the comic books and from the movie coming out next year!” The boy left no doubt how excited he was about the upcoming release. “Even your brother’s part of it. Doesn’t matter if they’re older or younger than him; CJ’s their leader and they follow along with whatever he says or does.” “Now, wait a minute.” CJ sputtered the words while vehemently shaking his head. “That ain’t true!” “I don’t know, mate, sounds pretty close to the truth to me.” Owen twisted in the seat, leaned back against the door, and stared at his boyfriend. “Even Brad listened to you when you got all Alpha with him.” “Shut it, Ozzie! He doesn’t need your help. Damn, you’re turning into a lawyer with all your logical arguments. Leave me alone. And for the record, my cow died, I don’t need your bull.” CJ noticed his brother lean towards Owen’s sister. The kid’s stage whisper was loud enough for everyone to her. “You know what, Liz? If they start letting girls into their group, you could be Harley Quinn! She’s the Joker’s girlfriend.” “Oh, yeah? Who’s the joker in the group?” • • • Later in the afternoon, Liz dragged the guys into the Days of Christmas store. “I want to buy one or two ornaments, so I can remember this trip when we put up the Christmas tree.” Ritchie tugged on his brother’s sleeve as they all stood just inside the door. “Do you guys put up a tree during Christmas?” “Yeah.” CJ didn’t know where to look first. The store was overwhelming; the walls were crammed with rows of tree ornaments celebrating Disney characters, and tables stacked with display pieces. “We didn’t the year we went to Australia, but last year we put one up right after Thanksgiving. I think I want two this year, a big one upstairs and a small one in the basement.” “Cool, I’m going to walk around and see if there’s something I like.” “I want to look at the princess ones.” Liz grabbed CJ and pulled him towards the back wall where ornaments representing the heroines in Disney animated films hung in neat rows. “Come with me, CJ.” “I’ll stick with your brother, mate,” Owen said, tailing Ritchie as he meandered in the opposite direction. CJ nodded and followed Liz who was fixated on the display of princesses. He stood with her as she selected half a dozen ornaments which he ended up holding for her. When she moved on to a display of red glass balls with Mickey Mouse ears, he grabbed a shopping basket; his hands were already full—so much for one or two—and he thought he might buy something himself. “Look, CJ, these are great.” Liz was holding one of the ornaments turning it over in her hands and running her fingers over the black belt painted around the ball. “I’m getting three of them and having them personalized. I’ll have them write my name on one and my two brothers on the other ones. It’ll be a great present for my parents.” CJ liked the notion and decided he was doing the same. “That’s a great idea, I’m going to get five of them.” “Five?” “Yeah, my dads, Ritchie, me…” CJ smirked and looked at the floor avoiding the girl’s eyes. “And one for Owen.” “So, it’s that serious between the two of you, eh?” Her eyes glinted and her smirk spoke volumes. “Well…” After paying for their selections, he and Liz stood by the table where a man used markers to inscribe each name given to him. Owen and Ritchie stood within earshot, looking at a display of blown glass ornaments with the famous mouse ears and swirling bands of muted red and green outlined in gold. He watched as his brother frowned and Owen put a hand on the kid’s shoulder. “What’s wrong, mate? You don’t look happy.” “I want one of these and one of the little Mickey nutcracker displays, but I don’t have enough money for both.” Ritchie looked frustrated. CJ watched Owen reach into his back pocket, take out a one hundred dollar bill from his wallet, and hand it over to Ritchie. He heard the Aussie say, “Here, will that be enough?” and it brought a smile to his lips. “Yeah! I’ll get money from CJ later and pay you back.” “Not necessary, mate. Your brother and his dads always carry cash and I’ve started doing the same. But I never spend it! There’s a couple more big bills in my wallet so I won’t miss this one. It’s what big brothers do anyway. Ask me if you need more.” • • • The next day Liz and the guys were at the entrance to The Magic Kingdom before the gates opened. CJ watched with an amused expression as his boyfriend tried to control his excitement and not jump around like Liz and Ritchie were doing. He was looking forward to the next days as much as the others were, but CJ got a special kick out of watching Owen act like a kid. Once inside the park, Owen excused himself for a few minutes saying he wanted to pick something up at a shop on Main Street. When he rejoined the group, he handed out Mickey Mouse ear hats with each of their names embroidered on the back. The ears were worn during the rest of the trip―most prominently in a picture they had someone take of the four huddled together with Cinderella’s Castle in the background. The picture would end up printed, framed, and hung on the family wall in the basement of the Georgetown townhouse. “Come on, Liz, we’ll start in Adventureland and work our way around.” Ritchie took the girl’s hand and guided her to the left of the castle. He’d already told her he’d been to the Kingdom several times and knew the best way not to miss any of the good stuff. “The Swiss Family Robinson Tree House’s kinda lame, but I loved it when I was a little kid. We’ll start there and then do the Jungle Cruise and the Pirates of the Caribbean. Wait until you see that one. Parts of the town look the same as in the movies!” “Hey, Speedy!” CJ called out. “I know you’re excited and you want Liz to see everything but how about slowing down a bit? You’re talking a mile a minute and you almost ran into some people back there.” “Sorry…” Ritchie slowed down his pace and let go of Liz’s hand. “It’s just that Mom and Dad always got tired in the afternoon and we never got to see it all. They wouldn’t even stay for the night time parade!” “No need to apologize, mate.” Owen draped an arm around the boy’s shoulders when he and CJ caught up to him “You gotta remember CJ and I aren’t like your parents were. We’ll stay here until closing time if that’s what you and my sister want. Don’t forget she’s still recovering and may need a nap or an early night. Slow down and let’s enjoy the sights without rushing. After all, this is my first time here too. I want to see it all.” • • • “Can we go to England for lunch?” Ritchie walked next to Liz, in front of their brothers, as they crossed from Future World into World Showcase. They’d gone to visit Wingnut first thing in the morning, so they hadn't been at the gates of EPCOT as they opened, like the previous day at the Magic Kingdom. “I want the fish and chips. I’ve had it before and it’s good.” “That sounds brilliant, mate.” Owen caught up with the boy and put an arm around him. CJ smiled as he had the day before seeing his boyfriend and his brother get along so well. “And your brother tells me they sell beer at these restaurants unlike at the other park we were at yesterday.” “England sound good to me,” CJ said. “I might even have a beer myself.” Ritchie turned around and stared at his brother. “You’re not allowed to! I heard the dads say you’re not supposed to drink in public.” “Yeah well, what happens in EPCOT, stays in EPCOT. What the dads don’t know won’t hurt them.” “And here my brother’s always saying how you follow rules and obey your fathers all the time.” A giggling Liz elbowed CJ while teasing him. “Mr. Perfect isn’t so perfect after all.” “Watch it, Liz! I have the keys to the car. Wouldn’t want to see you left behind in Orlando when we leave.” The friendly banter between CJ and the girl was non-stop until they were seated at one of the restaurant’s tables overlooking the lagoon around which the different national pavilions stood. “They should have one for Australia.” Liz was reading the brochure she’d picked up at the entrance to the park while she and Owen finished their cups of tea, and CJ had a cup of coffee. The two guys had enjoyed their beer with lunch, the server too busy flirting with the two of them to even bother asking for ID. “That could be a cool exhibit. Surfing, diving the Great Barrier Reef, maybe a replica of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House…” CJ smiled, remembering the great times he’d enjoyed during his two trips to Oz. “Next time I go visit we have to scuba dive. I mean, all I’ve ever seen is New South Wales!” “Hey, we went to Canberra last time. That’s not in NSW.” Owen smiled at his boyfriend sitting across the table from him. “Yeah, whatever. I’m telling you, next time we go north to Darwin or west to Perth. It’s like people coming to the US, visiting one state or city and saying they know the country. I want to do some more exploring down under.” • • • Wingnut ran around them, tried to jump against their chests, and licked any hand or face he could reach when they picked him up on Saturday morning. Much to everyone’s surprise, he settled down as soon as he climbed in the back seat and resumed his previous position between Liz and Ritchie, this time his head rested on the boy’s lap. Somewhere around Jacksonville, Liz complained about the country music CJ had on the sound system and of the occasional outbursts of “It’s a Small World After All” the guys were determined to sing at maximum volume. “Okay, that’s enough. Here, Owen, put this playlist on.” Owen looked at his sister’s phone before connecting it to the car. “Who’re Benji and Fede?” “They’re these two dreamy Italian guys. You guys would like them, they’re sooo cute. I’m not sure if they’re gay or not but there’s a picture on the internet of them kissing.” “Don’t include me with our brothers.” Ritchie’s comment made the others stare at him. “I think I’m gonna have to get used to being the only one in the group who likes girls. Even when we get to Washington!” “Nah, mate, Don’t worry about it. Half of CJ’s Squad’s straight. And with you becoming a member I think there’s more of you than us.” “Hey! Quit with this CJ’s Squad crap. I’m not in charge of anybody.” “Sure thing, mate. But I think your brother nailed it. Your dad’s got the Elite Eight―or whatever number they’re at these days―and you’ve got your Squadron. You know that name’s going to stick.” “I swear, if it wasn’t ’cause your sister’s in the car I’d be calling you what the dads call me all the time.” “Oh, don’t mind me, CJ. Remember, I’ve grown up with two brothers and surrounded by grape pickers and winery workers. I’ve heard it all before. And anyway, I think it’s cute when you and my brother argue.” When plotting their route for the trip, CJ and Owen made reservations at the River Street Inn. The old hotel on the banks of the Savannah River had been remodeled at some point and boasted elegant rooms with four-post beds and views of the river or the Savannah Historic District. They spent the day strolling through the city’s old section, darting in and out of shops―once again mentioning Harley while taking a picture in front of the Harley-Davidson store on River Street―enjoying street performers, and an impromptu jam session in one of the many green areas delineated by cobblestone streets laid out in a perfect grid pattern. “What’s so special about this restaurant you want to go to tonight?” Liz hooked her arm through CJ’s and walked with him while their brothers followed close behind. “It’s called The Lady and Sons. It’s owned by Paula Deen and her sons. And it specializes in southern cooking.” “Who are they and how come you know about this place?” Before CJ could reply, Ritchie chimed in. “She’s a fat woman who had a TV cooking show. CJ used to watch it all the time when we lived together.” “A fat woman, mate?” Owen asked. “I wouldn’t call her fat, Ritchie.” CJ gave his brother a quick glance over his shoulder and noticed Owen struggling not to laugh. “Oh, yeah? And what would you call her?” Ritchie tried to maintain a straight face but a giggle or two escaped while he replied. “Ummm… plump? Well rounded? Larger than life?” The tongue-in-cheek reply was enough for Owen to lose it and start laughing out loud while Ritchie giggled and Liz shook her head. “You men are all the same: exasperating. Gay or straight, you’re always picking on women for their shape. Next thing you’re gonna be talking about her tits.” “Oh wow, she said tits.” Ritchie was now laughing so hard he held on to CJ for support. “Okay, okay. Sorry, Liz.” CJ wiped at his eyes and tried to regain his composure. “Paula Deen’s a celebrity chef. She’s on TV all the time and has published a couple of cookbooks. From what I’ve seen, she's a nice woman who never met a stick of butter she didn’t like.” “CJ…” There was a definite warning in Liz’s tone this time. “No, no, wait. I mean it. She uses butter so much it’s a running joke. Anyway, I’d heard Savannah was a nice city. Ozzie and I figured this would be a good place to stop for the day, and since the restaurant was here I made reservations for dinner.” The following morning, CJ insisted on an early start. They had a long drive ahead of them and he wanted to arrive at their next destination before sunset. They stopped in Florence, South Carolina to gas up, use the restroom, and allow Wingnut to run outside and pee on every tree he came upon. Lunch was at a bar-b-que joint with outside seating on the outskirts of Fayetteville, North Carolina where they gorged on fall-off-the-bone ribs smothered in thick, sweet sauce chased with iced sweet tea. Liz ingratiated herself further with the dog by feeding him pieces of meat from her plate. Late in the afternoon, Ritchie became excited as they approached the Outer Banks and signs for Kill Devil Hills first appeared. “Oh wow! Is that where we’re going? Are we going to the National Memorial?” CJ and Owen had refused to tell their siblings what their stops during the trip would be, insisting the surprise would be more fun. “What’s the deal with this place?” Liz asked. “And how did it get such a weird name?” Before either CJ or Owen could provide an explanation, Ritchie did. “There’s a bunch of stories about how it got the name, but nobody’s a hundred percent sure. And this was where the Wright Brothers had their first flight.” “I thought it was in a place called Kitty Hawk or something like that.” “It was and it wasn’t, Liz. When the brothers did their test flight, Kill Devil Hills didn’t exist. Kitty Hawk’s a couple of miles away. It was the closest town back then, and it’s what people called the area. But this is where it took place and where the Wright Brothers National Memorial is. We’re going to see it, right, CJ?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah. But we’ll do it tomorrow. We’ll spend the day around here and maybe check the beach out after we tour the exhibit.” “Sick!” The hotel they stayed at faced the ocean; the beach was steps away from their room’s sliding glass doors. The next morning, CJ and Owen went for a jog before breakfast―Wingnut by their side―and upon their return found Liz and Ritchie waiting, ready for the day. They took a quick shower together while Ritchie fed the pooch and Liz arranged a bed for him in a corner of her room. They planned on returning around lunch time and hung a do-not-disturb sign on the door to prevent a housekeeper from being licked to death by the dog. Entering the grounds of the National Memorial, CJ drove around a large dune atop which sat a monument surrounded by grassy fields. He pulled into a parking spot next to the visitor’s center and before he’d turned the engine off, Ritchie was out of the car headed towards the building. Inside, CJ took one of the National Park Service brochures, smiling at the thought of adding another one to his growing collection. Ritchie guided their exploration of the exhibits, walked them to the auditorium to watch a film on the Wright Brothers, and then strolled outside towards the actual monument. To the side of it, next to an airstrip serving small planes, they marveled at a life-sized sculpture of the original flyer built by the Wrights. CJ told them it was titled December 17, 1903 after consulting his pamphlet. They climbed the hill, posed for pictures in front of the sixty-foot structure, and when satisfied with their exploration, returned to the main pavilion for a visit to the gift store. “I’m so gonna learn how to fly.” Ritchie stowed the shopping bag containing a plastic model of the Wright brothers’ flyer and a blown glass Christmas ornament of Santa Claus flying a plane. “You know something? Papa offered to let me take classes at one point. I bet if you ask him, he’ll let you take lessons.” CJ climbed into the passenger seat as Owen settled behind the wheel of the SUV. “You think so?” Ritchie’s eyes couldn’t possibly have gotten any bigger. “I’ll put in a word for you, bro!” “Pick up the dog and then lunch? I’m hungry.” Owen started the car, pulled out of the parking spot, and once again circled the central monument as they headed out of the National Memorial grounds. “Where do you want to eat?” “Dirty Dick’s!” Ritchie’s suggestion was accompanied with giggles. They’d driven by Dirty Dick’s Crab House on the way to the Memorial and Ritchie made a joke out of the name at the time. The restaurant proved to be a good choice. The fish sandwiches and crab cakes were met with approval but Owen declared the lobster roll not as good as the ones they’d had in Boston. When they left the premises, Ritchie was wearing a Dirty Dick’s ball cap and so was Liz. “Hey, I don’t know when my hair will grow back so I have to wear hats or scarfs until it does.” “Sure,” Owen said, walking behind the girl. “And I’ll get crap from Mum when she sees it. Why couldn’t you have bought one someplace else?” “Get over it, Ozzie. Not that I’m milking it, but being sick lets me get away with almost anything.” Her comment had CJ and Ritchie laughing while Owen shook his head and sighed. Instead of heading west towards the interstate highway the following morning, CJ steered the Mercedes north on Route 168 until they reached the outskirts of Norfolk where he switched over to Route 13. As they traveled east, he explained where he was going. “So, we did Disney World for Liz and Ozzie, we did the Wright Brothers Memorial for Ritchie, and this one’s for me.” “Aren’t we going the wrong way?” Ritchie asked from the back seat. “Shouldn’t we be driving north if we’re going to Washington? Or are we spending the night somewhere else?” “Nah, we’ll be in DC tonight. This is the long way to get there but I want to tick off another item on my bucket list.” “What is it we’re doing, CJ? How long is this list of yours? And how many are we crossing off this trip?” Liz had proven to be much more adventurous than CJ expected. Instead of the somewhat quiet girl he’d met in Australia, the current version of the teen was full of life and willing to try anything and everything the guys suggested. “The list keeps growing all the time, I have no idea how long it is any more. I want to drive on and through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.” “What so special about it?” “It’s the connector between the Virginia Beach area and the Delmarva Peninsula. It’s over twenty miles long and I’ve wanted to cross it since I heard about it.” “You said it was a bridge and a tunnel?” “Actually, four bridges and two tunnels. Plus a long causeway. They had to do the tunnels because of all the big ships entering the bay and created four artificial islands to serve as anchors for the bridges and the openings for the tunnels. We’ll stop at the entrance and take pictures, okay?” • • • “I miss having Wingnut with us.” Liz patted the spot between her and Ritchie where the dog had spent most of the drive from Florida on. “I wonder if he’s missing us too.” The dog had adapted to the change in surroundings with no problems and seemed to delight in running up and down the stairs of the Georgetown townhouse. Ritchie was concerned about Wingnut when they’d told him about this trip. The boy’s apprehension disappeared when Brett promised to look after the pooch and take him for his walks. “I think he’ll be okay. He likes the captain and Mr. A. And they promised to take good care of him.” “’Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’” CJ paused momentarily and took a glance at Owen in the front passenger seat of Defiant. “Come on, Ozzie, I’m sure you know the next part of it. Let’s hear it.” “What is that? Some sort of poem?” Liz had been delighted when her brother and CJ suggested they take a drive up to Pennsylvania on Friday and spend the weekend exploring the area. She’d laughed when CJ admitted Gettysburg National Military Park was indeed on his bucket list. Ritchie tore his gaze away from the passing landscape and turned towards Liz. “It’s the opening of the speech Lincoln gave at the dedication of Soldier’s National Cemetery. The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in our Civil War, Liz. More men died there than at any other battle in the country before or since. I studied it in my history class last year.” “So, you know the rest of it, mate?” Owen turned in his seat to look at his sister and Ritchie. “Nah, we didn’t have to memorize it or anything. Hey, CJ, can I drive some? The road’s not too busy. There’s almost no other cars.” CJ was skeptical his brother had any concept of what to do. “Do you even know how to?” “Dad used to let me start his car…” “Tell you what, bro, when we get back to DC, I’ll teach you how to drive. I’ll take you to the big parking lot at the Pentagon during the weekends and you can practice there. It’s what Papa did with me before I got my license. By the time you’re ready to take your test, you’ll be an old hand at driving.” Inside the Visitors’ Center, Owen grabbed copies of the free brochure for each of them, and then he and CJ followed their siblings around while they explored the exhibits in the museum and browsed through the bookstore and gift shop. They watched a couple of films about the clash between the North and the South on the Pennsylvania farmland and then returned to the store when CJ said he wanted to make a reservation. “What for, CJ?” Ritchie asked. “I thought we could just walk anywhere we wanted to.” “We can. And there’s a self-guided auto tour map printed on one side of the foldout brochure, but there’s also a service where you can hire a licensed battlefield guide. They ride with you for two hours explaining what you’re seeing. I’d like to do that tomorrow morning and then we can park somewhere and walk around on our own. It’s kinda spooky to be on the same land where all those soldiers fought and so many died. I’ve never been here before but when the dads took me to Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland, I enjoyed looking at all the monuments veterans placed all over the place with the names of their regiments and their home states.” • • • He watched Owen, Liz and Ritchie cavort in the water, taking turns on the Jet Ski, while sipping the frozen margarita JP handed him when CJ had climbed back on board after a few runs on the machine. He sat on the net stretched between the front of the PP’s twin pontoons, his feet dangling over the edge. It was Tom’s birthday and they were on an overnight trip on the catamaran. “Hey, CJ.” On the rigid platform to CJ’s right, Bradley hung on to one of the lines. “Pull up a net, Red.” CJ patted the spot next to him, eyeing the bottle in his friend’s hand. “You’re drinking water? I thought Uncle Tom said it was okay for you to have a couple of drinks.” “He did. But…” Bradley allowed the word to drift off as he and CJ watched Ritchie lose control of the small watercraft and splash into the water. The boy resurfaced, laughing and screaming he wanted another go. “I like your brother, he’s a cool kid.” “Yeah, It’s good to have him around all the time again. So, the water?” “I… Oh hell, you know how competitive I am. You’ve seen me playing. After you guys ambushed me earlier this summer―” “Hey! We didn’t―” “No, no, no, it’s cool. I’ve figured out I needed it. Anyway, after that happened, Trip took me to these meetings he kinda leads with a substance abuse program. I listened to what a few of them had to say the first time I went and made a bet with myself I could survive the entire vacation without drinking alcohol.” “What brought that on?” “Oh man, I got scared listening to them. One guy was in a car accident while drunk. He didn’t kill anyone but the driver of the other car ended up in the hospital for weeks. A woman lost custody of her kid because she would hit him when she drank. The stories were horrible.” Brad closed his eyes and shook his head while staring at the shore. “Trip talked to me afterwards. It took a few days, but I realized I was being an ass just because Dad was so easy going and for the first time I had a lot of freedom. I could come and go as I pleased which I couldn’t in Boston.” “Scary, ain’t it? Same shit happened to me when I moved from Miami.” “Yeah, but from what I hear, you handled it better than I did.” “Dude, I was so fucking scared. I mean, you moved here voluntarily. I was thrown out. Last thing I wanted was to do something wrong and Dad or Papa deciding they didn’t want me around.” “Really? You never mentioned that before.” “Nah, what the hell for? I can’t stand people who moan and groan about their problems looking for sympathy. It’s stupid. I kinda did the same as you and made a bet with myself. Although I didn’t think of it as gambling. I decided I’d be the best kid I could be and make sure the dads never had a reason to want me gone. Of course, now I realize they never would have done that. But I was just a little boy back then, what did I know? The dads were never gonna let me go once they had me here in Washington.” “When did you figure out you were in for good?” “After my first trip to Chicago. Papa and I got into a fight and didn’t talk to each other for a week. I smoked pot, went to a bar to watch a drag show, and fucked somebody for the first time. Papa was pissed but not once did he say he didn’t want me around.” “I can see that. Uncle Brett’s crazy about you. Anyway, I wanted to thank you for caring. For forcing me to deal with a problem I didn’t even know was a problem. Thiago and I’ve gone to the movies a couple of times this summer and I told him the same thing I’m telling you. And I’ll do the same with the rest of the Squad when they’re all back in town.” “The what?” • • • “Is he all settled in?” César was propped up on an elbow in bed, when Brett walked into their cabin and closed the door. “Yeah, he was all excited about being in that cramped little space. Kids are sooo weird sometimes.” Ritchie and Bradley had each taken one of the small crew sleeping berths in the pointed ends of the pontoons while CJ and Owen took one of the larger rooms and Liz the other one. “That boy’s resilient as hell. I was a bit concerned about him this morning. Unsure how he’d react to being out on the water after his parents died in a boating accident.” “Told ya, Emperor. He might not be as outspoken and blunt as CJ, but he ain’t no slouch. He’ll be fine.” “Yeah, if he survives. I still can’t believe you told him he could start taking flying lessons.” “Hey! I made CJ the same offer.” “And I thought it was nuts back then too. But if it’s what he wants…” “That’s my man!” Brett finished stripping and joined his husband in bed. “The hands off approach has worked well with his brother. I don’t see a reason to change our approach with our second son.”
  6. 62 likes
    August 2015 “CJ! Ozzie!” Ajax wrapped his arms around each of the guys, hugging them while holding the door open with a foot for them to enter the building. “It’s so good to have my favorite tenants back in town.” Liz and Ritchie looked at each other and started giggling. “Does this happen everywhere you go, big brother?” the girl asked. “Do people always shout both your names out when they see you?” “Hush, Liz. It’s CJ who gets recognized all the time. Ajax happens to be a friend so I got included today. Mate, this is my sister, Liz, and the young stud’s CJ’s brother, Ritchie. Guys, Ajax’s our favorite doorman here.” “Welcome to our building, Liz, Ritchie.” Ajax tipped his cap in the direction of the new arrivals, and shook hands with them. “I hear it’s the first time in New York City for both of you. Is that right?” Liz looked at the handsome, dark-haired young man and smiled. “It’s my first time in the United States. I’ve been in country for a month and this is the last stop of my trip.” “You’re headed back to Australia after this weekend?” “Unfortunately! I fly out on Sunday.” The girl was definitely flirting with the Greek stud and CJ had to stop himself from chuckling. “It’s my brother’s first time here too, Ajax. You’ll be seeing more of him in the future since he’s now living with me and the dads in Washington. Are we on for dinner tomorrow night? Is your girlfriend joining us?” CJ noticed a look of disappointment on Liz’s face when he mentioned the girlfriend. “Yes and yes. Chipper texted me to let me know he and his sister are arriving later this afternoon. He’s coming straight here from the airport while Cristina heads to her place. I already told him we’re on for tomorrow night. Marina will be here after she gets out of work and I’ll bring clothes to change into when I’m done. I’m hoping I can shower at your place.” “Too easy, mate. You know you’re always welcome up there when we’re in town.” Owen hitched his overnight bag up on a shoulder, took one of his sister’s suitcases, and started walking towards the elevator while CJ grabbed Liz’s other bag. “Come on, guys. Let’s go drop off this stuff and then we’ll go for a walk around Central Park. We’ll save the major sightseeing for tomorrow and Saturday. But I think you need to start the visit with a ride around the park in a horse-drawn carriage.” Ritchie’s eyes darted everywhere, looking at the details of the building’s lobby. “Are Chipper and Cristina staying here also?” “Chipper is. We’re giving Liz the room Chipper and I use when we’re here with the dads. You get to share the big one with him. And you better not molest him, can’t have my brother and my friend fooling around.” “Yuck! Not interested, CJ. Now, if it was Cristina I was sharing a room with…” “Asshole!” • • • The city's ambient noises always seemed to disappear whenever CJ was in Central Park. The blaring horns of cars, the shouts of children playing, and all the other sounds which made up what he always thought of as New York City’s serenade were eclipsed by the clippity-clop of horse hooves on the pavement. The hansom cab ride was one of his favorite things to do and he’d come to recognize a couple of the drivers by sight over the past two years. “That’s where the dinosaur displays are.” CJ pointed at the American Museum of Natural History as they rode past it. “If we have time we’ll stop by. But I think there’s a lot of stuff you find in New York and nowhere else I’d like you guys to see first.” Ritchie stopped swiveling his head from side to side for a moment. “What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary?” “I don’t know, bro. What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary?” CJ was by now used to playing the straight man for his brother. All through their road trip and afterwards in Washington, Ritchie had spouted off silly jokes and bad puns. “A thesaurus!” This one earned him groans from his brother and Owen, and giggles from Liz. Their complaining was interrupted by CJ’s phone chiming. He retrieved it from his pocket, looked at the screen and smiled. “Chipper and Cristina just landed. He’s taking a cab to the apartment and she’s headed to her place in the Village. I’m warning you, he acting the same way he did last summer after his time in Argentina. His entire message’s in Spanish.” “Great! I’m the only one who won’t understand anything!” Liz complained. “Don’t worry about it, Liz. Your brother and I will have him speaking normal in no time at all.” • • • “Che!” CJ’s greeting died after the first word when they walked in the apartment and he saw Chipper. “Dude! What the fuck? Ooops, sorry, Liz. What the heck, Chipper? Last year it was bleached hair and a man bun, and this year you show up with a mohawk?” “You like?” Chipper bent his head and rubbed the short strip of hair running down the middle of his scalp. “I was gonna leave it long and spike it but decided it was too much work. Hi, Liz! I’m Chipper.” “Hi… I like your haircut.” “Hey, Chipper, I like it too. Maybe I’ll get one when my hair grows back.” Ritchie ran a hand over the stubble on his head while giggling. “Yeah, like, what the hell’s up with all of you? I thought I’d have the shortest do this year but I see I was wrong.” Liz beamed when the lack of hair on her three traveling companions came up. “Don’t they look great? Since I lost mine thanks to chemo, the three of them decided to match me. You should have seen my surprise when CJ and Ozzie showed up at the airport in Miami with no hair.” While CJ went to the kitchen to get everyone something to drink, Liz sat on the couch next to Chipper. She asked questions about Argentina and about Cristina and then requested he play something for them. With the group settled, sodas and water bottles in hand, Chipper picked up the guitar he’d placed on the floor when he’d stood to greet his friends. He strummed a few cords and started humming a tune CJ didn’t recognize. “What’s the song?” “It’s ‘The Best is Yet to Come.’ Remember how last year I spent the summer playing at a coffee shop? Well, I went back there when I first got to Buenos Aires and some guy asked me if I was interested in making some money playing at a jazz club.” “Did you?” “Did I ever!” Chipper’s enthusiasm had him slapping the guitar with his open palm a couple of times. “I had to learn a bunch of new stuff, most of it old songs like the one I was just playing. I mean ancient stuff, guys. That song has been recorded a bunch of times but the most famous version’s by Frank Sinatra in the early 1960s!” “I like it.” Liz smiled and sat on an armchair across from Chipper. “Can you sing it?” “Yeah, sure, but I gotta warn you my voice’s not as good as our friend Thiago’s. And it would sound better with a keyboard. I need to look into getting one of those. Betcha Doc would rather have me banging away at piano keys instead of my drums!” “What are we doing tonight, CJ?” Ritchie had sat quietly while Chipper performed a handful of songs, earning enthusiastic applause from his friends during the impromptu concert. “Ummm, haven’t thought about it. Anything you want to do?” “Can we get into the Empire State Building at night?” “That’s a great idea, bro! Ozzie and I have never been there after dark. I need a shower before we go out again. You guys think we can get out of here in about an hour? We’ll do plenty of walking tomorrow. We’ll cab it tonight. Lots of restaurants in the midtown area. We’ll eat dinner while we’re out.” • • • The following morning CJ was up early, and after throwing on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, walked a couple of blocks to pick up juice, milk, fresh bagels, and cream cheese. He didn’t feel like cooking and thought Liz and his brother would prefer a quick breakfast and more time sightseeing. “Where are we going first?” Ritchie was showered and dressed by the time CJ returned and the kid was now pushing to get out of the apartment. “Can we ride the subway? Is it like the one in DC? Or are the stories about it being dangerous down there true?” Chipper winked at CJ and spoke with a serious tone. “It’s safe except for the giant alligators…” “WHAT?” Chipper’s comment elicited groans from CJ and Owen, and bewildered looks from Liz and Ritchie. “Yeah, you know, people used to buy baby gators as pets and when they started getting big they flushed them down the toilet. The gators settled in the sewers but every now and then they make their way to the subway stations. I think it’s when they get hungry and―” “Shut up, Chipper. Don’t believe a word he says, guys. He’s full of crap.” CJ emphasized his comment by punching his friend. “Nope. The gators are the ones full of crap. They do live in the sewers after all…” They rode the subway to Bowling Green Station, crossed Battery Park, and boarded the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. CJ and Owen spent much of the time exchanging glances and smiles, delighted in the way their siblings interacted and marveled at the sight of the giant lady in the harbor. After their visit to the National Monument, they walked to the 9/11 Memorial and as he’d done during his previous two visits, CJ had to step aside and take time to wipe away tears and compose himself. They bought hot dogs from a street vendor near the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and then spent time with Cristina in the Village, all of them returning to the apartment together to shower and change before heading out to dinner. “G’day. Abelló, reservations for eight?” Owen stood by the hostess stand as the woman behind it stared him up and down. “Yes, sir. We’ll have your table ready in a minute, Mr. Abelló.” “Yeah, see, I’m not Mr. Abelló.” A smirking Owen pointed at CJ. “That’s Mr. Abelló. He’s my boyfriend and likes to hear his name called out so we always use it when we make reservations.” “Hey! Stop that, Ozzie. Don’t listen to him, ma’am. He’s full of it.” “Ajax was right, you guys are a blast.” Marina followed the hostess, sidling up next to CJ, while Ajax and Chipper whispered to each other while walking ahead of them. “Ever since he spent the night at your place I’ve been hearing about you guys and wanting to meet you. I was sooo jealous when he told me what a great time he had with you and your friends.” CJ was uncertain how much the woman had been told. “Ummm, he told you about that night?” “Oh, yeah. He told me everything!” CJ looked at the beautiful girl, wondering what Ajax had told his girlfriend. “Everything?” “Yup.” She allowed CJ to pull back a chair for her to sit on, winked at him, and patted the one next to hers for him to sit. “Sounded like you boys had a hot time. I was so jealous I wasn’t involved. But I’m hoping to make up for it this weekend. I know you and Ozzie are off limits, but we’re going to steal Chipper away from you guys tomorrow so he can spend the day with us.” The next morning, Chipper begged off from sightseeing, claiming he had made plans with friends but would meet the DC crowd later in the day. CJ and Owen led their siblings towards Central Park, turning south on Fifth Avenue. After stopping for breakfast, the four strolled towards St. Patrick’s Cathedral where Liz asked for a little time alone so she could pray in the Lady Chapel at the back of the church. Once she’d come outside, they stood on the steps of the church, watching the crowds jostling their way along Fifth Avenue. CJ had taken to wearing the Rolex his dads had gifted him and now glanced at it every few minutes. “CJ!” Sean’s shout made the four Washington visitors turn towards him. “Here we go again!” Owen groused while rolling his eyes. He hugged Ethan and Sean before stepping aside to allow his boyfriend to repeat the greeting. “We bloody told you guys to meet us here, not to announce who we are to everybody.” “Quit complaining, Aussie. You love the attention your boyfriend gets.” Sean glanced at Liz and Ritchie waiting on the side and extended his hand to shake. “Hi guys, I’m Sean and that’s Ethan. We’ve heard a lot about you two. It’s good to have you in New York.” “Nice to meet you, Liz.” Ethan shook hands with the girl before turning his attention to CJ’s brother and smirking. “Good to see you again, Ritchie. You still wanting to beat me up?” “Nah, we’re cool. CJ told me you were alright. But you better don’t mess with my brothers.” “I promise, I promise.” With his arm around the boy, Ethan steered the group towards the corner and waited for the traffic light to change. “So, Sean and I want to buy you guys lunch. How about the ice rink? Does that work?” “Is the Ice Rink a restaurant?” Liz asked. “You’ve seen it on TV, Liz. It’s the ice skating place in front of the giant Christmas tree they show every year. In summer it’s a restaurant.” Owen strolled next to his sister towards Rockefeller Plaza while CJ, Ritchie, and Sean walked behind them. “Is Ethan paying you to have sex with him?” Ritchie’s whisper to Sean made the redhead and CJ stop and stare at the boy. “What the fuck, bro? What type of question’s that?” CJ outrage was met with chuckles from Sean and downcast eyes from Ritchie. “No he’s not, Ritchie. What made you ask me that?” “Sorry… I just wanted to know. Patrick told me that’s what you did for work.” Sean winked at CJ and placed a hand on Ritchie’s shoulder, holding him back somewhat so the three of them wouldn’t be overheard by their companions. “I used to, buddy. But I don’t anymore. I have two jobs now. One as a bartender and the other one as a personal trainer. Ethan and I are friends and since he’s been working at his dad’s law firm this summer, we’ve been spending time together. But it’s because we get along, not because he’s paying me.” “Oh… okay… sorry…” CJ insisted his brother sit next to him when they were shown to their table and while Sean and Ethan peppered Liz with questions about life in Australia, her medical issues, and her time in the United States, he spoke in hushed tones to Ritchie. “Bro, you can’t just ask questions like that when you first meet people.” “Sorry… It’s just… I never met a prostitute before. I was curious.” “Yeah well, that’s a word we might not want to shout. Sean’s a good guy. He’s never hidden what he used to do for a living. And I’m sure he’ll talk about it with you all you want. One of the things I loved about him from the day I met him was his honesty. But sometimes it’s not what you say but when, where, and how.” “I’m sorry…” Ritchie appeared ready to cry when he mumbled the words. “Are you upset with me?” “Nope. Not upset at all.” CJ gave his brother a gentle sideways hug. “Asking questions about things you don’t know or understand is the best way to learn. Never stop. But you’re going to meet a lot of different guys living with us. You already know most of my friends are straight but there’s going to be plenty of gay people around also.” “I know that! I don’t care.” “Of course you don’t. But not everyone’s as smart or accepting as you. There are some things better not discussed in public. Sean never hurt anyone when he was working as an escort―that’s what they’re called, by the way―but some people look down on guys like him anyway. So it’s better to talk about those things in private.” Lunch over, Sean and Ethan stuck with their friends from Washington when they walked over to Times Square. They took pictures in front of the giant electronic billboards, gawked at the theatre marquees, and stopped at a couple of touristy stores so Liz could buy souvenirs. “Is this the one you have at your house?” Liz held a glass miniature of the Chrysler Building in front of CJ, who’d stuck by her side when they entered the store. “Yeah, I love the Art Deco design, it’s my favorite building in New York.” “You really like this city, don’t you? My brother’s always raving about your trips here and to Miami when he e-mails me.” “I do, Liz. I do like New York. I mean, I love Miami and Washington too but there’s something special about this place. People can be rude and the city can be dirty at times, but there’s a special energy to the place that gets me going.” The girl looked at him and smiled. “Ozzie’s changed a lot in the time he’s been over here. He used to dislike the crowds and pace of Sydney when he was at uni. He’d escape back to the Hunter whenever he could. But not anymore. Instead of being the farm boy who left Australia, he’s turned into a city boy. You’ve had a lot to do with that, you know?” “Ummm, is that a good thing or a bad one?” “Neither, silly, it’s just a fact. But maybe, in the long run, I think it’s good for him. He may be studying environmental law because he was never going to be like Spencer. That one wants to get back to the vineyards as soon as possible and spend his life making wine. You’ve shown my big brother another world. One he likes and I can see he fits in. Thank you.” “Ozzie may be a farm boy as you call him, but he’s settled in well. At first he was a pain, like when we went to that banquet last year. He was nervous about meeting famous people. But he’s relaxed a lot. And I’m real glad he’s told you he’s enjoying himself. I love the country but I’m an urban kid at heart. Give me a big city and I’ll make it my playground. “I’m not sure I’ve done much, though. My dads are just as responsible. They’ve insisted on including Owen in most of our trips. And you saw how much my grandparents like him too.” “That makes it easier for him. Not everyone gets along with their in-laws.” “He ain’t my husband, Liz. You gotta stop that.” CJ’s tone was gentle. He disliked people marrying him and Owen off, but it’d become such a common thing his replies lacked a lot of conviction. “No in-laws, okay?” “Yeah, sure, whatever. I have a feeling if I live long enough, I’m going to be seeing a lot of you in the future.” Liz wasn’t too keen on attending a baseball game when they’d planned the trip to New York so CJ promised Ritchie they would catch the Yankees or Mets the next time they came up. Instead, that Saturday evening they returned to Times Square and saw the performance of The Book of Mormon at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. After the play, Chipper insisted the girl’s New York experience wouldn’t be complete without an after-theatre late supper at the Carnegie Deli. Located on Seventh Avenue across from Carnegie Hall, the restaurant was famous for its pastrami and the multitude of pictures of Broadway stars hanging on the walls. “The sandwiches are gargantuan―” “Nice quarter word, Chipper!” “Screw you, CJ. Anyway, they’re really, really, big. I suggest we order three Woody Allens. That’s half pastrami and half corned beef. We can share and that way you get both tastes.” “I don’t know any of these people!” Ritchie’s complaint while studying the framed images was echoed by Liz. “Yeah, you do.” Chipper stared at the wall by their table and then shook his head. “Okay, maybe not in this section. But there’s plenty of TV and movie stars who’ve appeared on Broadway and have their pics up on the wall. I’m sure you’d recognize some.” “Don’t worry about it, Chipper. I don’t care if I don’t know any of them, this is still a great place to end my trip.” Liz smiled while rubbing the guy’s upper arm. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you before this weekend. Maybe you’ll come to Australia next time CJ and Ozzie visit? And you,” she added, pointing at Ritchie, “you definitely have to come with them.” “I will! But it’s up to the two of them and Mr. A and the Captain. It’s expensive to fly to Australia, isn’t it?” “Don’t worry about that, bro. If the dads are okay with it, I’ll take you with me next time I go.” CJ turned to Liz after reassuring his brother. “But I’m not sure when that’ll be, Liz.” “Why don’t you come spend your birthday and Christmas with us again? I mean, my brother will be coming home―” “Actually, about that. I haven’t told our parents yet but I won’t be going home over the holidays.” Ozzie grimaced at the same time his sister looked surprised. “What do you mean you’re not coming home? What are you going to do over Christmas?” “I don’t know yet. CJ says it’s still a secret and won’t tell me.” “Can you tell me, CJ? Am I included?” Ritchie stared at his brother, a worried look on his face. “What about me?” Chipper asked. “Should I not make plans to visit my father this year? Please tell me I don’t have to go to Tampa.” “Ozzie, you have a big damn mouth! I told you I needed to talk to the dads before making actual plans. Ritchie, if we do anything, you’re definitely included. You too, Chipper. See, Liz, I turn eighteen this year and want to do something a little different. I’m just trying to figure out if I can afford it and if the dads will give me their permission. I’m asking them when we get back to Washington. If they say no, Australia will be my next choice.” The conversation stopped when Owen’s phone chimed indicating a text message. His face showed surprise and then he chuckled when he opened it. “It’s from Spence, Liz.” “And what does our brother have to say? He’s still picking me up at the airport, right?” “Doesn’t say anything about that. Here, take a look. He sent a picture of him with his new workout buddy at the gym.” “Ohhh, cute, very cute. Why does he look familiar?” Owen passed the phone around so everyone could see his brother Spencer, wearing a tank top and shorts next to a very good looking young guy dressed the same way. “Our dear brother says that’s Tyson Hill’s brother, Scott. He works at Casa Nostra!” “Isn’t that the restaurant we went to for your farewell meal in Sydney?” CJ asked. “It is, mate. I can’t believe Tyson Hill’s brother works there. Oh, follow up message. Spencer says he went to try and convince the restaurant owners to carry Liston wines and met Scott then. He’ll introduce us next time we’re in Sydney.” The next morning, the guys all rode to the airport with Liz before catching the train back home to Washington. Tears and laughter mingled amongst promises of renewed social media contact and an in-person reunion as soon as possible. Ritchie and Liz had become close over the past month and their goodbye hug left CJ and Owen beaming. They’d talked about it the previous night after going to bed: their siblings had bonded and both were thrilled. On the way to DC, Owen was quiet and looked sad until CJ placed his head on the Aussie’s shoulder. “She’s doing great, Ozzie. And I’m pretty sure this trip did a lot of good. She looked happy even if at the same time she was sad to leave. We’ll see her soon, babe.” • • • A little over a week after returning from New York, CJ and Ritchie had appointments with Dr. Matt Calhoun. The dads wanted the younger boy to get the same type of comprehensive annual physical CJ had been subjected to since his move to the nation’s capital. “Hi, Helen, you’re looking beautiful, as usual.” CJ smiled at Chatri’s wife, who worked as the head nurse in the office. “Brought you guys a new victim. This is my brother, Ritchie.” “Hi, Ritchie! I’ll ignore your brother’s victim comment. It’s good to finally meet you, I’ve heard a lot about you.” The woman turned to CJ with her hands on her hips and sneered at him. “And for the record, Mr. Abelló, I’m not stupid. Of course he’s your brother! I can read an appointment schedule and figure out which patients are coming in.” CJ chuckled and looked at his brother. “Helen used to be a real sweet girl, Ritchie. Then she married Chatri and his awful sarcasm’s rubbing off on her.” “I’m telling him you said that! And stop picking on an expectant mother. Aggravation’s not good for the baby.” “WHAT?” Ritchie giggled as he was shown into one of the examination rooms. “I think she means she’s pregnant, CJ.” “Oh, wow! That’s great news. Congratulations! How did this happen?” “Really, CJ? You want me to explain how I got pregnant? In you go, Ritchie. I’ll be back in a minute. We’re shorthanded today so our office manager’s putting his nursing skills to work. I’ll take care of you while Levi deals with your brother. And, CJ, you better call my husband. He’s complaining about not seeing you again. Maybe you and your boyfriend can come over for dinner one night?” Levi Olken had risen from being a registered nurse working for Dr. Prescott Harding to his current position as office manager for Harding & Calhoun. CJ had heard the story about how the man had served in his native country’s army and become disillusioned with the lack of improvement in Israeli-Palestinian relations. He’d chosen to reclaim his US citizenship―his parents were both Americans―and moved to Washington. “Hey, CJ, long time, buddy. How’s life treating you?” “Pretty good. Go introduce yourself to my brother when you get done with me. Helen stuck him in another room.” “I will, I will. Uncross your legs while I take your blood pressure. Matt mentioned your brother had just moved up here permanently. How’s that going?” “Great so far, but it’s only been a few weeks. Ozzie’s sister flew to Miami to visit the US for a month so we all drove up together and did the tourist thing at Disney World and a few other places.” “Blood pressure and pulse are excellent. So, no traveling to Australia this year? How are you and your boyfriend doing? Temperature’s normal too.” “Of course it’s all normal, I ain’t even had a cold since my last physical. Ozzie’s great. He’s been a little down since his sister left. But once school starts he’ll be too busy to mope around. What about you, got a boyfriend yet? You’re too hot to be single.” CJ thought Levi had stereotypical Middle Eastern good looks. Dark hair and eyes, olive complexion, and a furry chest. Even his prominent nose looked good on him. “Stop flirting. You’re taken. Shouldn’t distract me when I have a needle in my hand and I’m about to stick you.” Levi wiped the spot he’d selected to prick with an alcohol swab and wiped it dry with a gauze square. “Anyway, still single. But I spent time in Israel this summer and found out the Palestinian kid I grew up with is gay. Always had a crush on him but I thought he was straight so never thought of him as anything but a friend.” “So is this someone you could get serious with?” “Maybe… Sit still. But don’t hold your breath, he’s almost 6,000 miles away. I’m Jewish and he’s Christian, and his family doesn’t know he likes men. Not like we can start dating or anything.” “Yeah? Ozzie was 10,000 miles away when I met him and look what happened. Is he coming to visit you?” “We’re talking about it.” He handed CJ a small plastic jar and pointed at the door. “We need a urine sample. Go to the bathroom and pee in that. We’ll see what happens but he may come visit around the end of the year.” “You’ll have to let me know if he does. I’d like to meet this guy. Maybe Ozzie and I can go out with you guys while he’s in town. What’s his name, anyway?” “Ezra. When you get back, take off your clothes. You can keep your underwear on. Pres and Matt both want to see ya.” “Perverts!” CJ was still laughing when Levi walked out shaking his head. • • • “I’m so glad there are no females in this house or next door. Could you imagine a woman having to sit through dinner with us and listening to the conversation?” Brett’s chuckle made César smile. “Which one, Jarhead? The part about the nuts or the straps?” CJ, with Ritchie as his assistant, had cooked dinner to celebrate his dads and uncles’ second wedding anniversary. Tom and JP returned home when César and Brett headed to their bedroom while the younger crowd remained behind in the game room. “Both! I thought I was going to lose it when Ritchie started talking about how Doc manhandled his balls during his physical. I’ve got a feeling the boy’s going to enjoy feeling for bumps on a regular basis. Who’d thunk checking yourself for testicular cancer could bring a smile to a kid’s face?” “Like you don’t smile when I play with your balls. I do give CJ points for originality. He gives us Nasty Pig jockstraps for our cotton anniversary and kept a straight face while we opened the packages.” “I bet you the little fucker was laughing his ass off when he bought them and when he gave them to us. Hey, at least he and Ritchie both got a clean bill of health from Matt.” “Yeah, in the long run that’s all that matters. As long as our kids are healthy, I’m happy.”
  7. 55 likes
    October 2015 “CJ!” “Bloody hell, here we go again.” Owen shook his head while Brett slapped him on the back. “How does it feel to be dating a celebrity, Ozzie?” Robbie Mook’s smile lit up the room and CJ thought it was a perfect match for the guy’s cheerful personality. “It’s so great to see you again, buddy. Hi, Owen, you’re looking very dapper.” Robbie shook hands with CJ and then repeated the greeting with his fathers and boyfriend. “César, Brett, I hope you realize the four of you stand out from the crowd. Everyone’s checking you out. You guys look good in black tie. I think I even saw a lesbian drool a little.” “Lay off, Robbie, we already sent you a check this year.” César’s smile and enthusiastic handshake removed any perceived sting from his words. “Actually, we sent you two. One from Brett and one from me. And don’t even think of CJ or Ozzie. We’re not letting our son make any political contributions until he turns eighteen. And Ozzie’s a foreign national so he’s not allowed to contribute.” “Ouch, that hurt!” Robbie held a hand against his heart. “Is that what you think I do all the time? Hit people up for money?” “Yes!” The simultaneous reply by Brett and CJ made Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager shake his head and roll his eyes. “Fine, be that way. How was your summer, CJ? I never heard back from you about volunteering for the campaign.” “Ummm, summer was good. My little brother moved up here to live with us and I’ve been spending a lot of time with him.” CJ looked at his dads momentarily, wishing he could ask them for help on how to phrase what he wanted to say. “As for the volunteering, I’m not ready, Robbie. I’m not even sure who I’ll support in the election. But you’ll be happy to know I told Marco Rubio there was no way I’d work for him unless he changed his tune on gay marriage.” “You met with the Senator?” “Yeah, kinda crazy how it went down. I was in Miami for spring break the day he made his announcement. Somebody from his staff called my phone the day before looking for Dad and I ended up with an invitation to the event. It was interesting. He came over to talk to me afterwards and I let him know I had no interest in working for his campaign.” Robbie shifted his gaze between Owen, Brett, and César. “Were you guys there too? What did you think?” “Nah, mate, my break from law school wasn’t the same week as his.” Owen had turned his chair slightly to look at the man who stood behind him. “CJ was there with a friend from school. The two of them went down to Florida by themselves. But I’m looking forward to meeting the senator tomorrow. After you introduced us to President Clinton last year, Senator Rubio will be the highest ranking politician I ever met.” Robbie looked confused and sounded worried. “Tomorrow? Are you guys meeting with Rubio?” “Relax, dude, it’s nothing serious.” Brett clamped a hand on Robbie’s shoulder, giving him a reassuring shake. “One of our neighbor’s a Rubio supporter. They’re having a reception for him tomorrow and we were invited. We told them César and I are leaning towards Clinton but they insisted we attend anyway. We’re dragging CJ and Ozzie with us. And I, for one, am hoping our son lays into Rubio again. I missed the last one.” “Shut up, Brett.” César did not sound amused. “There will be no confrontations tomorrow. My husband has a chip on his shoulder when it comes to politicians not supporting GLBT issues. Unless they’re military veterans, of course. Those he gives a get-out-of-jail-free card. I think that’s where our son gets his feistiness from.” “I’m not letting any of you off the hook. I’ll work my behind off for Secretary Clinton and you guys are going to be my personal project. César, Brett, we’ll talk further. But I hope I can convince you guys to host an event for the Secretary sometime soon. Owen, let me introduce you to Vice President Biden before the evening’s over. He’s the keynote speaker tonight. And he’ll beat out Senator Rubio for the second spot on the list of public servants you’ve met.” “I’d like that, mate.” “And you, CJ, I have something special in mind for you. What time do you get out of school? And do you have anything planned this coming Monday?” “Ummm, school lets out at 3:15 and Monday’s one of my days for lifting weights at the gym. But that’s always flexible. What’s going on?” Robbie reached into his suit coat and retrieved his phone. “I’m sending you the address for Bill and Hillary’s home in Washington right now. She’s in town this week, meeting with supporters and donors. Monday we’re having a get together with a handful of people I think could be surrogates for us during the campaign.” Owen looked confused for a moment. “What are surrogates?” “Those are the individuals who make appearances on behalf of a candidate. Mostly media interviews.” CJ once again looked at his dads, hoping for guidance but all he received were smiles and a wink from César. “I don’t know, Robbie. I told you I’m not ready to support anyone yet. Plus, I need to think some on the media thing. The dads and I try to stay away from too much publicity.” “I’m not asking you to make a commitment, buddy. This is a chance to meet Secretary Clinton and hear why she wants to be President. And what she hopes to accomplish if elected.” He looked at César and Brett before continuing. “Would you guys object to your son being on national TV?” “Nah, a presidential election’s something special. And CJ will be eighteen in two months. He can make up his own mind.” César glanced at Brett and received a quick nod. “If you think he can do the job and he wants to, we won’t interfere.” CJ’s jaw dropped. “Who the hell are you and what have you done with my father?” César laughed and snaked an arm around CJ’s neck. “This is different, buddy. No matter what anyone tells you, politics affects everyone of us. Politicians are necessary. And we all need to work to ensure the best people are elected. This is an important presidential election. If you decide to work for a candidate, Brett and I will support you. Right, Jarhead?” “Sounds right to me. And you know what sounds even better? Another cocktail. One martini’s never enough. You know what they say about them. They’re like testicles. One’s not enough and three is one too many. Come on, Ozzie. You and I need refills, let these three figure things out.” True to his word, Robbie came to their table before the evening’s program started and took CJ and Owen to meet Vice-President Biden. César and Brett joked they would remain seated; they were afraid meeting another politician would cost them more money. But they did make it a point of introducing themselves to Jim Obergefell―the named plaintiff in the case which led to the Supreme Court deciding same-sex marriage prohibitions were unconstitutional. Returning home, they found Ritchie and Dragon asleep on the couch downstairs with a blue screen on the TV―they had nodded off watching a movie. Dragon had agreed to stay with the boy as an opportunity to talk to him. Ritchie had told César and Brett during their motorcycle ride the previous month he didn’t want to see a counselor any longer, so they’d asked for their friend’s help once again. The next morning, Dragon told them he thought the kid was okay. His parents were dead but he was handling the event well enough. Dragon didn’t think Ritchie was repressing his emotions the way CJ did after he was rejected by his mother and stepfather. Based on what the kid had said, his older brother was the main reason he was dealing so well with the loss. • • • “CJ!” Brett snickered and elbowed Owen. They’d started keeping track of how often CJ was recognized and had his name shouted out. Both had been called assholes after CJ heard what they were doing. “So good to see you again. Hello César, Captain Davenport. This is a nice surprise.” Smiling, Marco Rubio shook hands with the three men. Seeing his son roll his eyes, César tapped CJ’s shoulder―a silent warning to behave, reinforcing the verbal admonition he’d given while walking the few blocks to the reception. “Hello, Marco. You’re looking well. How’s the campaign trail treating you?” “It’s been an eye-opening experience so far, César. Talking to people around the country has convinced me I can be a catalyst for change in their lives. Our country needs solid leadership in these uncertain times and I’m certain I’m the right man for the job.” At just under six feet, CJ often complained of being the shortest one while out with his fathers and Owen. He was somewhat surprised to realize he was taller than the senator and how little Marco appeared, looking up at the four of them. “Senator, this is Owen Liston, my boyfriend. Ozzie, Senator Marco Rubio. You’ve heard me talk about him before.” “It’s a pleasure to meet another supporter, Owen. I hope I can count on your vote.” “I’m sorry, Senator, but that might be a problem. See, I’m an Australian citizen and not eligible to vote in your elections.” “Are you planning on becoming a citizen? Even if you aren’t, you can still volunteer for the campaign. I’m certain you and CJ could arrange to work together. I can put you in touch with the woman heading up our efforts in Washington and Northern Virginia.” CJ was quick to jump in and didn’t give Owen a chance to reply. “I don’t see it happening, Senator. I thought I made it clear to you when we last spoke. I can’t back someone for office if they were unwilling to support equal rights for the GLBT community.” Senator Rubio looked flustered. “I assumed since you were here you’d changed your mind.” “Not a chance.” CJ noticed the warning stare César gave him and the hand Brett placed on his father’s arm at the same time. “I’m here because our host is friends with my parents. The dads asked me and Ozzie to come with them. But I haven't changed my mind. I still think if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. You haven’t given me any reason to believe you will be a President for all Americans. I’m sorry, Senator, but I don’t see myself supporting your candidacy unless you change your approach to GLBT issues.” “And what exactly would you expect from me, CJ?” Rubio’s frustration was clear to anyone listening. “Acknowledging I have the same right to marry the person I love my non-gay brother has would be a good start. And a promise not to reverse President Obama’s executive orders regarding non-discrimination in employment practices by Federal contractors would also be good. I’ve read up on you a lot since our conversation in Miami. And what I’ve seen doesn’t make me feel happy about the possibility of you in the White House.” CJ glanced at his parents; he was worried about their reaction to what he was saying. “You can’t believe everything you read, CJ. The media often takes things out of context.” CJ was starting to get pissed off. What he was hearing from the senator was bullshit and he was ready to call him out on it. “Kinda hard to say it’s out of context when they’re your words being quoted, Senator. You stated in no uncertain terms you’d reverse those orders because you thought they forced faith-based people to become sinners. To use a phrase our Vice-President is fond of: ‘that’s a bunch of malarkey.’ How can you stand there and tell me it’s a sin for anyone to treat members of the GLBT community the same way they treat others? Are you implying you have to discriminate in order to follow your faith? “I think it’s the opposite. People like you are willing to treat me as a second class citizen and then you have the hutzpah to ask me for my support? For my money to help you get elected? Whatever happened to treating others the way you’d like to get treated? You call yourself a Christian yet you forget the most important of your religion’s teachings?” “CJ?” Owen’s soft call made the teen snap out of his mood. “How about you give the Senator a chance to reply? You’ve been tearing into him something fierce, mate.” “You’re right, Ozzie. Thank you. I’m sorry, Senator. That was very rude on my part. I wish you and your family well, but it will be impossible for me to support you. I don’t disagree with all your positions but this one’s a deal breaker. You either accept the fact I’m as good as everyone else or I’ll do my damnedest to see you and anyone who thinks the way you do won’t get elected.” He shook hands with the senator, grabbed one of Ozzie’s, and walked away in the direction of the bar. When he took a quick glance at his parents, César had a small smile but was shaking his head. Brett, on the other hand, couldn’t have produced a larger grin no matter how hard he tried. • • • “CJ!” The red brick Georgian style mansion on Whitehaven Street was easy enough to find for CJ. The dark American-made SUVs parked in front and the suit-wearing men standing around them were a dead giveaway of Secret Service protection. He smiled at the man holding the door open motioning for him to enter the house Bill and Hillary Clinton called home when in Washington. “Hi, Robbie.” “Thanks for coming, buddy. The secretary’s looking forward to meeting you.” “Oh?” CJ’s stunned, questioning expression made Robbie Mook chuckle. “Don’t look so surprised. We were talking about you and the other individuals coming over earlier. Bill was on the phone with us and he remembered you when I mentioned your name and who you were.” “He did? Wow! Okay… Are there a lot of people here today?” “A few. Come on, follow me and we’ll get started. There are two more persons coming but they’ll join us whenever they get here. We’re expecting half-a-dozen people. This is a two way street. For someone like you, meeting her for the first time, it’s an opportunity to ask questions. A chance to get to know Mrs. Clinton, and hopefully be convinced to join our team. “And for the Secretary, it’s a chance to get comfortable with people who’ll be representing her when it’s not possible for her to be present.” “I haven’t agreed to do it yet, Robbie.” He followed the man inside a room lined with shelves full of books and photographs, a large desk in front of a floor-to-ceiling window, and a comfortable-looking assortment of armchairs set in a semi-circle facing the unlit fireplace. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stood with her back leaning against the mantel smiling at him. “I heard that, CJ. Welcome to Whitehaven. Let me introduce you to the others and then I’ll do my best to convince you I’m the right person to support.” CJ took several steps towards the much shorter woman with his hand extended. “Madam Secretary―” “Ohhh, I like the way you say that. It’s my favorite TV show, you know? Thank goodness for DVRs, the way my schedule is these days I’d never get to catch up with my shows.” “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Secretary Clinton.” “Please, please, call me Hillary. There’s no need for formality in here. My husband remembers meeting you last year, and if you’re half as good as Robbie claims, I’m going to be working extra hard to bring you on board. Robbie mentioned you have a boyfriend and Bill recalls meeting him too. He didn’t come with you?” “Ummm, no. I didn’t know Ozzie was invited. But he’s in school right now anyway.” “That’s right, he’s in law school at George Mason, correct? Robbie prepared a one page summary on each of you here today and one thing you’ll find out about me is I do my homework. I want to know as much as possible about the people who’ll be speaking on behalf of our campaign.” “Yes, ma’am.” “Why don’t you grab a soda, coffee, or tea, CJ? Then come sit down and we’ll get started.” • • • “I’ll assume you received the same e-mails and texts from Brian Sims Brett and I did?” César poured glasses of wine for himself and Brett, an almost full one for CJ, and about a third-full-glass for Ritchie. The boy was allowed to have some with dinner when the family dined together but had been given the same warning his brother received two years before: the liquor cabinet and the glass-front refrigerator full of wine and beer in the pantry were off-limits without prior permission. CJ nodded as he finished swallowing. “Yeah, he’s running for Congress next year. Are we going to send his campaign a contribution?” “Dude, none of this we shit again. César and I will send him a contribution but we still don’t want you giving any of your money away to politicians. At least not until you turn eighteen.” “This is really good, Mr. A. I never knew I liked brussel sprouts. My dad hated them so Mom never made them. This is yummy. And thanks for the wine.” Ritchie looked at the glass he was holding and raised it towards his lips. “You’re welcome, buddy. CJ mentioned the same thing about your mom not making them when we first served them after his move. This turned out to be one of his favorite dishes.” “It still is! I love this stuff,” CJ said. Brett waved his fork in the air and gave his son a questioning stare. “So, CJ, on Saturday you met Vice-President Biden, on Sunday you talked to Senator Rubio, yesterday you visited Secretary Clinton, and today you traded messages with Representative Sims. Who’s on deck for tomorrow? President Obama? Queen Elizabeth? The Pope?” “Har, har, har, Papa. Funny. NOT!” “I don’t understand why you guys get all excited about meeting politicians. They’re boring. This wine’s good. Is it from Ozzie’s family?” Ritchie licked his lips after sipping from his glass. “Sorry, Ritchie, but the dads save the Liston wines for special occasions. Dinner with just the two of us doesn’t qualify.” “Asshole!” CJ smirked at his father’s reaction. “Anyway, you can’t buy Liston wines in the US, bro. They’re what’s called a boutique winery and their production isn’t large enough to ship overseas. It’s all sold in Australia. We only get so many bottles at a time when Jack―that’s Ozzie’s grandfather―sends them to us. How was school today?” “Good, I like Sidwell a lot. Hey, I have a question. When I got home, I went to the garage looking for a wrench to adjust the wheels on my board. So I opened the big tool chest and found a bunch of condoms in there. How come?” César stopped before the fork reached his mouth and Brett nearly broke the wine glass when he slammed it on the table. Both men gaped at CJ. “Ooops, I forgot about those.” A scarlet-faced CJ stared at his plate, unable to look anyone in the eyes. “I’ll get them after dinner.” “But why were they there?” Ritchie’s insistent questioning made CJ blush harder. “Yeah, CJ, why do you keep condoms in the garage?” “Shut up, Jarhead. Stop picking on the boy. But since you asked… CJ?” “You all should go jump off Key Bridge and leave me alone! Sorry, Ritchie, those have been there for a long time. When Ozzie and I became boyfriends and decided not to have sex with anyone else we got tested for HIV and a bunch of other stuff. We stopped using condoms afterwards since we were both cleared of any infections. I completely forgot about the ones I stashed in the tool box.” “That’s fine, CJ. I understand about monogamy and all that shit. But why the garage?” • • • Owen stayed behind, waiting for Ethan and Sean to arrive, while CJ drove his fathers and brother to the airport. It was the Friday of Columbus Day weekend and the dads were taking Ritchie to Miami to visit his grandparents. Although he was missing out on money to be made working the large crowds a three-day weekend brought out to PRIME, Sean had agreed to come spend a couple of days in Washington. CJ stopped the car in front of the departures area and turned towards his brother sitting in the front with him. “You tell Aba and Abuela I’ll try to come down for a day or two sometime soon. Okay, Ritchie?” The boy sounded conflicted. “I will. But I wish I was going rafting with you guys instead. I’ve never done that before.” “Neither have I, bro. This is a short trip anyway. We want to check the place out. If it’s as good as we’ve heard, next summer we’ll plan a trip with everyone and spend a few days rafting and camping. Remember, we promised Aba you’d come visit and it’s been like three months since you moved already.” “Yeah… I guess…” “Hey, Dad, are you gonna try and convince Aba to come up for Thanksgiving?” “We’ll do our best, CJ, but don’t hold your breath. Your grandfather’s getting worse and I’m not sure Olga would want him flying. Should I tell her you’ll come down the next long weekend?” “That may be a while, guys. Veteran’s Day’s in the middle of the week this year. No other three-day weekends after that until next year.” Brett placed a hand on Ritchie’s shoulder and gave him a squeeze. “And you, kiddo, relax. As you get older, you’ll get your chance to do all the things your big brother’s doing. I like the idea of taking a family trip together next summer. César and I haven’t been camping in a long time.” Returning home, CJ pulled his father’s SUV into the garage and hit the remote control to slide the gate closed. The one next to it was open and his Jeep was parked in front of it with Ozzie securing the soft top closed. “Hey, babe, did Sean get in?” CJ stepped next to his boyfriend and grabbed his ass. “Do we have time for a quicky before we leave?” “No, you don’t!” Sean’s shout startled CJ before he started laughing. “You, fucker! You scared me half to death! It’s great to see you, buddy.” CJ wrapped the redhead in his arms, giving him a solid hug. “I wish we could all spend more time together.” “You and me both, dude.” Ethan tossed the two backpacks he was carrying in the back of Defiant and slammed the gate shut. “Okay, that’s all our stuff. We’re ready to leave whenever you are.” “I do too, CJ. But you know weekends are tough for me,” Sean said. “That’s when I make the big money tending bar.” “And damn but he does he rake it in!” Ethan slapped Sean’s back while laughing. “The moment the fucker takes off his shirt, the boys start lining up to order drinks from him and the tips start flowing. I think it’s all the reddish fur acting as a magnet. I’ve seen more than one guy reach across the bar to run their fingers over his chest.” “And you don’t get jealous?” CJ scrunched his face while shifting his gaze between Sean and Ethan. “I need to get my coat and lock up the house. We can leave right after.” “Why would I get jealous? He’s not my boyfriend or anything like that. But it was funny last time I was at PRIME sitting at the bar. Sean kept getting propositioned and each time he pointed at me and told them I was going home with him that night. Boy, did I get nasty looks from the fucking queens.” “And I’m sure you bloody loved every minute of it! It’s the same shit I go through whenever CJ comes hang out with me and my mates at a match. All those big fucking rugby players try hitting on him and he eats up the attention.” Owen had joined the Washington Scandals Rugby Football Club soon after arriving in the United States but CJ had turned down the invitation to participate as a player. His dads had counseled against it, making him realize the Aussie needed to have his own friends and activities. It was a hard decision to skip on joining the gay club but he showed up to watch them play and once in a while went out with the guys after a match. CJ was already walking towards the back door but stopped and turned around for a moment, smirking. “Yeah, and you love it too. Every time someone asks about me, you make sure they know I’m your boyfriend and off limits.” The five-hour drive to Beaver, West Virginia was made on interstate highways, but CJ and Owen were somewhat familiar with the surroundings from previous trips to Shenandoah National Park. They raved about the beautiful landscape and promised to take some back roads on the return trip so Ethan and Sean could enjoy the view in daylight. Halfway to their destination, the guys used a truck stop on I-81 to switch drivers, get drinks, and use the restroom. “No picking up stray truckers in the bathroom, Sean.” CJ’s whispered comment elicited sniggers from his traveling companions. “Stay away from the glory holes.” “And how do you know they have any of those in this place?” “He’s been reading stories online again, mate.” Owen’s snickering ruined his attempt at a straight face. “Fuck you, Ozzie. I don’t read those type of stories any more. Why should I bother beating my meat when you’re right next door?” “Ouch!” Ethan’s laughter had the sparse crowd in the restaurant look up at the four young men as they walked towards the restroom’s door. “Are you that easy, dude?” Sean grasped Ethan’s neck and gave the man a shake. “Watch it, you. People in glass houses shouldn’t walk around naked.” “Hey, Sean, what’s this modeling gig Ethan mentioned you were auditioning for?” CJ stopped in front of the urinal and unzipped his fly. “Auditioning, my ass! I got it. Sometime next year my picture’s going to be on buses, trains, and billboards all over the place.” “Yeah? You modeling Calvin Klein underwear? Are you going to be on one of those giant signs in Times Square?” “No idea where they’ll be. And no underwear ads. Hell, I rarely wear the damn things anyway.” “You going to be nekkid in them?” CJ chuckled while shaking off the last drops and tucking himself back in his pants. “Fuck no! I’ll be wearing jeans and a wife beater and so will the other guy. Hey! Wash your hands!” “Why? All I did was touch my dick. Ozzie can just lick my fingers.” “Asshole! I keep telling you I’m not interested in piss.” Owen had taken to calling out his boyfriend the same way César and Brett did; asshole was fast becoming one of CJ’s most used nicknames. “What are the ads for, Sean?” “HIV prevention. They’re pushing the fact that if positive people are treated and their viral load is undetectable, then there’s no chance of infecting their partners.” They arrived at the motel where Ethan had reserved a room with two double beds sometime after midnight. The guys showered two at a time and CJ was certain Ethan got fucked in the bathroom based on the grunting he heard through the door. He was tempted to take Ozzie while they had the room to themselves but decided they needed to sleep since they had an early morning ahead of them. When Appalachian Outfitters opened its doors at six in the morning, the four men were waiting outside, sitting in the car in the well-lit parking lot, nursing cups of coffee. “Look, Sean, it’s one of your relatives!” CJ was pointing at a short, well-built, smiling man walking towards them. “Nah, mate, that guy’s too short and doesn’t have hair sticking over the neck of his t-shirt. Plus, his hair’s like copper while Sean’s a flamer.” “Watch it, buster! Don’t be calling me a flamer just because my hair’s the color of fire.” “Hi, guys. I’m Robert, one of the guides here at Appalachian. Why don’t you come on in and we’ll get you processed. Which adventure are you here for?” CJ could tell the man spent a lot of time rowing on the river, his shoulders were wide and his t-shirt stretched like a second skin over a broad chest. “Hey, Robert, I’m CJ. We made reservations for the day trip.” CJ shook the man’s hand before pointing at his companions. “That’s Ethan and Sean, and the big blonde dude’s Ozzie.” “Hey!” “Morning…” “G’day, mate.” “You boys all look fit. You should have signed up for the two day trip. We would've hit more rapids and I have no doubt you could handle them.” CJ laughed at the guy and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Damn, you’re good at sales. But you may as well stop trying with us. This is a test run. If we like today, we’ll be back next spring or summer with a large group of friends.” “Well then, I’ll have to do my best to see you four enjoy yourselves. I’ll be in the same raft as you. Along with a couple of other people.” The sun was up and the early morning fog had begun lifting when the guys boarded an old school bus along with several other guests and a handful of guides. During the ride to the launch spot, the guides took turns discussing safety, maneuvering, and some of the things they might expect. CJ’s resolve to come back in late spring or summer grew when told those were the times when the New River ran fuller and faster. • • • “Bloody hell, I’m going to be sore tomorrow.” The sun had begun setting when Owen jumped ashore and held his hand out to help the other guys out of the inflatable raft. “Why are we spending the night in this place? We should head back home right now. With César and Brett gone we could use the spa in their bathroom. That thing’s big enough for the four of us.” “I’m game. But if we drive back now, I’m spending tonight at CJ’s place.” Ethan removed his life jacket and threw it atop the pile next to the raft. “Did anyone leave anything at the motel? Do we have to stop by there first?” “Yeah, my toiletry bag,” Sean replied. “Won’t they still charge you for the room since it’s so late in the day?” Ethan shrugged his shoulders while he ran a towel over his chest. “Yeah, but it’s cheap so I ain’t worried about it.” CJ was talking to Robert while keeping an ear on the conversation between his friends. “I’m fine with driving back tonight but it means you guys don’t get to see the area in daylight.” “That’s fine, CJ. We can see it next time.” “You guys drive safe, you hear?” Robert shook hands with the other men. “I help guide snowmobile trips in winter. Think about coming back for that. If not, I hope I get to ride the rapids with you next year. Make sure you ask for me when you book the trip.” CJ had refused to take any pot with him on the trip or allowed any of the others to do so. He argued since he was a minor, if they were stopped by some hillbilly state trooper along the way, they could be in a heap of trouble. As soon as they got home, after making a stop to eat at the same diner as the day before, he rolled a couple of joints while Ethan and Sean got settled in one of the basement guest rooms. Being alone in the house, the four men traipsed upstairs naked and while Owen turned on the water and then the spa jets, CJ lit up a doobie and passed it around to his friends. Before joining Owen on one side of the tub, he also lit a few of the candles the dads kept in the bathroom for romantic occasions. “I don’t think the dads will mind us getting high in their bathroom while Ritchie’s not home, but might as well be safe. Problem is, whenever I come up here and smell the candles, I know they’ve either already gone at it or are getting ready to. Let me tell you, that’s not a good visual!” Sunday morning, Owen ran next door while CJ started the coffeemaker and tried to decide what to make for breakfast. When his boyfriend returned, he wasn’t alone. Wingnut had been staying at Tom and JP’s place but it was obvious he was glad to be home. The dog ran around the wide open first floor, sniffing all over the place, before screeching to a halt in the kitchen. He sat next to his food dish, stared at CJ and gave a short bark. “You hungry, pup? Did Brad and Patrick take good care of you? Hey, Ozzie, you wanna freshen up his water and feed him? I think I’m going to make omelets for breakfast. We have spinach, mushrooms, and feta cheese. Let’s try some Greek inspired food.” “Too easy, mate. Should we wake up the other two?” “We will as soon as the coffee’s ready. Everything okay next door?” “Yeah, JP’s the only one awake and he was surprised to see me. I guess they didn’t hear us drive up last night. And since we’d told them we wouldn’t be back until later today…” “Are you sore this morning?” “Why? Did you fuck him extra hard last night?” Sean’s voice surprised CJ and Owen and elicited a couple of barks from the dog before returning to munching on his kibble. “Damn, Sean, a little early for the sex talk, isn’t it? Leave my boyfriend alone! And I was asking if he was sore from all the rowing we did yesterday.” “Too early for sex talk? Who the fuck are you trying to fool, CJ? Where’s the mugs? I promised Ethan I’d get him coffee.” CJ opened the cupboard next to the refrigerator and pointed. “Do you know how he likes it?” “Black, like his men.” “Shouldn’t that be: red like his men, mate?” They turned when they heard footsteps and watched as Ethan approached them toweling his hair. “Fuck you, all! Stop talking about me. I like my coffee black and my men hung. Any questions? And what are we doing today anyway?” “Ozzie never answered but I’m kinda sore this morning.” CJ started cracking eggs into a bowl as the other three guys settled on stools around the breakfast bar. “Last night I was thinking about going to the gym this morning but I don’t think I’m ready to lift weights today. How about we invite the guys next door to go for a jog? We can get a Frisbee, bring the dog with us, and play catch at the park.” “That works.” Sean spoke as he rose and walked over to the coffeemaker. “Refills, anyone?” “Not me, mate, but thanks. I’ll text JP and ask him to have Brad or Patrick call us when they wake up.” Sean brought the carafe over and topped off CJ’s mug before returning it to its perch. “Football games in the afternoon? The Jets have a bye week but I’m sure we can find something to watch.” “Fuck the Jets! The dads subscribe to the NFL package so we get to watch the Dolphins!” On Monday morning, Ethan and Owen left Georgetown heading to a study group meeting, while CJ and Sean planned on spending a few hours at the gym. “I don’t feel right about taking your money, CJ. I mean, we’re friends. And on top of that, you’ve put me up for the weekend again.” “Shut up, Sean. I’ve done something special for each of my friends on their eighteenth birthday. Brad’s getting a certificate for a custom made lacrosse stick and a new workout routine planned out by a personal trainer. We have three choices: I hire someone local and give them my money. I spend the money to take him to New York and then pay Colt for a session with you at WOOF. Or you take my fucking money and stop whining.” “You’re such a dick. I don’t know why I put up with your shit.” “’Cause you love me!” “Your boyfriend’s right. You’re an asshole. With a capital A. Fine, let’s go turn your buddy into a stud.” An exhausted Brad and his brother came over after lunch to hang out in the basement. Owen and Ethan returned in the early afternoon and a bit later in the day César, Brett, and Ritchie flew in from Miami. In the early evening, Rod came over at the same time the pizza delivery guy was leaving. The men congregated downstairs ready to watch the baseball game between Chicago and St. Louis from Wrigley Field―the divisional series was tied after the teams split the first two games. “Hey Chicago, what do you say? Go, Cubs―” Rod’s attempt at singing the Cubbies theme song was thwarted by the pillow flung at his head. “Too early, cuz, too early. We can sing and fly the W after the win. Don’t jinx them.” CJ stashed the pillow tossed back at him behind his head and pulled Owen closer to him. “We’re all rooting for the Cubs, Ozzie and―” “Don’t be so sure, mate. We have two New Yorkers in the crowd and I heard them talking about the Mets. Isn’t that one of the New York teams?” “Yep, but they’re not playing in this game. So unless Ethan and Sean want me to sic Wingnut on them, they’ll go along with the rest of us.” The dog raised his head from Ritchie’s lap when he heard his name but lowered it when the boy scratched behind the ears. “How come you didn’t go home for the game, Rod?” “I will if they make it to the World Series, Ritchie. I’m jealous as shit my brother and Ty are there tonight. I couldn’t take the time off work. My boss’ a slave driver―” For the second time in a few minutes, Rod was hit with a flying object. This time crumpled napkins thrown at him by Brett. “Watch it, buster. Didn’t they teach you in school not to pick on the man who signs your paycheck?” “Damn! Why’s everyone abusing me tonight? Anyway, I spoke to Ty earlier and he told me to make sure we didn’t get up to use the bathroom or anything between the end of the fourth inning and the beginning of the fifth.” “What’s going on?” César asked. “Not sure. I asked Dad about it when I called him and Mom, but they got the same cryptic message I did.” At the end of the third inning, with the Cubs leading the Cardinals 1-0, there was a rush to use the bathrooms. Sean followed Ritchie towards the half-bath in the game room and waited outside while the kid took care of his business. Once he’d done the same he returned to the main area and sat on the armrest of the chair Ethan was in. “Whoever came up with the idea of putting a urinal in there is a genius! I want one of those things in my apartment.” Brett raised his arms, fist clenched in a sign of triumph, before standing up and taking a bow. “Thank you, thank you, thank you…” “Siddown, Jarhead!” When play resumed, St. Louis drove in two runs to take the lead but Chicago matched them score for score during their half. At the end of four, the game was tied. As the Cardinals left the field, the TV network split the display. While one camera scanned the crowd, the other one remained fixed on the giant display screen inside Wrigley. Rod slid to the edge of the seat when he realized what was being shown. “Oh, fuck! That’s the kissing cam. How the fuck did Ty arrange this?” “What’s he talking about, mate?” “It’s an American thing, Ozzie. They show different couples in the stand kissing and―there! See?” CJ pointed at the screen where an elderly African-American couple shared a peck on the lips. The camera panned to a different section of the stadium and stopped on two young men standing in front of their seats. “Holy shit! That’s them! That’s Randy and Ty!” “Look at Randy! I think he realized the camera’s on them. He’s waving at the TV in the stadium.” “Dork!” “What the fuck? Why’s Ty kneeling?” “Fuck, fuck, fuck! He’s proposing! Tyler’s fucking proposing to my brother!” Rod had jumped off the couch, spilling the popcorn bowl on his lap in the process as he held a hand against his heart and placed the other atop his head. “My fucking brother’s getting married! Where’s my phone? Where’s my phone? I need to call them! Where the fuck’s my phone?” CJ couldn’t contain his laughter. “Breathe, cuz, breathe. Your phone’s in your hand, you idiot!”
