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Showing content with the highest reputation on 02/27/2016 in all areas

  1. 21 points

    From the album: Story Tiles

    Here are Randy and me on February 23, 2016, our eighteen year anniversary from our first date.
  2. 7 points

    From the album: Tassie Trip

    On the east coast of Tasmania there is a bay where the rocks have a bright orange type of lichen growing on them. Very striking.
  3. 6 points

    From the album: Tassie Trip

    I love dolphins and seeing wild ones so close was a total thrill.
  4. 5 points

    From the album: Tassie Trip

    Tasmania has many, many spectacular cliffs.
  5. 2 points
    I don’t get it. I really don’t. I’m lying in a hard uncomfortable bed and these people keep coming up to me and talking. I don’t understand what they are saying but I watch their mouths move; open, shut, open, shut. They point to things and their voices get louder. I wince when they do that. It hurts. Sometimes I think that is all that is left to me; pain. Then again, I don’t remember anything else so maybe that’s all there really is. I don’t know. Those people don’t seem to be in pain but maybe they can hide it. Hiding. I think that’s what I’m doing. That just came to me. I’m not sure if I’m thinking really but all of a sudden I know I’m hiding. I don’t know what from, I can’t remember, but it’s bad. I hear the voices again and I panic. I’m supposed to be hiding. No one is supposed to see. Move, move, move! Pain! *** “Jesus Christ!” The doctor and nurse went running when they heard the agonized scream from Room 11. The patient was nowhere in sight. Rushing into the room they found him unconscious on the floor in a tangle of blankets and wires. “How did he even move?” Evan asked. The doctor knelt down and began examining him. “I’m not sure. The pain of his injuries should have been enough to keep him unconscious, even if we didn’t have him on enough medication to drop a horse.” Paul put his stethoscope back around his neck. “We’re going to need more x-rays to make sure he didn’t do more damage to his ribs or broken arm. We’re probably going to have to redo some stitches, damn it.” They gingerly picked the boy up and put him back on the bed. Evan and Paul quickly checked the IV’s, wires, and tubes. “I’m going to have to replace this Foley,” Evan said. He quickly got a kit and replaced the damaged catheter. “Okay, all ready. I’ll take him down to x-ray.” Paul scribbled out the orders for the chest and arm x-rays and hung the chart on the end of the bed. “Make sure they know to rush these films. I don’t want to have to take the poor kid back into surgery, much less another emergency surgery.” Evan nodded. “Will do, Dr. Michaels.” Paul sighed as he looked at the bloody stripes on the floor. The kid’s back did break open when he fell. He ran his hand through his hair and shook his head. He called maintenance to get some cleaning staff up in the room to take care of the mess and then went to the doctor’s lounge. Sinking into one of the chairs there he closed his eyes. As hard as he tried he couldn’t stop the tears that leaked out. Someone needed to cry for the kid. He had seen him before the police and ambulance showed up; the horrible conditions he had been left to die in. They had tried to fix as much of the damage as they could but there was so much they couldn’t touch with a scalpel. The mental damage might be more than anyone could hope to fix. *** “Dad!” A young man went running into his house, the back door slamming. “Daniel Roberts! How many times do I have to tell you not to slam that door?” his father scolded without looking up from his paper. “It’s important Dad! It’s the kid, he needs help!” Danny was breathing hard, his chest heaving. He looked scared. “What kid needs help? What are you talking about?” Paul dropped the paper and walked over to his son, giving him a quick hug to calm him. “Now slow down. Tell me what’s going on.” Tears in his eyes, Danny shuddered and then spoke, “I saw him for the first time this morning. I… I broke a window in the house behind ours hitting my ball, or it sounded like I did. I hopped the fence and I was looking before I went to apologize. I broke a small window in the basement but when I looked inside there was this kid in there. “I tried talking to him, to ask for my ball back but he just looked at me. Then I heard a man yelling inside and he looked so scared Dad. He told me to run. The door to the basement slammed open and this big guy saw me looking in and started screaming and cussing. I was so scared I ran back here and hid in my room. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.” Danny was rambling, his shock making it hard for him to think. “That’s okay son, we’ll talk about that later. Focus now, who needs help?” “The kid next door. I went over there, you know, to try and talk to him and stuff after I saw the man leave. No one answered the door and then when I went to the basement window I saw him.” Danny let out a sob, “He was laying on the floor, Dad, and he’s covered in blood. His arm looks like it’s broken and he was looking at me, I could see his eyes but he wouldn’t talk to me.” Danny was shaking and Paul eased him into a chair by the table. Handing him the cordless phone Paul said, “Call 9-1-1 and tell them to send the police and ambulance. Tell them I will be in there with him so don’t shoot me.” He ran to the cupboard and grabbed his first aid kit before charging out the back door, letting it slam behind him. The short fence was no trouble with his long legs. Running around the house he checked to make sure the car was still gone from the driveway before he burst through the front door, breaking the lock and leaving it wide open. He walked quickly through the living room, past a couch and big screen TV. The house was clean and neat but there were no pictures on the walls or any sign that a teen lived there. Paul walked into a kitchen and looked around. He headed for a door in one corner with a thick padlock on it. He had no hope of breaking that lock so he stepped back. Using the counter to balance he kicked the door repeatedly until it broke away from the hinges. Pushing it aside he rushed down into the dim basement, empty of anything but a mattress, bucket, and a baseball into one corner. The boy was lying in the middle of the bare floor on his stomach. Paul’s first reaction was one of shock and horror. The kid looked young and was extremely emaciated. His blond hair was lank and greasy, hanging in blue eyes that were open but staring at nothing. Worse was the blood splashed around him and the bloody mess of his back and legs. Paul dropped to his knees and began assessing him, checking his pulse and finding it thready. The boy was barely breathing and his skin was both cool and clammy. “Shit!” Paul took a pair of scissors out of his kit and cut off the remains of the bloody t-shirt and shorts. They smelled dirty, beyond the scent of blood. “Hold on kiddo, help is coming.” Not getting any reaction Paul kept on examining him for other wounds. ‘Broken arm, possible broken ribs, whip marks. Signs of malnutrition, dehydration,’ he shook his head. ‘This is bad’. “Police! I'm coming in!” “We’re down in the basement!” Paul yelled. “We need the ambulance here, stat!” Booted feet came thundering down the wood stairs. “Put your hands up!” Paul’s hands went into the air. "I live behind here. I'm a doctor. My son is the one who called 9-1-1." "Just keep them up!" "I understand you are doing your job but I really need to keep assessing him for the paramedics. I need to put my hands down. My name is Paul Michaels; I am a doctor at St. Mary's. I will not harm him, especially with you standing here." The officer looked at him warily but nodded. Paul began running his hands down the legs of the prone teen. Not finding any open breaks he went back to take the kid's pulse. It was even weaker. "Damn it. He has to have internal bleeding. Can you get a rush on that ambulance?" Paul asked the officer. He turned his head and spoke into his mike, "Dispatch, this is Officer Tenter, I'm on scene. I need an eta on that bus." His radio crackled and a female voice blared out in the quiet basement. "Just pulling up outside. Is the scene secure?" "Scene secure. I could use some back-up for when the homeowner gets back though. This is some bad stuff Evie." The paramedics came into the house and the officer called out to them. They came down the stairs carefully with a backboard. They hustled over to Paul and the boy. "Excuse us, sir, you're going to have to move aside so we can treat your son," one said to Paul, trying to nudge him out of the way. "He's not my son, I'm his neighbor," Paul told him as he shifted away so they could do their job. “My name is Dr. Michaels. I've assessed his initial condition as best I could. He appears conscious but unresponsive, pulse fifty and thready, respirations ten. His right pupil is blown, most likely a result of the large contusion on his temple. Obvious fracture of the right radius and ulna and possible broken ribs, again based on large contusions to the area. Multiple bruises and lacerations from his neck to his knees; mostly likely from a whip of some sort. "His pulse has been growing weaker since I got here; there isn't much blood around him so I suspect internal injuries. Apparent malnutrition and dehydration. We need to get him to the hospital right now." Paul stepped back as they carefully rolled the teen onto the backboard. His entire body flinched when it came in contact with the sheet covered plastic but he didn't make a sound. "Looks like we can add responsive to pain but still no response to other environmental stimuli," one paramedic said, jotting down notes. The other paramedic was busy attaching the belts around the thin body. He looked at the automatic cuff, "Blood pressure 100 over 60, pulse rate continuing to fall. Let's get this kid over to General." Paul interrupted, "Take him to St. Mary's." They were picking up the backboard and starting to tote him out of the room. The officer went up the stairs first to hold the door. "St. Mary's is a private hospital, doc," one of the paramedics said. "I'll be responsible. The best pediatric surgeon in the state works there and is a friend of mine. He'd do this pro bono even if I wasn't asking. Just take him. I'll call the Chief right now." Paul pulled out his cell phone and called the hospital, asking to be transferred to the Chief for an emergency call. He put his phone on speaker. The paramedics were busy trying to navigate the stairs but he could tell they were listening. "This had better be serious Paul, I'm doing an emergency appendectomy on a ten year old," an annoyed voice said, echoing through the open speaker. "Let O'Brien take it. You're going to need to get down to Emergency. I'm sending over a neighbor kid, he's in bad shape, Anton, really bad. Looks like he was abused, beaten. Long-term too." He held his breath; he knew how Anton felt about child abuse. The swearing coming through the speaker was expected but still made him blush. "O'Brien, get over here and finish this. Make sure you flush the abdominal cavity thoroughly." "Yes, sir." "What's the ETA on the kid, Paul?" Anton asked. "He's literally a neighbor, so ten minutes via ambulance. They just need to hear approval to bring him in, procedure is General. I'll foot the bill; just need some back-up and your steady hands to help do the work." "You've got it. The hospital has funds for pro bono anyway. Just have them get the kid here, I'll be waiting. Scrub in as soon as you get here." "I will." Paul hung up his phone. "Good enough for you guys?" "Sure thing. St. Mary's it is." The paramedics were quickly moving out the door. Paul went to follow them. "Could you wait a minute doc? I need to ask you some questions," Officer Tenter said, putting a hand on his arm. "We need to make it quick. I'm needed at the hospital." He nodded and held his pen and paper ready. "You said your son called? How do you know the victim?" "I don't. My son saw him this morning when he accidentally hit his ball and broke the basement window. He said he saw a big man come into the basement yelling and ran home. He went back later and saw the boy on the floor and came and got me. That's when I told him to call 9-1-1 and rushed over," Paul said. He went back into the kitchen to wash his hands; he couldn’t go home with blood on them. Danny would freak out. He didn’t need that on top of the stress he was already feeling. "Do you know the boy's name? His parent’s names or where we could find them?" The officer was scribbling in his notepad. "Mr. and Mrs. Sarcoplis. I've never been over here before. I really don't know them, I have only seen them in passing at neighborhood events; they've lived here for almost two years. We've never seen a kid here; I assumed they were childless." The officer was still scribbling as Paul dried his hands. "Look, I really need to go. I assume you'll be by the hospital after you are done. I will answer any more questions you have then." "Okay, thanks Doc. I'll definitely come by the hospital later to check on him." He handed Paul a card with his name and extension number on it. They were walking into the living room when a large, imposing man walked in the front door. "What the hell are you doing in my house?" he bellowed in surprise. "Mr. Sarcoplis?" Officer Tenter asked. "I am. What in the hell is going on?" he snapped. He glared at Paul. "I'm afraid I have some bad news. It appears your son was badly beaten. We have some questions for you and your wife and then you can go see him in the hospital." The man's entire face flushed red, "You took him out of the basement? The boy must be confined so his disease doesn't spread. He is impure, contaminated." Mr. Sarcoplis advanced on them, "Bring him back! We are not done purifying him, he's unclean, unclean!" the man screamed. "Sir, you need to calm down. Step back," Officer Tenter warned him Mr. Sarcoplis turned his anger on Paul. "You! I know you; you’re from that house behind me. You are a sinner! Your son was tempting the little bastard into sin with him just this morning. I've seen how you flaunt your devil ways. Get out! Get out!" The man shoved Paul before the officer could stop him, thrusting him back into a large bookshelf. Paul’s breath was knocked out of him as his back slammed into the shelf. He fell to the floor; books and knick-knacks raining down on him. "You’re under arrest! Hands behind your back!" The officer struggled with the incensed man. "Freeze!" A new officer stood in the door, gun trained on Mr. Sarcoplis where he fought the hold Officer Tenter had on him. Mr. Sarcoplis saw the black pistol trained steadily on his forehead and froze. His mouth didn't stop running though, even as he was handcuffed and forced to kneel on the ground. "You'll all be sorry for this. I'll have your badges." Spit sprayed from his mouth. "You'll all rot in hell with the rest of the sinners." He continued to rave as the second officer holstered his weapon. They all ignored him. "Thanks, Saul. I’m glad you showed up when you did.” The other officer nodded, “Well I’d hate to tell your wife I let you get beat up at dinner tonight.” They both grinned. Paul stood up from the mess on the floor. “I'll assume you want to press charges," Officer Tenter said to him. "Damn right!" he winced, rubbing his back. "I think we both understand exactly who hurt that boy. Lock up is the best place for him for now. I really need to get to the hospital though. Can I fill out my statement later?" Just then another person came running in, a woman this time. "Oh my god! Jerry, are you okay? What are you doing to my husband?" "Mrs. Sarcoplis?" "Yes! What is going on here?" The second officer was pulling a still raging Mr. Sarcoplis out the door but Officer Tenter stopped his wife from getting close to them. "Ma'am, we suspect your husband has beaten and severely injured your son. He's on his way to jail and the ambulance is taking your son to St. Mary’s." Paul broke in, "We'll need your consent to do surgery to save his life. He's very close to dying." She sneered. "That filthy sinner can die for all I care. Nothing more than he deserves for his perversions. My husband was doing his duty to remove the evilness staining his immortal soul." Paul flinched back and his mouth dropped open in shock. "How can you say that? He's your son! You would let him die? " "Gladly. He's a sinner. He deserves to die. At least then his debt would be paid," she said nastily. Paul looked sick. Officer Tenter was already pulling out cuffs. "Ma'am, you're under arrest. Place your hands behind your back.” Mrs. Sarcoplis' eyes went wide. She spluttered, "What... how dare you! You have no right..." Paul almost ran out the door, already on his phone to the hospital’s legal department. They would need emergency authorization to perform surgery. He hopped the fence and rushed in his house for his car keys. "Dad?" Danny said warily, shock showing on his face as he stared at the blood all over Paul’s clothes. "I'm fine. An ambulance came and took the boy to the hospital. His parents are under arrest so you don't need to worry that they'll come over here. Just lock up behind me and stay home today, okay? I don’t know when I'll be back." Paul leaned over and kissed his son on the forehead. "Okay, Dad," Danny said, blushing after Paul moved away. "Just... I love you, son. You know that right?" Paul asked softly. Danny nodded, a little confused. "I love you too," he said. Paul smiled and pulled a twenty out of his wallet. "You can order pizza for dinner if I'm not back." "Thanks Dad. Let me know how he's doing, will you? I just feel... I don't know. I guess I feel responsible." "Look son, I can't stay and talk about this with you right now, Anton needs me, but this was not your fault. Whatever happened to that boy has been going on for a long time." Danny looked sad. "That's just not right!" Paul sighed, "No son, it's not." *** More voices and clicking noises. There are bright lights behind my eyes. I don't want to open them. Please let me be dead. Please let me be dead. I lost track of time again. The voices went away for a time and I am left alone; beeping noises and dripping the only sounds I can hear. I float, adrift in a sea of fiery pain. The voices come back; hands touch me and move my body. Bursts of pain break through the barrier and a great tidal wave of agony washes over me and I feel myself just fade away under the onslaught. Let me be dead. Please let me be dead. *** "You’re going to be okay, Joseph. Can’t you try and talk with us?" Paul and Anton stood in their white coats and stared down at the scared boy in the bed. The teen stared back at them, shrinking away. Birth records showed his name was Joseph Sarcoplis. He was fourteen and his medical records stopped at age twelve, as well as his school records and any proof of his existence at all. Anton pulled Paul out of the room and into the doctor’s lounge. They hugged, both needing the comfort though they tried to hold displays of affection to a minimum at the hospital. “Why Anton?” Paul said in a small voice. “How can anyone have such a beautiful child and do that sort of thing to