  8. 54 likes
    September 2015 Two days after the wedding anniversary dinner, Owen started his second year at George Mason University School of Law. The following Monday, CJ began his senior year at School Without Walls High School. He strolled into the building surrounded by his fellow Squaddies―Ritchie’s moniker for the group had caught on with the rest of them―and was thrilled to see friends he’d not been around since the end of the previous school year. They all talked about their summer vacations, plans for the coming year, and what colleges and universities were on their list of possible places to apply. Thiago was now a freshman at Howard University and CJ missed having his buddy around; more so when a few of days later he sat at the front of the room during the Gay Straight Alliance's first meeting. CJ smiled as a diminutive Vietnamese-American girl rushed in the room, apologizing to the people she bumped into for being late. “Sorry, CJ, I couldn’t get my locker open. And when I did, I dropped half my stuff on the ground.” She placed her backpack, a book, and a couple of notebooks on the table and took a seat next to him. “Nothing to be sorry for. You’re right on time.” He looked at the students milling about and decided it was time to get started. “Good afternoon. If you guys will sit down we’ll get the GSA’s first meeting of the school year started.” With a wink and a hand motion, he encouraged the pretty girl next to him to speak. “Hi, my name’s Kim Hoang and I’m one of the GSA’s co-chairs. I’m kinda shy and don’t talk a lot. This is hard, so please take it easy on me.” Her bashful smile was greeted with grins from the other students. “I’m a sophomore―this is my second year at Walls―and I joined the GSA last year when Patrick Kennedy invited me to come to a meeting. I worked with him on the article he wrote about CJ for The Rookery. Afterwards, he wanted me to see his friend in action.” “Yeah, but you missed the first meeting last year and that’s when all the action started.” Bradley’s comment brought back memories of Janelle Tu to CJ and his short-term departure from the organization. He tried to forget about the nasty incident and concentrated on what was going on today. “You’re never going to let me live that one down, are you, Red?” “Nope. One of your finest moments, bud. Of course, you may have had something to do with that jerk, Mr. Burke not being back as a Walls’ teacher too. So I’m not sure which one to be happier about.” “Jeez, Brad, how about we concentrate on the coming year instead of reliving the past?” CJ winked at his friend and turned to address the group. “Hi, everyone. I’m CJ Abelló and I’m the other co-chair of the GSA. I’m a senior, this is my third year at WALLS, and also my third year as a member of the organization.” Kim smiled when her co-chair looked at her and raised his eyebrows. “CJ, myself, and the other members of the executive committee met a couple of times over the summer. We also e-mailed and called each other a lot. So we have a tentative plan for the year we want to share with you. We’ll go through it in a few minutes.” “Before we do that, however, we’d like each one of you to stand, give us your name, and tell us a little bit about you.” CJ noticed a couple of guys squirm in their seats and assumed they were nervous about speaking in public. “And just to help you all relax, we’ll start with one of my best buds. He followed me in here two years ago even though he had no idea what the GSA was. And I haven’t been able to get rid of him since. Harley?” “HEY!” Harley shouted over the laughter and jeers coming from the group. “What do you mean you couldn’t get rid of me? I just followed ’cause I thought your dad’s motorcycle was dope. How often do you get to see an Anniversary Edition CVO Road Glide up close like that, you know? I was trying to find a way to get myself invited to your house and convince Cap to give me a ride. Oh, Cap’s one of CJ’s fathers. We call him that because he was a captain in…” Harley’s introduction lasted longer than Kim and CJ’s together but it accomplished the goal his friend envisioned when he called on the lanky skateboarder. By the time it was the newcomers’ turn, they were smiling and relaxed. After everyone had spoken, the co-chairs alternated explanations of what the executive committee had agreed upon when putting together a calendar of activities. Some events―like participating in the annual AIDS Walk and visiting Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans’ Day―were the same as the previous year. A couple were new things and after discussing them all, they opened up the floor for debate and further suggestions. Once the modified schedule had been approved, CJ invited Kim to say a few final words. “I’m one of the youngest people in the room. I know I don’t have the experience here CJ, Harley, and a few others have. But I’m going to work as hard as I can to do a good job. Thanks to all the returning members who elected me last semester. And welcome to the new ones. It’s going to be a great year.” “Thanks, Kim, I’m sure you’ll do a bang-up job. My final words today are about what our organization stands for: acceptance, inclusion, and celebration. No matter who we are and no matter our sexual orientation, we’re all in this together. The GSA accepts everyone, includes everyone, and celebrates our diversity. We can shine”―CJ paused momentarily for effect, glancing at the students staring at him―“and we will shine. “Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do. You can do it all. Don't let the limitations of others cloud your vision. If we can remove our self-doubts and believe in ourselves, we can achieve what we might never have thought possible.” CJ paused once again and swept his eyes around the room. “I’m looking forward to the coming year. For many of you it’ll be full of new experiences, for some of us it’ll be our swan song. We’re gonna make a difference in this school. We’re gonna be the best organization around. And we’re gonna have the best time doing it. Squad goals.” • • • “Where’s Ozzie?” Ritchie looked over as CJ, hair still damp from the shower, sat next to him. CJ had stayed at school late working on a project for the GSA and gone from there to the dojo for his Friday night practice session with Thiago. Returning home, he’d had time for a quick shower before joining his fathers and brother for dinner. “He’s going out for pizza with friends from school.” “And you let him go out alone? What if someone gets drunk and tries to molest him?” Brett's loud laughter made César smack the back of his head. “It ain’t that funny, Jarhead.” “Hey, watch the head smacking! That could be considered domestic violence. Anyway, CJ, I wanna know too. You let your boyfriend go out on his own on a Friday night?” “You guys are all nuts, you know that? First, Ritchie, Ozzie’s a grown man. He can do whatever he wants and he doesn’t need my permission. And we all know he can take care of himself. As for you, Papa, I was invited but I said no. Between school and wanting to spend a little extra time with Thiago tonight I knew I was gonna be running late. Plus, I wanted to have dinner with you guys. I want to hear all about Ritchie’s first day at Sidwell.” The actual first day of classes at Sidwell Friends School was on the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend, but on the Friday before, the institution held an orientation day for all students. César and Brett had settled on the selective Quaker school after consulting with Walls principal Martha Edwards. CJ was surprised at how expensive tuition was. Even if the cost wasn’t an issue for his parents, he’d agreed not to discuss the matter with Ritchie in case the amount of money being spent on him bothered the boy. “It was okay, but I’m pretty sure one of my teacher’s gonna get fired soon.” Ritchie’s sad expression surprised CJ. “I heard about this when I picked up Ritchie,” Brett said. “Real sad story.” “Why’s that, bro?” CJ was now intrigued. “Her classroom’s gonna be a mess. The students aren’t going to behave. And she’ll end up losing her job.” “And how do you know that?” “She’s cross-eyed and she won’t be able to control her pupils.” Ritchie’s giggles were drowned out by César’s chuckles and Brett’s laughter. CJ looked at all three and shook his head. “Great! I’ve been listening to your lame jokes for the past month and you’re going to keep torturing me, ain’t ya? Between you and Dad I don’t know which one tells the most stupid ones. I’ve been complaining about his lame jokes since I moved!” “Watch it, buster! My jokes aren’t stupid and neither are your brother’s. You just need to go buy yourself a sense of humor. How the hell’s Thiago, anyway? We haven’t seen him in a while.” “He’s fine, except for the ring his girlfriend has on his nose so she can lead him around!” “He has a girlfriend? What’s she like?” “She’s a cunt!” CJ spat out his reply with contempt. “They’ve been seeing each other for a month and she’s already trying to control his entire life. I mean, I’m not going to tell him she’s a bitch, but I made it clear I don’t like the way she’s trying to pull him away from his friends.” “Is he going out with you guys on the PP tomorrow?” “Nope. She wants to go shopping. And then her family has a cookout Thiago has to be at on Sunday.” “Oooh, if he’s not going can I take his place?” Ritchie had been told he couldn’t spend the weekend aboard the catamaran with his brother and the Squadron. “Sorry, buddy, but Brett and I don’t like the idea of you being out there without adult supervision.” César raised his hand stopping CJ from interjecting a comment. “And no, Ozzie doesn’t count. CJ has him wrapped around his little finger in a way the Aussie forgets the world exists when they’re together.” “Hey! Stop that! Why is it the three of you keep insisting I have all this control over Ozzie?” “Because you do?” “Assholes!” “Don’t worry, Ritchie, César and I will make sure you’re not bored this weekend. We’ll take the bikes out and go for a long ride. Tomorrow morning we’ll go buy you a helmet that fits and then head out. How’d you like to spend the night somewhere in Shenandoah National Park? Your brother’s always enjoyed that ride when we’ve taken him with us.” “That’s okay… I guess. But it’s not like I don’t know they’re going to drink, smoke pot, and talk about sex when they’re on the boat. I’m not stupid, you know?” “Of course you're not! Brett and I have talked to you before about those things and we’ll do so again anytime you want to. But I’d rather you be a little older before we let you go out with the senior boys. You had your road trip and the visit to New York with some of them but we think this is a little different.” “Fine…” “So, can we go back to talking about Sidwell and how you liked your first day? Did you meet any interesting kids?” CJ was happy to change the subject; he didn’t want his relationship with Ozzie dissected any further. “A few. I did meet Sasha Obama. She’s a year ahead of me but she was real nice. I saw her sister when they got out of the big SUV they got driven to school in, but didn’t meet her. But it was cool seeing the Secret Service agents standing around outside the school. You know Malia’s your age, CJ? If you liked girls you could date her!” “Hey, I do like girls. Just not enough to date. And what would Ozzie say if he finds out you’re trying to set me up with the President’s daughter?” • • • Owen helped the Kennedy brothers stash away the food they’d brought with them while CJ fiddled with the vessel’s controls, making certain everything was ship-shape for their weekend aboard. “We’re ready to go whenever Rod gets here with the other guys.” “So we need to get fuel? Dad mentioned we might.” Patrick stashed milk, juice, eggs, and cold cuts in the refrigerator while waiting for Brad to return with ice. “Mate, where the hell did your brother go get that stuff? Antartica? I’m ready to put all the beer and sodas in the eskie but I want a layer of ice underneath first.” “I’m here, I’m here. Do you have any idea how heavy and cold twenty-pound bags of ice are? I had to stop for a minute so I could warm my hands up.” “Stop being a pussy, Red.” CJ ducked to avoid the cozy Bradley flung at him. “Where the fuck’s my cousin?” “Dude, we’re here. Blame it on Ethan. I think he packed enough shit for a month.” Chipper strolled in carrying a backpack and his guitar case, tossed them on a chair, and shed his shirt and flip-flops. “Let’s get this show on the road! I wanna get away from the marina so we can get naked and go skinny dipping.” “Fuck you, Chipper! I didn’t pack all that. The reason I brought more than a backpack is because you had me carry the lube and all your sex toys.” Ethan let the strap of his small duffle bag slip from his shoulder and copied Chipper’s disrobing. “And admit it, the reason you wanna go skinny dipping’s ’cause you want to check me out. You’ve been staring at my big bulge since you guys picked me up.” “In your dreams, lawyer boy. This is your first trip on the boat with us. You haven’t seen Thiago and Harley naked. Those two have porn-star-sized dicks. Plus, you’re Jewish. That means they took ten percent off before they even knew how big it was gonna be!” “Aww, come on, guys. Can you stop talking about me?” Harley had skipped wearing a shirt at all, the leggy kid spent as much time as possible without one and his dark tan was proof. “Jesus Fucking Christ!” Rod’s shout made them all stare at him. “Is that all you boys gonna talk about this weekend? Dick size? I passed up the chance to spend time with Taisha’s family for this?” “Fuck you, cuz. I call bullshit!” CJ was quick to jump on Rodney. “You didn’t give up crap. I have it on good authority she told you to come out with us. I talked to your girlfriend yesterday and she made me promise you’d have a good time. Said all you did was work and you needed to get out more.” “Well listening to all of you talking about dick sure as shit won’t do it!” “Yeah, bro?” Harley dug through his backpack, brought out a small metal box, and waved it around the room after removing the lid. The cloying smell of cannabis was unmistakable. “What if I roll a fat one? Will that cheer you up?” “Oh, hell. If you’re all going to smoke I’m going outside.” CJ threw up his hands and shook his head as he headed towards the salon’s doors. “I can’t get high if I’m running the boat. You wanna come stand by the wheel with me, Ozzie?” “Sure, let’s get the lines off and set sail. But as soon as we drop anchor for the day, I expect one of those for me and CJ. Okay, Harley?” “Great! They’ll get high, go fuck, and then we’ll all have to listen to them. How come my dad owns the boat and I don’t get laid when I’m on it?” Brad sounded very jealous. “Shut up, Bradley. I don’t want to listen to you complaining the entire weekend. You may be my brother but I could still forget to call for help if you fall overboard.” Patrick’s threats did not sound very convincing; the big grin may have had something to do with it. CJ motored out of the marina, keeping the vessel’s speed just above idling through the no-wake zone. By the time they were in the middle of the Potomac, ready to unfurl the sails, the others had joined him and Ozzie on deck. The guys waved at a couple of older men sitting on the seawall fishing and at people on other vessels, most heading south as they were. He bypassed the area around Quantico where they’d spent time the previous year during their end of summer trip aboard the PP and dropped anchor in shallow waters off Widewater State Park. Although there were plenty of other watercraft moving up and down the river, the shoreline on both the Virginia and Maryland sides was undeveloped land, so bathing suits came off and the eight men enjoyed themselves swimming and taking turns riding the Jet Ski. “So, you guys did this last year too? What’s gonna happen next year when you’re all away at college?” Rod sipped his cocktail while waiting for a reply; they’d all settled on the back of the boat to eat lunch and relax after roughhousing for a couple of hours. “I’ll still be at Walls,” Patrick replied. “And Ethan and Ozzie will still be in law school. It’s the other four who’ll be gone. Maybe Dad and Pops will let me be in charge and we can still spend Labor Day weekend together.” Chipper had brought out the guitar and strummed chords providing a musical soundtrack to the conversation. “I don’t know when classes start at Julliard so I may still be here. Or I could come down for the weekend. New York’s close enough for that.” “Is that where you want to go?” Rod had been busy settling into his apartment and job since his move from Chicago and hadn't spent much time with the younger set. “It’s my first choice. But CJ convinced me to apply to the Frost Music School at the University of Miami―they have a great Jazz program―and I’m also looking at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. I’d like to stay on the East Coast and Curtis is tough to get into but tuition is free.” “Really? Free?” “Yeah, there’s a couple of other music schools like that. Yale’s one of them but only for graduate students.” “Then I think I’ll be seeing you now and then. We go to Miami because of our grandparents and New York and Philly are close enough for weekend visits. What about you, Harley? Where you gonna be?” “He’s gonna be in my hometown! Boston strong!” Brad uncapped the bottle in his hand and took a big gulp. “Water?” CJ sounded surprised. Brad blushed and lowered his head. His tone much softer when he replied. “Yeah, I’m alternating water and beer. One of the tricks I learned this summer. Thanks.” His eyes met CJ’s and the gratitude was impossible to miss. “So, what school in Boston, Harley?” “I don’t know, guys. My dad wants me to apply to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But I’m not sure.” “Can you get into MIT?” “Ha! Harley’s a genius!” Patrick came alive when Rod asked his question. “Do you know he has like a 4.9 average? That’s from taking those AP courses which give you an extra point in your grades. And he’s aced all the science and math classes he’s ever taken.” “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can get in… kinda. I just don’t think I want to go to college right now. And I’d like to live somewhere warm for a while. I’m looking at a place in Florida.” “Lots of good schools in Florida.” Rod looked at CJ and smiled. “If my cuz ends up at UM you guys would be close. Which one you looking at?” “I, uhm… I’d rather not say. I need to talk to my dad again about what I want to do. He wants me to be an engineer and I kinda don’t want to disappoint him.” “We’ve been through this, Harley.” CJ clasped his friend's shoulder and gave him a small shake. “I don’t think your dad would ever be disappointed in you. Not the way I’ve seen him act around you for the past two years. And I told you before when we talked about this: it’s your life we’re discussing, not your father’s. You should make your decision based on what you think is best for you and not your parents or anyone else.” “Listen to my little cousin, bud. He makes sense. Okay, Chipper in New York and Harley in Boston or Florida. You next, Brad. But I need a refill first, anyone else?” “Nope.” “Not me.” “I want a coke, but I’ll go in with you.” CJ stood and looked at Harley. “Did you roll extras? Can I bring one out?” “Bring two. Brad and Patrick aren’t smoking but the rest of us are.” “I like the way you think, Harley!” Rod held a hand out asking CJ for help in getting up from the deck and followed his cousin inside the salon. “Since you’re going to smoke, I’m guessing we’re staying put for the rest of the day?” CJ reached in the cooler and grabbed a beer for Rod and a soda for himself. “Yeah, I think this is a good spot to spend the night. We can go back in the water for a while and then we’ll worry about cooking. Tomorrow I want to fish so we can catch our dinner. Grab the doobies.” “Hey, what was that about with Brad? Why did he thank you?” “Ummm, not for me to say, cuz. But if you ask him, he’ll tell you. And by the way, thanks for being so cool with my friends. I know Ethan and Ozzie are your age but it’s nice you get along with the younger crowd.” “Bah, nothing to it. You guys are cool and you all act a heck of a lot more mature than I did at your age. You know that owes a lot to you, right?” “What do you mean?” “I mean that you’re wiser than your years and your friends take a cue from how you behave. They all look up to you and follow your examples. Anyway, let’s get back out there.” As soon as the cousins opened the sliding glass doors, Owen looked at CJ and patted the spot next to him. “You guys missed Ethan admitting he’s scared of Ritchie.” “Fuck yeah, I am. The little stud keeps staring at me like he wants to rip my head off whenever I get too close to Ozzie. Is he ever gonna let me live my screw up down?” “I don’t know…” CJ handed a joint to Harley who sparked it up. “He’s kinda protective. You should have heard him last night at dinner. He was surprised I allowed Ozzie to go out with you guys for pizza. He was worried someone would get drunk and try to molest my boyfriend.” Rod reclaimed his spot on the deck and accepted the lit joint from Harley. “You know something, CJ? The more time I spend around your brother, the more I like him. Okay, back to the future. You’re up, Brad. What’s your plan after this year?” “No idea. I know I don’t want to go to college but I may consider doing what dad did.” “You wanna be a cop?” “Maybe… I’m not sure. But it’s in the back of my mind. I’m in the same boat Harley is: I need to discuss this with my dad. Maybe I’ll do it this week. We’re not fighting all the time any more since I stopped trying to get drunk all the time, so it should be okay.” When Bradley admitted he’d been at odds with his father due to alcohol, Rod turned his head, stared at CJ and gave him a wink. “So New York, Boston or Florida, and now undecided, what about you, CJ? Miami?” “Not sure… UM’s one of the schools I’m still thinking about and I’ll apply, but there’s a couple others I’m also looking at.” CJ leaned his head against Owen’s shoulder and sighed. “There’s a lot of different things I need to think about before I make a final decision. I’m filling out applications for a few schools but I also need to talk to the dads about my plans. I mean, It’s gonna be my decision, but I want their input. In case I’m missing something.” • • • César and Brett both offered to give up their ticket so Owen could attend the game, but the man refused. He wasn’t an avid fan of the National Football League the way the Americans were and he thought the dads would enjoy the Miami Dolphins game against the Washington Redskins more than he would. “Are these your company’s tickets, Mr. A?” Ritchie looked around FedEx Field slack-jawed as César guided them to four forty-yard seats in the 300 level of the stadium. “They’re awesome!” “Yeah, they’re pretty good, aren’t they? They belong to one of my clients. Whenever the Fins are in town I buy them from him. Since this is the opening game of the season, he was thinking of using them himself. But I convinced him I needed them since I had two teenagers who are Dolphin fans.” At half-time, Brett and Ritchie made a run for the restrooms and CJ scooted over to sit next to his father. He studied the sparse crowd around them at the moment and spoke so only César could hear him. “Ummm, Dad? I have a question about money and my trust fund.” “Ask away, buddy.” “Okay, you know I get money every month from the part of the trust I control. Most of it is reinvested with the manager and I’ve never gotten involved in any decisions about where it goes.” “Yep. I see the monthly statements. What do you want to do? You want to take over and make investments on your own?” “Ummm, no, not yet. Maybe in a couple of years. What I’m wondering about’s what happens in December when I turn eighteen. I know I gain control of some more of the trust and I guess the deposits to my checking account will be bigger. Right?” “That’s right. You get to make decisions about more of it at eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-five, thirty, and thirty-five. Unless you get married and then at thirty you get the whole thing. You still haven’t told me why you're asking.” “Ummm, well, I’ve been thinking…” “That’s dangerous!” “Don’t be an ass, Dad. Anyway, I think I want to do something special for my birthday in December, but it might be expensive. Even If I keep all the monthly money between now and then it might not be enough. Is there a way I could get a loan or an advance if I need it?” “Sure, there’s a couple of ways. All but one require trustee approval. The one way you can do it on your own is to sell some of the stocks or bonds you control.” “You and Papa are the trustees, right?” “We are. Why don’t you tell me what you want to do and we can figure out the best way to do it.” “Okay, this is what I want to do…” • • • “You just missed one of the funniest conversations between the kids.” Brett’s chuckling made César turn around when his husband walked into the bedroom. “What’d they do?” “You know how the walls in Ritchie’s room have been empty?” “Yeah, CJ insisted on taking the Hockneys down to his new room when he moved to the basement. Along with the other stuff he’d put up.” “Well the two of them are in Ritchie’s room putting up posters. Ritchie’s also going through the last boxes from his move.” “Was something missing? Did we forget to pack anything before we left Miami?” “No, no, quite the opposite. Ritchie opened up one of the boxes and was surprised it was full of toys he said he didn’t want. He asked CJ what he thought he should do with them.” “And? Get to the point, Jarhead.” “Give me a break, dude. I’m getting there. Anyway, the young kid who’s plastering the walls with sports posters doesn’t want his toys. But the older brother who insists on having expensive artwork in his own room laid claim to the box.” “CJ wants to keep his kid brother’s toys?” César was surprised. CJ was an old man at times and other times he acted his age or younger. “Yep. He says they might be a nice thing to have when he or Ritchie have kids. But he made it clear he was taking over ownership of the Legos. He wants to use them to design the house he’ll build one day.” Brett shook his head as he stripped off his shirt and walked towards the bathroom. They’d come home after watching the Dolphins beat the Redskins and he was still wearing the same clothes. “Damn, I’m ready for a shower.” “That boy of ours is a walking contradiction. One minute he wants to play with toys and the other one he’s discussing trust funds, income distributions, and principal allocations. Listen to what he told me he wants to do for his birthday while you and Ritchie roamed the stadium during half-time…”
  9. 52 likes
    November 2015 “Pass me the fried rice, bro.” CJ accepted the container his brother handed him and spooned a healthy helping on his plate. The dinner table was cluttered with paper boxes and plastic containers from Ritchie’s favorite Chinese restaurant and the siblings appeared intent on putting away as much of the food as they could. Brett was doing his best to keep up with them. Taking a momentary break, he leaned back in his chair and pointed his chopsticks at CJ. “Did you get the application in? Today was the deadline for requesting an early decision, wasn’t it?” “Yeah, I sent it in on Friday. Now I have to sweat it for six weeks. They’ll let me know on December 18.” “You’ll get in, CJ. You’re smart!” Ritchie’s confidence in and admiration for his brother was voiced frequently, leaving CJ feeling a responsibility to be the best he could be. He dreaded disappointing the boy. César had remained quiet up to now. “Your brother’s right, buddy. I wouldn’t worry about it. You have an impressive resume. And I don’t think too many other applicants will have a letter of recommendation from a former President. That alone should earn you extra points in whatever scale they use to rank potential students.” “I know, Dad, but still… “Dude, stop worrying, okay? I still can’t believe you had Bill Clinton do that for you.” Brett reached for one of the dishes and smelled the contents. “What are you doing, Jarhead? Get your nose out of the food!” César reached over and pushed the container away from Brett’s face. “Making sure it’s not spoiled. Last time we ordered the lobster dish it was bad.” Brett scooped a small amount of the dish and dropped it atop a mound of white rice. CJ ignored the dads’ interchange; he was used to their antics by now. “Bill Clinton was Robbie Mook’s idea, Papa. I asked him to write me one and he suggested asking the president instead. I sent Robbie a cover letter addressed to Bill and a copy of my resume and he took care of the rest. What surprised me was they sent me a copy of what was mailed to the university. And that Clinton mentioned meeting me at the Human Rights Campaign dinner and being impressed with me. I wonder if he really did or if Robbie put him up to it. Then he talked about what an asset I would be to any school lucky enough to have me attend.” “Great, as if your damn ego needed further stroking.” César had a way of bringing his son down to earth whenever he thought CJ was getting cocky. “Don’t forget Mr. Clinton’s known for his florid language. How do you think he was able to charm the panties off all those women?” “Daaad! Be nice. That’s a former President of the United States you’re talking about.” “Just stating the facts, buddy. Just stating the facts.” Brett was not successful in disguising his chuckle. “Not to change the subject—but changing the subject—have you done anything with the checklist I forwarded from the management company?” “Not yet. I’ll work on it tonight but I’ll need help from you and Dad. I’m not sure I know what to order.” “You know your friends’ tastes better than we do, CJ. Mark off what you think you and them would like to eat. César and I will review it before we send it in. Remember, this company specializes in luxury accommodations. They’re used to doing this type of stuff. We’ll tell them the number of people and meals and they’ll adjust the amount of food accordingly.” “But what if we order too much? I don’t like the idea of the extra being thrown out.” “Dude, they donate all left-overs to a food bank, so very little gets wasted. We’ll go downstairs to watch Sunday Night Football after we get done eating and work on it together, okay?” • • • CJ dropped off the keys to his Jeep next door before getting in the truck with Brett. Brad would ferry Patrick and Ritchie to the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington where they would meet with members of the Gay Straight Alliance before the ceremony. Brett drove his Ford F-350 to the flower shop near Walls CJ had ordered flowers from and went in the store with his son. The wreath was ready when they arrived and CJ retrieved his money clip and peeled off bills to pay for it. He thought they’d done a great job with the arrangement and liked the tiny American and rainbow flags on it. “Dude, let me pay for it.” “Thanks, Papa, but I got it. I’ll get paid back by the GSA. These are the type of things we do fundraisers for. If you start paying for our projects, the new members won’t learn how to support their activities in the future. I won’t be around after this year and my goal’s to make sure the organization runs smoothly after I graduate.” “You’re trying to teach them?” “Sure, why not? It’s what you and Dad always do with me.” Defiant’s bright yellow paint made it easy to find the Jeep in the half-full parking area. It was early enough in the morning. The Veterans’ Day crowd was not as large as it would be later on when other ceremonies would take place. Brett followed the group of students, keeping a short distance between them and himself, as they walked towards the statue commemorating the raising of the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II. He had forgone wearing his uniform but the motorcycle vest he donned bore embroidered patches identifying him as a veteran of the Marine Corps. He stood in silence, hands clasped behind him and feet spread shoulder-width, as CJ read the card he’d written, asked his fathers to critique, and which would end up on the display. “We, the members of the Gay Straight Alliance at School Without Walls High School, express our gratitude to all the men and women who have served in the military, and to those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. Because of them, we are able to enjoy the freedoms our forefathers envisioned when our country was created. We’re particularly thankful to members of the GLBT community who for so long served in shadows.” As they’d previously agreed, the group stood quietly for a minute, some with bowed heads. CJ took a step forward and placed the laminated card he had read from on a plastic holder atop the flower arrangement. He knew it would be collected by National Park Service personnel and stored with other items left behind at the monument. When he turned around he saw Brett talking to another man. “Aren’t you upset watching this?” Brett glanced at the rail thin man standing next to him. “Excuse me?” “You’re a vet, aren’t you?” The man pointed at the eagle, globe, and anchor on his vest and the rockers identifying his service in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Yes, sir.” “Well, don’t you find it upsetting to see a bunch of kids disrespecting the Marine Corps by talking about gay veterans? I mean, I know there has to be a few, but they were probably worthless.” CJ and his friends had approached Brett after they had finished with their small ceremony and were listening to the exchange. He clenched and unclenched his fists, burying the desire to throttle the man speaking to his father. “Actually, I find your attitude and comments to be utterly disgusting.” Brett’s tone was clipped and CJ was certain the placid expression he gave the man belied the anger he must be feeling. “Two of those kids happen to be mine and I’m damn proud of them and their friends.” The corners of CJ’s mouth ticked upwards as he watched and listened. While he was used to his father’s forceful demeanor, the rest of his friends had never seen the retired marine in a fighting mood. More than one jaw went slack when they heard Brett speak. The stranger seemed nervous as the group of students came closer and formed a jagged semi-circle in front of the two older men. CJ stood at the center and draped an arm around Ritchie, pulling him close to his body when Brett expressed his pride in the two of them. “Your homophobic remark is offensive to me and I’m certain to most of us who’ve worn the uniform. You must have never served or you would know marines, regardless of their sexual orientation, don’t appreciate dismissive remarks about fellow Corps members.” “Sorry…” The man’s mumbled apology was hard to hear as he shifted from foot to foot in obvious discomfort. “Yeah, well, next time think before you speak and show some respect for all who had the guts to enlist. And for the record, I happen to be one of those gay servicemen you just dissed.” Brett looked at the man one last time and then turned his attention to the students. “Come on, kids, let’s hit the McDonald’s on Glebe Road for lunch. My treat.” Later in the day, most of the same group of students gathered at the bowling alley Dr. Matt Calhoun had reserved for a portion of the evening. It was Chipper’s eighteenth birthday. While the teen and his friends gorged on chicken wings and pizza, Matt sat in a corner of the bar, trying to remain inconspicuous in the softer lit area of the establishment. “Are you gonna miss him next year?” Dasan Turner, Matt’s partner, sat next to the physician while nursing his cocktail. His question caught CJ’s attention as he walked out of the restroom and he stopped to eavesdrop. Matt tilted his head and stared at his companion. “Huh?” “I asked if you’re you going to miss him next year. I mean Chipper. You know, after he moves out to go to college?” “Hell, yeah! It’s going to be weird not having him and his friends around on a daily basis. Agreeing to let him move in with me was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.” “You ever wish you’d stayed with his father and raised him together?” Matt hesitated for a moment before replying. “Maybe a little at first. But it passed. Chip’s philandering would have destroyed the relationship sooner or later. And I’m not sure how Chipper would have reacted. It was bad enough the kid rejected his father when he found out he cheated on me. If he’d lived through it, who knows how bad his reaction might have been.” “Yeah, I guess. He’s a good boy, I’ve enjoyed being around him since I moved in with you guys.” “Can’t take credit for it. His mother did a tremendous job raising him and his sister. And CJ’s taken care of smoothing out any rough edges.” “What do you mean?” “Haven’t you noticed how CJ’s the center of the universe with all those kids?” Matt waved his glass in the direction of the raucous group before taking a sip. “The kid’s a natural leader. They all look up to him and listen to what he has to say. César and Brett are a pair of lucky fuckers. They got a smart but scared kid two years ago. They treated him with respect, gave him rope to find his own way, and they’ve been rewarded with someone who’s gonna go far. He’s been the best possible influence on Chipper.” CJ felt his cheeks warm up. No matter how hard he tried, compliments almost always made him blush. He stepped back inside the restroom, threw water on his face, and waited until he’d relaxed before walking out again. He’d insisted the core group of friends split up when they chose bowling lanes―he didn’t want any of the other guys and girls to feel as if they were not part of the group―and realized they’d all followed his suggestion without questioning him. • • • “We want our room back!” CJ, Owen, Ritchie, and Rod were in the basement when Tyler and Randy stomped down the stairs and interrupted their pool game. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and the guys had been waiting for the Chicago branch of the Abelló family to arrive. The grandparents had flown in on Saturday and the house was once again full with every room occupied. “Sorry, bro, but I think you’re shit out of luck.” Rod dumped the cue stick he’d been using atop the felt and strolled towards the new arrivals, greeting them with a hug. “Our cousin and his boyfriend have taken it over and I don’t think they’re about to let go.” “Hi, Ritchie.” The boy appeared surprised when Randy wrapped him up in his arms even though CJ had been telling him the cousins would treat him like a member of the family. “I understand you gave up your room this weekend so my parents could use it. Now, why can’t your older brother be as accommodating as you?” “I’ve got your accommodation right here, dickhead!” CJ laughed while grabbing his crotch and slapped his cousin on the shoulder. “Hey, Ty. It’s so nice to see you. Are you sure you want to marry my cousin? I could set you up with a nice guy if you want. Ozzie plays rugby with a bunch of hunky men.” “Nah… Thanks, CJ. I think I’ll stick with your cousin.” “Okay, but if you change your mind…” “I may have to rethink you being one of the groomsmen, cuz.” Randy dropped the backpack he was carrying on the floor and shook his head. “I don’t need your shit. So what room do we get this year?” “I took the one next to CJ and Ozzie, Randy.” Ritchie seemed pleased to be part of the conversation between the older guys. “But I can move if you guys want that one. I don’t mind.” “You’re a good kid, Ritchie. You know that? Ty and I will take the empty one, no need for you to move again. Not sure I want to be next to those two when they start making noise anyway.” “Hey!” Owen shouted. “Don’t make me part of an Abelló family fight, mate.” “Give it up, Ozzie.” Rod draped an arm over the blonde’s shoulders and gave him an affectionate tap to the chin with his fist. “You’re part of this family already. You’re fair game.” • • • “Good afternoon, everybody. Please have a seat.” President Obama glanced at the assembled guest, rolled his eyes and shook his head. ““I know some folks think this tradition is a little silly. I do not disagree. It seems only yesterday I first undertook the awesome responsibility of anointing the annual Totus. The Turkey of the United States. How time flies… even if turkeys don’t.” CJ chuckled at President Obama’s opening remark while looking around the Rose Garden. Sasha Obama had invited Ritchie to attend the event and the boy had in turned asked his brother to go to the White House with him. The two of them―and two other classmates of Sasha and Ritchie’s at Sidwell Friends School―stood to the side and back of the president as he spoke. “Dad loves doing this. He gets to tell all sorts of corny jokes.” Malia Obama cupped CJ’s ear so she could whisper to him. They’d met minutes before, immediately connecting when they realized both were seniors in high school. “I think he’s funny. I always like it when he’s on one of the late night shows.” “Sure, you get to hear the best lines. You don’t have to suffer through all the lame ones my sister and I have to put up with.” “Trust me, Malia, my dad’s just as bad. I keep reminding him he has to upgrade his jokes.” “I’m here to announce what I’m certain will be the most talked-about executive decision this month. Today, I’m taking an action fully within my legal authority―the same kind of action taken by Democrat and Republican presidents before me―to spare the lives of two turkeys, Honest and Abe, from a terrible and delicious fate.” “Are you going to college next year? You said you go to Walls and I know that’s a great school. I think most of their graduates go on to universities all over.” Malia stood with hands clasped in front, smiling, while her father spoke. CJ realized she’d been through this event for seven years in a row, in all likelihood accounting for her lack of interest in the proceedings. “Oh, yeah. I’m definitely going to college. What about you?” “Me too. But I’m thinking about taking a gap year. Mom and Dad seem okay with the idea but I haven’t decided yet. Where do you want to go?” “As you may have heard, for months there has been a fierce competition between a bunch of turkeys trying to win their way into the White House.” The President’s oblique reference to the presidential campaign brought renewed chuckles from the audience Well, today I can announce that the American people have spoken, and we have two winners.” “So how come you don’t go to Sidwell, CJ?” Sasha’s question allowed CJ the chance to avoid answering where he planned on going to college. “Ummm, I moved up to Washington two years ago from Miami. One of my dads was working at the Pentagon at the time―he’s a marine―and I met the principal of Walls at a function there because her husband was my dad’s boss. She convinced me to apply to Walls.” “It is important to know turkeys have always had powerful allies. Many of you know Benjamin Franklin once wrote, ‘I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character…the turkey is, in comparison, a much more respectable bird.’ I think these two turkeys would agree with Mr. Franklin. And they’ll get to live out the rest of their days, respectably, at a Virginia estate with 10,000 acres of roaming space.” “Did you say dads?” Malia appeared somewhat surprised. CJ smiled, he was used to similar reactions when he mentioned he had two fathers. “Yeah, I have two of those.” “Oh, wow, that’s so cool. So they adopted you and your brother?” “It’s kinda complicated.” CJ raised his hand to muffle the chuckle threatening to disturb the event. “I’ll explain after your dad’s done talking.” “I know some will call this amnesty. They’d rather have us build a wall around the flock. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of turkey to go around. In fact, later this afternoon, the First Lady, the kids, and I will take two turkeys that didn’t make the cut to a local food pantry. A place which works hard year-round to make sure folks in our Nation’s Capital have food to eat and clothes to wear. I want to thank The Turkey Farm in Pennsylvania for once again donating those birds. And for making Thanksgiving dinner possible for some of our fellow Americans.” “CJ?” Sasha and Ritchie had moved next to their siblings after the president had finished speaking and posed for pictures with the pardoned fowl. “I invited Ritchie to come with us to the food bank. Can he go?” Malia elbowed him gently from the other side. “That’s a great idea. You don’t have to be anywhere, do you? Hang out with us. You still have to finish telling me your story.” • • • “And then, after we took pictures with the president, we got to go upstairs. It was sooo cool. And Mrs. Obama was real nice. She had juice and these kinda healthy muffins for us.” Ritchie’s excitement over his visit to the White House, and to the residential portion of it in particular, had not diminished over the subsequent days. He’d told the story to the Abelló family Wednesday night over dinner. Then he’d repeated it on Thanksgiving Day to all the guests during the big meal, and was now sharing the experience once again with the group of friends gathered in the basement of the Prospect Street house. “I think my little brother enjoyed hanging out with the Obamas so much he no longer considers politicians to be boring.” CJ leaned backwards against Owen, tilted his head, and stole a kiss from his boyfriend. The two of them shared the large couch with Randy and Ty while Rod and the rest of the group had spread themselves all over the place. The football game they were supposedly watching played on the TV but was being ignored at the time. “He’s not a politician! He’s the president.” Ritchie sounded outraged. Thiago’s chuckling made Wingnut―sprawled between the college freshman and Ritchie―raise his head and then burrow underneath his owner’s hand looking for more scratching behind the ears. “I think he still qualifies as a politician, Ritchie.” “Maybe, but he’s not as bad as those guys on the Sunday morning talk shows. I don’t understand why CJ insists on watching them.” “Because I like to know what the people running our country think, bro.” “And because your brother has politics flowing through his veins, Ritchie.” Brad stood in front of the picture gallery, glancing at what Brett had referred to as CJ’s trophy wall. “If you guys look at all these damn pictures, you’ll notice all of us are in them. Ozzie’s in more than anyone except CJ, but apart from family, politicians are in them the most. And I’m sure the one you took with President Obama and Ritchie will be up here soon enough.” “Hey! Stop picking on me. I met most of those people because of the dads.” “Dude, don’t go blaming us because you like to hang out with those types.” All heads turned to catch Brett standing at the foot of the stairs with César, Tom, and JP. Both sets of parents were grinning and there was a hint of mischief in their eyes. CJ smiled and moved closer to Owen who surreptitiously pinched his boyfriend, eliciting a yelp. The two of them knew what was about to take place. “Hey, Cap, Mr. A!” Harley jumped from the bean bag he’d appropriated as his own a long time ago―black with orange details. He claimed it based on those being Harley-Davidson’s colors. “What are you guys doing down here?” “Last time I checked it’s our names on the title to the house, Harley. I know you all think CJ owns the joint but you’re wrong.” César’s deadpan delivery was marred by his grin. “What? The house’s not in my name? We’re gonna have to fix that, Dad.” CJ’s quip earned him a tickling attack from Owen and Randy and a shouted “asshole!” from his dads. The fathers walked further into the room and stood behind the couch; César held a handful of envelopes he slapped on the open palm of one hand. “Since the entire Squadron’s here―” “Come on, Dad, you too? Give me a fucking break!” CJ shook his head in disbelief and buried his face in his hands. “What’s the Squadron?” Ty asked. “That would be us.” Chipper waved a hand encompassing the room’s occupants. “It’s what Ritchie called us when he was describing our group of friends to Ozzie’s sister this past summer when they were on their road trip from Miami to Washington. CJ’s supposed to be our leader, so we’re CJ’s Squadron or Squad.” “So, anyway, most of you are already eighteen, except for CJ, Patrick, and Ritchie.” Brett pointed to each of them as he named them. “But in about a month we have another big birthday to celebrate.” “Go, CJ!” “Legal at last.” “Maybe now his pecker will finally start growing.” “Time to get a job and move out, cuz.” “He still can’t buy booze. He’ll be a real man in three years.” “FUCK ALL OF YOU! I swear I get no respect. Why’s everyone always picking on me?” “CJ, you’re whining. I thought that wasn’t allowed.” Ritchie’s comment earned him fist bumps and high fives from his brother’s friends. “He’s right, dude. Grow a pair and take it like a man.” Brett chuckled and ruffled his son’s hair. “Anyway, there’s three guys not here but we’ve spoken to them. Chatri sends his regrets but he doesn’t want to leave Helen alone while she’s pregnant. Sean begged off also. The time between Christmas and New Year’s a busy one at the bar and he can’t afford not to be there. Ethan’s home with his parents but he says he’ll be going.” “Going where, Cap?” “Well, to CJ’s birthday party, of course. Here’s the invitations.” César held up the sheaf of envelopes and handed them to Brett for distribution. “Don’t open those yet. Harley and Thiago, even though you’re adults, we’ve spoken to your parents and they’re fine with our plans.” Each envelope had a name on it and Brett passed them out to the intended recipient. “So, the birthday boy approached us a couple of months ago about doing something different to celebrate. We thought it would be fun and agreed to it. CJ? You wanna take it from here?” CJ gave Owen a peck on the lips and stood. “Back at the beginning of the year I found out the dads own a place in Colorado. Since my birthday falls while we’re out of school and I’ve never been out west, I thought it would be cool to have all of us go skiing together. Inside the envelope there’s an airline ticket for a round trip to Denver. We leave right after Christmas and return to Washington after the New Year.” “We’re going skiing?” “Our flight better be roundtrip from Chicago.” “You’re flying us out there?” “Pot’s legal in Colorado!” “Can we go snowmobiling?” “I’m snowboarding.” The guys tore open their envelopes to find boarding passes already printed for both legs of their trip, a tentative itinerary, and a picture of a chalet with snow-capped mountain in the background. They all talked at the same time. Comments and questions flew so fast, CJ couldn’t keep up. He decided to wait until they’d all calmed down before trying to respond. Once the guys had settled down, Patrick was the first one to speak while staring at his fathers. “Dad? Brad and I are supposed to be in Boston with Mom and Mac over Christmas.” “All taken care of, mate.” JP glanced at his husband for a moment, waiting for his consent before continuing. “Tom and I spoke to them and they’re fine with you boys skipping the trip to Boston this year. We agreed you can go up during your spring break instead.” “That’s going to be a long time without seeing Mom.” “We thought the same thing.” Tom walked towards his youngest son and took a seat on the armrest of the chair Patrick was curled up in. “Hilary and Mac will be coming down to Washington and we’ve invited them to join us for Christmas supper.” “Really? That’s awesome! Way to go, Dads!” Brad hugged JP before sliding over towards Tom and repeating the gesture. CJ tapped Thiago’s side with his stockinged foot; his friend remained on the floor, scratching Wingnut’s belly, looking pensive. “What’s going on, homey? You look deep in thought.” “Not much, just thinking. Who’s taking care of the pooch while we’re all away?” “JP and I will,” Tom replied. “Oh, okay, that makes sense.” Thiago stood, fished his phone out of the back pocket of his jeans and started walking toward the game room section of the basement. “I better call the ball and chain and let her know I’ll be gone for New Year’s Eve. Ignore any screaming you hear. I have a feeling she ain’t gonna be happy about it.”
  10. 48 likes
    Chapter 12 Liam was reeling from his conversation with Alek. So much of what he thought he knew about the man and his relationship with Natalia was wrong. They’d never been a real couple. Hell, the girl knew all about Alek being gay, and about Liam. Regardless of his newly single status, however, Alek had walked away from their relationship. Could Liam ever truly trust him again? Needing to talk to someone, Liam drove home and called his best friend. “Did you talk to him yet?” Marty asked before he even said hello. “Hello, Marty. I’m great. Thanks for asking.” “Stop being a drama queen and answer the question.” “Yeah, we had coffee today.” Liam lay across his bed, letting his legs dangle over the side. “It was illuminating.” “Are you going to make me ask, or are you going to tell me what happened?” Liam chuckled. “It would serve you right if I made you wait.” “Li….” “Fine, fine. I called Alek today and invited him out for coffee. I took your advice and made it clear I only wanted to talk.” “Do you think he understood that?” “I think so. He didn’t push, and he let me set the tone of the conversation.” “Good. I would hate to have to fly all of the way out there just to give him a beat down, no matter how satisfying it might be.” Liam snorted. “You just like being able to flex your muscle in front of people.” “Guilty as charged. So what happened? Did he say anything you didn’t already know?” “Well, he confirmed the girlfriend was only a friend. Apparently she’s known from the beginning he was gay. They were using each other as a beard.” “Interesting. Do you believe it?” “I might have been skeptical, but it goes along with what Natascha told me, and what motivation would he have lie to me? It’s not like we were together when they started dating. He didn’t owe me anything.” “He might be trying to impress you. Make you think he was faithful all this time.” “I guess so, but I didn’t get that vibe from him. I think he was being honest about this. He still thinks I’m with Nathan, and told me he hoped he made me happy.” “You didn’t tell him the truth?” “I wanted to, but he had to leave for work. Now I don’t know if I should.” “Are you thinking about taking him back again?” “I don’t know, Marty. I loved him… I still love him, but he really hurt me. I don’t know if I can trust him not to do the same thing again.” “You also have to consider what will happen when his father throws his money in his face. He could lose his business.” "Actually," Liam replied, grinning to himself at the thought, “he found another lender, so daddy dearest can’t lord that over him anymore.” “That’s great. That means he’s financially free to be himself, right?” “Apparently,” Liam mused. “You sound skeptical.” “I’m not skeptical of what he said… I’m skeptical about what it means. He had a year while we were together, and over six months after we broke up to be honest with his parents, and he never did it. I wasn’t enough to come out for. How can I trust he won’t push me away again if I decide to give him another chance?” “You’re right. No one can tell you Alek will never disappoint you again, not even Alek.” “You’re supposed to be telling me what to do here,” Liam said in a huff. “When have you ever listened when someone tried to tell you what to do?” “Fine, but you could still tell me anyway,” Liam responded, hearing the whine in his voice. “I don’t know what to do here. I love the guy, but he walked away from me.” “He did,” Marty agreed. “He let the best thing to ever happen to him get away. That’s on him. You don’t owe him anything. If you want to let him back into your life, then do it for you. This is about what you can handle, and what you want. Would I trust the guy again? No, probably not. I didn’t take Amy back when she came crawling a few months ago, but you’re not me. What do you want, Liam?” “Wait. What? Amy came back? You never told me that.” “There wasn’t much to tell.” Marty replied. “She showed up on my doorstep and wanted to start up where we left off. I told her I wasn’t interested.” “But you were in love with her. I thought you would have been happy to have her back.” “Maybe in the first couple of months, but I’ve moved on since then. I’m happy with the life I have now. I’ve enjoyed dating, and I’m still in the process of possibly moving closer to you. I don’t have room for her in my life anymore.” Liam was quiet as he mulled over what Marty told him. “Don’t do that, Li,” Marty said, interrupting his thoughts. “Our situations aren’t the same... WE aren’t the same people. You can’t make your decisions based on my life.” “I know that. I wish I could see into the future. The idea of trusting him again is terrifying.” “I know it is.” Marty was quiet for a moment before speaking again. “I’ll support you, no matter what you decide.” “Thank you. Your support means a lot, even if I wish you would just make my decisions for me.” Marty’s laugh was loud over the speaker. “You would hate it and you know it.” “Thank you for listening to my rambling.” “Anytime, Shorty.” Liam ended the call and pulled the pillow over his head, blocking out the overhead light. Why was love so damned complicated? Happily ever after, my ass. The next morning, Liam left Corey’s clinic after a particularly tough workout. His doctor had finally cleared him for work, and Liam was excited to come back in a week as an employee and not just a patient. Judging by Corey’s reaction to the news, he was looking forward to the return of his ‘favourite employee’ as well. With a smile on his face, he parked the car and hopped out, hoping to grab a tea at the café before heading home to scrounge something to eat. He wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings and nearly bowled someone over as he walked through the door. An apology stalled on his lips as he recognized Elena, standing immediately in front of her much taller brother. “Liam,” she greeted him with a smile. “You look like a man on a mission.” Liam laughed, embarrassed. “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.” “It’s all right,” Alek interjected. “Elena wasn’t paying attention either. She was too busy looking over her shoulder trying to convince me to give her half of my donut.” “Traitor,” the young woman scolded. “I was too paying attention.” The banter between the siblings made Liam smile. These two were always like this when together. “Coffee break?” he asked, knowing Alek normally worked on Saturday mornings. “I took the day off, actually. El had some problems with her beater, so I came out to drop her off at work and pick up her car.” Liam looked over his shoulder and saw the tow truck parked across the street. “That was nice of you. How late were you out last night?” “Last night?” Elena inquired, looking back and forth between the two men. “You were out last night?” She raised her eyebrow and smirked. “Nothing like that,” Alek retorted. “I got a call out to an accident.” He turned his attention to Liam. “It was a bigger mess than they thought. Neither vehicle was driveable. I didn’t get home until around three.” “Alek.” Elena slapped her brother’s chest and narrowed her eyes as she glared at him. “Why didn’t you tell me? I never would have dragged you out of bed. I could have taken a cab.” “I didn’t tell you because it didn’t matter. You’re my baby sister. You needed me, so I came. End of story.” Liam smiled. It was like Alek to put his family before himself. Liam suspected it was why he had trouble disappointing his parents. Too bad Liam didn’t rate being high on that list. With an internal sigh he pushed away his bitterness and turned his attention back to the conversation. “Would the two of you like to join me for lunch?” he asked before he thought better of it. “I’m starved after being put through the paces by Corey.” Liam wasn’t sure why he was doing this, and judging by Alek’s confused expression, he was just as baffled. Elena, on the other hand, looked thrilled. “I wish I could stay, but I really do have to get to the clinic.” Elena turned to her brother, giving him a suspiciously innocent look. “I would hate for Liam to have to eat alone. Why don’t you stay? I can take a cab from here.” “Elena….” “I insist,” she interrupted. “Liam, it was wonderful to see you again. I’m taking a rain check on lunch. Maybe we can get together next week?” Without waiting for an answer she swept out of the building and hailed a passing cab, leaving both men silently watching her exit. “So,” Alek cleared his throat, his amused gaze meeting Liam’s. “Lunch?” The second Alek gestured for Liam to lead the way to the counter, his heart started to pound. What had he done? He didn’t want to give Alek false hope, and he still wasn’t sure he could truly get over the hurt inflicted, but the invitation felt right. Oh well, he thought. It’s too late now. After placing his order, he led the way to a table which might afford them a little more privacy. There were a few things he wanted to discuss. The two men sat quietly for a few moments before Alek finally broke the silence. “I’m really happy you invited me, but I have to admit I’m surprised.” Stalling, Liam took a fortifying sip of tea. “Honestly, I wanted to clear the air about something, and I didn’t feel right telling you by text or over the phone.” “Oh?” Alek stiffened slightly. “Nathan isn’t my boyfriend. We’re not together.” “You’re… you’re not dating?” “No, we’re not, but he has become a dear friend of mine.” “But Elena told me she saw the two of you holding hands. And Bryce said….” Liam sighed. “Elena misinterpreted. She saw one friend giving comfort to another. As for Bryce? He’s protective. I’m sure he thought he was doing me a favour.” Alek’s eyes were wider than normal and he appeared shell-shocked. “That sounds like something Bryce would do. He’s always given me a hard time.” “He hated that I chose to step back into the closet, and blamed you for it. It goes against his flamboyant nature.” “I’m not sure what to say. This is a surprise.” Liam took a breath and steeled himself for what he was going to say next. “Don’t misunderstand. I didn’t tell you this because I wanted us back together. I thought you deserved the truth.” Alek deflated slightly, but not as much as Liam would have thought. “Even when you were single, I never let myself believe you would give me another chance. I’ll be honest… it was easier not to have hope when I thought you’d found someone else, but I won’t put any pressure on you. I know you don’t want an ‘us’ anymore.” “Thank you,” Liam responded, feeling himself relax, even as a feeling of sadness settled through him. “I don’t know if it’s possible, but I would like to try to be friends again someday.” Alek didn’t respond right away. Both men quietly concentrated on their meals for several minutes before Alek finally spoke. Liam fidgeted, unsure of what Alek was thinking, “Are you sure you can do that? Be my friend, I mean,” he asked. “I know how much I hurt you. Friendship is a lot to ask.” “To be honest, I don’t know if I can do it, but I know I’m tired of being angry. I want to get past that. We might not be able to hang out like buddies, but I think we can be civil, and maybe even have dinner together once in a while.” Liam raised his bagel in a salute before taking another bite. “I’d like that.” Alek smile was tentative, and he seemed unsure of himself as he picked his sandwich apart. “How have you been? We talked a little about me last night, but I don’t know what’s been happening in your life.” “Well, you know about the accident,” Liam began, earning an eye roll and mock scowl. “I finally decided to go back to school.” “You did?” Alek leaned forward, looking as excited as Corey had about the news. “That’s wonderful.” “Yeah. I applied to the Queen’s University physiotherapy program. I should find out in a few weeks if I got in.” “You’ll get in,” Alek replied, sounding confident. “You’re one of the smartest men I know.” “I don’t know about that, but thank you for the vote of confidence. Corey’s pretty stoked.” “I’m sure he is. He’s been after you about school for as long as I’ve known him.” “Yes, he has. Well he got his wish. I hope I don’t disappoint him.” “I can’t see how you could. If I know Corey, he’ll be scheduling study sessions around patients.” That comment had Liam laughing so hard his eyes began to water. “Oh, God. Now I’m picturing him following me down the halls, book in hand, quizzing me about the skeletal system.” “Or showing up at your house before class because he knows you have a test that day and wants to help you cram.” Both men were soon laughing, lunch momentarily forgotten. Liam told Alek more about the program, and Alek told him how busy the garage had become. Before Liam knew it, an hour had passed, and their food was long gone. Alek was listening to Liam lament about wanting his cast off when the big Russian yawned. “I know I’m not the most interesting guy in the world, but this must be the first time I’ve put someone to sleep.” Alek’s blush was adorable. “Sorry. It’s not you. I guess I was more tired than I thought.” Liam patted Alek’s arm. “We should probably be going anyways. Go home and take a nap.” Alek’s smile turned melancholy. “I don’t really want this to end. I know it was just lunch, and I have no expectations, but I feel like when we leave here, we’re never going to be this comfortable with each other again.” He looked down at the table. “That probably sounds stupid.” “No, I think I understand. This was spur of the moment. Neither of us expected it, so it was easier. If we want to spend time together again, it’ll have to be planned, and that could be awkward.” “Yes, that’s it exactly. I haven’t had this much fun since before… well you know.” “I’m sorry I can’t say anything to make this better,” Liam said softly. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know I’m tired of being angry and hurt. Being here with you… the sense of normalcy, it helped more than you can know.” “Then it was worth it,” Alek responded while reaching across the table to squeeze his good hand. “No matter what tomorrow brings.”
  11. 45 likes
    Chapter 13 Liam grabbed his bag out of the trunk of the rental he was driving. Parking at Pearson Airport was just as crazy as he remembered from his last trip. Heading for the entrance, he followed the signs for the departure gates. Luckily, Terminal 1 wasn’t quite as busy as the one for international flights. Check-in was smooth, and he was soon sitting at his gate waiting to board a flight to Halifax. Liam smiled when he thought of seeing Marty and his parents again. He’d called him yesterday as soon as he’d gotten home, needing to hear his best friend’s voice. When Liam mentioned how bored he was waiting to go back to work, Marty had invited him to Halifax for a few days. He had a week before work and then school consumed him. If he was ever going to be spontaneous, the time was now. Within an hour of hanging up the phone, he’d booked a morning flight, texted Corey to tell him where he was going, and then arranged for Bryce to cat-sit for a few days. Corey wished him safe travels and said he would see him bright and early next Monday. The flight was uneventful, and since he’d only packed a carry-on, he was able to bypass the baggage claim area. Moments after stepping through the security doors he heard an excited voice calling his name. Marty’s mother, Eileen, near the entrance, was waving and making a bee-line towards him. He couldn’t have stopped his happy grin if he’d tried. “Eileen,” he said, letting himself be pulled into a tight hug. “It’s so good to see you.” The short, slim woman pushed him back gently and looked him up and down. “We were so relieved when Marty said you were doing better.” She touched the scar above his eye. “Oh, sweetheart. I was so worried about you.” Liam felt tears stinging his eyes. Eileen had been like a mother to him over the years. She was a kind but fierce woman, and had called as soon as Marty told her about his accident, scolding Liam for not calling himself. He had felt like he’d been taken to task by his own mother, and the thought still warmed him. “I’m much better. Everything is healing well, and Corey has me on an exercise program to rebuild my strength.” “Come,” she said with a grin. “Let’s go home. I have lunch ready and waiting. You and Marty will be having dinner with Walter and me before Marty steals you away.” After another quick hug, she led the way to her vehicle. “How is Walter?” Liam asked, settling into the passenger seat of the older model vehicle. No matter how many times Marty had offered to buy her something newer, she’d refused, not understanding the need people had nowadays to always have the best and the shiniest of everything. It was an argument Marty was never going to win. “He’s the same as always… stubborn.” Eileen shook her head. “He would have come with me to pick you up, but he’s helping one of the neighbours with a tree that fell on his shed.” “That’s good of him.” Eileen snorted a laugh. “It is, but I know he’s also looking forward to the homemade cannoli John’s wife, Marie, makes.” Liam chuckled. “He’s still resisting the diet?” “Walter’s good most days, but there are times when I swear I smell fast food on him.” Eileen grinned. “He thinks he’s fooling me, but he should know better. I’m fine with a hamburger here or there, but he needed to stop having them so often. The salt wasn’t good for his blood pressure. We’re eating healthier at home, so an indulgence now and then won’t hurt, and the silly man feels like he’s getting away with something.” “You’re a wily woman,” Liam responded with a hearty laugh. God, he missed these people. His family. The drive to the Harrison’s house took a little under an hour. They lived in the same house they’d owned when Liam was a boy. He’d spent so much time there with Marty, it felt like coming home. The place even smelled the same; like homemade bread and chocolate chip cookies. Liam left his bag by the door, and followed Eileen to the kitchen. There were already plates and cutlery on the table, and Eileen was pulling a platter of various sandwiches, as well as cut up fruit and vegetables, from the fridge. “How many people are you expecting?” Liam asked with a laugh, taking the tray and placing it in the middle of the table. “Only the three of us,” she replied, unrepentant, as she looked at the microwave clock. “If Walter can tear himself away from those cannolis.” Liam shook his head in amusement, and took a seat across from the woman he considered to be a second mother. “You know I can’t pack away food like Marty, don’t you?” “Oh hush,” she scolded, loading a plate and handing it to him. “I remember how much you and Marty could eat in a sitting. I swear I thought the two of you would need to be rolled out of the kitchen some days.” Liam obediently took his plate and started in on a roast beef sandwich on thick, heavenly bread, which he knew from experience was homemade. “This is delicious. Thank you.” “You’re welcome, sweetheart.” She stood and kissed the top of his head before returning to the fridge for a pitcher of juice. “Eat up. If I know my son, all you’ll be eating during the week are leftovers and takeout.” Liam chuckled. “Actually, he fed me rather well when he took take care of me. You would have been proud of his marinara.” Eileen beamed with pleasure. “I was surprised when he came to me for cooking lessons. I’m happy to hear he actually listened.” There was a commotion at the front door announcing Walter’s return. “Is Liam here yet?” “Yes, dear. We’re in the kitchen having lunch.” Walter entered the room, looking a little red from the cool breeze outside. “Liam, my boy. It’s good to finally have you home.” The man, who had more salt than pepper in his beard and a little less hair on his head than Liam remembered, pulled him into a bear hug. “I’ve missed you guys,” Liam responded honestly. “You’re always welcome here, son,” Walter responded, taking a plate from his wife, and thanking her with a smile. “This place isn’t the same since you and Marty grew up and stopped playing rock music so loud the plaster fell off the ceiling.” Liam choked on his bite of carrot, unable to stop the bubble of laughter that escaped. “We never played our music that loudly.” Walter raised a bushy eyebrow at him and Liam snickered. “Okay it happened a couple of times, but we were going to be famous.” The rest of the afternoon was spent in the pleasant company of his substitute parents. He’d forgotten how comfortable he was around them. They’d always made him feel as loved, and doted on him as much as Marty. Liam was helping clean the kitchen, over Eileen’s protests, when she turned to him, her hands sudsy with wash water. “Marty told us Alek was bothering you at the hospital. Are you all right? Did he take the hint and leave you alone?” Eileen had been as angry as a mother bear over her cub when Liam had told her about the breakup. If she’d lived any closer, there was a good chance she would have kicked Alek in the ass herself. Her words of comfort still made Liam smile: No one makes my children feel like second best and gets away with it. Anyone who doesn’t treat you like the gift you are does not deserve you. “Actually, Alek and I have talked since the hospital.” Liam hung up the dishtowel before meeting her worried gaze. “He apologized for his part in causing the break-up, and I found out he came out to his parents.” Her eyes widened almost comically. “Really? You must have fallen off your chair in shock.” Liam laughed. “Oh, I was shocked. Apparently he’d done it even while thinking I’d moved on and was with someone else.” “I think there’s a story there.” Eileen led him to the table and gestured for him to sit while she put on the kettle for tea. Once she had two cups brewed, she placed one in front of Liam and took the seat next to him. “Okay, tell me. What happened?” Liam wrapped his fingers around the warm mug, enjoying the heat, before rehashing everything that had happened involving Alek since the accident. Eileen sat quietly, only moving to reach for his hand as he spoke. “Oh sweetheart,” she said softly when he was done talking. “It’s no wonder you’re confused. This is what you’ve wanted for so long, but the timing… it would make anyone need to take a step back. Trust is a hard thing to rebuild once it’s been broken. I think this trip will give you just what you need: time with your family, and space to think.” Eileen pulled Liam into a gentle hug, comforting him like she had since he was a young boy. “I love you guys,” Liam said quietly, breathing in her soft floral scent. “I don’t think I say that enough. I’ve always appreciated how you were there for me when dad died.” “We wouldn’t have been anywhere else. You might not be our flesh and blood, but you’ve always been ours.” A scuffing noise from the threshold made Liam pull away from the embrace and quickly wipe the stray tears away. When he turned back, he saw Marty leaning against the doorjamb with a sad smile on his face. “Are you hassling Liam about not visiting more, Mom?” he gently teased before entering the room and giving his mother a kiss on her forehead. “Is it that time already?” Eileen asked, smiling at her son. “We didn’t expect you until closer to five.” “It’s a little after five now.” “Oh dear. I should get dinner started. We were catching up, and the time got away from me.” “Do you need any help?” Liam asked, standing. “From my boys? Of course.” Soon, Eileen had both Liam and Marty chopping vegetables for a salad while she put together the rest of dinner. In no time they were all sitting around the table, filling their plates and laughing at stories about the antics Marty and Liam had gotten into growing up. It felt like Liam had never left as he looked around the table at the family of his heart. “It wasn’t that bad, Dad,” Marty said as he laughed. “Just a small dent.” The senior Harrison snorted. “Small dent, my ass. I still have no idea what possessed you two to play ball hockey right beside my car.” Liam flushed, still contrite since he was the one who’d missed the save, leaving Walter’s car open to damage by the hard plastic ball. They’d gotten into a lot of trouble that day, with both boys being grounded by their respective fathers. As penance, Marty and Liam had to do yard work to pay off the repair bill. After dinner Liam was full and exhausted. He fought to keep his eyes open and his attention on the conversation. Luckily, Marty seemed to sense how tired he was. “I should get Liam back to my place. I’m sure he needs some time to unpack and decompress. It’s not a long flight, but it can take a lot out of a person.” Liam smiled gratefully at his friend, and after hugs all around, they piled into the car for the short drive to Marty’s downtown condo. Marty wasn’t one for trendy or upscale, and said on more than one occasion he would have preferred a country home, but the building was close to the office. Liam had been to Marty’s place a couple of times, so a tour was unnecessary. He didn’t even need to be told where to stow his gear, and went directly to the spare bedroom to put his clothes away. “You’ve changed the place around,” he said with a grin when he found Marty in the kitchen. The living room and guestroom had been completely re-arranged, and Liam suspected the master had also received the same treatment. “I dated someone into Feng Shui,” Mary replied, with his cheeks pinking slightly. “She kept babbling about flow and harmony until I finally gave in and let her rearrange everything.” “Which one was this?” “Heather.” “Didn’t you two only date for a few weeks?” “Yep. She didn’t last long after she tried to rearrange my office. You know how I am about my office. ” Liam shook his head, and accepted the mug of tea Marty handed to him. “Thanks. I love that you have Earl Gray in your cupboards, even with me living so far away.” “I replenished my stash the second you said you were coming to visit.” His friend winked and took a sip of the beer he’d opened. “Anything special you want to do tonight? Check out our old haunts? Hit a club?” “If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to just chill out here. I know you haven’t been gone that long, but I’ve missed you.” Liam looked down at his cup, swirling the hot liquid. “I missed you too, Shorty.” Liam smiled when Marty pulled him to his strong chest. “How about we put something mindless on the television, and catch up on everything you haven’t told me since I’ve been gone.” Liam laughed, giving Marty a hip bump. “Why do you think I haven’t told you everything?” “Because I know you. You either don’t want me to worry about you or you don’t want me to kill Alek.” Snickering, Liam led the way to the brown leather couch, sinking into the butter soft cushions. “Well,” he said, leaning into Marty’s embrace. “I told Alek I wanted to try to be friends….”
  12. 45 likes
    Chapter 6 "So, where were you?" Jose finally asked. Declan shrugged. "Just walking a bit." "What did Chris mean by you were 'taking care of some trash'?" Alex pressed. "He's just being a smartass," Declan said vaguely. "Fine, whatever." Alex shoved his hands in his pockets, obviously not interested enough to press for a more thorough answer. They walked back to the campus, talking mostly about the last week's practices. Of course, Alex and Jose avoided mentioning the weight room fiasco. "Chris was on fire this week," Jose commented. "I think we have a good shot at the playoffs this year." "Especially if Dec here tackles our opponents like he was doing to our offense today," Alex laughed. "Oh, screw you," Declan grumbled. "You offensive guys need to learn to take some hard hits." Alex rubbed at his side. "Yeah, right. Thanks so much for the 'unnecessary roughness'." "We'd do fine if Lachlan was quarterback too," Declan threw out. Lachlan was good, but Chris had been their quarterback for the last two years, leading them to the playoffs each time. Jose gave Declan an odd look, like he couldn't believe what he'd just suggested. "Why would Coach put in Lachlan when Chris gets it done?" "Maybe Chris won't always be there," Declan answered ambiguously. "He could get hurt... or something." Both his teammates eyed him oddly, obviously wondering just what the hell he was alluding to. Declan wasn't sure what he wanted to happen. He knew Bailey had every right to turn Chris and Eric in, but would he? It didn't sound like he was going to, in which case, the team would continue under Chris Vasser's leadership. But did they really need someone like Chris leading them? If they knew what Chris was truly capable of, would the team still stand behind the guy, just to win a few games? Declan couldn't decide what he wanted Bailey to do, and he worried what might happen to both the team and Bailey himself if Chris were kicked off the team, maybe even expelled. By the time they got to the student union, most of the team was already hanging out, crowding around the snacks and sandwiches that had been picked up. Declan noticed quite a few non-football guys hanging out as well. He caught sight of Ian, with his casted arm in a sling, talking with Pat and Nick. Chris appeared on the steps, descending from the second level. Eric, of course, was following in his wake. A few of the other guys came down with him, and Declan wondered just what they'd been doing up there. Chris headed over to start the movie, dimming the lights. He wore a crooked smile the whole time, which made Declan a little curious as to what exactly he'd been up to. As everyone settled into a seat around the big screen, Declan looked over when someone nudged him. Eddie, one of their running backs who'd been upstairs with Chris, leaned in as the opening sequence started up. "Bet you're happy." Declan frowned at him. "Why?" "Knowing that McIntyre kid cheated to keep up with you yesterday," Eddie said as he stared at the screen. Declan jerked around. "What? Who told you that?" Eddie grinned. "Bailey said it himself, to Chris. Don't think he realized Eric was recording it though..." Declan closed his eyes as he tried to process what Chris had done. Obviously, he'd shown the video to a few of the guys, probably what he'd really been doing upstairs. Now all Chris had to do was wait for the gossip to spread, to cast a blight on Bailey and his reputation. He could only imagine what would happen when Justin heard about it. The guy would probably explode. "I don't know about that. I can't see how he could have—" Declan said evasively. "Well, he must have, right? To beat you. It explains a lot." Eddie popped a chip in his mouth. Declan bit the inside of his lip. A part of him knew he should deny it, to admit that Bailey had beat him fair and square, but the little devil on his shoulder kept whispering in his ear to just keep quiet, let everyone think what they want. If he didn't say the rumor was true, then he wasn't lying. Right? **** By the time Monday came, Declan was even more confused than ever. He couldn't figure out what it was about Bailey McIntyre that was driving him crazy. He should just let Chris's rumor play out, restore his reputation, and ignore the little niggling voice in the back of his head telling him to do otherwise. And, for some reason, he couldn't get Bailey out of his mind. Not just the haunted, defeated stare as he'd looked up at Declan from the ground Friday night, but the moment their eyes met that morning on the track and his fierce determination as he'd walked away from Declan's aid. Thoughts of Bailey consumed him, and not like they had before, when he'd wanted to deck the guy. He'd seen a whole new side of Bailey Friday night and it intrigued him. He hadn't expected the slight teen to silently suffer Chris's abuse—and then walk away like he didn't care. Declan had thought Bailey would look to him like a hero, coming to save the day, but he hadn't. He'd rebuffed Declan—not that Declan had given him any reason to trust him anyway—and shrugged off the bullying like it was nothing new. And it apparently it wasn't. Bailey had told him as much. And didn't that just fire up Declan's protective streak like there was no tomorrow. Imagining guys even bigger than Chris tormenting Bailey had him clenching his fists. And then he'd imagine Bailey decked out in football gear, chasing down a receiver... Cornerback? Really? His own guilt swamped him—at having wanting to first destroy Bailey, and now practically crushing on him. He couldn't get his brain to decide what he wanted anymore. And it left him frustrated, horny, and angry on a Monday morning when he should be focusing on classes. The rumor Chris had started had been whispered through most of the student body by this morning. Justin, Cameron, and the rest of the gymnastics team, of course, out-right rebuffed the claim, and there were plenty who agreed with them. However, there were just as many willing to accept the rumor as at least a partial truth. Because, yeah, how could little Bailey McIntyre beat defensive lineman Declan Foster if he didn't cheat somehow? Declan continued to be evasive, saying he had no idea what Bailey had been doing as he'd been focused on his own pushups. Even when Logan, Evan and Micah demanded to know what was going on, he pretended to not know what they were talking about. That's right, just ignore it all, and it'll go away. Good thinking, Dec, he thought to himself. "Come on, Dec," Evan cajoled, "why is half the school saying Bailey cheated in that stupid pushup contest?" "I don't know. Chris is the one who said Bailey told him that." And you know he was forced to, just say so... "And why the fuck would Bailey admit that to Chris of all people?" Logan demanded, his crossed arms portraying exactly what he thought of the rumor. "God, I don't know!" Declan continued to deny anything—because sticking up for Bailey meant betraying his own team, and he couldn't bring himself to do that, even with the damn voice in his head telling him he should. "I think Chris is just making shit up," Micah decided as he flopped back on Evan's bed. Evan nodded. "Yeah, it sounds like something Chris would do." Declan had buried his nose in his textbook, studiously ignoring them. Evade. Evade their questions. While Declan noticed that a lot of his teammates didn't overtly validate the rumor, they didn't outright deny it either. Ben, especially, refused to say anything, and Declan knew he was just trying to keep peace with Chris to keep the team cohesive. Declan suspected several of his teammates didn't believe Chris's claim, even though a few guys said they'd seen the video. Declan noticed that Chris had only shown the video to a select handful who were most likely to believe it, some of the freshmen, a couple upperclassmen who tended to idolize Chris and his football abilities, but didn't really know that much about the guy otherwise. Declan was careful to keep to himself as much as he could on Monday. He wasn't sure what he'd do if he was confronted with Justin's hostility or even Bailey's passive pessimism. Fortunately, he didn't have Trig today, so he wouldn't have to face Bailey in class. Lunch, of course, was another matter. He'd barely sat down with Nick, Jaime, Lachlan, and Alex before he noticed Justin, Cameron and Owen stalking his way. "Oh, hell, look out," Jaime muttered under his breath. "What the hell is this stupid rumor about Bailey cheating?" Justin demanded. "I never said that," Declan admitted freely. "So don't look at me." Justin poked a finger in his chest. "You know he didn't, but you're not man enough to admit it. You'd let everyone believe that stupid shit just to save your precious reputation." Declan shot out of his seat, his face flushing red at the insult—no matter how true it might be. "I don't know what the hell happened. I didn't watch him while I was doing pushups, so what the hell do I know?" Justin glared at him, just shaking his head. "Whatever. We know the truth." "I heard Bailey told Chris himself," someone said from one of the other tables. A chorus of 'yeah's echoed around them. "'Course I don't really know Bailey, so maybe..." "He wouldn't do that," Owen defended. Declan flinched inwardly, knowing that Bailey had done exactly that just to get Chris to leave him alone. And part of the problem was that a lot of people didn't really know Bailey well enough to decide if he'd cheat or not. "Hey, Chris!" someone else yelled, drawing their attention to the quarterback coming out of the food line. "Did McIntyre really tell you he somehow cheated?" Chris ducked his chin slightly, appearing aggrieved at having to acknowledge the question. Justin, of course, was glaring at him. "Yes, he did—" "Liar!" Cameron spat out. Chris gaped, feigning shock at the outburst. "I'm only telling you what he said. He felt guilty or something... He's a good kid, and I think it was bothering him..." Declan had to admire Chris's smooth talking. He intentionally wasn't ridiculing Bailey or even Justin and his team because he knew that would throw suspicion on his claims. "Just ask him, if you don't believe me," Chris added casually, shocking Justin, Cameron and Owen with his confidence. "You know we will," Justin challenged. "Good. Let me know what he says," Chris said with a grin as he flopped in a chair next to Declan, popping a French fry in his mouth. Justin narrowed his eyes, obviously sensing something was wrong for Chris to be so self-assured that Bailey would admit to a wrong-doing that he hadn't done. "What's going on?" Mr. Bassinger suddenly interrupted, the physics teacher's hands were on his hips, obviously expecting some sort of problem. Chris held his hands up to the teacher on cafeteria monitor duty. "Nothing, sir." Mr. Bassinger eyed Justin's aggressive stance along with Owen and Cameron flanking him, as well as Declan standing there facing off with them. "Well, Mr. Greene, what's going on?" Justin's nostrils flared as he fought to keep his cool. "Nothing, sir. Just asking Declan a few questions is all." Bassinger's gaze shot back to Declan, who remained still and silent. "And did you get your answers? Or would you all like to join me in the Dean's office to talk it out some more?" Declan noticed Justin's fists clench before he shook his head. "No, sir, we're good. Thank you." Justin turned and stalked away amid a flurry of whispers as Mr. Bassinger's eyes continued to flick back and forth between the retreating trio and Declan's table. Declan slowly sat back down, nodding at the monitor who still had his hands on his hips obviously trying to decide if he should press the matter. As the cafeteria settled back into its normal chatter, Mr. Bassinger slowly drifted away. Declan's shoulders slumped as he tried to avoid the curious gazes half the student body was shooting their way. "Too bad Bailey wasn't here," Jaime muttered, "He could have just settled everything at once." "Hmm, I wonder where he is?" Lachlan pondered. "Probably hiding out," Chris put in. Nick lifted a brow at the team captain. "Did he really tell you he somehow cheated?" Chris rolled his eyes, obviously having had to answer that question many times. "Yes, I swear." He dug around in his pocket for a moment. "Here. Look." He pulled up the video. "I was practicing my awesome hacky sack skills..." he started, and the others rolled their eyes at him, knowing he was hardly more than a novice, "... and Eric was videoing for me, so I could figure out what I'm doing wrong, when Bailey came by. I guess he was on his way home..." Chris let Lachlan, Alex, Jaime, and Nick see the video. Declan pretended to pay attention, but all he could think about was Chris pinning Bailey against the dumpster and offering the chance for Declan to take his shot. Those dark thoughts lingered for a moment before he abruptly sat up. Chris still had the video on his phone. Which meant if someone told the Dean about it, they could see the evidence on Chris's phone... After the video finished, Nick scrunched his nose up. "I don't know... Bailey looks... scared or something..." "Of course he does, he was admitting he's a cheater," Chris scoffed. "Why wouldn't he look nervous?" "I don't know, maybe because he came across you and Eric on the way home. You two probably scared the shit out of the little guy," Jaime laughed. Declan noticed Chris tensed at Jaime's teasing. Jaime and Nick didn't realize just how spot-on they'd been. Declan could tell Chris was regretting showing the video to them. "You know, it's not a big deal," Chris said. "I didn't want to embarrass McIntyre by telling anyone, but..." He shrugged. "...Eric and I were just so surprised he'd told us, and we might have shown a few guys the video last night, and they told others about it. We didn't mean it to be a big deal. See, look, I'll even delete it. Gone. Done." Declan's brows shot up at the fact that Chris was erasing his 'evidence'. Although, with the way Nick and Jaime had questioned it, maybe Chris figured getting rid of it was better than keeping it at this point. Then no one could look at it too hard later and possibly realize just how fake it really was—especially if Bailey came forth and admitted to being bullied into saying it. Declan had a moment of regretting that he'd deleted the one Eric had sent him, just in case Bailey needed evidence later. Nick nodded at Chris's gesture. "Good. I don't think it'd be nice for you to show that around, you know." Chris nodded, his brows furrowed. "You're right. I shouldn't have let anyone see it. I didn't think it would spread like it did." Liar, Declan thought. That is exactly what you wanted to happen. Of course, that little voice just couldn't keep its mouth shut either. You're not any better, Declan, letting your team captain continue to bully McIntyre with your silence. **** Declan felt antsy throughout the rest of the afternoon. It felt like something horrible was looming on the horizon. Of course, it could just be his own brick-load of guilt weighing him down. Heading out to the practice field, Declan was sure the Coach was going to call Chris and Eric out on what had happened over the weekend. But he never did. Unfortunately, Chris's stunt with Bailey created a little divisiveness amongst the team that Declan was sure Chris hadn't anticipated. Chris's supporters were cackling and making rude jokes about Bailey, yet many of the team still whispered doubt—they'd been there, how could Bailey have cheated? Still, most kept their doubts to themselves, like Ben, not willing to cause fractures in the team's cohesion. Chris, wisely, kept his own mouth shut, apparently knowing his recklessness with the video might eventually backfire on him. Of course, Chris and Eric had deleted the copies of the videos they'd done from their phones, so there wasn't any 'evidence' left. Declan guessed that they figured if Bailey did say anything, it would be their word against his. Which is what Bailey had basically said as well—implying that he knew which way that would work out. Declan wondered again just what had happened in Bailey's past to make him think no one would listen. Questions about Bailey, and the way the guy had haunted Declan's thoughts for the entire weekend, had Declan rinsing quickly after practice and hurrying out of the locker room before any of his teammates. He made his way to the Auxiliary gyms, easily finding the entrance to Aux 2 where the gymnastics team practiced. He sighed in relief when he realized they were still in there, glad he hadn't missed trying to catch up with Bailey. He peeked through the small windows on the door, trying to pick out the various team members. Each one was on a different piece of equipment, the coach walking through yelling things Declan didn't understand. His eyes darted around, seeking out Bailey's black hair and tiny form. He'd skimmed over the rings twice, scanning over the other bodies flipping and spinning around the various apparatus, before he realized Bailey was the one on the rings. Declan watched the figure flip several times before landing—and falling—on the mat under the rings. The coach was standing there with crossed arms, and Declan felt a spear of sympathy. He knew what that frown from a coach meant, and he was sure Bailey was in for a 'talkin' to', as Nick would put it. It wasn't until Justin was practically at the door, ready to shove it open that Declan realized Coach Richards had dismissed the rest of the team. He'd been so focused on Bailey, he hadn't noticed the others clearing off the equipment, shoving something in little bags, slipping on flip-flops and heading for the door. "What the hell are you doing here?" Justin confronted Declan as soon as he'd come through the doors. The other four guys glared at him as well, and Declan figured their ire was well-founded considering their earlier confrontation at lunch. Declan certainly wasn't winning any friends among this group of guys anyway. "I-I just needed..." Declan's gaze flitted back to the small window where the coach was blocking his view of Bailey. "Needed what? Haven't you all done enough?" "I haven't done anything!" Declan cried out defensively. And that's pretty much the whole problem, isn't it, Dec? You've just sat back and kept your mouth shut, when you should be spilling your guts to your own Coach or even the Dean. You're letting your teammates bully a classmate. Heritage has made you better than that. Damn noble voice. "Get out of here," Cameron tossed back. "Look," Declan started calmly, "I just want to talk to Bailey for a minute." "He doesn't need another football player harassing him," Justin said. "So leave him alone." "What?" Declan nearly yelped in surprise. Bailey had told them? Then why the hell weren't they beating down Coach Reed's door demanding justice? "While Bailey might refuse to tell us anything, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Chris must have done something," Justin continued. "And I can't force Bailey to turn in the bastard. But I'll be damned if we're going to stand by and let you do it too." Declan was already shaking his head, the heat of shame creeping up his neck. "I swear I'm not going to do that. I may have said some stupid things, but you know I'm not like that, right?" Justin pursed his lips, thinking, as he exchanged glances with Luke, Mateo, Cameron, and Owen. Apparently, they came to some silent conclusion because Justin finally nodded. "Fine. But you can bet we'll be checking in on him to make sure none of you idiots do anything else." Declan nodded. "I swear, I just want to find out what's going on too." Justin appeared to be pondering Declan's sincerity. He finally glanced at his teammates, waving his hand down the hall. "You guys go ahead. I'll be there in a minute." A spike of anxiety shot through Declan that Justin might be looking to start something with him—just without witnesses. Cameron's smirk as he walked off with the others didn't help. Declan immediately went on the defensive when Justin turned back toward him. "I swear, I'm just looking to apologize, make sure he's okay, that's all." But Justin barely glanced at him. Instead, his eyes swept past him to the gym doors, focusing through the small windows. Declan chanced a look, noticing Bailey and the coach heading toward the rings. Justin harrumphed before smiling slightly. "Let me know if you find out what he's thinking or feeling. Bailey's always kept to himself. I doubt you're going to get anywhere." Declan didn't know what to say to that. Justin almost sounded wistful as they both turned to stare through the window. He remembered hearing Justin inviting Bailey to stay over in the dorms once, and Declan wondered again why Bailey wasn't housed in the dorms like the rest of the students. "Why doesn't he stay on campus?" Declan blurted out as they both watched Coach Richards help Bailey up to the rings. "He was going to, but then—" Justin cut himself off, pressing his lips together. "Well, it's not my place to say why, but he feels his mom needs him right now." The memory of how Bailey's mom had snapped at him Friday night had Declan frowning, and Declan remembered thinking that his dad must travel a lot. "Is it because his dad is gone?" Justin jerked, wide eyes staring back at him in surprise. Justin barely nodded. "Yeah, how did you know?" "Just guessed." Declan shrugged as he turned back to the window. "What is he...." his voice trailed off as he stared. Justin was grinning broadly next to him. It took Declan several seconds to comprehend just what he was seeing. "Holy fucking shit..." Declan gasped as he took in the figure practically suspended between the rings in a horizontal T position—with just his arms holding him up. "The Maltese," Justin said almost reverently. "Isn't it awesome?" Awesome? It was fucking amazing. How the hell did he do that? Could all of the gym guys do that? "You all can do that?" Declan whispered in wonder. Justin chuckled. "No, only Bailey. He's got several skills the rest of us don't. Luke is close to getting it. The Maltese is one of the hardest ring skills to master; takes a lot of strength and endurance. Plus, I think it helps that Bailey weighs next to nothing and is smaller. The whole leverage thing and all." Declan didn't even know what to think as Bailey skillfully levered himself to a handstand and then another T—just upside down. Declan nearly banged his head on the window trying to imprint every move Bailey made. When Bailey dropped into another T position that Declan recognized as an iron cross before flipping and twisting to land perfectly, Declan finally sucked in a breath he didn't know he'd been withholding. When Justin laughed and slapped him on the shoulder, Declan jumped. He'd been so lost in watching the masterful movements Bailey had been executing that he'd forgotten Justin was still there. "Don't forget what I said, Declan. Be nice, or I will hear about it, and you won't like the consequences." Declan just nodded through the idle threat as he listened to Justin's retreating footsteps. He turned back to the window in time to see Coach Richards speaking briefly to Bailey before nodding and turning to the door. Declan quickly backed up, so as to not get hit as the coach exited. A brief glance through the window, and he realized Bailey wasn't leaving yet. He had wandered over to the huge blue floor outlined in white lines. Coach Richards stopped abruptly at seeing Declan hovering outside the gym doors. "Did you need to see me, Mr. Foster?" "Oh, uh, no, sir," Declan stammered out, realizing that Richards might have thought he needed to talk about history class. "I was just waiting to talk to Bailey." "I see," Mr. Richards said, cocking his head to the side, his eyes narrowing, assessing. Declan tried not to cringe under the scrutiny, even though he was sure he hadn't done anything wrong. "Is there anything I need to be concerned about?" Declan's gaze flicked up, startled that the coach would ask that. Did he know something? Or was he just wondering about the weight room debacle? He couldn't know anything else, could he? Obviously, Bailey hadn't said anything, so it couldn't be about Friday night... "Uh, no, sir. I don't think so. I just wanted to apologize personally for what happened in the weight room last week, that's all." "Huh." Mr. Richards folded his arms across his chest, still considering. "I thought Chris and Justin were pretty much at fault there, goading each other on from what we determined." "Yes, sir. But I... I just felt bad that he and I got pitted against each other like that." Declan hoped that was a good enough explanation. Richards sighed, dropping his arms. "He's just stretching and cooling down a bit, but you can go on in." "Thank you, sir." Declan watched his history teacher head down the hallway before turning and quietly pulling the door open. He stopped just inside, hidden slightly in the shadows of the alcove created by the entrance. Bailey had dropped the things he'd had on his hands, some type of leathery contraption, on the floor nearby. His body was splotched in white chalk as he pressed from a seated straddled position into a handstand. For the first time, Declan really saw Bailey. Not the guy that Bailey tried to hide away under baggy shirts and pants. But the guy that Declan knew now, without a doubt, could easily beat him in a pushup contest. The corded muscles of Bailey shoulders strained under the effort to lift him to vertical with only his arms and absurdly crazy balance to get him there. Bailey's thin body wasn't just skinny as Declan had previously thought, it was sinewy and wiry with insane muscles that Declan was sure couldn't be possible on someone Bailey's size. "Holy shit..." he whispered out, still unable to reconcile the slim, powerful body he was watching with the tiny guy in the baggy sweats who'd been sitting on the floor of the weight room, or the guy Chris had pinned to the ground. Bailey suddenly dropped from his handstand, rolling out and scrambling to his feet. Declan's face flushed guiltily at having interrupted, but he stepped forward now that Bailey had noticed him. Declan cringed as Bailey pinned him with those stormy gray eyes—darker now in animosity. Bailey was definitely ready for a fight. And the way he'd straightened his shoulders and put his hands on his hips screamed defensiveness. "What do you want, Declan?" Well, now, that was the real question, now wasn't it?
  13. 45 likes
    It was a hot day. People complained about the coldness of the north, or mountains, but I preferred it to the hot sweltering heat of the south. I told almost everyone I was born in the wrong part of the world. I was a lousy Southerner. I hated grits or rice. Don’t offer me any greens, collard or mustard or whatever. I didn’t like nearly any beans, lima, butter or any other bean. We here in South Carolina seemed to never miss one of these items every day of the week. So, I sat in my little Ford Fusion with the air conditioning on full blast in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but what had to have been fields for crops that the trees that were around was trying to take back. And I mean nowhere. There was nothing around! The nearest sort of town was miles away. Let me explain. There were many islands on the coast. James Island, Johns Island, Kiawah Island, Seabrook Island and more. Now I didn’t know what this island was. It was below Kiawah, Seabrook and Edisto but above Huntington. That doesn’t help much, does it? Needless to say, I needed a job. My mother had come home the other day ranting that she’s made a big sale! She sold real estate and said she sold a property she didn’t even really know about. In the millions she told me. Property like this was usually sold to developers who built these great resorts or communities. The problem with this one was not a lot of beach. It was a little inland, the Harbor River ran next to it, so not many developers would pick it to build on, but Mom said the man she showed it to hardly even looked at it and seemed to know the island before he even got out of the car. In the office he’d asked if someone knew the area and would help him. My mother immediately thought of me. Why? I had just returned from nearly eight years in the Air Force. I had been a medic handling all kinds of injuries to men who also served in the Middle East. I was now twenty eight and I did know the area. “What does he need help with, Mom?” I asked. She shook her head of auburn hair. “The property had the ruins of a house on it. It may have been burned during the Civil War. He’ll need contacts with construction crews and things like that.” Mom smiled. “And you would know where to look and who was good at doing whatever he needs.” “But I don’t know that much about construction or things like that.” Mom frowned. “Devon McGee, you’re smart and you need a job.” She shrugged. “If you can’t, you’ll know who to refer Mr. Wentworth to.” Wentworth was a name everyone in Charleston knew. There was even a major street in historic downtown named Wentworth. There was a mansion downtown that was now a hotel and pretty ritzy. “Related to the Charleston’s Wentworths?” Mom shrugged. “His driver’s license says New York, but he did have a slight Southern accent. Not one of those real country ones, more of a softer, downtown sort of accent. You’ll see.” She handed me a paper with directions. “I said you’d meet him at ten in the morning. Its a little drive, but nice. Don’t be late.” I took the paper she handed me. “I’m never late.” And that was true. My late father had instilled on me it was important you were never late or you prove yourself untrustworthy. I normally arrived fifteen to twenty minutes early, sometimes more. So, I waited for this man, who I have to say Mom was a little charmed about. I watched as heat just made the air shimmer around me. My car said it was 95 outside, but I knew the heat index made it feel much hotter. It was about five to ten minutes before ten o’clock when I saw a car pull up behind me. Yep, he had money because what he drove was not a simple Chevy. It was a Mercedes something. The lone driver opened the door and got out. I got out too to greet the man. “Devon McGee?” The man asked me. I nodded. “If you’re Colin Wentworth I am.” I said extending my hand to him. “I am.” The man nodded shaking my hand. This Colin was puzzling. He looked like a young forty something or a mature thirty something. He was fit and big! He had to be over six feet and a few inches and trim. A powerful chest and he was tan. Dark brown…almost black hair and green eyes and not just a faint green, but emerald green. He was a very handsome man and I could see why my mother, who was just over fifty now was a little smitten. I favored my father having the black hair and brown eyes at five feet and ten inches. Colin’s hair was cut well and I could tell if he didn’t keep it cut, it would curl. I still had the military like cut. The other thing was his eyes. They were pretty, but they looked…old. Much older than even forty something, which I wasn’t sure he was that old, but his eyes said otherwise. Dressed casually…sort of. The pants weren’t jeans, but not khaki either. Beige and a green sports pull over. Polo? “Your mother said you could help.” Colin said. “You were raised here and know the area.” I nodded. “I was. I served overseas a lot while in the military, but I know the area pretty well.” Colin nodded. “Have you seen the house?” He jutted his head toward the path in the trees beyond. I shook my head. “I waited for you. I’d like to know what you want and see the place with you.” I looked through the trees. “To be honest, I didn’t even know there was a house here.” Colin nodded scratching his left ear. “Well, there’s not much left. There’s mostly ruins, but I plan to restore my ancestral home.” “So, you’re related to Frederick Wentworth.” I smiled. Colin gave a shrugging nod. “Distantly perhaps. My side of the family left here right before the Civil War, but it’s wasted land if I don’t bring it back. That’s just what I want to do.” He waved toward the opening in the trees. “I’ll show you around.” He got back in his car and started it. Once we were in the trees, it did get a little cooler, but not much. We got toward some overgrown ruins. Someone in the past thought Kudzu was great plant to bring here. Wrong! That Asian plant seemed to overgrow everything choking everything else out. It needed light and where the house had been there was more light and that plant had overgrown what remained of the house. I could see it had been a traditional Southern Plantation house. Columns in the front, but a lot of the surrounding house had fallen in. Watching Colin, I saw…sorrow? His eyes told me seeing the house like this was hurting him. Like it had happened to him personally. “We’ll have to get rid of this growth.” He pointed at the Kudzu. “And of course, we’ll have to clear a lot of the area so work trucks can come in.” He looked at the porch and then pushed on the front door, it didn’t matter if it was locked, we could go in a few feet away through the wall! Once inside, I saw a floor covered with tree limbs, leaves and other things. The feel under my shoe was hard, kicking away debris I saw a hard, stone floor. Marble? The entrance may have been grand at one time, but all that was left were some deteriorated walls, a gaping hole above, the remains of stairs that had taken you to the second floor, but there was very little of the second floor and much of it had collapsed due to weather and exposure. “I bet this place was amazing once.” I said softly as I looked around. Colin turned to me, but he smiled a little. “You can see that?” He nodded. “It was.” And then he hurried on. “I hear it was.” He looked at me firmly. “I want it completely restored. If we have to clear it all away to start over, fine, but it will be rebuilt.” I nodded. “That could be expensive.” “But worth it.” Colin pointed out. “This sort of building should never had died like this.” He looked again at me. “And it did die. Or rather it was killed. Now, I’m determined to bring her back. Can you help me with that?” Immediately I thought of a couple of people that had businesses that did just this sort of work. “I can.” Colin nodded satisfied. “We should start as soon as possible.” He started to walk further into the ruins of the house. I followed as I wanted to see more. It was in a room…I wasn’t sure at first, but I figured it was either a library or music room. The remains again of a fireplace. I cleared some of the ground. “At one time, this was the jewel of the South.” Colin said in a whisper I almost didn’t hear. “It will be again.” I uncovered what was a picture. An oil painting that was in taters, but smoothing it out, I dusted what was left. The leaves and other trash had guarded a lot, but it was pretty hard to see what it was. As I smoothed and pulled it I saw a face. I looked at the picture and looked at Colin. “It’s you!” Colin looked over at me and saw the painting. His eyes widened, but then he smiled. “So, I look like a grandparent?” He shrugged. I was stunned. “Look like?” I shook my head. “No, you look exactly like this man! If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was you.” Colin smiled, but I saw something in his eyes that wasn’t happy I saw that. “Well, that would make me what? Two hundred years old? And we both know that’s impossible.” He said scoffing at the notion. Of course he wasn’t! “Well, we deserve a good lunch.” Colin said suddenly. “Let’s head back into Charleston, I’ll buy and we can talk more.” I nodded, but I looked back at the face in the painting. It was as if he posed for it! I let the picture drop back to the floor. “Sounds good!” Colin Wentworth stayed at the Charleston Place Hotel. That was the place to stay in Charleston. It was fancy enough for the most discriminating tastes. Luxurious. We ate in one of the finer restaurants there and had a late lunch as the drive was about two hours to get back. Now, as much as I disliked much of the Lowcountry’s Cuisine, I loved seafood and Charleston did seafood very well. I told Colin about some good companies here that could do a lot of the work which he just nodded as he listened. He did comment a little, but mostly listened and gave me the go ahead to begin and even gave me the credit card and information to start. “I’ll have your name added to authorize.” Colin said calmly. I frowned. “Shouldn’t I sign something? You don’t know me. I could run off with money or even charge frivolous things on it.” Colin smiled. “But you won’t.” He shook his head. “I do know people and you seem trustworthy. I’ll trust you.” He shrugged. “I’m not often wrong about whom I trust, but I’ll have some papers to sign later, for your employment reasons.” Then he smiled. “A man that could see grandeur in what was left…” he shook his head. “…I will trust you. I can sense a man’s values and you seem trustworthy.” I nodded. “I hope I can live up to that trust. I’ll have to wait for you to authorize me on this card. Would tomorrow be soon enough to make calls?” Colin nodded. “I’ll make arrangements with the bank today. We will meet again. You can work from here. I have a suite on the fourth floor. Suite 426.” “What time is too early? Is there a wife or significant other I should consider?” Colin shook his head. “No. Just me. There’s no one else. After nine? We’ll have breakfast here.” I nodded. “I’ll be here.” Another meal here? At least the eating would be great. When I got home, which I was happy to be, but hated I was living with my mother. Then again, she would be alone if I weren’t here and having just returned from duty I hadn’t had time to look for a place. The job would make it possible now. “Well?” Mom asked me. I shrugged a nod. “He hired me.” She gave a light clap. “That’s wonderful. So when are you returning to work?” “I meet him at nine tomorrow.” I couldn’t figure Colin out. I had followed him back to the hotel. He drove a car that had New York plates on it. The card he gave me was a bank I knew wasn’t around here in the south. But Mom was right. He did have a slight Southern accent. Not the hard twang of many in the rural areas around Charleston or my cousins. They were mostly in North Carolina. Most were in the middle of North Carolina and there were some in the mountains. Their accents were the hard twangy sounds. I was told I had a light one, but Mom’s side was in the mountains and she worked hard to get rid of hers. Colin’s was a softer accent of a man that had Southern roots. He was smart and apparently educated. There were many accents and Charleston even had one unique to Charleston, but his was…different somehow. He may have had Southern parents. But there was that picture! He was connected with that house and the family that lived there. A Southern Gentleman Yankee? I hated puzzles, but I’d learn more, I thought. I thought about him. He was very good looking. Very attractive. So, why did he have no one? He was rich, educated and in good shape. He should have had to fight them off! I shrugged. “Maybe he got tired of having to do that.” Later, I thought. I’d find out later. Being who I am, I wasn’t late in the morning either. I waited until five minutes before nine to go upstairs. I waited until the minute hand told me it was nine and knocked. I couldn’t help but grin, he wasn’t too much of a gentleman. If I guessed, I’d say he had an eventful night. His hair was messed up, he had on a bathrobe…loosely, and he was unshaven. “Should I come back?” I asked trying to keep the smile from my face. Colin looked at his watch. “I said nine and it’s…” he squinted and his eyebrows rose. “Nine!” He shrugged and opened the door more. “Come in while I order coffee.” He shook his head. “And I need a shower.” He looked more human now. “I can come back.” I said again. He shook his head. “It’s my fault.” He said picking up the phone. “I’ll get coffee, I’ll shower and then we can go down for breakfast.” He was in a suite that had two rooms…well, three counting the bathroom. The room I was in now was a living room. It had sofa and chair. There was a little table set with four chairs to eat on. A balcony through the tall doors. Then there was the bedroom. A king-sized bed with end tables on either side. I assumed the door on the wall was to the closet and bathroom. The bed was messed up, but he didn’t look like he had company. “I slept so well last night.” Colin smiled. “I usually wake up on my own about six, but not this morning.” Someone picked up as he said. “Coffee. I need coffee in 426, and please make it strong. Extra strong if you can swing it.” He nodded to a voice that couldn’t see him. “Thank you.” Then he grinned at me. “So, give me a few minutes, the coffee is on its way up as I take a shower.” He waved at the room. “Make yourself at home.” He waved at the TV. “Turn on the TV, I’ll just be a few minutes.” I chuckled. “You’re the boss.” Colin nodded with a light laugh. “I am, aren’t I?” And he went in the door for the closet and bathroom? It was maybe ten minutes when a knock came on the door. I didn’t hear the shower now, but Colin wasn’t out yet, so I answered the door and the young guy smiled. “Strong coffee!” He said brightly. I looked at the ticket, but saw there was a portion to write the tip in. I shrugged and gave twenty percent. If Colin didn’t like that, I’d pay him back. “This is highly coveted right now. Thanks.” I smiled handed the man the ticket. Wheeling the cart into the room I could smell the rich coffee. I really didn’t drink a lot of coffee, but this was tempting! “I smell coffee!” Colin said from in the closet. He peered out as he slipped a shirt over his head. I saw enough of him to see he was pretty hairy on his chest and that chest wasn’t the least flabby. He was a hunk. There was no way he could be single. I enjoyed what I saw. “Help yourself!” He waved for me to try it. I shrugged. “It does smell good.” I grinned pouring me a little in one of the china cups. “Just save me some.” Colin said a little gruff, but friendly. I chuckled. “I would never dream of coming between a man and his coffee.” The cart had to sugar and other sweeteners with coffee creamers from half and half to flavored creams. “This is nice!” I said sipping. “Maybe we can get iced coffee next time.” Colin came back into the room. He still looked a little more human with his shirttail out. “You like those?” He grinned. “There’s hope for you yet.” I decided to try a question. “If I can ask…” And then I hurried on. “It’s none of my business, but I find it hard to believe you’re single.” His face faltered a little. “I’ve…been sick for a while in the past.” He said quietly. “I lost a wife and daughter. I just haven’t been interested in someone new.” I nodded and that made sense. “Like I said, it’s none of my business. I’m sorry that happened to you.” Colin nodded. “Me, too.” He poured some coffee and almost drank it in one gulp. I smiled as he lowered the cup with a sigh of satisfaction. “That truly is nectar of the gods.” Colin said. “Look, Colin. You said you trusted me.” I began. “Well, I trust, but I like to know people I trust. Is this going to be a working friendship, or a friendship while working?” Colin’s eyebrow rose again, almost as good as Mr. Spock from Star Trek. “Interesting question.” He looked at me and smiled. “I only work with people I like and I hired you, so I’d say we have the beginnings of a working friendship. Then, as things progress, we can move to friends that work together.” I nodded. “That works. I guess you’re not sick anymore. You look healthy. I was a medic, so illness and disease doesn’t scare me. If there’s something I should know…” Colin nodded. “You’re mother said you served overseas. I had a very severe case of Polymorphous Light Eruption. I couldn’t go out in the day at all or I’d literally burn in minutes. It would kill me if I remained outside.” I looked at a very tan man. “But you’re not now. You’re tan!” Colin nodded. “I’m on a medication, very new and I’m a trial patient. I take it every day and I do well.” He waved over himself. “Thus, the tan!” I smiled. “I should get one, too! But the heat was brutal in the Middle East. Those temperatures would be so…you cooked!” “And you don’t here? It can be brutal here as well. Like yesterday, it was only noon when we left and it was scorching.” I nodded. “I do here. I hate being hot.” He finished his second cup of coffee. “Now, we go down and eat!” I liked Colin. This would be interesting.
  14. 44 likes
    Chapter 14 Liam awakened, momentarily confused about where he was. The room was unfamiliar, until he recalled he was visiting Marty. The sound of the shower down the hall was the only indication his friend was awake. They’d had a great talk last night, and Liam had gotten a lot off his chest. Marty was supportive, as always, and assured Liam he could be nice to Alek if Liam decided to remain friends with the man. Stretching, he sat up and scratched his chest, listening to the sounds of a bustling downtown Halifax. Standing at the window, he watched morning traffic, and pedestrians heading off to whatever pursuits they had. In the distance he could hear boats in the harbour, bringing their catch in for the day. His mouth watered as he thought of fresh lobster, straight off the boat. A soft knock dragged him from his daydream of clarified butter and fresh rolls, and he turned as Marty stuck his still damp head around the door. “Hey, you are awake. I was just going to make myself some scrambled eggs. Are you interested?” “Sure,” he replied with a grin. “That sounds great.” Pulling a sweater over his head, Liam padded out to the kitchen, smiling as his friend rushed around the sleek space. “You didn’t have to cook for me, you know. I could have grabbed a muffin or something after you left.” “It’s not a problem,” Marty said, shooting a grin over his shoulder. “Everything is ready.” After plating eggs and toast, and handing Liam a cup of coffee, Marty took a seat across from him at the small table. “What are your plans while I’m at work?” He had taken a couple of days off, but client meetings today couldn’t be rescheduled without putting a serious crimp in their construction plans. Marty had apologized, but Liam waved him off. It was enough that he was here, and they would spend the next couple of days together. “I thought I’d go for a walk along the harbour, and maybe stop in to see Joey. He still works at Murphy’s?” “Yep,” Marty replied, gulping down his coffee. “He got promoted to chef, and got received some interest from a few of the swankier places in town too. If I’m back in time, I’ll text you and we can meet there for lunch?” “Sounds good. Have a good day at work, dear.” “I will, honey,” Marty replied with a wink. “If I don’t see you at lunch, I should be back by five. I told Ken and Landon you were coming to town. They want us to meet them for a couple of drinks. You up for that?” “Sure. I haven’t seen them in years. The last time I was in town I think Joe was away on vacation and Lan was up north somewhere. It’ll be good to see them.” “Awesome. I’ll text Ken and let him know. I think Sara and Allie are around too. It’ll be like a reunion.” Marty checked the time before chugging the rest of his coffee. “Shit. I have to go. I’m meeting the client in Dartmouth. Traffic is gonna be a bitch.” “Go,” Liam said, shooing him from the room. “I’ll take care of this.” After his best friend hustled out of the apartment, Liam cleaned the kitchen, and then hopped in the shower. Within thirty minutes he was dressed and heading for the harbour. The smell of the sea became stronger the closer he got. It was the smell of coming home. When his dad died, Liam needed to leave the memories behind, but he regretted leaving the east coast, and Marty’s family. The day was cool, although the sun made a valiant effort to warm him. He walked aimlessly for a couple of hours, and eventually found himself at the public gardens. The park wasn’t very busy, and the trademark blooms had yet to make an appearance, but it was still beautiful. He’d just settled onto a bench when his phone buzzed in his pocket with a message from Marty. ‘Meeting taking longer than I’d hoped. Can’t make lunch. Sorry.’ ‘Don’t worry about it,’ Liam replied. ‘Going to Murphy’s for lunch then back to the apartment to rest up for our wild night out.’ Liam chuckled when he received an ‘LOL’ and a winking emoji in response. After putting his phone away, he sat in the park for a while longer, reluctant to leave the peaceful space. A particularly cold breeze caused him to shiver and he took it as a sign it was time to continue his exploration of his old home city. The familiar sign for Murphy’s restaurant drew him closer to the wharf and the scent of seafood made his stomach growl. There was nothing like a Nova Scotia feast, fresh from the sea, to make him feel like he’d truly returned home. With a grin he entered the relatively quiet establishment. During tourist season every food joint in the area would be packed, but now most places were limited to locals who worked in the downtown area. The hostess showed him to a table overlooking the water, took his drink order and left him to peruse the menu. It required only seconds for him to choose the fish and chips, deciding to drag Marty out for a big lobster dinner later in the week. After setting the menu on the table, he watched the boats bobbing in the ocean outside the window, reminiscing about the last time he’d been out on the water. It was with his father, who had chartered a fishing boat for his yearly excursion only a few months before his heart attack. Liam felt his chest constrict with the memories, and turned away. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the waiter approaching, and plastered on a smile, sweeping away his melancholy thoughts. “Good afternoon. Welcome to Murphy’s. Have you decided what you want to order?” “I’ll take the fish and chips today, please. Tell me, is Joey Conti working today?” “Joe? Yes he is. Are you a friend of his?” “We go way back,” Liam replied with a grin. “We were in high school together. Can you tell him Liam MacPherson says hello?” “Of course. I’ll just go put your order in.” Liam settled back in his chair and pulled out his phone, checking emails and messages. He sent a text to Nathan, telling him he was having fun on his first full day, and messaged Bryce to get an update on his miffed cat. Tux wasn’t pleased to be dropped off again, and ignored Liam completely when he was finally allowed out of his carrier. “Liam MacPherson. Damn. How long has it been? Four years?” A booming voice from across the dining room startled him. He looked up to see a slightly heavyset handsome man walking quickly towards his table. As a rugby player, Joey always was a big guy, but now he could pass for a lumberjack, minus the heavy beard. Liam stood to greet his old friend with a wide grin on his face. “Three actually. I see you still can’t add, Conti.” Joey laughed and pulled Liam into a hug. “Damn, it’s good to see you, man. Marty said you were living out in Ontario now. You just visiting?” “Yeah.” Liam sat, and asked Joey to join him. “I was in an accident a few weeks back, and have been off work ever since. I’m cleared to go back next week so I thought I would spend a few days pestering Marty first.” “An accident? Nothing too serious, I hope?” “Some guy in a truck lost control and slammed me into guard rail. I broke my wrist and had a concussion, but other than a few bumps and bruises, I came out of it better than expected.” “Damn. That sucks. Glad you’re okay. So how long are you in town for? We should go out for a drink and catch up.” “Only a few days, unfortunately, but Marty and I are meeting Ken and Landon tonight. You should come out if you’re off.” “You guys going to Ken’s place?” “I have no idea. Marty just said we’re meeting up with them. Ken has a place?” Liam used air quotes when he said ‘place.’ Joey nodded, resting his forearms on the table. “Yeah, he took over his dad’s business when the old man retired. He’s been running it for a couple of years now.” “Wow,” Liam replied with a nostalgic smile. “Everyone’s growing up.” Joey snickered. “Some more than others. There’s a lot to catch you up on. I’ll call Landon and find out where you’re gonna be and meet you there.” They big guy stood and patted Liam on the shoulder. “It was really great to see you. It’s been too long.” With that, the burly chef went back to his kitchen. A few minutes later his fish and chips arrived with an extra helping of coleslaw and an extra roll added to the plate. With a grin, Liam dug in. Damn, it was good to be back. After stuffing himself, Liam decided to take a walk up to the citadel. He didn’t want to go inside, but the walk would wear off some of the fullness from lunch. As the afternoon wore on, grey clouds rolled in until it appeared the skies would open up at any moment. With a sigh of disappointment, he hailed a cab to take him back to Marty’s. He was happier with his decision when the first fat drops of rain fell as the vehicle pulled away from the curb. After paying the driver, Liam hopped out and made a run for the front doors before he got too wet. Once he made it inside the condo he sent Marty a quick text letting him know he was back, stripped out of his damp clothing, and pulled on a pair of jogging pants. Knowing Marty had a great movie collection, he perused the selection until he found what he was looking for: Dirty Dancing. Marty swore up and down that Amy bought it when they were dating, but the man had been known to watch it any time Liam put the movie on. Liam sighed in contentment. There was something about Patrick Swayze on a dancefloor. Liam didn’t realize he’d fallen asleep until Marty gently shook him awake. The television was off, and his friend was sitting on the couch beside him. “Good morning, sunshine,” Marty said with a grin. “Have a good nap?” “Damn,” Liam said, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “I missed Swayze in the lake.” Marty laughed and stood up, reaching down to help Liam to his feet. “Don’t worry. You can take it with you and watch it any time you want.” “I already have a copy.” “Why am I not surprised?” The two men decided on a light dinner to tide them over before meeting up with their friends. Marty confirmed they were going to Ken’s bar: a small, but popular place near their old neighbourhood. After cleaning up their dishes, and showering, they took a cab, not wanting to leave Marty’s car anywhere if they both decided to have a drink. Music could be heard from the building when they exited the taxi, and inside, a surprising amount of customers milled about, considering how early it was in the week. Liam looked around the establishment and smiled. He remembered the place from when Ken’s dad still ran it. It looked like their friend had made quite a few renovations and improvements. “Liam! Marty?” a woman’s voice squealed from across the room. “You made it!” A tall red-head rushed to their side and pulled both men into a hug. Allie was funny and boisterous, and probably one of craziest women Liam had ever met. Most of the trouble they got into when they were teenagers was instigated by her. He’d always wondered why Allie and Marty had never gotten together over the years. The woman was very attractive, and had the longest legs Liam had ever seen, but Marty insisted she was too much like a sister to ever consider her romantically. Allie dragged them across the room to a large table, and plopped herself into the lap of a familiar-looking brunette with glasses and a kind smile. Liam was happy to see she had found someone after years of dead ends in high school. “Liam? You haven’t changed a bit,” the brunette said pulling Allie tighter against his chest. The man’s voice made Liam do a double take. “Landon? Wow. I can’t believe it’s you.” “I know,” the man laughed. “I’ve changed a lot in the past three years.” That was an understatement. The last time he’d seen Landon, the other man probably topped three hundred pounds and had long, shaggy hair. “You look great.” “Thanks,” he replied, shyly. “It took a lot of work and time, but I’m happy.” “You were always handsome to me, baby,” Allie said, kissing him. “So you and Allie, eh? How long have you two been an item?” “Almost three years now,” Allie replied with a beaming smile. “It took me a long time to wear him down.” Liam knew his eyes had widened in surprise. “Really? I had no idea.” “That’s because he kept putting me off,” Allie said, leaning into Landon’s chest, “but I’m more stubborn than he is.” “Where are Ken and Sara?” Marty asked as he took a seat beside Liam. “Ken’s in the back, bitching out a supplier for screwing up an order, and Sara called just before you arrived. She got tied up at the office, and is running a little late. She should be here soon though. Joey said he can make it too,” Landon responded, smiling at his girlfriend when she stood and reached her hand out to Liam. “Come on, sweet cheeks.” Allie’s grin was as mischievous as Liam remembered. “Play pool with me.” Liam lifted his still casted hand and raised an eyebrow at the redhead. “I do have a cast. How am I supposed to play pool?” Allie snorted indelicately. “So what? You can use it as an excuse when I kick your ass.” Liam laughed. “Fine. It’s on.” Allie and Liam had been playing for several minutes, and teasing each other mercilessly whenever one of them missed a shot. “So how is my favourite gay boyfriend?” she asked after making a great shot and sinking two striped balls. Liam chuckled. “I thought I was your only gay boyfriend.” He grinned at her disgust when she missed her next shot. “Well, there is that.” Allie hip bumped him as he tried to line up his cue stick. “You’re still my favourite, though.” Liam rolled his eyes and set himself up again, grinning when the ball fell into the pocket. “So, you and Landon, eh? I have to say, I never saw that coming.” There was a surprising flash of irritation in Allie’s eyes as she crossed her arms over her breasts. “Why not? Lan is a sweet, loving man. Why wouldn’t I be interested in him?” “Whoa,” Liam replied, raising his hands. “I didn’t mean it like that. I know Landon’s always been a great guy. All I meant was I never realized there was a spark between you two. We’ve all been friends for years. I thought I’d have noticed sparks flying between two of my friends.” “I’m sorry. I know you didn’t mean it that way. It’s a sore spot for us. I’ve always been attracted to Lan,” she said softly, leaning against the table beside him and gazing across the bar at her man, “but it took me a long time to convince him I was sincere. His confidence isn’t what it should be. I’m still working on that.” Marty and Landon started laughing about something, and waved when they noticed Liam and Allie looking their way. “So,” Allie said, nudging his shoulder. “How’s your love life? Any men turning your head these days?” Liam started to laugh so hard he felt tears in his eyes. “Oh, hon. We have to sit down for this. How much time do you have?”
  15. 44 likes
    We began working after breakfast, which was a delight! Breakfast, I mean. This was a five star hotel and a top rated restaurant, so it had to be nothing but delightful. I hated grits, but I loved the shrimp and grits I got. Colin was also great to work with. He didn’t question a thing I did. Based in his suite I made calls around to places I knew did landscaping. Got pricings and what each company could and couldn’t do. We couldn’t do much more until we cleared the property of the weeds and Kudzu. Arrangements were made to have a man there from a local landscaping business and nursery. They did clearing and would do replanting when it was time. “I assume you have plans and what’s needed if you want to rebuild the house.” I said to confirm I didn’t need to do that, too. Colin nodded. “I have plans. I had an architect do some work on them. He made some referrals to me as to whom.” He smiled. “But I still hope you’ll work with me on this. I’d like you to manage the property. Not just the clearing, but all of it.” He shrugged. “I may have to go out of town and want the work to continue while I’m gone…if I go. Would that be acceptable to you?” I nodded smiling. “Sure, but I’m not…” I waved at the papers on the table I had written on about the future landscaping companies. “…construction or even landscaping guy.” Colin nodded. “But your mother was right.” He smiled. “You know the area and who to call. Managing the property will require that.” “I need a job, so why not?” I nodded. Colin got up going to another part of the suite where he got a briefcase. He took out papers. “I need to ask what you want as pay and there are the papers for government…taxes and all that.” He sat again. “I did research, is $60,000 okay to start?” I was shocked. “Forgive me, but I’ve only ever been hourly so far in life. Are you talking a salary?” Colin looked puzzled. “Of course. I could do more.” “Mr. Wentworth…” I began. Colin stopped me with a raised hand. “Even in the beginning, I prefer a working friendship. Call me Colin. I plan to call you Devon. Is that okay with you? Or do I call you Mr. McGee?” “Why are you trusting me, Colin?” I asked. “You haven’t asked me for references, you give me a card to use…I could be a crook!” Colin shook his head. “You’re not.” I shook my head again. “How do you know? A crook or conman will convince you he’s telling the truth.” Colin chuckled sitting forward. “Yes he does, if he’s any good at it.” He looked at me with those emerald eyes. “You must be very good if you are a crook and if you are, you’d be elsewhere.” He smiled a little grimly. “I’ve always had the ability to tell things about people. Little signals they give off that tell me more than some people pick up. Flushes and subtle face and twitches to say they’re lying or dishonest. I don’t get that from you.” He chuckled again. “One of those signs is the fact you wonder why I trust you.” He sat back waving his finger at me. “That’s the sign of an honest man. I trust you.” He smiled. “I get a very good feeling about you. In fact, I’m going to share a lot with you and that’s something I haven’t done in….well, it’s been a long time. I just feel I can.” I nodded, still not really understanding, but respecting the fact he extended that level of trust to me. “I won’t let you down.” I said sincerely. Colin nodded. “I know you won’t. Do we have a deal?” He asked moving the papers forward. “If we do, sign here.” He pointed and handed me a pen. I was taught to never sign your name without reading what you’re signing. Colin just grinned more as he saw me looking over the contract. It was a standard form for what my duties were going to be. I looked up as I saw Colin wasn’t offended at all. “Sorry, but I don’t have that…ability you do of telling whether someone is trustworthy or not. I just was taught to look for fine print and know what it says if there is any before signing anything.” Colin nodded with a smile. “That’s always wise.” After I’d read the contract and signed it, I slid it back to him. Colin took the contract and put it away. “Now, as we don’t have anything to do until tomorrow, can I ask you to help me with something…more personal? For me, not for the house or property.” “Of course you can ask.” I grinned. Colin chuckled. “I like this hotel, but I don’t like living here. Can you direct me in the direction of more personal space? A furnished apartment or condo to live in while the house is being rebuilt or even a house to live in would be good. I have to live somewhere.” He said logically. I nodded. “I can think of several. Do you want to be in the city or suburbs? Luxurious or less?” Colin grinned and patted me on the arm. “I never doubted that you’d know.” He waved at the suite. “This is nice, but I like a little more room…and more rooms.” Okay, you already guessed I was attracted to Colin. I’ve said it enough. In fact, it was part of a reason I wanted to work for him so I could spend time with him. I know there’s no gaydar, but I got nothing from him. He had no mannerisms or anything to say he was straight or gay. I hoped I didn’t give anything to say I was gay either. Usually when they didn’t give off any signs, they were straight. He mentioned a wife and child, but what little experience I had told me that didn’t mean much sometimes. I had lusted from afar before and was happy to do so again. I wondered if since he could read people and knew whether to trust or not, he didn’t pick up on my attraction to him. If he did pick up on that and it offended him, I’d have a few days or weeks of liking Colin. “Now, I have to take my daily medication.” Colin said going to the little refrigerator and taking a vial out. “Should I leave?” I asked pointing to the door. Colin looked at me and I saw he was nervous about it. “It’s kind of important if you see me do this, but I’d like you to stay. If you would?” I nodded now more curious and I did see him take his “medication.” In the refrigerator were these little vacuum sealed vails. A lot of them. What was puzzling was there were no labels on any of them. The liquid was pink to a reddish color. There were several vials. Like a diabetic, I watched as he pulled out a syringe and he did the prep necessary I knew from being a medic, but this wasn’t the little needle, it was big for deep and full infiltration. I watched as he stuck it in his arm after cleaning and doing what you do to prevent infections. What I found also interesting was he didn’t just insert it just under the skin, but in a vein. This was deep. He put a tourniquet on making the veins bulge and inserted the needle in the vein. What I didn’t like was the look of extreme discomfort on his face a few minutes after he did this. Whatever this medication was had a good effect as in letting him go outside and even tan, but it looked like near agony for a few minutes as I watched him grip the arm of the chair he was in and his face had eyes shut tightly. It hurt me to watch! It was hurting him a lot! Then as the medication worked, he slowly began to relax and soon he sighed as his breathing eased and regulated. I saw the bead of sweat on his upper lip. His eyes slowly opened and he looked at me, I guess to see how I reacted. He smiled patiently. “Now, for the answers to questions I know you have, because I would have them, too.” I just shook my head, and I know my face held a look of absolute horror at what I saw. “Shit!” Colin just laughed at my reaction. “That’s a good word for it.” He nodded. “I developed this….condition. It’s not even got a real name as such…well there is and I’ll tell you more if we work out, which I think we will.” He stood grabbing both my arms holding me at length. “I trust you with honesty. I know you’re not a crook or anything like that. But I want to trust your reaction to what I tell you. There are maybe a thousand like me in the entire world. I only met four.” He looked at me seriously. “I can count how many people have seen me do this, take the medication, which is only a treatment, not a cure. I’d still have two fingers left over.” I nodded. “Your body’s reaction to the medicine was agony!” Colin nodded. “Yes it was.” He smiled waving to the window. “But as long as I take it…five minutes or so of agony is a fair exchange for being able to move around and have a pretty normal life. It’s worth it.” Then he looked at me. “I can see your mind working and you have some ideas, but if I say anything…I will tell you why.” But then he got a look of almost pleading. “I will never hurt you or anyone else…I never…well….I won’t do anything to you. I won’t make you go through working with me if you can’t deal with what I have.” Sensitive to light? The picture at the house. My mind was telling me what it was, but…so I just asked a question. But this was impossible, wasn’t it? There was a word coming, but my mind was telling that was ridiculous. “I’m not your Renfield, am I?” Humor was my usual defense. The question caught him a little off guard, but it only took a few seconds before his smile came back. “No. You’re not my Renfield.” He chuckled. “I guess I’ll just tell you. If you tell anyone else, I’ll deny it.” Even as my mind had been telling me that it was not possible, but I couldn’t think of anything else, but it didn’t add up. “I have drunk blood. I’ve never killed a human doing it.” He said still not saying the word. “I was born in 1815 in that house I want restored. The picture you found was of me.” His voice took on the pleading sound his face had. “Please, if you want out, I’ll rip up the contract and we’ll just forget it happened…it’s happened before, but I feel I can trust you!” He began to tear around his eyes. “Don’t just leave. Please.” It was just so…well, it wasn’t what you had happen except at movies and that was pure entertainment and you knew that! But he was crying or about to cry. Did what I didn’t want to say he had to be, cry? Could they cry? I remembered all those shows I loved and movies…not to mention the novels about it from Stoker’s Dracula all the way down to Stephen King, Anne Rice and the recent movies that painted a twist. His hands on my arms were warm. He was alive? He sweated! “Okay, give me a second here.” I said not shaking his hands off. I reached up toward him, but stopped just short of touching him. “Can I?” He looked down at my hand and then knew what I wanted to do. He nodded. “Sure.” I touched his throat and felt a pulse! “You have a pulse.” Colin nodded. “For the past twenty years.” He smiled. “That’s why the serum I take hurts so much. It starts my heart up again or at least keeps what I got back going pumping what I have. I breathe. My blood pumps again and I’m more human than I ever was since 1851! It just lasts a day and I have to take another injection the next day.” He explained. “Please don’t be scared, I’m not a monster, but if I don’t take the serum I’ll be….what I was again.” Was it because I was attracted to him? I never felt threatened by him. Wasn’t that part of being…what I thought he had to be? Or was that Hollywood? I put my hand on his chest above his heart and felt the powerful beat. “I never was scared; Colin, but naturally I have questions.” “Of course you do.” Colin smiled, but looked a little hopeful. “So, you won’t leave?” I smiled. “If you turn into an asshole, I will.” Like I said, humor was my defense and this was tense moment, so humor was going to come out. It’s how I coped with tense situations. Colin heard it, but it took a second or two before he chuckled as he bowed his head. “Well, I can be an asshole sometimes, but I’ll try to keep it under control.” He smiled. “So, I haven’t scared you off?” “I want to say, no problem.” I admitted. “But this is not something one normally hears! It’s movies and stuff. Fiction!” Then I smiled shaking my head. “I’ve not been scared off. Yet.” “But you believe me.” Colin said. “You don’t think I’m crazy?” I shrugged a nod. “Well, if I hadn’t seen that picture I might have thought you were crazy, but that picture I knew was you…and those symptoms you said you have…it’s the only thing that adds up, but I still can’t just accept it.” I tapped my head. “Not in here at least yet.” Colin stood erect again. “Freud would say I did it subconsciously hoping you would see the picture and find out.” He shrugged. “You didn’t know him, did you?” Colin laughed at me. “No, I never met him. At that time I didn’t get out much. I missed a lot in my life until recently.” He wanted to be sure. “A lot of time was used just to stay alive.” “But you are alive.” I said trying to understand, but I shook my head. “I’ve never gotten the whole dead and undead thing. Even when you were….what you say, how could you not be alive? You moved…and hunted…you had some life of some kind.” Colin nodded scratching his ear. “I don’t understand a lot of what I was, I just was.” He said simply. “But the serum takes back a part of it, keeps what I’ve got inside going and even allows me to sweat and blush…it like being alive. I have a pulse now.” “Are you like that movie where there was a day walker?” I asked. “Born of a…what you are now?” Colin smiled a little tightly. “Say it.” I shook my head. “But it doesn’t make sense! You sweat, cry, you even have a heartbeat. You’re not supposed to!” Colin nodded again. “From all the others like me you’re met.” I threw my hands up in frustration. “I never thought I’d meet anyone like you! You weren’t supposed to be real! But you’re here! But you’re tan and have all the things I understood was gone after you became….” I paused. “Say it!” Colin demanded. “Vampire.” Colin had no reaction. No shock or horror, but just the word had no power. “That’s right.” “But it can’t be real!” I said again trying to understand it. “Yet, here I am.” Colin nodded. “You’ve never seen me as a vampire, but inside you know it’s true.” I sat looking up at him. “So, I’ll ask some other questions. Do you sleep in a coffin?” Colin chuckled and thumbed back at his king-sized bed. “Does that look like a coffin?” He shook his head and sat near me on the sofa. “I have in the past. That was just practical. Is there any place guaranteed to always be dark in the day other than a coffin? There are caves and other places, but mostly when a vampire is made, they are perceived as dead and buried. It’s later they wake and realize what they are and go about hunting. They just come back to the coffin because it’s dark and somewhat safe.” I nodded. “Fangs?” He chuckled nodding. “That sort of is necessary to break the skin and get what’s needed.” I shrugged a nod. “There was a movie or two where they didn’t. They just tore the neck open.” He nodded. “That is messy.” He shrugged. “And it is messy mostly.” “Can I see them?” He shook his head. “Not with me on the serum. I have them if not on the medication. The serum makes becoming the vampire impossible, but doesn’t negate everything. As I said, I have to take it every day or I will become that horror again.” I was having to come to grips with what I was told through movies, TV shows and books. “But you won’t die, unless you’re in the sun or get a stake in the heart.” “A stake through anyone’s heart will kill, but now I can go in the sun taking my daily serum.” I kept going back to the original question. “Why me?” I asked. “Why trust me so much?” Colin sighed, looking away. “I can’t explain it.” Then he looked back. “I was going to hire someone to help me with the house. If they knew what I needed, that was it. But I meet you and…” he struggled with an explanation. “…I just know I can!” He smiled. “I’ve never done this before. There have been others I let know, but they couldn’t handle what I told them about me. You haven’t run screaming in horror.” He shrugged. “That tells me I was right.” “But you eat.” I said. “And I mean food, not blood.” He chuckled. “After I started the serum and I had my first real meal of food in a hundred years…that was…unbelievable and so good! Since then I’ve enjoyed some good meals and love to eat.” “But you don’t drink blood now.” He shook his head. “I don’t need to. The serum lets me eat and process food normally.” “But you’re immortal.” I said. He shrugged. “I haven’t aged, but who knows?” He seemed to relax more. “Dr. George Holm was the man that came up with the serum and knows how to make it.” “And is he…?” Colin nodded. “He is like me. He did the research to help himself.” I gave a nod. “It works. Why’d you leave the South? You were in New York.” Colin nodded. “I was here in Charleston until the 1920s. It was a hard thing for me to move to New York, but it was a city that never slept and easier when I was feeding on blood.” “But you said you never killed anyone.” He smiled. “And I didn’t have to. Ten years after I became a vampire, we had that war and feeding was easy. Even before that and after, I would take blood, but never killed anyone.” At least that was good to know. “You were made how?” “There was a man that felt I was cheating him. I did kill his brother, but it was in self-defense as regular men. The brother vowed revenge and after he became one, made me like him. Though not intentionally, he thought he’d killed me.” Colin chuckled. “He was new at it and didn’t know how it worked yet. He was very unhappy when we met again later and he couldn’t undo what he did, though he did try to kill me.” “And the wife and daughter?” I asked. “My wife was died a year before I was even made.” He shrugged. “My daughter married and lived, but I know she’s dead now. I don’t know really what happened to her.” I frowned. “You loved them very much.” He smiled. “Gabriella was my daughter.” He nodded. “She was beautiful and kind and the best a human being can be. My wife, Deborah and I were in a marriage that was arranged. We liked each other enough to make it work.” “But in all those years…no one else ever took their place?” He shook his head. “I was hiding mostly. I really didn’t have time until twenty years ago to even look for someone. When I was in the world again, I was busy making money.” He smiled. “Now, understand…I had money before as a plantation owner, but much more is needed for todays finances. I used what I had to make more.” He nodded grinning. “And I did pretty well! I invested well and once that was done, I came back.” I hadn’t realized we talked so long and my stomach growled. I smiled. “Sorry.” Colin chuckled. “Are you kidding!? That’s great! We can eat another meal!” I shook my head. “I don’t suppose you have to worry about gaining weight?” He shrugged. “I’m not yet, but as I understand it, we don’t really have to store like others do, so I haven’t stored fat.” I growled. “That is such a pity.” I muttered. “For that reason, I have to say you are evil.” Colin chuckled. “Sorry, but it’s not anything I’d wish on anyone.” Then he clapped his hands once. “So, let’s eat!!” Man? Vampire? Man wannabe? I was falling in love with him.
  16. 43 likes
    Chapter 9 Sneaking back downstairs after his mother went to bed, Bailey soaked a teabag in hot water before putting it on the raw rip on his palm. Experience had taught him that tea bags, even tea tree oil—but that shit stank—helped seal his rips enough so he could still use his hand on the bars the next day. He'd also apply some antibiotic ointment to it as well and wrap it before putting his grips on. He also made himself a sandwich and prepped a water bottle for the morning before heading to bed. He didn't usually have much trouble sleeping with all the hours he spent running or in the gym, but tonight sleep was determined to elude him. **** "Throw it! Throw it!" the crowd chanted, but I didn't hear any of it; I never did. I focused on running downfield, following the man I was covering. He was fast, attempting to outdistance me to the ball. But I was faster. It was what got me on the team. As little as I was, I could run down just about any receiver. I watched my man turn, looking over his shoulder for the ball, and I took a second to track it myself. It was headed for us, maybe even over us. I dug in and launched myself at the ball. As my hands wrapped around it, I pulled it in to protect it. I didn't expect to land on my feet, fully anticipating the wide receiver to tackle me. When he didn't, I turned and dodged back down the field. "And it's intercepted! Number 38 of the Pitbulls..." My team managed to make some holes for me to dart through, and I was quick enough and small enough that the Tigers were having trouble tracking me. After bursting through the Tigers offensive line, the chase was on. I was nearly at the fifteen yard line when arms wrapped around my waist and yanked me to the ground with a heavy thud. "And now the Pitbulls have a chance to pull ahead, as they are in field goal range." I let my opponent climb off me, then I felt myself being hauled up by my teammates, receiving several slaps to my helmet. I ran off the field with the rest of the defense, looking up to see the broad smiling face of my dad standing and cheering. Most of the time I was dragging down a receiver, not being one, so I grinned and waved up at him. I turned in time to watch the offense, move the ball closer, but were unable to score a touchdown. So the kicker ran out and scored us a field goal in the last seconds of the game. Our third win. Helmets ripped off, as everyone congratulated each other. "Damn, Bailey! You're the best cornerback ever!" one of my teammates yelled in my ear as I was jostled by hardy congratulations. "You not only run down the receivers, but you take the ball from them too!" "Awesome, man!" It was nice to hear, but I was focused on a guy running towards me. Neil. I grinned as he raced up to hug me. He was one of the few people I'd finally allowed to touch me, even just socially. Neil was in my history class, and we'd connected instantly. We'd been out a couple times, but decided we were better friends than boyfriends. "What the fuck?" Alec snapped from nearby. I looked back at him, startled by his tone. "You a fag, McIntyre?" Mason crowded up next to me, his fingers brutally gripping my bicep. I was on instant alert as I tried to shake free of his grasp. Damn it, not again... I cocked my head, frowning. "What does that matter?" They shook their heads, a sneer of disgust on their faces. "Fuck, the best cornerback has to be a cocksucker." Mason shoved me away roughly, and I flinched away instinctively. I was shocked by their outrage, although I probably shouldn't have been. I thought I'd left that kind of crap behind in my old schools, the pushing, shoving, bruises, slurs... I'd become friends with these guys; what did it matter if my sexuality didn't match theirs? It's not like I'd even looked at any of them that way. Neil backed away. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to out you to your team." Everyone already knew Neil was gay; he'd grown up in this town. I'd been new this season, as my dad's military career moved us a lot. "I wasn't hiding it." I shook my head as my dad joined us. "You did great, Bailey! I'm so proud of you." He said that no matter what—even if I fell off the high bar. After seeing the look on my face though, he cocked an eyebrow. "Everything okay?" I just waved at my retreating teammates as Neil slunk off, not wanting to draw more attention. "Just some assholes having issues that I'm gay." I watched my dad frown deeply. He'd always supported me, so when he looked around, I could tell he was trying to pick out who he wanted to have a talkin' to. "Let's just go," I sighed. "I'll change at home." "Yeah, okay." We'd walked out toward the parking lot, but the scene shifted to a bright, arid sandy location. And we were climbing in a jeep with one of his army buddies—Sgt. Westin—and dad was now wearing his tan BDUs. It was hot as hell, and I was about to ask dad what was going on when he started driving, other dark green and canvas vehicles following behind. I'd never been here, but I'd seen pictures of it on TV. Where were we going? What—? BOOM! The jeep we were in exploded, flipping as gunfire broke out around us. Men streamed from the other vehicles, taking down the gunmen quickly, but I was crawling out of the flipped jeep. "Dad!" I found him pinned under the vehicle, his chest nearly crushed and blood was soaking his shirt. I tried to get closer but Westin was there, gripping my father's hand as he struggled to draw a breath. I tried to shove Westin out of the way, but he didn't budge. "Tell... my son... I love him. And I'm sorry..." "NO! NO!" I heard myself screaming. "I'm right here, dad! Don't go! Please don't go!" For a moment, my father's pale eyes turned to me, and I knew. "I love you." "I love you too! Don't leave me." "I'll always be with you..." **** Jerking awake, chest heaving, Bailey fought his way out of his sweaty sheets, tearing himself away from his damp pillow. He stumbled, banging against his dresser, before he slid to the floor. Fuck. He hadn't had such a vivid dream in over three weeks. He'd hoped he was over them. Imagining his father's death seemed to be one of his new favorite nightmares. Adding in his attempt to try a second sport in freshman year didn't help. At least this nightmare hadn't included Alec and Mason ambushing him on his way home. He shuddered at the feel of ghostly fingers grabbing at him, holding him down, Mason's rancid breath washing over him... A hiccupped sob escaped before he managed to regain control of his breathing. He rubbed his hands over his face, only somewhat surprised to find it wet as memories swamped him. **** Football had been my father's suggestion as I was starting a new school in a new town again. A way to get to know others, be part of a team, since Park View didn't have a gymnastics team. So while I was still going to do gymnastics at a private gym, we'd decided together to attempt a team sport at the high school like football, soccer, or baseball as I started high school. The gym had been almost my whole life, and starting a new school was a chance 'to mix things up' as my dad said. I'd played little league football before, and it was alright. As long as I could still get to a gym, get my hands on the rings and high bar, I didn't mind trying out other things. Trying out for football hadn't really been much of my plan at first. But since the Park View Pitbulls didn't have a gymnastics team, dad and mom had asked if I wanted to try out for any of the sports offered at the school. I probably could have done track too, but mostly I liked to reserve running for me and my dad. I have to say after that one attempt, I had no desire to ever try a team sport like that again. My father and I had been called into the coach's office only two weeks later. It had been horrible in the locker room since that game, the taunts, teasing, the ridicule. But I'd ignored it, figuring it would get old and fade away. The coach had looked chagrinned when he suggested that I quit the team. Dad, of course, was appalled. "Why the hell would you want him to quit? He's the best cornerback you've got!" Coach had nodded. "Yes, but unfortunately, his presence is also causing a disruption within the team dynamics." Dad jumped to his feet. "Are you fucking kidding me? What the hell year is this anyway? He's gay, he's not diseased! It's not fucking contagious." Coach grimaced. I could tell he didn't want to do this, but someone or several someones were putting pressure on him. And honestly, it wasn't worth it. I didn't need the team. Sure, I'd enjoyed being a part of a team sport for a change, where everyone had to work together to achieve a common goal, but it wasn't really my passion either. "You can't do this! It's illegal—" "Dad." I halted his tirade with a touch to his arm. "I'm okay with leaving. I don't really want to put up with the idiocy anyway." I could tell my father was hurting for me. To know his son had been bullied and harassed was killing him. He didn't need to know just how bad it was. "Fine. I'm still filing a complaint with the school board," he threatened. "And I'm getting Bailey out of this fucking bigoted school." "Sir, Mr. McIntyre—" "That's Sgt-Major McIntyre!" dad had shouted. I'd rarely seen him so angry. "Let's go, Bailey. Pack up your locker, we're leaving." I'd moved to another school in another county the next week. It had been satisfying to know that the Pitbulls lost all the rest of their games. I had hoped they fucking regretted their decision. Unfortunately, the new school hadn't been much better when they found out I was gay and did gymnastics. Since dad had been redeployed though, I was able to hide most of the bullying that was happening. Then dad had finally found Heritage, a haven for a boy like me. Except then he was gone, and I've been lost ever since. **** It was several minutes before Bailey pulled himself from his ruminating, rolled over to his knees, and crawled to his feet. Glancing at the clock, he was almost relieved to see it was already 4:52am. It meant his alarm would have been going off in about twenty minutes anyway, and right now, there was no way in hell he was going to be able to get back to sleep. After a quick run to the bathroom, where he refused to look in the mirror, he re-wrapped his hand with antibiotic ointment and a thin layer of gauze. He donned his sweats, t-shirt and hoodie, and running shoes before quickly packing his small duffle bag with his clothes for the day as had become his habit. He'd run, then shower in the gym's locker room, before heading to the dining hall for breakfast. Throwing his backpack over his shoulder, and holding the duffle in his good hand, he headed downstairs. Grabbing a powerbar and his water, he headed out the door long before his mother would wake up. This had become their routine. A routine of avoidance, of hiding, of polite pleasantries. For as much time as he actually spent with his mother, he could easily have been staying in the dorms. Although he did sense a moment of relief from her when he actually came home through the door. They might not talk much, but she needed to know he was physically safe at home each night. And Bailey didn't think he'd do very well in the dorms now where he was constantly surrounded by others wanting him to engage—'come to the movie, how about a game of frisbee, want to study together...' And a roommate would be even worse. He'd have no privacy, no place to hide, to escape if he needed... it. Maybe next year he'd be able to face the dorms, but right now, it just seemed like too soon... Bailey walked quickly towards Heritage. Over the summer after their move, he'd run all over the town with his father in these early hours, but now he couldn't face those streets without the man at his side. He'd almost given up running altogether—had, in fact, stopped for the two weeks following his father's death. Yet, he'd come to realize that running was the one thing he couldn't fail at for his dad. There wasn't a grade or a score that he had to make. There wasn't an expectation. And no one judged him on how well or how long he ran. He could just... run. Running almost helped as much as it, but he couldn't run all the time or do gymnastics all the time. And it always cleared his head, at least for a little while. So, instead of running the sidewalks and parks of the town, he made his way to his school's track each morning. He'd surprised the security guard at the gate the first few days, but now he received a hearty 'good morning, Bailey' as he jogged by. Grainger Hall and the Colonnades were lit with decorative outside lights, which stayed on all the time. The rest of the buildings and walkways were also lit by security lights. Even the track had four lights—one at each corner—to chase away a little of the darkness. It was still somewhat shadowed, but it was enough to make sure he found his footing. He stashed his bag under the bleachers out of habit from his many years of hiding from bullies at his previous schools before taking a swig of water and heading out onto the track. He quickly found his rhythm, starting with a slow jog and increasing to a moderate pace. Concentrating on the vibration of his feet hitting the track helped keep his mother's voice at bay. Sometimes, he recited notes from his classes in his head or mentally critiqued his gym routines. He let thoughts flow, not worrying about trying to focus on any one thing, except his breath—in through the nose, out through the mouth, in... out... in... out... Occasionally, like today, he found his rage seeping into his steps, his eyes burning as he forced back tears he refused to let fall. His hands tightened into fists, his steps pounding harder, faster. Why? Why his father? Why did he re-enlist? Why couldn't he just be with them? Bailey blinked, shocked to see a figure in front of him on the track. How had he not seen someone else arrive? Except for Justin on occasion, no one usually came out this early. He paced behind the guy for a bit, not wanting to encroach on the other teen's space. As the guy turned one of the corners, Bailey was able to get a better view of him, realizing it was the football guy from yesterday. The one that had done the stupid pushups with him. Declan. He wondered briefly what had driven Declan out to run this early. Did he have nightmares like Bailey did that sometimes kept him awake? Did he worry about what kind of grade he'd make on Mr. Prosser's trigonometry test? Bailey smiled humorlessly—did Declan even know Bailey was in his trig class? Not likely. Declan was one of those 'popular' guys. Even in an all-boys academy, it happened—there were always those that seemed to be natural magnets, those that others gravitated to. Justin was one. He briefly wondered if Declan's arms were a little sore from yesterday's exertions too. Normally, he'd never consider striking up a conversation, but he found himself wanting to now. Declan had been quiet yesterday, unlike Chris or Justin, and Bailey felt a little bit of kinship with the guy who'd endured being made a spectacle by their respective teams with him. He sped up, slipping to the outside track in case the guy didn't like to be disturbed while running. Casting a glance out of the side of his hood, he nearly stumbled when Declan greeted him first. "Hey!" Declan waved, pulling out one of his earbuds. "What's up?" Shit. Bailey had almost expected Declan to ignore him, so he found his tongue tied up in his throat when the guy called out to him. Bailey managed a small smile, lifting his wrapped hand in a hesitant wave. He was shocked when Declan suddenly took off. His smile slipped as the hope of talking to the guy faded away. He watched Declan race ahead. Okay, so maybe he didn't want to talk while running, but then why had he even acknowledged him in the first place? Hmmm, guess it was just a rhetorical greeting, Bailey mused. He and his father had received several of those from other runners, the obligatory 'Hey' or even just a nod. Well, he could have at least waited for me to return the favor. Screw this, Bailey thought as he jogged off the track at the far end. If he wants to be alone, so be it. He ducked around the back side of the bleachers, escaping into those wonderfully obscuring shadows. Bailey halted when he heard voices from the other side of the bleachers, groaning to himself when he realized Justin had arrived. God, the guy was going to drive him crazy. Constantly trying to engage him, make him socialize. At least, Bailey had managed to duck off the track before Justin had seen him. "Hey, Declan." "What are you doing here?" Bailey almost laughed out loud at Declan's grunted greeting. "Oh, just hoping to catch up with Bailey. He usually likes to run really early." Uh, huh, that's what he thought, Justin had come out this morning looking for him. "Well, he's somewhere behind me." Bailey lifted his brow as he grabbed up his bag. Declan hadn't even realized he'd left the track. So much for making an impression. Well, at least, he'd recognized it was him. "Where?" "Huh. Well, he was here. Guess he gave up." Gave up? Bailey frowned. It wasn't like they had some contest going and he'd quit. Hell, he'd been running long before Declan even graced the track. He slung his backpack over his shoulder and grabbed up the duffle. He could hear their voices getting farther away, so he made his way to one of the thick supports of the risers and waited to make sure Justin wouldn't follow him. "Hey, man, I just wanted to say I'm sorry you got caught up with Chris's bullshit yesterday." Justin actually sounded a bit contrite. "You were part of that bullshit." Bailey choked back a chuckle at Declan's retort. He was right, Justin did antagonize Chris a little. "You didn't seriously think your team could just come in and steamroll over us like that?" "Would it have hurt you to give up the room a little early? So it could be put to good use." Okay, that had Bailey frowning. Good use? Why wouldn't the gymnastics team make good use of the weight room? Honestly, if anything, because their team was so small, it may have been under used a bit. In fact, the football team (or any other team—except maybe the cross-country/track team as they were too big) could have joined them. It might have been a little crowded, but maybe they could have spotted each other or something on the free weights... Justin's voice rose to a shout. "What the fuck are you talking about? You think what Chris did was right? I thought you were one of the more sensible ones on the team. But I can see you're an asshole just like Chris." "No—just... it would have avoided a lot of trouble if you had." Bailey might have agreed with Declan about avoiding trouble, but Justin was right. Chris did seem to have an inflated sense of entitlement. "So just because the football team is bigger than the gymnastics team, you think they can demand anything they want? That we can't make good use of the weight room?" "No, just saying, you know, with all your flips and... dancing around, and everything, you don't need the weight room like we do." What? Bailey's jaw dropped, shocked to hear Declan echo Chris's sentiments about the gymnastics team. Obviously, he had no fucking clue what it took to do gymnastics. He winced, realizing he'd clenched his fists in anger, aggravating his ripped palm. Fuck it. Who cares if Justin catches up with him? Bailey took off running towards the gymnasiums. He grabbed the door, not bothering to check to see if it had been unlocked yet. It whipped open under his angry yank. He stormed down the halls to Locker Room B, where he dropped his stuff in front of his locker before yanking it open. He carried his clothes bag towards the showers, grabbing a towel on his way. Dousing himself under the cool shower, he shivered as he wasn't willing to wait for the hot water to make its way through the pipes. As he soaped up, his mind slipped through the tumultuous morning he'd had. He closed his eyes, fighting back the images of his nightmare as well as the voice of Declan basically declaring gymnastics wasn't a real sport. His hand instinctively slipped to his hip, fingers grazing over several scars, some still healing, others already a thin white line. He pressed on the most recent one at the top of his thigh, the dull ache did little to chase away the thoughts tormenting his mind. Fuck. He needed out of here. Now. He wasn't surprised to hear voices and lockers opening and closing by the time he was finished. Some of the teams held practices in the morning, alternating or splitting it with afternoon practices. He threw his slacks and shirt on while he was still half-wet, stuffing his running gear in his duffle. When he threw his towel in the bin, he looked up to see Justin was leaning next to his locker. The tall blond just smiled at him thoughtfully. "Hey," Justin greeted, "thought we were going to run this morning." A wave of shame washed over him. Justin was only trying to help him, sort of like the school counselor he was required to see every Tuesday morning before classes. There were times he swore that his team captain could see right through him and see the pain he was trying so hard to bury. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate the effort, Bailey just couldn't bring himself to let anyone new in. "Yeah, sorry. I didn't sleep well, so I got up early and ran. You know, to clear my head and all," he muttered. A thoughtful frown crossed Justin's features, worry maybe. He dropped to the bench next to Bailey's duffle. "Anything you want to talk about?" Bailey focused on opening his locker and dragging out his backpack. He glanced down at Justin before grabbing the duffle bag and shoving it in with more force than was necessary. "Nah, it's nothing." "Bay—" "You staying here? Getting a shower?" Bailey interrupted, trying to keep his tone light and friendly. Justin sighed, slapping his hands on his thighs as he rose. "I didn't run, so no." Bailey bit his lip, debating briefly before asking, "Did you want to come to breakfast with me?" Justin's head jerked up in shock before a wide grin split his lips. Bailey knew it was probably the first time in the nearly two months he'd been at Heritage that he'd done the asking for anyone to join him for anything. "Yeah, yeah, let's go."