them?” He looked on the verge of tears and leaned into Anton, needing the embrace. “I don’t know, babe. The world is full of bad people. All we can do is try to put the pieces back together as best we can.” Anton stroked his back. “It was hard enough with Danny; do you think we would be able to help another abused teen?” “I can’t bear for him to go into the system right after something like this. He needs to be with people who are really willing and able to help him. Can we think about calling Social Services and renewing our foster parent license?” Anton leaned forward and gave Paul a quick kiss. “Yeah babe, we can think about it.” Paul looked frustrated. “He won’t even talk to us right now. Maybe he wouldn’t want to live with two gay guys. We need to talk to Danny too. This has been hard on him; he had nightmares last night again. I don’t want to push him into a relapse.” "Of course, Danny is part of our family, an important part. We couldn’t do this without him,” Anton said. “Let’s give it a day or two and then talk to him. Joseph was starved nearly to death, dehydrated, beaten and then went through surgery. That's a lot to go through and he won’t be ready to come home for a while. We have time for him to get used to us if it all works out for him to come live with us. “Right now I would be shocked if he was willing to trust us with all he’s gone through; even if he wasn't doped to the gills. He will need some time to learn that not all adults are like his parents. I've called psych down for a consult. Dr. Sanghi is the best, she helped Danny; she can help Joseph too." *** I am not as out of it as they seem to think. I hear what they say and now I remember the words. I now understand the strange people are doctors. I dart my eyes around the room now that they are gone. The pain is better. I won't trust them though. They might seem nice but once Mr. Sarcoplis seemed nice too. Back... before. Before they found out. Before they said they were no longer my parents. I don't remember much from that time, the magical 'before'. It hurts to remember; I feel so confused. Soft bed, warm showers, food that didn't come in a can with a dog on it. Before touch meant pain and I wasn’t a dirty sinner. I sometimes stared out my little window and watched. I saw the men in white coats once through a hole in the bushes. They were doing that thing; the one that my parents said was sin. The one they caught me doing in the before time. Did the kissing mean they were sinners too? Was this hell? Did God finally forgive me and let me die like I prayed for? *** "He's shut down. I don't know if he's in too much pain or just too afraid, but he won't even look at me. Do you know of anyone he's responded to in the past? A family friend or neighborhood kid he might open up to?" Dr. Sanghi asked. She and Paul were sitting at a table drinking coffee in the doctor's lounge and talking about Joseph. "The family moved in about two years ago. I never saw the kid, not even during the summer. Danny said Joseph told him to run when he saw him the morning we found him. Other than that I don't know if I've heard him make a single sound other than that scream when he fell out of bed. He doesn't trust us," Paul said sadly. "I'm not surprised. What I've seen of the police report and the old injuries his x-rays showed he's been a victim of extreme abuse for some time. I don't know what to do with him. He is most likely not going to respond to any adults but he needs help. I can see it, this great need to share his pain, but it's walled up behind a dam that I can't breach from the outside. Do you think Danny would be willing to talk to him?" Paul looked hesitant. "I don't know. He still has nightmares sometimes, even after all these years. I don't want to make him have another relapse." Dr. Sanghi patted his arm, standing up from her chair. "I understand though I think it might actually help him to use his own experiences to help someone else. At the very least he would have a good idea of where Joseph is mentally and be prepared for it. But if you think it's too much for him, I understand. I’ll try to think of something else." Paul sank back in his chair, chewing on his lip. He sighed. "I'll ask him. He's been pretty upset over this whole situation. He feels bad he didn't get help right away but he had a flashback when he saw that man screaming. It might help him feel better about that too." Dr. Sanghi looked concerned. "Do you want me to schedule him for a few sessions?" Paul thought about it. "No, not right now. I'll call you if he doesn't bounce back. He's a pretty happy kid most of the time now." He stood up and gave Dr. Sanghi a quick hug, "That's due in large part to you." "Hey, you put up with more than most people would, even if it was their own kid," she reminded him. "You took on an abused teenager that needed a lot of time and attention and turned him into a happy, loving kid. I wouldn't expect him not to have some relapses, even if it's been almost three years. But maybe these guys can help each other out." Paul nodded. "I'll see if he wants to come to the hospital later today. He has baseball practice until four." "Thanks Paul." *** Voices again. One soundd different. Softer. Wait... now it's closer. "Hi," the new voice says. It's so quiet my head doesn't hurt at all. "My name is Danny. I wanted to come and talk to you." I can't help it; the voice is too much. I opened my eyes. Sitting in the chair beside the bed is a boy. Well, he looks like a teenager with those wide shoulders and brown stubble on his face so he can’t be that young. I stared at him, I've seen him before. My head hurts too much to think of it. "I wanted to say I'm sorry." His brown eyes drilled into mine. Tears filled his eyes and he sniffled. No, that's wrong. He is meant to be happy. I know I've seen him before, smiling and laughing. He's like a sun, my sun. Memories flowed into me over the waves of pain. The window. I remember now. Watching him play with his things, talking and laughing with the men that came in wearing the white coats. He lives with the men Mr. Sarcoplis said were filthy sinners. He said they should all die. I don't want him to die and go to hell! My face scrunched up and I felt tears in my eyes. "What's the matter? Are you in pain? Do I need to get a nurse?" Danny panicked and stood up, backing toward the door. He was going to leave. "No," I croaked. "Please, don't go." Danny stopped. Oh thank god he stopped. He moved back to the chair but he still look upset. He was gripping his hands together so tight that his knuckles were bone white. He was shaking a bit but determination flowed across his face and he squared his shoulders. "Look, I can understand if you hate me. I know how you must feel right now. My last foster parent before Dad hurt me really bad. I was so mad that no one said anything. The other kids just let him do it. When I saw your dad it all just hit me again and I was afraid; so afraid. I hid in my room but you couldn't. I didn't help you; just like those kids didn't help me. I'm sorry." Tears flowed down his face. I stared at him. He had been hurt? Why do people do that? What’s wrong with them? I felt a burning rage that someone would dim the bright happy sun of his soul. I had watched him for months when I was chained to my mattress by my injuries. He had kept me sane as it got worse and worse. I didn't know what to believe anymore but I had to make the pain in him go away. "It's okay. Not mad," I forced out. "My fault." Danny shook his head gently, "No! It's not your fault. No matter what, no one should treat anyone like that. Like I was treated, like you were treated. We're human beings!" he said in a fierce whisper. "But I..." "Nothing. Nothing you could have done, Joseph. You are a good person." I couldn't help but sigh. I used to feel that way. Maybe I could again. I gave him a tentative smile. He chuckled and smiled back, "Hey, you smiled Joseph! You should do that more often!" That made me frown. I hate that name. I want this boy to call me something else, not the name they used. I want him to talk to me, the real me. I think that would be good. "Joey." Danny smiled, his natural happiness bubbling out. "Joey," he repeated. I guess he wants to talk to the real me too. Please visit the story discussion topic at: http://www.gayauthors.org/forums/topic/31484-hiding-by-cia/
  6. 1 point
    A young man must chose between his strict religious background or decry the hate and intolerance towards a new student who enrolls in his school.
  7. 1 point
    CJ travels to Australia with his dads and uncles. A story about gay men of all ages.
  8. 1 point
    Kenny Jones and his childhood friend Jeffry Cree, meet many years later when Kenny, after retiring from a successful footy career, moves to a small town in Victoria's Gippsland, to take up a teaching post at the local Marist College. Kenny has revealed that he is Gay whilst Jeffry is struggling to admit being a homosexual.
  9. 1 point
    Chapter 13 Casey still couldn't get Shawn's kiss out of his mind. He'd woken up before dawn today, desperately needing to shift, and he had spent a good hour gliding through the serene dark waters. A small pod of dolphins had joined him this morning. He'd been so euphorically happy for the first time in so long that he didn't realize how far he'd followed the dolphins until a sharp jolt at his neck caused him to gasp, swallowing water as he floundered in pain. He launched up to the surface, sputtering as he darted back towards shore. A few seconds later, the pain stopped. He flipped onto his back, breathing heavily as he floated for a few minutes to get his heart rate under control. He fingered the collar with shaking hands. Shit, he'd let himself get careless. What the hell was he thinking? He was thinking about Shawn, that's what. And the kiss. And how he wanted more. Damn. He flipped over and darted back to the cove before he could let his thoughts get him into any further trouble. Of course as he hoisted his body effortlessly out of the water onto the dock, he noticed a silhouette at the top of the hill just barely visible in the pre-dawn light. Shit, Uncle Martin must have been alerted by the collar going off. It was too much to hope that he might have slept through his little mishap. The damn app on Martin's phone must have alerted him that Casey had set off the perimeter alarm. Too bad Martin hadn't left the damn thing in his study last night. He unconsciously rubbed at his neck as he swiped up the towel he'd left on the wooden dock. He debated walking slowly, just to put off the inevitable lecture, but that would just make the man even angrier. So he jogged up the slope as quickly as he could in his bare feet. As he crested to the top of the cliff, he stood under his uncle's irritated gaze feeling terribly exposed for some reason. It was odd since he'd been naked around his uncles for years that standing in front of him with a towel wrapped around his waist shouldn't bother him at all. Shawn. His liquid blue eyes popped into his mind, and he realized he only wanted Shawn seeing so much of him. Shawn's gaze made him feel confident and cherished. Martin's seemed to make him feel insignificant and worthless. He tucked his arms across his chest, shyly trying to hide from his uncle's scrutiny. "Where exactly did you think you were heading?" the man's deep voice finally broken the silence. "Nowhere, sir. I just needed to shift. It's been a while and the shifts in the tank just weren't enough," Casey admitted. Martin harrumphed and turned toward the house, obviously expecting Casey to follow without question. Casey breathed a sigh of relief that he'd gotten off so easily. Now maybe he could nap for a bit before meeting up with Shawn later. "It's the new moon. Your need shouldn't be overwhelming right now," Martin mused as Casey followed him into the house. "Especially not strong enough to make you breach your boundaries." Casey worried about where his train of thought might be going. "I just got caught up following some dolphins. They wanted me to--" "Losing your focus is dangerous," Martin snapped. "It's been years since you've been so careless, especially at this moon phase. We'll need to do a work up now. See what's going on, what must have changed." Casey froze mid-step. Oh, shit. He hadn't expected his uncle to demand that. All those needles, and samples, and stamina exercises...damn it. The older man strode directly for the study. Casey briefly thought about heading upstairs instead but defying his uncle would only make the man more upset. He had no illusions that Uncle Martin was doing this for his own welfare right now. The man knew how much he hated these full workups, and therefore he often demanded them when Casey was the least prepared, mentally and physically. "In here now, Casey," his uncle's baritone voice filtered from the study. "Don't bother thinking about getting dressed. You know that would be pointless." Casey sighed heavily, tightening his grip on his towel as he slowly trudged into the study. "Can I at least eat first?" Martin was rubbing his short blond beard apparently debating a moment where to start when Casey walked in. "No, you can eat when we're done. Get up on the table first. Let's get the samples first since you've just freshly shifted." Damn it, he thought as he edged up onto the cold lab table. He really needed to be more careful. He just hoped that this didn't keep Martin from going to work later. @@@@ "Hey!" Shawn called as Casey made his way over to the lounge chairs that Shawn was dragging out. Casey walked a little slower today, having exhausted himself with his uncle's tests this morning. He also prayed that the marks on the inside of his elbow from the syringes weren't very noticeable. Sometimes they bruised pretty badly if Martin was in a hurry. He was still worried about what Shawn might be thinking after the kiss yesterday. He'd tried not to think about it while in the lab because he was pretty sure some of his readings would have been off, especially his heart rate and blood pressure. And he really didn't need to be sporting wood around his fucking uncle. As he made his way towards Shawn though, he could see the same easy smile and friendliness that the broad shouldered man had always had. Then Shawn dropped the chair into place and casually embraced Casey in a quick hug. "Hey, did you sleep well?" For a second, Casey didn't respond, stunned by Shawn's warm arms engulfing him. But just before those strong arms went to release him, Casey wrapped his free arm around Shawn. "Uh, yeah," he said automatically. "Really? 'Cause you look a little tired today?" "I just woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep. So I, uh, exercised a bit this morning," he said truthfully. "Cool. I was up writing. So nothing quite as exhausting as you," he said as he playfully patted Casey on the stomach before turning back to setting up his chair. Shawn's easy smile as he laid his towel out on the chair had Casey grinning in relief. He'd been so nervous about the quick kiss and what it might mean, that he'd allowed himself to get so tense and worried about what might happen today. Would it be awkward? Would Shawn kiss him again? Would he pretend it never happened? Should I pretend it never happened? But with the simple hug, Shawn banished all those anxious thoughts, and Casey knew everything was good--better even--between them. They'd crossed the threshold of simple friendship to flirting interest. Casey dropped his towel on the chair and bravely draped an arm across Shawn's shoulders, leaning close to whisper. "So you ready to brave the waters again?" Shawn rolled his eyes, but Casey felt the man's body nudge closer to his. He could feel the man's breath on his cheek when he asked, "You really want to drag me back into those Nemo infested waters?" Casey chuckled as they each stepped away to pull off their t-shirts. "You know the ocean hasn't really changed since you got here. Nemo, Dory, Crush, Mr. Ray... they've been out there the whole time you've been swimming in it." Casey didn't bother to hide his blatant perusal of the taller man as the shirt came off over his head. "Yeah, I'm sure you'll tell me that Flotsam and Jetsam are running around out there too." Casey scrunched up his nose. "That's the Little Mermaid, idiot." Casey felt the Shawn's hand pat his stomach. "Now see, why can't fucking Ariel be swimming around out there? Or actually Eric would be better--didn't he become a merman after he kissed the red-headed fish?" Casey felt his throat go dry, but he quickly smiled and took off for the water to hide his discomfort. "No, she became human, dumbass," he called over his shoulder. "Oh, well that sucks." Casey could hear Shawn running up behind him. "Why the hell are we discussing Disney movies anyway?" "Because someone is afraid of cartoon sea creatures," Casey teased. "Cartoon, my ass. That fucking sting ray was freaking real." "Manta ray," Casey corrected. "Whatever," Shawn scoffed. "It was still fucking huge." "You didn't have a problem with the turtle, and he was more likely to bite you than Mr. Ray was." "What are you an encyclopedia of sea animals?" Shawn squinted at him. Casey turned as the tide washed over his feet, hands rising to his hips. "You live out here for fifteen years and see if you don't learn a few things." Shawn stepped up really close looking down at him, and Casey felt his breath sucked away wondering if Shawn might kiss him again. "So are you telling me you've met Bruce and Flotsam and Jetsam and whatever hell else out there?" he waved toward the water. Casey debated telling him the truth. In all honesty, Shawn was unlikely to run into a shark or eels, but Casey had pretty much seen it all so.... "Oh, fuck," Shawn growled, turning and rubbing his hand through is chocolate waves. Obviously, he'd taken Casey's hesitation for an affirmative. When Shawn looked like he might back out of going into the water altogether, Casey grabbed his arm and pulled him back. He looked up and took the man's face in his hands. "I promise, there's nothing to worry about. Sharks don't come close to shore around here. I swear." Shawn's bright blue eyes studied him and he dropped his forehead against Casey's in resignation. "God, I hope you're right." "It'll be fine," Casey said. Then quickly pecked a small kiss on Shawn's nose before forging into the waters. "I'm going to bring down that inflatable raft next time," Shawn grunted. "Then I can just float on top and not worry about what's swimming around under me." Casey managed to hold back his chuckle when Shawn slowly picked his way into the water. After yesterday's 'scare' with the baby manta, Casey could understand why Shawn would be a little more hesitant about traipsing back into the water. He probably shouldn't have joked about running into a shark. They kept close to shore today, more or less just bobbing around in the waves. After the quick kiss Shawn had given him yesterday and their briefly intimate moments today, Casey couldn't help but feel a little more on edge. He felt jittery and anxious as he watched Shawn carefully for reactions to their touches and teasing. The glitter in Shawn's eyes told him that he had nothing to be worried about.