  17. 43 likes
    Chapter 8 "Chavez! Straighten out that layout!" Coach Richards yelled across the gym. Owen groaned as he set up to run his punch-front layout again across the floor. Bailey flipped up to a handstand on the high bar, letting his body hold the rigid vertical for several seconds before swinging down full out stretched to a complete a front giant, then a half turn to a piked endo. As he switched his hand grip, he felt the already irritated skin ripping open. The leather grips only did so much to protect their hands. Rips were inevitable. He faltered, re-adjusted his grip before completing his flyaway half-twist dismount. He glanced at his hand, noting the edge of the rip. "McIntyre, you look like you're struggling with your eagle grip today. Something going on?" "No, sir." Bailey immediately shook his hand out, fisting his hand to hide the rip, and playing with the strap around his wrist. "Just needed to adjust my grip." A curt nod and the coach continued his stalking of the gym, stopping to help Mateo on the parallel bars. Their team had the ideal number, since each of them could be working on an apparatus at any one time. Currently, Justin was completing a back uprise to an iron cross on the rings, while Luke was running up the vault ramp throwing Yurchenko 3/2s, and Cameron was flairing and scissoring on the pommel horse. Bailey flicked his eyes around to his teammates as he stalked over to the chalk bin. He quickly covered his hands in chalk again, hoping to stop any bleeding from his ripped skin. The quiet focus here was part of what kept him sane. The intensity of pushing his muscles to extremes, to make his body do things most people wouldn't dream of trying, to soar, to fly... to forget. He clapped his hands together, creating a cloud of dust, before turning back to the high bar. He stared at it a moment, his mind running through the moves his body needed to make. Then he jumped, fingers gripping the bar as he completed a couple simple tap swings before moving onto his routine, adding in a giant hop regrab and clear hip. "You got it, Bailey! You can do it! Woohoo!" His father's voice echoed in his mind. The last meet his father would ever see. Three months ago. State Championships. He'd placed first in everything but the high bar. His mother had even smiled, and both his parents joked about why didn't he get first in that event too. He'd known they were kidding. They'd been so proud, and he'd promised next time, he'd sweep all the events. Yeah, next time. What was the point of next time if his father was just going to be ripped away from him like he had? In a moment of breaking down with his mom, he had screamed that he wasn't doing it any more, what was the point? She'd gripped his shoulders, the tears still streaming down her own face, as she set her jaw, shaking him. "You will not dishonor your father's memory by quitting," she'd said, her face set. "He would never want you to quit because of him. You've loved gymnastics for years, and he... we... have supported you. Giving up now, would be like spitting on his grave." His mother had always been the more impassive of his parents, always forthright, objective, practical. It was odd since his father was almost the opposite; he'd been the sentimental one, always there to lean on, to talk to. Maybe because he wasn't always around, his dad was especially diligent to make use of the time he did have with his family. Only now, it was just him and his mom. And after that one blow-up, they hadn't talked about his father anymore, except to bring up how disappointed he'd be in Bailey's grades or performances. "Okay! Time to hit the showers! And, Patterson, McIntyre!" the coach singled out Owen and Bailey, causing both of them to turn after they dismounted. "Yeah?" Owen yanked the velcro strap on his grip free. "Study for your test!" Coach Richards called with a chuckle. "Yes, sir!" both of them called out in response. Mr. Richards was also his US History teacher. In fact, almost all of the teachers coached one of the sports on campus, or at least assisted one of them. Some rotated what sport they coached, while others like Richards only did gymnastics. Bailey knew that his English teacher, Mr. Kirkland, coached lacrosse and cross-country, and his Trigonometry teacher, Mr. Prosser, coached the swim team. Bailey left his grips on, fisting his hand to keep his bleeding palm from being visible. He'd deal with it when he got home. It wasn't very big, certainly not the worse rip he'd ever had. In his younger days, he'd had some pretty bad ones, especially before he even starting wearing grips. He'd spent several of his beginning years building up the calluses on his hands, toughing them up, so they'd be less likely to rip later. Still, even though he wore grips now, that thin piece of leather straddling his palm didn't always stop rips from happening, just helped minimize how often and how bad they were. They trudged into Locker Room B, the locker room shared by the track team, baseball team, soccer team, and gymnastics. Locker room A housed the football, basketball, and lacrosse teams. Locker room C held most of the other sports—tennis, wrestling, fencing, and a few others. And D was the pool locker room used by the swim team—and of course, anyone using the pool recreationally. Bailey wasn't sure if the golf team had a locker area. He hadn't seen them use one, but they also had to go off campus to The Sands, the local golf club, so maybe they stored their stuff there. Bailey quickly yanked his bag from his locker and nearly ran to the showers. Justin was yanking off his practice compression shirt, flinging it into his locker, and Bailey couldn't help but sneak a peek back at him. Justin was tall and lean, his back muscles rippled as he leaned down to strip out of his gym shorts. Of course, that brought to mind the football player he'd been doing pushups with. Now, he had some huge muscles. The cut out tank hid nothing of those bulges... and those legs... god, what were those... tree trunks? Gorgeous tree trunks at that, flecked with fine dark hair. Fuck. What was he thinking? Those kind of guys never looked at him twice, except to maybe throw a slur his way, or a punch. But then this guy—Declan, wasn't it?—he hadn't been the one being an ass in the weight room. He'd actually seemed a little... nice, maybe? Still... He turned on the water, closing the shower stall door behind him. This was one feature of the school he'd loved—private showers in the locker room. He hated others seeing his body, and, well, it was harder to hide... it... if he had to change or shower in front of everyone. None of his teammates ever commented on his locker room routine—to take all his toiletries and clothes to the shower with him and change in private. After stripping off his grips, he rinsed his hands in the hot water, hissing at the sting as the water hit the open skin. He shook it out, peeling away the loose skin. He'd have to cut some of it around the edges, he noticed. It bled a little more, but he figured he'd deal with it when he got home. Completing his shower, he threw on his usual attire of a hoodie and jeans—which he realized seemed to be even baggier now. He probably needed to work on making sure he didn't skip meals, or Coach Richards was going to notice soon and say something, maybe even to his mom or the counselor. And he already saw the counselor more than he wanted to. His father's Colonel had insisted both he and his mom see someone—whether it was the base chaplain, an outside therapist, or even a grief support group. Bailey had refused to go with his mom to the chaplain, instead figuring he could get by with the school counselor. Ms. Tardin was nice enough, but Bailey wasn't interested in baring his soul to anyone. Not Ms. Tardin, not his coach, not his mother, not even Justin. So the once a week meeting he endured, assuring her he was coping just fine, was enough. He threw his grips in his locker, having wiped away the bloodstains in the shower, and threw his towel in the huge laundry bin. He stuffed his dirty gym clothes in the small duffle bag he used to transport clothes back and forth. Leaving the duffle in his locker to pick up before he left campus, he hauled his backpack over his shoulder. He heard a couple of the other showers shut off, and Justin padded out shaking the excess water from his blond hair. The locker room door opened, and voices exploded throughout the room as the cross country team poured in. They were one of the biggest teams, since some students didn't have the affinity or desire to participate in other team sports. Bailey had watched them on occasion, as he loved to run himself, and he knew many of them were really good. He scuttled past the sweaty guys, jostling his backpack with his sore hand as he made his way out of the gym building. He followed the covered promenade between buildings to Grainger Hall, the main building housing the dining hall, all of the offices—the dean, counselors, administrative personnel, and the teachers—as well as the school store and conference rooms. The center boasted a three story Rotunda with a depiction of several scenes from history on it. Bailey had discovered early in the semester that there were lots of nooks along the stairs and hallways that offered quiet study areas. Usually, the third floor was relatively empty, and he could escape there for a while before he had to be home. Today, he was hoping the rain would dissipate before he had to make the eleven block trek home. Maybe he'd even have dinner in the dining hall before he left. If it had been a nice day, he might have absconded to his favorite place—the bleachers by the track: sitting either up on the highest bench when no one was around or slipping under the bleachers if the track was busy with too many people. It was quiet there too, and nobody had ever bothered or noticed him. And he could escape with... it... in peace, allowing... it... to muffle the torment in his soul. "Bailey, wait up. I need to talk to you." Damn it. Bailey paused on the second floor landing as Justin caught up with him. "What? I need to study for Richards's test." "Show me your hand." Crap. How had Justin known? Bailey rolled his eyes as he turned for the stairs. "Don't walk away from me," Justin snapped louder, grabbing his arm and spinning him around. "I'm fine," Bailey said, clenching his hand as he tossed his long bangs from his eyes. "Let me see," Justin insisted. Bailey heaved out an exasperated sigh before finally unfurling his hand for his team captain. Clenching it had caused it to bleed a little, making a smear of blood over his palm. "I knew it. I thought I saw blood on your grips." Justin carefully inspected his wounded hand. The other teen's warm fingers caused him to recoil. Too many times guys reaching out to him ended in fists to a tender body part or bruises from a restraining grip. He could barely stand to be touched now. His parents occasional hugs and pats on the back had been his only source of comfort for so long. And then the one person he needed comfort from in the aftermath of his father's death rejected him. He yanked his hand free. "It's just ripped, that's all. It happens." "We both know rips happen, it's part of the sport. But you're part of this team, and as such you will not hide injuries from Coach." "It'll be fine. A few tea bags tonight, and I'll be good to go tomorrow." "Tomorrow you'll lay off the bars, rings, and the horse. Focus on floor and vault to give that a chance to heal." Bailey opened his mouth to object, but he knew arguing with Justin would be pointless. "Good. Now, have fun studying." Bailey turned to head up to the third floor. "Oh, hey, did you want to stay over this weekend? Brett's going home, so I'll have plenty of room." This was a fairly common offer, if not from Justin, one of his other teammates might ask. He knew what they were trying to do—to get him out of his comfort zone a little, to get him to relax—but he had always turned them down. "No, I can't—" "You never can, Bay. I'm sure your mother can live without you just one weekend." "S-She's lonely. With... dad... gone and all." Justin just nodded, his eyes soft with understanding. Bailey could see it hurt Justin to know how much pain Bailey was going through at the loss of his father so recently. "Okay, well, maybe I'll catch you tomorrow morning." "Sure." Bailey shrugged, knowing Justin would never stop trying to draw him out. Bailey headed past Justin to the next set of stairs for the third floor. He saw Justin heading back down to the main floor, catching up with some of his other friends—Bailey thought some of them were from the swim team, maybe the track team. Hell, they could be from the basketball team, and Bailey probably wouldn't know. It seemed Justin was friends with just about everyone. Well, except that Chris Vasser guy. Bailey chuckled to himself thinking about how Justin and the rest of his team stood up to the entire football squad. Of course, it was unlikely the whole football team was made up of arrogant jerks like Chris and Eric. Bailey rounded the top of the stairs, catching sight of someone already sprawled in one of the chairs. He faltered for a moment, but the guy was grinning widely as he glanced towards Bailey. He looked familiar, yet... Oh, that guy. Um, Declan, the push-up guy. Hmm, Bailey hadn't known he came up here. But then again, Bailey had been in a fog most of his time at Heritage, just trying to get by, not wanting to talk to anyone. He started to offer a hesitant wave of greeting, but they guy's head was already turned back to his book. Instead, Bailey ducked down the opposite hallway finding a comfortable chair in his own nook. Even though he could hear a couple people in their offices still, he knew no one would pay much attention to him here. He took a moment to breathe, dropping his head back on the leather chair. He pulled his notebook from his backpack. He needed to study for Richards's test, and he had to finish a paper for his English teacher Mr. Kirkland. Just thinking about the paper made him break out in a sweat. He'd never been very good at writing, hated it even. He usually managed to pull low B's on them, most of the time. And in his previous years that had been acceptable. Yet now, a B wasn't enough. And he was terrified to write this first major paper and find out he couldn't pull the grade his mom expected him to get—for his father. He couldn't fail him. "Fuck," he whispered, breathing heavily. He clenched his hand, intentionally biting his fingernails into the still tender rip. His other hand pressed on his hip—it from yesterday. The zing of pain shot through him, overriding his panic, and he held his breath, clinging to the blissful silence in his head that focusing on the pain gave him. The one on his hip didn't offer much help as it was healing too well already, but the rip on his palm... that was fresh... He kept digging in, even knowing he should stop before he made the rip worse. He floated for several moments on the blessed release the stinging in his hand gave him. When he felt the slick of blood under his fingers, he managed to pull open his hand. Bailey stared at the small drops of blood pooling in his palm. It wasn't much, but those small drops represented his hurt, his anger, his panic, his fears, his grief... No one wanted to see him cry. He'd be teased mercilessly. Lashing out only got him in trouble. As his mother told him—he "needed to deal with his grief, his father's death somehow, just like she was." She'd found it in her bottles of wine. And he'd found it. **** After studying, Bailey had headed to one of the computer labs to start on his paper since it was still raining. The less time he spent at home, the less chance his mother would find fault in something he'd done, or didn't do. At one point about a third into the paper, he noticed the rain had finally died down to a drizzle. It was already closing in on seven-thirty, so he probably needed to head home. His mom expected him no later than eight each night, but only if practice ran late. She'd always asked if he could try to make it back in time for dinner. It was the one thing she attempted to still do with him. He couldn't deny her that. After a brief detour to pick up his clothing duffle, Bailey headed out the main doors of Grainger Hall directly towards the front gates. They were never closed, just large iron-work decorations to give the school that prestigious look. There was a little 'guard' house next to the gates that usually held a security guard who would check in and out visitors, staff and students—to ensure random people didn't just wander around campus. As Bailey passed by, he scanned his student ID at the scanner and marked himself as leaving campus. He waved slightly at the man, knowing the security guy would note his departure. Most students stayed on campus, so if one left, they wanted to make sure they came back before the ten o'clock curfew. Bailey, of course, wouldn't be expected back tonight. "'Night, Mr. McIntyre," the man called. Heritage Academy had been built near the original town center. After a fire had apparently wiped out most of the original buildings, the area had been mostly abandoned for several years. The town—looking to expand to city status—had moved its municipal buildings to larger, more modern quarters several miles to the south where there was room to grow and develop. All the larger box stores and chain stores as well as the mall were there. When Heritage Academy bought these several acres of land to the north of the newly sprawling city, and developers began to purchase nearby land for housing, interest became renewed in the old, lost buildings. The old town center became Heritage Square. A place where several small restaurants and cafés emerged. A few specialty shops popped in as well. There was a fountain in the middle and parking lots were situated behind the buildings with new brick walkways leading between the shops into the square. It was perhaps two-square blocks wide, not huge, but quaint as the locals called it. Skirting the outsides of the square were a few essential stores. A drug store, a grocery store, and a couple of gas stations, were to be found, but if anyone was looking for Kmart or Costco or even a mall, they'd have to head south. Bailey often enjoyed taking a path home that took him through the square. He enjoyed the cozy-town feel of it after having lived in bigger, major cities like Richmond. Other times, he might turn left out of Heritage's gates and make his way through Heritage Park to get to his neighborhood. Today, Bailey just waved at the guard and headed across the street toward the Square. The coffee shop and the deli were most popular with the staff, especially if they wanted something other than dining hall food. The frozen yogurt place attracted a lot of students, especially on the weekends when groups of girls from the local high school would hang out there or at Heritage Park where a lot of the academy students went. Yet probably the most popular store was the Carewell Pharmacy, the local drug store that had a little bit of everything—drinks, food, snacks, toiletries, lube and condoms, candy, school supplies, laundry soap... pretty much anything they might need or want, except clothing. Bailey knew many Heritage Academy students had small refrigerators and microwaves in their rooms, so the stores offered a chance to have a little freedom from the standard dining hall fare. Most of the time, Bailey never visited those stores, even though he passed them often. His dad had taken him and his mom to the frozen yogurt shop a few times over the summer. Now, Bailey could barely stand to look at it. He trudged down the courtyard center, hitting the corner across from the Carewell Pharmacy before turning down the next street towards the housing developments. "Look, it's that flyboy." That had his head popping up. He glanced behind him, to see a mix of teens standing around outside the Carewell Pharmacy. He recognized Eric but not the other two guys with him who just chuckled before turning back to the girls they'd been chatting with. Fortunately the football players were quickly distracted again by the girls flirting with them, so he was able to skirt them easily, making his way down the road where he turned again. Finally stopping in front of a beautiful two level brick house with a wide front porch that his mother had loved. Of course, he hadn't seen her using it much in the last several weeks. And now that he looked, the yard probably needed to be mowed again one last time as fall slipped in. He quietly unlocked the front door, passing by the living room without even looking at it. He couldn't stand to see the folded flag mounted in a beautiful wooden display case with his father's name etched on a gold plaque that was sitting on the mantle of the fireplace. Pictures of his father in his uniform lined the mantle to both sides of it, some were of just him, one had just him and Bailey, another one was of his parents' wedding. He hadn't spent time in that room since the Colonel had sat him and his mother down on that damn blue couch to tell him that his father had been killed by an IED in Afghanistan just days after he'd been redeployed. His mother did though. She sat there all the time, staring at the fireplace, the mantle, the flag... One time he'd thought to join her, seeking comfort, maybe relief from the hurt and anger that kept building. But she'd left as soon as he came in the room, retreating to her own bedroom. Now, he headed straight for the kitchen where he could hear his mother talking on the phone. "...no, no, it's fine," she was saying, waving her hand, even smiling, "I can get Bailey to do it this weekend, if you'll be in." Bailey stopped short, wondering what he'd just been volunteered to do. "Okay, thank you for everything, Daniel. You've been such a wonderful help. Bye now." Bailey hated the way she nearly purred into the phone at the attorney. When she turned and noticed him standing in the doorway to the kitchen, her smile widened, and she ambled towards him. "Bailey! Glad you're home," she slurred, and he suddenly noticed the half empty bottle of wine on the counter. That explained why she'd be 'glad to see him' because she never was. She barely acknowledged him these days. "Daniel, needs you to sign a few things for your father's estate, some of the accounts he willed to you," she mumbled. "I did them earlier this week, but he was calling to remind me that I still need to bring you by." "Daniel? Is that what you call Mr. Kirsch now?" Bailey realized he sounded a little bitter. She frowned at him but apparently decided to ignore his curt remark. She gestured at the table. "I called him. I needed someone to talk to after—after getting those..." Bailey glanced at the table. Spread there were more cards from half the base, offering condolences as well as checking in on them. Bailey knew the Colonel's wife had come by a few times as well as a few others, often bringing some kind of casserole that Bailey hated, even if it was an hour's drive from the base. The cards explained why she had probably opened a bottle of wine as well. He should be glad his mom had someone to talk to, even if it was just their attorney; instead, it made him sick. He couldn't help but think just how friendly the lawyer had become with his mother in the absence of his father, and she seemed to be enjoying the attention. He knew she was trying to bury her feelings for the loss his father; it just seemed too soon to be accepting another man's attentions. "Daniel was very kind to talk to me for a few minutes. Then he reminded me about needing to bring you by. I'd forgotten about it, and you get home so late. I have some casserole in the fridge." He barely kept his nose from turning up. "I'll find something, mom." "That's good, sweetie." She sounded a little floaty. He frowned, wondering if the alcohol was reacting with the antidepressant the doctor prescribed for her recently. He watched her sink into the cushions of the blue couch. He wasn't worried that she was going to break down crying because she never did. Not in front of him. He knew she was trying to stay strong, smile, and keep Bailey strong and focused as well. And he knew he needed to do the same for her. "He was so beautiful..." she mumbled. "So strong, so perfect..." God, he couldn't stay to hear this again—her flouncing back and forth from glorifying his father to nearly pretending he hadn't existed—it nearly killed him every time. Bailey grabbed a soda and an apple from the kitchen and ran for the stairs. He slammed his door shut, causing several medals to rattle on their display hooks. He dropped his bags and flopped on his bed. Staring at the ceiling, his fan twirling languidly above him, he rolled, curling onto his side. He both loved and hated the wall he was now facing. The wall of a champion, his father had lovingly called it. It held every medal, trophy, or plaque that he'd ever won. Most of course were for gymnastics, but there were a couple academic awards mixed in there. His father had been so proud of him, so damn supportive, that it hurt to look at the awards and not remember the pride and joy on his dad's face when he'd won them. Bailey could practically pick out any one of them and playback in his mind his dad's reactions. The 1st place state trophy. He'd cheered the loudest of everyone when Bailey's name had been called. The pride had radiated from the man, and Bailey had basked in his joy. Even the 5th place pommel horse medal, which had Bailey loathing himself for the mistakes he'd made, had good memories in the end. His father had known how much Bailey was deriding himself for not doing better, and he'd taken Bailey's face in his large calloused ones: "Bailey, you did your best. You know that, I know that. You will sometimes make mistakes, but how you handle them tells people what kind of person you are. You never blame someone else, and you accept your slipups, but never let them consume you, son. Learn from them, live with them, but don't dwell on them. I'm so proud of you, no matter what your score is, or where you place. The fact that you get out there every day and face the possibility of failure—of falling off that bar, of tripping up on the floor, of faulting on the pommel horse—that makes you one of the most courageous, intelligent people I know. And even prouder that that person is my son." His eyes started to burn with the memories. He thought again about ripping them all down, throwing them out. But they were moments he'd shared with his father, and he couldn't yet let them go, no matter how painful it was to look at some of them right now. His father had lovingly built this display for him as soon as they had moved in. And Bailey just couldn't bring himself to touch it; mostly he just tried not to look at it—another reason to stay out of the house as much as possible, except when sleeping. He stripped out of his clothes, seeking the tender spot on his hip. Yes, that one was almost healed, but he couldn't keep ripping open the wound on his hand—that one he needed healed ASAP for gymnastics. So he scraped at the scabbing on his hip, creating just enough of a jolt to make his mother's melancholy fade away... without having to slice a new line to get it.
  18. 41 likes
    Chapter 15 Allie dragged Liam back to the table, insisting he tell her more about his love life, or lack thereof. Unfortunately, she had to wait since Ken, Sara and Joey had arrived, and the mini-reunion took precedence for several minutes. The laughter at their table drowned out the music, and earned amused gazes from the other patrons. After obligatory hugs and exclamations as to how much everyone had changed, Liam was finally pulled closer to Allie and Sara, who also wanted ‘dirty details’ of his love life. The short and quick version of events regarding Alek and Nathan earned sympathetic nods and hugs from both women, who’d each had their share of relationship woes. “Why don’t you just move back to Halifax?” Sara asked, squeezing Liam’s hand. “It sounds like Kingston hasn’t been that great of an experience for you, and you know we’d love to have you home. Maybe some geographical distance will even help you get over Alek?” Liam gave the question serious thought before answering. He was having a wonderful time with his old friends, but Kingston, despite his relationship issues, had been good for him. “Actually,” he said with a smile. “I love Kingston. My boss, Corey, is amazing, and encouraged me to go back to school for my physiotherapy degree.” “And he’s going to kick ass at it,” Marty interjected from across the table. Liam chuckled. “I don’t know about kicking ass, but I’m excited to get started.” “Maybe once you become a therapist to the rich and famous you can look at my bum shoulder,” Joey kidded, rotating his left shoulder. “I never recovered after Ken threw me off of that dock when we were sixteen.” Everyone laughed over Ken’s protests that he was only defending himself. “Please,” Sara said, using her foot to nudge the bar owner under the table. “You weren’t defending yourself. The only way you could take Joey out was by sneak attack.” “It’s not my fault Jen Anderson was jumping around on the raft in a bikini,” Ken retorted, with a wink. “Next time, Joey should pay attention to something other than some bouncy blonde.” “Did you know Jenny’s studying to be a neurologist now?” Allie interjected. “Last I heard she was in Montreal.” “A neurologist?” Ken said with a mischievous grin. “Too bad you didn’t manage to bag her, Contin. She could help with that mental deficiency.” Liam laughed loudly when Joey grabbed Ken around the neck and mussed up his hair. “So,” Allie said once the laughter died down. “Do you think Alek’s sincere this time?” “I don’t know,” Liam replied with a shake of his head. “I think he is right now, but what about when things get tough with his parents. His dad is pretty overbearing, and I know he must hate hurting his mom.” “Maybe,” Allie replied softly, “he needed the push of your accident to make him see the light? Landon never believed how much I cared about him until I was ready to let him go.” “That’s not the same though, Al. You didn’t treat him like he was your dirty secret.” “No, but he did hurt me. I’d tried for so long to get Landon to give us a chance, but he never believed my feelings were real. Finally, about three years ago, I’d had enough rejection and was ready to walk away. I’d even put my notice in at work, and found someone to sublet my apartment. The weekend I was set to move to St. Johns he went out, got trashed, and slept with Michelle Colhain. She was rooming with Sara at the time, and I caught him leaving Michelle’s room when I stopped in to say goodbye. We weren’t together, and he didn’t owe me anything, but it was like a knife to my heart. Lan told me the hurt he saw in my face that morning was what finally convinced him my feelings were sincere.” She looked across the table at her boyfriend and smiled. “If he hadn’t followed me to Saint Johns to beg me to give him a chance, we wouldn’t be together now. I didn’t make it easy for him. I wasn’t sure I could give my heart to someone who believed I would play with their feelings. In the end, I finally realized I loved him too much to let him go, and if he was willing to risk his heart, then so was I. I’m happier now than I could’ve ever imagined. I know it’s scary, but if you still love Alek, even after everything that’s happened, maybe you owe it to yourself to see if he can be the man you need him to be?” Liam was saved from answering by Ken dropping shots in front of everyone. Allie didn’t bring up Alek again, and hugged him fiercely before the group parted for the night. With promises to keep in touch, Liam and Marty hopped into a waiting cab. He was pleasantly buzzed, and leaned against the cool window, watching the familiar neighbourhood pass by. The driver took a different route back, coming within blocks of his old house. Liam didn’t realize he’d reacted until Marty placed a hand on his shoulder. “You all right, Li? You seem tense.” “It’s nothing, really.” He tried to smile, but wasn’t very successful. “We’re near my old street. I guess I’m feeling a little melancholy.” “Do you want….” Marty cleared his throat, looking uncertain. “Are you going to the cemetery while you’re here?” “I don’t know,” Liam replied honestly. He hadn’t visited his father’s grave since the day of the burial, and he wasn’t sure if he could handle it now. Not alone. “If I do go, would you come with me?” “Of course. You don’t even have to ask.” The next morning Liam woke with a splitting heading and a stomach protesting the quantity of alcohol he’d consumed. Even though he didn’t drink much, he knew the shots were what did him in. The place was quiet, and with Marty having the day off, Liam assumed his friend was still asleep. He got out of bed and quietly made his way to the kitchen in search of coffee and maybe toast to settle his stomach. Liam was munching the last bite when Marty finally stumbled out of bed, rubbing his eyes, and making a beeline for the coffee pot with a mumbled ‘good morning.’ Once both men were caffeinated, they were able to have a lucid conversation about their night. “It was great to see everyone,” Liam said, refilling his cup. “I’m glad you thought of it.” “It was a good night,” Marty agreed. “We all live in the same city, but don’t get together as often as we should.” “It’s easy to let things go when life gets busy. You always think you can put off a phone call for another day.” “Exactly. We’re all guilty of it. I’ll have to make an effort to get better, especially if I’m going to be moving.” “So,” Liam began, trying not to sound overly excited and failing miserably. “Have you heard anything concrete about a transfer?” “Actually, I was talking to my boss yesterday.” Marty paused to rinse out his cup, leaving Liam to anxiously squirm in his chair. “He said the transfer paperwork has been approved. I’ll be in the Ontario office within six months.” Liam squealed in excitement, not caring how it sounded as he rushed over to hug his best friend. “Oh my God!” he shouted. “I can’t believe it’s finally happening.” Marty laughed and hugged Liam back. “I thought you might like the news.” “Have you told your mom yet?” “Oh, man, don’t even get me started on that conversation,” Marty replied with a sigh. “She wasn’t happy about the possibility of me moving so far away, so I know the reality is going to set off tears. She told me she understood though, and would be happy if you and I were closer to each other.” “I feel badly for your parents, but I’m thrilled the move is actually happening.” With the good news of Marty’s impending move, Liam felt bolstered before the visit to his father’s gravesite. The day was frosty, but luckily the clouds were well out over the ocean. It didn’t take long to drive to the cemetery and before he knew it, Liam was walking down a path lined by headstones. The area was surprisingly green for this time of the year, and there were no other visitors in sight, although he could hear the distant sound of voices. Marty stood down the path, far enough away that he wouldn’t overhear, but close enough he could be there in seconds should Liam need him. Liam stood awkwardly for a few moments, staring at the marble markers of both of his parents. He barely remembered his mother, who’d died when he was very young. The only clear memory he had was of her leaning over his bed to kiss his forehead. He wasn’t sure if the image was a memory, or something his mind made up, but he clung to it. After saying a few words of greeting to his mom, and placing a light touch on the cold stone, he turned to his father. As expected, tears began to form in the corner of his eyes. “Hi, Dad,” he started with a sigh. “I know I haven’t come by since the burial, but I just… I couldn’t do it. I’m sorry. I wanted to, but it hurt so much. I never expected to have to say goodbye to you so soon.” Liam spread out the light emergency blanket Marty handed him in the car and then knelt between his parents’ graves. “There’s so much I’ve wanted to tell you. You probably know I moved to Kingston a few months after you died. I really like it there. I have a job at a physiotherapy clinic, and my boss, Corey, has convinced me to go back to school.” Liam wiped away a few more tears and looked back at Marty, who still stood stoically beside a barren tree. With a tight smile, he turned back to the raised earthen mound. “I don’t know what you can see from where you are, but I met someone in Kingston. His name is Aleksei. We’ve broken up now, but I haven’t been able to get him out of my head. I loved him, and he told me he loved me, but he wasn’t out, and he let his family obligations come between us. I know I should get over him, but I can’t seem to let him go.” Liam sighed again and looked up at the light blue sky. “I still love him, Dad. A few weeks ago, I learned he came out to his family. It’s what I wanted for so long, but I don’t know if I can trust him to put me first in his life. He couldn’t do it before, even though I gave him several chances. I don’t know what to do. Do I give him another chance, or do I walk away? Allie said I might owe it to myself to see where things go. God, why does love have to be so hard? “Do you realize this is the most we’ve ever talked about something that didn’t involve fishing or hockey?” Liam laughed, and was surprised how bitter the sound was to his ears. “I hate that you had to die to be still long enough for us to have a conversation.” Tears started to fall in earnest and no amount of blinking was going to keep them at bay. “I miss you, Dad. God, I even missed you when you were here. I hope you’re happier now that you’re with mom again. I wish….” Words were impossible as sobs started to wrack Liam’s body. He trembled as the pain pushed past the protective wall he’d built around it. Suddenly strong arms were pulling him into a warm chest. He leaned into Marty and allowed his best friend to console him. Slowly, the tears subsided, and Marty’s soft words broke through the haze. “Let it out. That’s it. I’ve got you.” After a few moments, Liam reluctantly eased out of Marty’s embrace, and wiped away the moisture cooling on his cheeks. “Sorry about the jacket,” he said, noticing a wet stain on Marty’s light coat. “That’s all right. It’s waterproof.” Liam gave a watery chuckle. “Always prepared.” “Are you okay? Did you say what you needed to say?” “I’m not sure,” Liam answered truthfully. “I feel a little raw right now.” “Fair enough. If you’re ready, how about we head over to Mom and Dad’s? She’s expecting us for lunch, and I’m sure you could use a hot drink and a warm house. It’s chilly out here.” As if called, a cold breeze swept through the relatively open space, causing both men to shiver. “Yeah, I think I’m ready. I might….” Liam turned to look back at the stone markers. “I might come back again before I head home.” “Whatever you need.” Liam gave his friend a hug, squeezing tightly. “Thank you for coming with me. I love you.” “I love you too, bro. Come on, let’s go get you warmed up.” Liam was quiet on the drive to the Harrison’s home as he tried to process his feelings. Marty’s mother, ever perceptive, took one look at him and pulled Liam into a hug before leading both men to the kitchen table. Soon, he was warming chilled fingers with a hot cup of tea while sitting between the pair. No one spoke for several minutes until Eileen finally broke the silence. “I know today was hard, and if you ever want to talk, I’m here. We’re only a phone call away.” “Thank you,” Liam replied gratefully. “I was just surprised, I think.” “Surprised?” Eileen took his hand in her much smaller one. “I didn’t expect to feel….” Liam paused and knew his face was flushed with embarrassment. Neither Marty nor Eileen spoke, instead sitting quietly with looks of support and encouragement on their faces. “I was bitter.” “That’s not unusual,” Eileen replied quietly. “People left behind after loved ones die are often angry.” “No. Not angry like that.” Liam fidgeted in his seat. “Yeah, I was upset dad left me all alone.” He lifted his hand to interrupt Marty’s objection. “I know you guys are here for me, but after he died I had no other close living relatives. Sure, I have second cousins and a great aunt somewhere, but I don’t know them.” Liam took a fortifying breath before continuing. “I was bitter when I realized talking to dad’s grave was the longest conversation I’d ever had with the man. The only time we talked was when we were out on the boat, and that was about fishing. How selfish is that? He’s dead, and all I can think about is how I wish he’d paid more attention to me.” “Oh, Liam….” Eileen’s voice wavered. “It’s not selfish. I knew your parents since they were newly married. Gavin was always a man of few words, but I think after Margo died he became even more closed off. She was the outgoing one. You’re so much like her.” “I didn’t know you knew my parents before Marty and I became friends.” “Margo and I met through a few of the committees we both sat on. She always seemed so happy. She didn’t like to drive, so your dad was always there to pick her up. I think the only times I’d ever seen that man smile was when he looked at her. After she died, Gavin pulled away from our circle of friends. I worried about you. You were so little at the time. It made me so happy the day Marty brought you home.” “Is that why I got a hug in the first five minutes after I met you?” Liam asked, smiling at the memory. “I couldn’t help myself. It was like seeing Margo again.” Liam’s wistful smile faded and he rubbed at the dull ache in his chest. “I should let this bitterness go, shouldn’t I? There’s nothing to be gained by wishing things had been different.” “If your reaction today is any indication, I don’t think you’ve ever dealt with how Margo’s death affected you, or your dad.” “No, I guess not.” “Well, maybe you should think about it? I know your dad loved you, but I can see how his taciturn nature would be hard on a child.” Eileen considered Liam for a few moments before leaning in for a hug. “I’m here for you any time, even if you need to vent,” she whispered and then pulled back, clapping her hands together. “Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry, and those grilled cheese sandwiches aren’t going to make themselves.”
  19. 40 likes
    All too soon it was time to leave for town. Raymond had called to let them know Joe, the attorneys and himself would meet them in the conference room at the motel where Ilya's and Raymond's men were staying. Upon arrival, Paul was upset to see a Sheriff’s patrol car parked alongside Raymond's Tesla. They still had more than half an hour before they had to meet. Why the hell was he here now. Paul was in no hurry to confront the Sheriff, especially since both he and Jeff had left their sidearms at home. Sam and Dave were already outside perusing the parking lot before Paul had unfastened his seatbelt. He wasn't even sure if Dave was still armed. He looked as ready for trouble as Sam did. Jeff knew exactly how his partner felt. Even though he had complete trust in his Uncles, he was still on edge about the questioning and the confrontation. He tried to reassure his partner, but it was hard when he was convinced the Sheriff was totally unscrupulous.The relief for all of them was palpable when they learned the patrol car had been driven by Deputy Lovan. Paul was surprised at the number of people in suits and business casual that had gathered in the conference room. Most refrained from approaching. A few, mostly the ones in expensive suits, came over to shake Jeff's hand and welcome him home. Jeff enthusiastically, in turn, introduced Paul as his life partner. Deputy Lovan left just after Jeff and his group arrived. He managed a wave, followed by two thumbs up, from across the room as he walked out. Raymond nodded to Ilya and suddenly the conference room was cleared except for Jeff, Paul, Joe, Raymond, Ilya, Sam, Dave, Tink sans uzi, and the attorneys. He introduced them to Jubal Harshaw and Jillian Dorcas. Jeff knew both by reputation and was pleased they would be representing Paul and Dave. Now he had a legitimate reason to be encouraged. It had been previously decided that if, in the unlikely event, they were questioned at the same time, Jeff and Harshaw would go with Paul while Raymond and Jillian Dorcas went with Dave. The two groups gathered separately at opposite ends of the conference room. After they were seated Jubal Harshaw took over, “I need to hear your account of yesterday's events. Just like now, I’ll be sitting on your left side. Watch me carefully. I have pretty good reflexes for a semiretired senior citizen. If I grab your arm or if you think I am about to grab you, simply, as you young folk often opin, ‘shut the fuck up’. “Let me help you clarify a point or statement that might have been misconstrued by others. By others I mean those appointed and anointed to enforce a medieval system slanted to protect the status quo or ruling class. Lucky for you, you happen to be a classmate in good standing, as witnessed by my presence. I don't come cheap. “Now by misconstrued, I mean taken as an admission of guilt regarding something as simple as breach of the peace, up to and including premeditated murder. If left to their professional integrity, your innocent utterance will be twisted into an already hoped for and half expected confession of guilt. Their juvenile attempts to ingratiate themselves to a nonexistent Neolithic deity means that, to them, everyone is guilty of something. You may be innocent in this particular situation, but in the course of your life you have sinned enough to deserve any punishment rendered. It's how they sleep at night.” Jubal Harshaw spent the next half hour listening to Paul's version of events. He only interrupted a few times and carefully explained his reasoning each time. The majority of interruptions came because Paul was saying too much. By the time he was through, Paul felt like his story was stripped of any conversational value and “just the facts” remained. Paul was grateful when Raymond's group joined them at Jeff's end of the conference room. He directed everyone to have a seat. “Jeff, Paul, Sam and Dave, last night Deputy Harris gave us a lot more information after y’all left. We couldn't really verify most of it until this morning. Now, it's important that we not show our hand too soon. We won't go into details here and now, but there will be some surprises at this questioning. I want to assure the four of you, we have everything under control. “But a lot of this depends on your reactions. I am concerned that your expressions and body language may give something away if you know too much. You all have to trust me and my judgement. Paul, these guys know me and know I have their backs.” At this Jeff, Sam and Dave nodded and smiled reassuringly. “ I know it's a lot to ask of you; to have faith that we can pull this off. “There is every reason to believe that we could get away without even showing up for the questioning until after the Sheriff is arrested. After what we learned last night, the bastard deserves to be put away for a long time. He’s not a fool. If he suspects we’re onto him, he could play this straight and walk away with a slap on the wrist. I ran into Julie from the diner this morning in the lobby. She told me to go with my gut and that you would agree to follow my lead. She has never failed to give me sound advice. So, how about it, Paul. Can you trust me?” Paul could feel the pressure, it seemed everyone was looking at him with hopeful expectation. Except Tink, who was studiously watching something on his laptop. Paul swallowed, stared into Jeff's eyes, then began, “I have been through a lot this week. I met you, Jeff, the love of my life. My house was burned down. I was kidnapped and almost murdered. I,, uh,, I killed a man who tried to kill me and my daughter. And I became a member of a very loving and apparently very rich and powerful family. “So,” meeting Raymond’s questioning gaze, “do I trust you? What do you want me to do, Uncle Raymond?” Raymond moved around the table and pulled Paul into his arms, “I know I said this before, but welcome to the family, Nephew.” Jubal Harshaw interjected, “It is always good to witness positive familial dynamics, but we need to get to Oz if our little troupe of thespians is going to expose the man behind the curtain.” Paul wasn't sure why he felt more secure, but he did. He had a family! For the first time in a long time it wasn't just him and Maria standing alone against “come what may.” He had family at his back. Not just any family, he had the Adams Family, fingersnap, fingersnap. (Jeff had told him about Danny's annoying habit. Paul had laughed his ass off.) Now, it looked like a small army had assembled in the Sheriff's Office parking lot. Ilya took charge of his men. Immediately assigning two to wait in the lobby with him and Tink. The rest were to maintain ready posture at a coffee shop across the street, rotating so the vehicles were manned with a driver at all times. Paul watched as Dave surrendered two pistols and two nasty looking boot knives to Sam, for safe keeping. Joe offered, “Good luck, son. I’ll be waiting right here for you.” Once Jubal identified their group, the ‘invited guests’ passed through a metal detector and were ushered down a hallway. They passed Deputy Lovan in the hallway, leading two sharply dressed men with white cowboy hats into a conference room. He barely nodded in passing. That dashed Paul's hope that he would have at least one friendly face at his inquisition. He relaxed a little when he realized the questioning would indeed take place in two separate rooms. Due to the holidays, the already short staffed D. A.’s office had a scheduling conflict. The Sheriff, he guiltily hoped, would chose to conduct Dave’s session since he had pissed him off so much. He was surprised when they were let into a spacious room with a table and eight chairs. There was even a coffee maker in the corner with a full, fresh pot. Too bad. Between the house and the motel, his kidneys were already floating. Harshaw had them take seats nearest the door. That put them with their backs against the door. It also had the Sheriff’s men facing the obvious two way mirror. Harshaw made it clear that once they entered the Sheriff's building, all conversation would cease. If anyone had a question they were to write it down and hand it to him. Biological needs could be addressed by raising a hand. Jubal Harshaw was not an easy man to like. Respect as a professional? Yes, like? No! As they took their seats, he broke his own rule about talking, “They typically will lull you into a false sense of security before they ask any really difficult questions. If you get nervous and need to calm down, just stop talking and take a few deep breaths. For the sake of some unnamed god, don't babble on. Simply tell your story, like you did at the motel, and answer their questions simply. “We are not here to make friends. If you want friends; buy Girl Scout cookies, join a cult based upon Martian philosophy, do anything but fall for their sophomoric attempts to friendly a confession out of you. “I infer, from our conversation, your appearance and your profession that you are an honest and intelligent young man. I am seldom wrong in my estimations, unless purposely misled. Don't force me to devalue my own masterful ability to superficially judge people by behaving like a dunderhead during this skirmish.” Paul knew that this speech was more for the benefit of those watching behind the two way mirror. Still, he spent his time in Jubal Harshaw’s company vacillating between utter awe and absolute disdain. They had been forbidden to bring any recording devices with them. Paul noticed Jubal playing with a handsome fountain pen. Jubal noted his interest and shrugged, “Your man Tink should reconsider his profession he would make me a great private investigator. He’d have to lose that phony accent, but he would do well.” Even as he said this he fingered a nondescript lapel pin. The hair on the back of Paul's neck bristled as the door opened behind him. He remained calm in spite of a very strong desire to stand and prepare to fight. Once the silent group of men walked around the table, his worst fears were realized. Standing behind the seat directly in front of him was the “bad Sheriff”. To his right was the big, handsome, courteous and professional State Trooper. On his left was a young man, in a badly fitted suit, that looked like he was still attending law school. This, they would learn was the Assistant District Attorney (ADA). On the ADA’s left was none other than his honor the Mayor. The Sheriff, still standing, introduced his side of the table. He forestalled any objections by stating the Mayor was acting in his official capacity as a duly appointed Auxiliary Deputy Sheriff. Jubal stood and faced the Sheriff and introduced himself and then Jeff as his co-counsel. Paul silently cursed himself for looking for it. Sure enough it snaked noticeably down the man's left leg. Paul jumped when Jeff nudged him in the ribs, caught his eye and smiled broadly, letting Paul know he had been caught checking out the “Daddy” Sheriff. What was worse, when he looked up he could see the Sheriff had caught him also. Only the man didn't smile, it was more like a silent snarl. In spite of the guilty blush, Paul was happy to realize that truly nothing about this man sparked anything but curiosity and loathing. The Deputy D. A. had been well briefed or had thoroughly read Paul's statement. He might be young, but he came across as a professional. Copies of Paul's statement of events were provided and Paul scanned his copy and agreed that it accurately reflected the events of the previous morning. The ADA asked him to again go over the events leading up to the shooting. He started with the fire. Then told how they had disagreed with the Fire Marshal’s assessment, in light of the strange gas can, discovery of “red” diesel as the accelerant matching the contents of said can. He went on to explain that the gas can had been dusted for prints and contents sampled while, he believed, it was still in Deputy Lovan’s custody. At this point the Sheriff clearly mumbled, “That bastard!” The ADA asked, “Sheriff Johnson, you had something you wanted to ask?” “What? No. Just thinking about the likelihood of a broken chain of custody.” Jubal offered, “I should think not being able to make a charge of arson prosecutable against a dead man would be in itself a moot point… Sheriff.” The Sheriff offered Jubal his signature silent snarl. Paul’s interpretation of that look was ‘eat shit and die motherfucker’. He, for once, wanted to cheer his lawyer’s snooty, superior attitude. At the ADA’s urging Paul went on to point out the Fire Marshall’s insistence that the cause of the fire was faulty wiring. Ignoring the gas can and the strange vehicle seen leaving as the fire was discovered. Paul told about the note found on his windshield and about his daughter repeating her conversation with Morgan. How they had found fingerprints at his house matching those on the can and those apparently indicating he was wanted for burglary in Idaho. They learned the local police put out an APB on Morgan and his truck. When he got to the part where Morgan made his presence known, he got shaky and asked for some water. The Sheriff nodded at the two way mirror. Shortly a Deputy appeared and went around the table to hand the water bottle to the Sheriff and whispered something in his ear. Paul could tell whatever it was wasn't good for him because it made the Sheriff smile broadly. He courteously passed the bottle to Paul. Suddenly Paul regretted his thirst. Paul continued his recollection yesterday's events. When he told how he accused Morgan of being high on drugs, the Sheriff interjected, “Was that the first time you ever saw Joshua Morgan high on drugs?” Paul was dumbfounded by the question. Jubal grabbed his arm and addressed the ADA, “My client has already stated that he had only the slightest casual contact with Joshua Morgan prior to the kidnapping. The drug use was speculation on my client’s part confirmed as fact by Joshua Morgan himself. My client had no prior knowledge of Morgan's history with drug abuse.” With a sneer of disdain, “Counselor, apparently you don't know your client very well. Last night I received an anonymous tip to search his vehicle. I ordered a more thorough search of said vehicle. A vehicle which has been in our impound lot since shortly after the shooting. The Deputy that brought in the water told me they have discovered eight ounces of a substance testing positive for cocaine with an estimated street of over $10,000. “We will be taking a closer look at Morgan's residence. I’m sure the fire and the shooting both stem from a disagreement on how to split the proceeds from the sale of drugs.” Turning to Paul with a predatory sneer, “Well boy, Isn't it true that you and Joshua Morgan have been distributing narcotics in this area since shortly after his going to work at the Adams ranch? You better speak up quick. Your new partner who took part in the killing is probably singing like a canary hoping to avoid the death penalty.” Paul's initial reaction was to simply stare at the Sheriff in disbelief. It only took him seconds to assimilate the accusations. His jaw steeled in determination. “Do you think anyone will believe your trumped up bullshit. The phony middle of the night ‘anonymous tip!’ You probably were stupid enough to plant those drugs yourself from your own evidence locker. “You, sick self hating homophobic homosexual! Did you really think butt fucking one of your Deputies had bought you his loyalty? Why do you think he didn't call you last night after he stopped us on that dark lonely back road. Were you going to come out and shoot us with untraceable weapons. You probably still have them in the trunk of your patrol car. Did you intend to make it look like a drug deal gone bad. “Next time try using some lube before you stick that horse cock up his ass. From the video of you fucking him in your own office, it looks like you rammed it home bareback without a thought for his discomfort. His screams of agony seemed to validate the whole no lube thing. With all that begging and screaming y’all must have filmed that after hours… hmmm… Did the Mayor here, hold the camera?” The Mayor gasped and began to turn green. “Were you not even told Deputy Harris called out sick today? Or were you too busy planting evidence. I bet you thought my conviction could set you up for higher political office. What was it? State Senator or maybe even Governor one day? “One word from me and those videos will flood the internet. You’ll be as electable as the guy in New York, who kept sending his dick pics to all those women. You might get work in gay pornos, but you are done in law enforcement. You might as well hand over your badge to that pompous, bilious, homophobe,” Paul nodded, indicating the Mayor. At some point the Sheriff realized all his scheming had fallen through. Filled with rage he jerked to his feet, knocking over the chair behind him. Before he could draw his gun, two men burst through the door shouting, “Texas Rangers, dro…” It was at this point that two shots rang out. Paul later swore there was only one, but that was because the first one temporarily deafened him. The Sheriff dropped his drawn, but unfired weapon, then collapsed in a heap beneath the table. Paul found himself wrapped up in Jeff's arms, shielded by his body. The ADA and the Mayor had like everyone else in the room, except Bill Wilson the State Trooper, remained seated. The Mayor suddenly jumped up and ran for the door, with his hands to his mouth holding back breakfast. No one blocked his way. The ADA calmly offered, “Guess he’s never been in a war time situation.” The State Trooper reholstering his just fired handgun, agreed, “I reckon not.” Using the video from behind the two way mirror and the coroner’s report, it was determined the Sheriff died as a result of two gunshot wounds to the chest, both of which punctured his heart. One fired from the gun of a Texas Ranger. The second fired, almost simultaneously, by a Texas State Trooper. Either shot would have been instantaneously fatal. Both shooters were commended for their lifesaving endeavors. Paul felt vindicated when it was discovered, through log books and videos, the planted drugs were taken from the evidence locker and planted that morning by the Sheriff himself. He shivered like someone had walked across his grave when they found a cache of untraceable automatic weapons in the trunk of the dead Sheriff’s patrol car. In an emergency meeting the County Judge and County Commissioners voted to appoint Deputy Daniel Lovan as acting County Sheriff. His first official act was to request the Texas Rangers investigate Sheriff Johnson’s professional and personal life and ties to uncover any possible past wrongdoing that might adversely affect the Office of the Sheriff. The DA’s office issued a statement that no criminal charges would be filed in the case of Joshua Morgan's death. Quietly the DA cancelled holiday vacations to conduct their own investigation. He expected every case his office prosecuted under the dead Sheriff’s auspices to be called into question. It seemed like a lifetime, but only hours later they were headed home. There would be more statements to be made, but thankfully not until after Christmas. The Tahoe was once again eerily quiet. From out of nowhere Paul backhanded Jeff's shoulder and shouted, “What the fuck were you thinking! You could have been killed too! At that range the bullet would probably gone through both of us. Who would be left to take care of Maria? You dumbshit!”
  20. 39 likes
    Well, it has been quite a month. I want to thank all our members for their patience and understanding. I'd also like to take the time to address some of what I'm hearing through side channels and from a handful of people directly. To start, contrary to the apparent popular belief, I don't change things to change them. I know a lot of you DO. NOT. LIKE. CHANGE. It has been made abundantly clear. We went for a very long time with very little change on the site. The system had it's quirks, but we lived with them and moved on. However, to put this into perspective, Facebook went from thefacebook.com to the Billions of Users per month during the same timeframe we were just plodding along. Sure, we saw some of the innovations of social media sneak in here and there. (hello Likes and Tweets). But that functionality was just basically strapped onto the software and we kept moving forward. Also in this timeframe we went from Microsoft Windows dominating computers to the PC market in an outright freefall as more and more people switch to Tablets and Smartphones. Google searches went from over 90% occurring on PC's to over 50% occurring on phones. 60% of all new users coming to Gay Authors now come from a smartphone. So the world changed around us. We were running Invision Power Board software version 3.4.9. The last release update on this software was over a year ago and was only a patch. In the meantime, they wrote the 4.0.0.0 version from the ground up. It was designed to be mobile friendly and take advantage of all the underlying improvements of software in the 8 or so years of the 3.X lifecycle. We were aware of these changes and held up originally waiting for our original programmer to be available to do the software update. That fell through due to family emergency on his end and I was forced to find a new programmer. Our Stories Archive software is written as a Module of the forums. Much like Gallery and Blog are modules. This allows you to share a tremendous amount of code, have common core features and have nice uniformity of how things work. The downside of being a module is that you must operate within the framework of a module. (This is where the long time to fix some bugs comes from.) By the time we had something working, Invision had the forum software at 4.1.19.0. This represents over 50 software version changes, by the way. (we are on 4.1.19.2 as I write this). The software is updated frequently to fix bugs and address changes in other software. Leaping from 3.4.9 to 4.1.19 was another source of unexpected issues. Bearing in mind that the software originally started here at version 1.1 and we've been updating it it since July 2003... This puts a lot of variables in place that have to get addressed. I would have to love dearly to continue to work out bugs on our test server, however, there were multiple problems with doing so. First, the Forum software itself was no longer supported as of March 31. We upgraded on March 18. Second, PayPal had made changes in the background that required changes on our end that were no longer supported on the old software. Third, Google has changed its search to prioritize SSL sites. That is to say, the little padlock indicating a secure connection. Fourth, Google also changed its search to prioritize mobile-friendly sites. Fifth, Google is switching to "mobile index" very soon. To vastly oversimplify this, Gay Authors pays the bills by showing ads to large amounts of traffic and through Premium Content. Change 1 above left us open to security issues. Change 2 cut off the ability to sell Premium Content through PayPal. Changes 3 - 5 would eliminate traffic. In other words, had we not upgraded when we did, then we would have had to close Gay Authors. We don't usually talk about how we keep the doors open, but due to the size and traffic Gay Authors gets, we are on a dedicated server. Those are not cheap. For those of you thinking "I can get cheap hosting with X.", let me clue you in. Shared hosting, which is dirt cheap, has many many sites on one server. Just the size of our stories text VASTLY exceeds the storage space you get on those types of accounts, to say nothing of processing power. We're going to have to upgrade our dedicated server soon (and we have Dual Quad Core beast too) because things have slowed down on a periodic basis. So we made this big change to the site because we had two choices: Upgrade or Close. We didn't do it because I like change. (I curse as much as the rest of you when every time I go on Facebook and something is different). I don't sit in a dark cave laughing manically as I insert sinister bugs that causes you to be confused. I don't sit here and move menus around to "Make things hard to find" or "Make navigating impossible". I don't randomly ban people because they disagree with me. (I'm positive that every single person on this site disagrees with me about something...) The staff has taken a fair bit of abuse. We've dismissed most of it as frustration with the changes and some of the lingering bugs. We apologize for those and ask for continuing patience. We're also limited because some things we just can't change because they're part of IP Board's programming (like not being able to delete notifications) and not bugs.We have only the one programmer, and he's in Australia. That makes it more difficult and causes longer delays simply because our sleep/work schedules are exactly opposite. Going forward from here, we ask that if you are having a problem with something, please post in the Software Upgrade Questions forum. Please post 1 question at a time so that we can make sure they get answered. We are also working on updating the FAQ today to ensure as much of the new information as we can is covered. We'll add new questions and answers to the FAQ as needed. I'll make more videos as needed. I've found, with the opportunities I have to interact via PM and other places like Support Requests, that we have publicly answered 90% of the issues that get brought up, but people just aren't finding them. We're working on trying to make information more obvious and easier to find. For Authors trying to add a new story and having issues, please see the YouTube Channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC24R2wGvfokple9CobsusIQ The basics of the Menu structure have not changed. You can still find Stories by clicking "Stories" at the top of any page. There is a working search box on the top right of every page. There are quick author and quick story search boxes as well. See the YouTube Channel link above to see a video on how to use those too. Now that we are on the modern forum software, we can add the upgrades as new features are released by IP Board. They have a new one called "Clubs" coming in 4.2 that I'm really excited about. Think something like a Reading Circle or a Writer's Club or maybe fanclubs for your favorite authors. (I suspect that author specific forums will get rolled into this in some form). Thanks everyone for understanding. A special thanks to our Authors as well. I know it has been a pain not being able to see page 2 and beyond on story comments and the odd issues with notifications, but we'll get there. Soon. Myr
  21. 39 likes
    We flew to New York. That was pretty great for me because I hadn’t seen Nick in nearly a year! I wanted to see Kathy and Al. Our nephew David would be staying in Tony’s late parents’ home with Nick. I wished Melissa was going to be there. I promised I wouldn’t give Tony a hard time about spending money when purchasing things for our real trip. That would be in Milan I told myself. We were going to New York. He was buying something there so we could go to Italy to buy more. Did that made sense? I knew better in my head. This time, Tony wanted me to have the “real” New York experience. We flew into Newark, New Jersey. It was only when I looked to my left as we descended I realized what I was seeing was Manhattan. It wasn’t as big as before to me, but that would change after we landed. There was the air train to Penn Station and that was an experience. Nothing moved slow here. And if I lost Tony, I was sunk. He kept his hand in mine as we moved in and out with what Tony had was practiced ease. Then there were the delays and more. I got to see more of Long Island as more than just Queens. To me it was one big neighborhood, but at last we arrived in Babylon. I let out a sigh when it was time to get off. “This is exhausting!” I moaned. Tony chuckled bringing me into a hug as we walked. “And not for the faint of heart.” “Well, I won’t be able to go solo for a while.” I muttered looking back as the train moved on. “Probably not.” Tony nodded as we descended to the ground. He looked for someone. “Nick or David should be here.” Then he waved at someone. “There he is.” Our nephew David greeted with a wave motioning toward a white car he stood beside. “Nick’s at home watching a game.” David greeted sourly. “We did rock, paper, scissors to see who came to get you.” Tony grinned. “You lost?” David grinned. “I didn’t lose. I got to come!” He looked down at our rolling bags. “We didn’t know how much luggage you brought and feared there wouldn’t be enough room for the other.” I chuckled. “Nice try, but a good save!” David shrugged. “It’s the playoffs!” Asking, who could blame him? Tony chuckled. “You have to have priorities.” David nodded. “That’s right.” The ride back to the Delveccio home was short. It was just a few streets over. That was a house I knew. Entering I grinned. It had been occupied by two men in their twenties and it looked like it. It wasn’t dirty, but cluttered. Tony was about to say something when Nick rose from a chair where he was watching something. “Dads!” Nick greeted coming to hug us. “Welcome back!” Tony frowned as he looked around a room that was lived in by two young men. “Your grandmother is rolling in her grave!” Nick looked where his father was looking. “Why?” He didn’t see what the problem was. “Your grandmother kept this place spotless! She did the kitchen floor everyday…” David, Nick and even I knew this one. “…on her knees!” We all completed with a chuckle. Tony grinned at me. “I see you have been paying attention.” “In both English and Italian!” I said happily. “Is our room still clean, at least?” Tony asked gruffly, but it was more out of fun that irritation. Nick sort of shrugged. “Well…” he hurried on. “We didn’t use Grandpa’s or Grandma’s room…so I kind of used it. It’s clean…mostly.” He grinned. “Mostly?” Tony asked. Upstairs in what had been Tony’s room…it wasn’t dirty, but it was cluttered. Tony sighed as he began straightening up. I helped him get things back to where they belonged. “It could have been much worse.” I said softly. “It will be fine. He’s just…young.” Tony nodded as he continued. “We all were once.” It was that evening we saw Kathy and Al. It was the weekend and Melissa came as well! She’d matured! Sort of. When she saw Tony she smiled at him. The mischievous little girl was in her eyes. “Uncle Tony!” Melissa said throwing herself on Tony. “It’s been ages!” Turning to me, she hugged me just as hard. “Hi, Uncle Mitch.” The gang was almost all here and the conversation blew up. There were the many conversations at once, to which now I was used to and kept up with no problem. “So, it’s nice of you two to take time from your world of jet setting to come up and see us.” Kathy chuckled as she put the ever present macaroni and gravy on the table with the other things typical Italians ate. “One day, that will be me.” Melissa said with confidence and then sighed. “Stop off in New York before you pop over to Milan to buy for your trip to Australia.” Tony chuckled. “I have no doubt about you, Melissa.” “Is there anyone in the picture we should know about?” I asked her. “Anyone we should have a talking to before it’s too late?” Melissa grinned shaking her head. “No, not at all. It’s not that I don’t date, but right now, I don’t need to be tied down.” She did her wave around the room. “There’s a big world out there and I intend to see as much as I can.” Tony nodded as she sat beside him. “It will be there, but it’s so much better to see it with someone special.” He grinned looking at me and leaned toward me kissing me lightly. “It can be quite nice having someone to share it with.” Melissa smiled. “I didn’t say I’d be alone.” It was later I watched as we ate and saw Tony struggle slightly as he swallowed again. I knew of Tony’s achalasia and it didn’t bother me too much, but Tony’s father had it and I was told that was a reason he’d gotten the cancer that killed him. I did as I always did. I put my hand in Tony’s as he swallowed. Tony grinned at me and as always, neither of us said a word about it, but kept on with the family. It was later in our bedroom as we were getting ready for bed I mentioned anything about it. “Will you get screened before we go to New Zealand and Australia?” Tony sighed as he sat down on the bed. “I’ll get it done.” He said, but I wasn’t convinced. “I’ll go with you.” Tony didn’t look at me. “I know you will, but I can’t put my life on hold for this thing that may or may not be in my future.” This was a subject that needed to be addressed lightly with Tony. “The chances of it being in your future is greater than mine. At least this one. You’re just like your father. You don’t complain and…I don’t want to lose you.” I sat beside him and slipped my arms around him. “If you do get cancer, if we catch it early, we can defeat it. Your father waited until it was too late. I won’t lose you.” Tony nodded sadly. “One of us is going to lose the other eventually.” He shrugged. “I’d like to grow old with you, Tony.” I said softly. “If we see it coming, perhaps we can do something about it.” Tony smiled a little weakly, but nodded. “I’ll schedule a screening before we go to New Zealand.” He bumped his forehead against mine. “I promise.” He kissed me tenderly. “I love you, Mitch.” I smiled as he said that. “I know.” We caught a show on Broadway and shopped a little, but enjoyed being with the family mostly and flew back to Charleston. The trip to Milan came up and this time, we didn’t come from Rome, but flew directly to Milan. This trip was taking several days as we shopped and you know I hate shopping. I put up with Mr. Perfection as he brought me things to try on. That, I really hated, but Tony was happy doing it, so why not? The great thing was we weren’t taking anything home. It was all being shipped to Charleston. I couldn’t keep track of what all we bought, but Tony was extremely excited about it all. Once back in Charleston, I mentioned Tony’s promise and he made the appointment. One of the other things about Charleston, we had hospitals. We had the Medical University of Charleston which was a large educational complex for medicine and two major hospitals combined and became a big hospital. There was one hospital that specialized in cancer. There we met Dr. George Keogh and he was a very nice doctor. He was a kind man in his late thirties whose dark head of hair was parting a little more than necessary. He was losing his hair, but it was mostly still on top of his head. The fact Tony and I considered ourselves married never bothered this doctor. It seemed to make the doctor realize we had a strong relationship. To be safe and to make Tony feel better I even had myself screened. Cancer wasn’t just a Delveccio problem. In the doctor’s office, he sat down with a smile to me. “Your screening came back fine.” Then he looked at Tony which he was not happy about what he was going to say. “You, however, there are some suspicious growths we need to look at. Whether they are cancerous will take a more thorough exam to be sure.” That was a knife in my heart. “We need to get it done, then.” Dr. Keogh chuckled. “You can still go on your trip, but we should look at it when you get back.” He nodded as he shrugged. “It could be nothing.” Tony frowned. “And it could be cancer.” Dr. Keogh held his hand up. “One thing at a time. Go, enjoy your trip and we’ll tackle this when you get home.” He smiled. “Okay?” I smiled, but not happy. “You’ll understand if this sort of puts a damper on that a little.” On the way home, Tony was quiet. “Talk to me, Tony.” I said to Tony at last as we walked in the condo. “Talk about what?” Tony asked deep in thought. “Tell me what you’re thinking.” I said looking at him at the kitchen counter. “What are you feeling?” He shook his head. “I don’t know!” He said a little loud as he threw his hands up in frustration. “I heard him and I’m scared. This could be it!” Walking over I put my arms around him. “It could be. But he wasn’t sure, let’s locate the saddle out before we seek problems riding the horse.” His eyes grew and then he smiled. “Is that one of those Southernisms?” “It’s a Mitchism.” I corrected. “Let’s find out what we’re dealing with before we start fighting the unknown.” I urged holding him closer. “He doesn’t know. We shouldn’t plan a funeral without knowing.” He chuckled. “You’re right.” He kissed me. “I’ll be right here with you.” I assured Tony. “We vowed in sickness and health. I live up to my promises. We do this together.” “But we say nothing to anyone else yet.” He said holding a finger up to me. “Until we know. Okay?” I shrugged. “There’s nothing to tell yet.” Plans for the new house went forward and the bridge was fixed. The pipes were next and wiring for the house. I did volunteer for a few causes and was surprised how busy I could be. The trip was getting closer and things were more chaotic. What we’d gotten in Milan had to be packed. Three weeks on a ship was a lot of clothes! It would be Spring and Summer there. It would be warm. To save time and money, we shipped much ahead of us. The same would be done coming back. Those extra luggage costs on a plane were expensive! Sasha and David were planning their wedding and all was going well there. They decided to have a ship wedding with the understanding we weren’t to come along for the cruise. It made sense. They were doing an Alaskan Cruise. Family, if they wanted to come would come. It was a little costly for many McKenzies so not many would come because of that. That was Sasha’s and David’s plan. It would be spring again in the Northern Hemisphere when the wedding happened and promised a few days of almost nothing but sunshine. I mean the sun didn’t set too much that time of year that far north. I kept things light, but that specter of cancer was right in the shadows now and weighing on me even though I tried not to think about it. It wasn’t real yet, but it never left my mind. Dr. Keogh wasn’t alarmed, just cautious and I know it played on Tony’s mind, too. He kept things upbeat, but I could see it. We left for Sydney. We would begin there and take the ship toward New Zealand, cruise around there and then around Australia for the rest of the cruise. When we arrived in Sydney, I was exhausted! Tony and I collapsed on the bed or our suite at the hotel we booked before we boarded. “That…” Tony moaned softly. “…was a long flight.” I grinned rolling on top of him. “We’re on the other side of the world! Of course it’s a long flight.” “But it will be the best trip!” Tony brightened. “Everyone tells me, this is quite a ship!” Jet lag kicked was a real thing now and we almost didn’t wake up to get on the ship. Tony was right. This was quite a ship! It just oozed being regal. Elegant. That black hull on the water and the Sydney Opera House off the port bow. Walking up the gang plank I took Tony’s hand and no one seemed to notice or care. “I feel snobby.” I said sourly to Tony. Tony chuckled. “It comes with the price of the ticket.” He shrugged. “Call it a perk.” “Oh.” Tony was not undone. We had a grand stateroom! Two floors! There was the lower portion with a living area that had the couch and chair. The upper section with the king sized bed and there were balconies off the bedroom and living room! There were three people in our suite all in black like butlers. “Forgive us, Mr. Delveccio, Mr. McKenzie.” A black suited man said as he pointed to our rolling luggage. “We’ll be gone in a moment. Your other things arrived and we took the liberty of unpacking.” I hadn’t anticipated that and looked at Tony surprised. Tony looked at me shrugging. “Thank you.” My eyes widened. “How will I know where things are?” I asked Tony. Tony grinned with a shrug. “Look.” Then he pulled me aside. “And I will remind you, you’re on vacation. Remember? Vacation?” I nodded with a grin. “I’ve had a few.” “One more thing.” The steward said. “Anything you need laundered just put in the special closet inside the upstairs closet. It will be cleaned. Also, if you need something pressed for the evening, put that in there, too. Just push the button for service and someone will be happy to do it for you. Enjoy the Queen Mary.” Then the man bowed slightly and left! Tony turned me around. “This is going to be the cruise of a lifetime.” For some reason, being brave all this time, his comment hit me wrong. “No! It won’t be.” I said angrily, I guess I was a little more sensitive about the possibilities than I realized. “We’ll have others! I won’t let anything happen to you!” Then, and I didn’t just do this, but I was upset as my vision blurred. “I’m not letting you go!” Tony was shocked at the angry words and stepped back a little before he understood what I heard and grabbed me in a tight hug. “I didn’t mean that, baby, I swear.” He assured me holding me tighter. But somehow the flood gates opened and I couldn’t help it. He might be sick and there was nothing I could do. I felt helpless! “I’m still here, Mitch.” Tony assured again softly as he rocked us both slowly. “I didn’t mean anything except this will be fun, and it will be.” He kissed me deeply and then pushed me back. “Like you said, we don’t know. When we do, we’ll deal with it.” He hugged me again. “Know this, I don’t intend to die. We will do what we need to.” He pushed me back and I saw he was crying now. “I know I won’t be alone. You won’t let me do this by myself.” What was wrong with me!? He was the one that might be sick. He was comforting me? I pulled him closer even still. “I’m sorry, Tony. I don’t know where that came from. You shouldn’t be comforting me.” Tony grinned as he caressed my back. “That’s what mated partners do. Our roles are going through some changes and you may be comforting me next. We’re here for each other and always will be.” He smiled kissing me. “You kind of like me.” I shook my head. “I do, but I love you, Tony. I’m sorry, this could be nothing.” I shrugged. Tony kissed me gently. “I know you love me. I’m not leaving.” He smiled. "We're on the Queen Mary!"
  22. 39 likes
    I’m writing this and I know it’s not a story, but putting in the story because he is all the stories. Daniel Anthony Vacca and I stood before each other and vowed to God and swore to Him, family and friends that we were joining not just until “death do us part,” but we vowed to be together until time itself runs out. He and I joined our lives and became one. Daniel Anthony Vacca and I, Richard Eric McQueen merged and he was not only my boyfriend, he is my best friend, constant companion, my husband and we gave our hearts and souls to each other. He is not a part of my soul, he is my soul. His body stopped after two years battling cancer. For me there is and will never be a more cherished soul. Ever! Daniel, I love you eternally. You gave me a life I never imagined was even possible. You showed me places in this world that was nothing short of incredible. What I wrote of a rose once a week in North Meets South, the week before you took this journey, you sent me one last rose. It’s white this time. You knew what was going to happen. So did I. I’m having the last rose preserved to last forever. I will never forget you. We are one. I miss you so much, but I know you’re still here. I can still hear your voice as you remind me to sweep the floor, telling me I need a haircut and I can see you frowning at what I choose to wear, but you always kept your mouth shut about it! But after all these years together, we don’t need words to understand each other. I know you so well, I practically read your mind. The badge I gave you as “Fashion Police” is still valid and I will enforce your rules. I still have the ticket book and I’ll be your deputy. I’ll give a ticket for fashion violations. I’ll see you later, Daniel. Just wait until I get where you are before you have too good a time. My best friend and love of my life. You’re it for me. There is and will be no one else. You were Seth, Colin, Tony, Matt, Mike, Ben, Brad, Vincent…it was always you. Now the pain is gone and you’re free. I’m going to continue writing about you. Because as I do that, you’ll always be alive and others will get to know and remember you. You’re somewhat famous now! Enjoy it! I love you and we’ll be together again soon. So, until then…be good! Daniel Anthony Vacca Born November 7, 1955 Died April 1, 2017
  23. 38 likes
    "Let's go over the timeline again, Mr. Colebrook." Chief Inspector Wayne Lovett sat back in his chair and exhaled slowly. Inspector Vinson sat mutely to the side, yellow notepad in hand. A small recorder sat on the plain, careworn table in front of him. He'd been at the State Police offices for quite a while. They'd taken him, most politely, to a holding room, and asked him to wait. "Chief has to finish with someone. He'll be right in," the man called Snyder had told him. Yeah, right. He'd sat there for fifty-five minutes, fidgeting. He wondered which of his many sins had brought him to that room. He considered shouting for someone, calling to demand a lawyer. But he hadn't been arrested, had he? Could he just walk out the door? He stared at the mirror. He didn't doubt that it was a two-way mirror. He had no idea what the observer on the other side expected to see. Mostly, he worried about Graham. What would his boyfriend think when he arrived at the Feigenbaum and found him gone? He could picture the stages Graham would go through. First, there would be worry. Then frustration, or exasperation. Maybe some phone calls or a search around the dock area would be made. Then anger. Graham would surely think he'd been toyed with and dumped. And then Graham would take off, pissed as hell. Perhaps Graham would go out and get drunk. More likely the taller man would just feel lucky to be rid of him. Eventually, Chief Inspector Lovett, a tall African American with hair just beginning to show gray, had bustled in, radiating efficiency and business. Then the questions began. At first, it had been fairly straightforward. Lovett began by being pleasant. "Mr. Colebrook, I just want to be clear here. You aren't under arrest. We've detained you as a person of interest in an ongoing investigation, and we hope you will be helpful. But you're free to go at any time." He wasn't sure he bought that one, but he nodded, cautiously. Inspector Vinson glowered at him from another chair. "Good," Lovett went on. "I'd like to ask you some questions. If you don't want to answer, well, you don't have to. But it could help us a great deal," he said, emphasizing the last two words. He blinked. "Okay," he assented. At first, Lovett asked relatively easy questions, establishing identity, residence, student status, and so on. But it didn’t take long for the going to get rockier. "Mr. Colebrook – Scott? Can I call you Scott? Scott, how long have been dealing?" There was an incriminating question, and he knew it. He knew his rights. He had the right to consult a lawyer about that question. He had the right to say nothing. Hell, he had the right to march right out of the room, if he wanted, if he believed Lovett. But at that moment, he remembered Graham; kisses in the night, full of hope, full of life.He remembered his promises – to quit the dealing and to make things right. Even if it meant going to jail. Even if he had to lose Graham. "Four years, maybe," he answered quietly. He noticed Vinson stir. He'd surprised them. They hadn't expected cooperation, capitulation. At least, not so soon. "Tell me about your supplier," Lovett followed up. "Which one?" Lovett's eyebrows rose a little. "You had more than one?" "Yeah. I knew five, maybe six regulars." "Can you name them?" Now they were down to it. He hesitated. Naming names and giving details would mark him. He had no doubt there would be retribution. But maybe that would be preferable, really. He'd missed his chance with Graham, and now it was too late. Lovett interrupted his thoughts. "Scott, listen, if you can help us, maybe I can help you out. You know, with the DA, if things come to that. I can't make promises, but I'll do what I can." He sighed. "Sure. Who do you want to know about?" "You pick." "There was a guy I met every other Thursday, regular. He sold me crap weed in quantity. Called himself Seth. Big guy, smiled a lot. Used to meet him at the minimart near the University golf course, you know the place?" His listeners nodded, faces immobile, betraying no other information. "He must have grown the stuff himself, but he always had plenty...." His discourse went on at some length, covering his transactions with dealers who didn't interest Lovett all that much. It was clear to everyone what he wanted to avoid. There were other, far more dangerous sources to talk about. When he faltered, there was silence. His hosts waited expectantly. He took a deep breath. He wished he could have told Graham he was keeping his promise before signing his own death warrant. "And there was a guy who called himself Marquez." Lovett and Vinson exchanged a glance. "Go on." "I went to Marquez for pills and acid, mostly." "You buy any heroin from him?" He shook his head. "No. I didn't deal in that stuff much. I got a better markup on other things." "So how did you meet Marquez?" "I never met him directly. My contact was a guy named Kenny. I'd phone him, set up a meet, make an exchange." "Same place every time?" Lovett was definitely interested. "No. Different places, never the same way twice." "What did Kenny look like?" Vinson put in. He closed his eyes to think. "Shorter than me, kind of thin. Long, stringy hair. He's going gray, sometimes has a mustache." He decided not to mention Kenny's old Camaro, or terrible teeth. "When was the last time you met him?" Lovett again. "End of January, early February. It's been a while." Lovett grunted, not very satisfied by the answer. "Any other suppliers?" "Yeah. Once in a while, I'd go to another guy. Worked for someone called the 'Russian.'" The two inspectors traded looks again. "How often you see him?" "Not a lot. I didn’t like dealing with him. He was way too pushy, always trying to get me to buy more shit I didn't want." "Describe the guy." "My height, medium build, bald head, goatee. Diamond stud in one ear. Definitely older than me." Lovett leaned back in his chair and let out a long breath. "I'll be back in a minute," the man said, rising. Needless to say, he wasn't going anyplace. He and Vinson stared at one another, neither one giving anything away. Lovett strode in a moment later with a couple of folders. He watched the man sit and pull a photo out. It was placed in front of him. "You recognize this man?" He inspected the photo. He hesitated. Every syllable he uttered swept him farther from Graham, from life. But the tide was irresistible. "That's Vassily. The guy who worked for the Russian." Lovett nodded. "Vassily Golovkin. How well did you know him?" "Just enough to deal, that's it." He hadn't liked the guy. Then again, he didn't like most of the suppliers. "You ever romantically involved with Vassily? Sleep with him?" Now it was his turn to be surprised. "Hell, no. No way." He spoke emphatically. "But you like the company of men." So Lovett knew he was gay. "So? Does that make a difference?" Lovett let the combative tone pass. He fished another photo out of the pile and tossed it on the table. His ex-roommate stared back at him from the glossy surface of the picture. The red hair and pale skin were unmistakable. Only one small detail marred the likeness of the fey, laughing face he'd known: the small, dark hole in the middle of the forehead. "How about this man?" He stared back at the dull, half-lidded, lifeless eyes in the picture. He felt sick. "That's my roommate. Ex-roommate, at the University." "Devin Doyle," the Chief Inspector confirmed. He already knew. "What happened to him?" In his long nights in the University library, he'd imagined getting even with the redhead someday. But not like this. "Looks like he got shot in the head," Lovett replied. "How? When?" "We were hoping you'd be able to tell us." He shook his head, as if to clear it of the image in front of him. "I don't know…I didn't have anything to do with it." "When did you see your roommate last?" Lovett continued He did not want to remember that occasion. "Early December, maybe. I don't recall the date." "Come on, try." He bit his lip. "First weekend in December. But I really don't know what that date was." "That's before finals, right?" He nodded. "And you saw him where, exactly?" He shut his eyes. The last he'd seen of his roommate was the boy's dick as he'd been forced to suck it. As he'd been raped. "Mr. Colebrook, your cooperation is vital here. Where did you last see your roommate?" Lovett had misinterpreted his silence. "Before a party. There was a party in the suite that weekend, and he was there." "Uh huh. A party. What kind of party?" How the hell was he supposed to respond to that? What did Lovett think went on in party dorms? Tupperware sales? "Devin organized it." The redhead must have done that much. "Was this guy at the party?" Lovett produced another photograph, taken with a long-range lens. His roommate featured largely in it, kissing a rugged, handsome looking guy on the cheek. He recognized the face. "Yeah. His name's Ted." He shuddered. "Ted? Ted what?" "I don't know. He just said his name was Ted." "Not surprising. His name was Teodor. Teodor Golovkin." His mind reeled. Ted was Vassily's – what – brother? Part of the Russian's network? "When did you meet Ted?" Lovett didn't give him time to think. His stomach clenched. "The night before the party." "You sure it wasn't before that?" "Yeah, I'm sure." He was sorry he'd ever met Ted. Sorry he'd ever started down the long road that led to that bar, that night. "What was your relationship with Ted?" "Relationship? What do you mean?" Lovett didn’t give him any room to squirm in. "Business or pleasure? Was he a convenient hook up?" "No. It wasn't like that." "So what was it?" He was cornered. He didn't want to talk about this, but Lovett wasn't going to give him a choice. "Ted fucked me, okay? I woke up, he slapped me around, and then he fucked me." It was close enough to the truth. "Are you saying you were forced?" He didn't answer immediately. The truth was he had been forced. "Yes." "How many times did he have sex with you?" "Just that one time." That one weekend. He prayed Lovett hadn't seen the video, too. "When was the last time you saw Ted?" "The morning after the party. He was asleep on the couch." "What kind of condition was he in?" "I don't know, I didn't stop to ask." Lovett slid another photo in front of him. A full face shot of Ted stared back. Ted's face had the same sleepy, half-amused look as his ex-roommate's. The same dark hole graced the man's forehead. He felt a sudden chill. He looked back up, eyes wide. "He look anything like this when you left?" "He was alive, I know that much. He and Devin screwed on the couch that night and fell asleep there." "Any idea how Ted wound up like this?" Lovett asked neutrally, tapping the photo. "No. No idea." He felt bewildered. Who had killed his roommate and Ted with identical bullets to the center of the forehead? "When did this happen?" Lovett wasn't about to give away information. The Chief shifted in his chair. "Let's talk about something else. After the party, what happened?" He felt on firmer ground here. He recounted fleeing the suite, living in the library, and finding a place on the Feigenbaum. He was led, question by question, through a timeline of events – when he joined the ship, when the January cruise ended, and when he returned for the spring semester cruise. Lovett zeroed in on the time between cruises. He was questioned closely about those days he'd spent with Javier and Oscar. "Let's go over what happened when you got off the Feigenbaum in January. You went to stay with your friend Javier Cabrera. You hung out at the Cabrera house. You went back to the ship. Is that right?" "Pretty much. I biked around a little." "You met up with Kenny, Marquez' courier during this time?" "Yes." "When?" "I stopped at a bar for a beer before going back to Javier's house. Flappy Jack's was the name of the place. Kenny found me there." "Sure it wasn't you who called him up to meet him there?" Lovett pressed. "No, I told you, Ted stole my phone." "What did you talk about?" "Kenny offered to give me some goods to sell. Kind of like a loan." "And you weren't interested." "I wasn’t interested." "Just out of curiosity, why not?" Lovett seemed genuine. "I…I didn't think I could start over again. It would have killed me, inside, you know? What I was doing…was bad…I hurt people. I didn't want to get back into all that." Lovett narrowed his eyes, looking at him in a calculating way. "Maybe you'll forgive me if I find that hard to believe," he said drily. "I…I had a change of heart," he replied at length, staring at the table. "So you wouldn't take Kenny's help in getting set up again?" "No way. You borrow from Marquez, and you kiss your ass goodbye," he said with conviction. "And he just let you go? Just like that?" "No, he tried to push me into some kind of deal, wanted me to trade my ass for goods." "And you just walked away." "No I ran away – as fast as I could." Lovett wrote something down on his pad. "Exactly when did you get back to the ship?" This line of questioning went on for another hour or more. They covered the same points, the same topics, over and over. Where had he been? Who with? When was that, exactly? His answers were compared with dates from a calendar Vinson called up on his phone. When Lovett decided to get up and leave the room, Vinson took over until his boss returned. His replies never changed; he stuck unshakably to the bare truth. And the stark truth of Ted and his roommate's lifeless faces stared back at him the whole time. Lovett finally came to the decision that no more information could be wrung from his memory. "Mr. Colebrook, you are still very much a person of interest in this investigation, do you understand?" He nodded. "You've been cooperative, and I'm going to note that. Where are you supposed to be staying?" "With a friend. He was going to pick me up at the ship at five o'clock." "Where does he live?" "Sand River." "Where in Sand River?" "I don't know," he admitted. "I've never been to his apartment." "Mr. Colebrook, I'm not going to arrest you or have you charged right now. But I am instructing you not to leave Fernando County, is that clear?" "Yes." "And while you are not under arrest at this time, I would advise you to retain a lawyer." Where the hell was he going to get a lawyer? He sure as hell wasn't going to ask his father. Or maybe he ought to try calling up one of his father's lawyer pals directly – tell the whole story – and see how fast the scandal spread through town. Now that would be sweet revenge. But he wasn't going to do that. He wanted nothing to do with that world, either. Lovett stood, interrupting his reverie. "Well, Mr. Colebrook, for the time being, you are free to go. But if you remember anything else, anything at all, I want you to call me at this number." The Chief Inspector proffered a business card. Numbly, he took it. Where was he going to go? He didn't have Graham's number. Graham would be frantic, pissed, and long gone by now. He wondered if he'd ever get a chance to explain. Wearily, he guessed he could look up Javier's number – if it was listed – and grovel for a room. Maybe he could beg a ride back to Sand River. He gathered his things. The Police Inspectors exited the room ahead of him. He turned down the long hallway toward the front entrance where they had come in. There, on a long bench against the dull colored wall, sat a familiar figure. The bearded face turned in his direction and broke into an expression of relief, mixed with equal parts concern and discomfort. Graham.
  24. 36 likes
    I woke so comfortable as I heard Tony’s light snore next to me. I smiled hearing that he was comfortable. I determined to be there for him to make sure he continued to be there. That morning we got up, changed to shorts and t-shirts (not your Hanes or other t-shirt used as underwear) and enjoyed our day at sea. There were many things to see on this great ship. This was a cruise ship, yes, but the feeling was again was it not a party ship. There was no cruise director using a bullhorn announcing games and contests. At least not yet. Tony and I didn’t hide that we were romantically involved as our hands were usually together or arms around each other. Other than the reception we got the night before, no one had a problem with it. Our relationship didn’t involve anyone else. We even did our own version of the scene from Titanic! The one where we stood on the very tip of the ship on its bow, the ship behind us unseen and the vast expanse of water before. I will admit, that was an amazing thing to experience. You got this exhilarating feeling of flying over the water. “That was really great!” Tony said looking back at the bow as we left. “Yes, isn’t it odd that Rose was so keen on committing suicide at the beginning ends up one hundred and three and one of the only ones pulled from the water after the Titanic sinks?” I asked. “It makes for a better story.” Tony put pointing out the obvious. We enjoyed the pool area on the Pool Terrace a while and just like before, Tony got darker, I just got red. Again. This time I didn’t need to ask about getting a tan artificially, it was going to happen. Tony chuckled from his deck lounge without opening his eyes knowing me now. “Don’t worry, I already scheduled appointments for you. By the end of this voyage, people may swear you’re black!” I smiled turning on my side, reaching over stroking his hair. “We don’t have to go that far. Just a nice brown will be fine.” One eye opened as he looked at me with it. The smile grew on his face. “Go as dark as you like.” He grinned as we kissed gently in front of anyone and everyone and we didn’t run ashore or anything, no sirens and no screams from others! “Can I offer a drink, Gentlemen?” A British female voice asked. That was another thing about this ship. No crowds around a bar, which always was on the party ships. There were bars all over the ship, but here, they came to us! I frowned as I looked at my watch and then realized I wasn’t wearing one. “It’s not even noon yet.” The woman laughed. “Does that matter? You’re not driving.” She said. “It’s after nine.” “In the morning.” I put with a chuckle. “So?” She asked. Tony laughed, too. “She has a point.” So, I was drinking before noon. It was good! I looked at the many passengers. They could be anyone. People that scrimped and saved to go on this trip or millionaires that paid the price willing and easily, but right now we were all the same. We were on vacation! Then Tony discovered Sir Samuel’s. Sweet things made with Godiva chocolates that had you salivating with everything a person could want and never knew were, truffles and other candies and most important, COFFEE! I mean good, good coffee. Served hot or cold and I had the best cold latte ever and was resolved to have one often on this ship. We shopped in the Mayfair Shops for unique gifts for everyone back at home. That took most of the rest of the morning. Lunch was also great, but as it ended Tony groaned as he pushed away from the table. “Is there a problem?” I asked knowing what he was moaning about as he held his stomach. “This is Queen Mary! There can be no problems onboard.” Tony nodded as he rubbed his stomach. “Yes, but tomorrow, I’m working out!” He grinned. “They have a wonderful gym here.” I nodded. “I knew they would.” “But tonight, we dine with the Captain!” Tony said happily as he grinned. “That will be formal.” “Good thing we prepared.” I chuckled. The Captain’s Table was wonderful. Tony and I wore our tuxedos for the first time that night and I think he and I were making an impression. Of course, I knew Tony was a handsome man and that tux he wore just made him look even better. The entertainment that night was the G32 nightclub was more energetic. Good music and a lot of dancing as Tony and I found out we were not the only same gender couple onboard. There were two other male couples onboard and one female couple. Who knew about any others? There were a lot of people on this ship. The next day, even before Tony got his coffee, we were on the Promenade Deck at the gym using state of the art equipment. I worked out as well, but I kept watching Tony. My mind did go to the possible illness he might have and it was hard to believe he could be sick at all. He worked out with his usual dedication. His muscles were normally toned and fluid. I was aroused, so I quit staring, but I saw Tony grin to himself before I looked away. He knew he was being watched by me. I had my appointment at the spa and got my first application for my tan. Those Scottish genes just had a hard time making a natural tan. The dinner group was there again. “And where were we last night?” Louise Parker asked with a smile. “Dining with our good captain.” Tony replied simply. Ben Parker chuckled. “We’re dining with him Thursday. Now, what is you do, Tony?” I grinned as I put my hand on Tony’s hand. “My husband is brilliant at making money. He’s channeled that ability to others, making them money.” Tony chuckled with a slight bow of his head and turned a little pink. “I oversee investments and do stocks, bonds and other financial ventures.” Ben nodded with a raised eyebrow. “You must be good. You seem to be a success.” “He is a success. He’s very good.” I put in. “I am a man of leisure.” Tony frowned. “Only because someone else sold the hotel. He was a manager of a prominent hotel in Charleston.” He growled. “He is also very good and a success.” The waiter came and took our orders. “We’ve already taken one home with us.” Tony said in a mutter to me. “We’ve enough human souvenirs.” I smiled said back quietly. “Shut up. You love Sasha as much as I do.” Tony chuckled. We had another day at sea, but when we woke the next morning. I looked out our window at Doubtful Sound, but we weren’t just doing Doubtful Sound. We’d spend a few hours here, then sail on to Dusky Sound and last Dunedin. We boarded a small boat that came to the ship that took us around to see the many untouched beauty that was almost all Doubtful Sound. Surrounded by thick vegetation covered, rounded peaks that said they were of great age. The water was teaming with life from the bottlenose dolphins that swam nearby us seeming to tease us and even a few whales that surfaced a little farther away and spewed water in the air as they breathed. I was snapping pictures at every turn. It was a rainforest here and it rained more almost every day here, which it did only lightly. We were fine, though. It was very nice. I snapped another picture. “There’s a limited memory space, you know?” Tony chuckled as he rode beside me. I nodded leaning my back against him, but took another picture. “We should have gotten a camera with bigger memory.” Tony shook his head. “We got the one with the most!” I waved him off and took another picture. “I’ll go through them and put them on the computer, wipe the memory here and start over.” I grinned at him and then kissed him. “No worries.” I waved at the area. “Look! It’s breathtaking! The water, those hilly peaks and the animals! This is paradise!” Tony leaned in kissing me. “I knew you’d like it.” He looked around. “Perfect for my favorite nature loving farm boy. It is pretty.” Then he grinned mischievously. “But no Dunkin Donuts and not even a Starbuck’s!” I patted his chest. “We’ll have coffee in Sir Samuel’s back on the ship.” Tony nodded. “I’m holding you to that.” We sailed to the next stop called Dusky Sound. This time we were only there less than an hour. We did get to see the seals on Seal Rock sunbathing. Then we went again this time to Dunedin. This was a port and welcomed us. I smiled at the town off our ship. Most of the areas we saw were not really developed, but left to nature. The places like Dunedin and later were developed a little. It still had the pristine cleanliness of a environment respected by the people that settled here. “Dunedin is Scottish Gaelic for Edinburgh.” Tony grinned as he nodded toward the town. “Your people made this town.” “Which means there has to be a good Scottish Restaurant or Pub here.” I grinned. “Let’s look for it!” I took his hand and hurried to look up where that would be here on the computer. “This will be a jeans night. Okay?” Tony chuckled as he followed. “Okay.” Stuarts Street was the perfect place! Mac’s Brewbar. This was more like it, for me. It was lively and casual. Relaxed. I smiled at Tony as we ate. “See? Now this is good food!” I ate a chip I’d gotten with my fish and chips. Tony groused, but he was smiling. “If you say so. Anything to please you.” I nodded. “Well, I like it.” I munched the chip. “None of this touches any part of you that’s from the British Isles?” Tony gave a shrugging nod. “That part of me must be overshadowed by the Italian city boy’s side of me.” “This whole trip is because of my ancestors and those who are British, Scottish and Irish. The Queen Mary and this part of the world was settled by people from England, Scotland and Ireland. They brought their culture here. This is beautiful!” I said logically. “Just eat your fish and chips.” I looked at the clock on the wall. “Eat! They’ll leave us at seven! That’s an hour and a half away!” We got back with ten minutes to spare. I’m never late. We showered and changed for a nice evening, but this time Tony pulled me into the Commodore Club. I didn’t say anything, he’d done what I wanted, so I did what he wanted. This a club that was on the bow to allow wonderful views as we left Dunedin. This club specialized in martinis and cocktails. He persuaded me to try an “Over the Top Martini.” With a name like that, how could I say no? Tony grinned as I had a reaction at the first sip. It was always the first sip that got you. “It’s all top shelf stuff, Mitch.” He sipped more. “G’Vine Gin, Sloe Gin, Cherry Brandy, Fever Tree Tonic…” he swallowed enjoying the taste. “Even a former Baptist has to admit it’s delicious.” I nodded. It was good, but again, I tasted the alcohol. That pallet of mine. “You don’t have to get me drunk to sleep with me, you know?” He grinned. “I know, but you have to say this is good.” I chuckled. “It’s good.” That night we went to The Royal Court Theatre and saw a comedy act that was like the martini, or maybe it was because of two martinis for me. Over the top. I was almost crying he was so funny. All English weren’t stuffy. Playing on the stuffy exterior was funny. Another night of loving and relaxing and we woke again with a new town. This was Wellington, this was a city…sort of. To me it was a city, to Tony it was still a small town. It wasn’t New York. We walked the beach and took the cable car to the mountains and saw the view of the landscape. I was again taking pictures left and right. “On a scale of one to ten? How is this trip so far?” Tony asked smiling. “At least a nine and half, but there is plenty more to come.” I pulled his shirt bring him closer kissing him, my face next to his as we embraced. “This trip has been amazing, but you know I’m not motivated when you try to impress me. This trip has impressed me.” I ran my hands over his back feeling his warmth and his solid presence. “I love you, Tony.” Tony smiled. “I know.”
  25. 36 likes
    Ripped Part 2--Bailey Chapter 7 "What is this?" Bailey glanced down at his hands, rubbing his thumb over the thick calluses created from years on the bars. "I thought I did better than that." It was an excuse; he knew that, but telling his mom he hadn't been able to focus lately wasn't much better. "What do you think your father would have said if he saw this C-?" his mother waved the test in his face. Oh, God. He gasped, feeling like he had been punched in the gut. "He spent years fighting for our country and you can't even bother to do your job and get decent grades?" she accused. "To honor his memory?" "Hey, Bailey, you okay over there?" The weight room supervisor's concerned tone jerked him from his reverie. Rodney. Crap, that was still happening. It had been over two months and he still got lost in his memories. The only things that kept it at bay were his gymnastics, running, and... well, it—but nobody could find out about that. He dropped his hand from the pull down bar. He'd apparently just been laying on the bench, holding the bar in his hands when Rodney had noticed. "Yeah, yeah, I'm... I'm fine," he cleared his throat as he sat up on the bench. He turned to see Justin's dark eyes were squinting at him, worried, as well as Mateo and Owen who were next to him. Fortunately, no one moved to touch him—he hated to be touched ever since... At least, Luke and Cameron were on the other side of the weight room joking around so they hadn't seen his space-out. "I think I'll just stretch for a bit." "Okay." Rodney nodded and wandered toward Cameron and Luke. Bailey moved to the open mats on the side of the room where the free weights lined the wall. He wasn't terribly surprised when Justin followed him. Bailey was intent on ignoring his team captain, even if the guy was one of the most well-meaning guys he'd met here at Heritage. Actually, Justin was the guy he most looked up to at Heritage, not because he was the team captain, but because he was also gay—and he was accepted. Heritage had shocked him with its Diversity and Acceptance Policy. And Justin truly cared about his team and teammates. While Bailey was new this semester and horribly introverted, his new team had welcomed him without exception. Any other time, Bailey would probably have been ecstatic at the profound change from the way he'd been treated at his previous schools. But the Colonel—and some other person, a chaplain or something—showing up on their doorstep three days before he started school had changed Bailey's life forever. "I'm so sorry, son. Your father was a good man..." He hadn't heard anything else as he'd run. Run to his new school that he'd been so excited to start—that his father had been so excited for him to start. A new beginning, he'd said, when he'd moved them here on his last leave of absence. And he'd run and run, for hours on that empty track, his heart pounding, his eyes blurred with tears, his throat raw. Until he'd collapsed in a heap. He had to face this new school in a new town without his father's guidance, without his support, without his love. His dad had been so damn excited to find Heritage as well as the beautiful house less than a half mile away. Bailey knew his father had been worried about him over the last two years—being bullied, teased, harassed for being gay and a gymnast. Bailey knew it broke his father's heart that he was away while his son was struggling, so he'd tried to hide it—keeping his emails and skype sessions cheerful and upbeat. But his dad had known somehow, and he'd worked to find a new town, a new school where Bailey could fit in. His dad had found it in Heritage Academy. They had loved the place at first sight—the beautifully kept grounds, the well maintained track and fields, the updated gyms, the modern dorms, and the technology-enhanced classrooms. However, it was the school's academic record and especially its Diversity and Acceptance policy that had truly drawn them both in. Bailey had been excited to start school this year. After moving at the beginning of the summer, and having his father around for two full months before redeployment, he'd been in heaven. He and his dad had spent nearly every day squeezing in their 'father-son' time into his leave. "Bay, it's okay, if you need a break, just go." Justin squeezed his shoulder briefly before Bailey rolled his shoulder to free himself of the touch. Justin nodded understandingly. His team knew what had happened, so they understood his standoffish attitude, even as they were constantly trying to make him feel welcome. "I just... got lost for a few minutes," Bailey finally admitted, earning several sympathetic smiles. "I'm good. I'll just stretch for a few minutes before getting back to the weights. I know we only have the room for an hour." Justin reached his hand out to pat his back, but dropped his hand at the last second, changing it to a clap as he laughed. "Yeah, with this damn storm, every team is scrambling for space and getting stir crazy. Once you get back to the rings and bars, you'll be good to go." "As if he needs more practice," Cameron quipped. Bailey frowned. "Why wouldn't I?" "Dude, you're awesome! I can't wait for our first meet. We are going to blow the other teams out of the water this year!" Bailey felt his cheeks flush. He knew when he'd first started with the team that he had several skills that most of his team didn't—after all, he'd been doing gymnastics for over ten years, since he was six. He'd been worried about getting the cold-shoulder, that they'd think he was snobby or something. Yet, they'd been so welcoming he often lapsed into morose thoughts because his father wasn't here to see his son finally being accepted somewhere. Instead, he'd spent all his time at Heritage silent in the back of the classrooms, trying to pay attention, or at the gym. The Dean had offered Bailey the option of living off campus for the semester after the news of his father's death, and Bailey had taken it to make sure his mother wasn't left alone now. He knew she'd always planned to be alone while he was in the dorms, but knowing his father had been killed and would never be coming home, changed things. Bailey needed to be there for her, even if she'd become obsessive and demanding about Bailey's success. Bailey figured it was how she was coping with her grief. "Yeah! We're gonna win! We're gonna win!" Owen and Mateo started chanting, bringing a small smile to Bailey's face. His team was pretty goofy. Rodney abruptly cursed under his breath, and Bailey looked up to see him pulling his cell phone from his pocket. He barely got out a 'hello' out before a hysterical female voice erupted from the phone. Rodney sucked in a startled breath. "Mom, mom, wait. Wait. I can't really hear you." He pulled the phone from his ear. "Hey, guys, my mom's really upset about something, and I can't hear her—" "No problem," Justin said. "Do you mind if we just stretch on the mat here until you come back?" Rodney bit his lip, looking them over. The rest of the team joined Bailey on mats by the door. "Yeah, I guess that would be alright." Bailey dropped over his straight legs to his knees in a pike stretch, still shaking his head. He allowed the slow pulling on his muscles to keep him focused. Just breathe, he told himself. Don't think. Focus on the delicious ache. Cam and Luke joined him on the floor, while Justin Mateo and Owen did some standing stretches. "Hey, Greene. Where's Rodney?" Bailey looked up see a horde of teens crowding into the weight room door. He recognized a few of them from classes he had with them, and he realized this must be the football team. "He had to take an emergency call. So we had to stop for a bit. Cell signal sucks in here, especially with the storm and all," Justin explained, turning to face the group of bulky guys. One of the football players stood in front of the rest, his hands on his hips like he owned the place. He wasn't the biggest of the group, but it was obvious he was in charge. Bailey thought maybe he was the quarterback—at least, in his experience, that was who tended to lead the football team. Bailey guessed this guy was probably even the team captain. "Time's up then. Get out." Bailey barely glanced up from his position on the floor when more of the herd of football players crowded into the weight room. He didn't care about whatever reason they'd decided to show up. "What the fuck?" Justin snapped, as he turned, matching intruder's pose. Bailey cringed slightly as he buried his face in his knees. There was no way Justin was going to put up with whatever these guys thought they were doing. After over a month of no issues, he was a little surprised to see these guys try to intimidate Justin and the gymnastics team—his team. "Can you guys even pick up a twenty-pound barbell?" he heard one of the guys snipe. Cameron and Luke jumped up to stand with Justin, Owen and Mateo. Bailey was the only one left stretching on the floor. "We can do plenty, Chris," Owen growled. "Yeah, that one's so weak, he's still layin' on the floor." "Screw you, Eric," Mateo sneered. Fuck. They had to be talking about him. Bailey barely peeked through the long black strands falling over his face. Several of them were staring in his direction. Geez, there were some big guys. And hell, standing there in their baggy gym shorts and barely-there tank tops, Bailey had to admit they were pretty ripped too—all thick muscle and brute strength. Just ignore them, he told himself. Justin would deal with them. "Chris, what the hell are you doing here?" Justin demanded as the rest of the gymnastics team flanked their captain. Bailey had a moment of wondering if he should join them, but he was the smallest of his teammates; he'd probably only make the rest of them laugh. "Beat it, Greene. And take all your pansy-ass gym flippers with you." Bailey bit his lip as he hid his face. It certainly wasn't the most vulgar of taunts he'd ever heard. It was rather mild actually. So maybe this was just more a display of power. Of course, Bailey knew Justin well enough to know there was no way he'd back down in the face of such stupid intimidation tactics. "Bet you'd like to get a hold of my pansy ass, huh, Vasser?" The laughter that followed Justin's flippant remark echoed on both sides of the weight room. Justin was one of several gay students at this school, which had made Bailey feel more at ease here, because it just wasn't much of an issue. "You wish," Chris retorted. "If I wanted some ass, I'd go for the little guy there." Oh, shit. Bailey froze as he noticed Chris was pointing at him. Was he serious? Justin and his teammates seemed to tighten ranks. "Get your ass out of here, Chris, and take your Neanderthals with you," Justin growled. "We are on the schedule for the weight room until 4:30. You can come back then and bully the next team out of here." "Leave, or we'll carry each of you out." "Feel free to try." "Whoa, wait a minute," one of the football players jumped in, and Bailey breathed a momentary sigh of relief. Thank God, one of them had a brain. "You know our coaches will suspend anyone who gets into a fight. So knock it off. And Rodney will probably be back any time now." "Yeah, Justin, let's just ignore them," Owen agreed. "They don't get to come in here and threaten us or insult one of our teammates. No matter how popular or stupid they are," Cameron snapped. "That's true. But you know Coach Richards will have our ass if you get into it with these guys." The peacemaker stared down at the boy called Chris. "You know Coach Reed will too, Chris. Maybe you should let it go this time." Chris glanced over at Justin before turning slightly. "It's not like any of you wimps could stand up to any of us anyway. We'd wipe the floor with you." Bailey felt his breathing speed up when the rest of his team bristled. This was going to get ugly, fast. He forced his body to stretch even farther, using his arms to block out whatever was being said. Just focus on gymnastics, just focus on gymnastics, he repeated to himself, ignoring the bantering between the two teams. He couldn't let the fear win, as it often did. "...you, work hard? Doing what? Swinging on a bar? Hanging on some rings? Bouncing around the floor?" Chris was taunting Bailey's teammates still, and Bailey began to hope Rodney showed back up any minute. "We use just as many, if not more, muscles than you pigheaded jerks do. Anyone of us could beat you in a test of strength endurance." That was Cameron. He could tell from the slightly southern accent. "Prove it. Right here, right now," Chris challenged. A silence fell over the room, and Bailey glanced up to see his own teammates considering it. "Fine," Justin finally said, "what do you suggest?" "A contest. A show of strength and endurance. One of your guys against one of mine. Opposite team picks the player," Chris smirked, and Bailey wondered what he was planning. Whatever it was, wouldn't be good. Justin would never let Chris win, not after his arrogant boasting. Bailey vaguely heard them going back and forth about what the contest should entail and Justin had picked some big guy in the back, but by now, Bailey was just ready to let the football team have the room so they could get to their equipment in Aux 2. His fingers were just itching to get on the bars. Which reminded him... he glanced down at his hands. The small spot on the edge of his right palm was showing signs of a blister. He'd have to watch it today or it might rip open. He probably needed to consider new grips... "...we pick him." Bailey sensed eyes on him before he even glanced up to see everyone staring at him again. The arrogant quarterback was grinning uncontrollably as Justin glared back at him. "He's new to the team..." Justin hedged. " So? He's still part of your team. We picked, that was the deal. It's him or you forfeit." Damn. Bailey dropped his head again. He hated drawing attention to himself. Justin knew this, knew how painfully shy and quiet he was. Fuck, he just wanted to be left alone to do his gymnastics, study, and... not think. Was that too fucking much to ask? It wasn't that he couldn't do physical activities. He was actually quite good at them, exceptional even. He just liked to keep the exhibition of his skills to gymnastics meets. But Justin and his teammates were smiling. Of course they knew he could do pretty much anything they asked. He wished he'd been paying attention more to the conversation so he knew what he was expected to do. "Bailey!" Justin called. "Hey, buddy, come on over here for a minute." Reluctantly, he rose, barely glancing at the football guys. Justin started to wrap an arm over his shoulders, but Bailey edged away. Justin smiled understandingly and gave him a simple quick pat on the back. "Bailey, we need you to do a few pushups, so we can all get back to practice in peace, okay?" Bailey bit his lip and nodded, if it'd get these guys to shut-up and leave, he'd do anything. Push-ups were easy. If he'd been asked to bench press 300 pounds, that might have been an issue. He tugged at his over-size shirt before slipping into a plank position on the mat. He dropped into his first push-up. "Wait!" Justin yelled, and Bailey froze as he glanced up to see Justin pointing at Chris and another teen. "Get into position." One of the other football players took his place on the floor next to him—Declan, Bailey thought his name was, and was sure the guy was in his Trigonometry class. Bailey raked his eyes appraisingly over the other teen, clearly seeing his strong abs and thick biceps from the cut out arm holes of his shirt. Damn, he was good-looking. Bailey debated even trying at all, but then he couldn't let down his team either. Maybe just a few push-ups, just to make it look good... "Okay, go." Bailey fell into a steady pace of pushups. This was an exercise that had been drilled into him since he was five. He'd done them with his father daily on any leaves he had. Or running with him. Fuck, he was missing his father already. He almost faltered as his stomach clenched. He vaguely heard someone counting, but his mind wasn't in the weight room anymore. His father was next to him laughing and joking as they exercised. Crunches, pushups, burpees, squats, it didn't matter, they did it all. And then Bailey would still have gymnastics practice. It wasn't so much when he was six—only five to six hours a week—but it had gradually increased over the years to twenty-plus hours. He needed it now. The pain of pushing his body to the near breaking point, the need to prove his worth, to push himself to exhaustion. He felt a twinge on his thigh. The strain of holding this position for so long was irritating the small cut he had there. Bailey used the pain as a focus, to continue to drift away. He only hoped the thin cut didn't break open and start bleeding. At least his pants were black. And that was all Bailey remembered until he heard his coach yelling at him. "McIntyre! Get up, son. This non-sense is over!" What? It was over? "And where the hell is Rodney?" Coach snapped. Bailey dropped to his hands and knees before sitting back on his heels as he heard Justin explain where Rodney had gone. God, his arms felt like Jello. How many pushups had they done? He glanced over at the Declan guy who had already stopped and was now staring at him. He hoped Declan was alright. Justin and Chris were attempting to smooth over things with the coaches. Bailey couldn't decide what Declan was thinking. Perhaps nothing, being just as exhausted as Bailey was. Bailey just looked up at Coach Richards, absently rubbing his hand over the small wound hidden under the black fabric on his thigh. Pushing on it gave him a jolt, a small rush he needed to face the scrutiny of the coaches and teams. The football coach, Mr. Reed, was ushering his team out by the time Bailey managed to focus. Bailey tried to ignore the glares him and his team were receiving. He turned to see Declan still sitting next to him, obviously as tired as Bailey was. He wanted to commiserate with the guy—knowing they'd both have sore arms tomorrow. He almost spoke up, wanting to offer some sort of support. But Declan just shook his arms out, ignoring him. Rodney appeared as the last of the football team hurried out behind their coach. "What's going on?" Bailey could hear the edge of nervousness in the poor guy's voice. He couldn't blame him. He'd thought he'd left just six guys waiting patiently for him to return from a quick emergency call. To come back to see at least thirty guys leaving, along with the coaches, had to be pretty intense. "Apparently, there was debate over who's turn it was to use the room," Coach Richards said darkly. "Damn, sorry about that. I should have kicked them out instead of letting them use the corner to stretch. I didn't think it would take that long—" Rodney stammered to explain. "Yeah, you should have," Richards agreed. Rodney nodded, muttering an apology again, as he glanced at the last of the retreating team. "Well, Justin, Cam, Luke, Mateo, Owen," Coach Richards begin as Rodney slinked off to the side, and Bailey watched Declan finally crawl up from the floor to follow his teammates. "You all want to tell me why Bailey here is the one doing a hundred plus push-ups while you all are standing around?" "Coach, they started it," Justin explained. "They barreled in here demanding we leave, thinking they owned everything. We just stood up for ourselves." Coach Richards narrowed his eyes, taking in all of the guys. He even caught the gaze of the football guy, Declan, as he trudged toward the door. Bailey was surprised when Declan nodded, confirming that it was his own team that had instigated the confrontation. Hmm, maybe this guy wasn't like his captain. Some of those football guys didn't seem too bad, he certainly hadn't gotten any bad impressions before during classes. Maybe this Declan guy was one of them. "I see, so you let your brand new teammate defend your honor?" Bailey gaped at his Coach. It hadn't been like that at all, not really... "I didn't mind." "Coach, you know Bailey is the best of all of us; he can do a hundred push-ups in his sleep," Justin said. Bailey startled at Declan's narrowed eyes and look of astonishment. He tilted his head. Obviously, the entire football team had thought he was the weakest one, including Declan. "Well, looks like you boys have some catching up to do." Coach Richards waved his hand to get them moving. "McIntyre, you can take a break, go on to the Auxiliary gym. Your teammates have some work to do." Bailey hesitated, eyeing each of his fellow gymnasts. They were the only ones here at this school he would even call friends. Justin especially had worked hard to make him feel welcome. Abandoning them just didn't seem right. "If it's all the same to you, Coach, I'd like to stay." Justin and the others grinned at him. The coach tried to hide his smile since he was supposed to be angry, but it still snuck through. "Fine, you can count." Bailey dropped into a side split, and leaned forward on his elbows, his legs splayed out to each side of his body. "Damn," Owen swore, cringing, "how the hell does he do that?" "He practices!" Coach Richards snapped. "Like you all should instead of mouthing off with the other teams."
  26. 36 likes
    What do I tell my mother? Did I want to tell her anything? Did she need to know? How do I tell her? And then I thought, why? I got a job! And that’s all I told her. I can tell her, “I got a job, but he sucks!” I warned you, humor is my defense. “And by that, Mom, he’s a vampire.” I knew that would go over well, not to be deceived, she’d have me at a shrink that afternoon! Was he a vampire? How I did know? He has no fangs now that he was on this…serum. Other than the picture I saw that was no evidence, but was that real? It had to be, how else could I explain it? It was him! Colin was also teasing my mind. I even wondered if he was putting some vampire hypnotic mojo on me, but I didn’t think so. He seemed like a nice man…or vampire…whatever!! And he was beautiful! I know, that’s not the adjective you usually give men, but he was! Ruggedly handsome. How’s that? And those eyes! They were so…green! Forget the vampire mojo, he was putting the homo-mojo on me! All those stories mostly said vampires used sex to lure virgins or what have you so the vampire can have dinner. And Colin ate enough food not to need anything else. Yet he claimed he couldn’t store food. What? So, what did he do with all he ate? He ate a lot. It had to go somewhere. We met every morning. I came to his suite, he had his morning caffeine fix and we went to breakfast. I chuckled as he ordered another round of pancakes…then stopped the waiter to add more bacon. His eyes came over to me seeing my grin. “What?” I shook my head. “You’re apparently making up for lost time?” Colin laughed. “I guess I am.” Then as the waiter refilled his coffee, Colin leaned in. “You go a century or more without food and you’d be amazed how good it tastes!” He shook his head. “It’s so good!” “I couldn’t live at all without food for even a month!” I said. “But you did consume something during the years you were….” I waved at him. “…you know.” Colin grimaced. “And blood was all I could consume.” He grinned as the waiter put a steaming stack of pancakes in front of him. “The flavors here!!” He pointed at the pancakes as he reached for the maple syrup and pointed at me with his fork. “You just don’t know until you go without.” I frowned trying to understand. “Do you gain weight or lose weight?” He gave a shrugging nod as he stuffed a forkful in his mouth. “Well, I keep some in me a little while. My organs are working again, but not like they are supposed to…I assume.” I frowned. “Okay, not to be indelicate, but input and output?” I grinned. “I’ve seen your input…” His eyebrow rose. “You want to see my output!?” I rolled my eyes. “I don’t want to see it.” I chuckled. “But you have to do something with it.” Colin gave another shrugging nod. “Well, sure. It’s a pretty standard shit.” He waved at my plate. “Just like you do.” Then he grinned. “I don’t piss ammonia anymore now that I can digest real food.” Now my eyes widened. “You don’t think vampires takes a piss?” He said in a whisper and then smiled. “Like you said, input and output. Blood’s the input, ammonia is the output.” I laughed at him. “I just never imagined it.” I waved at his plate. “I just was curious.” Colin smiled. “And of course you would be. I am the first in reality you’ve ever met, right?” I nodded. “That I know of.” “And the fact that I defy what you’ve learned about us, I am different from think you know.” He reached over and patted my arm. “So, ask what you want and I’ll tell you. I trust you, remember?” “Is this trust because of a vampire ability?” He gave a shrugging nod. “It could be.” He sighed drinking more coffee. “I like to think being…what I am, it just enhanced what I had before. I always had a kind of intuition about people. It could be because I lived as long as I have it just got stronger.” He shrugged. “I can’t answer that with any certainty.” “But you did consume blood.” I said cautiously. That made him look away a little from shame I could see clearly. “Yes.” Then he looked to me firmly. “But I never killed a soul! Never!” Then he shrugged again. “I did assist some that were dying to do so more quickly.” Even that shamed him. “I’m not happy about it.” He sighed. “During the war men often lay dying and suffered. They’d never recover. I did feed on them. I ended their lives, but I never was the cause.” He looked at me pleading for me to understand. “Understand? I didn’t do it. They were in pain and going to bleed to death whether I fed or not. From what I’ve seen and heard, being fed off of by us is sort of pleasurable. Almost sexual. I did help bring their lives to an end, but it was always pleasurable for them.” Then he looked away again. “I think. It was for me. When Brett Marshal attempted to take my life when he bit me, I remember this…euphoria and I will admit I had a raging erection as he did it. There’s something about a vampire when bitten it makes blood flow faster and I wasn't sexually attracted to Brett at all, it was just a side effect of being fed on.” I shook my head again trying to make sense of what he was telling me. “But your blood was being drained. Blood is needed for an erection so how could it be maintained?” He chuckled. “I didn’t say it lasted, but sex takes place mostly in the brain. The sensations during sex sends signals to our minds and I lost the erection shortly after being bitten. But that didn’t stop the orgasm!” “You did cum!?” He nodding with a chuckle. “Like I was a teenager!” He grinned. “Cum isn’t blood and it did gush out.” I felt a little embarrassed when he said that. “Colin, I’m sorry. This is very personal things we’re talking about. Any time you don’t want to answer a question, just tell me to let it go.” He smiled for calmly taking my hand. “There is another thing I pick up on with my…gift.” He began softly. “I know you prefer men and I know there’s attraction to me.” Now it was my turn to look away embarrassed. “I wondered about that. I’m sorry.” Now Colin looked understanding, but not offended at all. “Why? It’s a complement. It’s who you are. I’ve been around over a two hundred years. Now that the religious issues are kind of less important for me, it’s more normal that most people can accept. I loved a few men before.” Now that, I was not ready for. “No way.” He threw his head back laughing and then looked at me. “Now why would you say that?” I waved at him. “You just…can’t be!” “Can’t be what?” Colin grinned. “We didn’t have terms then like we do now. Men liked you…” and he shrugged. “…and me…it was never really discussed back then. That just wasn’t done. It did happen often though.” Then he smiled a little evilly. “As a matter of fact, my first with anyone was a man that worked on our plantation.” “A slave!?” I was shocked. Not because of the man’s color, but… “Did he have a choice!? How could he say no? You owned him!!” When I said that, Colin got angry. “Listen! First, he wasn’t my slave, he was my father’s slave. I grew up with Josiah! He and I were friends. He could most certainly have said no. In fact, he kissed me first! That was so dangerous for him, yet he took a chance and did it, risking getting killed. That proved he loved me. He and I were fifteen! But I will say, because of Josiah I never bought a human being ever. I saw him and the others as people. They were just people who had this horrible life forced on them. Second, when I realized that fact and inherited the planation from Dad, I paid them! I couldn’t help what happened to them, but maybe I could help. When I inherited the plantation, I offered every single one the opportunity to leave. I’d give them their papers saying they were free. But as I told them; they weren’t my slaves and I hated if they called me master. They were no one’s slaves. I was no one’s master. What I did offer was a place to live. I improved their homes and I mean homes. Not those little shacks where they were piled in on top of each other. I told them, we can add what’s needed, we could make lives better. I’d help! I worked the fields with them just as hard as they did. We took breaks when we were tired. But Josiah wanted to be free and it broke my heart, but he left. I couldn’t stop him. He was free! I was in my twenties when the arranged marriage happened. I liked her, but I didn’t love her. I couldn’t!” He shook his head helplessly. “But I never lied to her. I never cheated on her. I was her husband and we had a good life a few years. We had Gabriella and I never saw a more beautiful human being in my life!” Then he smiled to himself as he remembered. “I helped make her. It was so incredible! I could see her mother in her, but I saw me too!” I watched as a tear formed and began to fall on his cheek. “She was part of me.” “It was just a surprise what you said; I didn’t mean anything bad about what I said.” I said sincerely. Colin took a deep breath. “It’s okay.” Then he smiled at me. “I know you didn’t, I’m just sensitive about what we did then to humans. Ashamed. All I could do it provide a life for them. I paid them and when they felt they had to move on…” he shrugged. “That was their choice.” He grinned. “But amazingly, most didn’t want to. Where could they go? North, sure. Canada? Absolutely, but there were evil men on the way there and I tried my best not to be one of those evil men.” He chuckled. “In fact, my plantation made more money!!” My eyebrows rose. “Really?” Colin nodding laughing. “It really did! It’s amazing when you have people that profited from what they did. My crops were better than anybody else had. I tried to tell other plantation owners around why I was doing well, but they didn’t want to hear it.” I smiled realizing he was indeed a very good man. “I can understand that, paying people they thought they owned would be unthinkable! They didn’t even have souls! You feed livestock, you don’t pay them.” Colin smiled. “You read about that.” He leaned in closer. “Prove you have a soul.” I nodded grinning. “That’s my point. And what about the souls of the men that slept with the women they owned. Did they not pass any soul to the children? How white does a man have to be to have a soul?” He nodded. “Exactly!” Then he sat back. “But we did break laws!” “You did?” “My wife was in on it.” He chuckled. “She ran a school, not just for Gabriella but for everyone on the plantation. Young, old and that was very illegal. Educating people of that color was definitely not done.” He scoffed. “As if the color of a human meant a fucking thing.” He said angrily. “I loved Josiah and because of that, he taught me a lot. Love and respect for humans isn’t dictated by their color.” I smiled. “You were and are a true visionary.” Now it was certain for me. I loved Colin. I was in deep trouble. But with his intuition, he probably knew that. “I hope so.” He finally put down his fork. “Well, we should probably head to Wentworth Manor. The workmen will be there in a few hours.” He stood up, but stopped and looked at me. “Devon, if it’s right, it will happen naturally. But my life is a problem. I’ve lived for over two hundred years. You won’t.” He looked at me sadly. “I do like you and I know you like me. The problem is me. I’ll outlive you. I’ve lost too many people before.” He frowned. “I don’t want to become attached and lose you, but that has become moot. I already am attached to you. I think I was when we first met.” He shook a little. “I just am not ready…yet. Give me a few days or so. We’ll see. If you’re still interested.” My eyes narrowed. “Can you love? I mean like a man, not a vampire.” Colin nodded smiling. “I have. But they left me when they couldn’t deal with me and the truth. Not that I’m demanding or anything, but…” He smiled weakly. “A little more time, please?” I took Colin’s hand. “Take the time you need. I don’t know what happened in the past. But I am interested.” Then I grinned. “I warned you in the beginning, you turn into an asshole and I’m outta here!” His green eyes sparkled and he smiled. “I’m perfectly aware of that.” Then he grabbed me in a hug; right there in the restaurant in front of all the guests. He didn’t give the fact the others didn’t know or wonder if it was more than a friendly hug. In fact, I was sure he didn’t give a damn! Yea, I was falling in love deeper. “And lay off this insight or whatever, it’s sort of creepy that you can read what I feel without me saying it.” I said in a little growl. Colin threw his arm around my shoulder as we headed out. “Will do!” Then he leaned toward his voice in my ear. “But it’s written on your face, I can’t help it.” We met with a man and went over what Colin wanted to be done. First, was to clear all the damned Kudzu! Of course, the road in would have to be cleared to get the trucks and equipment in to do that! Colin led me through the remains of the house telling me about this grand home. “Now, I’m restoring it, but I’m also adding more. It will be Wentworth Manor again, but even grander than it ever was!” I nodded. “Why not? You have the money.” He nodded chuckling. “Well, those brothers up north aren’t the only ones that profited with hedge funds.” He grinned. “So, yes. I have the money. What was good is I did most of it online!” He shrugged. “When I started with the serum, it took a while to work well and I could go out in the day, but not all day.” “But why New York?” “They have a lot of city underground.” Colin said logically. “They have old subway lines and places a guy like me could stay…out of sunlight. I did that for decades. I would go out, look for…someone to fed off of.” He held his finger up. “Again, I never took their life. I took some and often it took three to satisfy my thirst. And there were times I fed on other things…like a dog, cat a few horses, but again, I didn’t kill them.” ‘They didn’t remember?” Colin shook his head. “Most thought they were being mugged at first, but afterwards, no.” “And New York was where all the finance and economy was running full.” I nodded. “You got it.” Colin nodded. I hesitated to ask, but he said I could. “So, this Brett Marshal, the one that changed you. You had an issue with his brother.” Colin frowned, but nodded. “Ashley Marshal was about to rape a woman on my plantation, her husband assaulted him to stop it.” He sighed. “He was about to kill the man for protecting his wife. I stopped Ashley and literally threw Ashley off the planation! He thought I offended his honor over a stupid slave and challenged me to a duel.” Now it was making more sense. “And he lost.” Colin nodded. “He did.” Then he smiled. “But when my turn came, I fired at the ground. Ashley was so outraged for furthering his dishonor, he took one of his witnesses guns and was firing again. I had no choice. He wouldn’t stop, so I had to kill him. It was self-defense.” He was no killer. He never was. Any fear or uncertainty was gone completely now on my part. I trusted Colin without question now. I moved forward closer. “You may not be ready, but I’m willing to see what can happen.” I grinned. “Who wouldn’t fall in love with you? I am falling for you.” Colin looked a little worried. “But you know what I am.” I nodded. “I can’t offer you immortality on my part, but I willing to give you what I have so far. At least see where it could lead.” He nodded and was about to walk off and then stopped and turned to me. He leaned close and gently pressed his lips on mine. It was almost chaste, but he smiled. “Be careful, I might accept what you’re willing to give.” He bumped his head against mine. “But I won’t make you suffer like I have. I could take a decade or two if you can love me. I’m pretty sure I could love you.” He put his hand on my chest. “My heart beats again, but the serum lasts from sunup to sunset. The next day it begins to change me back if I don’t take the serum.” I smiled. “Even when you were a full vampire, you never killed. I’m not scared of you.” Colin nodded, but looked at me seriously. “But I’m scared for you.” “Why?” “Because Brett might be still alive.” He said. “He’s dangerous and until I know for certain, you might be in danger.” I frowned. “When’s the last time you saw him?” “It’s been over a hundred years.” I shook my head. “How would you find out if he’s still alive?” “I can’t.” Colin admitted. “I’ll know if he’s alive when he shows up here. If he knows I’m here, he’ll come to finish the job and kill me.” I didn’t like that at all. “Then why’d you come back?” Colin gave a shrugging nod. “Because this is my home. And if he is still alive, my being here will force him out.” “You’re making yourself a target!?” Colin nodded. “I am.”
  27. 36 likes
    Finding what to do was proving a little challenging. I spend a few days not doing anything and it didn't take long before it began driving me crazy! The first day not having to get up at any particular time was great. It was nice the second day and sort of became…nowhere to be again? I’ve got to find something to do! Tony of course spent time with me, but he still had a job. There were clients he met with and went in a few times to meet with them and promised he’d be gone only a few minutes, but he’d be gone several hours. He was a popular man who knew how to make money and everyone wanted to talk with him. I was fine with it all, but finding what I could do during the day was a challenge. Alik was with Mrs. Cummings in the day. David was at school and the condo was big! Sasha was lining up school and had other things to do. I did find some causes I could work for and I did volunteer for a couple of those. I was beginning to feel like what David kidded me with becoming…a rich wife having a day with the girls. I tried to do things, like make dinner for everyone a few nights. I could cook. There were events that Tony had occasionally that came up and normally I was working and couldn’t go to a lot of them, but when he mentioned one a client was having an event and I jumped on it. “A dinner party?” I repeated what Tony said. “This Friday night.” Tony nodded. “You’re coming with me?” He asked surprised. I frowned. “I would have been working that day and not gotten home in time before.” I growled. “I’m going stir crazy! I can make nice just like everyone else!” Tony chuckled. “You make nice very well. It might be a little stuffy.” He warned. “The Dixons. Very wealthy. Old money.” I shrugged. “Old money, new money…I don’t care.” Then I looked at him. “They do know you’re married.” Tony nodded sitting by me on the bed. “Of course they do.” I nodded. “To a man.” I clarified. Tony shrugged. “It’s never really come up, but it’s on my profile.” I sat back. “Wait, you have a profile to sell stocks and do investments!?” Tony kissed me chuckling again. “Naturally, the most people see is how much I’ve made other people and come salivating to me. Bill Dixon is only interested in how much I can make him. And I made him a lot! His wife, Deidra Dixon will be there and I sort of have to be there.” He shrugged a nod. “And you’ve told me about it why?” I asked. Tony shrugged then raised his eyes to heaven for God to give him patience. “I offered you an invitation to go. I always do!” He said logically, but his eyes narrowed. “I won’t lose a client because he finds out I’m gay.” He kissed me more intently. “I love you, Mitch! I’m proud of you always, you know that. If William or Deidra Dixon have a problem with it, that’s their problem. We were both invited.” “Oh?” Tony gave another shrugging a nod. “Well, me and plus one. You are always my plus one.” He kissed me holding up his left hand and wiggled his wedding ring. “So, what’s the dress for this dinner party?” Tony chuckled. “Sort of dressy.” He waved his hand back and forth. “Go in jeans, I don’t care.” “Yes you do!” I said. “I’ll be a reflection of you! I know how you love what you do and how important your image is. I want to be the life mate you’re proud of…” Tony grabbed me and kissed me if only to stop my rant. “I’ve always been proud of you. You know that.” My fingers went in his hair I loved and the tickle I liked as my fingers ran through it. “I know, but I want to do this. For you.” Tony smiled. “Okay. There’s that great outfit we bought you Milan! I don’t think you’ve worn it even once!” I chuckled. “Well, I wasn’t wearing it to Bessenger’s when we get barbeque. That’s not a good reason.” “Well, now you have a good reason.” He said logically. “Too bad we haven’t gone to Milan yet, but you’ve got something great to wear.” He put his forehead against me. “I love you.” Who wouldn’t love this man? I sure did. Putting my arms around him I kissed him deeply as I pulled us both down pulling the man even closer if that were physically possible. I don’t normally worry about these things, but…I scheduled an appointment. I never did the whole…salon thing. And by that I mean, the manicure…who does that!? And ladies…and gentlemen whose had them, those HURT! I don’t care how good your hands looked afterwards, it hurt! They exfoliated with this wax thing and then soaked my hands in this stuff that smelled minty. Then cut, pushed back or whatever and I don’t know how you people put up with it! I had the same done with my face as they wrapped my face with this stuff, put some goop on and then peeled it away in a half and hour, then waxed my eyebrows. Nothing was going to be waxed below the belt, let me set that straight. And I didn’t have the Einstein eyebrows where the eyebrows went everywhere in the first place, but they were trimmed and shaped. Then the hair was washed, cut, conditioned. I was nearly exhausted when they finally finished. I used a fingernail clipper, a nail file when needed and did my own shampoo and conditioner was just fine, but I wanted Tony happy having me with him, so I did it! No one could doubt I loved Tony after this. I got home and dressed knowing Tony was coming to change and we would go. So, when he got home and I heard when he entered. “Just give a chance to change and….” He said as he entered the bedroom and froze looking at me. His mouth dropped open and his eyes grew as he actually dropped his briefcase on the floor. “Holy SHIT!!” I hoped he’d like what he saw, but… “I hope that’s a good holy shit.” He grinned as he walked toward me and just circled me slowly. “Damn! Holy shit and Oh My GOD!!” He reached and stopped as if afraid to touch me. “You look….SPECTULAR!” Then he held his hand up and added quickly. “You always do, but now…” He waved over me. “…this is…you’re still you, but…WOW!!” Then he risked touching me. “You’re beautiful, Mitch. You always were, but now…you’re just breathtaking!” I grinned. “I’ll be on your arm, how could I be anything else?” I asked kissing him as my arms came around him. “I love you, Tony. This is what you do for a living and you do it damned well. If by dressing better and getting all this shit done to make people take notice of you. I do it with no regrets.” Tony hugged me tightly. “I love you, Mitch.” He kissed me again. Then I pushed him back a little. “But understand! Tomorrow, the Levis, sneakers and t-shirt are back on.” Tony chuckled. “That’s who you are and the man I married. In fact, I’ll be sure to wear jeans, sneakers and t-shirt…tomorrow.” Then he kissed me again quickly. “I’ve gotta change.” He changed quickly into a more casual suit like I was and then we were off. So let me explain a little. You all know I wasn’t fond of Mt. Pleasant because of traffic problems and other issues. It was growing more and more, but there’s Mt. Pleasant and Old Mt. Pleasant. Old Mt. Pleasant was the original Mt. Pleasant. To live there now, you had to have money. The homes were older and some nearly a hundred years or more. We went to Old Mt. Pleasant that was near the entrance to Charleston by sea. With some modern additions to homes they were…stately. The home of the Dixons was just that sort of home. Not necessarily big, but it spoke of opulence and elegance. The yard was cut and manicured with roses and other flowering plants throughout the yard. It was well-lit for guests to see. Once at the front door, even the doorbell had more than just a “ding dong.” The woman that answered was not the host or hostess, from her black dress and white apron said she was a servant. Maid? She motioned for us to come in with a wave and we did. We entered as some guests were gathered having their drinks and eating little things from trays that were carried by other people in those black uniforms that were staff both male and female. A man in his middle to late fifties with white hair looked up with a smile. “Tony! Glad you could make it.” He looked over to a woman. “Deidra, come meet Tony Delveccio!” A woman in her early fifties, elegantly dressed in her…it was nothing short of a gown…with blonde to whitish hair done up on her head came over. She had on diamonds that sparkled on her neck and ears. Bill Dixon smiled shaking Tony’s hand as his wife came over. “Deidra, this is Tony Delveccio, the man that helped me make a small fortune!” The woman smiled nodding, but her eyes narrowed as they traveled to me questioningly. “That’s my job.” Tony smiled. “Thank you for inviting us.” Then he put his hand around me. “This is my husband Mitch McKenzie.” He said proudly. Bill wasn’t bothered and shook my hand readily. It was Mrs. Dixon that was surprised and…well…she wasn’t happy to hear it, but shook my hand because it was the polite thing to do. “It’s nice to meet you both.” She said. Her eyes traveled over me from head to foot again. Only a woman and gay man would do that. “Come meet some more of my guests!” Bill said happily and led us to meet others. There was wealthy and there was stuffy. Most of these guests were both! No sharp Southern accents here. If anything, most had that…South of Broad from Charleston accent. If you were really old money in Charleston, that was where you came from. And believe me when I tell you, there is a marked difference. It was later when Deidra came over. “That’s a very nice outfit you have on.” I looked down at what I was wearing. “Thank you.” Then she shook her head. “Times have really changed. It used to be no one…like you and Tony would set foot in this house. I’m not trying to be rude. I think that’s brave of you.” I smiled at her attempt to tell me Tony and I was lucky to be allowed in her home. “Well, times are changing.” I raised my glass of iced tea. “Just like this tea. I can remember a time when you couldn’t pay me to drink iced tea made with water from Mt. Pleasant. I’m not trying to be rude either, but the water here smelled and tasted like urine, making the tea taste awful, but now you have city water so it’s good now. Times are changing. It’s a good thing we’ve evolved.” I smiled as Tony was waving me over. “My husband is asking for me. Excuse me. Oh, this outfit we got in Milan, Italy if you want to know. We’re going back in a few weeks to prepare our cruise on the Queen Mary. Have you been on that ship?” Her eyes widened and then narrowed. “No.” “Maybe you should since according to your husband, you made a small fortune with Tony’s help.” I smiled and walked over to Tony. The rest of the evening was pretty good. I could mix and small talk as needed and I want to say we had a good time, but that would be a lie. It wasn’t unpleasant is all I could say. Mrs. Dixon didn’t have a word to say to me until we said good-bye. I was fine with that. Tony smiled as I slipped off my shoes to put in the closet. “You were amazing tonight.” I smiled as he sat by me to do the same as he took his shoes off. “I hope so.” Tony leaned in to me kissing me. “Thank you for coming with me. You were a big hit.” He said pulling my jacket off. “Now, for the moment I’ve waited for since I first came home.” He grinned pulling my tie off and unbuttoning my shirt. I chuckled. “Since you first came home?” I grinned as I did the same for him. “You don’t have to now.” “I’ve wanted to do this as soon as I saw you.” He said pulling my shirt open and his hands traveled in over my skin as he kissed me deeply, passionately and lovingly. “Let’s make love.” I grinned as I kissed him back pulling him down on top of me. “What took you so long?” My hands pushed his shirt off. “I love you, Tony. With all my heart.” He nodded as his nose ran over my face and neck as his lips went from my lips down to my neck. “I know you do.” He whispered. “I love you.” I loved his weight on me. “I know.”
  28. 35 likes
    By the time we finished the ride and after we tossed the ruined sandwiches, we were late for homecoming. Luke didn’t seem to mind though and if I had my way we would be on our way back to my house for more privacy that a conveniently empty house provided. Not that I was brave enough to do anything, and the ride and the carelessness of us being alone was addicting. It wasn’t a stolen moment out beside my house, but something together and without the fear of prying eyes that we would have to answer to. We both seemed jittery on the ride over to the paint arena. Luke said that his uncle did some improvements to the place after the soft opening. When we walked through the door, the lights were dimmed and people were darting around in the dark. Stepping further inside the first person we walked into was Cindy. Seeing us she broke from where she was standing and started walking in our direction. “Mom,” Luke said, his voice tense. She didn’t seem to notice as she stepped past me barely giving me any notice, although I thought that was on purpose. “Where have you been?” She asked as I took a step away from Luke. He was already trying to inch himself away from me. As my eyes adjusted, I saw that the walls were no longer bales of straw anchored together, but actual walls. People were barely loud enough to be heard over the sound of the thumping music and when I looked up at the booth where the music seemed to be coming from, I saw an actual person manning the station instead of a sound system. The sound itself seemed more crisp and clear and the lasers bounced off a large metal ball that sent rays of sparkling light everywhere. “Hey!” Someone yelled from behind. Jumping, I whirled to see Tim carrying what looked like a load of pizza boxes. He seemed to be struggling under the bulky weight of the stack so I reached out and he gladly let me take some off the top. “You’re late!” “Yeah,” I said as I started following him around the chaos of the maze to a small clean alleyway that led to a door and a small room. He shimmied the door open with his pinky finger and then his toe and held it open for me. Stepping inside, the room was brightly lit and a bit suffocating. Blinking until my eyes adjusted once again to the light I followed him to a table where he sat the pizzas down. “Staff at the food bar can’t keep up with you guys,” he said laughing as he picked up a phone. He quickly pressed a series of buttons and told someone on the other line that the pizzas had arrived and hung back up, “I saw Cindy and Luke having a one sided conversation, what’s that about?” “Don’t know,” I mumbled, my face getting hot as I tugged on my shirt collar. “Well what do you think of the place now?” He said grinning, the youthful excitement that actually reminded me of Luke a little, was back. “I like it,” I answered smiling. “Let’s get back outside it’s hot as hell in here,” he said as he turned and led the way back outside. “We also went to a strictly water based paint, so it isn’t as thick,” he explained as he walked along. “We clogged the pipes, the city wasn’t very happy with us.” “How long do we have the place?” I asked as we walked back up the ramp to the front entrance. Cindy was gone and Luke hovered right by the door. He was scanning the place and not paying any attention to us, he was frowning and his cheeks were flushed. “Midnight,” he answered, “then I gotta kick you guys out and let the cleaning crew get at it.” “Nice,” I said looking at Luke and wanting Tim to see something that needed attending to so that I could talk to Luke without him overhearing. Seeing Luke at the door though, Tim sped up and when Luke turned his head our way his frown disappeared as Tim wrapped him into an awkward bear hug and tossed him around. He ended the hug by messing up Luke’s hair and nearly knocking him over when he clapped him on the side. “Don’t let your boring mother ruin tonight for you,” he said as Luke half heartedly shoved his uncle and tried to smooth down his hair. It was short, so it didn’t mess it up too much, just a few cute strands refused to go back down and I would have smiled if being around Cindy’s family didn’t make me nervous, even if it was Tim. “She’s your sister,” Luke countered no longer looking like he was too bothered. “She gave up on me when you popped out,” Tim argued grinning. “Look at this place, isn’t it awesome!” “Yeah,” Luke said and I squinted trying to see through the darkness and the flashing light to actually take it all in. “No straw, the paint guns have an enclosed battle area now just through there, we expanded, we have a food bar now,” he explained pointing quickly to the various places as he talked. “By next summer we want to have mini-golf and laser tag.” “Damn,” I offered feeling excited even though I had nothing to do with the project. I had to admit it sounded like the most fun a person our age could have in all these boring assed small towns we lived in and around. “What are you two waiting around for though?” He asked wrapping his arms around both our shoulders as he stood between us. “Get your asses down there and start pelting people with paint.” “We don’t have to wait for another round to start?” Luke asked and I glanced up to see there wasn’t a countdown ticking down the time. “Nope, open warfare,” he said handing us both a pair of goggles, “the only place that has breaks is the paint guns when a team wins. There are trap stations, I’ll tell you one is just down and to the left, you’ll find a hidden door, behind it there is a ramp you walk up where you can see over the wall and give people hell.” “Nice,” I said as Tim let his hands fall back to his sides. “Just watch out for the pressure plates that dump slime on you,” he said swelling up proudly as Luke and I both looked at one another. Tim really had went all out on the place. Running down the ramp into the fray, it didn’t take long for us to get hit by a stray balloon. The watered down paint was cold and I swore under my breath as I followed Luke towards the attack zone Tim pointed out. We snuck around blind corners and standing up against the wall when people darted past us chasing one another. Luckily no one gave us more than a second look, I half expected the guys to round a corner and attack us any moment. “Where do you think it is?” Luke yelled over the sound of the music. “Don’t know,” I answered stepping across the narrow alley between the walls and felt along the opposite one. “Watch my back.” “With what?” Luke asked and I smirked as both of our hands were empty. “Here it is!” I yelled finding a slight indentation in the wall where I could hook my finger in and pull. When it didn’t budge I took a half step back as Luke stood beside me. When my foot landed, it sunk in by about a half inch and a loud warning siren pierced through the music. “Oh, that can’t be good,” Luke said then he disappeared in a wall of neon green slime. He took a more direct hit, but the second wave covered my face and as we tried to bolt out from under it we both slipped and fell over one another. We were still squirming on the floor when we heard laughter on either side of us. When we looked up, half the class came to see what had happened. “Hey guys,” Olivia said as she elbowed her way through the upperclassmen. Followed closely behind her though, was Conner and everyone else. All of them were a different, but colorful, state, the girls’ hair plastered to their neck and face. “Hey,” I said giving up on standing and just laying flat on my back staring up at the ceiling. “You found one of the plates,” Conner said as he stepped into my view offering his hand. Taking it, he helped me to my feet as Toby helped Luke to his. Now that the slime was seeping through the drainage holes in the floor and the sirens stopped people started throwing balloons and running around again, leaving just our friends clogging that part of the maze. “Where have you guys been?” Derek asked as he aimed a balloon at me his arm cocked and ready to fling it. Glancing behind us I saw Tim doubled over, supporting himself by holding his knees laughing in our direction. Shaking my head trying not to laugh as I swung my arms, slinging slime on everyone else. Lily darted behind Derek, and by the time I was done they were all dotted with neon green mixed with their color stained wet clothes. “I can’t believe he did that,” Luke said still dripping slime where he stood. “You gonna tell us where you’ve been?” Derek repeated and Lily leaned around him looking curious. “Why are you walking like you’ve got a stick up your ass?” “Wait no,” Toby hissed his eyes wide, “do we even want to know?” “We went horse riding,” I answered hearing a click beneath my feet as the pressure plate reset. Taking a quick step off it, I hated that they were all staring at us. We were also still clogging a corner of the maze and people were darting around the corner pelting balloons at us before turning around and escaping. “Horse riding?” Ally asked standing next to Bailey a pink balloon in her hand. “Yeah,” I answered shrugging. “With Luke?” She asked and I hated that she pointed her finger towards him when she said his name. Now everyone turned to see Luke still standing beside me, but I didn’t turn to look. Instead I heard a quick shuffling at my side before the blaring sirens went off and as I jumped out of the way of a second drowning by slime I saw Luke laughing as he turned the corner. Everyone scattered after that to keep from ending up in a slimy mess on the maze floor and I kept running until I found a padded barrel full of balloons. Grabbing a handful and making a makeshift pouch with my t-shirt to hold more I took off running. “Guys against girls!” Toby yelled as he joined me at the barrell. Hearing him, the girls screamed and took off in the opposite direction. “Didn’t Olivia tell you?” I asked as I watched him snatch up a lot of balloons as well. “No,” he answered wriggling his eyebrows. “Just that you would be late, we didn’t really expect your ass to show up at all.” “Ass,” I said as I smashed a balloon over his head laughing as blue water streaked down his face. “Friendly fire, you fucker,” Toby groaned as I ducked a balloon feeling it glance off my shoulder but not bursting. As we were about to leave to hunt the girls, Derek turned the corner with Luke behind him. He was ducking as Luke kept hitting him with balloons laughing. They both slid to a stop at the barrell and I looked around to see if anyone else was with us. “Girls against guys,” Toby said holding up a second balloon ready to defend himself from more friendly fire. “Got it?” “Yeah, but Conner is fair game,” Derek answered smirking. “He found a super soaker and now I can’t keep my balls from sticking to my leg.” “Alright, let’s go,” Toby said and we fell in line behind him. Taking this seriously, he stopped before we rounded any corners holding his hand up beside his head. “Just fucking go,” Derek hissed after the third corner. “This isn’t Call of Duty.” “No, this is real life,” Toby countered and I heard Luke laughing behind me. “Clear.” Walking around the corner I saw that Toby was leading us towards the center of the maze. More of our classmates still darted around us, but we saved our ammunition. By the time we even saw a glimpse of one of the girls I was dripping wet and most of the slime had been washed away from all the balloons flying through the air. I had no idea how Tim kept the battle field stocked with them, but as we approached more barrels and bins all of them still had plenty of balloons in them. “There’s Ally,” Toby said, “on your six.” “Six?” I asked having never really played, ‘Call of Duty’, before in my life. “Just point where you want us to look,” Derek groaned about to step around Toby and take charge. “I’m the leader,” Toby growled. Then as he turned to push Derek back into line behind him I saw his eyes widen and his mouth fall open, “run it’s a trap, it’s a trap!” After he disappeared around a corner I turned only to be blasted with a super soaker and balloons. The girls had recruited more of their friends and I couldn’t see where I was throwing by the time I recovered enough from the surprise attack to start throwing balloons back at them. Derek, Luke, and I were running into one another trying to get away from the bombardment and when it finally stopped all I could hear was the sound of music mixed with a loud roar of female laughter. “Cheaters,” Derek yelled as I pulled my goggles off and shook the colored water off them before sliding them back on. The water from the squirt guns was cold and my teeth chattered as Derek held his arms out from his body and started stomping towards the girls. He was about halfway between us when Toby rounded the corner and balloon warfare erupted again with the three of us caught in the middle without anything to retaliate with. After Toby was soaked and defeated the girls all high fived one another and dispersed leaving just Ally, Heather, Olivia, Conner, and Bailey Ashton still standing. Glancing at Luke I saw him still watching Ally, but she had returned to secure herself at Bailey’s side as he draped his arm around her, his normally gelled hair sticking to his forehead. We were all pretty drenched and the girls were all smiles still. “Dude,” I said looking at Conner, avoiding Bailey’s eyes completely. “You’re a damn traitor.” “Yeah,” he said laughing. “It was his idea,” Olivia said smiling as she sat her gun aside. “To round up all the girls and really get you guys.” “That’s what you get for turning against us,” Lily said as she walked up to Derek and tip toed to kiss him on the cheek. “None of that Miss Henson,” Welker coughed as he rounded the corner. Like everyone else, he hadn’t escaped the odd balloon, but he was nowhere near as wet as we were. Hearing him, Lily stepped away from Derek offering Welker an apologetic smile. I noticed that Bailey had nearly stepped three or so feet away from Ally and she had her arms crossed clearly embarrassed that her dad was there at all. Welker kept on walking though and when I noticed that Conner was still holding a balloon I quickly grabbed it and just as Welker was about to step around the corner to another part of the maze I cocked my arm back then let the balloon fly. People were already laughing even before the balloon sailed through the air and exploded on the back of Welker’s head. When he turned around we all bolted laughing. “I’m hungry,” I said as our small group made its way out of the maze onto one of the entrance ramps. It was the entrance closest to the food and the smell of warm pizza made my stomach growl. Following the smell of food, we saw tables set up behind a metal door with a glass window. It was dimly lit by candles and the glow of a television on in the corner. It looked to be televising some football game. I led the way inside, there were a few other groups of friends from our class clustered around the room so I picked a corner and pulled out a chair catching the attention of one of the girls cleaning up after a mess. I expected to hear the roar of the music and noise outside, but as soon as the door closed behind Bailey the only sounds left was the television and the voices coming from other tables. “Pizza is all we have left,” the waitress said as she beamed at us after we all got seated. “Cheese, pepperoni, sausage, or vegetarian.” “Can we have two pepperoni pies?” Derek asked leaning back in his seat to stretch. He sat beside me and the too small table made us all feel a bit sandwiched between people. Looking around I noticed that no one seemed to mind that fact but me. Every time Luke bumped his knee or elbow against mine it only made me very aware of our closeness. I also hated that as we seated, that we are all coupled and that we were the only two holding out hope to keep that a secret. “Two whole pies?” The waitress asked shaking her head as she jotted it down. “Are you sure you don’t want any vegetarian? We haven’t been able to move a single slice of that.” “Hell no,” Toby answered and everyone laughed, even the girl taking our order. “Language guys this is a school function,” Said a woman just on the other side of the waitress. I had heard someone else enter the quiet room, but I hadn't turned to see who it was. The voice was all too familiar though and when I turned my head I saw Mom talking to the other waitress completely ignoring us again. “Sorry, Grace,” Toby said and Mom just smiled and waved her hand. The waitress she was talking to smiled and nodded at Mom as she left through a door on the opposite side of the rectangular room. Like a good mother during a high school function though, she didn’t hover around our table ready to embarrass my ass. Instead she leaned against one of the unoccupied tables and that is when I noticed that her hair was a messy knot of a bun half falling down and that her clothes were damp and blotched with color. “Mom,” I said turning further around in my chair. “What happened to you?” “Retaliation,” she answered and I heard snickers from either side of me. “Before you got here two heathens decided to ambush me with balloons.” “Who?” I asked already knowing the answer. “I’ll get them back for that.” “Don’t have to,” Toby said, “your mother went Dwayne Johnson on our butts.” When we all fell silent, the waitress at our table took the chance to ask everyone what we wanted to drink. After getting our orders, the waitress left, and I turned back to see Mom being handed a bottle of water from the one other waitress that was in charge of the room. I felt sorry for them having to put up with all of us, but they both seemed to be smiling and taking it in stride. “Have fun guys,” Mom said as she gave us a small three fingered wave around the bottle of water she carried. Not waiting around for any of us to answer, she turned and walked through the doors, a brief blaring of music noting her exit. “Oh!” Heather said after all the grownups around us were out of earshot. “I found you a date for prom, Jack.” “You did what?” I asked as Toby barely nudged her elbow. It earned him a sharp jab in his which he grimaced and snuck a few quick rubs in. Too surprised by what Heather said I couldn’t think up a good ribbing for him being a wuss. “I found you a date for prom, my cousin” she repeated smiling as she rolled her eyes. “I swear you weren’t this dumb when we dated.” “You didn’t do much talking when you two dated,” Ally countered. Bailey and Conner let loose a few awkward laughs before falling quiet. Olivia on the other hand laughed loudly for a few seconds then abruptly went quiet shooting a glare at Luke, but only the two of us had felt him move his legs under the table to kick her. “I don’t need a date for prom, I can find my own,” I said shaking my head. “Your cousin is in college anyway.” “Come on!” Heather said, “I thought you’d be happy, you’re like the favorite for Prom King, you can’t go alone.” “Really, we know how Jackson is. It’s not even January, he has plenty of time,” Lily said and I heard a false falsetto in her voice as she faked a laugh. “Not really, not anymore anyway,” Ally said and this time Bailey shuffled in his chair uneasily before standing. “I have to piss,” he grunted then awkwardly bolted from the table, no one paying any attention to him as he left. “Conner, damn, I gave the waitress the wrong drink order,” Olivia said and I turned to see her giving Conner a toothy smile. “I’m out of the mood for root beer, I just want water, be a dear and go tell the waitress.” “How am I going to tell the waitress?” Conner asked as he stood. I wondered if he was used to Olivia ordering him around, but he didn’t seem to mind. “Just go open that door and tell them,” Olivia answered shrugging. “Alright,” he said seeming to not give it another thought as he squeezed around us and left the table. Olivia winked at me as she leaned around Luke, her hair falling to the side hiding her face from the girls on the opposite side of the table. She had just as successfully gotten rid of Conner like she had Luke earlier. “I mean honestly,” Heather said after he was a couple of steps from the table. “Ally is right, you’ve been acting funny since school started.” “Come on guys,” Derek protested leaning his elbows on the table flexing his muscles smirking when they danced. “Let’s just have fun, paintball guns after we eat?” “Yeah,” Luke answered. “Are you okay, Jackson?” Ally asked scooting to fill the seat that Bailey vacated and then Conner’s. Olivia looked completely put out by having Ally so close to her, but I was thankful to have both her and Luke on one side and Derek and Lilly on the other. “I mean, about our break up?” “Why wouldn’t I be?” I asked feeling my face flush. “Does me being with Bailey bother you?” She asked and I felt Luke’s leg slide firmly against my own. The warmth of his body on mine didn’t comfort me though. There were two people I didn’t want knowing about me. One was Ally and the other was Cindzilla. Having Ally’s large blue eyes staring me down had me wanting to make up the lame ass excuse of having to go piss and leave. “No Ally,” I countered, her shoulders slumping and I tried to soften my tone. “I’m okay with that.” “Okay,” she said scooting back over to her seat next to Heather. They were both still eyeballing me and I could tell they weren’t finished. “So,” Toby said, “are we going to kick some Bulldog ass this year or what?” Thankful for the change in topic I wasn’t going to give the guys any hell over football. Not like I usually would, but I felt myself relax when I saw that Toby had successfully pulled all the attention away from me. Bailey and Conner had both returned followed by the waitress with our drinks, he had successfully managed to get Olivia’s drink order changed. When the water was placed in front of her though, her nose wrinkled, but she didn’t say anything as she accepted her straw. “What makes you think this year is gonna be any different?” Olivia asked before taking a sip. “Their quarterback has a broken arm,” Derek explained rubbing his hands together. “And the coach is leaving to take a college position at the end of the school year.” “Dad told me the coach went off the rail about something,” Ally added squeezing her lemon wedge into her diet coke. “Something about them wanting to strip his son of his captaincy.” “Because he’s gay, yeah, I heard about that,” Heather said nodding her head. “I knew they were allways ass backwards in that shithole.” “He’s gay?” Derek asked and I wanted to punch him in the face when he turned to glance at me and smirk. “Has a boyfriend and everything,” Heather continued shrugging as the second waitress brought us two large pizzas. She carefully placed them in the center of the table, still in the box Toby flung open the one on the top and we all grabbed a slice as the waitress started placing plates in front of us. Everyone ignored the plates and by the time the waitress left, we were already starting on the second pizza, the box full of half eaten crusts. After we got finished eating we left some money on the table for tips, not knowing what else to do. The school had paid for the food, so we only ever saw the waitresses return to ask us about drink refills and more pizza. Our table was a mess as I slid my chair back and slapped another dollar on the table after inspecting the carnage. Luke put another dollar down as well and we all followed Lily and Derek out the door. “I have to pee,” Heather announced smiling as she stepped through all of us. Like girls typically did, the others followed behind her. Even Olivia left, but I suspected that she really did have to pee and wasn’t just going in there to gossip or do whatever girls did that required all of them go in at the same time. “You should tell them,” Toby said after we noticed that Conner and Bailey were a few yards away talking to one another, “you saw how they reacted, they’ll be okay.” “I don’t know,” Luke countered. “I think Ally still has the hots for Jackson.” “You sound jealous, Church,” Derek joked smiling. “Shut up,” I groaned. “Let’s make a deal, no talking about this shit anymore tonight?” “Deal,” they all said at the same time. “Now I have to go,” Derek said knocking my shoulder with his fist before he left. “Powder your nose princess!” Toby yelled, but ended up running to catch up to Derek, jumping on his back before both of them wrestled their way to the men’s bathroom nearly knocking over someone’s Dad just coming out of the bathroom. He looked scared to death as he adjusted his glasses, unlike Mom he wasn’t covered in shades of the rainbow. “You okay?” Luke asked standing next to me. We both turned and scanned the arena in front of us. The walls were just high enough to hide the people running through the maze. Balloons flew through the air haphazardly and in the far corner where Tim told us about a secret door, some guys had found it and was busy soaking people that came into firing distance. “Yeah,” I answered offering him a quick sideways smile. “You?” “Yeah,” he said and we laughed when we both sighed. The only thing that helped was knowing that someone was fighting to keep the same secret as me. Even if there was possibly more for him to lose if we messed up. “Hey, we’ll meet you in the paintball gun room,” Conner said slapping me on the shoulder as he passed. Jumping, I managed a nod as he laughed and led Bailey to the door on the far end of the building with a neon sign directing people to the gun room. “I’ll be right back,” Luke said offering me another smile. “I have to go use the bathroom before we start shooting one another with paintballs.” “Alright,” I said not having to go. Watching him walk, a little awkwardly in his saggy wet shorts still covered in bits of slime I couldn’t keep from smiling. The year was definitely not happening the way I would have ever imagined. I had plans of taking Ally to prom, being prom king, having a scholarship in my back pocket to brag about. Instead all of that was up in the air and I had Luke. A boy. Blinking I realized that I was staring at the bathroom doors, but when I turned back to the maze I saw Cindy storming around the corner. Her face was covered in blue and her hair was plastered to her forehead. Behind her a group of boys were laughing and pointing and above the blaring rock music I cringed when I heard them chanting, “Cindzilla” as they retreated out of sight. “Those heathens,” Cindy hissed coming to an abrupt stop when she noticed me standing there. “Jackson.” “Mrs. Clarke,” I said trying not to look at her disheveled hair and stained clothes. She glanced around before turning back to face me. “Where is my son and your delinquent group of friends?” She asked reaching up and running her hand through her hair to smooth her bangs back and out of her face. She only managed to get them to stick straight up into the air, but her tone chased away any humor I felt. “Where were you two earlier?” “Why are you talking to me?” I asked crossing my arms. “You made it clear you didn’t like me.” “I don’t understand you,” she answered shaking her head. “You have no respect for anyone. What do you see in my son, it doesn’t make any sense.” “He’s a good friend,” I answered feeling my face flush. “Yes, but not for you,” she countered crossing her arms, rubbing them with her hands. I could see goose bumps spreading across her arms obviously cold, but I didn’t feel sorry for her. “He is nothing like you, he is not careless or reckless. Your mother was scared to death you would end up in prison or worse. I don’t want that for my son, I want him to be someone after high school.” “He’s not any of those things,” I argued surprised at how protective I suddenly felt. “He isn’t anything like me. You don’t even seem to know him.” “I know him,” she said, her voice cold and distant. “I know him and I know you. That is why I want you to stay away from my son. I won’t have you leading him astray any longer.” “I can’t do that,” I countered crossing my arms. “Why not?” She asked squinting as she studied me. I was afraid she was on the verge of everything lining up for her. That she would finally understand Luke’s inexplicable draw to me and mine to him. “We’re both old enough to choose our own friends, Cindy,” I answered dropping my arms to my side. “Stay away from him, Jackson,” she repeated, her voice a harsh whisper underneath all the noise and laughter beyond where we stood. “I hope I don’t have to have this conversation with you again.” “Me either,” I said shrugging as I looked around and saw that everyone had finished in the bathrooms and were on their way back towards us. Turning to see them approaching, she gave me a smile that didn’t comfort me at all before she stepped past me. “What did Cindzilla want?” Derek asked as they huddled around me. “Nothing,” I answered forcing a smile as my eyes found Luke’s. “Let’s go shoot up people with paintballs.”