  10. 1 point
    Cards on the Table Chapter 17 Michael and Kendall continued to sit in the den after Carson headed off to get some rest. Kendall was quietly introspective, his partner’s presence providing him with the stability and support he’d come to rely on, to help him assimilate all the emotions running through him. Michael’s thumb gently stroked the hand clasped in his, showing he was content to let Kendall take all the time he needed. Kendall knew he understood his partner’s dilemma. In Kendall’s rattled mind, it would have almost been easier to handle the volatile, angry man he’d expected to encounter, rather than this shocking new version of the father he’d learned to resent so many years ago. He knew he should be relieved, even thankful, but it was taking a real leap for him to get there. Disbelief was warring with what he’d seen and heard with his own eyes and ears. Carson Dooley, the prick, had thrown his son for a loop when he’d shown a compellingly different side. It was difficult to integrate this new projection of a man with the one he’d known his whole life. The revelations about his grandfather had been startling. All of it had been. Sighing, Kendall thought about what Michael had just told him. It was downright shocking to think his mother had intended to leave his father… was actually going to choose her son over her husband. Things must have gotten pretty bad during his absence from the Dooley fold. His mother had obviously suffered from Kendall’s exclusion from her life, and he couldn’t allow that to happen again. His resigned acceptance of his father’s rejection had been so total, it caused Kendall to mentally close off from his mother as well. He thought her constant support of Carson throughout Kendall’s journey towards adulthood would continue in the same vein it always had. It was now apparent he’d been wrong, and he was feeling guilty about it. Another sigh got Michael’s attention. “Are you okay, Babe?” “My mom has had a very tough time, and it wasn’t fair.” “Yes, she has… but I hope you’re not thinking it’s your fault?” It wasn't hard to see where Kendall’s mind was headed. “It is in a way, though… I let what happened with my dad interfere with my relationship with my mom, and I didn’t even think about it… what it might have been doing to her, and I feel bad about that. It's kind of like I abandoned her, you know?" “Kendall, please don’t do this. I like your mom a lot, but she took a while to get where she is now, and you know it’s true; it didn’t happen overnight, but she has come a long way from the days when she supported your dad blindly. It took losing contact with her son to give her the strength she needed, and that took time. You and your mom didn’t have a relationship because of your dad, not because of you. You start blaming yourself and you’re going to piss me off.” Michael reached up and took Kendall’s head in both hands, turning his head towards him, and leaning their foreheads together. “Beating yourself up over something you had no control over, isn’t going to serve any purpose. It’s a clean slate for you and Agnes, starting today, and that’s all that matters, okay? If you can let some stuff go, maybe it can be a clean slate for you and Carson too? I know it won’t be easy, but I think it’s important for you to make the attempt… if you can get there, great, and if you can’t, you’ll at least know you gave it a shot." His words had the desired effect on his partner as the slight tension Kendall was holding, left his body. “Thank God you’re here, Sunshine. You’re right… about the whole thing. I can’t dwell on something I can’t change, and my mom was in a tough situation, caught between the two of us, so it’s not right to blame her for what’s happened. It does no good to blame me either, so all we can do is move forward. I can see that, thanks to you. I have to be thankful my mom has changed, and that my dad appears to be trying. So what do we do now?” Kendall knew he could count on Michael to keep him on the right track. “Well for starters, we need to talk about us staying here. I figure you’re probably worried about me, and whether I’ll be comfortable with it, right?” Michael gave him a knowing look. “Yeah, of course I am. You come first with me… always. We have our own hotel room already booked and paid for, and this has been a tough day for you… and for me, so I think we should tell my mom we’re going to stay at the hotel for now. I think it’s for the best. We can still visit them during the day, and it there’s any drama, this is a way to escape it; if Carson becomes Carson again, you don’t need to deal with all the bullshit that can come with it. We should go tell her now before she starts making us supper or something.” “Dammit, you have to stop worrying about me or you are going to piss me off. Do you really think I can’t handle any drama that may come up? Carson Dooley doesn’t bother me in the least, and you can’t tell Agnes we’re not going to stay here. That will really hurt her, and you know it’s true. She’s floundering right now and she needs you. We talked quite a bit when you and your dad were in here, and she’s a very fragile woman underneath all that toughness she showed earlier. Doing that almost broke her.” Michael’s voice softened. “I love that you want to put me first, so trust me when I say staying here is putting me first. You need this too, and that is the most important thing to me… this is about you and your mom, and it’s about your dad too. From what I just saw, he needs you just as much as she does. He wants to try, and he can’t do that if you’re not here. You’re like the glue that’s necessary to hold them together right now, and I will be more than fine as long as we get to sleep together. That’s enough for me... to make me comfortable and happy. Trust me on this.” “You know I love you, right?” “I don’t have a single doubt, and I kind of like you too,” Michael teased. “Really… that’s too bad, because I don’t sleep with a guy that just likes me… and I certainly don’t touch their penis, so it looks like you’re out of luck. You’ve sealed your own fate.” Michael’s pout was hilarious, and it took every ounce of Kendall’s control not to laugh. “Aww, Babe, don’t be like that. You know how I feel about you.” “Not if you don’t tell me, I don’t.” Kendall was trying his best to look serious. “I love you with all my heart and soul, and I will feel this way forever.” Leaning in, he caught Kendall’s lips with his, and they shared one of those special kisses that reaffirmed an unbreakable bond neither one had doubts about. “That’s more like it, Sunshine. I knew you had it in you.” “Does that mean you’ll touch my penis now, Babe?” A trembling Agnes Dooley was both relieved and anxious to see Kendall and Michael making their way down the hallway from the den. Kendall’s concern for Michael on his crutches caused a small smile to break through the blanket of fear that covered her. She knew love when she saw it, and these two men were definitely in love. She was struck by how beautiful her son and his partner were, and quietly allowed herself to rejoice in that feeling of pride that can take a mother back to when their child was first born… when the pride first appeared. She was on pins and needles about the outcome of Kendall’s talk with his father, afraid to know what transpired, because she knew her life would change drastically if Carson had let her down again. She would leave the very ill man she still loved deeply. If her husband forced a choice on her, it would be her son she would choose this time. Agnes Dooley saw things clearer now than she ever had before, and she wouldn’t waste the second chance her son was giving her. “Is everything okay, Kendall? Did the man act the fool again?” Kendall could sense his mother was at a breaking point. He heard the quiver in her small-sounding voice. Michael had been so right about the fragile state that struggled to hide beneath the surface. He could have made a huge mistake because of his concern for Michael. Turning quickly to his amazing guy, he whispered a thank you, which he knew was understood immediately; Michael acknowledged it with a smile that said he would always be there for Kendall. “Everything’s fine. Dad made Michael and I feel welcome here, and he said he has no issue with us as partners. I’m a little confused right now, but he seems to have changed… a lot. Did he not say anything to you about our talk?” “Oh, Kendall... I am so happy it went well. He just told me he hoped you believed him, and that he had a lot of things to make up for, to you and me; then he went straight to bed.” His mother’s remarks caused Kendall to look at Michael with a raised eyebrow. “Maybe you’re right about him, Sunshine?” “Of course I'm right. Aren’t I always?” The smug look on Michael’s face made Agnes laugh, and the boys could see the tension that was thrumming through her, begin to dissipate “Don’t encourage the man, Mom… his head is big enough already.” The twinkle in Michael’s eyes at Kendall’s words put fear into Kendall’s heart about what Michael might say in front of his mother, so he shot him a warning look. Michael just continued to smirk, finally laughing at Kendall’s discomfort. They knew each other so well. “So, we’ve decided we’re going to stay here instead of the hotel, and we’ll take the guest room, but we need to go back to the hotel at the Calgary airport and get our bags. We left them in our room before we came here.” “Oh, thank you, thank both of you. That makes me so happy. Do you think you can get a refund for your room though? I don’t want to see you lose any money.” Leave it to his mother to worry about such a thing. It brought Kendall happiness to feel like he had his mother back again, and he let himself bask in her concern for him. The way her face lit up, when he told her their decision to stay at the house, made him aware of what he’d been missing. He was capable of giving his mother joy during a really tough time, and she deserved all the support he could give her. The satisfaction of providing that for her was something he deserved as well. “Don’t worry about the money, Mom. I left it open-ended to re-book each day because I wasn’t sure if we’d be staying, so they can only charge us for the one night, and that’s not a problem.” He glanced over at Michael before continuing. “We may stay there for a couple of hours or so, and have a nap and a clean-up before we come back though. It’s been a busy couple of days and I am feeling very tired, and Michael really needs to rest his knee for a while.” Michael was watching Kendall intently but Kendall deliberately ignored him. “I understand, dear; you boys take your time. I may have a little lie-down myself. How about a late supper… around eight or so. I made some of that shallow pan lasagna you always used to bug me for. You could call me when you’re leaving to come back, and I can put it in the oven. It only takes about forty minutes. I’ll crisp the edges the way you like.” “I haven’t had that in ages… that would be good! We’ll head out now, and you can have a chance to relax. I know you’re under a lot of stress, but we’re here for you. You can relax a little more now. We’re going to be here for both you and Dad, okay?” “Och, my wee lad. It means so much to me that you’ve forgiven me for not supporting you more. I used to find it so hard to stand up to Carson, but not anymore. Being the dutiful wife cost me way too much. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve lost your only child.” Her eyes were glistening again, and Kendall wrapped her up in a big hug, letting her have her little cry, feeling the occasional tremor ripple through her. He released his mom when she’d gotten back in control of her emotions, leaning down to kiss the top of her head in a gesture of reassurance and love. Smiling at that, Agnes turned to Michael and held out her arms to him, and he pulled her into the same reinforcing kind of hug. “What I said to you earlier, you can count on. No matter what happens, Kendall and I will be there for you. We will make sure you are an important part of our lives. And just know that your husband tried hard today, and now there’s hope you will get your wish for your family.” Once again, Kendall was in awe of his partner… his capacity to understand what Agnes needed to hear, and Kendall knew he meant every word; it filled him with a special kind of joy he could only get from Michael Aceto. “Thank you, dear Michael. I am so happy you’re part of our family now.” Looking from one to the other with a heart-warming smile on her stress-lined face, she gave Michael a look of approval, like she could see with certainty he was the right one for her son. “Okay, off you go, my wee lads. The quicker you go, the quicker you’ll be back.” Back in the rental car, with a beaming but tired-looking Agnes waving from the doorway, Kendall backed out of the driveway. He liked that Michael’s steady improvement, and enough room in the front of the big SUV, allowed for him to sit beside Kendall again. He reached for his hand as soon as they were headed down the road towards Calgary. “How’s your knee? Are you comfortable?” “It feels good... almost normal. I don’t think it’s going to be much longer. I really don’t.” “Don’t you dare push it. I know how you get, so promise me you won’t.” Kendall shot Michael a forbidding look that said he would brook no argument, and Michael just sighed. “Jeez, I already promised you so please stop being a mother hen. I swear on your ass, I will be careful, and I won’t take any chances till the therapist says otherwise, okay?” “You’re swearing on my ass?” Kendall looked surprised at this new expression. “Why would you swear on my ass?” “Isn’t it obvious? You always swear on something that’s special to you, like one of the things you care about the most… and for me, that’s your mighty fine ass,” he said with a smirk. Kendall had to laugh at his partner's one track mind. “Fair enough. I can live with that,” he agreed, giving Michael a rather smug smile of his own. “Babe?” “Yeah?” “Why do you want to nap at the hotel? We could just go back and nap at your parents’ house, and then you wouldn’t have to drive when you woke up. Wouldn’t that be better for you… be more relaxing?” “I was thinking of a better way to relax, because I thought you wanted me to touch your penis, but if you’ve changed your mind, then we can just go straight back to the house?” Kendall waited for the slightly delayed reaction, staring straight ahead. “What? Seriously? No fucking way! I haven’t changed my mind, and I will never change my mind about you touching my penis, not ever. I didn’t think you’d be in any kind of mood for some of my good loving after what you’ve been through, but I’m liking the way you're thinking.” Kendall started laughing. “Michael, you’re not the only horn-dog in this relationship, you know? Let’s forget my family drama for now; I want you all the fucking time, and when your knee is back to one hundred per cent, I’m gonna prove it to you... and right now, I am one horny dude.” “Oh fuck, me too. I want you so bad, I’m getting hard right now.” “I’m halfway there too, but I have to drive so you’ve got to behave till we get there.” He smirked and wiggled his eyebrows at the man who was his world. Michael’s expressive face showed his anticipation; he was grinning from ear to ear. A half-hour later, they were in the hotel room shower, soaping away all traces of the travel grime from their busy morning. Kendall had requested a walk-in shower as opposed to the shower/tub combo, but he had neglected to ask for a bench for Michael to sit on, so they made short work of their shower, and