  29. 35 likes
    Dean knew he should talk with Victoria about all of this before he decided it was time for them to complete the mating. Kao had left it entirely up to him since it was his biggest struggle to even think about the mating when he still needed to talk to her. "I am going nowhere, Dean. Take the time you need. Another thing to think of is where you will be living. When I graduate, I'll be moving to Homestead to take up my place as Beta." Kao idly brushed his fingers along Dean's bare chest as they lay in bed that night. Pat and Jon were still out on their date, and neither Dean nor Kao thought they would be back before daybreak. "I have been thinking about it. The guys have been mondo awesome with giving you a high rank. One you have worked to get, too. I would have to petition Jon to join formally. I would have to quit my job and find one out here so I can contribute to the pack." Dean's mind still balked at some of this. He was still getting used to being Lycan; throwing in Jon and the pack was a bit much. "You would not need to. You would also be Beta." "I don't follow," said Dean. "When taking in a mated or married couple, they come as a pair. Mates should never be of different social standing. The Alpha could mate an omega, the lowest in the pack, and they would instantly be elevated to alpha-mate, the position equal to alpha. I am to be the Beta..." "Which would make me another Beta in the eyes of pack law." Kao nodded. "So Jon knows all of this and is okay? I mean, he would have to accept advice and sometimes a smack in the back of the head from his best friend." "How is that different than now?" Kao chuckled at his own question. "Very true. Come to think of it, Jon has asked me for advice a few times in the last ten years. Maybe he's been toying with the idea of me as Beta for years." Dean wouldn't put it past him. Jon was known to plan ahead, especially since he had been asked to go to the corporate HQ just before he got caught up in Lycan politics. He had more than enough money squirreled away to live off of comfortably, he made sure his son had connections all over the USA for his chosen career in graphic design, had a few alliances with other packs, and a tentative new one with the Rogue Valley Flock. He was making sure Homestead was prepared for the worst. Who's to say he had not been thinking about Dean as Beta? "Either way, you'll be heading back to California tomorrow." Kao yawned, tired from the very emotional day. "Come with me. I know the local alpha enough to let her know your rank and to ask for permission for your visit." Kao smiled. "I know Alpha Goldie well enough to ask myself, my mate." Kao poked Dean. "Then you can ask her. I want you to meet Victoria. I want her to meet you. That way she can see why...why I have to break it off with her." It was hard to say it when he still cared about her so much, but he knew Kao was where he would end up, so why make it harder on all of them? "If it means this much to you, I will gladly come to your home. I would like to meet the woman who captured your heart." Kao had a few misgivings about it, but if Victoria was half the woman Dean claimed her to be, then she would not make a scene. "Thank you. Now, unless you are planning on sleeping in the other bed..." Kao grinned at him and snuggled deeper. "Nice try, handsome, but I am only going to sleep apart from you when I must." Dean's kiss in response was all Kao needed to know Dean felt the exact same. * * * They stopped briefly at Homestead to pick up Dean's stuff and to drop off the Alpha Pair. As far as Dean knew, Jon and Pat hadn't been to sleep yet, but they seemed more than happy to have spent a night with no worries for the pack. Since Dean could tell they had not been fucking like rabbits, he wondered what they had done on their date. "How long are you staying in California?" Jon asked Kao. "A week. Then I have to finish college." "Cool. I'll send the chopper to pick you up next Sunday afternoon and get you back to BYU." Jon held up his hand to stop any protest. "Yes, Alpha." Kao said with a bow. "I'll break you of that title bullshit. Just you wait." Those around the landing pad laughed, knowing Jon had a huge battle with that one. "Whatever you say, Alpha," said Kao with a grin. It felt so nice to joke, to have a group of friends he could play around with and not have to look over his shoulder for a disapproving glare. "Get outta here," Jon said with a smile, waving as they lifted off for California. Once again, they landed briefly atop Goldie's building, where she met them with open arms. "Welcome back, Dean. Beta Kao...I prefer 'you annoying turd' better." Kao laughed and gave her a huge hug. "This is one story I have to hear," quipped Dean. "Nothing too major. When the Wind Master and I met to discuss a boundary dispute, Kao was probably ten years old and full of mischief when no one was looking. Caught him on my business computer changing the desktop to a picture of an osprey." "Ten seconds more, and I could have gotten away with it." Dean just shook his head. "You are welcome here for as long as you like, Kao. I was very happy to get the verdict from the council." Dean sobered a bit. "How many packs know about it?" "All of them. Not the fact that you two are all but mated, that was kept quiet, but the verdict and transfer to Homestead is common knowledge. That way no one can try to use it against Kao, RVF, or Homestead. Now scoot, I have a business to run. Shall I tell Victoria to head over to your place after work?" "You have a bit of a sadistic streak," said Dean with a smirk. She grinned back, her eyes flashing gold, and said, "You have no idea." With that, she spun and was gone. Dean opened his front door. It seemed like ages since he had done it, but it had only been a few days. "Welcome. You are welcome to anything and everything, no need to ask." "Good," said Kao as he shut the door and jumped into Dean's arms for a few kisses. "How sound proof are the walls?" He waggled his eye brows suggestively. "Very, very soundproof. No one will hear you scream." With that, Dean began to tickle Kao. His laughing cries filled the room as Dean mercilessly went for sides, armpits, and the belly. "Evil! Vile!" Kao couldn't overpower Dean, but he had one trick up his sleeve. He grabbed ahold of Dean's crotch, which made Dean stop. There was no disguising the instant erection Dean got or the dilating pupils that showed he was instantly in the mood for something other than tickling. "You fight dirty," growled Dean as he nuzzled Kao's neck. "Always will, my love." With the tickling done, Dean calmed down enough to not devour his mate on the entryway floor and got up. "Do you want to shower before Victoria gets here? I know I do." "It would be nice." Kao gasped when Dean scooped him up and took him into the bathroom. The dual shower was more than large enough for the two of them. "To...together?" "Unless you don't want to." Dean set him down to make his own choice. "I won't pressure you." "You do realize that I have never done this. Not even in gym class have I showered with another guy." Dean wondered how he got away with that. "It's your choice, cutie, but I am going to hop in and enjoy a nice long shower." So saying, Dean stripped off his shirt and pants, standing in just his socks and a pair of briefs that showed more than a little tenting going on. Kao's pulse quickened and his breath caught. Before him was a stunning man wearing very little. One that wanted him badly enough to be unable to control his reaction. One that loved him dearly. One that very obviously wanted more than just holding hands. "God, you look amazing." Dean looked over his shoulder with a smile as he adjusted the temperature of the shower. "Kao, would you like to join me?" The smaller Lycan nodded. Dean took one large step and began to undress his mate. It was slow, sensual, and everything the younger man had longed for. Soft touches of Dean's fingers sent shivers along his body, and there would be no hiding the fact that Kao wanted Dean to take him right now. Dean kissed along his collar bone, eliciting a gasp from Kao. "Like that?" "Uh huh." "Good. For now, my mate," Dean rumbled in his ear, "we play it safe. As much as we both want this." Dean shucked his briefs and socks; both stood nude and very aroused. For the first time in Dean's life he looked upon another man and wanted to feel what it was like. To taste what it was like. Kao inspired the most powerful reaction he had ever had. Dean was larger in every way than Kao, but neither cared. To Kao, Dean's body was perfection. Muscular without being too big, the light dusting of chest and belly hair so wonderful, a taut and muscular butt. Kao swallowed heavily when he saw how endowed Dean was. "Is...is that normally that big?" he asked tentatively, aroused but a bit scared. Dean looked down and flushed a bit. "Actually, this is probably the hardest I have ever been." Dean was not overly conceited about his member, it being slightly larger than large. He wasn't as endowed as Jon, he'd seen Jon naked often enough to know, but he never had a lady laugh at his size. "Really? Is that...because of me?" Kao seemed shocked and somewhat at a loss. Had no one found him attractive before? Dean nodded. He liked the look of Kao's body. Hairless except for his pubic hair, lean muscled physique, almost feminine waist-to-hip ratio, nicely sculpted legs. Kao's own erection was standing at full attention and looked average, but it looked like it would taste very good. "You are truly the most sexy man I have ever met." Dean pulled him close and kissed him. With nothing acting as a barrier between their skin, both felt the passionate touch of their mate. He stepped under the shower with Kao still in his arms. They were lost in an erotically sensual moment as the hot water rained down upon them, neither wanting to end it. Yet Dean did and pulled back to see Kao's eyes still closed. "Wow." Kao's word came out like a moan. He took a step back himself. "Dean, you are one helluva kisser. You stay there, I stay here, else I may jump your bones right now." His grin said it was a joke. His eyes said he was serious. Dean leaned over and gave him another smooch but left it at that. With the shower done, Dean pulled on a pair of blue mesh basketball shorts and nothing else. He was at home and Victoria would automatically know something was up if he wore more than this without having plans that evening. Kao had opted for a loose fit pair of sleeping pants and a tank top. They didn't have long to wait as Victoria came over right after work. When she entered, she went up to Dean and gave him a kiss on the cheek. It was then that she spotted Kao. "Hey, handsome, Goldie told me you wanted me to stop by after work. Hi, I'm Victoria," she said as she stuck her hand out to Kao. "Kao Saechao. Dean has told me quite a bit about you." He could see why he liked her. She was personable, lovely enough to make even a gay man look, and the first impression of her was confident and caring. "Kao? From Montana?" She looked at Dean who nodded. "How are you? He said you got hurt pretty bad." The concern in her voice was not feigned. Yup, Kao thought, she's really this amazing. "I've healed up, thanks." Kao felt ugly and horrid next to this lovely woman whose inner self matched her outer self. "I'm glad to hear that. So, why did you want me to come over?" she asked as she sat on the couch next to Dean. Dean waited to smell some sort of jealousy from Kao, but all he could smell was Kao feeling inferior. "Victoria...there is no easy way to say any of this. Um..." "Dean, you're worrying me." She smelled worried too. "I...Kao and I are dating." His voice sounded like he was telling her he had run over her cat with the lawn mower. She blinked a bit. "Oh. That's wonderful." The odd thing was she smelled honest. She turned to Kao. "You've got yourself one of the best men I have ever had the privilege to know. You are something special to capture his heart." And all of it was the truth. Neither of them could smell any sort of falsehood from her. "You're not mad or upset?" Dean asked, more than a bit surprised. She nodded. "I am upset, I admit. Yet if your heart leads you to Kao, then I need to step aside. It wouldn't be fair to you at all if I blew up. You handled me turning you down with more grace and decorum than many would ever be capable of." He could smell her scent was filled with sorrow, but she was happy he had found someone else. Someone who was now looking at Dean like he was the moon and not just the one who hung it. Kao smiled. "I now understand why you needed so much time to decide, Dean. You are truly a wonderful woman, Victoria. Not many people would be so gracious about it." She smiled at Kao. There was a tinge of sadness to it, but she was honest when she said she was glad for them. "And I have never seen Dean look at me the way he has been looking at you." There was no way she could ever hope to win against such feeling. "I would like to get to know you, Kao." "And I would like that. I hope that you can remain in Dean's life. He needs those he cares about to look after him when I go back to school." A quirky grin lit her features. "How old are you?" She had to ask. Kao grinned. "I'm twenty-four and enrolled as a linguistics major at BYU Idaho." He could see why she had asked. "Good. I know he can be a bit of a dirty old man," she teased, making Dean roll his eyes. "Yet why would he need someone to look after him? I know he's house broken and can wash himself." She was still teasing him, but she was curious why he would need it. Dean's face was serious, but he knew this would be the best time to tell her. "You know when I came back from the trip, I wore condoms when we had sex?" She nodded. "You said it was safer because of the exposure to Kao's blood. I hope I didn't just insult you," she said, fearing she had done just that. "Not at all. Simple precaution until tests came back." Kao reassured her. She sighed, looking relieved. "You're right. What about it?" she asked as she turned back to Dean. He took a deep breath. "It was for your safety. I...did contract something." Her first response was to take his hand, not to pull away or get upset at him. "Can it be treated?" They both shook their heads. "Oh, Dean. I am so...Kao...Is it potentially lethal?" "No," Kao reassured her again, "it's not. For all intents and purposes, Dean will be healthy for a very long life. Just...it is contagious." Kao was trying to find a way to calm her fears without telling much. The relief in her eyes was not feigned. "Oh thank God. May I ask what it is? So I know what help I can give." Kao just marveled at her. She really was all Dean said she was and more. It was no wonder he had struggled with this. Hell, Kao wanted to get to know this woman and not just for Dean's sake. She was truly a caring person. "You may not believe me, but it's...um..." Dean was struggling to say it. "It's Lycanthropy." Victoria was not stupid. She knew the word, what it meant, and what Dean was trying to say. "Are you fucking with me, Dean?" Her eyes narrowed in good humor. They widened when he shook his head, his face never more serious. "Really? Like...real werewolf?" So Dean told her. Everything. Kao interjected when he felt Dean didn't quite have enough information on it, but he let Dean do most of the talking. He did leave out anything about Jon and Homestead and the Cali Sands Pack. None of that would pertain to this discussion. He used every sense he had to judge her mood. Her heart was faster than normal, her scent wary and unsure. It was a lot to take in. She sat in silence for a long time before she even moved, and then it was to pull Dean into a fierce hug. "Thank you. For trusting me and telling me what I can only imagine was the worst part of why you asked me here. Both of you." She reached out for Kao's hand, and he took it with a smile. "It will take some getting used to, but with everything else, it explains why your heart settled on Kao. I never knew you to swing that far for the other team." Victoria was shocked, but this was Dean. He was the man she loved, and he had proven that he had her best interests at heart. She needed to know what happened, and she needed to know why he was leaving her. "Yeah. It has been hell trying to decide. I mean, you know I love you so much, Victoria, and I know Kao can see why." The young man nodded emphatically. "But I didn't know how you would react. If you would even want to stay with me after you found out. If you would consent to be infected so we could be together." She nodded sadly. "I see. I...honestly could not answer any of those. I hope I haven't reacted too badly." "Gods no," Kao said, "you have taken it far better than I, we, could ever hope. I left it up to Dean when and if to tell you." "And when to complete your mating." That was the strangest part of all of this. Victoria knew that Dean was straight. He may look occasionally at another man, but he would never even think of going into a relationship with one. Dean wasn't that type of guy. Yet here he was talking about mating for life. There had to be something mystical about it to change her former hornball womanizing lover. Dean blushed a bit. "Yeah. That part." All three chuckled. "You wanna grab dinner with us, Victoria? That way you and Kao can get to know each other better." She grinned. "Sure. If that's okay with you, Kao? I can see why having your mate's ex around may not be kosher." He waved away any worries. It was very kind of her to ask, although unnecessary. "I don't feel there will be any issues. We'll keep it PG to avoid have any hard feelings." He could understand why she may feel upset, maybe even jealous, of the two of them. At that, she waved it away. Her grin was both welcoming and a bit evil. "Make out all you want. Always wanted Dean to try it." Kao's grin was just as evil, and the two of them looked at Dean. He just rolled his eyes. "So, where shall we go? My treat." And she would not take no for an answer. "Taco Bell sounds good," said Kao with a grin. Victoria's face was full of disgust, which made both of the boys laugh. "How about not, 'k?" Victoria said with a sarcastic smile. "How about Blue Water off of India Street. I know Dean loves sea food. Best Mahi Mahi in the city." Dean knew Kao would love the place, so he nodded. "Trust me, Kao, best damned sea food from any restaurant. Not quite as good as when we went hunting, but still totally worth it." "Then I guess I better change into something more formal than pj's." Kao knew when to give in, especially when sea food was involved. "I'll head home, freshen up, and meet you there. Seven o'clock?" They agreed and Victoria gave Dean a hug. She turned and gave Kao one as well. "You take care of him, Kao, at least while you are here. When you graduate or come to visit, you will find him healthy and waiting." With that, she went out the door. Kao's smile faltered. "She really is amazing." "She is, but she is probably going 'ohmigod ohmigod' in the car right now." Kao just shook his head. "And you, Mr. Saechao, will not put yourself down in your head. There is no comparison to Victoria, so stop beating yourself up." Kao grinned slightly. He had been. "Victoria is stunning, smart, caring...everything you said she was. I still don't know why you chose me over someone so...so...amazing. She was hurt, and a bit mad, but she just thought about your happiness. She loves you so much, yet I marvel that you would give her up...for me." "Well," Dean said as he pulled Kao into his arms, "she is all that, and I still love her very much, but I can't be with her and wish it was you. It's not fair to either of you." "Can you be with me and not feel the same?" Kao asked, his face pressed against Dean's fuzzy chest. "Oh, I asked myself that question many times. Each moment we spent together made the answer easier and easier to find. I just had to make my mind used to accepting it." Dean tilted Kao's chin up and leaned in for a gentle but smoldering kiss. He felt Kao's heart speed up as they explored each other's mouths. "How? How can you love...me?" Kao asked softly. Dean took him into the bedroom and sat him on the bed. He began to dress for the evening while he thought. "Really, it comes down to a large part of me needs someone to take care of. There you were, needing help, needing someone to care. I responded to your need without thinking. Giant wolf? Who cares, he needs me. Fucking shitdick for a brother? I don't care, here's my card. I'm now a horror movie monster? I don't care because you need someone beside you while shit hits the fan. "It has always been about being there for someone else. Even if it was just for a night. So I was there for you. You turned out to be a very smart, caring, honorable, wonderful, sexy-as-hell total hottie." That got a huge smile. "Victoria didn't need me. She wanted me, sure, but she didn't need me. You wanted and needed me." Dean turned and squatted at Kao's feet. "Lycanthropy aside, Kao, I would have stayed in your life because you needed someone. I need you in my life. I need to be needed, and want to be wanted. The fact that we are going to be mated for life is a huge perk." Dean's head dropped to his chest. "I don't know if that made any sense to you." Kao gently lifted Dean's chin with a smile. "You would have wanted me in your life even if we never had this?" He gestured between the two of them. "Yeah. I worried about you even before the infection had a chance to take hold. I saw someone so full of life, someone so full of light, get snuffed out as soon as Kai entered the room. I would never leave when it was obvious you were heading into a shitty situation. I fretted, worried, when I saw the card crumpled up. I..." Kao stopped him with a kiss. "So, you're saying that I am equal to Victoria save for the fact that I needed you and she did not?" Dean nodded. A few tears fell from Kao's eyes. "No one has ever thought of me like you do." Dean pulled him into his arms. "Homestead seems to like your feathery butt too. Don't forget about them." Kao laughed and wiped away his tears. "Now, my mate, we need to get ready. We have about an hour."
  30. 35 likes
    She screamed for much longer than Colin had suffered his pain. I watched her writhe in agony. Her eyes shut like Colin’s had been the first time I watched him take the serum. The difference was Gabriella’s pain continued and just got worse! “Jesus, Colin!” I shook my head. “Is it working?” He nodded, but as looked at his daughter the tears came without stopping now. He was hurting as his daughter hurt, but he had to. “Yes.” He sobbed. “If I don’t, she remains what she is.” He looked at me. “The serum has to begin in the heart. That’s why I had to give her the serum directly in her heart first. What’s happening is her heart’s starting to wake up and it will beat again and move…” he waved at her. “…that sludge in her body again.” He looked at me. “It must be done. It takes a while before her organs will work again even a fraction of what it used to in the beginning. It will get better and her organs will come back.” Then he smiled sadly. “It will never come back fully, but come morning, she will find her hunger is gone.” I understood he had to do it, but knowing it was not the same as seeing it. “How long before she can go outside?” “Tomorrow for a few minutes, it will be about a week before she can go outside for a long time.” He pointed to the cooler. “That contains more than food. The serum works but takes time to get evenly in a person’s system.” I nodded. “If you need me to, I’ll go get more food.” He laughed a little, but he was still crying. “You will have to.” He chuckled. “You know me.” He looked again at his daughter. “Tomorrow, I’ll reintroduce her to real food.” I watched as she continued to squirm. “If she has the sort of appetite you do, I’ll have to.” He shook his head. “Not at first. As her system comes back, she will have difficulty at first and I’ll give her more as she gets back to some level of normalcy.” He smiled at her and then looked at me again. “What I’d love is for us to arrange a shower or bath. Maybe some clothes?” That was quite an order. My mind went through what I could do. “Fresh water, a tub?” I thought out loud. “The clothes I can get. Soap and shampoo?” Colin nodded with a smile. “Can you do that?” I nodded. “I can’t guarantee hot water, but let me work on it.” Colin nodded as he moved his hand over to her face where she still was in pain. He looked at me. “This will take a few hours. Then she will rest.” He touched her hair, which I didn’t even want to get near, but she was his child. Then he smiled bigger. “See?” He pointed to her throat where I saw the slight movement. A pulse was beginning. “It’s working.” I nodded with a smile. “I’d better get busy!” Colin walked over taking me in his arms as he wrapped them around me. “You’d better wait until morning. She might not be the only vampire here. She was living here, so who knows if who made her is out there or others that were made by the same vampire who turned me or Gabriella. There could be more made by Gabriella, just…wait, please?” I nodded. “Sure.” Then stupid me remembered my phone. “Of course!” I had one of those phones with the internet on it. I used it mostly to check my email, find somewhere I needed to go and then get directions to those places. “I’ll look and see what I can do.” He chuckled. “I knew you would.” He leaned in and kissed me. “Thank you.” I ran my hand over his face. “I like you, Colin. I know I work for you, but I feel we’re moving from boss and employee. At least I hope you consider me a friend now.” He moved his head next to mine as his lips brushed my face. “We are friends.” He moved away a little to look in my eyes. “You’ve been amazing. I knew there was something special about you.” Then he grinned. “This makes things a little more difficult.” His comment was serious as he got a stern look. His remark surprised me. “What are you talking about? What’s difficult?” He pressed his lips to mine again kissing me and I could sense the feeling he had for me. “It’s nearly impossible NOT to fall in love with you now.” The chuckle just came out of me. “I’m so sorry about that. You’re an amazing man, Colin. How can I not fall in love with you?” I pointed out the irony. “See? We have a problem.” Colin grinned, then he sighed dramatically, only to be dramatic. “But we’ll just have to deal with it.” “I look forward to it.” Then I pushed him lightly away. “For now, look after Gabriella and let me work!” I said mockingly cross. Colin looked at Gabriella. “We’ll move her tomorrow night.” He looked around this basement. “I’ll look for something we can use.” His hands rested on his hips as he looked. “She lived here a long time. I used to know what was down here in the basement.” He looked back at me. “She won’t be awake for a while and even when she wakes up, she’ll need rest.” He smiled. “The first real sleep she’s had in a century.” I looked up from my search on the web. “Another question?” Colin looked at me sideways with his eyebrows risen, god I loved that. “You need to ask permission now!?” I rolled my eyes. “It’s polite!” I shot. He smiled. “And we Southerners are always polite.” I nodded laughing. “Just like when people hear, bless your heart. What we really are saying is, you stupid bastard or even dumbass.” He laughed more heartily. “That’s right. So, what’s your question?” I sighed. “This whole dead and undead thing. Your heart wasn’t beating you said. Hers wasn’t beating and now it is. You were dead, but you moved and you did breathe.” “You have to breathe to make sounds. We used air to talk or growl or…you know.” Colin said sitting in a chair near me. “As Doctor Holm explained to me. What happened to Gabriella and me was more like…a virus or infection. No, our hearts pretty much stopped. Yet the body function centers there. Vampirism was the means of any flow of what I can describe as sludge. The sludge is dark and it looks the color of coagulated blood. Vampirism is the reason it flows. Yet, to exist, we need living blood to feed vampirism. That’s where the hunger comes from and fangs to get the blood.” He looked at his daughter who was still moaning. “I know the hunger she spoke about.” He looked sadly at her. “I know her suffering. It’s such a strong…compulsion…the hunger. It’s irresistible.” He looked away from me, again the shame on his face. “Taking a life was all you thought about.” He waved at her and her bloodstained dress. “I can see she fed. I dread finding out what she did, but I know it wasn’t her fault. Killing a vampire, they are right about sticking a stake in the heart. That is the center of function. Sunlight will also kill. Now that her heart is beating again, the organs will function again and she will again become warm, sweat and even cry when needed.” He shook his head. “It won’t be an easy transition.” I moved closer to him. “But she has you. You’re her father and you’ve been through it. Who can help her through this more than you?” My hand stroked his back just before we began looking around. As I looked around, I saw that whatever Wentworth Manor had been. It had been huge. This basement was below a house that was a very good size. I couldn’t understand how people missed this place. I didn’t know it was here. My mother didn’t even know about the property until Colin called to buy it. I also did realize what was here. There were things down here that had to have been expensive and now even more so as they became antiques. Furniture, pottery as in vases and other things like that. I even found some crystal things from candlesticks to plates. “Colin.” I began making him look. “We need to get most of this out of here. A lot of this is valuable!” He nodded. “I am surprised it’s all here, but yes, we will.” Then he let out a little cry of victory. “Yes!” He began tossing things out of something. “I found an old tub!” I went over to him. It was an old cast iron tub, but it was filthy! It had been down here a long time and filled with other things. “I’ll find water.” Then I grinned. “Surrounded by water on this island, but it’s not really good for bathing. In the morning, I’ll get some fresh water. I’ll cancel the crew today so we won’t be disturbed, but this basement needs to be secured. The workman that found it knows about it, but it needs protecting.” Colin nodded. “You’re right.” He smiled again. “Do you know who to call?” I gave a mocking shocked look. “Don’t start doubting me now!” He laughed patting me on the arm. “Sorry. Just checking.” Later he found a trunk that had some clothes that were still well preserved. It was shortly after that she made a sound, but she wasn’t in pain. Colin raced over to her. “Gabriella.” He said softly touching her face. “Can you hear me, Gabby?” He grinned at her. “Wake up, Sweetie.” I watched as her eyes fluttered and at last opened. I was happy to see that her eyes no longer had that dead look. Where it had been dry and had no reflection, now there was a little moisture and some light reflected now. She turned her head, looking at Colin. “Daddy!?” Colin nodded pulling a chair over and sat by her. “Yea, Gabby. It’s Daddy.” She ran her hands over her face as tears were trying to come out, but there wasn’t enough yet. “Daddy!!” She tried to sit up, but couldn’t yet. Instead she groaned, but she sounded more like a person. A human person. “Easy, Sweetie.” Colin crooned. “It’s okay. You’re going to be stiff a while. Your strength has to come back.” He shook his head. “You’re not there yet.” She shook her head. “I’m not dreaming? You’re really here!” Colin nodded. “Yes, I’m really here.” Then I watched as he bent down and kissed her on the cheek, which only a father could do as I saw how horrible she looked right now. That was love. “I promise you, I’ll never leave you again.” As I said before, the odd thing was she didn’t look much younger than Colin. My understanding was he was turned in 1851, she must have been turned a decade or so later, but she knew who he was and he knew her! It was sweet…in a gruesome sort of way. She needed to be cleaned up. I looked at my watch. “Well, the sun’s up.” I grinned. “I’d better go up and get the water and things. I’ll be back.” Colin nodded reaching over taking my hand before I got anywhere, bringing me closer. “Again. Thank you.” I smiled. “Not a problem.” And I was about to walk off, but he kept hold of my hand and pulled me into a kiss. I almost pulled away. He did it right in front of his daughter. Did she know her father was…gay!? If she didn’t, she did now! Looking at her, I didn’t see anything but relief. Was it relief she was feeling because she wasn’t hungry for blood or happy to have her father back. Maybe she didn’t give a damn he may or may not love me, a man! I was the one shocked, not either Colin or Gabriella. “Now. Stay put! I’ll get the water, something to clean the tub, shampoo and soap.” I looked at Colin with a slight knowing grin. “I know we have food, but shall I get something for you? A lot of something?” Colin chuckled and looked at Gabriella. “You’ll be surprised at how good food tastes now. In a few minutes, I’ll get you to try something. It will take a few days, but you’ll be eating again.” She smiled. “I almost can’t remember.” She chuckled as she rubbed her stomach. “I’m just happy not to have those horrible desires and that hunger.” Colin nodded understanding. “I know.” Then he looked at her. “I warned you. It hurts a lot! Once a day you and I will have to take the serum or become that horrible creature again. I’ve lived for almost twenty years in the world. Walking in sunshine, eating good meals…” he chuckled holding his arm up. “…getting a tan even!” She chuckled, but was very tired. “Is there water? It’s been a while, but I think I’m thirsty.” Then she smiled. “I mean for water, not blood.” She looked as Colin got up to get water. “You go through the agony every day?” Colin nodded pulling a bottle of water out of the cooler. “Yes, but it gets shorter the longer you’re on it.” He came back with the water. “My pain now is about five minutes. The trick is, you know it’s coming and just…” he shrugged. “…put up with it.” “That’s okay.” She nodded. “That was pretty bad last night. When can I go outside? I’d like to see the sun.” “That will be tomorrow morning. You will be able to see and be in the sun a few minutes. It might be uncomfortable, but you won’t burn. As time passes, you can do it all day!” He grinned laughing at her. “I have! I’m proof!” He said as he put the bottle to her lips and she drank. At first it was a little sip, but as the moisture hit her, she suddenly took gulps. “Whoa there, Gabby. There will be more. Give what you’ve drunk a chance to get in you.” Okay, I’m gay, but I never considered myself anything but a regular guy who happens to like having a male as a companion. Nothing drastically different…and then I noticed my vision blurring. Was I crying? I inwardly groaned. I was turning into a big gay marshmallow. I shrugged. No crime here with having emotions or expressing them. It was touching and I was touched! Sue me. The next hours were very busy for me. I called the crew telling them to hold off until tomorrow to continue clearing the Kudzu and things. I knew who to call about securing the basement, but I didn’t fully trust anyone with this job so I went into town and bought some little cameras to place in the basement that would remain hidden even from the security. No one would take a thing from here. I got a truck that delivered water in huge tanks and told them it was needed to clean some things. They were to deliver it and leave the tanks. We could heat the water outside, using what remained of the fireplaces. Getting shampoo and soap that was needed and got that. I even bought what I assumed was a nice dress. I wasn’t a drag queen, but I thought it would look nice. It would be a hell of a lot better than what she was wearing the past century. Then I hit my own head remembering... “Mom.” I’d forgotten to call her. I was busy! I quickly dialed. “Oh, thank God!” Mom said in relief not even saying hello. “Are you okay? You didn’t come home last night.” “I was busy and forgot. I’m sorry. Colin and I stayed at Wentworth Manor last night. There is a lot of valuables down in that basement! We had to stay.” I heard Mom chuckle. “Colin, is it?” She knew about my…gayness. “You know he’s your boss? You’re a grown man and it’s none of my business, but are you being careful. There are dangerous diseases out there.” I chuckled to myself. “There sure is.” I thought about his disease…or condition…whatever! “I’m careful.” “And he is returning this affection?” She asked. “He is.” I admitted. “You were smitten with him, too! I’m not immune!” She let out a little growl. “It figures though. He’s gay.” I gave a shrugging nod she couldn’t see. “Well…he had a daughter, so let’s say he played for both teams.” “Then you need to be doubly careful.” She warned. I grinned at her always being the mother. That was her job! “I know and I will.” I chuckled. “Now, I’ll be in touch. We’re staying at Wentworth again tonight. Security is coming after that and we must store what’s here somewhere else. So, understand when I say, I’ve got to go. Very busy, Mom.” I smiled. “But I’ll tell you this, we’ll go out to eat. You, me, Colin and I’ve just met another person in his family. Hopefully, she can go, too.” Then I smiled. “But don’t be surprised when they eat a lot. I’ve not seen Gabriella eat, but if she’s like Colin, it will be kind of shocking!” “Really?” Mom said as I could hear her happiness. “They’re big eaters.” “As I said, Colin is.” Then it was my turn to growl. “And he doesn’t gain an ounce! I’ll talk later, okay?” But Mom had one more thing to say. “You sound very happy. I hope it all works out. We’ll talk later.” The water truck delivered the tanks and I used an old metal tub to heat the water and took it down to the basement. I cleaned the cast iron tub as best I could. It was a few minutes later I saw Colin take his serum again. Knowing what he would face, I wasn’t as shocked, but it still hurt me to see him in pain. As usual, he just sat and let it happen, but five minutes later, he seemed fine again. “I have another day!” Colin said as his breathing eased. “Will you have to order more? Now that she’s on the serum and you’re taking the serum…it will run out.” He nodded. “I know where to get it. I’m way ahead of you.” I chuckled. “Of course, you are.” He shrugged and looked at Gabriella. “Don’t worry about her, she will have no fangs or appetite for blood now.” He glanced at his cellphone. “I have an extra battery in the car. I’ll be right back.” He said running up the stairs. I turned as Gabriella let out a sound, but it was a satisfied sound of contentment. “Good morning.” I said smiling at her. She looked more human as the hours had passed. She was just…dirty. I had filled the tub, added the hot water and then turned. “If you want; your bath is ready.” I bowed smiling. I waved toward a section we had put up so she could bath in solitude. “I have shampoo, soap and even a dress for you. Sorry if it’s not the right size or color…” Gabriella laughed as she rose from the couch. “After a hundred years in this!?” She waved over herself her voice was almost normal now. “A burlap sack would be welcome.” She looked at me with a smile. “You have been such a help! How long have you known my father?” I looked away a little. “Maybe a week or so.” She smiled with a nod. “He loves you, you know?” I grimaced. “Don’t tell me you read people, too.” She laughed. “It’s so obvious! It’s written all over his face!” “And that doesn’t bother you? It was punishable in the nineteenth century!” I said incredibly. “Wasn’t it?” She nodded. “It was, but Daddy was honest with me and mother. He liked mother and they got along well, but he said he could only love a man.” She shrugged. “Who was I to judge? He’s good man and he deserves love. If that means you…good.” Colin came down the stairs. “Hi, Gabby!” She almost went to him, but stopped as she looked down. “I’ll hug you later. First, I need a bath!” I grinned as she went behind the partition to do just that. Looking at Colin I pulled him close to me. “Gabby?” He chuckled as he nodded. “She was always a talker. As soon as she could make sounds it was nonstop.” He shrugged. “She was a gabber, she was named Gabriella, it just made sense to make that her name.” “I can hear you both!” She said in a sing-song voice and laughed. “That’s how I knew he was real. He was the only one to call me Gabby.” We heard her remove her clothes. “There’s some hot water in a few buckets back here.” “To wash off before you get in.” I explained logically. “You can even wash your hair before…you wash your hair!” She laughed delighted. “You are a smart man, Devon. That is your name if I’m remembering, right?” “Devon McGee.” I said clarifying. I heard her pour some water, I assumed over herself. “I can see why Daddy loves you.” Water on the floor would dry. Colin looked surprised at her candor. “Gabby.” He said in a warning tone, but not angry. “Don’t be saying things I haven’t even said!” She laughed even harder. “Please, Daddy.” Then she growled a groan. “Oh, my god, my hair! It’s full of shit!!” “Gabby!” Colin said in shock. “Language.” She laughed again. “You’ve said a lot worse.” She said as I heard the water pour again. “Augh!” She said again disgusted. “I might need more hot water.” A bare arm held a now empty bucket. “I have the water in the tub, but I need more rinsing before I get in.” “Coming right up.” I said running upstairs to get the water. It was good I made plenty. When I got downstairs again I heard Colin and Gabriella talking. “…and you’ll find the time will be shorter.” Colin said as I heard more water pour from a remaining bucket. “But it works.” He shook his head. “It’s just not a cure. We’ll always be…what we were.” “But we’re not what we were.” She sighed as I heard someone sink into water. “Oh, this is just Heaven!” She said luxuriating in the water. “I’m staying in until the water is cold, just so you know.” Colin chuckled. “We have more. Enjoy it.” He went to the cooler. “But you might want to come out and try some real food for a change.” “Oh, that’s just mean.” Gabriella said irritated. “Just give me a few more minutes.” “Don’t worry. Take your time.” Colin said happily as he turned to me and he was very happy. His face would split of he smiled more. “She’s alive!” I grinned walking up to him as my arm went around him. “I’m glad.” When she got out…I couldn’t believe it. She was gorgeous! Her hair was wet and needed…whatever women did to their hair, but the dress I gave her was a little large, but didn’t hide she had a very nice figure. Her hair was dark like Colin’s, but her mother was dark headed in the picture I saw, so I couldn’t say whose hair hers came from. The most important thing was…she looked human again. She smiled at her father. “Daddy!” She hurried over hugging Colin tightly. “I thought you were dead. I never knew what happened to you.” She and Colin shared an embrace I knew would be a while. I saw this was going to be a father and daughter moment and went quietly upstairs.
  31. 35 likes
    He stood there in the doorway to his stateroom, motionless. Graham stood before him, clearly apprehensive, waiting. But he couldn't help noticing Graham's eyes shift, furtively glancing down his body. Damn. Of all the times to be dressed only in his boxers. "You want to talk?" he asked the darker haired man. The man whose warm eyes and quirky humor had done something nobody else could: capture his heart. "Yeah. Yes. Please." Graham spoke softly. "Can I come in?" He thought about it a moment. Could he stand being in the narrow cabin with Graham without wanting to embrace him again? "Sure, come on in." He turned away. While Graham stepped in and closed the door, he bent down and opened a drawer. "Have a seat," he added over his shoulder." He slipped on a tee and found a pair of shorts. Graham didn't turn on the room light, a feeble fluorescent fixture which seemed to give exactly too little light to be of any value. There was a small reading light at the head of the bunk; he clicked that on, instead. It cast a small, warm glow. The taller man settled himself onto the foot of the lower bunk, bending over to avoid getting a head injury from the upper frame above. He wedged himself up at the head of the bed near the light, moving the pillow up against the wall. He left plenty of space between the two of them. "You look like hell," Graham commented. "You don't look so good yourself," he shot back. It was true. Graham looked like he hadn't slept or bathed in a couple of days. Graham chuckled humorlessly. "No, I don't guess I do." They fell silent again, and the only sound in the cabin was the low noise of the ship in the night. He felt like he had to say something, anything. "I'm sorry." "You don't need to be sorry," Graham spoke. "It's me who should be apologizing." "Why? I don't blame you for…for walking out." Because that's what Graham had done. Graham had heard enough about who he really was. About what he did to people. And he'd gone away. "No, Scott, I shouldn't have done that." "Why not? I don't blame you." "I should have given you a chance. Some kind of opportunity to explain it all, tell me what you meant by all that," Graham said carefully. He took a deep breath. "Maybe. But everything I said was the truth. What else can I tell you?" "But why? Why tell me all that?" He looked bleakly at Graham, the man's face deeply shadowed in the darkened room. "Because you needed to hear it. You needed to know who it is you're dealing with." To his credit, Graham didn't protest, didn't argue. He merely nodded. After a moment, Graham cleared his throat and spoke again. "There's something you need to know, too." He waited. "My brother. My brother's a user," Graham said quietly. There wasn't anything to say to that, either. "Jeremy – that's my brother's name— I idolized him. He was a lacrosse player and a big star. He was a popular guy, a huge social success. Me, I was the geeky little brother. Jeremy had it all. At least, that's how it looked to me. Athletic, popular, talented – all the things I wasn't." Graham paused, and he had the good sense to wait. "Jeremy started with steroids in the weight room, said he had to be serious about getting big. I never knew about the drugs until later. In his junior year, Jeremy started partying hard – every weekend. At first, he'd just have a hell of Sunday hangover. Every Sunday. But then it got more frequent. Sometimes he wouldn't come home at night. He made me cover for him with Mom and Dad, more than once." Graham seemed to struggle with his memories. He had a bad feeling he knew the rest of the story. Graham continued. "Someone started supplying Jeremy with pills – stimulants, amphetamines, anything to get him through the day, through his practices and games, and on to the next party. That summer, the summer Jeremy should have been getting ready for college recruiting, he didn't seem to party as much, but he was hanging out with a new group of friends. He started getting weird, almost like he didn't recognize me, my parents, or my little sister." He looked away into the darkened room. "Jeremy drove his Jeep into a tree that August. He broke ribs, a collarbone, and his right arm was shattered." Graham exhaled sharply. "It probably saved his life." He looked back at Graham. "What do you mean?" "The docs in the hospital got a good look at the bloodwork and figured out what Jeremy was on. He went right from the hospital to rehab." "So, your brother. He's okay?" he asked tentatively. "Okay? Yeah, maybe. He's been in and out of rehab a couple more times. Got caught by the cops once, but Dad somehow got Jeremy a plea and a suspended sentence. He got his GED somewhere in there. Never made it through community college. He works in a warehouse, drives a forklift. So, yeah, you could say he's okay. But he told me not a day goes by that he doesn't get that itch, that little craving for another jolt, another hit. Not one day." He felt stricken. "I'm sorry." It sounded so useless. "Why? You didn't sell Jeremy his shit." "I know, but…" "Jeremy made his own mistakes. Somebody helped him make those mistakes, but he made them." He shifted uncomfortably on the bed. "Yeah. Your brother could still have had a lot of help fucking up his life. I should know." "Yeah, you do know, don't you?" Graham said flatly. He looked away again. "And what made you want to help people like my brother destroy themselves?" Graham was relentless. There wasn't any good answer. "I was angry. Pissed off at the world." At least the words were honest. "Angry about what?" "I got outed. My parents found out. They didn't take it well." "What? That's it?" Graham asked incredulously. "My parents weren’t exactly thrilled when I came out to them, but they got used to it. How does that make you want to become – what did you call yourself once? – a predator?" "My parents just – they just froze me out," he responded after a moment. "They were important in our town, high profile. They had a status to keep up. Having a gay son definitely did not fit that image. It didn't help that I was outed to them by the country club gossip mill." He took a breath, remembering. "They stopped speaking to me. They left notes. I wasn't allowed to eat with them, unless appearances required it. The day I graduated high school, I was told to leave. I was cut off, and not welcome anymore. My father left me a note saying I was an unfortunate mistake." "I still don't understand," Graham murmured. "No. How could you? I felt like I'd been used – the perfect son, the perfect ornament to the perfect petty power couple. And now I was useless to them, they wanted me gone, like last week's trash," he spat. But he wasn't done. "I worked my ass off the year after I graduated. I was going to show them, dammit. I could do it on my own. I didn’t need their fucking money. I was so angry at everything – why couldn't I have one thing I wanted? And I hated working sixteen and eighteen hour days. I mean, I was exhausted so much of the time, and still mad as hell all the time. When I discovered there were easier ways to make college tuition money, well, I went for it." "So you financed your college bills by dealing?" Graham asked, confirming. He was silent for a few moments. "Pretty much." Even now, he hated the truth about what he had done. "Parties meant sales. Better parties meant better sales. People knew to come to me on campus. I was reliable and safe. And the entertainment was always good." It had been his rep, after all. Graham was silent. He spoke into the quiet. "I'm sorry for what I did. I can't deny it happened, and I can't defend it. I'd change it now if I could." "Why? Why would you do it any different?" Graham asked. He answered immediately. "You. You're the reason. You made me feel it for the first time, like I'm really worth…" He stared at his feet, unable to go on. "I made you feel worth something?" Graham asked, genuinely perplexed. Even though Graham might not see it in the darkness, he nodded. "Yeah. You did. Like I could be wanted for something I had to offer…inside. Nobody ever did that for me." "What do you mean?" "Even in high school, I didn't have many friends. People hung out with me because our family was a big deal, not because of anything I was or did. I swam, I played tennis, and stuff, but Mom and Dad tried hard to choose my friends for me. After the rumors finished with me, I didn’t have any. After that, I had acquaintances, business contacts…people who wanted things from me…but damn few friends." Graham considered for a few moments. "I really liked you, Scott. You’re funny, and you listen to me, and crazy courageous…but…I don't know what to say." He moved so he was kneeling on the bed, their limbs just touching. He could feel the heat from Graham's skin. "Say you'll give me a chance," he said impetuously; he leaned forward. "Please, Graham, just one chance to change. I can change, as long as you’re there. Help me, please. Say you'll give me that chance." He found himself engulfed in an awkward embrace, Graham's long arms wrapped around him. "Shit, Scott, I really want to…I really do. I just…" He could barely cope with the burst of elation building in his heart. Maybe, just maybe, it would work out, after all. "Please, Gray. I just…please." He couldn't control his voice. Suddenly, he felt himself propelled onto his back. Graham had pounced like a cat and quickly straddled him, pinning his hands to the bed over his head with his own larger ones. The bigger man's eyes gleamed faintly in the low light. "You want that chance, and I want to give it to you, Scott," Graham almost growled, deep in his chest. "But you've got to make a promise, and I'm going to hold you to it." He nodded, wide eyed, trembling with…fear? Hope? "Whatever you want, Gray. Anything." "Promise me the dealing and using is over. Done with. Finished. No more dealing, no business contacts, nada. Promise me you're going to make things right with as many of the people you hurt as you can. That you'll at least try, no matter how long it takes. And promise me that you'll love me – and only me, Scott." He felt joy rushing into his soul. He actually trembled with it. He'd been reprieved. He wanted to dance, to cry, to laugh. "That's three promises." He just couldn't help himself. "Big deal. Take them or leave them." "I promise," he replied, a smile breaking out on his face in the dark. "Yes, Graham, I say yes, yes to all three." His smile was lost as Graham let himself down slowly for a firm, gentle kiss. All conversation stopped. His lips had other urgent matters to attend to. Later, they lay happily side by side on the narrow bed, speaking softly on the pillow. "You know, I never got the answer to the question I had the other night," Graham spoke. "What question was that?" "What do we do when we get back?" He breathed out sharply in irritation at having such an unpleasant thought intrude on his happiness. "You're going back to some university – Shit, Gray, I don't even know what school you're at – and I'm going nowhere." "What do you mean, going nowhere? Where's your apartment?" Graham was making assumptions already. "I don't have an apartment. As of Friday, I'll be officially homeless, again." He glanced up and detected a startled expression on Graham's face. "Oh, don't worry, I have some friends I can probably crash with until I find something. But I don't have a dorm. As an intern on Feigenbaum, I'm supposed to finish my semester at the Research Center." "You're going to be at the Research Center?" Graham asked, surprised. "Yeah, that's what my papers say." "So we'll see each other every day," Graham smiled his quiet smile. "Wait, what? We will?" "Sure, my lab is on the third floor there. We'll even be able to meet in daylight, what do you think of that?" He reeled, trying to take this in. He'd never asked Graham much about what institution he'd been affiliated with, or his work on shore. They'd talked about his research aboard Feigenbaum, of course, but not much beyond that. "I'd like that," he responded, kissing the man he loved. The one who would give him a chance. "And you can move in with me," Graham said a few long moments later, panting a little. Now it was his turn to be startled. "What did you say?" "You heard me. You can move into my place. The apartment is big enough." Graham was grinning now. "I don't have any money to pay my share," he pointed out. "That wasn't one of the promises, was it?" Graham asked softly, kissing him again. "No, but…I want to help." "We'll figure out the money somehow, Scott. But it doesn't have to be tonight, does it?" Graham asked, with another, more insistent kiss. "No," he agreed, melting again into Graham, "we don't have to figure that out tonight."
  32. 34 likes
    What I was pleased with was the muster drills were done an hour before we left. Tony and I got our life vests and reported to our assigned area near where we would go if there was an emergency. This was mandatory on every passenger ship. After that was done, the ship was ours. We did the departure from a deck above and waved. If you’ve never been on a cruise, you’ve seen on TV where people line the railings and wave to people known and unknown as they left. There were many other boats in the harbor, even one of those boats used to fight fire on ships by using the water already there. This time it was just spewing water up like water fireworks creating these arches of water wishing us off and perhaps wishing they could come, too. With the blast of this great ship’s airhorn the ship began to move slowly. I had been on a cruise ship, but this wasn’t a party boat. The Allure of the Seas was big, but so was the Queen Mary! The Queen Mary 2 had wide corridors and red patterned carpets ran through the ship. While many ships were well traveled, this one wasn’t showing any wear. Nothing rattled or squeaked. We had come on board while a chamber group played violins and harp and the feeling was to create one of elegance. This would be almost too stuffy, but it was relaxing. Now, we had begun the trip and those many boats following us out of the harbor like a flock of birds. Tony was very happy and couldn’t stop smiling as we sailed. He pulled me in front of him as he rested his cheek against my head as we stood at the railing watching as we left the harbor to the open waters. He kept his arms around me from behind he rested himself against me not giving a thought about whether anyone would see and be upset by it. “I want you to be open about what you feel, Mitch.” Tony said as he pressed his lips to the back of my head. “We’ve always been truthful and never held anything back from each other.” I turned around to face him. “I’m sorry for that outburst.” He smiled at me. “You had a reaction to what’s happening and you care about me. I know that. Whenever you feel something, talk to me about it. Don’t apologize for caring. I know you do.” “And you do the same.” I said emphasizing each word. “No holding back.” Tony nodded and his face got a serious look. “I’m scared, Mitch. I have growths in my chest. The problem is I don’t know if it’s cancer or not. I believe if it isn’t, it will be soon. I hate not knowing about it as I hate knowing it’s there.” I was beginning to object when he put a finger on my lips. “Not done.” Tony said smiling bigger. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know you’ll be there. This is like the story about that pendulum thing swinging lower and lower to slice a person in half, only I can only hear the pendulum, I can’t see it.” He leaned in kissing me gently as wind whipped his hair. “I need you. I need you to be honest and tell me what’s going through your mind. I’ll tell you.” He waved at the ship. “For the next twenty plus days, this will be our world. I’ve wanted to do this for years!” He chuckled. “I put my name on a waiting list saying when. This ship is booked years in advance.” I chuckled. “You’ve been planning this for years!?” “I had to!” Tony defended with a grin. “I put when we wanted to go and this came up.” He shrugged. “This unknown about what I’ve got will worry both of us. I don’t want to die. I’ll do whatever is needed to stop that from happening. It could be easy. It could also be very difficult, but I know you’ll be with me. Just be honest. Agreed?” “I agree.” A man came by carrying a tray. “Champagne?” He offered some tall glasses of bubbling liquid. Tony took one and handed it to me. “Why not?” He took one for himself. “There will be other vacations, Mitch, but drink to what I promise will be a trip we will never forget.” I touched my glass to his. “To the trip we will never forget.” You had to drink after that, but I loved Tony and this was making him happy, so I drank to our trip, but secretly I promised to not breakdown again and be whatever strength he needed in the future. I looked at the receding coastline. “So, what’s our first stop?” Tony chuckled. “We’ll cruise for three days and our first stop is Doubtful Sound, New Zealand. This stop will be more your style than mine. A lot of nature. Wilderness isn’t really my thing. There isn’t a lot of development there, but very wet as it’s a rainforest or something. A lot of nature!” I grinned as I bumped his head with mine gently. “That sounds perfect.” Tony always insisted on a late seating for dinner. Just before it was time, I was dressed and waiting downstairs to which Tony had insisted. Tonight was our first dinner on board so I put on suit and waited for Tony to finish dressing. “Well?” Tony asked coming down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs he did a little turn holding his arms out for me to see him. He was so handsome. His natural, slightly darker color and the dark dress suit was perfection. His hair was in place and he tugged at his shirt sleeve from under his coat sleeve. I chuckled as I approached him. “Hubba, hubba.” Walking up to him I put my arms around him. “Tony Delveccio, you are an amazing human being. I’m so glad we married.” I caught his scent. “Wearing that cologne could get you in trouble.” Tony smiled even bigger. “I’m counting on it.” He said returning kiss. “I love you, Mitch. This is all about us. We don’t have either Davids, Sasha, Alik, Nick…it’s just us. For the next three weeks, there is no one else.” He kissed me deeply. “I love you, Mitch.” He held his arm out to me. “Shall we go?” The whole feeling changed from that moment on during the trip. The problems we could and would face were put to the side and pressures were gone. Neither Tony or I cared if people saw and approved or didn’t. We did get a few stares, but I like to think that was because we were such snappy dressers, but reactions we saw were pleased. We walked the wide corridor and boarded the elevator and rode down to the deck level for the Britannia Restaurant where others gathered to enter. We sat with others assigned to the same table, but our table was in the center of the lower floor, the ceiling high above with lighted glass in colors cast soft light over all the diners. Unlike the other ship these tables weren’t crowded to generate more revenue with more passengers. There was enough space so that passengers and wait staff could walk easily. Behind us was a glass mural of the ship. This wasn’t a gay cruise, nor was there a gay group we were with, so the other guests at the table were not like us. There were three other couples at our table. One couple wasn’t happy with the seating arrangements as we made no attempt to hide Tony and I were not just friends traveling together when we came still arm in arm, but there was a middle aged American couple from the mid-west had the problem and spoke with one of the staff demanding to see someone in charge. I guessed about the mid-west from the accent. I wasn’t judging at first, but I’d been with Tony a while and…everyone here was dressed nicely. It wasn’t even a formal night, but ladies mostly wore dresses and the men were either in suits or had on jackets, but this man and his wife…he had on a pullover shirt and she wore a blouse and pants. I was seeing the example of pigs in clothes. They may have saved for this trip, but I don’t believe they were ready for the opulence and more sophistication of this ship. The man called the person in charge for this seating who came to see what the problems was. “I was unaware that there would be homosexuals on this voyage.” The man said loud and irritated. “I insist they be given alternate seating.” The man in charge frowned. What pleased me was the man in charge didn’t even ask who we all were, he just knew. “Mr. Delveccio and Mr. McKenzie are VIP travelers. This is the VIP table and they paid for that privilege. How is this a problem? Since they paid to be at this table we can’t reassign them. There are alternates we can offer. You can choose another time or there are other restaurants on board. Had we known it would have bothered you, we would have made sure you were assigned somewhere else.” “Why do we have to…” he looked at Tony and me. “…put up with their perversion? It’s offensive to me and my wife!” The man smiled, but it was one of tolerance of the ignorant. “We can’t refuse a person passage for any reason. What is your preferred religious practice?” “Lutheran.” The man smiled. “There are some that would be offended having a Lutheran at the table, especially someone Jewish! Martin Luther disliked Jews. That is well known. Should we refuse you? I’m Jewish, but I’m not offended…yet. I will find you another seat.” He almost physically pulled the man away as the man’s mouth dropped open. The other couples at the table were a mixture of reactions, most of them were surprised by this couples’ intolerance. There was a couple that were in the fifties dressed nicely I could tell she was British when they began talking. They were the Parkers. Then another couple was French, the Girards in their mid-thirties and a new couple came that was in their twenties. The young woman looked amazed to be at this table. The Bensons, they were honeymooners and they were a mixed raced couple. She was light skinned African and he was Caucasian. “Does anyone else have a problem with the seating?” The man in charge of seating assignments asked. The other couples looked at each other and all shook their heads. “Enjoy your time on the Queen Mary.” Mrs. Parker smiled as she was the one next to Tony on the other side of him. “I’m Elouise. My husband is Benjamin.” She said softly putting her hand gently on Tony’s arm. “I think it’s delightful. Our daughter is gay. Some just can’t seem to accept that gay people are everywhere. It’s a fact of life.” Benjamin nodded with a smile. “How long have you two been together?” Tony grinned at me. “We met in April of 2002, married in June of 2003.” “You’re married?” The honeymooning woman smiled. “That’s wonderful!” She had an accent that put her in Australia...or maybe New Zealand or South Africa. They sounded so similar. “I’m Linda. This is Bert.” “We are the Girards. My wife is Deon and I’m Rene.” The man said smiling speaking with a light French accent. I smiled at them. “I’m Mitch and this is Tony. It will be a long cruise if we can’t get along. We didn’t mean to offend anyone.” “Why would we be offended?” Deon asked with a smile. “You both met someone you love. I don’t see a problem.” Ben shook his head and shrugged. “It’s their loss and their problem.” He then grinned. The evening progressed much better. The meal was nothing short of spectacular. After dinner Tony and I did a walk about the deck and still we didn’t let go of each other. The air was warm, but not hot. There was the ocean breeze and the moon shone over the water as we moved. We ended at the Queen’s Room where this was the largest ballroom on the seas. Tony and I went out to the dance floor and started slow dancing. “Other than the one bump in the road when we arrived at dinner...” Tony smiled holding me as we danced. “…this has been nice.” He said smiling. “But I think soon we should go to bed.” He kissed me. “I am in trouble, remember?” “Yes, you are.” I agreed. “So, am I.” I pulled him gently. “We have many days to see what else this ship has to offer, but for now.” I grinned. “Let’s test to see how comfortable that bed is.” In the suite Tony began undressing me. I’ve said it many times, but Tony and I had a very comfortable familiarity. We knew each other and we at ease with each other. We’ve had the passion filled frantic desire where clothes were tossed and the urge to have sex was so great it seemed we could get to each other fast enough, but not tonight. Tonight was slow and filled with love. We were making promises to each other to be there for each other. We were mated and he was my husband that I adored so much. He let me know I was so important to him as we loved each other. As he was nearing climax, he smiled as he released in me. “I love you, Mitch.” He said quietly. I kissed him gently as my fingers went in his hair. “I know. I love you, Tony.” He buried his face in my neck. “I know.”
  33. 33 likes
    Danny was sure the big man shrank even as he turned away. He couldn't explain it but the big guy reminded him of a scolded puppy. Regretting his harshness, Danny reached out and grabbed his arm, saying, “Where are you going? I thought you brought me a drink. The least you can do is stay and talk a while.” Instead of relief, as he expected, Danny saw confusion on Raymond's face. He pushed on, “Look, Jeff's Uncle, er, uh your Uncle Joe had a talk with me yesterday. He said it was your recommendation that helped him decide to back me for Sheriff. He made it clear that his support was not contingent upon any relationship we might have had or may have in the future.” Danny reached out to take his drink from Raymond and was surprised by the jolt he felt when their fingers touched. Raymond hoped the surge he felt at Danny's casual touch was not obvious. He regained his composure, “You know, Aunt Mellie is your first official campaign volunteer. Keep in mind that was before Uncle Joe agreed to run for Mayor.” “Yeah, I spoke to them when I got here. Mr. Adams didn't seem too excited about it, but Mellie was tickled pink that he was finally becoming active in local politics. I admit, I’m looking forward to working with him. I’ve known him most of my life. He’s a good man.” “I agree. I have never known a finer man, er, uh, Daniel. Is it alright to call you Daniel? Sheriff Lovan seems like I’m under arrest and Danny seems like the adolescent I used to know.” “Guess I'll have to get used to being called Sheriff. I’ve been Danny for so long. Daniel was saved for when I got into trouble. But coming from you, it sounds better and better the more I hear it. It does seem to be a little more respectable than Danny.” “I hope I never again come across as being disrespectful to you. I assure you, I have a great deal of respect for you as a law enforcement officer. That respect is not affected by my personal feelings. I believe the best professional relationships are built on mutual respect, not friendship. I am fortunate in that I’m surrounded by people whom I like, love and respect.” Even Raymond could sense the stilted tone in his voice. Realizing his nerves were getting the best of him, he paused for a small sip of his whisky. “The wealth this family has accumulated was done so by making difficult, dispassionate and sometimes harsh decisions. In my position I have made more than a few of those decisions. When I was younger, I tried to take action based on asking myself ‘what would Jeff's father or Uncle Joe do?’ At some point, I realized that they trusted me to act in their best interests. They are constantly apprised and involved in all significant decisions and operations. I would like to think I make the best possible decisions based on the best information available at the time. I most always operate from a position of strength and integrity unencumbered by emotion. Our encounter yesterday reflected none of the qualities I like to think I possess. I acted like a complete. blithering. fucking idiot. Letting his heart speak, Raymond could hear his voice relax. “Instead of simply telling you I was still attracted to you, I acted out of fear of rejection. Rather than ask for the opportunity to get to know you better, I made a complete fool of myself. I can't stand to even replay that conversation in my mind, let alone discuss it face to face with you. There have been few moments in my life I have regretted both professionally and personally. There has never been anything I have ever done in my life I regret more than the way I behaved with you. If I had told you how I felt all those years ago, you could have at least been made aware of my feelings and fears. Especially after the most memorable kiss of my life. If I had approached you more honestly yesterday… I, uh, well, I don't know, but at least you might not think of me as the world's biggest asshole.” Raymond took a strong gulp of his whiskey and proceeded to choke. Danny turned him sideways and slapped him on the back. Jeff and Paul walked up to say hello, “Danny, is this police brutality or are you getting friendly with my Uncle?” “Nah, I’m not into public displays of affection. I like to keep that kind of activity behind closed doors. Unlike some cowboy lawyer and vet I know.” Danny realized he was talking faster than normal, but he couldn't help himself. “I figured I was going to have to pour cold water on you two when you got to slow dancing. A couple of folks looked like they wereready to puke in the punch bowl. Most of ‘em were watching to see if you two were gonna get nekked and go at it. That was probably the most enlightening and entertaining thing they've seen outside of something on HBO. It’ll be the talk of the town tomorrow.” Paul blushed noticeably. Jeff saw a challenge. “Well, I don't give a damn about those homophobic asshats. Maybe we should really give them something to talk about.” Paul spoke up. “Cowboy, I don't know what you have in mind but you need to stop and think about it. You're going to be living and dealing with these people everyday. So am I and so is Maria. I think we stretched their perceptions tonight by dancing and showing them we're a couple. We were not ‘dirty’ dancing. He’s just pissed cause he can't ask your, uh, our Uncle Raymond to dance. Ain't that right Sheriff, or are you going to start your political career off by lying to your constituency.” Danny's eyes opened wide and for a moment he looked just like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He tried to recover quickly but Jeff caught the guilty look. “Well, I’ll be damned! I knew you had the hots for Uncle Raymond when we were teenagers, but I figured you'd outgrown it. I thought it kind of gross, almost like incest. But, then you ain't related.” Glaring appraisingly at his Uncle, he asked, “Uncle Raymond, how long has this been going on? Have you two been carrying on behind my back all this time? I never suspected a thing.” “NO!!” It wasn't in harmony, but it was in stereo. Raymond and Danny stared into each other's eyes for a moment until Raymond finally nodded. Danny nodded in return then addressed Jeff, “Jeff, when we were all younger, I was very much attracted to your… to Raymond. Things happened and we went our separate ways. Now we have found a renewed mutual attraction, I guess that's what you'd call it, at least on my part.” He looked almost hopefully to Raymond. “Jeff, I was attracted to Danny when I was in law school and he was still in high school. The age difference made it illegal to have a serious relationship. Plus I thought he would grow out of his teenage crush. I buried my feelings and got on with my life. Being around him now has brought back those same feelings of attraction. Unfortunately, I royally screwed up the first chance I had to get to know him. Tonight I’m desperately hoping to make a change for the better. We were just beginning to talk when you two walked up.” Paul took Jeff's arm to guide him away, “Well, we’ll give y’all some time to get to know each other again. If we can help in any way, don't hesitate to ask. The way you two look at each other right now you might want to take the discussion somewhere more private. Come on Cowboy, let's go say hello to some of my clients.” Paul walked away towing a still disbelieving Jeff behind. Watching the couple as they departed, Danny offered, “Raymond, I don't know that I trust myself enough to be alone with you right now. I don't want to wind up in the same situation I did years ago. I would like to get to know you better, maybe spend some time together. But, it will be a while before I can let my guard down and trust you again.” Raymond asked hesitantly, “Are you saying there is a chance for us to start again?” “What I’m saying is, we can take some time to get to know each other. We won't be hopping into the sack on our first date. You understand I have to be careful. I can ignore rumors and speculation, I’ve learned how to deal with that part of my life. I can't do any PDA. I won't be holding your hand or kissing you on Main Street. If you insist on dancing we’ll have to go to Dallas. I won't lie, but I won't answer questions about my sex life. If what I do ain't illegal, it's nobody's business.” Raymond suddenly felt like a kid in a candy store. “I’m so damn happy right now I could kiss you: right here, right now. But, I understand. We can take it slow and no PDA.” “You know I’m gonna need a campaign manager. He’d have to be pretty savvy when it comes to politics and he’d have to be right handy both day and night. You happen to know anyone that would fit the bill?” “I would be proud to help in any way I can. I happen to know, when the time comes, you will have a dedicated professional team of experts. As your official campaign manager, I will be by your side every possible moment, both day and night. Perhaps we should step into Uncle Joe's office and discuss our campaign strategy.” Once they stood outside Joe's office, Raymond first pressed his thumb against the doorknob. Then, after the slightest hesitation he turned the knob. Danny was intrigued. “Was that a fingerprint lock?” Raymond nodded and added, “With a traditional, albeit high security, key and lock backup. Our more at risk spaces use a combination retina scan and simultaneous multiple fingerprint-palm scanner.” Raymond took a seat on the sofa nearest the fireplace. He was only slightly disappointed when Daniel chose an adjacent armchair. For a few moments, they were content to simply gaze upon one another. Raymond broke the silence. “I suppose if we are to get to know each other better, we're going to have to talk. I guess I’ll start. My mother was born here in town. She went to school with both the senior Adams. She even dated Jeff's dad. According to Uncle Joe there was talk of marriage. After graduation, went off to the Air Force Academy and my mother went to live and work in California. There she met my Dad, who was about to graduate from law school. They married and moved back here when I was four, after my mother inherited her father's ranch. My Dad died in a boating accident when I was ten years old. “At some point, I got involved with 4H and met Uncle Joe, who was a volunteer. He stepped in to help me when Mom sold the ranch and moved to town, about a year after Dad died. I spent more time with Uncle Joe and Aunt Mellie than I did at home.” “What about your Mom? Is she still living?”, Danny asked. He felt like Raymond wanted to talk about himself. Danny admitted he wanted to know all about this hunky man he had dreamed about for years. The pained expression that greeted his question made him want to retract it. “Just after my sixteenth birthday I told her I was gay. She was dating a local preacher at the time. One of those ‘hellfire and brimstone’ kind. He talked her into sending me to a “rehab for homos’. I begged and pleaded, but she agreed with him that it was for my own good. He assured her I was sick and could be healed by professionals at the special camp in Idaho. “I understood nobody wanted to be around a queer teenager ‘doomed to hell’. I had no close surviving relatives and my friends all made fun of gays. I never felt so alone in my life. So, I decided to run away to Dallas. I had worked for Uncle Joe and managed to save some money. I wasn't sure about how I would survive long term. I just wanted to get away. “Before I even made it to the highway I became ravenously hungry. I was near a fast food joint and I knew better than to waste my money, but, instead of a cheap burger and fries I decided to eat at the diner for my last meal in town. My Dad used to take me there on special occasions and sometimes for no reason at all. It was something I remembered us doing that seldom included my mother. Uncle Joe took me there if we were in town and got hungry. He has never cared for fast food. He likes to think his beef winds up in places like the diner instead of Mickey D’s. He and Aunt Mellie were the only ones I felt bad about leaving behind. “Before I even had time to taste my strawberry pie, Uncle Joe was taking a seat at my booth. Julie set a slice of apple pie and a cup of coffee in front of him. I remember the first thing he said was, ‘When we get back to the ranch, don't go flappin’ your yap about me having pie with you. I already had dinner and dessert. Your Aunt Mellie will have a fit.’ “We didn't really talk much until we got into his big old Tahoe and I could see we were headed out to the ranch. I wanted him to know what I was before we got out of town. While we were stopped at the last traffic light heading out of town, I just blurted out the whole story about how my mother didn't want me because I was gay. The light changed and he pulled into the first available parking lot. I understood he was rejecting me just like my own mother had. I unbuckled my seatbelt and opened the door. Uncle Joe grabbed my arm and when I met his eyes he just looked heartbroken and shook his head. I hated seeing the disappointment in his eyes. That was when I broke down and cried my eyes out. Joe came around to my side and pulled me out of the truck and into a big warm bear hug. For the first time since my Daddy died I felt safe and loved. I felt like I was home. “The next day, he, Aunt Mellie, and a lawyer met with my mother and the preacher. They came back to the ranch with most of my stuff and just about everything that was left that had belonged to my father. I took it to mean that she was through with him and me. She and I haven't spoken since. Later that year she married the preacher, I wasn't invited to the wedding. “Uncle Joe insisted I work on the ranch in my spare time to ‘earn my keep’. In return, I got paid and I got the use of a pickup. All I had to do was wash it and keep the oil changed. “I knew early on I wanted to be a lawyer, like my father. I had my heart set on Stanford, his Alma Mater. I got accepted, but lacked the funds to comfortably attend. Uncle Joe told me I was family and not to worry about expenses. That was the closest we ever came to an all out argument. We finally agreed that I would accept assistance from him and Aunt Mellie. In return, I would agree to work for their family matching a year for each year I pursued higher education. I spent all my summers working for the Adams Family Trust. It helped a lot in my studies toward a JD/MBA degree. Uncle Joe has treated me better than if I was his own son. It's hard to put into words how I feel about the Adams’. Aunt Mellie nurtured me as much as I would let her, but always understood if I was withdrawn. She never pushed me except to be honest with myself and to always do my best. I know they love me. I almost feel traitorous to my father's memory when I think about how much I love them. But, I like to think he would have been proud of me.” Raymond breathed a heavy sigh. Realizing his glass was empty, he moved to the wet bar and retrieved a bottle of water from the refrigerator. Displaying the bottle to Daniel he grabbed another when Daniel nodded. Returning to his seat he continued with his history. “I want to be honest with you about my life. There may be some things I’ve of which you would disapprove. There may be some you might think are reprehensible. For instance, when I got to Stanford I went a little crazy. I couldn't believe the indifference toward gays. No one took it as a personal insult to God if you admitted being gay. It wasn't long before I became involved with a graduate student. I thought it was love and he thought I was hot. It was shortly after returning after the holidays that I found out he was getting fucked by a number of other students and at least one faculty member. I was disenchanted with the idea of love and set about whoring my way through the rest of my freshman year. “When I came home for the summer, Uncle Joe said he could see I had a different attitude. It took a while, but he helped me to realize that sex and love were separate and unique and most often only slightly intertwined. When you were lucky enough to truly combine the two you could never again be fully satisfied with sex alone. Like I said, it took some time before I fully internalized that concept. When I did, I found I could relax and enjoy sex without keeping a scorecard or getting too wrapped up in a nonexistent emotional connection. Sex became an aspect of my being instead of the driving force. I didn't become celibate, but I like to think I matured a great deal. Masturbation, again, became my default method of release. “I had a few casual, monogamous relationships in my college years. Most melded into friendships. A couple ended acrimoniously. In law school, I met a man I thought I could come to love. We shared an apartment for about a year. He insisted we have an open relationship. I learned soon enough that ‘open relationship’ really meant ‘let's fuck until someone better or richer comes along’. Since then, when I get horny enough, I pull up tinder or some other app and meet for anonymous sex. I refuse to apologize for that, it meets a need. I always play safe. I have never barebacked. I get tested regularly. I contribute to gay and AIDS related charities regularly. I enjoy cooking and eating, running, swimming, golf, and of course horses and I’m a bit of a car nut. I like popular oldies from the sixties and seventies and eighties. I love to play my Dad’s vinyl collection. I don't like hip hop. I tolerate today's country music only slightly better than classical music. I about got myself killed twice in one hellacious winter in Moscow. I hate cold weather and dislike all things Russian except Ilya, Tink and vodka. “Oh, and I hope you believe in monogamous relationships because I don't intend to ever share you.” As the subsequent silence grew, Raymond was slightly embarrassed that he had not given Daniel a chance to contribute much to the conversation. “So, what about you?” Daniel’s thumbnail picked at the label on his bottle of water. “I was born here. I knew early on that I was gay. I kept quiet until Jeff and I started to fool around. We mainly jerked off together. Then Jeff started teaching me stuff that he learned from some other guy. It was all exciting. Jeff came out to his folks and they still loved him. So, I came out to mom and dad. They tried to be ok with it but my dad was old school and he found it hard to equate being a man with being gay. I think I made him proud when I joined the Marines and was awarded a couple of medals. I got out and came back home to go to college. He has convinced me that he is proud of his son, ‘who happens to be gay’. I suspect he did some first hand research about the gay stuff. He and his buddy Earl spend a lot of time now fishing and hunting together. I just hope Mom never watches Brokeback Mountain. They both laughed at that notion. Daniel continued, “Like I said, me and Jeff fooled around, but in the Corps I was straight laced. I even fucked a couple of whores when I couldn't avoid it. I pretty much kept to myself. I mean I got friends I made while on active duty that I can still count on and it goes both ways. But, I don't think they have a clue about me. In college I got to know one of my professors very well. Eventually we became lovers. We each loved our profession more than each other. The Sheriff's department was the first law enforcement organization interested in my application. The Texas Rangers did want to interview me, but I had already committed and besides, Sheriff's deputy pays better. “As to sex, I haven't used any apps. Though I have perused them a few times for jerk off material. Once every month or so I drive into Dallas for a bar hookup or an overnight stay if the vibe is right. It meets a need. Relationships? Never really came close. I don't think you understand how strongly I felt about you. Even as a virgin teenager I dreamed of a life with you. You were my world. When you kissed me I thought my heart would explode, it beat so hard and fast. I ran because I didn't want anyone to see I had cum in my jeans. I walked on clouds until I realized you didn't feel the same way about me. I can't say I was suicidal, but I was without any real joy in my life for a long time. My folks even considered sending me to therapy. I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on you. I am telling you what I would honestly tell any man who expressed an interest in developing a closer, more personal relationship. I understand that you didn't come away untouched by that kiss. Jeff is the only close friend I have ever had. If he hadn't already been closer than a brother to me I doubt we would have remained friends. As it stands now, I have professional and casual acquaintances, but no real friends. I just don't let people get that close. I am not sure how to let anyone, even you, get close.” Raymond didn't respond for a moment, “I think the way to get close is to relax and try to be receptive to someone’s feelings toward you.” He stood and extended his hand. Daniel accepted the proffered help and stood. Raymond could clearly see the tiny beads of sweat pearling on Daniel’s upper lip. He edged closer, as if approaching a skittish colt. He could feel his own sweat rolling down his spine. His eyes flickered between Daniel's lush, full lips and his fearful eyes. Slowly he closed the distance, as if stepping through a minefield. At the last moment he nervously licked his own lips. Finally! His lips made contact and in a flash Raymond was again back in that horse stall, holding someone thrilling and precious. He, again, clearly smelled the hay and the horses. Just like the first time, the kiss pulsed an electric current from his lips to his groin, set his heart to pounding and made his gut clench while his brain exploded in a wild array of colors. When he felt Daniel’s tongue stroke his lips he sucked it in as if his life depended on it. His tongue tasted Daniel for the first time in years and all he could think was, More! Hands were pulling, caressing, stroking and grabbing, trying desperately to increase the contact. Each man tried, at once, to consume and be consumed by the other. As they struggled to be one in both body and spirit, what sensations they gave, they received in return. Daniel tugged Raymond’s zipper down, but couldn't free the engorged cock. Raymond was all too willing to cooperate by undoing his belt and letting his trousers fall around his feet. Daniel dropped to his knees taking Raymond's boxer briefs with him. At last he saw what he had, for years, only imagined. There in all it's glory proudly stood a piece of manhood to be truly envied. Daniel was certain it was over eight inches long with a hefty girth. The foreskin partially exposed a glistening head that was slightly larger than the shaft. When he firmly grasped it's base, it spit out a surge of precum. It was so much that for an instant Daniel was afraid Raymond was cumming. He extended his tongue to catch it before it could drip away. The taste was at once sweet and salty, and he wanted more. He tried to pull all of Raymond into himself through his mouth, starting with his cock. As it hit the back of his throat, he swallowed and forced it in deeper. Gripping, massaging and pulling on Raymond's ass he soon felt trimmed pubic hair tickle his nose. His body convulsed trying desperately to expel the massive intruder. Daniel refused to release his long awaited and longed for prize. He used his teeth, his tongue and his throat to extract as much pleasure for himself and his lover. Sensing Raymond was close, and determined not to cum in his own pants this time, he frantically freed his shaft and began furiously working toward his climax. Raymond had thought Daniel was almost virginal until his lover swallowed his shaft on the first attempt. There was no hesitation, only dedicated enthusiasm. Raymond caressed Daniel’s close cropped hair. He tried to look into Daniel's eyes but saw they were closed, not clinched in concentration more relaxed like contemplative meditation. The way the man was stroking his own cock was anything but contemplative. Raymond, between a grunt and a moan, directed, “Daniel, open your eyes.” That simple act, that shared, soul searching glance ignited their moment of ecstasy. Raymond couldn't keep himself from driving his cock relentlessly into Daniel's throat. Suddenly there was no more climbing, no building, no peaking, there was only cataclysmic urgency and just like that, Raymond's universe exploded. For Daniel, it was before the first tangy taste, before the, already too big, man root enlarged itself even more, he saw it coming in his Raymond's eyes. He knew, without a doubt, he was about to make his lover come undone, and that was his own undoing. Even as the first spurt of liquid ecstasy surged forcefully down his throat, his own cock began to unload with geyser like expulsions. It took all his cognitive ability to aim his load away from Raymond's clothes and shoes. Through it all they maintained unblinking eye contact. Only as Raymond pulled Daniel to his feet did he reluctantly release Raymond's manhood. Through a massive grin Raymond extended his tongue to catch some cum dripping down Daniel's chin. Once he was satisfied with his cleanup he pulled Daniel into a tongue wrestling kiss that had both men thinking about a rematch. Breaking the kiss, Raymond reached down to pull up his pants. Instead, he dropped to his knees and began licking and sucking on Daniel's semi-hard cock. He was impressed that the size was a match for his own, if not bigger. He was pleased to note that Daniel too, was uncut. He was just settling into an attempt at returning what had been the greatest blow job he had ever received. Daniel clasped his head, forcing him off his cock. “Okay, barrister. Have you forgotten where we are? Come on we need to get you dressed and rejoin the celebration.” Raymond, with more than a little hesitation, stood, forgetting his pants he stared hopefully into Daniel's eyes, “Please, tell me I didn't fuck us up this time too.” Daniel chuckled, “No. If you look at that puddle of cum you keep trying to step in, you’d know I enjoyed it every bit as much as you. I can't promise you when or if it will ever happen again, but I enjoyed it very much and I have no regrets.” This time he actually pulled up his pants. When he saw the puddle of cum, he muttered, “Holy Shit! Is that your cum or did someone milk a cow in here.” He chuckled the whole time he was helping Daniel clean it up. Trying not to look too guilty or too satiated, they, again, joined the festivities. The numbers had diminished, but those that remained were making good use of the still plentiful food, the bar and the dance floor. Raymond was a bit surprised when Daniel went to the bar and returned with two whiskys Joe eyed them appraisingly as he approached. He greeted them with, “Well, I can see you two finally caught up to each other. It's about damn time. I hope to hell you two didn't leave my office in a mess. I don't need Rosa talking to Mellie about suspicious stains.” Daniel was dumbfounded! Raymond simply laughed, saying, “If you don't tell on us, Uncle Joe, I won't tell about the cum rag you keep in your desk.” “Son, I’m glad you're not a trial lawyer. For your information, I don't keep a dedicated cum rag anywhere. Why do you think I taught you to keep a clean handkerchief in your hip pocket? The same reason those old Waddies wore a bandanna. You simply clean yourself up and rinse it out and you're good to go until the next time you cum.” He winked at Daniel and headed to the bar to get a drink. Jeff and Paul walked up to say good night. Jeff was carrying a conked out Maria, who kept mumbling, “I don't want to go home.” Paul eyed them and smiled knowingly, “I can tell y’all took my advice and found a quiet place to... “talk”. I’m glad.” Once they exchanged their good nights, Daniel turned to Raymond and solemnly asked, “Are you sure I don't have cum on my face?” Raymond reassured his lover, “Daniel you know they're just pulling our chains. Never underestimate the enemy, but don't give them any credit they don't deserve.” All too soon, Daniel knew it was time to take his leave. He regretted saying goodnight to Raymond, but he was excited about the new possibilities for their future together. Before he reached the road leading into town and his lonely little house, his phone beeped with a text. Deciding not to wait, he pulled over and turned on his flashers. The text was from Raymond, “Thank you for giving me another chance. I will do my best to make sure you never regret it.” Daniel thought for a moment, then responded with, “We’re going to take it slow. If you're in town tomorrow, maybe we could have lunch at the diner.” He felt ridiculous when his pulse fluttered as the little dots indicated a response was being typed. It read, “if that's an invite I’ll be there. What time?” “How about noon. Text me or call to let me know you're on your way so I can meet you there. BTW, goodnight. If we don't quit texting, I won't get home tonight.” “I’ll text you. Goodnight. Drive safe.” Later, miles apart, both men slept soundly after cumming once more while reliving the hottest sexual encounter either could remember.
  34. 33 likes
    “Robbie has done remarkably well, and we’re very pleased with his progress. He’s made a few friends and proved himself to be a capable and popular student.” It sounded as if Mr Andrews was reading from a script, but I was happy to accept his candy-coated compliments as we played hosts to the school principle and his young wife. Nicola, unimpressed by his laudatory remarks, rolled her eyes at me from across the dinner table, but I had put a lot of effort into improving my grades and was proud of my achievements. She didn’t like it because she saw me as a fraud who was undeserving of such praise. Nicola was a year ahead of me, she was a good student and her grades were generally better than mine, but she wasn’t an orphan from a broken home, who had been living at friend’s house to avoid being taken into care. Don’s carefully worded narrative had me feeling more like a refugee than a kid with a sizable trust fund waiting for me and a property in Central London. It was a little rich, even for my tastes and it wasn’t wearing on Nicola, who looked as if she was about to throw up as she asked to be excused from the table. “Oh dear, don’t tell me that you’re sick as well. Robbie was unwell earlier,” Sue explained to the principal. “How are you feeling now dear?” “Better thanks,” I replied, tucking into my roast beef. “I think the sleep did me good.” “Yeah, it helps to have more than one hour a night,” said Daniel. Those were the first words that he had spoken to me all day, but I would have preferred it if he hadn’t of bothered. His unexpected contribution flew straight over the heads of everyone else at the table but cut through me like a hot knife through butter. I turned on the boy sitting next to me with raised eyebrows, but he flicked his eyes to mine only momentarily before going back to his plate. It wasn’t the affable Daniel who normally sat beside me. He was visibly upset and uncomfortable, and it set off alarm bells as I swallowed my food and began dissecting his comment. ‘Was he awake last night, did he hear us…why would he even say that’? He had been in a foul mood since I got back from Rory’s house and this seemed to explain why, but I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t said anything to me that morning or why he hadn’t confronted Nathan about it after I had left. Had he known, then I was sure that my boyfriend would have called to warn me. It seemed unlikely that he would have kept this to himself, but Daniel, even after all these months, was still an unknown quantity. My bad day was continuing where it had left off earlier at Rory’s house and I would be glad to see the back of it. The principles comments had clearly been way off target when he had described me as being popular. I was becoming adept at destroying friendships. Two in one day so far, and it wasn’t as if I had that many to start with either; losing two friends would leave me with only one. Daniel had remained tight-lipped as I helped him clear the table while the adults talked over coffee, and despite my attempts to catch his eye, he barely looked in my direction, refusing to offer me even a crumb of information. I hated the silent treatment and would have preferred it if he had just told me outright what was bothering him, so I decided to prompt him into action, hoping that he would be able to get it off his chest. “I’m not upset,” was his answer after I had cornered him in the kitchen. His face said otherwise and he was a poor liar, but it left me with little choice other than to let it go and wait until he was ready to say something. Once again, I was left wondering whether I had been a little too sensitive and jumping to the wrong conclusions. I was in need of some genuine reassurance, other than the highly glossed words of praise from Mr Andrews, which I doubted that even he believed, so I turned to a more dependable source. “I did have my doubts about him you know,” said Nathan and I nearly jumped down his throat. “No, you didn’t,” I said, “that’s crap. You were flirting with him last night.” “No, I wasn’t. Not real flirting anyway; I wouldn’t do that, not with you there…only joking.” “It’s not funny.” “Maybe Rory isn’t being entirely honest with you, ever thought of that?” said Nathan. “What, you think he’s telling me porky’s?” “Wait a minute. Porky’s you say…let me guess…a porky is a lie, right?” “Yes,” I sighed as I sat down on the grass at the bottom of the garden, expecting this to turn into a long conversation. “Porky. Okay, porky what? Porky pig…pork chop…pork pie…that’s it!” He sounded excited and it made me laugh. “Pork pie is the cockney slang for a lie?” he said. “Well done,” I said, “I’ll ask Mr Andrews if he can change that ‘B’ you got to an ‘A’ for you.” “Is he still there?” “I think.” “You poor thing,” he said, “having the principal come to your house sucks.” “Having you come to my house sucks too.” “Who sucks more?” he said. “I think you’d take some beating…you’re getting pretty good at it. Oh, and err…it was kinda cool what we did last night too…you know?” “Yeah, I know,” he said, “I liked it as well.” “I could tell…you’re okay though, right…what I mean is…well, you know?” “Yes I know what you mean and I’m fine honestly. Thank you, you’re very sweet.” “I just don’t wanna ever hurt you, that’s all.” “Don’t worry,” he said, “if you had hurt me you’d have known all about it.” “That’s just it Nathan, I don’t think I would.” “Shutup, I wasn’t that loud…was I?” “I dunno, I don’t think so. I’m a little worried about Daniel that’s all.” “Look, I think you’re worrying over nothing. I know you’re he’s your…whatever he is, but I know him better than you, and if he suspected us of doing anything, then he would definitely have said something to me this morning. He was moody today after you left, but you know what he’s like, sometimes he gets all quiet and grumpy over nothing.” “Well, I hope you’re right,” I said. “Of course I am. Aren’t I always?” “No, you were way off target with Rory.” “I’m not so sure,” he said, “how many girlfriends has he had?” “None, as far as I know.” “Didn’t think so.” “You’re talking a load of rubbish, that doesn’t mean anything, he’s shy. Daniel hasn’t had a girlfriend either, but he’s not gay.” It was starting to get dark as I stood up and started walking back to the house. “I’m only trying to help,” he said. “Help who, me, him or you?” “Sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to upset you.” “It’s okay Nathan, I just had a really bad day…it was a dumb thing for me to do. I like Rory; and when I think about it, it really doesn’t make any difference to me whether he’s gay or straight, as long as he’s my friend. I hope he can forget about this.” “He won’t forget about it,” he said, “if Rory’s as cool as you say he is, then he’s not gonna look back on this day as something really bad like you think it is. Things will be a bit different between the two of you, but not necessarily in a bad way. I’m sorry Robbie, I shouldn’t get involved, and I don’t want you to be angry with me. I don’t really know Rory that well, but if he’s your best friend then I wanna be his friend too because I wanna be with you for a long time. Okay?” He sounded upset, which in turn upset me forcing me into a quick u-turn for the back of the garden. “How long exactly were you thinking?” “Longer than you think.” “Can you be more specific?” “A lot longer than you think.” “I can think pretty long,” I said, “longer than you can, probably.” “Well, maybe there will be a time when we won’t have to sneak into your shower in the middle of the night because we’ll have our own shower? And then we can do what we did last night, whenever we want, and be as loud as we want.” It took a while for his words to sink in but when they did I was happy to believe them and allow myself at least a few hours respite from my usual self-induced paranoia. As for his reference to our shower antics; I still wasn’t convinced that I was cut out for the role that Nathan had assigned me, but it was an encouraging start, and my efforts had been well-received by a boy who had his face pressed up against the glass door of the shower. My previous relationship with Fran had given me some experience of penetration, but I had always been led to the front entrance. Nathan’s cute little butt was enticing but it was unchartered territory for me and at first, that tiny passage looked too narrow to negotiate without causing some kind of serious damage. With painful memories of Alex still fresh in my mind; I had turned back twice from the brink certain that it wouldn’t work before Nathan took the helm and was able to gently steer the ship into dock. It had been his idea to go all the way, but my previous experience with Tom had been strictly limited to playing wide receiver, and that was my position of choice. Nathan saw things differently though and used his charm, a bottle of hand lotion from the cupboard, and a couple of tiny gifts to twist my arm. I was wondering why my boyfriend was carrying condoms in his school bag, but I couldn’t fault him for being prepared, and when he handed me one in the shower, his intentions were pretty clear. When he handed me another a little while later, I was happy to do an encore, but when he told me that he had twelve packets at home, I began asking questions. “Don’t laugh, but my dad bought them for me,” he said. “He tried to leave them in my room, but I caught him.” Nathan thought that it was quite funny, and it was, but I also thought that it was a pretty cool thing for a dad to do, and it worked. With a history of two virgins and a heavily wrapped Alex, I was quite certain that I was clean, and Nathan had never so much as kissed anyone else before. It didn’t matter, it was a good habit to get into and I could see no advantage at all in not wearing one. It was cleaner and safer for us both and I was beginning to warm up to his dad. * * * * * On Sunday, Daniel’s mood had improved enough to warrant a mumbled reply to my cheery good morning, but it still stopped short of anything remotely friendly. I had no idea what had caused this sudden change in personality, and despite Nathan’s assurances, I was beginning to fear the worst. His comments at the dinner table and the previous night, coupled with the look of impending doom on his face, were enough evidence to convince me that my brother-to-be knew more about us than Nathan was prepared to believe. It looked as if my yesterday’s bad day was set to roll over into today, so on the advice of my ever accommodating boyfriend, I packed my bag and headed off to Hillcrest Avenue for some slightly dysfunctional family time. It was a full house and when I arrived I was introduced to Nathan’s aunt, uncle, and two cousins, before coming across a more familiar face belonging to his effervescent sister, Karen. “Hiya sweetie, how’s my favourite brother-in-law?” she said followed by the same cheeky grin that Nathan always did so well. It was a term that she had used for me before and I liked it. “Fine,” I replied, plonking myself down on the sofa next to her. There was something about Karen that made me feel comfortable around her, even though we hadn’t known each other for very long. She was safe; friendly and trusting, and she already knew me better than any of my own family. The possible exception to this now was Daniel and she was quick to extract this information from me. “He’s gonna find out anyway,” she said, “you may as well come clean to him, he’s your brother.” “Yeah but he’s also Nathan’s friend, he won’t like it, I know he won’t.” She patted me on the knee and pulled a sulky face. “Aww sweetie, you worry too much about what other people think. Daniel will be okay after a while. I’ve known him for years, don’t forget. He used to sleep over here all the time, and I know that he’s got a soft spot for me.” “What?” “He’s always had a little crush on me,” she said, “I think it’s cute, but he’s like my little brother, you know?” I nodded and smiled. “I don’t blame him,” I said, “if I wasn’t madly in love with your brother, then I would probably feel the same way.” She gave me a playful slap on the arm, but I think she liked the comment. “This is more like the Robbie that Nathan talks about,” she said. “He’s always telling me that you make him laugh.” “He is?” “If you can make my brother laugh Robbie, then you can do no wrong. It’s the key to his heart, sweetie. But I don’t have to tell you that do I? Looks like you’ve already got that.” “Err, I dunno. Do I?” “Uh huh, now what did you say that gave you away to Daniel or did he catch you guys doing naughties?” She winked and elbowed me in the ribs as I blushed. “He did, didn’t he? Did he catch you guys kissing, nothing worse I hope?” “Leave my boyfriend alone,” said Nathan as he marched in after talking to his relatives. “We weren’t caught doing anything, we’re too discreet for that, aren’t we?” He sat down on the arm of the sofa next to me and leaned across to kiss me slowly on the lips. It lasted for a good ten seconds and we both giggled as he pulled away and sat upright with a huge grin on his red face. Karen sighed and rolled her eyes. “Err, yes,” I said, “we’re really careful about stuff like that. You know…we don’t like taking risks.” Nathan burst into laughter as I said that, before putting his arm around my shoulder and swinging his legs across my lap. “We never take risks,” Nathan repeated. Then he lowered his head again for another extended kiss as his hand cupped the side of my face. “Ah hum, we have company boys.” Nathan jumped at the sound of his dad behind us, then giggled as he climbed off me with a comical look of apology. “Sorry dad, Robbie had something in his eye. I was just getting it out for him,” he said unconvincingly, but I was too embarrassed to look up. His dad laughed. “I’m sure you were, son,” he said, “but best not to get it out in front of our guests eh.” I laughed with Nathan and Karen at his dad’s unexpected injection of comedy. It was probably the first genuinely funny thing that he had said in the time that I had known him, but it helped defuse a potentially difficult situation. It was one of those moments that most fathers, I was sure, would have got wrong or handled badly, but by turning it into a joke he was able to get his message across, without being angry or embarrassed. I thought it was cool and it earned him a few more stars in my book. Nathan’s house had become a safe zone for us, where we were able to drop our guard and relax without having to worry about slipping up. We were allowed to hold hands, hug, and share the occasional kiss, as long as we didn’t go too far, although no one was able to actually define the meaning of ‘too far’. His dad described them as ‘common sense rules’, and I was beginning to understand how they worked. Nathan and I had broken those rules whenever presented with the opportunity and an empty house, but his parents must have known that we were experimenting with sex because he had caught his dad leaving a dozen packets of condoms in his room. It went way beyond the usual Santa Claus games that normal parents play at Christmas, but I couldn’t help being impressed when Nathan took me up to his room that afternoon to show me his newly acquired collection of rubbers. “Can you really eat these?” I asked holding up a packet for inspection. “They’re chocolate flavoured,” he said, “but you’re not supposed to eat them. I have strawberry as well here somewhere.” “Of course you do, who doesn’t.” “And these look really cool,” he said, “they’re ribbed…they got like little bumps on them…like you know?” I shook my head as I studied the box and tried to work out why. “I’ll show you, the next time we get some alone time.” I looked at the multi-coloured selection of packages spread out on his bed. “Your dad must think we’re rabbits,” I said, “I can’t believe that they’re okay with this.” “They’re not okay with it,” he said. “They’ve both told me that we’re too young to be having sex.” “Then why this?” I said pointing to the assortment of johnnies. “I dunno, maybe it just makes them feel better knowing that if I were to ever give in to your persistent pressure to get into my shorts, then at least I would be safe. Don’t take that the wrong way either, that doesn’t mean that they think you’re….” “I get it…I think it’s pretty cool actually.” “Yeah,” he said, “my parents are pretty cool.” “How many have you got?” “Just the two,” he said smiling, “mom and dad.” “I meant how many condoms, dickhead.” “A hundred-and-ninety-four, altogether,” he said laughing, “but we used two on Friday.” “Shit, we’re going through them quick, can you get him to order some more, we don’t wanna run out?” “I know right; my dad goes over the top with everything.” “You should ask him to get us some lube,” I said, “six bottles should do for now. Oh and some furry handcuffs, and one of those fake rubber pussies.” “Why would you want one of those?” “Err…to keep my beer cold?” “You’re too young to drink.” “I’m too young to be having sex too, but look at all these.” “I know right, so how about one of these instead?” he said as he held up a packet with a picture of a ridiculously large plastic looking dildo. “Fuck me.” “Exactly,” he said. “What? No way. Don’t even think about it.” “Why should I have all the fun?” he said but he was joking as he began putting the packets of condoms back into a big shoe box. “Actually Nathan, there’s something that I’ve been meaning to talk to you about,” I said slowly. “And this is probably a good time.” His smile faded as he sensed the apprehension in my voice, and I tried to remember the words that I had practised earlier. “You see when I said to you that I had done this…you know, what we were doing the other night.” “Gay sex,” he said loudly and I instinctively looked towards the door in a panic. “Do you wanna say that any louder?” I said. “I don’t think they heard you downstairs.” “Sorry.” “Yeah well….” “You did it with Tom, didn’t you?” “Are you gonna let me finish?” He zipped his lips with his fingers and nodded with a smile. “Yes,” I said, “with Tom, but what we did on Friday was the first time that I’ve done it that way.” He gave me a blank look as he tried to work it out and then tilted his head at me as if searching for a clue, before opening his eyes wide and dropping his jaw. “Oh…you mean?” I nodded. “I was always at the bottom.” “Oh my God, why didn’t you tell me, I’m sorry I never even thought to ask. I just assumed that you would be…you know. I don’t know why…I’m so sorry baby.” “Look, it doesn’t matter,” I said, “I enjoyed it the other night didn’t I? I’m very versatile you know.” “I know you are, sweetie, but you should have said. I don’t mind putting one of these on if you want, it’ll be fun. I didn’t think you’d like it that’s all.” I was starting to feel a little embarrassed by the whole thing and he could see it, Nathan had come a long way in a short period of time. “We’ll see,” I said, “I just wanted you to know that I’m still kind of a novice as far as that’s concerned. Anyway, can we talk about something else please?” “Embarrassed?” “Very.” “Ha, you’re funny.” * * * * * I could feel the sun’s heat biting at my leg even as we waited for the school bus. It was my first Ontario summer and I was getting used to the warm bright days and humid nights. I liked wearing shorts every day, a baseball cap to shield my eyes, and sneakers without socks. I was slowly changing into a North American kid and even my vocabulary was now riddled with words that six months ago would have been foreign to me. “Today is the summer soltace,” said Rory as we walked to the cafeteria. “It’s the longest day of the year for daylight.” After a tentative start to the day, it felt as if he was trying hard to put Saturday’s madness behind him and so far, neither of us had breached the subject. He still seemed a little distant, and our friendship had inevitably suffered some damage, but Rory’s good nature and ability to bounce back quickly from setbacks gave me a reason to believe that it could be repaired. I thought that Nathan was right when he said that things would be different between us but not in a bad way, and I wanted to believe that I had done the right thing by talking to Rory. He would have found out eventually anyway, along with everyone else in the school and by that time it may have been too late. At lunch though, we were forced to sit a little closer to Nathan’s table than I would have liked, and after a few not-so-subtle glances to my boyfriend, it was Rory who broke our unofficial silence. “I don’t know why you don’t just go and sit with him,” he said, “I know you want to.” It probably did seem odd, but our self-imposed separation wasn’t because of Rory. “There are reasons why we keep our distance at lunchtime,” I said, although I wasn’t about to get bogged down explaining about Jake and his merry men. “It seems silly you sitting apart in the same room, that’s all.” “We don’t have to be together all the time.” He hunched his shoulders and focused on his carton of drink, twiddling with the straw as I sat back with my arms folded and watched his rather nervous display. “So…do you guys err…? ‘Don’t go there Rory, please’. “What?” “It doesn’t matter,” he said, “it’s kinda personal and you probably don’t wanna talk about it.” I didn’t but for him, I was willing to make an exception. “It’s okay Rory, what do you wanna know?” I said and I managed to drag a brief smile from him as he peered out from under his golden fringe. “Do you ever…like…do you guys go out on dates and stuff?” I should have known that Rory’s personal question would turn out to be totally lame, and I laughed as he lifted his eyes off the table to question my reaction. “Sorry,” I said, and then cleared my throat. “Not really, I wish we could but it’s kinda difficult to go anywhere in Cobourg without someone spotting you.” “Yeah, that’s what I thought. This town isn’t very gay-friendly is it.” “I dunno, there’s a lot of old people here, but Nathan seems to have done okay.” “Yeah,” I could tell there was more to come. “It was him you were seeing wasn’t it?” He looked over his shoulder and then back at me, but I was slow to pick up on his question. “When you asked me to cover for you that time, you were with Nathan.” “Yes, I probably should have told you then, no one asked you though did they?” He shook his head and sat up straight. “So do you think England will be on their way home after Wednesday?” It was to be their final game of the group stage in South Africa, and following two draws, they needed to win against Slovenia to stay in the competition and I needed to know if I was still going to be welcome at Rory’s house to watch the game. “I think they’ll win,” he said boldly. “You’re still coming over aren’t you.” “Yeah, of course, I am, if you don’t mind?” “Robbie, I’m not gonna stop being your friend you know…just because we support different teams.” I liked his analogy as much as his answer. In soccer, we had always supported different teams, but it had never threatened our friendship if anything it gave us a better perspective of the game. It was a sign that things were going to be okay with my friend and it made me smile for the rest of the day. The only thing that hadn’t been mentioned was my planned sleepover at the weekend. I had been waiting for him to mention it, but I could understand him being hesitant and he obviously needed a little more time. I had been trying to get out of this for weeks, but now I was hoping that he wouldn’t feel the need to cancel or postpone. I decided to give him a couple of days and if he didn’t mention it in this time then I would help him out of a sticky situation by cancelling it myself. Whatever happened I was still convinced that I had finally made the right decision. ‘Who knows, maybe Daniel will be the same if I just tell him’? I was getting fed up of his moody behaviour at home and the idea of revealing everything was building momentum, although, I knew that Nathan would urge on the side of caution. After my final lesson, I sent him a text to find out what his plans were for that evening before grabbing some books from my locker and heading for the stairs. The glass fronted stairwell faced out towards the front of the school where the yellow buses were lined up nose to tail waiting for their ‘precious cargo’ as they would call us. The glare from the afternoon sun was filtered by the tinted windows, but it was still bright and shining directly on my face as I held up my phone to retrieve Nathan’s quick reply. I was nearly halfway down the final flight of stairs; it was busy and I was holding people up as focusing more on my phone than where I was going. I was on the inside, next to the handrails, moving slowly, when something hit me hard from behind, knocking me off balance and throwing me forward. I could hear myself groan as I was winded and for a moment I was airborne. With my hands instinctively out in front of me to protect my face, it was my knee that hit first jarring against one of the steps. My outstretched arms cushioned my landing but they couldn’t stop the slide and the momentum carried them underneath me as I rolled over, hitting my chin and then my head on the steps before coming to rest at the bottom of the stairs on my back. I could hear a lot of shouting, but I don’t think that I hit anyone. Embarrassed, I tried to pick myself off the floor and a boy grabbed my arm to try to help me, but my head was hurting and I felt dizzy. ‘I’m okay, just a little shaken up. I’ll be alright if I get up and walk around a bit. Fucking stairs. What happened…something hit me or someone’? There were more voices and I could hear someone telling the boy not to lift me. There was girl kneeling beside me, telling me to lie back down and I could see the top of the stairwell two floors above. It had happened so fast that I hadn’t had time to work out how or why. It felt as if something had landed on me like a wall had collapsed behind me. I heard a girl shouting and an older boy was talking to me, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. I lifted my head to look at my knee which was stinging, I was only wearing shorts, but there was no blood, just a graze. ‘I need to get on the bus, I’ll be okay when I get home’. Now my mouth was hurting; it felt swollen and there was a familiar taste in it. It was blood; I tried to lift myself up, but someone was holding me down. A girl who I didn’t recognise. ‘I’m gonna miss the bus, but I’ll be okay in a bit. I’ll get a cab’. I tried to talk but I couldn’t, the blood was running down the back of my throat. More people talking, I was choking. Someone was pulling me; a man was shouting. Someone’s fingers were in my mouth. I was on my side, coughing, spitting blood. My head hurt and I shut my eyes and moaned. I was dizzy and felt tired. ‘Maybe I’m not okay after all. I feel sick again. I need to go home’. There was a lot of commotion around me and now that my eyes were closed, I could hear them better. I recognised some of the voices. Nicola was the loudest, but for once I was pleased to hear her. “THAT’S MY BROTHER,” she shouted, and I could hear her closing in. “LET ME THROUGH, IT’S MY BROTHER. OUTTA THE WAY. His name’s Robbie, he’s my brother, he’s in grade ten!” Her distressed voice was familiar and almost soothing to me, although I doubt if anyone else felt that way. “Are you okay, who was it Robbie, did Jake do this? DID ANYONE SEE WHO PUSHED HIM?” There was a man’s voice calming her down, he had been there from the beginning. I was able to open my eyes as I felt somebody lift my head and put something under it, a pillow of some sort. It felt better. Nicola looked worried as she stared at my face, and it scared me. ‘I must look pretty bad’. “You look terrible,” she said and I wanted to kill her. “If Jake did this to you, Robbie, I swear he’s gonna regret this.” I didn’t know if it was Jake or not; up until then, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I might have been pushed. It felt like something had fallen on me, something big and solid. ‘Maybe it was Jake’. “Where’s my phone?” Those were the first words that I had been able to speak. I could hear a boy behind me, he had picked it up, but it was broken. I hadn’t heard it drop. Nicola took what was left of my phone and put it in her bag. “I can probably fix it,” she said, but that’s not what I wanted to hear. I tried once more to get up but was told by the man that I had to stay and wait for the paramedics. I could recognise his voice now, he was a teacher, English, I think. He had been the one with his fingers down my throat. He had turned me onto my side, where I was sick. The recovery position. I would have preferred to have gone home, but I knew that wouldn’t be allowed. Not before being checked out by the paramedics, who were there within a couple of minutes. The first; a young black guy with a reassuring smile, knelt down in front of me. He had a calm voice and he told me that I was going to be okay as he felt around my neck and looked into my eyes. Then he told me that they were going to take me to the hospital. ‘Maybe I won’t be going home after all’.
  35. 33 likes
    Hearing our feet hit the ground in a rhythmic pattern made me happy. It was consistent and steady. Callen hasn’t said much since we met up to go running, and I was okay with that for now. Practice was boring; we just reviewed tapes on the upcoming opponent. Truth be told, I was a bit nervous, because here we are in the playoffs, and there is a ton of pressure on me. To be late fall, almost winter, it was still hot and muggy, so I was drenched in sweat. We finally reach his grandpa’s cabin. At the steps, Callen sits down and peels off his shirt, and I follow his lead by taking my own off. Taking a seat next to Callen, I look at him, and he stares back at me. “Penny for your thoughts?” “How’d you know?” he asks, looking at me. I shrug my shoulders, “You haven’t talked at all and that’s not like you.” Callen lets out a long sigh. “The normal bullshit, my mom. I got to see my little brother for a few minutes the other day. It was nice.” “That’s awesome!” Callen looks at me hard, and I feel like he wants to address the awkward feeling between us. “What’s with Tyler?” “What do you mean?” “I’m not stupid, Ryder!” he says, raising his voice. I get up, and my stomach explodes with butterflies from being nervous. I hate it when anyone starts getting worked up. “I know you aren’t stupid. I never said you were.” “So, are you and him a thing?” I kick the dirt and avoid eye contact before I finally tell him that we are. He lets out a sigh, gets up from the steps, and punches the beam on the porch. I take a few steps back because I have never seen him this angry before. “Callen….” “It’s fine,” he says in a clipped voice. I fold my arms across my stomach so he doesn’t see my hands trembling. “Callen, I’m sorry.” I want to reach out and hug him, but seeing his outburst makes me even more nervous. I keep my distance from him, until he sits back down and puts his head in his hands. I hear him let out a cry, and see his whole body wrack as he starts to cry harder. I walk over to him and sit beside him again. “Are you okay?” He doesn’t say anything, but I can hear him just crying. I hesitantly put my hand on his bare shoulder, and he shudders even more once I make contact. “I’m sorry,” I hear him mumble. “For what?” Finally looking up at me, his eyes are bloodshot, and his face is flushed. “For being such a fucking mess, and not good enough for you.” “That’s not true, Callen! You are a great person, man. You just have a lot of things going on. You are more than good enough. I don’t think us not being together is the real reason you are so upset, is it?” He shakes his head no, while trying not to cry. He pulls out his phone and pulls up a picture, and shows it to me. I take the phone and stare at it. It’s so weird - in the picture, there is, like, a little clone of Callen standing right beside him. “That’s my little brother.” “He looks just like you,” I say, handing the phone back to him. He takes the phone, looking at the picture one more time before he puts it back in his pocket. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to have a breakdown and scare you. It’s just, after getting to see my little brother and spend time with him, and not even knowing when I get to see him again, it frustrates me.” I shrug my shoulder as to say it is not a big deal. “No worries.” “Ryder, you know you are terrible at lying, right? I know I scared you when I hit the beam.” “Maybe a little,” I confess, not making eye contact. Callen lets out a sigh. “Does he treat you right?” “Tye?” I ask. He nods his head. “Yeah, is he good for you?” I give a smile. “He is. He is really a great person. He understands my tics, and he can tell when I am not okay. I am not saying this because you and I could have never worked out, but I think we make better friends. I can be there for you more as a friend than a boyfriend.” “Ryder, we talked about this already. I understand. Hell, I was the one who proposed it. I just didn’t think I would be jealous once you found a boyfriend.” I laugh. “You have nothing to be jealous of! You are a great person, and if you put yourself out there, you will find someone who likes you.” He gives me a playful shove. “Enough with all the sappy talk. I guess our ‘friends with benefits’ thing is over, huh?” I giggle. “Yeah, it is.” He perks up. “So, did you ask about going to visit Shawn?” The butterflies explode in my stomach again. “I did, they said no. Jeremy is flying up to go spend the holidays with his mom. He hasn’t seen her since he moved down here with us, and Mom doesn’t want to chance me having a major breakdown, flying without Jeremy. Plus, there are other things going on.” I can tell his enthusiasm is slowly leaving. “What’s going on?” I turn my whole body towards him. “You can’t tell anyone just yet, but Coach has taken a job at UT after this season, and we will be moving closer to the college.” His face says everything I knew it would. “What the fuck?! He’s leaving our school? You are leaving our school!” “Yeah, but it’s not like you and Garret still can’t come visit. Besides, man, there is more than that as to why I can’t go.” “What else? Is it Tyler that doesn’t want you to go?” I get defensive. “Tyler said I should go!” He puts his hands up as to surrender, “Okay, okay. Easy, man, I was just wondering.” “My parents are adopting another kid,” I blurt out. Callen snaps his head up and looks at me as if I have two heads. “Adopting another kid?” “Yeah, I just found out. That, and how Coach is taking the job.” I kick the dirt with the toe of my shoe. Callen bumps me with his shoulder. “Are you okay with that?” I shrug in response. “I don’t think it really matters.” “Dude, of course it matters if you are okay with it.” Letting out a sigh, I get up and pace a few steps. I need someone to know how I feel about this situation. I should have told Tyler, but I feel like he would have judged me and hated how I’m acting a bit selfish for not wanting another kid around. Even though I know Tyler isn’t like that he would probably understand it’s just my insecurities eating at me. I finally turn back to Callen. “On one hand, I want to feel happy that, hey, this kid will be safe, and with a family to love him, but on the other, I feel like they want a second chance to have another kid because I was a failure.” “Dude, shut the fuck up. You are not a failure, man. ‘Cause if you’re a failure, then I am, too, because my mother still thinks I choose to be gay. Dude, have you gotten to meet this kid?” I run my hands through my hair. “No, I haven’t met him. His name is Wilder, by the way.” Callen shakes his head. “What? That’s his name?” I let out a giggle. “Yeah, poor guy.” “Who the hell names their kid that?!” “Pretty much what I said.” Callen checks his phone. “Come on, man, we need to get back. Me and Garret are supposed to get our plane tickets today. I still wish you were coming with us.” “Me too, man. Hopefully, they can come down for the summer. That would be so sick!” He shoves me playfully. “Race you to the first stop sign.” “Dude, you are so done for!” I say, laughing. *Tyler* I let out a yawn and get up to stretch out the kinks in my body. I have been doing homework for the last two hours, and I am so over it. I leave my room, headed for the kitchen to grab something to drink. Before I can round the corner, I hear Jaxson talking to someone. “Well, who are you?” “I’m Jeremy,” the other voice replies. “Okay, Jeremy. Well, what do you want? You interrupted a very important game,” Jaxson says in an annoyed voice. “If it was that important, why didn’t you let Tyler answer the door?” Jeremy retorts. “Maybe it’s because he’s doing homework. Not that it’s any of your business. Again, what do you want?” I round the corner and see Jaxson hasn’t let Jeremy in the house yet. I know I should jump in, but this is too funny for me. So I lean against the wall, watching the madness that is Jaxson, who is full of shit today. “Well, can I talk to him?” Jeremy asks. “What do you want to talk to him about?” Jaxson counters. I hear Jeremy let out a sigh. “Aren’t you missing an important game?” “It’s possible, but maybe this is more interesting.” “And here I thought Ryder was a handful. Listen, little shit, can you just please, for the love of god, get Tyler, so I can talk to him?” Jeremy says, and I can hear the impatience seeping through into his words. I laugh out loud, because I can see Jaxson widen his stance, which means he’s about to argue with Jeremy. “Oh, what are you, Ryder’s boyfriend or something? I am not little. I am fourteen! Besides, you are being a dick.” I finally decide it’s time to step in. “Jaxson, dude, it’s cool.” “He’s lucky. I could have taken him,” Jaxson says. Walking by me, he throws a glance back at Jeremy and rolls his eyes. “What the fuck was that about?” Jeremy asks, looking uncomfortable. “That would be Jaxson on a good day. Did you need something?” I ask, trying to be as confident as Jaxson was. “Yeah, I just wanted to talk.” “Come in. We can go to my room since Jaxson is eavesdropping on us,” I say, looking back to the living room, and Jaxson snaps his head back towards the TV. I lead Jeremy to my room, and I can’t stop my heart from racing. I have no idea what he is doing here, and it scares me. I open my bedroom door and let him in first. I close the door and watch as he looks around my room, and turns to face me. “Why are you here? Better yet, how did you find out where I lived?” “Hey, I didn’t come to fight or tell you to stay away from Ryder, and finding out where you lived was easy. Dr. Kim gave us the address when Ryder stayed the night here.” I shift my weight to one foot. “So, you didn’t answer me. Why are you here?” “Can I take a seat?” he asks. I nod to the computer chair, and I make my way over to the bed, taking a seat. “How much longer you going to stall?” “I wanted to know why you have an issue with me, because it seems like you and Ryder are going to get serious, and if that’s the case, I want to know if I can trust you.” “Ryder has no clue that you are here, does he?” I say, getting a little more apprehensive. He shakes his head. “No, he doesn’t, and I would like to keep it that way.” “Why? Afraid he would get pissed off that you are going behind his back?” “I don’t know if I can trust you alone with him! Does he know about your arrest record? Does he know that you were hospitalized for an OD? These things concern me when it comes to Ryder. He is like my little brother, and he has been through too much pain and heartache to have someone in his life that is toxic,” he says, standing up. “How the hell do you know all about me?” I ask. “It’s easy to find things out about people when they are getting involved with someone that you love and want to protect. Your arrest was online. I had to pull some strings with a guy on the football team to get the rest.” I stand up and get in his face. “Yes, he knows I was hospitalized for OD’ing. No, he doesn’t know about my arrest record, and I will tell him. I get it - you want to protect him. Guess what? So do I! So don’t think you are going to come into my home and bully me. Ryder is old enough to make his own damn decisions on who he chooses to date without you telling him it’s ok or not! You know why I don’t like you? You look almost exactly like my ex. The one who put me in the hospital multiple times, the one who got me in trouble and arrested. I swore to myself a long time ago I would never let him use me, or scare me ever again. So yes, you freak me the fuck out, but I’m not scared of you!” He backs up. “Okay, let’s calm down. Look, I am sorry. I didn’t realize….” I cut him off in mid-sentence. “That’s right. You didn’t realize because you didn’t bother to ask. You came in here, guns blazing, but you weren’t prepared for me to counter everything you just threw at me, did you?” His mouth is open and I back up, just in case he decides to hit me. But then, he relaxes and says, “I’m sorry. Look, I was completely wrong to come here like this. It’s just, when it comes to Ryder, I get extremely protective.” “I get it, I really do, but coming here, making a spectacle, isn’t going to help anyone. How do you think Ryder would feel about either of us if he knew what was happening right now? You coming here behind his back and me not telling him all my past just yet. He’s been through enough, man. He doesn’t need severe trust issues on top of everything else. You know he thinks the world of you, and he would be hurt if he knew you were doing this?” He runs a hand through his hair. “You’re right. He would be so pissed off at both of us…. You really care about him, don’t you?” I nod my head. “I really do, and it’s just as scary for me as it is for you. I don’t want to get hurt, nor do I want him to get hurt. Just, with Ryder, I feel like I am not a complete fuck up, and I think he feels just as comfortable with me.” “I think he is comfortable with you, I haven’t seen him this happy since we were both back up north. I just don’t want him hurt.” Before I can answer, there is a knock on my door. I open it and Jaxson is standing there. “What?” He rolls his eyes. “Are you two done yet?” “What do you need?” “Well, I wanted to whip someone’s ass in a game, but now I’m hungry, and Mom isn’t home, and you know she doesn’t let me use the stove. So, if you two are done having a lover’s spat, can one of you please take me to get some food? I am the one who still needs supervision!” he says, and throws his hands up dramatically. I hear Jeremy crack up laughing. “Holy shit, is this how he is most of the time?” I glare back at him. “Try all the time.” Jaxson sighs. “I am still right here, and I am still hungry. So let’s stop dicking around and get some food.” “Jaxson, calm down, dude. When Jeremy leaves, we can go get some food.” “Well, when are you leaving?” Jaxson asks, looking at Jeremy. I don’t think Jeremy is used to someone being so forward with him. He looks a bit confused. “Well, I’m pretty hungry too, so how about we all go get some food? While Tyler here gets dressed, I will whip your butt in some football.” Jaxson grins. “Okay, meathead, but if I win, you’re buying me ice cream afterwards.” “It’s on, shrimp.” Jeremy walks past me, and they both leave my room. I honestly don’t know what to think at this point. I close my door and try to find something to wear. I guess this could be a good thing, and give us a chance to get to know each other for Ryder’s sake. It’s Jaxson I am worried about. I know how he gets with new people. *Ryder* Getting out of the shower, I towel off and slip on some boxers, leave the bathroom and walk in front of the mirror. Looking at myself. I smile. I reposition myself in my boxers and run my hand over my stomach, admiring how I look, and think how Tyler would react to seeing me like this. I stretch, making a grunting sound. I feel so good after the run with Callen. To think about it, I don’t feel stressed or any heaviness in my chest for the first time since moving to Austin. I hear my stomach make a grumbling sound, and the hunger hits me. I make my way to the kitchen, open the fridge, and look inside. I move the milk to see if there is anything to eat, and of course there isn’t. Mom is out shopping right now. I take the milk and pour a glass of it, Putting the milk back into the fridge, I hop on the counter and drink the rest of the glass. The doorbell rings, and it scares me so much that I almost fall off the counter. I walk to the door, opening it just enough to poke my head out the door, and I see Renee standing there. “Uh… hey.” She turns around and smiles at me. “Hey, you!” “Wh-what’s up?” I ask, trying to stay behind the door, considering I am just in my boxers. “Well, I was just around the neighborhood, and thought I would drop by and see what you were up to,” she says, and flips her hair over her shoulders. I feel heat wash over my body. “I just got out of the shower, and was looking for something to eat.” She reaches out and touches my damp hair. “You are so adorable. I am hungry, too. Why don’t we go get something to eat?” I just look at her for a second. “Um… I don’t know. My parents aren’t here.” She laughs. “Just text them, Rye. I am sure they won’t mind at all. Besides, it’s just food - not like I am asking for a date.” My stomach rumbles, and I put my head down. Out of all the times, it picks now to rumble. “I need to get dressed….” I look up at her and she is smiling, because she knows she’s won. “Well, can I come in?” “I’m just in my boxers,” I tell her, and my cheeks get warm. She rolls her eyes. “You act like I have never seen a boy in boxers. I do have a brother.” I step back from the door, and let her in. I can instantly feel her eyes on me, and I start to feel self-conscious. “I’m just going to go throw on some clothes.” I take off to my room, taking deep breaths to try and calm the nervous feeling in my stomach. “You are seriously hot. You know that, right?” I snap my head up and see that Renee has followed me to my room. “Uh… thanks,” I say, trying to find my gym shorts. She grabs my hand and turns me around. “Hey, what’s the rush?” I hold my breath, trying to hold off the sinking feeling in my stomach. She puts her hand on my chest. “I just want to get dressed so we can go,” I whisper. She runs her hand down to my abs, and to the waistband of my boxers. She slips a finger under the band and pulls it out. I grab her wrist. “What, you don’t want to?” she asks, looking at me as if I am crazy. “Stop,” I say my voice shaking. I step away from her, and I back intothe drawer that was pulled out in my dresser. I can’t catch my breath. “Ryder, what’s wrong?” I hear her, but her voice seems so distant, like she’s on the other end of a long hallway. I start to see black dots in my vision, and I start getting dizzier. Where is Jeremy? I need him…. I feel myself hit the wall, and I slide down, wrapping my arms around my knees. I can hear Renee, but I can’t stop shaking. I feel like I am going to puke. I have to put my head on my knees because I am so dizzy. I feel my chest tighten. I feel shame wash over me. I can’t control myself. I feel like I am going to pass out. Suddenly, I am back in the orphanage,I just want my blanket. I can feel the hands around my neck, choking me. I hear the yelling, and I am jerked forward away from the attacker. “Hey… Ryder… buddy… hey… look up, man.” I feel someone has wrapped their arms around me. I don’t know who it is. I start to panic, and I hear the smooth voice again, “Hey, relax, Ryder. I got you, buddy. “Renee, get the fuck out of here!” I can feel the booming voice rumble in the chest I’m pressed up against. “Listen to my voice. You’re safe, man.” I start to shake again. I don’t feel safe. “I need you to clear your head man,” the voice says again. “I… can’t,” I choke out. “Yes, you can. Think about how we have the last playoff game this week, man, then it’s state! Think about how we are going to win state, man.” I start to think of the plays in football, how they are simple, they are constant. They don’t change. I know I can execute each one of them with precision and timing. “Think about the play that you taught us last week. How it’s going to leave me open in the end zone.” I start to process what the voice is saying, but it’s not Jeremy that will be open in the end zone, it’s Garret. The play makes it seem like I am going for Jeremy, because that’s the viable option, but it’s a fake. They will cover him, leaving Garret wide open. Coach was actually proud of me when I came up with that play. Thinking about the play, I can start to feel my chest loosen a little from the tightness. My breathing is starting to become more even. “There you go. That’s it. Just breathe, man.” I don’t know how long I stay wrapped in his arms, and against his chest. I start to count the heartbeats - something about the steady beating helps soothe me. I wasn’t even aware that I had stopped shaking, and that I could breathe normal again. I finally pull away from the embrace, and the smell of his cologne finally hits me. I don’t recognize it. I look up, and I’m shocked to see Garret on the floor with me. I think he sees the look of fear come over me. He pulls me back into his chest, “It’s okay, man. No reason to be scared.” I pull gently away and scoot back. “I am sorry, I… why are you here?” He stands up and offers his hand to me. I take it and he pulls me up. “Renee called me.” “Why did you come?” I ask, not really understanding. “Because I know what it’s like to have a panic attack and not have anything to keep you grounded.” I sit on my bed. “How do you know?” He sits next to me. “I used to have them at least four times a month when I was fourteen. They sucked, and my dad was always the one to keep me grounded.” He puts a hand on my shoulder. “Besides, I meant it, man. Think of how amazing it’s going to be when we win state.”
  36. 33 likes
    Jeff guided Paul to the passenger side of the Tahoe. As he opened the door he caught a grin creeping across Paul's face. “I don't give a fuck if they think you're my girlfriend or not. Just get in.” Paul was amazed that he had found something to smile about on this, of all days. As Jeff drove down the dirt road away from the abandoned ranch house, Paul kept his eyes focused straight ahead. He was grateful he would never have to see that place again. “Do you think it's all over? I mean, I know we will be questioned tomorrow. I mean… after it was over… after I knew he was dead, I figured we would be taken to jail and have to put up bail or even be held without bail. My God! What would have happened to Maria? What if I go to jail tomorrow! The county will take her! Jeff! I can't let that happen! What am I gonna do?” “Babe, Relax! They had no reason to hold you. It would have been possible grounds for a harassment lawsuit if the Sheriff had taken you two in. That State Trooper said as much himself. Unless they come up with unrelated charges, you have nothing to worry about. "It's a good thing Maria is staying with Aunt Mellie tonight. You can freak out as much as you need. I'm here for you." When we get home I’ll draw up a power of attorney to place Maria in my care should anything happen to you… Better yet we'll make Uncle Joe and Aunt Mellie her primary guardians. They are a solid, heterosexual couple, well established in the community. No one can object to them taking care of a little girl. Whereas, a judge might not be inclined to relinquish care to a single gay man who hasn't lived in the area for the last three years. I’ll make sure I am added, just in case.” That seemed to immediately lesson Paul's anxiety. “I can almost see it now. That asshole Sheriff convincing a judge not to let some queer get near an innocent child. Even if the child is female. How did that man ever get elected? “I cringed the every time the bastard looked at us. I think he would have gladly shot us both if he had half a chance and the flimsiest of excuses. “The way Dave told him off didn't help any. I really thought he was going to handcuff him after he called him “Daddy”. I can't see him how anyone could confuse him with professional lawmen like Danny and that State Trooper. “Having met him, It’s easy to believe he blew off investigating the fire despite the presence of the out of place gas can. That certainly didn't make him look good when Danny showed him Morgan's fingerprints from that same gas can.” “Well, we’ll get the POA taken care of and tomorrow I’ll be by your side along with Uncle Raymond and some of the finest criminal defense legal minds Texas has to offer.” “Jeff, I don't know how to thank you and your family for all you do for us. Joe and Mellie practically adopted us the minute Julie sent us out to the ranch to ask about renting a house. We didn't even have any furniture. I still don't know how she convinced me to drive out there unannounced. We had just settled into a month by month apartment. I shudder even now to think about what constitutes “furnished” in those apartments. Unless, of course, you include cockroaches. “Given what I know now, there's a good chance Morgan would have killed me and Maria, if not for you. I would never have had the presence of mind to squeeze that trigger as I did without Ilya's training. Not to mention having a reliable handgun. “You came into our lives like some Christmas Spirit determined to make our lives better. In spite of all the bad things that have happened lately, knowing you love me and Maria, like we love you makes it all bearable.” Jeff was a little too choked up to respond, so he clasped Paul's hand in his and brought it to his lips for a tender kiss. As they pulled into the drive Jeff nodded to indicate a gleaming, turquoise and white,1970, F-150 pickup, “Looks like Tom has come back early. I was hoping he would stay there at least through Christmas like he had planned. He only gets to see his nieces and nephews once a year." Paul got out of the Tahoe too quickly for Jeff to even think about coming around and getting his door. Inside they found Tom and Rosarita in the family room sipping coffee and ignoring “Good Morning Abilene” on the tv. While Pup nested at Tom's feet. All of them jumped up to greet the new arrivals. Rosarita wrapped her arms around Paul in a quiet but firm show of support. She had already talked to Fred so she and Tom knew about the shooting. Tom had arrived in time to follow the Police. By the time he got there the road had been blocked to all but through traffic. He decided to come wait for them at Jeff's place. Jeff having checked with Paul, assured Rosarita they were not hungry and that they would see her for breakfast. She got the guys fresh coffee and then excused herself. Tom, having stood since the two arrived, began pacing back and forth in front of the sofa upon which the hand holding couple were seated. Finally he seemed to gather his thoughts and faced the two, “I want you both to know how sorry I am that all this shit happened. If I had any idea that bastard was bat shit crazy, I would have never have put him to work here at the ranch. Let alone take him as a roommate. Having sex with him was never the reason I gave him a job. I just thought I was helping out a man who was down on his luck. I never knew he had any feelings for me. I certainly never encouraged that. I never even told him I liked him. When he fucked up I chewed his ass out like I would any other hand. I got tired of his don't care attitude and told him to move out and find another job before I got back. “I’m truly sorry I arrived too late to help kill the son of a bitch. I know y’all don't want to see me around here reminding you of that fucked up piece of shit. So as soon as I can get my stuff together and clear it with your Uncle i’ll be quitting the ranch. I figure that is the least I can do given this is all my fault. I got a little put away toward getting my own spread. I need to add to it and in a few years... “But, anyways, Paul, I want you to know that I was seriously interested in trying to build a relationship with you and the little Princess. She stole my heart long before I got to know you and realize what a truly fine ass you have. “I know Jeff is a good man. He’ll treat you right and help take care of little Maria. I can see you two are already pretty much a tight fit. I just wish you both the best and hope somewhere down the line you two can forgive me for being a part of all this.” Paul looked into Tom’s eyes for a moment. He then shared a look with Jeff. Standing, he pulled Jeff to his feet, “Tom, I consider myself lucky to have escaped death today.” He visibly swallowed. “I also consider myself lucky to have a man like Jeff to love and to have that love returned. I know I am blessed everyday to have my Maria. “I don't know what made that drugged up fuckwad want to kill me. I am glad I shot him before he could shot me. “As far as you, Jeff and I are concerned, we were going to sit down with you and explain that we are together now and that will never change. Jeff has told me what a good friend you have been and what a good man he thinks you are. You're rushing back here convinces me that you really are his good friend. You're trying to take some responsibility for what happened tells me you're a good man. You have nothing to be sorry for. You had no way of knowing your helping hand was being extended to a psychopath. I had told Jeff that I thought we all could be good friends. I still think that and I hope you agree.” Tom’s eyes glistened with moisture. Jeff also tried to relieve the guilt his friend was obviously feeling. “Tom, I’ve known you for years. I know the kind of man you are. We don't want you to change the way you are because of one mistake. “As far as leaving, well, you’re too important to the ranch and this family. Replacing you would be like trying to replace me, or Uncle Joe or Uncle Raymond, it can't be done. If you decide to leave, we can't stop you. But, understand this! Nobody blames you for any of this. Hell, Morgan was a bat shit crazy son of a bitch, but he hid it well. Any one of us might have hired him. We don't expect much from someone who's main job is to shovel shit. “Now, forget all this talk about leaving the ranch. How about we get your bags out of your truck and we'll get you set up here for the night. Most likely your place is marked off with yellow crime scene tape. Just don't be getting no funny ideas about sleep walking and winding up in bed with us cause me and my man don't share.” For a moment Paul was sure Tom was going to lose his battle to hold back his tears. He was almost certain the big handsome lug was about to cry when he felt himself, along with his lover, pulled into a serious bear hug. In a voice, cracked with emotion, “I could kiss you guys, but I know you're not into threesomes. I know you're fun as hell in bed, Jeff. And I’ve jerked off more than a few times thinking about how much fun you could be, Paul. But, truth be told, I'd rather have a lifetime of friendship with you two than even the hottest casual one time romp. Besides, thinking about you two all serious has me thinking, there just might be someone out there for me.” It was early evening by the time they got Tom squared away and checked on Paul's animals, which Seth had already seen to. Upon hearing Paul's stomach growl, Jeff proposed they drive into town to the diner for supper. Paul offered to cook up some pasta. Tom insisted he would be glad to help out with cleanup. Jeff was persistent. For some reason, he just, right now, had to have a piece of pie from the diner. Alone In their bathroom, Paul almost convinced him to change his mind about going anywhere. They were interrupted by Tom pounding on the bedroom door. “Alright hombres, y’all decided to eat in town, so save all that for dessert. Get unknotted and shake a leg. I’m so hungry my belly’s insisting my throat's been cut. ” As they came into the hall, Jeff totally ignored Tom’s rant. Paul was blushing in guilt for what he had tried to get Jeff to do. Tom noticed. “Paul, I didn't mean to embarrass you. Hell, I figured a man with enough balls to own a dog that fugly couldn't never be ashamed about anything.” “I think I liked you better when I thought you had some manners. You might want to think hard before insulting Pup. Ever seen Monty Python’s rabbit?” Moving toward the front door, “Hey, that guy has a pet shop on the backside of Dallas. Tried to sell me a Norwegian Blue Parrot. Beautiful plumage, but it never squawked or nothing. I am pretty sure he was dead. The lumberjack behind the counter tried to tell me he was resting, but I’m pretty sure it was dead.” Just as Paul was about to respond, Jeff interjected, “Enough! Enough with the fugly dogs, killer bunnies and dead parrots. For the love of Brian! Can't we inject some sanity into this discussion?” At Jeff's outburst both men came a sudden halt. Once he said his piece they moved to either side of Jeff and swept him up in a packsaddle carry. Jeff accepted the ride with grace. With a minimum of shuffling they made it through the front door. Paul called out, “On three! One! Two!” At this point Jeff was sure all bets were off. He was about to be hurled into the front yard. His arms that had been draped across the other men’s shoulders now pinched a death grip around their necks. “If I go, I’m taking two knights who say… Ow! Ow! Ha! Ha! No! No tickling! Not fair. I give! I give up!” About the time the guys released each other they became aware they were being watched. Paul reached for his sidearm just as he remembered it had been confiscated. His hand came to rest in his hip pocket. He noticed Jeff had his hand ready to draw his own weapon. At the same time Sam and Dave stepped up onto the porch from either side of the house. Sam spoke up, “Evening gentlemen. We’ve been having a look around. Ilya was not happy with today's events. He was right. We should have checked the vehicles more thoroughly. We came away with mere remnants of our asses intact. If we miss anything under our watch again he has promised our next assignment will be guarding remote segments of the trans Siberian pipeline, at opposite ends. “Mr. Braxton you will be pleased to know your classy pickup is free of any obvious threat. Though there maybe a few unexplained slobbers. My partner was drooling while we were checking it out.” Dave frowned at his lover, “Yes, my partner is lucky he didn't leave pecker tracks on the finish. He is a heavy leaker and he was half hard the whole time. But, then it should be understandable, it is a beautiful machine.” After Jeff made introductions all round, it was decided they would clear out the backseat of the Tahoe and all have dinner at the diner. Sam insisted on driving. The diner was busier than anyone had expected. They only had to wait while a table was being cleaned. Paul nudged Jeff and indicated a table where Fire Marshal Bumpkis was having dinner with the Mayor and two other dressed up rancher types. Bumpkis saw them and made a face like a goat eating barbed wire. He leaned over and spoke softly into the Mayor’s ear. The Mayor’s head jerked around in disbelief. Bumpkis continued the soft talk, obviously identifying Jeff and his group. Paul was not happy to realize the next available table was the one next to the exalted Mayor and Bumpkis. He was not as unhappy as Bumpkis and the Mayor. Bumpkis called loudly so everyone in the place could hear, “Can't you set that murderin bunch of sodomites somewhere else? Let them take their order to go. So decent Christian folk, like us, can eat in peace.” Before anyone could respond the two dressed up rancher types shared a disgusted glance, stood up and dropped some bills onto the table. Jeff's group was pulling out their chairs to take a seat. The two bodyguards had positioned themselves with their backs against the wall. At Bumpkis’ remarks they all stopped and remained standing, carefully eyeing the two ranchers. The two approached and extended their hands and introduced themselves as Bart Breedlove and Jim Stanton. They explained they had been friends with Jeff's father and were sorry to hear about Paul's recent misfortune with the arsonist. (at this they both stared pointedly at Bumpkis making it plan they understood he had ignored the obvious evidence of arson.) Bumpkis didn't even have the decency to look chagrined. The ranchers collectively opined it was a Texan’s god given right to protect himself and his property. They congratulated Paul on his deadly aim. As they made their goodbyes they ignored their dinner company and assured Jeff they would see him at his Uncle Joe’s at tomorrow night's get together. Just as they decided it was safe to sit, someone grabbed Paul's bicep from behind, “Don't even think about drawing that thing in here, mister. Paul turned around to face his foe. Instead he looked down to see Julie staring a challenge up at him. He sputtered an apology as she simply wrapped him in a motherly embrace. “Sweetie, you did a good thing today. He wasn't going to stop killing unless somebody stopped him. It had to be you and Dave. Now, don't lose hope. Tomorrow may not be one of your best days. Don't despair, you and Jeff and our Princess have many good years ahead. Just be strong and be patient. Remember sweetie, Christmas is a time for miracles.” Julie let him go with a peck on the cheek. She patted Jeff on the shoulder saying, "Honey, you wanted and needed a change. Now you've got what you needed, make sure you don't let them go.” To Sam and Dave she offered, “Well, if you two stay on your toes, I can see a lot of Texas in y’all’s future. If not… well I hear Siberia gets awfully cold and lonely in the winter when your mate is 2,357 kilometers away.” Sam and Dave gulped and clasped hands under the table. Then smiling at Tom, “You can’t miss out on something that was never meant to be. Be patient he’s closer than you tink.” With that she laughed uproariously all the way into the kitchen. Bumpkis did not hear any of what Julie had to say to Jeff's group. But, he had seen two of those faggots holding hands. He nudged the Mayor to make him look. He then dropped money on the table and made his exit, with a scowl. Sam noticed the Mayor disgustedly looking at them holding hands. He twisted his hand around, still resting it in his lover's hand and gave his honor the Mayor a single digit salute and a shit eatin’ grin. The Mayor flushed a bright red and sputtered, “Well. I never!” Sam offered, “Maybe you should. I hear it can clear up constipation.” The Mayor would have turned even redder if it were possible. Just loud enough for Jeff's group to hear, he muttered, “Fucking faggots.” Then he slammed his napkin onto the table and rose to leave. His crimson flush turned ghostly white as he craned his neck upward to see Tom’s piercing blue eyes glaring down at him, “How’d you like to explain to your constituency how you got your fat, bigoted, lily white ass kicked by a fucking faggot? Mr. Mayor? Wanna trip and fall over a chair on your way out? A fat, old, faggot your age doesn't recover from a fall like us younger ones do.” The Mayor was trembling in fear as he sputtered, “Y, Y, You can't… th… th… that's assault.” Tom looked at the Mayor like he had just told him he had ten fingers and toes, “I know that. Now, apologize to my friends and get the fuck out of here.” Nodding jerkily to the bigger man, he turned to the still seated men, “S, S, Sorry.” Then he ducked around Tom and skittered toward the exit, with all the dignity his desperate old ass could muster. Paul figured the odds were even as to whether or not the old bastard soiled his depends. Tom rejoined his friends. Jeff simply shook his head and asked, “What is it with all you guys and authority figures. I don't like the thought of lying to keep you sorry asses out of jail. Tom, if anyone else had heard what you said we’d be bailing your ass out of jail tonight. You're almost as bad as Dave was with our Sheriff.” “Hey! Boss I just said he was a hot looking Daddy.” Turning to bring Sam’s hand to his lips for a kiss, “ Was I right honey lamb?” Sam jerked his hand away and spat, “You know I hate it when you talk that shit to me!" Mellowing even as he spoke, "But, yes, sugar britches, he is one hot Daddy.” Dave shrugged at Jeff as if to say, “See, I told you so.” Their waitress had brought their drinks and had taken their orders. As she counted the money from the Mayor’s table, it was clear that she was unhappy about something. Paul asked, “Melissa, did they stiff you on your tip?” The obvious teenager was embarrassed at being caught grumbling. Paul continued, “I waited tables all through high school. I hated it when I’d provide good service and they'd barely leave enough to cover the check.” Recognizing a kindred spirit Melissa, for once, let her guard down, “It wouldn't be so bad but the Mayor and the Fire Chief do it every time. It's like they count the money on the table and leave just about enough to cover the check. Tonight, looks like the Mayor left nothing and the Fire Chief left next to nothing. They both know I’m saving every dime for college next year. I’ll be the first of my brothers and sisters to graduate high school and the first in my family ever to go to college. “I am so sorry. I never get upset in front of customers. Miss Julie has been so kind helping with my schedule so I don't miss out on many school social functions. She deserves better from her waitstaff than some whiney teenager. Please don't say anything.” Julie came out of the kitchen. One glance at Melissa, “Those bastards did it again, didn't they. I figured they would be too ashamed to stiff my staff tonight, in the company of Jim and Bart, City Council Members. I swear by all I hold sacred, next time they come in, they have to pay in advance. Spread the word, Melissa. I’ll put up a sign at the welcome station for all to see. Better use their names without their titles.” Winking at Jeff, “They won't be in office very much longer.” Surprisingly, dinner conversation was relaxed and pleasant all round. When Melissa presented the check, Jeff paid with a card and left a tip far greater than the bill. It started with Paul. One by one each man slipped a twenty dollar bill under his plate. Jeff, caught up in the spirit tried to hide the two fifty dollar bills he slid under his plate. Paul was the only one to see the amount, but remained silent. Before they walked away Julie pressed a piece of paper into Jeff's hand, conspiratorially she whispered, “You’re gonna want this.” Apparently Melissa began to clear the table as they reached the door. They heard her squeals of delight. For the first time this year Paul felt the Christmas spirit. He was pretty sure the others did too. He also felt the comfort of having armed professionals watching his back. It seemed that one bodyguard ate a bit while the other kept watch. Then the process would be reversed. At all times, one or both were scanning the room, while appearing to be totally engaged in the conversation. Paul was convinced there would be no more unlocked Explorers. They had barely turned onto the farm to market road when the discussion applauding their desserts suddenly quieted. The flashing lights fast approaching from behind silenced everyone. Paul noted subtle movements from both Sam and Dave in the front seat. Dave turned on the Tahoe’s emergency flashers. “Alright bossman my first inclination is to turn around slowly, with the flashers on, and head back to town. We may out number them, but I wasn't speeding and there is no valid reason for this stop. After meeting the Sheriff this morning we have to think this is enemy action.” Jeff spoke almost without thinking, “Slow down but don't stop. Do twenty-five. Paul get Uncle Joe on the phone. Tom, use your phone and start recording this make sure you keep the camera on the patrol car.” Jeff pulled out his phone and dialed 911. “You have reached emergency services. What is the nature of your emergency?” “I am being pursued by a Sheriff’s patrol car and I am in fear for my life. My name is Jeffrey Grant. I am an attorney and I had an altercation with the county Sheriff this morning. I repeat I am in fear for my life.” “What is your location?” After conferring with Tom, Jeff offered their approximate location. Paul in the meantime connected with Joe, Raymond and Ilya. Joe insisted they stay on that road at the reduced speed. Raymond admonished them to use more than one cell phone to record this encounter. Making sure each covered the patrol car as well as occasionally scanning their own speedometer. Joe was talking to the District Judge at his home. Joe, Raymond, Ilya and company would join their convoy ASAP. The patrol car seemed to be getting impatient, indicated by the sporadically squalling siren. ”Mr. Grant the Sheriff's office reports there is no patrol car in your vicinity at this time.” “Well, I can't show you the flashing lights, but I am recording this on my cell phone as we speak. I’m pretty sure you can hear the siren blaring at me. Can you eliminate the highway patrol? I am definitely being chased, at 25 miles an hour, by some vehicle that for the world appears and sounds like a real police car. “I assure you as an officer of the court I am aware that prank calls to 911 are prosecutable offenses. This is not a prank call. My name is Jeffrey Grant and I am in fear for my life. I had…” Jeffrey repeated his plea. “Mr. Grant our Highway Patrolman was having his supper. He is now enroute to your location. He says he is familiar with your situation and suggested you maintain course and speed.” For the first time since the “chase” began, Jeff could see another vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. They were flying low with emergency flashers on. Almost before they past, the vehicle made a three point turn and came screaming up behind the patrol car. At this time the patrol car turned off the flashing lights and sped around the Tahoe. As it passed, even without the flashing lights, the Sheriff’s department markings were clearly visible. As fast as the patrol car pulled away the civilian car was right behind and clearly gaining on it. Jeff was relating all this to the 911 lady. She reiterated there was no Sheriff’s patrol car in his vicinity. Jeff stated that the video date/time stamp and his own eyeballs said someone in the Sheriff’s department was lying. The 911 lady told Jeff they just had another emergency call along his road and asked if he had witnessed an accident. Without answering her he directed Paul to call Uncle Joe. “Dave now is the time for you to show us all how fast this mother can go. Uncle Joe, Uncle Raymond and Ilya may need our help.” Dave didn't wait for Jeff to finish, he simply floored the big V8. As fast as they were going, another set of flashing lights could be seen behind them in the distance, steadily gaining. Jeff was too concerned with the fact that Uncle Joe was not answering his phone. The bile rose in his throat as he thought about another auto accident that happened years ago. Silently he began to pray. Paul could sense his partner's distress. He squeezed Jeff's thigh in an attempt to offer solace. “I read that Teslas are the safest cars ever built. They got five star ratings in all types of collisions." When they came upon the scene it was clear, by the once again flashing lights, that the Sheriff's patrol car had missed the curve and rolled over. The Tesla was parked alongside the road. Also parked alongside the road was a black Suburban. Milling about smartly was a number of Ilya's heavily armed soldaty. Ilya was apparently assisting, who Jeff recognized as, one of the Deputies from this morning’s investigation. Once they parked Jeff and Paul approached Uncle Joe who was standing beside Ilya as they asked the Deputy questions. Jeff quickly ascertained that what he was witnessing was a forced interrogation. Apparently if Ilya was not satisfied with the Deputy’s response to a question, he applied pressure to some injured part of the disarmed Deputy’s anatomy. As soon as Jeff understood what was going on he led Paul away from Joe, Ilya and the Deputy. Ignoring the occasional scream, they walked up to the Suburban where Tink was sitting in the front passenger seat typing away on his ever present laptop. His submachine gun draped over his shoulder, Tink looked up and smiled devilishly as he watched them approach. Jeff thought he looked like an Uzi toting elf. “Ah, Mr. Jeff, Mr. Paul, I have video you must see. You will most definitely think is hot. Dah?” He twisted the laptop so they could see a tall hairy stud violently throat fucking a smaller, slimmer guy. Just when Paul had convinced himself his life and especially this day couldn't get any more bizarre, Tink was showing him gay porn while their chief bodyguard tortured a Sheriff’s Deputy. Then the camera angle on the video changed and the bizarre aspect of his day was suddenly magnified a thousand fold.