headed to the bed with insistently eager erections bouncing in front of them. Kendall marveled all over again at how incredibly gorgeous his man was, and found himself driven by a compulsion to worship him. He proceeded to order Michael to lay on his back, and Michael willingly did as he was told. First, Kendall attacked his mouth with a ferocity that had Michael reeling from the passion of it. He cursed his knee, because he had a real strong urge to take some control from Kendall, but his physical limitation left him with no choice but to be compliant under the onslaught of Kendall’s demanding lips and tongue… not that he was complaining. When Kendall attacked his nipples, Michael had to fight to not put any pressure on his knee by rising up with the sheer power of the sensations. Instead he whimpered and writhed and accepted the jolts of pleasure that continually ran through him from head to toe. He was so fucking turned on by Kendall’s aggressive attention to his body that his cock was experiencing a delicious, almost painful ache, the head already generously coated with precum. When Kendall moved his attack to Michael’s navel, his arousal climbed even higher. Michael had never considered his belly button an erogenous zone before but Kendall was showing him it was indeed a well of nerve endings that connected straight to his weeping, throbbing dick. Kendall’s hand on his cock, keeping it out of the way while he worked on his navel, was driving Michael crazy. “Babe, please?” “What, Michael, please what?” “I need something, Babe, please?” he groaned out. “Is it my mouth on your cock… is that what you’re asking for?” Kendall rose up to look in Michael’s lust-filled eyes, very happy he was the reason Michael was in such an enraptured, almost disjointed state, with raw passion nakedly exposed on his handsome face. “Yeah, but I gotta have you too. Please? I want to feel you, and suck you, and taste your ass while you suck on me. Can we do that? I really need you… please?” he pleaded. Kendall was tempted to continue his torture but Michael’s desire to participate was written all over him, and he couldn’t deny his partner, especially when Michael’s dedicated worship of his ass felt so fucking amazing. He shifted around to give Michael his gift and heard and felt his sigh of contentment as warm breath caressed his exposed hole. The breath was followed by the slippery stroke of Michael’s tongue and Kendall purred his approval. Damn, Michael was so good at this. As his tongue worked its slow, steady invasion techniques, gripping hands softened and began to lovingly massage his ass. Kendall picked up his own considerable gift off of Michael’s hairy, ridged stomach and wasted no time slurping up the clear fluid running from the fat cockhead. Kendall lived for this. This big dick belonged to him, as part of the man it was attached to. His man. He had become very accomplished in a short period of time, and he now knew how to keep Michael on edge… when to back off to prolong the pleasure for both of them. What Michael was doing to his ass was making it hard to concentrate, and when he moved down to Kendall’s balls he groaned into the cock in his mouth, making it jerk at the vibration. He attacked Michael’s length in earnest, figuring they were both too desperate for this to be a marathon. All thoughts of edging Michael along went out the window now that Michael was performing his own brand of magic, so Kendall increased his attempts to deep throat the thick cock bumping his tonsils. Using what he had learned, his throat opened up to accommodate the full length of Michael’s dick. Kendall settled into a rhythm despite the distraction of the working over Michael was giving his ass, his cock, and his balls. He had launched his own attack on Kendall and it was effective in bringing Kendall quickly to the edge. When Michael settled on his cock, Kendall shifted to give him easier access and Michael responded by increasing his speed and suction. Kendall knew he had little time so he sank all the way down on Michael’s pulsating cock, demanding his reward. Up and down incursions into his throat gave him what he craved, and Michael unloaded with incredible force, accompanied by a groan that reverberated through Kendall’s cock. The taste of Michael’s cum was all Kendall needed to return the favor to a determined Michael, and with his own muffled groan, he let loose a torrent of cum into Michael’s mouth that he had no hope of catching entirely; it was a veritable flood downward. It spilled out the sides of Michael’s receptive mouth as Kendall’s own mouth managed to capture Michael’s entire load, swallowing quickly and savoring every ounce of it. Spinning around, once he was sure he had it all, he assisted Michael’s valiant attempt by licking what remained of his own load, from Michael’s very-pleased-with-himself face. He let Michael taste their shared offerings in a deep and tender kiss. That goofy grin Kendall loved so much, spilled across Michael’s countenance. “Babe, that was awesome. You fucking drained me completely. You’ve gotten so good at that. I don’t know if I’ll ever get hard again. Some of my brains might have shot out that time.” “I hope not,” Kendall grinned. “You don’t have any to spare.” He sighed in contentment as he snuggled in to his completely sated man. “I had enough brains to snag you and that’s all that matters to me.” The sleepiness in his voice was apparent to Kendall. “That’s all that matters to me too. I don’t know who snagged who, but you just fucking rocked my world again. That was fucking unbelievable,” a yawn escaping him. “The things you do to my ass… it sends me to another planet.” “There’s a lot more I want to do to your ass,” Michael murmured as he pulled Kendall closer. “I want that too. I don’t expect it’ll be easy, but I want you that way, inside me,” Kendall confessed to a sleepy Michael. Michael woke up a bit at that, realizing the importance of this conversation. “You know I want you the same way, don’t you? Inside me, I mean? This partnership is equal in every way, Babe.” “I wasn’t totally sure, but I’m glad to hear you say that because the thought of being inside you, making love to you, well, it would be a dream come true. Ah, Michael? I thought you said you didn’t think you’d get hard again?” “That’s what the thought of you being inside me does… and that’s my job, Babe… to make all your dreams come true. That’s one job I’m looking forward to.” Sleep claimed both exhausted but satisfied men as they settled into this new level of understanding. It didn’t get any better than this.
  11. 1 point
    Second Chances By Andrew Todd Chapter 8 Ace, Jesse and Diego were waiting in front of the main house to meet their arriving friends. When the black SUV stopped Zak, Dusty, Spin, Devon, CJ, Danny and Josh spilled out. “Hey, guys!!” Ace grinned. “Welcome to Rancho Del Cielo.” He gestured to Diego. “This is Diego, his dad’s the new owner and he’s been our guide for the last few days.” Diego stepped forward. “My father sends his regrets that he is unable to greet you in person--he had a last minute business trip come up. He hopes to be back before you leave.” Ace and Jesse introduced everyone to Diego and then they led the newcomers to the bunkhouse. Ace showed Spin to the room he would share with Mattie, while Jesse brought Josh to Casey’s room and Diego showed Zak and Dusty, CJ and Danny and Devon to their rooms. Devon knew he would probably end up with Ace, but he simply followed Diego to his assigned room. After everyone was settled they all met in the great room. “Hey, when is Mattie getting back?” Spin asked anxiously. “Well, they left about two hours ago, so they should be back in an hour or two,” Diego answered. “Where’s Dylan?” Zak asked. “Ernesto called and said that Dylan had decided at the last minute to go with Mattie,” Jesse answered. Zak walked over to Jesse and whispered to him, “He didn’t wait for you?” Jesse shook his head. “No, he wasn’t even interested in going when we talked about it last night. I don’t know if Mattie talked him into it so he didn’t have to go alone.” “Why wouldn’t he have asked you?” Zak asked. “You and Dylan never go anywhere apart and Mattie’s closer to you than he is to Dylan.” “Well, Ace and I were out with Diego early this morning and Dylan slept in, so maybe Mattie grabbed him at the last minute.” Zak nodded. “I guess so.” Zak thought more about it and thought something didn’t seem right. Diego’s cell phone rang and he stepped into the entryway to answer it. He returned a few moments later looking very concerned. “Ace!” he called. “We need to get to the main barn, something is wrong.” “What?” Ace asked. “I’m not sure, let’s go,” Diego called as he ran for the front door, all the other boys on his heels. When they reached the main barn, they found Casey sitting on a bench; he was holding an ice pack to the back of his head. One of the hands came over to Diego and began speaking frantically in Spanish. CJ picked up on the conversation and began asking the hand questions. The hand tried to answer, but most of CJ’s questions were answered with a head shake. Josh went over and knelt by Casey. “Case, what happened to you?” Josh asked. Casey shook his head. “I’m not sure. Ernesto asked me to check something with him in one of the tack rooms and then I woke up on the floor with my hands and feet bound. I’m not even sure how long I was there before Santiago there found me.” “Where’s Mattie and Dylan?” Danny asked Casey. “I don’t know. I was supposed to go with Mattie and Ernesto to the other ranch,” Casey answered. “Dylan wasn’t supposed to go with us.” “Ernesto called Diego and said that Dylan had decided to go with you,” Ace explained. Casey shook his head. “No, that’s not right. I saw Dylan in the bunkhouse when Mattie and I were leaving to meet Ernesto; he was planning to meet up with you, Jesse and Diego.” By now, everyone had gathered around Casey, except CJ and Diego who were still in conversation with Santiago, the ranch hand who had found Casey. After a few more minutes, CJ and Diego joined the group. “Something is definitely not right,” CJ said. “No one has seen Mattie or Dylan or this Ernesto in several hours and there is another hand missing who worked very closely with Ernesto. The SUV they were supposed to take is gone as well, so everyone assumed that Ernesto had gone to the ranch with Mattie and Casey.” “Has anyone tried to call this other ranch?” Danny asked. Diego was just disconnecting his phone. “I just called the rancho and no one from here showed up there today.” “So no one knows where they are or what the hell is going on?!” Spin shouted. Zak grabbed Spin’s arm and pulled him to the side. “Spin, calm down,” Zak whispered to his best friend. “Shouting and getting excited is not going to help Mattie or Dylan. Let CJ figure out what’s going on, ok?” Spin nodded and looked down. Zak grabbed him in a hug; he knew Spin was all mouth and bluster most of the time, but he also knew Spin loved Mattie and was scared for him. Zak looked over at Jesse who was wrapped between Ace and Devon. Jesse had lost so much in a short time, Zak didn’t know if he could survive losing Dylan as well. CJ went over and grabbed Ace and Danny went to get Josh. The four and Diego went into a nearby office. “Ace, call your dad and tell him to lock down the ranch and call all the guys back.” “Sure, but why?” CJ lowered his voice. “There’s a good chance my uncle is behind this.” “What?” “We didn’t want to alarm Mattie or any of you guys, but my uncle was planning to hurt Mattie to get control of his inheritance. We found out because he tried to get Pete to help him and Pete told my dad. Uncle Juan was arrested and Natalia, who was helping him, was banished to South America. Juan’s trial is scheduled to start right after we leave. Mattie disappearing is too much of a coincidence. I can only assume that this Ernesto was working for my uncle.” Diego shook his head. “I can’t believe that. Ernesto has been working for us since my father purchased the rancho; he’s always been so loyal.” “Where did he work before?” Danny asked. “He was here when we got here.” “But he didn’t work for my grandfather,” CJ stated. “I knew his foreman. So it’s possible that Juan hired him to make sure he had an inside man here and then when he found out Mattie was coming here, the opportunity was too much for him to pass up.” Ace took his phone and walked away to make his call. “Dad?” “Hey, Ace, how’s Spain?” “Well, it was good until today.” “What’s wrong?” “We think Mattie and Dylan have been kidnapped.” “What?!?” Ace explained what had transpired and that CJ wanted the ranch locked down and all guards recalled. “Ace, let me talk to CJ.” “CJ!!” Ace called. “My dad wants to talk to you.” CJ took the phone. “Sarge?” “CJ, do you need me over there?” “No, my dad has security people over here that will be more familiar with the area. I need you to keep an eye on things in case my uncle has plans for the ranch as well.” “Do you want me to contact Dylan’s parents?” “Let’s hold off for just a bit, until we are 100 percent sure that something has happened to them.” “Ok, but as a parent, I can’t keep this from them indefinitely.” “I understand. Give me a few hours and I’ll call you back.” “Ok. Take care and get those boys back.” “We will.” CJ had no sooner disconnected Ace’s phone than his own phone started to ring. “Hello…Mother…He did…we thought that would be the case…what does he want?