  37. 32 likes
    Their embrace lasted a few seconds, ten at most. But a whole lifetime of relief seemed to flow through his frame as he held onto Graham there in the hallway. It could not last forever, though. "Scott, what the hell is going on?" Graham spoke softly into his ear, releasing him so they could look one another in the eye. He shook his head. "Not here." He picked up his things from where he had dropped them on the floor. "Let's go. We can talk later, someplace else. I promise." He wanted to put the place behind him as quickly as possible. But they didn't make their way out of the State Police offices fast enough. Chief Inspector Lovett ran into them in the lobby. "Scotty, is this your friend? The one you're staying with?" The big man seemed almost jovial. He nodded. "Yeah." Lovett turned to Graham. "Would you mind letting me have your name and address, sir?" An old fashioned note pad was proffered, along with a pen. Graham glanced in his direction. He nodded in return, giving his assent. As Graham scrawled, Lovett asked: "Has Scotty told you he is not to leave Fernando County?" "Not yet," Graham returned with raised eyebrows. "But I can be sure he stays in Sand River." He handed the notebook back to Lovett. "You do that. Good night, boys." They passed out of the building and walked into the twilit parking lot in silence. The sun was going down. Graham steered him towards a dark, older model Chevy Suburban. He opened up the rear hatch. "Scotty? Really?" his boyfriend's voice betrayed a trace of irony. He flushed. "I didn't tell him to call me that." "Toss your stuff in the back. Sorry about all the crap in there." "There's room, thanks." "The apartment doesn't have a lot of space, and this seems the best place to put this stuff, and I never…" He stepped up to Graham and silenced his obvious anxiety with a brief kiss. "We can talk once we're on the road. Come on, let's get out of here." There was silence in the big car for a few minutes, as Graham maneuvered into the moderate traffic on the road. The Municipal Safety Plaza where the State Police had their offices seemed to be a busy place. Graham rolled down the windows, letting in the warm, humid air. "Is it okay if I put the windows down?" the taller man asked, perhaps a little anxiously. "It's fine. I like it." He watched Graham drive and appreciated the color of the sky as the day swiftly vanished. "How did you find me?" he finally ventured. "No," Graham grated, "You go first. Tell me what happened. Explain." "I was picked up for questioning." "That's it? They spent their evening asking you questions?" He took a deep breath. This wasn't going to be easy. "My roommate – my ex-roommate – and the guy, Ted, who raped me? They turned up dead." Graham's head snapped around, and the car swerved a moment. "What?" "You heard me. Someone shot them. In the head." He tapped a finger to the middle of his forehead and shuddered. "They think – maybe – that I had something to do with it." Graham was quiet for a moment. "Did you?" The question hurt. But given when he'd told Graham about his earlier life, he could see it might be justified. Maybe. "No. You have to believe me, Gray. You really think I would do that?" "Knowing what they did to you, I'd be pissed enough to hurt them myself." Graham's admission made him feel a little better. "Thanks. Trouble for the police is, I was somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico when it happened." "But you could have arranged it. Paid someone to do it for you." "With what money? I was pretty much broke, and no way would anyone lend me the money for…" he trailed off. He'd been over all this with Lovett earlier. "Yeah, I get it. So they think you shot them? They have any evidence?" "I don't know. If they had anything at all to connect me to the shooting, I probably wouldn't be riding home with you." Graham nodded. He swung the Suburban into a right turn. "I mean, when I was stranded in the fucking University library, I thought up a bunch of incredibly stupid ways to get revenge. But that doesn't mean I actually…" "I get it," Graham said, softly. "So how did you wind up there at the State Police?" "A couple of detectives – no, inspectors – picked me up at the Research Station. They'd tracked me down there, somehow." His head ached. He'd been grilled for hours, and he had a very bad feeling he was missing something important. But the most important thing was that Graham had found him. A warm feeling stole over him. He actually managed to enjoy it for a moment or two. Still, the question nagged at him. "How did you find me?" Graham smiled wryly. "I showed up at the ship early, and you weren't there. I asked around, and someone said they'd seen you drive off in a car with a couple of guys in suits." Who would that have been? Luis? He'd have to thank the man handsomely. Graham was still speaking. "I was pissed off at first. What the hell were you doing leaving me in the dust like that? Then I thought about what you'd told me…about the way you live…or used to live. I thought it might have been something related to that. Guys in suits sounded like police, so I headed over to the Sand River P.D. I showed up, asked if you'd been arrested, and got a blank look. I wonder if they arrest anyone for much in Sand River except DWI or idiot snowbirds who can't see the road signs. The place looked pretty dead." He tried to imagine Graham begging information at the station. It must have been awkward. "The officer on desk duty suggested I drive out to the State Police out there at the Safety Plaza. When they wouldn't answer yes or no to my questions – but told me I could wait to speak with someone – I knew I'd found you." Graham grinned. The man was smart, for an academic. He looked out into deepening darkness. "Thank you for coming for me. For being there." "I'm used to it." Graham shrugged. "I've had a lot of practice in personal tracking with my brother." "What's that mean?" "Hospitals, police stations, mall security offices, I've seen them all with him. When your brother is a user, you learn to look for a person in lots of different places." Graham chuckled ruefully. "You were actually pretty easy to find." "But you didn't have to come find me." "I needed to." "Needed to? Why? Why did you bother tracking me down at all?" "Because I fucking care about you, Scott." Graham spoke sharply, but then he softened his tone. "In case you haven't noticed, Scott, I'm in love with you." He waited a moment for Graham's face to clear, and for his boyfriend to calm down. Then he reached across the center console and took Graham's hand. "I just don't get why. I don't deserve it." "Some observed phenomena defy explanation," Graham replied, trying to lighten the mood. "But current results indicate further research is warranted." His eyebrow went up and the corner of his mouth twitched. This was a side of Graham he loved. He was in love with a nerd. "So, with the police. Did they get you a lawyer? Is that what took so long?" "No. I didn't ask for one. I don't want one." "Wait, wait, aren't they supposed to provide one for you? They can't beat the answers out of you." He chose to remain silent for a few moments. "I just told them everything," he said abruptly. Graham glanced his way, but held his peace. "I cooperated. Gave away my suppliers. Named names." "Why'd you do that?" "Because I love you, too. You made me want to change. I wanted to come completely clean, like you said." "Jesus, but did you wind up making yourself a target?" He shrugged. "I'm safe enough for now. I'd rather keep my promises." "I'd rather have a live boyfriend." He shuddered. He didn't want to think about what could happen if word somehow filtered back to Marquez that he'd been picked up by the police. But Lovett had been explicitly and repeatedly reassuring on the point. "Nothing you say to me will be attributable, unless you are asked to testify, obviously," the Chief Inspector had said. "I'll be okay," he insisted. "We'll be okay," Graham corrected, giving his hand an extra squeeze before releasing it to maneuver the big, heavy SUV through a left turn. We. He liked the sound of that. "Speaking of we, what are we doing for supper?" His stomach growled, stating how empty it was, for emphasis. "Ellie's going to pick us up for supper in about...half an hour," Graham replied, glancing at the car clock. "Did you forget?" "Sorry. Totally spaced it." He shook his head. After the afternoon's ordeal, he was exhausted. He'd felt fresher after some of his wilder parties. "We can cancel, if you want," said Graham diffidently. "No, no, let's go out. What do you have in the fridge, a moldy carrot?" "Two moldy carrots, and a box of Velveeta," Graham laughed. "I didn't have time to get to the grocery store. Too much housecleaning." "You get the spare bedroom all ready?" "Absolutely not," Graham replied. "But I did put clean sheets on our bed," he added with a wicked smile. Our bed. He liked that very much. "Sheets which we can mess up when we get back from supper," he matched Graham's grin. He closed his eyes for what seemed just a moment. He was so very tired. The sensation of the Suburban stopping startled him back to alertness. He heard Graham muttering something. "What'd you say?" he asked, trying to sound awake. "The guy behind me is a little too close, that's all." He turned in his seat and squinted out the back window. He couldn't make out a telltale light bar that would have been the mark of a police car. He breathed a little easier. Graham turned left. "We're not too far. If we're lucky, we'll make it home before Ellie shows up." Thoroughly disoriented, he watched the night sights zip past; mostly long, low buildings and strip developments. They passed a couple of churches with wide open, deserted parking lots. He inhaled the smells of lush growth and road and earth. Streetlights became more frequent. They passed an illuminated sign welcoming them to Sand River. Soon, just near another sign directing them towards the Sand River Senior High School, Graham's turn signal sounded again. The big SUV slowed and turned right onto a small side street. Two blocks later, Graham turned again, left this time, and practically crept down an even narrower residential street, almost overgrown with vegetation. The lights of low, single story houses filtered through the bushes and trees to either side. In a few moments, the brush and trees cleared enough to reveal a low, u-shaped building. Graham pulled into the driveway and parking lot between the two arms of the building. It might have been a motel or something like that in another age. "Home, sweet home," Graham called out as the backed the Suburban into a parking space. "Unit 5, Crystal Sands Apartments." He got out and retrieved his bags from the back while Graham rolled up the windows and secured the car. "Ellie's not here yet, so you can come in and get the grand tour." He followed Graham under an overhanging roof which ran the length of the building to a worn looking green door. A forlorn looking sticker with the number '5' adorned the doorframe. Graham fumbled with the keys a moment and let them inside. The place smelled a more than a little musty, but to be fair, Graham had been gone for five weeks. A light was flipped on. A small, efficient apartment revealed itself. He stood in a fair sized living room. It featured ubiquitously beige colored walls, but Graham had put up some large colorful posters to brighten things up. Sea creatures. Dinosaurs. Dr. Who. "Who did your décor?" he joked. Graham flushed. "So I'm a geek. Get over it." His boyfriend shut the door and drew him into a deep kiss. He responded to it right away, opening for Graham's tongue, hungry for him. He'd been waiting for that kiss all day. He lost himself in Graham's lips and face and scent. He felt Graham's hand running up and down his back, and responded by slipping his own under the hem of Graham's shirt. "No, wait," Graham pulled back, panting a little. "Ellie's going to be here any minute." "She can wait a few minutes," he answered, trying to kiss Graham again. "No, not now," Graham said gently, grinning. "We'll have all night, later." He recognized the wisdom in those words. "Besides, I don't know about you, but I have to use the head." It was almost natural to hear Graham use the nautical term in the apartment. "You go ahead, I can wait." Graham nodded, gave him a brief kiss, then walked through a doorway in the back wall. Graham switched on a light to reveal a bedroom. The bathroom clearly lay beyond. He decided to follow. In the living room, a long sofa of a certain vintage lined the left wall. There was a large armchair to the right and a television in the left corner. A huge floor-to-ceiling bookcase stood against the back wall, stuffed with tomes of every shape and size. Graham obviously read a great deal. A door to the left of the bookcase probably led to the kitchen, but he didn't investigate. He walked into the bedroom, which looked a whole lot neater and cleaner than he'd ever kept his. Another tall bookcase stood on the near wall, and the closed door on the left indicated the bathroom. The centerpiece was a wide king-sized bed. He was definitely looking forward to rumpling its sheets up in a few hours. He grinned. He set down the duffel and backpack next to the bookcase, noting a row of sci-fi fantasy titles. He might have vaguely recognized some of the authors. He heard a sharp knock on the apartment door. "Graham?" he called through the bathroom door. "Someone's at the door. You want me to get it?" He heard water running. "Sure, go ahead. It's probably Ellie. Be right there." He walked out of the bedroom and across the living room as another insistent rap on the door sounded. "Coming, Ellie," he nearly sang as he opened the door, "Graham's in the –" Instead of Ellie's merry blue eyes, he found himself staring down the deep black barrel of a pistol. Bright, dark eyes glittered behind the scrawny arm extended in his direction. He raised his hands. "Oh, hey, Scottie, I've been looking all over for you," the shorter, greasy-haired owner of the Glock began almost conversationally as he stepped into the room, forcing him backwards. Kenny. "What the fuck are you…" "No, Scotty, that's my question," Kenny smiled. "What the fuck are you up to? Hiding from your friends? Bailing out on me?" The pistol never wavered from his forehead. "I was working." "Bullshit. I offered you work, Scotty. Real work, good money. You and I could have done great things together, man. And what did you do? You ran away from poor, old Kenny." "I told you I wasn't interested." "Not interested? How could you not be interested? That really wasn't an option, Scotty. For a little while, I thought maybe you were working for The Russians, and we couldn't have that, could we?" "I never worked for Vassily." Kenny wasn't listening. "And then what did you do? You went and talked to the Staties. You've been a very bad boy, Scotty." "I got picked up. They picked me up for questioning." "I know that. I followed you to their offices; sat in the parking lot for hours, just waiting for you to come out." He kicked himself. He'd never noticed the stupid old Camaro in the lot. The stringy haired little man's lips trembled. "And then you went home with your new boyfriend." The pistol seemed to quiver a moment. "What are you…" "You are supposed to be with me!!" Kenny screamed. "It was me who did your roommate and Golovkin! I took care of them for you!" The grey, rail thin little courier was near psychotic; spit flecked his lips. "Since when did you go and get a new whore, you fucking cheat?" "We weren't ever going to…" "The hell we weren't, Scotty. I had it all planned out, and it was finally going to be beautiful. Beautiful…" The little man's voice trailed off almost wistfully for a moment. "And then you had to fuck it up." His mind was working furiously. He didn't want to die. But Graham... he had to keep Graham out of this. Please, Graham, just stay out of sight. Just stay in the bathroom. "Come on, then, Kenny, let's go. Let's get it over with." He gestured with his head toward the door of the apartment. Kenny grinned nastily. "You think I'm going to shoot you? No, no, no, Scotty, I've got other plans for you." He cringed, but he didn't care what those plans were, as long as Graham was safe. Stay put, Gray! "Scott? What the hell is--" He groaned to himself. Graham had emerged from the bedroom. "Is this your new whore, Scotty?" Kenny sneered. "Don't call him that," he grated. "Who is this?" Graham asked, angrily. "Take one more step, whore, and I put a bullet into Scotty's brain." The pistol remained steady on its target. Graham was still. "Hands behind your head, whore." Kenny barked. In fear, Graham complied. "Now here is what's going to go down, homies," the courier lectured, the words coming out of his mouth sounding hideous, "Scotty, you're going to turn around. Keep your hands behind your head. Slowly." He moved. As much as he disliked staring at the gun barrel, he hated not being able to see what Kenny was doing more. "Okay. The boyfriend here is going to kneel down." Graham hesitated. "Do it! Now!" Graham knelt, just ahead of him, to his left. He could see Graham staring hard, fearlessly back at Kenny. "I'm sorry about this, Gray. I love you." He spoke the words softly and sincerely. "Aww, isn't that sweet?" Kenny's voice dripped with sarcasm. "Too bad you’re going to have to say bye-bye, lovers." "Don't you dare touch him," Graham growled. "Or what? No, you don't get to say jack shit," Kenny scoffed. "Scotty and I are going to take a little ride to see Marquez. That man is gonna have a shitload of questions for you, Scotty. And then, maybe, Marquez is gonna let me have what's left of you, until you scream." There was stunned silence. "So, Scotty, just let me take care of a little business here, and we can be on our way." He sensed a bit of movement behind him. "I don't know who you think you are…" Graham started. "You don't get to know shit, whore. To you, my name is death," intoned Kenny, relishing the chance at melodrama. He heard an unmistakable click. "NO!" He turned, flinging his left arm out blindly, trying to deflect the stupid gun. In the same instant, he heard a loud snap, followed by the loud unambiguous point-blank crack of a pistol, and then Kenny's piercing scream. Then the courier fell into him; off-balance, they both tumbled to the floor. The gun clattered somewhere into a corner. Shit, the scrawny little guy was heavier than he looked. He shoved the screaming courier off of him. Graham. He had to get to Graham. He scrambled toward his boyfriend, his lover, in what seemed like slow motion, only to find himself engulfed in a huge, vice-like embrace. He could feel Graham tremble. Was he crying? Kenny was still whimpering, writhing in agony behind them. He didn't know what happened and he didn't care. He still had Graham. "You're bleeding." Graham said. Graham pulled back and showed him. The large, bony hand that had caressed his neck a moment earlier was smeared in blood. But he didn't feel hurt. Was it really his? Just then, another voice spoke out over them. "Hey, Graham," Ellie's voice sounded shaky, "you left your speargun in my car."
  38. 32 likes
    And we began to plan a wedding and suddenly we had help we didn’t ask for. Everyone had ideas. Sherry, Mary, Rhonda and even Michael and Chuck all had ideas and more surprising there was even ideas from David’s mother, Aunt Judy to me. My mother wanted to help as did Aunt Hilda, which I’m sure embarrassed her husband, Uncle Earl. And since the budget wasn’t really worried about, there were some pretty lofty ideas, but I sensed that David and Sasha wanted a more…quiet service. All the flash and glitter was nice, but it wasn’t legal. David didn’t want a big wedding like Tony’s and mine had been. I felt I could offer help, but this was really David’s and Sasha’s wedding, so I left it all to them. When asked, I gave advice. Like I knew all there was needed for a wedding? They opted for a quiet ceremony at our church. Being a gay church they had done many commitment ceremonies. And Tony was pressing me about the new house. What did I want was his main concern. I gave my usual reply. “I don’t care! As long as you’re there, I don’t care.” I didn’t care what kind of wood the floor had or color, I didn’t care about the color of paint or things like that. I thought it was a bit early as the bridge to our island wasn’t even finished yet. The pipes needed to be run and electricity put out there. Tony wanted the pipes and electricity to run under the bridge and hidden. I hate to admit it, but those last weeks at the hotel were a little bittersweet. That last Friday before our hotel became something else and I’d have all the time in the world, Tony came by the hotel to take me home. This time, he brought the single rose he always sent himself smiling as he walked up. Now no one was surprised at the delivery…or the kiss he gave me unashamed. We had a little party for the employees and the mood was both ways, sad and tearful, yet a little excitement as a new chapter in the lives of those I’d worked with most of the years. Most were applying for their jobs with this new company and hotel. Sasha opted not apply at the new restaurant. I smiled as Alan came over with Kent. “So, this ends a chapter in our lives.” Alan said to me and Tony. “I’ll miss seeing you nearly every day.” Then he grinned. “I’ll miss those great presents you always bring back for me when you jet around the world.” I hugged Alan. “I will always bring you something, even if we aren’t working together anymore.” I even hugged Kent. “I regret we didn’t get to know each other more, but we’ll always keep in touch. Who knows, we might see each other more now that Alan and I aren’t always working together.” Kent chuckled. “I admit I was a little jealous of you where Alan was concerned. You shared a part of him I couldn’t.” “Now, he’s all yours.” I grinned. “As I said, we’ll be around. Just stay connected and we won’t drift apart. You’ve been a great guy to work with, Alan. I’m glad we’re friends.” Now that David and Sasha were joining lives, we had our powers of attorney altered. While Tony and I would remain powers of attorney, we would be second to David. The same for Alik. Alik would be first Sasha’s responsibility and then David. If they weren’t available, it would be Tony and me. Once those papers were signed, David and Sasha were married as Tony and I were. We still had a year to go before the ceremony, after David graduated. It was at dinner again when we all met again at the table. “Well, I’ve signed up and been accepted at the Cordon Bleu in Atlanta.” Sasha said smiling. “I begin in the fall.” He grinned at Alik. “And you will stay here with Daddy David, Uncle Mitch and Uncle Tony.” Alik nodded a little sad. “You said you’d come home on weekends.” He said in Russian, understanding English better, but still replied in Russian. Sasha nodded at Alik. “This is for both of us.” Sasha said in Russian, but David’s clearing of his throat caused Sasha to smile. “Sorry, the three of us.” He grinned at me. “So, what are you planning to do with all this time?” David was understanding Russian a lot more now. I shrugged. “I have no idea. Tony keeps asking about plans for the house which we can’t get to until the bridge is fixed. I don’t want to look for a job if we’re going away a while.” Tony touched me arm. “You don’t have to get a job.” I nodded. “I know, but I’ll be crazy without something to do.” Then I grinned at Tony. “And that will make you crazy, trust me.” David chuckled. “You could be like some of those other rich wives in New York. Do charity work in the morning, have lunch with the other girls and get your hair done! Remember that movie…To Wong Foo? A day with the girls or something?” “Do I strike you as someone’s rich wife?” I growled at David and swatted him on the arm. “As Tony and I are the owners, you’re just staying here as our guest, I could throw you out.” Making Alik chuckle as he saw us interact. David just laughed at that. “But I mean it about the charity thing.” He defended. “There are hundreds of charities you can work with. Everything from cancer to AIDS, LGBT causes…” Tony nodded. “I know you’ll find something to do.” I watched as he did something he never did, he winked at me. Sasha had moved back upstairs since he got better and Tony and I were back in our room for now. I grinned as Tony came from the bathroom, shirtless wearing just pajama bottoms. This man aroused me just being him. He pulled back the covers sliding in beside me. “I was thinking…” Tony began with a smile. “I was thinking….since you don’t have to be back any particular time now…we can head up to New York!” He leaned closer kissing me gently. “Take in a show or two, check in on Nick and our nephew David and see what havoc their wreaking on Kathy and Al.” I pulled him even closer. “That would be nice.” I smiled again at the warmth of my husband, the feel of him against me. “Now, if you can just take off those pajama bottoms.” Tony grinned raising the cover to see I was already naked. “I’m overdressed, aren’t I?” He chuckled. I nodded. “Just a tad.” I flipped him on his back. “But I’ll take care of it.” I smiled raising his arms up over his head. “Just relax.” Tony smiled back. “I always do with you.” He chuckled as I did my progression down his chest, into his armpits and down further as I pulled his pajama bottoms off. The smell again working its magic as I was very, very aroused. “I love you, Tony.” I said taking him in with practiced ease. “I know you do.” Tony muttered inhaling quickly as the pleasant sensations sent messages to his brain. “I love you.” I smiled. “I know you do.” I inhaled again letting his musk work again. “This never gets old.” During the afterglow, Tony’s lips worked my neck as he was spooned up behind me. “You need to brush up on Australia and New Zealand.” Afterglow or not, I spun around. “What? When?” Tony grinned like the Cheshire Cat! “Middle of October till the middle of November.” “The Queen Mary!?” “The Queen Mary.” He nodded. “We’ll be there in their spring, I don’t know the weather there, but I imagine it’s warm.” He grinned. “I’m sure there’s a nude beach or two.” His eyebrows danced at the idea as he rolled us over so he was looking down at me. I sat up. “I’ll find out! How long is the cruise?” “Three weeks.” Tony smiled again wider. “I figured a week before to get used to the time difference…” he shrugged a nod. “…we go down and see Sydney.” I shook my head. “How are you doing this? You’ll be away from work a month!” “So? Most of what I do is on the Internet and they have that down there. Any calls needed I can do. I’ll be fine. The Stock Market can be viewed down there.” He chuckled. “I can even say it’s for research. International Business.” He wrapped his arms around me tighter again. “We’ll spend a week in Sydney, go to Coogee Beach or anywhere you want for a week. Then board the Queen Mary, celebrate yours and my birthdays being waited on like kings.” He said kissing me again. “I’ve lied to you, Tony.” I frowned as I confessed very solemnly. Tony’s eyebrow rose. “Lied? You? Do you even know how?” He chuckled. “That’s say something true that isn’t, you do know that?” “I always said things like this didn’t impress me.” I smiled. “I AM IMPRESSED!!!” But I looked at him closely. “But you know it’s you I love.” He was laughing. “Beyond the shadow of any doubt!” He kissed me and then brightened. “We are rich, you know? You are rich.” I nodded. “I know, it’s a hard thing for me to accept, but we are. I hate how I got it, but yes, I am.” “Oh!” Tony brightened. “We can squeeze a trip to Milan again! To get clothes for the trip!” Then he narrowed his eyes. “And none of that shit about the cost, okay? I won’t over spend, but we’ll spend. It’s our money and there’s a good part of it that is in the bank because of you. You could finance the whole thing! This is going to be a great trip!” I looked as he leaned down kissing me. “Which one?” “All of them!!” Tony said happily. "I want to show you the world!"
  39. 31 likes
    Jeff grabbed his shoulder feigning injury. “You know there are laws addressing domestic violence, even in Texas.” Taking Paul's hand in his, looking deeply into those soft brown eyes he admitted, “I had to do something. When I saw him go for his gun, I didn't think. I just knew I couldn't let him hurt you. You’ve changed my life, for the better, in so many ways. For the first time in a long time I belong to a family again. My life doesn't mean much without you in it. Loving Maria is a given. I will always love and cherish her. But, our lives would be desolate without you.” Paul gripped Jeff's hand a little tighter. “I don't really think you're a dumbshit. I just… I mean… In books and movies heroes always swear to lay down their lives to protect the ones they love. You didn't say it. You did it! How do I say thank you for something like that?” Paul didn't notice, but Jeff saw when Dave, who was driving, laid his hand palm up on the center console. Then he watched as Sam interlocked their fingers. Somehow, that simple act spoke of more love than what’s expressed in all of Shakespeare's love sonnets. “You can say ‘Thanks’ for trying to save your life, but tell me, would you have done any less for me?” With his brown eyes misting, “Jeff I don't know what I wouldn't do for you. “Since I met you, life… my life has changed so much. I had never seriously harmed another human being. Even playground fights were started by others. I had expected to be overwhelmed with guilt after shooting that bastard. All I feel is that the universe is a better place without him. I would do it again if it meant protecting the ones I love, Maria and you. “As for the Sheriff, he was a bad man too. Although, I’m not really convinced he would have shot me. I am glad I didn't have to find out, but still, I wonder.” “Babe, the Sheriff had every intention of shooting you. He wasn't carrying those loaded guns and drugs in his trunk for some high school show and tell. He intended to kill all of us on that back road. “Drawing on what I learned from both of my psych courses, he was going to kill us because we humiliated him and because we represented what he hated so much about himself. He hated being gay. In some twisted way, I think killing us would’ve helped justify his own self hatred. He is… was a classic example of a homophobe who was outwardly manifesting his own lack of self acceptance.” Paul brought his other hand over to clasp Jeff's between his, “Hon, let's make a pact, Ok? I’ll give up my sappy gay soap opera dialogue, if you give up sophomoric psychoanalysis. Deal?” Jeff, at first looked confused. Then recalling he had accused Paul of using dialogue from gay soap operas, he smiled. “Well, it’ll be your loss. You never know when my spot on psychological observations could be crucial in helping you heal some critically ill farm animal. Besides, what if, years from now, I decided to take up watching gay soaps? You’d be right there by my side watching them with me. Meaning, you would have given up nothing. You’ve got to up the ante if you're looking to make a deal. How about you become my love slave, then i’ll give up my very perceptive, in depth, psychoanalytical observations. Now, that's what I call a deal.” Sam interrupted with, “Jeff, Paul, Fred just told us that Rosarita fixed some tortilla soup and sandwiches for their lunch. He wants to know if we are heading there or should he put away the leftovers?” Jeff looked at Paul. Once their eyes met they nodded. Jeff turned back toward the front, pulled out his phone and said. “Tell him we're going to have lunch with Maria and Aunt Mellie” A quick phone call to Aunt Mellie set them up for lunch. Joe had already told her about the Sheriff. She insisted Jeff put the phone on speaker so she could hear both her boys tell her they were alright. By the time she let them hang up they were almost in the drive. She and Maria meet them at the door. Maria's enthusiasm in greeting them was bounded only by Jeff's and Paul's efforts to shield their balls. Mellie's greeting seemed only slightly less enthusiastic and a great deal less threatening to their manhood. Already the house was filled with caterers and extra help getting ready for tonight's festivities. Paul expressed regrets at their imposing upon Mellie by having to entertain them for lunch when she had to prepare for a huge turnout in just a few hours. He insisted they take Maria for lunch at the diner. Mellie looked at Paul sternly, for the first time, “We’ll have no more of that nonsense. When Maria, Jeff and you eat here, I am not ‘entertaining’. I am simply feeding my family.” Glaring at Sam and Dave, as if to prevent any argument, she stated, “Right now that includes you two.” Nodding emphatically! She ended the discussion. “Y’all can take turns cleaning up in the hallway bathroom or Jeff can show you to the guest rooms. Rosa is never far away from having something ready to serve. She heard me talking to Jeff earlier and insisted she would have a proper lunch ready by the time y’all arrived. She is a godsend and the only person this side of heaven who can prepare coffee to your Uncle Joe’s liking. I never could stand the stuff, but Joe can't start his day until he's had his second cup. “Now go cleanup and come on in the kitchen and grab a seat. Maria's been dying to tell her daddies what all we found in Abilene.” Neither Jeff nor Paul were especially hungry. They just filled up on being with people that loved them unconditionally. And Maria, in all her youthful innocence, fit the bill perfectly. Mellie’s nurturing nature also went a long way in easing their anxiety over the morning’s events. Later they would talk about how that lunch “recharged” their humanity. For once, Paul felt he might understand a soldier’s suffering as he tries to cope with PTSD. Jeff just tried to downplay his joy that Paul had come away unscathed from two life threatening situations, in as many days. Maria overflowed with effervescent delight as she described many of the outfits, each piece of furniture and the area rugs they had purchased the day before. It reminded Jeff that he and Paul had to get some guys to help clear out “Maria's” room. They might have to wait until after the holidays to arrange for painters. Jeff finally admitted it was time to claim the master suite for Paul and himself. He knew his parents would have approved. Maybe if they bought a new mattress it wouldn't feel too creepy, making love in his parents bed. The thought made him shudder, just a little. Raymond called Jeff to let them know the town was flooded with network as well as cable news vans. He cautioned them that it wouldn't be long before they tried to get onto the ranch. Ilya was already stepping up perimeter security by manning all the gates. All news people were to be barred automatically. His men at the gates were to get authorization from the appropriate house before granting any vehicle access. No one without the local zip code on their driver’s license would even warrant a call to the appropriate house. He relayed that Ilya insisted they travel in the heavily tinted Suburbans as a precautionary measure. After enjoying lunch they loaded up some of Maria's clothes and headed out to Jeff's place. Maria recognized a couple of satellite vans and wanted to know why television was at her Aunt Mellie and Uncle Joe’s place? Jeff took her hand and said,”Well Princess, remember that man in the stable, who said those bad things about your daddy?” Jeff paused. Once Maria nodded, he continued, “That man tried to shoot your daddy, but he got shot instead.” With a quizzical expression Maria asked, “But who shot him?” A loud voice from the driver's seat interrupted, “I did, Princess.” Dave stated as he realigned his rear view mirror to catch Maria's reflection. “He was going to shoot your daddy. I had to stop him. That's my job as well as Sam’s, to protect all three of you.” Satisfied, Maria smiled warmly at Dave's eyes reflected in the mirror. “Thank you, Mister Dave for doing your job so my Daddy's didn't get hurt.” Jeff and Paul shared a meaningful glance above Maria’s head. Paul dropped his hand Dave's shoulder, “Thanks Dave, for saving me, again.” Dave grinned and nodded in understanding, “Anytime.” There were no news vans at the cattle crossing leading to Jeff’s… their place. Two men were standing in front of a couple of saw horses. One was a ranch hand that Jeff knew by name and Paul had met but didn't know well enough to remember his name. The other was one of Ilya's men that knew Sam and Dave. Dave couldn't let it pass. He had to ask, “Are those sawhorses covered in Christmas gift wrapping paper?” The soldat blushed a little, “It was Fred’s girlfriend’s idea. She insisted it was bright and shiny and would make them more visible and…” That last bit drifted off in a muted mumble. Dave knew the man well enough, “Jim, I didn't catch that last part you said. Can you repeat that a little louder.” On the last phrase, he raised his voice for emphasis. Jim said, much louder, “I said she insisted. Said it was in keeping with the season.” Jim was in a full on blush. Paul burst out laughing not at the sawhorses but at the thought of a professional bodyguard being embarrassed at the idea of having to shoot someone for breaking through a Christmas barricade. No one else seemed to get the joke. That didn't stop his tears of laughter. In futility he tried to explain the joke. He convinced himself that they all thought it was funny, but simply refused to let on that they got it. Though Maria's look was the one she wore when she seemed convinced her father was from another planet. In spite of having the day off, Rosarita met them at the door. She exclaimed as she took the party dress that Maria was carrying like some holy relic. It was white with crimson lace overlaying the bodice. The skirt started out white at the waist then with lace overlayers it melded from light pink into crimson at the knee length hem. Starting at the right side of the neckline a single gold star seemed to spray an expanding trail of smaller gold stars until fully half the front hem was star covered. The back was adorned the same way, so that when she twirled, she appeared to be amidst shooting stars. The finishing touches were a crimson star studded tiara and star spangled, crimson slippers. She wanted to change to show the full effect, but Paul insisted she wait until after she napped and then she could show them after she bathed and dressed for the party. Rosarita assured her she would be there to help her get dressed and do her hair. Paul was impressed when she laid down without complaint. However, he was not surprised when she began to bargain for a later bedtime because of the get together. Paul insisted they would discuss it later. By the time Paul rejoined the adults in the family room, the cable news was all over the Sheriff's shooting. The State’s Attorney General had arrived by helicopter and had made a statement to the effect that he had been briefed by local authorities and some eyewitnesses to the shooting. Pending further investigation there would likely be no charges filed against those lawmen involved. Jeff happily pointed out Joe, Raymond and Jubal Harshaw standing just behind acting Sheriff Daniel Lovan. The Mayor was conspicuously absent. The Attorney General added, his office would be conducting an official investigation into any court prosecuted cases under the deceased Sheriff's purview. He expressed his gratitude to acting Sheriff Lovan for his promise of complete support from both himself and his department during the upcoming investigation. Tink had texted a link to an Abilene tv station which featured an interview with a much recovered Mayor. The Mayor read a statement that his presence at the shooting of the Sheriff was a result of a happenstance invitation from the Sheriff. He had no prior knowledge nor real interest in the investigation of the shooting of a local resident. When pressed he clarified, “Of course I am interested, I mean concerned when any citizen of our town is involved in a shooting. Just not that kind of citizen.” Pressed harder, he continued, “You know those people involved were fags… I mean homosexuals!”He spat it out, as though it physically pained him to say the word. “The shooting was precipitated by jealousy.” When he said that last part, he physically shuddered. “Of course I had no idea beforehand that those kind of people were involved. My being present at the Sheriff's shooting was mere happenstance.” He went on to state that his relationship with the Sheriff was strictly professional. He barely knew the man well enough to say hello when they met. Apparently one of the reporters knew better. When cornered he admitted that Sheriff Johnson had been his sister’s nephew by marriage and that they had attended the same church for most of their lives. And yes it was true that he had officially endorsed Johnson in his only bid for county Sheriff. Yes, they had shared a meal occasionally at the local diner. It was true that the Sheriff had been a guest in the Mayor’s home a few times. But, he insisted, all that didn't mean theirs was anything but a strictly professional relationship. The consensus within the family room was that the Mayor should look for a new line of work. Especially since, having reached a consensus amongst Joe, Raymond, Jeff and Paul, Tink had anonymously emailed copies of “Bad Daddy Sheriff” porn to each City Council member. With the subject line “Whose Mayor held the camera?” Paul had insisted that Deputy Harris’ face be blurred. He wasn't convinced that the Deputy was completely innocent, but he had appeared to be a victim in the videos. It was the only way Paul could feel comfortable releasing the videos. The truth was, there was no evidence a third person was present when the videos were recorded. Jeff and Paul excused themselves and went down the hall to take a nap. Inside Jeff's old room they stripped down and climbed into bed. Jeff laid on his back and Paul rested his head on Jeff's shoulder. Toying with his chest hair, he asked Jeff, “Are our lives together always going to filled with such drama? I mean… I feel like i’ve aged ten years in the last two days. Don't get me wrong, I’d do it all over again just to have you in our lives, it's just that I’ve always lived such a quiet life. Do you have any objections to settling down, without guns strapped to our sides, with just Maria and me?” Jeff took a deep breath, “Babe, I don't know what our lives will be like. My life, up to this point, has been mostly average too. Except for the being rich part. I was never spoiled, I had to work on the ranch for spending money since I was twelve. I didn't know we were rich until I was a freshman in high school. I can't say it hasn't made a difference, I’m sure it has. I never had to worry about money for college or anything. The only expensive thing I have ever bought is the car I have in Chicago. I paid for that with money I earned as an attorney. “As for drama? Trust me, these last couple of days are as far from the norm for me as they have been for you. Like I said before, when I came home this time, I was ready for a change. After falling for you like a rock, I figured I’d quietly settle into being a rancher with you by my side and we’d raise our Princess together. Now it seems we are the poster boys for gay Texas. Combine that with Uncle Joe getting involved in local politics and I can't guarantee our lives will be quiet. But, I can guarantee you one thing and that is that no matter what kind of life we lead, I will be by your side.” Jeff wasn't sure how much Paul had heard, but by the time he paused for a response he could barely hear Paul softly snoring. He yawned, relaxed and drifted off to join his lover in dreamland. Paul had heard what Jeff had to say even if the last few words were somewhat muffled. Now, the sun had gone down and he was awake and feeling refreshed. Checking the time he knew they should be getting up to shower and dress for the get together. It would be unseemly not to arrive early enough to at least offer to help. He had awakened in the same position in which he had fallen asleep. Jeff's massive erection was taking up most of Paul's field of vision. He grinned at the thought of what he could with that thick stalk of flesh and how much pleasure it would bring both of them. Instead of giving into temptation, he scooted out of bed and loudly called Jeff's name. It took a lot of self control not to crawl back into bed and awaken his mate with some oral loving. Maybe they could compromise with a long, hot shower. Once he was sure Jeff was awake he slipped on jeans and a shirt and went to awaken Maria. Even at her tender age she took more time to simply get dressed than did her father. He was pleasantly surprised to find Rosarita had already gotten Maria to bathe and was doing her hair. Paul came back into Jeff's old bedroom to find Jeff laying in the middle of the bed stroking his cock. Stripping his clothes off he offered, “It's getting late. We need to hurry. If you join me in the shower we can help each other out. If you stay in bed, you're on your own. Paul snickered as he watched Jeff scurrying off the bed and into the bathroom, with his hardon proudly leading the way. Later, two satiated lovers met the rest of their group in the family room. Paul thought the other two couples looked smugly satisfied. He shrugged off his suspicions and focused on his beautiful daughter. Her blonde curls seemed to set off her sparkling brown eyes. He was awed by how pretty she really was. The tiara, dress and slippers combined to make look like a real live Princess. Jeff said out loud what Paul was thinking. “Darling you look like a for real live Princess. I am truly sorry that we don't have a red carpet for you to walk on or a real carriage for you to go to the ball in. Stand by the fireplace and let me take your picture.” Maria was delighted by the attention she received from her daddies as well as the rest of the group. She was less than thrilled when both her daddies insisted she wear a coat on the ride to the party. She insisted a coat would “spoil the look” she was going for. Somehow Fred had the night free to attend the festivities with Rosarita. Jeff and Paul both suspected Rosarita had a hand in arranging Fred's schedule. Wisely they kept those opinions between the two of them. Jeff gave Fred the keys to the Tahoe so he could properly escort Rosarita. Maria insisted she ride with Rosarita. She wound up riding with her daddies after Rosarita promised to provide any last minute touch ups to Maria's hair and makeup once they arrived. Paul was livid at the thought of his child wearing makeup until Rosarita privately assured him it was only some lightly applied foundation. He asked Jeff to remind him later to Google “foundation makeup”. Jeff was pretty blasé about the makeup until he began to think in terms of Maria as his not quite six year old daughter. Suddenly he knew damn well that soon they both would both be googling “foundation makeup”. Joe and Mellie greeted everyone at the door already dressed in their finery. Mellie was dressed in an elegant A-line crimson and lace cocktail dress that had obviously been chosen with Maria's dress in mind. They were wearing the same knee length style with some similar coloring, Mellie's was sans stars and tiara. Joe, like Jeff and Paul, wore a button down shirt with a bolo tie and a leather blazer. Everyone was ushered into the family room. Although Paul had been in this room numbers of times, he had never seen it expanded to it's current size. He had begged off the other two times he had been invited to the get together. Tonight, walls on either end, made up of bookcases, had been folded back to open up two other rooms. Now, Paul thought it looked like some gigantic hotel ballroom, complete with chandeliers. Bars were set up at either end. Ample seating lined the perimeter, while the center was cleared for dancing. A four piece combo was tuning up around the baby grand piano that was placed against the wall near the center of the dance area. Jeff knew tonight's music would range from light jazz and pop to the classics… of country music. Mellie, Rosarita and Maria went off to do girly things while Joe asked Jeff and Paul to join him in his office. Joe came right to the point. “We need to select our candidate for Mayor as soon as possible. This clod isn't going to last through the investigation even if, by some miracle, he avoids indictment. We need to take a serious look at the City Council members. I think one of them will most likely be the next Mayor. I need you two to try and sound each of them out tonight. We need to get the ball rolling tonight if we're going to find the right candidate. Our next Mayor has to be a good man who wants what's best for the citizens and his community.” No one had noticed they had company until, “Why can't you be Mayor? You're a good man, Uncle Joe.” Then turning to Paul she asked, “what's a moon tea?” While Paul pulled Maria into his lap to define ‘moon tea’, Jeff engaged his Uncle, “She’s right you know. You’ve been looking for the right man, when every credential you credit him with is one you already possess. You have integrity, you’re honest, open and caring. Plus you could return the Mayor's salary to the city coffers. You already have ongoing projects that will bring in more jobs. Who better to coordinate with city government than the head of the Adams Family, who just happens to be the Mayor. It makes perfect sense. Why didn't we think of it before?” Leaving his Uncle to get used to the idea, Jeff moved closer to Paul, still holding Maria. “Princess, not only are you beautiful, but you must surely be a genius. That means you are very intelligent.” This last he emphasized with a loud and sloppy kiss to her cheek. Maria was giggling as Jeff's wiggling fingers threatened to tickle her mercilessly. Paul ignored their antics to address Joe. “He is right you know. There is no one better suited to the job. You have a good heart and a strong sense of what is right. You are a practical man with the foresight needed to plan ahead. Once Raymond, Danny and Aunt Mellie get wind of this you're all but elected… Congratulations Mr. Mayor!” Joe looked like he had the most bitter taste ever in his mouth. Once the party was well under way, Paul was a little overwhelmed by the attention strangers paid him. Most expressed sympathy about the fire, horror at the kidnapping, backslapping enthusiasm at the shooting, or utter amazement at his having survived the crazed Sheriff's attempt to kill him. He was somewhat relieved when his fellow veterinarians T.R and David, along with their son DJ, arrived. They, unlike most folk, seemed to have complete and actual facts regarding the events of his last few days. It was a refreshing change to be able to discuss more important aspects of life such as parenting, elementary school, getting kids to eat and most embarrassing moments in the lives of young parents. T.R. was the clear winner in that last topic. It seems on their last visit back home, his father entertained the adults of the family by relating what his five year old grandson had described to him as “naked daddies wrestling”. Laughter drew the attention of those around them, and soon they were in the midst of a dozen young parents discussing the one thing all of them had in common, children. Paul enjoyed hearing that most of them shared similar fears and foibles. Jeff was a like new convert, feeling slightly overwhelmed and yet eager to accept the challenges. As soon as DJ had shown up Maria deserted her daddies for some more age appropriate company. Besides, there was a supervised room for children under twelve complete with games, snacks and videos. There was also a room set aside and manned as a nursery. Maria was determined to visit the nursery with the real live babies. DJ was not so enthusiastic saying his Maria had been babysitting her relatives babies for as long as he could remember. Babies were alright sometimes but mostly they just made noise and stunk. Nonchalantly, he informed Maria that he was going to have a baby brother soon enough and maybe she could come over to play with him and his little brother. Maria agreed enthusiastically, but made a mental note to ask her daddies how two men got pregnant and delivered a baby. By virtue of her being an only child of a single parent veterinarian, she had seen enough animal husbandry to understand breeding and birthing. Paul relaxed when he realized no one would dare be openly hostile toward him tonight, certainly not in Joe's house. Still there were a few who made it clear they were not sympathetic to him or his kind. It wasn't hard to single them out. They would turn their backs or cut an obviously wide swathe in avoiding Paul or any group he might be chatting with. Those same people didn't seem to realize that he and Jeff were a couple. While they were trying to avoid Paul, they were trying to gain Jeff's attention. When Paul pointed this out to Jeff, his lover had the perfect solution. Jeff took Paul's drink and handed it to T.R. Then he led Paul onto the dance floor and led them through a spritely Texas two step. At first there seemed to be a collective gasp from the crowd. Then Joe and Mellie, Fred and Rosarita, as well as Sam and Dave joined in the dance. Soon the crowd seemed to relax and several “straight” same sex couples joined them on the dance floor. T.R. and David smiled broadly as they “boot scooted” by. After a couple of traditional two steps the quartet played a soft, slow number which suited Jeff and Paul just fine. Paul was surprised to see that most of the “straight” same sex couples simply adjusted their steps and folded into each other's arms. The food was good and plentiful, the booze was free, and the music was tolerable. It was time for folks to let their hair down and have a good time. Raymond had latched onto the idea of his Uncle Joe becoming Mayor like a sprung bear trap. He, being a hometown boy made good, was well received by everyone. Before the booze was even loosening up the crowd, he had planted the seed with three City Council members. Less than an hour later they had each approached Joe with what was presented as their own idea, that he should run for Mayor. This of course was based on their very likely suspicion that a special election would soon be called. No one mentioned the “Whose Mayor is holding the camera?” videos. Joe appeared to be humbled by the notion they thought he could be a potentially successful candidate. Raymond was pretty sure Uncle Joe would surprise more than a few folks with his managerial and leadership skills. Wearing a broad smile he scanned the crowd of holiday revelers. Everyone seemed in good spirits even those he knew to be homophobic wore smiles, even if somewhat subdued. Raymond was surprised their faces hadn't melted like candle wax at the sight of same sex couples dancing. As he continued to peruse the room, his eyes fell upon the newly appointed Sheriff Lovan. Even out of uniform he presented a striking figure of a man. He was reminded of an old Chuck Berry tune “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” How stupid had he been trying to recapture one of his most erotic memories, by treating Daniel like the teenager he had been, instead of the masculine ideal he was today. In a well fitted suit and tie, Sheriff Lovan caught the eye of most the women in the room. Raymond was confident the man was gay and at least somewhat attracted to him. Figures he would be closeted as a lawman in a small town, especially in Texas. That didn't bother Raymond; while he didn't display rainbow flags, pins, tee shirts or stickers, he never denied being gay. He was sure more than a few people here knew he was gay. He certainly hoped Daniel wasn't leading on some woman with false hope. Even if he did, it wasn't any of his business. He had fucked up royally the last time he approached Daniel. In the few instances in which they had interacted since the blow up, they had both been totally professional. No one could tell there had ever been even a spark of lust between them. Raymond watched as Daniel worked the room. He was attentive to anyone who approached him, but never stayed too long with anyone or any group. He watched as Daniel smoothly sought out and thanked the County Judge and the County Commissioners who appointed him. Raymond was impressed as Daniel made casual conversation and seemed to leave everyone he spoke with smiling. Raymond clinically observed, ‘the man was a naturally gifted politician’. Raymond jumped, almost spilling his drink, as the voice behind him pulled him from his reverie. “You know, he's going to catch you if you don't quit following him with your eyes.” Joe tugged on Raymond’s shoulder so they were facing each other. “Why don't you go over and try again. Just try not to come across as such an asshole. Try apologizing before you step on your dick again. You insulted the man as well as the uniform he proudly wears. “He’s been keeping tabs on you tonight as well over the years. He’s just better at not getting caught. Think about it Son, how would he know where you live or what you drive if he wasn't interested, at least enough to find out. Do like I do with Mellie when I mess up. Beg for forgiveness. You don't have to buy jewelry or anything, but do something nice. Now, go on, there's no time like the present.” Joe slapped Raymond on the back and shoved him lightly in Daniel’s direction. Raymond diverted to the nearest bar and ordered two drinks. Timing it so Danny was just leaving the group he was speaking with, Raymond proffered the drink, “Club soda over ice with a slice of lime? That's what you been drinking, right? I owe you several apologies and at least one to the uniform you wear. Can I bend your ear for a moment... privately?” Daniel stared at the drink dubiously, as though it might be sending the wrong message if he accepted. “I don't think that would be in our mutual best interests. Anything you have to say you can say it here and now. I’d rather we keep it strictly professional.” Raymond could tell he had a snowball’s chance in hell of building a relationship with Daniel. At least he could apologize. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was so flippant with you the other day. I was… quite frankly, scared. I knew I’d hurt you years ago. My attraction was so strong and you were underage, I didn't trust myself to be around you, much less be alone with you. When you stopped coming to the ranch, I knew it was to avoid seeing me. “Later, as the years passed, I figured you had moved on from that teenage crush. When I saw you and felt a spark, I was thrilled. It was plain stupid that I approached you as the teenager with a crush that I remembered, instead of the strong, handsome, intelligent, professional that you have become. Even if you forgive me, I will always regret having done that. I won't bother you again.” Having said his piece, Raymond turned to go. As he started to walk away, a hand reached out and grabbed his arm, “Where are you going? I thought you bought me a drink. The least you can do is stay and talk a while.”
  40. 31 likes
    "Does that sound like a plan?" Graham was smiling, sitting on a chair jammed into a too-small table with Ellie and himself in the mess area. It was lunchtime, and a scratch meal of thrown-together leftovers had been picked over by the scientific party and the crew. The atmosphere on board the Feigenbaum was a little feverish as everyone anticipated the ship's arrival at Sand River early in the afternoon. Nearly everyone was looking forward to a real meal on shore and looked askance at the offering in the mess area. The plan in question had to do with how Graham would come to collect him and his gear from the Feigenbaum later in the afternoon. "So how is this going to work?" Ellie asked. "Scott has to stay here and finish with the ship after it docks," Graham explained. "Harbor duties," he put in. Graham went on. "As soon as we can disembark, you drive me to my apartment and drop me off there," he said to the big blond girl. "Sure, that's okay, but –" "And then around five o'clock or so, I'll come back in my own car and pick up Scott." "You sure you know what you're doing, Scott?" Ellie asked. "Graham's kind of a mess." He nodded and smiled. "Yeah, I think so." For the first time in a long while, he felt a sense of ease, a sense of contentment. Something was turning out the way it was supposed to. "Good. Because if you break Graham's heart, I'm going to have to kill you." Ellie said that with a smile, but he wondered if the big blond amazon might not really be able to break him in half. She looked pretty strong. "Now what about supper plans?" "It might take an hour or two for Scott to get cleaned up and settled in…" Graham began. Ellie snorted. "Yeah, right. An hour or two? It's not that far from the Research Center to your apartment, Graham. You really need an hour to…oh." She came to an abrupt stop. Graham glared at her. "Why don't you stop by my place around seven-thirty or so, and we can go out to eat?" "Sure you won’t be hungry sooner, Scott?" the girl snickered, turning to him. "Seven-thirty works for me," he said, narrowing his eyes and returning her smile. "Right," said Graham, standing. "Let me clear all this stuff up." The tall researcher collected plates and cups and walked over to the galley area. "I can't believe I've been calling you 'Wally' for four weeks. Why didn't you tell me your actual name?" the big girl asked him. He shrugged. "Didn't seem worth it to contradict Cookie." "So why tell Graham?" "Because. Graham's different." How could he make her understand Graham affected him as nobody else had ever done? Ellie laid her hand on his, and looked him squarely in the eye. "I meant what I said. You be good to Graham. Don't hurt him." "You don't have anything to worry about. I won't." He was just as sincere as Ellie. The little party broke up soon after that. There was still packing and work to do. At one thirty-seven in the afternoon, the Feigenbaum docked at the Marine Research Center, twenty-three minutes ahead of schedule. Not long after, the scientific party began to disembark. There was more gear and luggage to carry off the ship than there had been in January, so the process was a little slower than with the previous cruise. He was doing galley stowage and going over checklists when Graham and Ellie reappeared. Both scientists were weighed down with bags and equipment. Graham had his duffel slung over his square shoulders, while his hands carried a large plastic tub full of what appeared to be racks of samples and sample collection bottles. Ellie had her own personal equipment, plus a milk crate full of rock samples and a number of items piled precariously on top, including what looked like Graham's speargun. Graham set his tub down on a table. "Okay, we're off. You all set?" He came around the counter and wrapped Graham in a hug. "Will be. See you around five, right?" "Yeah. Around five." "Awww," Ellie sounded in the background, "you two…But you boys will have plenty of time for that later. Come on, Graham, if I know you, there's a whole lot of housecleaning to do." He didn't want to, but he released Graham and smiled. "See you in a few hours. Go clean your room." "Yes, Mom," his boyfriend snickered. He hoisted his duffel and samples, while Ellie did her best to maneuver her articles to the hatchway. She must have stumbled under her load, because he heard Graham call out, "Hey, watch out for the speargun! You'll shoot your eye out" And then they were gone to the sound of laughter. He returned to his checklists. Cookie had given him plenty to inventory; the Purser would want final reports on the status and condition of the Feigenbaum's cargo and equipment. These, he knew, would be used to make a valuation of the ship's stores for accounting purposes. Somehow, the maritime accounting would have to be reconciled with the University's bean-counters. He chuckled at the thought. He worked steadily through the forms Cookie had given him, and had them finished by mid-afternoon. "Hey, Cookie, I got your reports here," he said, returning to find the Purser seated at a table in the galley area, a mess of papers in front of him. "Thanks, Wally, put 'em in here," the Purser indicated a plastic carryall at his feet. He found the appropriate folder and added them to the sheaf. "While you're here, why don't I get you paid off?" Cookie went on. He straightened up and cocked an eye at the older man. "End of cruise. Everyone shows up in another half hour to get paid. In the old days, it would be cash, but now, all I do is write a bunch of checks." Cookie riffled through a stack of envelopes. The Purser picked one out, handed it to him, and then marked off his name on a clipboard. "Here. You’re done." "But Cookie, there must be something else you – " "Nope. Go on. Get outta here. Go clean up, pack your bags, and vamoose. You got two whole days to whoop it up before you show up to classes on Monday." He fingered the envelope in his hand. "Thanks, Cookie." "No problem. You did good this cruise, Wally." He stuck out his hand, and the older man took it. "Congratulations. Bet you it won't be your last trip." "I don't doubt it," he said. Paycheck in hand, he descended to his stateroom. Nate, the invisible intern, was long gone. They'd been on opposite watches, and he'd barely registered that they shared the space at all. But with Nate's clutter gone, it didn't take him too long to gather his few possessions together. Laundry, most of it dirty, was shoved in the duffel. He carefully stowed a couple of manuals and his laptop with its precious spreadsheet in his backpack. He thought about showering before he left but decided against it. He looked forward to using Graham's shower. Possibly with Graham in it. He smiled at the thought. He double checked the stateroom to be sure there was nothing left behind. Really, there just wasn't very much to pack. He put his backpack over one shoulder and hauled Marc's old duffel over the other. He had perhaps an hour to wait for Graham, but he could do it on deck in the sun. He made his way to the companionway – a glorified ladder, really – and ascended to the next level. He could hear people gathering in the galley where Cookie was getting ready to pay them off, but he continued upwards. There was a sunny spot up above that he knew, and he supposed he might stretch out there for an hour or so until Graham arrived. The forward observation deck was a place just off the lab, frequented by scientists scanning the sea for larger creatures – or interns looking for a spot to sun themselves for a few minutes. It was surrounded by a safety railing, situated just below the pilothouse, and above the main deck. With the scientific party gone, there was nobody to see him stretch out. The deck plating was warmed by the March sun, and he felt perfectly comfortable lying out. So comfortable, in fact, that he dozed for a while, until voices from the main deck carried up to him. "Are you sure you haven't seen him?" The first voice sounded from not too far below his sunny spot. He was awake. He knew that voice. He frowned. He sat up and tried to shake off his cobwebs. "No sir, the last time I saw him was at lunch." Who was that second voice talking? Luis, maybe? "It's really important that I find him. I'm supposed to pick him up. You said he lived downstairs?" Suddenly, a chill ran down his spine. That first voice – oh fucking hell – Kenny. He should have recognized it right away. How the hell did Kenny track him down here? And how did he get on board? Probably, Marquez's courier just ducked under the chain across the shore end of the gangway. Of all the people he did not want to see ever again, Kenny would have topped the list. And if Kenny was here, it could only mean that Marquez wanted him. The supplier hadn't forgotten. "That's right. Down below decks." "He'll be down there?" He heard footsteps. "Hey, hey, you just can't go down there. Hold on. You'll need permission or an escort," Luis protested. "Who do I see about that?" He actually heard Luis sigh. "The Mate. Come on, I'll take you to him." He sat there in the lovely late afternoon sun, frozen in place. Fucking Kenny. What was he going to do? He couldn't just stay where he was. Scrambling to his feet, he grabbed his duffel and backpack and slipped inside. His heart beat a mile a minute. He tried to think. Could he hide? Should he try to run up to the pilothouse, conceal himself in the chartroom? Would Kenny think to look for him there? Or should he run – just get off the Feigenbaum as soon as he could and try to get away before Kenny could discover his absence? He stood there in the upper lab, paralyzed. Seconds ticked by. No. He wouldn't hide on board. If he stayed, even if he could remain hidden, Kenny would run into Graham. That was not going to happen. He had to flee. Resolved now, he headed down to the main deck, careful not to lose his balance. He paused at the companionway down below. Shit. Voices. He was sure he heard Luis and Kenny approaching. He strode over to the gangway, and made his way down to shore. In his hurry, he barely noticed the two well-dressed individuals waiting at the chain. He tried to make his way past them after unhooking and replacing the chain, but one of these, a tall man with a linebacker's build, firmly restrained him by one arm. "Scott Colebrook?" He stared. The second of the pair flashed a badge. "I'm Inspector Carl Snyder, State Police. This is my partner, Inspector Vinson. Would you mind coming with us, Mr. Colebrook? We have some questions." He might have stood his ground. He might have insisted on asking for his rights, or a lawyer, or to see a warrant. But what about Graham? How would his boyfriend know where'd he'd gone? He didn't even have a phone number to call. Events overtook him. As he tried to make up his mind, a vice-like grip moved him to face a dark, nondescript sedan. He felt himself being patted down for weapons, his bags pulled away and tossed in the trunk. Finally, he found his tongue. "Am I under arrest?" "No, sir," the man called Vinson said in a smooth, practiced voice, "but you're a person of interest in an investigation. There are some questions we'd like to ask." He found himself firmly deposited in the back seat of the well-used vehicle. The door closed, and the policemen lost no time in taking their places in the front. "Wait, wait, where are you taking me?" "District offices. Chief Inspector wants to talk to you," Snyder said, turning to look over his shoulder. "What if I don't want to talk to him?" "Maybe you want to wait and see about that, all right, Mr. Colebrook?" And he felt himself pressed into the seat as the car sped out of the parking lot.
  41. 31 likes
    It had been a long day and then I had been up all night as well. Colin had been up as long, too. I was tired and Colin was with Gabriella. Going to Colin’s car that we’d parked in the shade of the trees was really the only comfortable place to rest at all. It was still hot, but Colin’s car was comfortable and clean. It didn’t take long for me to drift off. I was awaken feeling someone kissing the corner of my mouth gently making me remember what had happened and quickly fully awake. “Is everything okay?” I asked quickly worried there might be a problem. Colin looked tired, but happy. He smiled as he nodded. “She’s asleep again. That will happen these next few days. Her body is coming back to life.” I watched as he propped on his elbow looking at me. His emerald green eyes held something I could see as happy contentment and something else as he looked at me. Was that love? “This is just one more thing you’ve done with me to make it more impossible NOT to fall in love with you, Devon.” He sighed. “You give willingly and easily. No thought of what you can get. I owe you so much.” I laughed lightly touching his face and it was a handsome face. “I wish I was that generous. I was trying to get something from you. You.” Colin raised his eyes as he chuckled. “Okay, so maybe there is something you get from this.” He smiled as his hand touched my face and jaw. “I’m not a man. Not really.” He looked back at me. “I am a vampire. The fangs won’t come out on me. I don’t feed on blood now, but I’m still a vampire. A relationship with me will be…different.” “I’m not really sure what you mean, but I haven’t left. I won’t.” I said quietly. Colin pressed his forehead against mine. “I want to be clear about it. I can love, but I haven’t in almost two hundred years. I’ve liked some and thought I might be able to, but they would leave me.” I shook my head. “I don’t see why. You’re a good being. I’m not leaving. When I saw Gabriella, that was scary. That was you before the serum, wasn’t it?” He nodded. “It was, but unlike her I did bathe.” He chuckled. “The life of a vampire is one of simply surviving. You wake up and all you can think about it where to find blood. You focus on that and where you can get it. You look for prey and feed. In Gabriella’s case plumbing stopped and she couldn’t bathe.” He smiled. “I did love and after feedings when I had time afterwards.” He shrugged. “New York was perfect for a life at night. I was always afraid when I did love, I wasn’t sure that what I’d give the other person would be dangerous. I was a full vampire and my…seed…what you refer to a cum was the cum of a vampire. Would it be harmful to another person? In my mind, it was almost like having AIDS. I couldn’t die, but was it dangerous for my partner? I don’t want to hurt you.” I frowned. “You never have…” realizing what he meant by loving. It wasn’t the emotion he was talking about, but the physical action. “You’ve never had sex in over a hundred years!?” He shook his head. “Not without a condom. Whether it be orally or if we loved, I always wore a condom.” “I want you, Colin.” I said quietly. “If there are limits to that, I’ll deal with it.” He grimaced. “That’s the problem, I don’t want limits now. Not with you.” He looked at me. “If I give myself to you, I want it to be completely. I haven’t given myself to anyone since Josiah.” “Is there no way to find out if what you give me is dangerous?” “Dr. Holms said there wasn’t. He said he gave his seed to others and they were fine. I just wasn’t sure.” Colin swallowed. “When I’m ready, we’ll find out.” I nodded. “I understand.” I looked at the sky. It was mid-afternoon. “You said we’d stay here again tonight. That we’d move her then. Is that still the plan?” He nodded. “I’ll call the hotel. We need another room, suite or something.” I gave a nodding shrug. “I’ll find you a place. A house probably. Is there a limit to what I look for? It might be expensive.” He shook his head. “I’ll have it.” He opened his phone and frowned. “I need power for my phone. I’ve only got ten percent power remaining.” “You have a USB port in this car, you know?” He grinned. “Which would be great if I remembered to bring the cord.” I pulled me phone free of its cord I had plugged into the car and held the unattached end up to him. Colin chuckled. “Thanks.” Plugging his phone in he nodded. “Here we go.” He grinned at me as he looked at me with the sides of his eyes. “Thanks again.” Rolling my eyes, I reached out with both hands pulling his head to me and I kissed him deeply. Probing the inside of his mouth as I practically consumed the man. He was responding reluctantly at first, the returned the pressure and I knew he was returning the emotion. “I’ll say this. We are friends. I hope to be more when you’re ready. If we do, we’ll be lovers. One day I would like to be partners…I want a marriage. I’m not asking for you to marry me, that would be too soon.” I smiled as my fingers combed through his hair. He smiled. “I want that, too…” “Helping each other is just what friends do. Thanking me is nice, but…” I kissed him again lighter. “…cut it out for now.” He threw his hands up in futility. “I’m grateful!” “I know!” I said loud, but smiling. “Good!” Colin said equally as loud, but he was smiling as he called the hotel. “Is there another entrance to the basement? We’ll need to get those things to storage. I’ve arranged for a storage unit. It will have to be a big one.” He thought as he waited for an answer from the hotel. “There was, we’ll have to see if it’s still there.” He made plans to move himself to a larger suite if necessary, one with two bedrooms. The hotel would look into it as was going to move his things for him. He clicked his phone off. “Are you a top or bottom?” I asked casually while I searched the internet for some real estate. He looked at me suddenly as his eyebrows rose. “What?” He hadn’t expected the subject. I grinned, but didn’t look back at him as I searched. “Do you prefer to be on top? There are many men that do.” He chuckled understanding now. “Oh. Yes, there are. There are men that prefer to be on the bottom.” He leaned toward me. “When I make love, I want it all. Top, bottom…whatever and all of it.” The smile came on my face. “So, do I.” I texted the man in charge of removing debris and told him the job was back on the next day. I called security firm and arranged a guard for tonight and some other nights until we cleared the basement of its valuables and then I contacted another company that would send a truck and men to begin taking the things from the basement to storage. “You said you trusted me.” I said to Colin. He nodded. “I do, why?” “There’s a house available, but I need to move quickly. I’ve arranged for a showing tomorrow.” I looked at him. “It’s downtown on the Battery. It’s furnished, but with all this stuff we’re taking out of here it may not be needed to be fully furnished.” He nodded smiling. “You know, I’m sort of busy. Sure, I trust you.” “I’ll do the best I can. Now, show me the other entrance to the basement.” The manor was surrounded by the Kudzu and brush. Pulling the debris away where he remembered where it was before, we saw the wall of what had been the side of the basement. There was a large opening there a crew could come and go with the many items once it was clear. Then opening would let light in and we needed to move Gabriella before we did that. The sun was setting before Gabriella woke again. Colin offered her something to eat which she hadn’t even considered in the past century. He presented her with some fried chicken he had in the cooler. She sniffed it and her eyes widened. Looking at her father her mouth opened, her face was disbelieving. “The smell! It’s wonderful.” Then she touched her stomach as I heard a sound. “Oh, my God! My stomach just growled!” She grabbed the chicken and bit. “Take it easy, Gabby.” Colin warned. “Your stomach says it’s ready. It will take a few more days to be ready to fully digest.” He touched her face. “Then we’ll have a wonderful dinner…outside in daylight and you’ll be fine.” She nodded, but bit a little more. “This is so good! It smells wonderful and tastes amazing!” She looked at me. “You made this?” I shook my head. “It’s KFC.” “Who?” Gabriella asked. “Kentucky Fried Chicken.” Colin said smiling. “It’s from Kentucky!?” Gabriella asked amazed. “That’s so far away!” Colin gave a sad sigh. “Things have changed in the world, Sweetie. There are things that have happened in the last hundred and fifty years. I know your life has been hunting and consuming when awake. Out here it’s kind of isolated and you said you fed on farm animals near here. Did you never look in windows of houses and see things you didn’t know about? Wonder what they were?” She shook her head. “My life has been the same since I was turned.” Colin gave a shrugging nod. “Well, there are many things out there you won’t understand. Whatever you want to know about, it’s okay to ask me or Devon. First, we’re going to let you eat a little more. Then we have to take you to Charleston.” He frowned. “You’ve seen cars and planes, right?” Her brows came together as she thought. “Cars.” Then she nodded. “Those strange carriages pulled by something other than horses people are sometimes in? Yes. Planes?” Colin nodded. “Those are also carriages of a kind. They carry people and freight quicker and easier. In the sky. People fly now.” She was a little surprised, but she’d been on the outside of the world so long it would be surprising. “People fly?” “Yes.” Colin nodded. “I’ve flown.” She marveled at that. “Was it scary?” Colin chuckled lightly. “It was very exciting the first few times, but I guess a little scary the first time.” “I’ve seen these things in the air at night and didn’t know.” She sighed, but was a little excited about it. “The world moved on and I need to catch up!” I chuckled. “Wait until you watch TV. That will teach you a lot!” “TV.” She repeated having no idea what I was talking about. Colin nodded as he smiled. “You’ll see in a few hours.” I pulled out my phone and activated the security system I put down here. Gabriella looked at my hand. “What is that?” “It’s a telephone…kind of.” I explained then remembering the telephone hadn’t even been invented before she was turned. “If I need to speak with someone that isn’t here. I dial a series of numbers that belongs to the phone they have and can speak with them. They can be across town or on the other side of the world.” Then I grinned. “It can do other things, too. Since there are dangerous people out there, I put up eyes in here that can keep an eye open to who comes and goes, even see if someone takes something. I can see those these eyes I put in on this.” Colin tried to figure out how to explain it. “It’s like…a crystal ball. We can see other people, talk to other people and watch them on that.” He pointed to the phone. “I have one, too.” “I don’t think there are many people that don’t now.” I explained further. “It’s how we live, work and play. This means of communicating is key to life now.” She nodded. “But it’s science even though to me, it’s magic.” Colin smiled as she was understanding she couldn’t understand and understood she couldn’t yet. “That’s right.” “Hello!” A voice came from the door that opened upstairs. A male voice I knew was security. “Well, let’s go.” Colin said standing up. “Tonight, you’ll see a lot. Questions will be asked and I will answer, but not with these men, okay?” She nodded crossing her heart. “I promise not to seem…odd.” Colin stroked the side of her face. “You’re never odd.” Then he chuckled. “Last night you were, but not now.” He tilted his face. “You look so much like your mother.” She smiled, but looked at him questioning. “Is that a good thing?” Colin nodded. “Your mother was a beautiful woman. She was kind and generous. I liked her as a friend and cousin.” Cousin!? I couldn’t help it as I blurted. “Cousin!? Your wife and you were cousins!?” Colin chuckled as he looked at me. “Not my mother’s sister’s child or my father’s brother’s child, but she was a third cousin.” He shrugged. “This line had to be somewhat pure. Marrying cousins was a way of doing that.” I rolled my eyes and turned as I thought. Turning to Colin again. “That makes Gabriella not only your daughter, but a fourth cousin?” “She is.” Colin nodded smiling at the look on my face. “There were others’ DNA in my wife so more diversity in Gabriella.” He shook his head. “It was in the late 1830s! It’s what we did as bluebloods!” I nodded. “Bluebloods.” “That’s what the aristocracy…” Colin began. “I know what a blueblood is. You guys were bred to think you are superior!” I muttered as I shrugged. “I just never liked a cousin enough to…marry.” I waved at him. “You deal with Gabriella and I’ll deal with the rent-a-cops upstairs.” I heard as I climbed the stairs. “I must look terrible. I don’t know where Mom’s hairbrush is.” Gabriella said. “Are you kidding, you’re perfect!” He ran fingers through her hair. It was long dark brown, almost black like Colin’s that came below her shoulders. She had finger combed it to get some order. “You’ve got the Queen Guinevere look. There are women now that will pay good money to have what you have naturally.” It was funny. It was sad what happened to both, but they were amusing. Humor was a trait Colin had passed to Gabriella along with his mouth characteristics and hair color, but Gabriella’s eyes were brown now that I could see the color. We had three men posted around the house who would remain all night and day changing shifts as needed. No one was to come in or out of the basement. One at each door and one in the basement. We took the pictures of Colin. If one was found we missed, the men real