…of course…you and father stay put and make sure you have a full security detail there and on Idgie…we will…whatever it takes.” CJ disconnected the call. “Someone claiming to represent my uncle called my father,” he said seriously. “They have Mattie and Dylan. They want Pete to change his testimony. Without that they can’t convict my uncle and then they want Juan reinstated as executor of the estate and for him to have full control of Mattie’s inheritance.” Danny wrapped his arm around CJ’s waist. “You think they’re going to kill Mattie, don’t you?” CJ looked at Danny and nodded. “There’s no reason to keep him alive if we do as they ask. The only way my uncle gets control of the money is if Mattie’s dead.” Ace spoke up. “What about Dylan?” CJ shook his head. “I don’t know. They mentioned that they had him. They told my parents they had their son and grandson, so maybe they think Dylan is Jesse, which may help keep him safe for the time being. “ Josh pulled Diego to one side. “Diego, it’s pretty isolated around here. There can’t be too many places they could safely hide two teenage boys in just a couple hours.” Diego nodded. “True. The rancho itself covers a lot of land.” He turned and dug through a nearby desk. He pulled several rolled-up sheets from a drawer. He unrolled them and spread them out on the desk. “This is the rancho and the surrounding area.” He studied the map for a few minutes and then pointed to an area on the outskirts of the rancho. “HERE!!” he exclaimed. Everyone gathered around the desk. “On the other side of these mountains, there are several deserted buildings,” Diego stated. “I believe at one point, Mattie’s grandfather had planned to build a small town for the workers, but when he became ill, the plans were dropped. It’s very secluded and would be a good place to hide out.” CJ and Josh turned the map around and examined it closely. CJ nodded. “I remember this area. Grandfather showed it to me and Mattie the last time we came out. It would be a great hiding place and they would see a vehicle or helicopter coming from miles away.” He looked up. “Diego, Ace, I want you to go back out with the others. Let them know what’s going on and keep them calm. I’m going to call my father and get his security people here so we can proceed.” Diego and Ace went out to the barn where the other boys were all pacing around. When they saw Ace and Diego everyone gathered around. “What the hell is going on?!” Spin demanded. Ace looked from Spin to Jesse. Spin was red with rage and Jesse was pale from the stress. Devon was practically holding Jesse up. Ace walked over to Jesse and wrapped his arm around him. “Mattie and Dylan have been kidnapped,” he stated. “Mattie’s uncle is behind it; he’s in prison awaiting trial and they want Mattie’s brother Pete to change his testimony so that he gets off.” “WHAT?!?!” several voices cried at once. Ace tried his best to explain what was going on and what they knew about Mattie’s and Dylan’s disappearance and Diego’s idea about where they might be held. “Then let’s get over there!!” Spin blurted. As he started for the barn door he was grabbed from behind by Dusty. “Let go, Dusty!! We need to find Mattie.” “And we will, Spin,” CJ said as he came out of the office followed by Danny and Josh. “We just talked to my father’s security people as well as Senor Montoya. Some of my father’s men are on their way by helicopter; they should be here within the hour and then they will formulate a plan to find Mattie and Dylan.” “We can’t wait that long,” Spin argued as he struggled in Dusty’s grip. CJ walked over to Spin and nodded at Dusty who released Spin. CJ grabbed Spin in a hug. “I know you’re worried about Mattie, I am too.” He looked over at Jesse who was holding onto Danny like a life preserver. “And Dylan as well, but we need to be patient and do this right so they come back to us safe. If we rush into it someone could get hurt or worse.” He looked down at Spin. “I know you love Mattie and I know he’s gonna do everything he can to get back to you. But you need to be strong.” Spin hugged CJ tight and wept. CJ held him close and led him away from the other boys. Zak followed after CJ and Spin and helped to comfort his friend, while Ace and Danny held tight to Jesse. After a few minutes, everyone headed towards the bunkhouse. Zak, Ace and Josh took Spin, Jesse and Casey up to their rooms, while everyone else gathered in the great room to wait. CJ received a phone call and nodded to Danny, who ran upstairs to get Josh. Josh and CJ left to meet with Mr. Alvarez’s security team. A while later CJ came back into the great room; by that time everyone except Casey who was resting in his room had gathered. “Ok, guys, Josh and I are going with my father’s security team. We’re going to fly out and land in a clearing about five miles from the compound and then hike in after dark. Danny’s going to stay here with you guys and I’ll relay information to him,” CJ said. “You guys need to stay close to the main buildings here. There is extra security all over, but I don’t want anyone taking any chances since we don’t know if anyone else on staff is working for my uncle.” It was late afternoon when CJ and Josh took off with Mr. Alvarez’s security team. Diego gave the new arrivals an abbreviated tour of the rancho, but there was very little enthusiasm amongst the group. Diego arranged for his father’s cook to prepare dinner for the boys. Since no one was particularly hungry, he had her set up a buffet table in the great room where people could grab a bite when they felt hungry. As the evening wore on, most of the boys retired to their rooms until only Diego and Ace remained in the great room. Ace was lying on one of the couches with his eyes closed, trying not to worry about Mattie and Dylan, while Diego was rummaging through some papers he had retrieved earlier from the main house. “Madre De Dios!!” Diego exclaimed jumping from his seat. Ace bolted upright. “What? What?” he said sleepily. Diego ran over the couch that Ace was sitting on and sat beside him. “I have been so stupid, my friend,” Diego said solemnly. “I was wrong.” “Wrong about what?” “Mattie and Dylan. They are not here.” He pointed to the spot he had found earlier. “They are here.” He pointed to a spot almost directly across the property from the spot he had originally pointed out. “How do you know they’re there?” Ace asked looking at the new location. “When Mattie’s grandfather was building the housing that I sent CJ to, he was also building some warehouses and a power plant over here. These buildings are abandoned as well.” “What makes you sure they’re in those buildings?” “I don’t think they are in those buildings,” Diego said assuredly. “I know exactly what building they are in. There is a warehouse that was built into the side of the mountain. It was made for cold storage. There is a garage where they could hide several vehicles and since most of it is below ground it would be hard to detect them.” “How far is it from there to where CJ and the guards are headed?” “Probably over an hour by ground. Visibility around those mountains would be very bad at night, nearly impossible for a helicopter.” Diego thought for a moment. “But we could take horses and ride into the mountains here. There are several entrances that we could use to enter the warehouse and rescue Mattie and Dylan.” “We?!” “Yes, you and I,” Diego said expectantly. “And me.” Both boys turned to see Jesse standing in the doorway. Ace stood up and shook his head. “No way, Jesse,” he said as Jesse walked towards him. “There is no chance in hell that I am going to let you come with us.” “Ace, you’ve been teaching me self-defense and shooting since January. You’re not going to leave me behind while you go looking for Dylan and Mattie. If anything happened to him and I didn’t try to help…” Jesse gasped as his voice quivered and tears came to his eyes. Ace grabbed Jesse and pulled the younger boy to him. “I know, I know.” He hugged Jesse tight and then looked over at Diego. “Ok, Diego, if we’re gonna do this we need to get going, before everyone is down here. This won’t work if we drag ten guys out to look for them.” Ace thought for a moment. “Do you have any weapons here?” Diego grinned as he stood up from the couch and signaled Ace to follow him. Ace kept his arm wrapped around Jesse as the two followed Diego to a door in the back of the house. Diego punched a code into the keypad by the door and it slid open. Ace whistled as he looked at the weapons cache that filled the small room. “What do you have all this for?” Ace asked incredulously. “My father has long been afraid that what happened to Mattie and Dylan would happen to me,” Diego explained. “So he has had me trained to use all of these as well as in many types of self-defense.” For the next ten minutes, Ace’s military life took over and he outfitted himself as well as Diego and Jesse with an array of small firearms that they could carry easily on their person. He also grabbed a couple of rifles and plenty of ammunition. Just when he thought they were ready, Ace was once again surprised when Diego opened a small drawer. Inside were several KA-BAR knives in sheathes. Ace grabbed three and handed one to Jesse and one to Diego. The boys all attached the knives to their belts. Jesse was also given a backpack with other provisions. Before they left, Ace ran upstairs to get a couple heavy jackets for him and Jesse. The mountains would be chilly at night. He stopped by Dusty and Zak’s room and knocked. Dusty came to the door. “Hey, Ace,” he said quietly. “Zak finally nodded off, what’s up?” Ace quickly told Dusty what they were attempting. Dusty shook his head. “Are you sure about this? Wouldn’t it be easier if we all went?” “No,” Ace answered. “It would be easier if it was just me and Diego. I’m not even sure if this is the right spot--it probably isn’t; but it’s worth checking out. I’d rather leave Jesse here, but he wouldn’t let us get ten feet from the ranch without telling someone.” “What do you want me to do?” “If you don’t hear from us by dawn, then let Danny know where we went. Diego says it will take a couple hours to ride out there.” Dusty answered hesitantly. “Ok, but be careful,” he warned. “Will do,” Ace said as he ran back downstairs. Diego led them out the back of the bunkhouse and towards a small barn where Ace and Jesse knew Diego’s personal horses were kept. There would be no hands there at this time of night, as Diego took care of his string of horses personally. Diego directed Ace and Jesse as to which horses they should get and he went to the stall of Domingo, his favorite of his horses. Within a few minutes all three boys had their horses saddled and they were ready to move out. They mounted up and Diego led them away from the compound at a walk. They did not want to awaken anyone, so they waited until they were far enough from the compound that the sound of hooves would not disturb anyone before they all kicked the horses into a run. *** Mattie hadn’t heard anyone come into the room since he had awakened a second time. He could hear someone else breathing in the room, but he hadn’t said anything in case it was Ernesto. He had recognized the foreman’s voice before he had been drugged a second time. He had let his head clear this time, before he tried anything. He started to remember what had happened at the ranch. One of the ranch hands had come to him to tell him Ernesto was running late. He remembered being grabbed from behind and a cloth being placed over his mouth and then he had awakened here. He felt the plastic ties digging into his wrists. He had been trying to pull his wrists apart for a while with little success. He finally decided that he needed to try and move around and get some idea of the layout of the room. He scooted along the floor slowly trying to feel as far as his arms could reach. “Who’s there?” he heard a familiar voice say. “Dylan? Is that you?” “Mattie? What happened? Where are we?” “I don’t know where we are, but I think we got grabbed by Ernesto.” “That makes sense,” Dylan answered. “When I was looking for Casey, I found him tied up in one of the tack rooms and then someone grabbed me from behind and knocked me out.” “Me, too,” Mattie said. “Are your wrists tied?” “Yes, it feels like plastic.” “I’m gonna try to scoot over to you and see if we can get them stretched or cut,” Mattie said as he slid in the direction of Dylan’s voice. Mattie bumped into Dylan. “There you are.” He chuckled. He felt his way around Dylan until they were back to back. “Just relax,” Mattie said. “Let me see if I can get yours loose--your wrists are skinnier than mine. Dylan sat as still as he could as Mattie pulled and pried and grabbed at the plastic bindings. Every few minutes he would have Dylan try to slip his wrists through. After working them for what seemed like hours, Dylan was finally able to slip one of his wrists free. He rubbed his raw wrist and then reached up and pulled the hood off his head. The room was dark and gloomy lit only by a bare bulb on the ceiling. Dylan turned around and grabbed the hood off of Mattie’s head. Mattie blinked as his eyes tried to focus. He looked up at Dylan and grinned. “Hey.” “Hey.” Dylan grinned back and hugged Mattie. Dylan looked around the room and saw some broken glass on the floor in a far corner. He crawled over to where the glass was and carefully picked up a piece and cut the bindings on his legs. He stood up and went back to Mattie and cut through his bindings. When he was free Mattie stood up and rubbed his wrists. He looked around the room. It was a large barren space. It looked like they were in some type of storage area or a warehouse. Mattie went over to check out the one door they could see. He turned the knob slowly and the door opened. Dylan was right behind him. “It’s not locked?” he asked. “They were probably confident that we would stay immobile,” Mattie replied. Mattie carefully peered out the door and seeing no one, signaled Dylan to follow him quietly. They entered a long hallway and started their search for a way out. *** Diego, Ace and Jesse had been riding for several hours when Diego called them to a stop. “We need to walk from here,” Diego announced. “It’s about another mile or so to the warehouse, and we can travel easier by foot. There should be enough trees and foliage to give us cover.” The boys quickly dismounted and tethered the horses to a fallen tree. There was plenty of grass around for the horses to graze on. They grabbed all the weapons they could comfortably carry and started walking. They walked for a while before they came to a dirt road carved into the wilderness. “We’re almost there,” Diego stated. “We can follow the road from here, but let’s stay along the tree line so we aren’t spotted.” They walked along the road until Diego again stopped them. He didn’t speak, only pointed to the entrance of the warehouse. There was a single guard posted. The guard appeared to be bored as he was not actually keeping watch anywhere in particular. Diego signaled to Ace who nodded. Ace picked up a large branch and carefully walked through the woods and found a spot to wait near the guard. When he saw Ace was in place, Jesse jumped on several broken branches. The noise they made brought the guard out of his daze. He lifted his rifle and walked towards the woods. Both Diego and Jesse had their guns trained on the guard. When the guard passed the spot where Ace waited, he stepped out and swung the branch like a club. He connected with the back of the guard’s head and the guard went down. Ace jumped forward and grabbed the guard’s gun. He made sure the guard was out cold and signaled to Diego and Jesse, who came out of the woods. Diego and Ace dragged the unconscious guard into the woods. Jesse took a length of rope from his backpack and tied the guard’s hands; he then placed a length of duct tape across his mouth. When the guard was securely out of the way, Diego had Jesse hand him the plans that he had in his backpack. Diego unfolded the plans and looked over his should to the entrance the guard had been watching. “Ok,” he whispered as they all bent over the plans. “We’re here. I would think they are probably holding Mattie and Dylan in one of these rooms.” He pointed to several large empty spaces on the plans. “They were set up to hold provisions, but would be large empty spaces now.” “Right, let’s stay together and check each one,” Ace said. “Diego, you’re more familiar with the layout so you take point, Jesse you stay in the middle and don’t make a move unless I tell you and I’ll take the rear.” Diego and Jesse nodded. “Good, let’s move.” The three scurried across the road to the warehouse entrance. Diego entered first and checked around, but saw no signs of life. Diego signaled the others to follow and they began methodically seeking out and searching the rooms that Diego had noted on the plans. As they checked each room, they became more and more frustrated that they were finding no sign of their friends. Ace knew that if there was a guard, there would have to be something worth guarding. He kept reminding Jesse of this as the younger boy became more disappointed. They entered one of the last rooms they had to check and Ace immediately knew that something had happened. He ran to the far corner of the room where there were some discarded plastic ties like police would use on suspects; there were also two stocking caps with patches sewn over the eyes and mouths. “Look,” he whispered to the others, as he held up the ties. “There was someone here.” Jesse ran over and looked around. He pointed to a spot on the floor. “Is that blood?” he asked nervously. Ace looked at the spot and then stood and wrapped his arm around Jesse. “Jesse, it’s just a little spot. It looks like they used that piece of glass to cut the ties, so someone probably got a small cut.” “So did they escape or…” Ace took Jesse’s face in his hands and looked him in the eyes. “Hey, until we hear otherwise, this is still a rescue mission. We need to assume they found a way out of this room and now we need to turn this place inside out to find them.” Diego pulled the plans back out and grabbed a small penlight to illuminate the map. “The biggest problem is that since we are underground, they aren’t going to know what direction is out,” he said. “Let’s assume they are going away from the entrance we came in since we saw no sign of them and let’s work our way back. Now, we need to search every room for signs of them.” Ace and Jesse nodded and the three took their positions and continued their search. *** Mattie led the way down the corridor. Dylan was close behind him. They came to a dead end with two doors. Mattie signaled Dylan to stay silent while he listened at each door. He couldn’t hear anything behind either one. They had been running through this maze of hallways for a while now; if they didn’t find a way out or at least a place to hide they were as good as dead. Mattie blamed himself for this mess. He knew they only wanted him, and that Dylan was collateral damage. Mattie decided to try the door to the right. He slowly turned the knob and opened the door. The room looked empty as he peered in. “C’mon,” Mattie whispered to Dylan as he entered the room. As Mattie stepped into the room, he felt someone grab his arm and pull him in. Before he could warn Dylan there was a hand placed over his mouth. *** The three would-be rescuers diligently searched each room they came to. They were again becoming disheartened by the lack of evidence that Mattie and Dylan had been there. As they walked slowly down one hallway, Diego stopped. There were shadows coming towards them. Diego saw a door and signaled to Ace and Jesse to follow him. The three slipped into the room and waited for the people to pass. They heard footsteps that stopped in front of the door. Ace signaled Jesse to hide in a far corner of the room. Diego stood behind the door and Ace stood just inside it, prepared to take on whoever entered. The door opened slowly and a head poked in. “C’mon,” Ace heard a voice whisper. He grabbed the figure and placed his hand over the person’s mouth. Diego grabbed the second figure and quickly shut the door. “Mattie, stop struggling,” Ace hissed in his ear. Recognizing Ace’s voice, Mattie slumped against his friend. Ace let go of him and Mattie turned and hugged Ace. “Ace, what are you guys doing here?” Before Ace could answer, Jesse came scrambling across the room and launched himself at Dylan. Dylan’s look of joy and relief at seeing Jesse quickly turned to panic. “Jesse, what the hell are you doing here?!” “Diego thought he figured where they were holding you guys and he and Ace were gonna try to rescue you, but I made them take me,” Jesse answered as he held Dylan tight. “Guys, look, I know we’re all happy that we found Mattie and Dyl, but we’re not out of the woods yet--we still need to get out of here,” Ace declared. Diego pulled out his trusty plans and he and Ace pored over them trying to find the nearest exit. Jesse held tight to Dylan, determined to not let him out of his sight. He also reached over to Mattie and pulled his ‘uncle’ into the embrace. “I’m so glad we found you guys,” Jesse said excitedly. “I don’t know what I would do if I lost either one of you.” “I’m glad you found us, too,” Mattie stated. “We’ve been wandering around here forever trying to find a way out or a place to hide. Where are we exactly?” “We’re still on the rancho,” Jesse explained. “Diego thought you were in one spot so CJ and Josh went with your father’s security guards to find the place, but then Diego remembered this place and thought it would be a better place for the kidnappers to hide you.” “Of course,” Mattie laughed. “This is part of the warehouses and utility buildings grandfather was building in the mountains. I had forgotten all about them.” Diego and Ace came over to join them. “Mattie, have you seen any sign of Ernesto or anyone else here?” Ace asked. Mattie shook his head. “No, I haven’t seen Ernesto at all, but I know he was here. They had us tied up and had hoods over our heads and when I first woke up, I heard him say something before he injected me with something that put me back under.” “Well, then we need to be on the lookout for him and anyone else that’s working with him,” Diego declared. Ace handed a small hand gun to Mattie which he tucked into the back of his jeans and then Ace handed him a rifle too. Dylan looked at Ace. “What about me?” he asked. Ace smirked. “You stay in the middle of us, Dyl. Your aim is not the best.” Dylan flipped Ace the bird and the boys all laughed. They exited the room in a single-file line. Diego again had point followed by Mattie, Dylan, Jesse and Ace taking up the rear. Diego led them quickly and quietly to the nearest exit that he and Ace could find on the plans. He knew it was farther away from the horses than they had planned, but he and Ace agreed they needed to first get out of this building. They would be safer under the cover of the woods. As they got closer to the exit, Diego slowed the group down. He signaled Ace to join him up front and the two instructed the younger boys to wait behind while they made sure the coast was clear. Diego and Ace crossed to the exit and stood on either side of the door. Diego peered out and signaled to Ace that there was someone outside. Ace held up three fingers to Diego, who nodded. Ace then nodded his head in a countdown. On the third nod, Diego pulled open the door and Ace rushed out. Before the guard knew what had hit him, Ace tackled him to the ground. As the guard struggled to get up, Diego rushed up and coldcocked him with the butt of his rifle. Ace stood up and looked down at the guard. “Ernesto,” he spat. Diego nodded. “Well, if it was just Ernesto and his friend, then we should be free and clear.” “I sure hope so,” Ace answered as he walked back into the warehouse. “Guys!” Ace called. “You can come out.” Mattie and Dylan stepped into the hallway. Both had a scared look in their eyes. “C’mon, guys, let’s get out of here,” Ace said. “Hey, where’s Jesse?” “Right here,” said a deep voice. Jesse stepped forward followed by a figure that Ace and Diego immediately recognized. The figure held a gun to Jesse’s head. “F-F-Father!?” Diego stammered. “What are you doing here?” “Diego, what are you doing here?” Senor Montoya answered. “You have ruined months of planning.” “You’re involved with this, Father?” “I had no choice, my son. The only way for us to get the rancho was for me to help Mateo’s uncle.” “You did this just for the rancho?” “No, my son, I did it for you, so that you would have a legacy and something to build on.” Ace tried to creep closer to Senor Montoya, but the older man saw him. “Don’t move, Ace,” he instructed. “I know you are proficient with firearms, but at this range, I guarantee I will kill Jesse before you can even aim.” He nodded to the four boys. “All of you against the wall and throw your weapons on the floor.” Ace, Diego, Mattie and Dylan all backed up against the wall. Mattie, Diego and Ace threw their rifles and knives into a pile on the floor. “And you, Dylan?” Senor Montoya asked. Dylan shook his head, raised his arms and spun around. “They didn’t give me one--my aim is pretty bad.” Senor Montoya grinned. “Now, what, Father?” Diego asked. “Now we wait,” Senor Montoya answered. “I’ve called for a couple of my men to come and meet us. Then, Mateo and Jesse and I will leave until Senor Juan’s demands are met.” Senor Montoya stepped out from behind Jesse. He pushed Jesse against the wall. “Go stand with them,” he ordered. Dylan was next to Mattie with his hand against the wall. He placed his hand on Mattie’s back and noticed that Mattie had kept the pistol that Ace had given him. Mattie felt Dylan’s hand slide down his back and grip the pistol. He knew that they would only have one chance at this. Mattie pressed his back against the wall to signal Dylan to wait. Dylan drummed his fingers against Mattie’s back to signal that he understood. In preparation, Dylan flipped the safety on the pistol. Mattie and Dylan watched Senor Montoya pace around the hallway. He was definitely nervous. Every time he changed directions he would turn his back to them. Mattie counted the steps and then tapped his fingers on Dylan’s thigh. Dylan tapped Mattie’s back the same number of times. Mattie then tapped Dylan’s thigh three times slowly and Dylan replied in kind. Mattie pulled away from the wall and watched Senor Montoya. As Senor Montoya started his third pass, Mattie felt Dylan pull the pistol from the back of his jeans. When Senor Montoya started to turn his back, Mattie dropped to the floor and Dylan leveled the pistol and fired. The sound of the gun shot thundered through the hallway. Senor Montoya grabbed his leg where the bullet had torn through. Diego sprinted across the hall and tackled his father. Ace followed right behind him and grabbed Senor Montoya’s gun. Jesse tossed Ace some rope he had in his backpack and Ace bound Senor Montoya, while Diego held him down. Ace got up and walked over to Dylan who was still standing against the wall holding the pistol. Ace quietly took the pistol from Dylan. “Nice shooting, Dyl.” Ace grinned. He reached over and grabbed the gun. “Why don’t I just hold that for you.” Dylan let Ace take the gun and stood stock still, beads of sweat dripping down his forehead. “Thanks, but I was actually aiming for his head.” He shrugged. Jesse ran over to Dylan and grabbed him in a hug. “Guys, we need to get out of here, before Senor Montoya’s men get here,” Ace said as they all dashed for the door. As they ran for the woods they heard a vehicle coming up the road. “The woods!!” Ace ordered as they all ran. “ACE!! DIEGO!! JESSE!!” they heard echoing through the woods. “Guys, wait up!!” Ace hollered turning back. They gathered at the edge of the woods and saw CJ, Danny and Josh getting out of an SUV while a platoon of security guards emptied out of two others. “CJ!!” Mattie yelled as he ran from the woods followed by the other boys. CJ grabbed Mattie in a huge hug and Danny ran to Dylan and Jesse. CJ shook his head at Ace and Diego as he pulled Danny, Jesse and Dylan into his embrace. “How did you find us?” Diego asked. “Well,” CJ said glaring at Ace. “Ace had the forethought to tell Dusty where you guys were going, but he made Dusty promise not to say anything until morning. When the first site didn’t pan out, we came back to the ranch and noticed that you three were missing. Dusty came clean and we grabbed who we could and headed out here.” “My father has more men on the way,” Diego explained. Josh shook his head. “Nope, we intercepted them as they were leaving the ranch. The authorities should be there by now and should be on their way here.” Ace and Diego directed the security personnel to the spots where they had left Senor Montoya, Ernesto and Ernesto’s accomplice. They soon had the three loaded into an SUV and awaiting the authorities. Once the authorities had arrived, they took over processing the scene and questioning the boys. After several hours of questions and interviews, the boys were released to CJ and Danny’s custody and they headed back to the main house. CJ had sent a couple of the men to where the boys had left their horses to retrieve them and take them back to the rancho. The SUV stopped in front of the bunkhouse and Mattie had barely stepped out of the vehicle when he was tackled to the ground by a red-headed missile. Spin lay on Mattie and hugged him as tight as he could. “Don’t you ever scare me like that again!” Spin choked into Mattie’s ear. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Mattie felt Spin’s tears fall on his face as he looked up at his boyfriend. “I love you so much,” Mattie sighed as Spin covered his face with kisses. The rest of the boys greeted Ace, Diego, Dylan and Jesse. CJ herded everyone into the great hall so they would only have to re-tell the tale once. CJ told Ace to phone his father, who was not at all happy that Ace had gone off to rescue Mattie and Dylan without telling anyone where they were going. Sarge was happy to hear that everyone was alright. Dylan’s parents had been camped out at Sarge’s house waiting for news, so Ace had Dylan talk to them to assure them he was alright. Eventually, the rescuers and rescuees started nodding off and CJ and Danny instructed them all to head upstairs for some rest. Jesse lay in bed spooned up against Dylan. Dylan was shaking. “Hey, Dyl, are you ok?” Jesse asked. “Do you need your pills?” Dylan rolled over and faced Jesse. He pulled Jesse tight to him. “No. I was just thinking. I was ready to kill Senor Montoya today. I never thought I could do that.” “You did what you had to so we would be safe,” Jesse said quietly. “We never know what we are capable of when we’re against it like that. Look at Ace. We know he knows all that shit, but you never think he would use it. But you should have seen him bust those guards’ heads when he knew it was you and Mattie on the line. You did what any of us would have done in the same situation.” “I guess,” Dylan sighed. “I’m just glad my aims sucks.” Jesse laughed. “So are your parents coming over?” Jesse asked. Dylan rolled his eyes. “They wanted to, but I told them not to. We’ll be home in a week and Mr. Alvarez has so much security on us now, it’s insane.” “And Senor Montoya and Ernesto are singing about Uncle Juan.” Dylan nodded. “Yeah, CJ said there may not even be a trial for him. They think he’ll plead out. I just feel bad for Diego.” “I know; me, too.” Jesse held Dylan tight as the two drifted off to sleep. Diego sat on his bed. He couldn’t sleep. There was a knock on the door. “Come in.” CJ and Danny came in and shut the door behind them. “Hey, Diego, how are you doing?” Danny asked. “I don’t know. I guess I am still in shock over my father and now I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.” “Diego, I hate to be the bearer of more bad news,” CJ said as he and Danny sat on either side of Diego. “But I just got a call from my father. His lawyers have been reviewing the sale of the rancho and none of it was legal. It looks like Uncle Juan and your father dummied the sale with the idea that they would make it legal after my uncle got rid of Mattie.” “So now I don’t have a home either?” Diego buried his face in his crossed arms and started to sob. “None of this, the bunkhouse or the horses are mine?. Danny put his arm around Diego’s shoulders. “You don’t have any other family here, do you?” he asked gently. Diego shook his head. “No, my mother died years ago and neither she nor my father had any family.” “Then, you are coming with us,” Danny announced. CJ looked at Danny and grinned. He knew that Danny couldn’t leave anyone behind. Diego looked at Danny with tear-filled eyes. “You want me to come with you? Even after everything my father has done?” “Diego, you are not your father,” Danny said gently. “You risked your life to help Ace and Jesse find Mattie and Dylan and when you knew what your father had done you stood with them against him. You don’t have any other family and I think Mattie and Jesse would like it if you came to live with us.” “I know I would,” Mattie said from the doorway. Diego looked up and smiled. “Thank you, Mattie, but I do not think that Spin would like it very much.” Spin stepped around from behind Mattie. “Oh, I think it will be ok,” he said with a grin. “As long as you keep your lips off my boyfriend, buster.” Diego blushed red and nodded his head.
  12. 1 point
    Riding Lesson III: Second Chances By Andrew Todd Chapter 7 The boys all piled out of the two SUVs. Most of them stopped and stared at the private jet that sat on the tarmac. Mr. Alvarez had arranged their transportation to Spain, not wanting the boys to have to deal with a commercial airline. “Come on,” CJ hollered to the boys. “These guys will take care of the luggage.” He gestured to the luggage handlers swarming the cars. “Let’s get on board.” The boys all climbed the stairs into the plane. There was seating for twenty scattered around the main cabin. Mattie was the first of the boys to enter. He saw a familiar figure standing there waiting. “Pete!!” Mattie smiled as he ran and hugged his oldest brother. “I didn’t know you were coming.” Pete hugged Mattie back. “Father’s been after me to come over and I was able to clear some time, so I thought I’d bum a ride over.” “Cool.” Mattie grinned. As the rest of the boys came on board and took their seats, Mattie led Pete around the plane introducing to the boys he had not met. Mattie stopped to introduce Pete to Jesse. “So, you’re my new nephew.” Pete smiled. “Yes, sir,” Jesse answered politely. Pete laughed, “Call me Pete; ‘Sir’ makes me feel so old.” CJ came up behind Pete. “But, you are old,” he joked. Pete turned around and grabbed CJ in a hug. “Good to see you, little brother,” he laughed. He always called CJ ‘little brother’ which they both found amusing since CJ was about 6 inches taller than Pete. Pete saw Danny standing behind CJ holding Idgie. “And this must be my other new nephew.” He looked from Danny to CJ. “You guys don’t waste any time, do you?” Danny smiled and shook his head. “Nope.” A young man dressed in a white shirt and black slacks came up to CJ. “Mr. Alvarez, I’m Chad. I’m the head steward. If there is anything I can get you, let me know.” CJ nodded. “Thanks, Chad.” “The captain has asked that you all take your seats and get buckled in so we can take off.” The younger boys had taken seats in the chairs around the main cabin. CJ led Danny and Pete to the rear of the plane where there was a smaller salon. He signaled to Josh and Casey to join them. After they had been in the air about thirty minutes, the captain turned off the seatbelt sign and told the passengers they could move about the cabin. In the rear salon, Chad finished serving the five men drinks and left for the main cabin. “So, you haven’t said anything to Mattie?” Pete asked. CJ shook his head. “Father and I agreed to try to shield him as much as possible. He really doesn’t need to know that his uncle and his sister were ready to kill him for money.” “Has he asked about Nat?” “No. After the way she behaved at my party, I think he’s fine with not seeing or hearing from her,” CJ answered. “Father says she is being watched. He’s stripped her of everything. It’s only because she’s his daughter that she isn’t being prosecuted.” “Speaking of which, did you know that Juan’s trial starts the day after you guys leave?” “That’s why you’re here?” Danny spoke up. Pete nodded grimly. “Yes, I have to meet with the prosecutors and then I’ll be testifying against him.” “Have you heard from him at all?” Josh asked. “The usual veiled threats coming from his lawyer,” Pete answered. “The usual garbage about what happens to ‘snitches’.” “Father has you covered while you’re there, right?” CJ asked. “Yes, he has some of his men meeting us at the airport. He has two assigned to me the whole time I’m there and he’ll have a couple on you guys in addition to Casey and Josh.” CJ nodded to Casey and Josh. “I want one of you guys on Mattie at all times. Wherever he goes. Don’t let him know that it’s for protection. That’s one of the reasons I like having you guys around--he thinks of you as friends and he won’t question you being with the boys.” Casey and Josh both nodded their agreement. In the main cabin, the boys had fallen into smaller groups. Some were sleeping or watching movies on their iPads, while others played games or read. Dusty walked over to the couch in the back of the cabin where Devon sat alone. “Hey, Dev,” Dusty said as he sat down. Devon nodded. “Hey, Dusty.” “Are you hiding over here?” Dusty asked. Devon shook his head. “No, just doodling to try and pass the time.” Dusty looked at the sketch pad in Devon’s hand. The sheet was covered with a pencil sketch of TJ. Dusty grinned. “Man, you got it bad.” Devon rolled his eyes. “Like you don’t,” he laughed. “Guilty,” Dusty nodded. “But, whatever it is you are doing, keep doing it.” “What do you mean?” Dusty paused a moment. “I’m trying to think of a nice way to say this. Since he got together with you, TJ is like a whole new person. It’s not just that he’s in a relationship, it’s your influence. Something about the two of you together. I’d have never thought it.” “Why?” “Dev, did he ever tell you about us?” “Yes, one of the first things he ever told me.” “One of the reasons we didn’t last was that he was so afraid of being found out. He was fighting his nature, not wanting to be gay. Now, he’s with you, and let’s face it, you are as out as someone can be. For him to want to be with you, he’s basically challenging everything he ever thought about himself and changing the way he looks at things.” Devon nodded. “That was part of the agreement. When I told you guys, he had to tell his parents. I know how hard it is for him, so I haven’t been pushing it. I know he’s had some talks with his mom to kinda feel her out, but the idea of telling his dad and brothers terrifies him.” Dusty nodded. “His mom will accept it eventually. TJ is her baby. As pushy and obnoxious as she can be she loves him. His dad and his brothers are assholes. They just push him. They did the same thing when he and I were friends.” “I’m scared for him,” Devon said. “I’m ready to tell him to just forget telling them.” Dusty shook his head. “Don’t tell him to forget it, just tell him to take his time and make sure he is ready. If things go too wrong, he’ll have a place with us.” Devon looked up. “You’d really do that?” Dusty nodded. “TJ has a lot to atone for, but I was in his place once and Mr. Jones gave me a chance. TJ earned a second chance with us. He’s done a one-eighty plus what he did for Dylan.” “He just helped him that night.” “Devon, since that night Dylan is a completely different person. He was always a sweet guy, but he’s a kid again. Happy-go-lucky and joking all the time. I know a part of it is being with Jesse, but getting that kid Cody put away was a huge relief for him. And TJ was a major part in that.” “Well, hopefully, it doesn’t come to that,” Devon said. “Hopefully, his mom accepts him and his dad at least tolerates him.” “I hope so, but I’ve had a few encounters with Mr. Oliver and ‘tolerant’ is not the first word that comes to mind when I describe him.” Devon grimaced and nodded. He knew Dusty was right. TJ had told him all about his father. He decided that when they got home he and TJ would have a long talk and try to come to a decision about how to proceed with Mr. Oliver. Dylan was walking back from the galley at the rear of the plane when he saw Ace sitting in a corner by himself. He had a blank look on his face like he was contemplating the universe. Dylan snuck up behind him and wrapped his arms around Ace’s neck. He rested his head on Ace’s shoulder. “Penny for your thoughts,” he whispered with a giggle. Ace chuckled and reached back and dragged Dylan over the chair so he was sitting in Ace’s lap. “You better watch out, you don’t want Jesse getting jealous.” Dylan laughed. “Jesse wouldn’t be jealous of you.” Ace feigned a hurt expression. “Gee, thanks.” Dylan beamed. “You know what I mean. You’re our big brother. Jesse knows I love you and he loves you just as much. So, no, he wouldn’t be jealous of you. He knows how much I love and need him.” Ace wrapped his arms around Dylan and hugged the younger boy tight. “You are almost a different person,” he whispered. Dylan tensed for a second and then relaxed. “I don’t know about that. I’m just more relaxed not having to look over my shoulder all the time. Not having to worry about Cody is like having a huge weight lifted off me.” Dylan slid off Ace’s lap and sat next to him on the chair. “Speaking of which, you look like you’re carrying the weight of the world today.” Ace thought for a minute and then spoke to Dylan in a low voice, “It’s probably nothing, but I keep getting a weird vibe.” “Vibe?” “You know that I’m part of the security detail, right?” Dylan nodded. “You’re our ‘bodyguard’ at school.” Ace grinned. “Right. Well, when I started I was meeting with Dad and CJ on a weekly basis; they were very specific about keeping an eye on everyone, but Mattie specifically. They never mentioned anyone by name, but it always felt like they were wary of someone. Then in January, things changed. The sense of urgency was gone. When we started planning this trip in December, there were supposed to be way more guards on our team. Dad was gonna come, Casey and Josh, me and at least two other teams. Then after that point in January, everyone seemed ok with just Casey and Josh. It’s like whatever danger they were all fearing was no longer there.” “Isn’t that a good thing?” “It would be, but I just get this nagging feeling that something is off,” Ace said. Dylan looked at him quizzically. “You know how I told you my mom always called me ‘empathic’…I can read people, but I also sometimes get a funny feeling when something is gonna happen. I had it right before my mom was diagnosed and right before we found out I was moving.” “Is it always bad?” “Usually. It’s probably nothing. Let’s just keep it between us.” “Does something bad always happen?” “Not always and not always bad,” Ace answered. “It’s just me--I’m probably over thinking.” “We need to get you a girlfriend, so you can focus on you.” Ace laughed and grabbed Dylan around the neck. “Are you trying to get rid of me so you and Jess can have private time?” “No, you’re the only one of us who doesn’t have someone. And you’re the one who deserves someone and to be happy,” Dylan said quietly. Ace slipped his arm from around Dylan’s neck to his back and hugged him hard. “I love you, little brother,” he whispered in Dylan’s ear. Dylan hugged Ace fiercely. “Love you, too, big brother.” Zak and Jesse sat on one of the couches in the front of the cabin. Jesse was watching Dylan and Ace. “Jealous?” Zak grinned at Jesse. “Of what?” Jesse smiled back. “Dylan loves Ace. He’s like a brother to both of us.” Zak laughed, “I know that. I’m just teasing you. I know how important Ace is to both of you.” Jesse nodded. “He’s the best.” “So, how are you and Dyl doing?” “What do mean? We’re fine.” “I think you’re more than fine,” Zak laughed. “Dylan’s like a new person the last few weeks. The changes in him are remarkable. He’s so full of life now and you’re a big part of that.” Jesse’s cheeks went pink. “No, he did that.” “No, Jess.” Zak got serious. “You know I was with Dylan when he found Dodger and when he told me and Danny about Cody. I’ve watched him heal over the past months, but since he found you his improvement has been amazing. He really loves you. I can see it every time he looks at you. And I know you really love him too.” Jesse nodded. “I do. I can’t describe how he makes me feel. After Seb, I figured I’d be alone forever. A part of me thought that I’d be betraying Seb if I loved someone else. Then after meeting Dylan, I realized that Seb loved life and me so much that he would feel more betrayed if I mourned him forever and never let love in. Seb would have loved Dylan.” Zak slid closer to Jesse and wrapped his arm around him. “I’m glad you’re letting yourself be happy,” he whispered. “You deserve it and you’re right, Seb would not be happy if you didn’t share your love and light with everyone else. You and Dylan are so perfect together,” Zak said wistfully. “We’re no different than you and Dusty or Mattie and Spin,” Jesse protested. “Yeah, Jess, you are,” Zak said quietly. “Not that you love each other more than any of us, but you guys need each other more. You’ve both been through the wringer and you’ve helped each other heal. The rest of us might have some ‘bumps’ along the road, but nothing that we ‘need’ each other to get past. You and Dylan are almost symbiotic.” “What do you mean?” “You feed off each other. On your own, you’re great guys, full of love and fun, but together you shine that much brighter. You have a connection that I envy.” “You’re losing me.” “I love Dusty with all my heart. But we can go off and do things separately and then come back together. We are together cuz we love each other, but we don’t ‘need’ each other, not like you and Dylan. You guys could do things separately, but you’re happiest when you are together. You don’t get sick of each other or need alone time.” “You get sick of Dusty?” Zak shook his head. “I’m not saying this right. I don’t get sick of Dusty, but sometimes we go off and do our own thing, like him and Erik working with Rain. If it was Dylan or you training Rain, you would have done it together and never thought of working alone or with someone else. Most of us, no matter how much we love and need our partner, we look for some space, some way to be ourselves. You guys don’t, you function as a single entity so much of the time. When Dylan needs to work Dodger, you’re right there; when you are working Val, he’s right there. I’m amazed you guys can get through a school day, since you don’t have many classes together.” Jesse looked at Zak thoughtfully. “I guess I get what you are saying. I don’t like being apart from Dyl. We talk all the time about what we’re gonna do when school is done and we can finally be together all the time.” “That’s it. Dusty wants to work on a ranch and train and teach. I’ll probably always ride and enjoy it, but I wanna be a teacher or something like that. But you and Dyl, I can see you working and living together forever and always being happy.” Jesse looked at Zak his eyes brimming with tears. “I hope so,” he whispered. “I know so,” Zak said as he leaned forward and hugged Jesse. “Hey, can I ask you something?” “Sure.” “It’s kind of private, so if you don’t want to answer you don’t have to,” Zak said gently. “Have you guys…” Jesse looked at Zak. ‘Had sex?” he asked. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.” Jesse shook his head. “No, it’s ok, Zak. I know you’ve been Dylan’s confidant since he came to the ranch and I know you are only looking out for him and me,” Jesse said. “The truth is, we’ve come close a couple times, but I just don’t think we are ready. Dylan still has some lingering ‘issues’ from the rape and I don’t want to compound things jumping into sex.” “Is he still hung up on the virgin thing?” Zak asked. “Yes. No matter how many times I tell him that as far as I am concerned he is a virgin, he still goes back to what Cody did and thinks that he’s somehow damaged. It’s gotten better since Cody’s been locked up, but I want us to take our time. I love him and I’m going to be with him forever, so I’m in no rush.” Zak grinned at Jesse. “I don’t think Dylan could have been any luckier than finding you, Jess. You are exactly what he needed and what he still needs.” The boys passed the long flight moving around the cabin and getting together in small groups. CJ, Danny, Pete, Casey and Josh eventually joined the rest of the group in the main cabin. Idgie was passed from lap to lap through the flight enjoying the attention he received from his ‘uncles’. About two hours out of their destination, Zak and Dusty were sitting quietly on one of the couches when they saw Spin and Mattie sneak out of the cabin and head to the rear of the plane. Zak looked at Dusty and grinned. “Mile High club,” he mouthed silently. Dusty shook his head and smiled at Zak. “Don’t get any ideas,” he said. Zak blushed and Dusty wrapped his arm around the smaller boy and pulled Zak to him. “You were thinking about that, weren’t you?” Dusty whispered. “Not until you mentioned it,” Zak whispered back. “But, I don’t need everyone knowing what we are doing, so we won’t be doing that today.” Dusty kissed Zak’s forehead. “We don’t need to have sex ten feet away from our friends and family to prove how much we love each other,” he said. “And those two are way more adventurous than us.” Zak laughed and nodded. By the time they landed, everyone was ready to get off the plane. Even though they had the plane to themselves and could move around, teenaged boys did not operate well in confined spaces. They landed at a small private airport. Before they could disembark, the plane was towed into a large hanger; once they were securely inside the hanger the passengers were allowed to leave the plane. CJ and Danny were the first off the plane and they were greeted by a tall muscular man wearing a rather expensive black suit. “Mr. Alvarez?” the man asked. “I’m CJ Alvarez.” “Very good.” The man nodded offering his hand to CJ. “I am Diego Reyes, your father’s Head of Security in Spain. He sent me to make sure your arrival and processing through customs went smoothly and then to transport you all to his villa.” “Great,” CJ replied. He then introduced all the men and boys to Mr. Reyes. Mr. Reyes led them into a small room where they waited for their luggage to be unloaded. True to Mr. Reyes’ word, they breezed through a cursory customs inspection and were then loaded into two vans. CJ, Danny, Idgie, Zak, Dusty, Pete and Casey took one, while Mattie, Spin, Dylan, Jesse, Ace, Devon and Josh loaded into the other. Each van was driven by a member of Mr. Alvarez’s security team and a second guard rode in the front passenger seat. It was an hour’s drive from the airport to the villa that Mr. and Mrs. Alvarez had recently purchased. When they arrived at the ‘villa’ several of the boys were awed by the size and opulence of the place. Mattie and CJ were used to their parents’ extravagance and Zak, Dusty, Spin, Danny and Dylan had seen the house where Mattie had lived in the States, but Jesse, Ace, Devon, Josh and Casey were floored by the immense house. The boys piled out of the two vans and were led into the house by Mr. Reyes. Before they were even at the door to the house, servants had already begun unloading the luggage from the vans. They walked through the front door and found themselves in a cavernous atrium. In front of them stood Mr. and Mrs. Alvarez. Mr. Alvarez had lost some weight due to his treatments, but he and Mrs. Alvarez had assured their sons that his doctors were optimistic about the success of the treatments and felt the visit from family and friends would be good for him. Mattie ran to greet his parents. “Mother! Father!” he called as he hugged them both. “Ah, Mateo, it is wonderful to see you and your friends,” said Mr. Alvarez. He surveyed the group. “I see we have some new faces.” CJ stepped up and greeted his mother with a kiss and a hug and his father with a hug as Pete did the same. “Yes, Father,” CJ began. “We’ve picked up a few more friends and family since we last saw you.” He motioned to Danny, who walked over carrying Idgie. “First, I need to introduce you to your grandson, Aaron James Alvarez, but we just call him Idgie.” Mrs. Alvarez took the baby from Danny and cradled him in her arms. “Idgie?” she asked. CJ and Danny smirked. “It’s a nickname that he got from his brother.” Mrs. Alvarez looked at Mattie. “Mateo, you named my grandson ‘Idgie’?” Mattie laughed, “No, Mother. CJ said Idgie’s brother did it, not CJ’s brother.” Mr. and Mrs. Alvarez both had confused looks on their faces. CJ nodded to Jesse who stepped forward. CJ placed his hands on Jesse’s shoulders and he faced his new ‘grandparents’. “Mother, Father, I probably should have told you before this, but we wanted it to be a surprise. This is Jesse; he’s Danny and my foster son.” Mr. Alvarez stepped forward and offered his hand to Jesse. “Welcome to our family, Jesse,” he said. Mrs. Alvarez motioned for Jesse to come to her. Still holding Idgie, she leaned forward and kissed Jesse’s cheek. “It is very nice to meet you, Jesse, but you must tell me how you came to give my grandson, your baby brother, this name.” Jesse grinned and gave Mr. and Mrs. Alvarez the short version of how CJ and Danny overheard him calling the baby ‘Smidgen’ and how ‘Smidgen’ became ‘Idgie’. Mrs. Alvarez smiled warmly at Jesse. “Well, seeing as how this name came from a place of love, I cannot fault it.” Mattie spent the next several minutes introducing the friends that his parents had not yet met and re-introducing the ones they knew. After all the introductions had been made two young women came into the atrium. “Gentlemen, this is Consuela and Nadia--they will show you to your rooms,” Mrs. Alvarez announced as she handed Idgie back to Danny. “The whole house is at your disposal while you are here. Please make yourselves at home; if there is anything you need simply ask one of these young ladies and they’ll do everything they can to help you. I’m sure you’re all very tired after your flight. We’ve planned a welcome dinner for you, but you have several hours to rest until then.” The boys followed the two young ladies up a grand staircase. And down the hallway. Nadia turned to address the boys. “Mrs. Alvarez was uncertain how the arrangements should be made so there are ten rooms on this floor and they have all been made up and prepared for use. You may choose any room on this floor, except this one.” She gestured to a door to her right. “We were instructed that this room was for Master Carlos and Master Daniel.” Danny blushed at being addressed so formally. CJ chuckled. “Ladies, I know my parents insist on a bit of formality here, but please, I’m CJ and this is Danny.” Consuela shook her head. “Oh, no, Master Carlos, that would be improper,” she stammered in Spanish. CJ walked towards the young woman and spoke to her in Spanish in a low voice, “Consuela, my parents know how my brother and I feel about these formalities. They will be fine with you addressing us as we wish to be addressed. These are my family and friends and my parents want them to feel comfortable in their home. If you insist on being so formal with them they will be uncomfortable and ill at ease and I assure you that would disappoint my mother more than you addressing us in more familiar ways.” Both young women nodded at CJ. “We will try, Mas—CJ,” said Nadia. “Gracias.” Consuela showed Danny and CJ to the master suite that had been set aside for them and Idgie, while Nadia opened the other bedroom doors so the boys could check out the accommodations. All the rooms were large with private bathrooms. All had queen-sized beds. Dylan and Jesse chose the room next to Danny and CJ, while the others scattered along the hallway. Devon and Ace opted to share a room since they were used to sharing the same bed. Mattie told them they could each have their own room, but both boys assured him they would prefer it this way. Once the boys had chosen their rooms, Nadia showed them where their luggage had been stored. As each boy claimed his luggage, Nadia handed it to several men who were waiting to deliver it to the proper room. In no time, the entire luggage had been sorted and delivered and the boys all retired to their rooms to deal with the jetlag. Consuela assured them that she would make sure they were all awakened in time to get ready for dinner. *** Sarge was enjoying the peace and tranquility of the ranch. CJ had closed it for the next two weeks, so the finishing touches could be put on all the new buildings. Boarders were allowed to come and use the trails, but there were no lessons or trail rides for the duration. Sarge made a rotating schedule for the guards/hands so they could take advantage of the quiet period. Since all of the boys were in Spain, there was not much guarding to do and he really only needed a couple of hands at a time. He had been planning to take a few days off, but the old Army buddy he was supposed to visit had just become a grandfather and was flying to Washington State to see his new grandson. The only thing he had on the agenda for today was the arrival of the Andros twins’ horses. Ace had introduced them to him the day before yesterday. Sarge got a kick out of how different the two were. The girl, Stephanie, was very laid-back. All she cared about was that her horse have a stall and a daily turn out. The boy, Luka, however, was as high-strung as they come. He had given Sarge a four-page list of instructions regarding the feeding and care of his horse. The only thing that had stopped Luka from talking was when Ace had introduced him to Danny. Luka had been so starstruck he was dead silent. The horses were due to arrive this afternoon and the twins wouldn’t be moving in till next week, so Sarge assured them the horses would be well taken care of. He had just finished letting the horses out of the private barn when he saw a young boy on a bicycle riding towards him. He walked towards the boy and met him halfway. The boy was probably thirteen or fourteen. He had curly brown hair with blond highlights and hazel eyes. He was about 5’3’ and slender. “Excuse me, Sir,” the boy said as he came to a stop. “Are you the man in charge here?” “Well, son, that depends on what you’re looking for,” Sarge answered. “I’m the ranch manager, but not the owner--he’s away. Are you looking for lessons or a trail ride?” “Well, actually, I was wondering if you were looking for any help.” “Well, we’ve got quite a few hands. I know when the rescue opens in a couple of weeks they are going to be taking volunteers--or are you looking for a paying job?” “Kinda,” the boy said, fidgeting. “I wanted to see if I could work cleaning stalls or something in exchange for lessons.” Sarge looked at the boy. “What’s your name, son?” “Brandon…Brandon Abbott,” the boy said, extending his hand to Sarge. Sarge took Brandon’s hand and shook it. “Nice to meet you, Brandon. I’m Sergeant Major Evans, but everyone just calls me Sarge. How old are you?” “I’m fourteen, Sir.” “So where do you live? I don’t recall seeing you around here before.” “I live over on County Road 81, Sir.” “Son, that’s about 2 miles from here,” Sarge said, the surprise apparent in his voice. “Closer to three, Sir.” “You rode your bike three miles here on the off chance that you might be able to work off some riding lessons?” “Yes, Sir. You see, I want a horse in the worst way, but my dad…” “Doesn’t think you are responsible enough?” “Oh, no, Sir. He knows I’m responsible. I have a dog, a cat, a turtle, a macaw, two large aquariums and a guinea pig. I take care of all of them myself. My dad thinks I’m involved in too much and won’t have time for a horse. So he said I couldn’t get one. And if there is one thing I don’t like, it’s when someone tells me I can’t do something.” Sarge chuckled. “So does your dad know you are here?” “Yes, Sir.” Brandon nodded. “I told him that I was going to see about riding lessons. He said he wouldn’t pay for them, so I said I would try to work them off.” Sarge was impressed with the boy’s tenacity. “Well, Brandon. Right now the ranch is closed. The owners and their family are on vacation for two weeks and when they come back we are going to have the grand re-opening of the ranch here and the grand opening of the rescue next door.” “Oh,” Brandon said dejectedly. “So I have to wait until they come back?” “Well, all hiring is up to me,” Sarge said with a smile. “So if you really want to help out around here, you can come after school and help with feeding and mucking stalls. Then next week when you’re on vacation, you come out during the day and I’m sure I can find some things to keep you busy.” “Like riding?” “Well, probably no riding till the boys get back. But I’ll keep track of all the work you do here and when CJ, the owner, gets back I’ll make sure that you get some lessons.” “Thanks, Sarge.” Brandon smiled wide. “I’ll be here right after school tomorrow,” he called over his shoulder as he rode away. *** Dinner the first night in Spain was an elegant affair. Knowing what their parents would plan, Mattie and CJ warned their friends and everyone was dressed in dress shirts and slacks. Mrs. Alvarez was beside herself seeing her sons and their friends dressed so nicely for her welcome meal. After they were seated at the large table she addressed them, “Boys, thank you so much for all of the love and friendship you have shown my sons and thank you for accompanying them to visit us. While I certainly appreciate the attention to dress that everyone has shown tonight, let me be clear that after tonight, casual dress will be the rule around this house.” All the boys silently cheered that this would be the end of the ‘church clothes’ as Mattie called them. As they ate the wonderful meal that had been prepared by the Alvarez’s chef everyone made small talk until CJ addressed his parents. “So, Mother, Father is there anything special on the agenda for us?” “Well, we have arranged a visit for Mateo to your grandfather’s rancho,” Mr. Alvarez said. “I know he is anxious to see the land and you mentioned he might be looking for a mare.” Mattie nodded furiously. “Yes, Father, we found out that Ash is part of grandfather’s original line and I want to see if we can get a mare, or maybe more than one, to restart the line.” CJ laughed, “Let’s see if we can find one mare to start with, Mattie.” Mattie nodded. “Ok.” He looked to his parents. “So when do we go?” “Well, since it’s a long drive from here, I thought you could go on ahead and then the rest of the boys could join you in a few days,” Mr. Alvarez said. “Senor Montoya, the new owner, is most anxious to meet you and he asked that you stay for a few days so he could show you what he has done to the property and show you the breeding operation.” “That’s awesome, Father,” Mattie said excitedly. “But, am I just going myself?” “Well, we assumed Anthony would accompany you, but we weren’t sure which of the boys would want to spend several days there or if they would prefer sightseeing around the city.” At this point a discussion broke out amongst the boys over who wanted to do what. Finally, it was settled that Jesse, Dylan and Ace would accompany Mattie and the other boys would stay behind and meet up with them in a few days. Jesse and Ace were very curious about Spanish riding and seeing the estancia and Dylan was not about to let Jesse go without him. Spin told Mattie he would go if Mattie wanted him to, but he would just as soon sightsee with the other boys and hang out by the pool. Mattie agreed. Casey asked Mattie if he could accompany them, since he was also curious about the estancia. Mattie agreed right away as he enjoyed Casey’s company and he knew him to be an excellent horseman. The rest of the evening was spent discussing plans for the next few days. Mrs. Alvarez insisted that she and Mr. Alvarez would care for the baby, so that CJ and Danny could partake in sightseeing and exploring. Devon wanted to visit some of the countryside so that he could take pictures and do some sketches. Josh agreed to take him out the next day along with one of Mr. Alvarez’s regular drivers. The other boys decided that they would stay close to the villa for the next few days and take advantage of the Alvarez’s hospitality. The next morning Mattie, Jesse, Dylan, Ace and Casey loaded into a black SUV driven by one of Mr. Alvarez’s security detail. The driver would drop them off at the estancia and return since Senor Montoya had his own security people and Casey would be with the boys at all times. It was a four-and a-half-hour drive to the estancia. The boys had brought iPads and iPods with them and were all busy watching movies and listening to music during the ride. When they reached the gates, Mattie excitedly starting shaking his friends. “Look!!” he cried excitedly pointing out the window. A large iron gate was in front of the SUV topped with an ornate sign that read ‘Rancho Del Cielo.’ “Rancho Del Cielo, what does that mean?” asked Dylan. “Ranch of the skies,” Mattie answered. “Since the rancho was in the mountains, Grandfather liked to think that he was in the heavens--just him, the horses, dogs and his family.” The driver buzzed the call box and after a brief exchange the gate opened for the SUV. They drove for another ten minutes before Jesse asked, “Mattie, I thought we were on the ranch?” Mattie laughed, “We are. There are miles of land that belong to the rancho. From the gate to the main house is about a twenty-minute drive.” The SUV began to climb a rather steep driveway and when it reached the top all the boys looked out the window to see a large ranch house. “Gee, somehow, given the size of the property, I was expectin’ a mansion,” Ace joked. “Grandfather wasn’t one for all the flash of wealth,” Mattie explained. “He would rather invest in expanding the rancho and increasing the value of the land and the rancho than spending the money on himself. The boys filed out of the SUV and all took a moment to stretch out the kinks that develop during a long car ride. A man dressed in jeans, boots and button-down shirt came up to them. He was about forty and was flanked by two younger males--a muscular man of about twenty-five and a younger boy who looked to be around sixteen. “Mateo?” the older man asked. Mattie stepped forward. “I’m Mateo Alvarez, sir, but everyone usually calls me Mattie.” The man embraced Mattie in a tight hug. “How wonderful to see you after all these years, Mattie.” “Uhh…” Mattie stammered in the man’s grasp. The man stepped back. “I’m sorry, you don’t remember me. You were only a little boy the last time I saw you. I am Stefan Montoya. My first job as a teenager was working for your grandfather here at the rancho. I worked for him for ten years, before he helped me to start my own. When he passed away and I heard your uncle was planning to sell the rancho, I knew I could not let someone purchase it that would defile the great work your grandfather had done, so I found some investors and we purchased the rancho with the promise that we would continue the great traditions started by your grandfather.” “Wow. Thank you, Senor Montoya. It makes me feel much better about the rancho being out of the family, knowing how you feel about it.” “I am glad,” Senor Montoya said, smiling. He gestured to the younger man standing beside him. “Allow me to introduce my son, Diego, and my ranch foreman, Ernesto.” He gestured to the older man. Mattie turned to his friends. “These are my friends Jesse, Dylan, Ace and Casey.” “Welcome, my friends. Diego and Ernesto will be your guides for the next few days. Diego doesn’t get a chance to spend much time with boys his own age and Ernesto is one of the few employees on the rancho who speaks good English. If you need anything, please do not hesitate to ask. Mateo, your father tells me that you have a decendent of your grandfather’s original line.” “Yes, Sir,” Mattie nodded. “We’re not sure how he came to the USA, but we verified his lineage at the end of last year.” Senor Montoya grinned. “Very good, so you will be able to start a new line.” “That’s what I’m hoping.” “Ernesto will be showing you a few mares that we have here, but there are also some that we sold to a nearby rancho that are now up for sale. I’ll probably buy them back to keep them from going to inferior breeders, but you may want to take a look as they are desperate for cash right now.” Mattie nodded. “Sounds good to me.” “Very good. Ernesto will make arrangements to visit them in the next day or two. In the meantime, Diego will show you to your rooms and then he’ll give you a tour of the rancho. I will see you all at dinner.” “Thank you, Senor Montoya,” Mattie said as the older man took his leave from the group. Diego stepped forward; he was a handsome young man with tanned skin, shoulder-length black hair and vibrant blue eyes. “Welcome,” he said to the boys. “Please let me show you to your rooms and give you a chance to rest before we begin our tour of the rancho.” He looked at the older man. “Ernesto, if you’d like we can meet you at the barn.” “Of course,” Ernesto answered as he nodded to Diego and took his leave. “Come,” Diego instructed with a smile. The boys and Casey followed as the young Spaniard led them down a small walkway that wound around the main house. When they were in sight of a smaller house, Mattie became excited and ran towards the building. “The bunkhouse!!” he shouted and he turned back to Diego. “You kept it?” Diego grinned and nodded. “Oh, yes. When my father purchased the rancho it was in a very poor state, but I fell in love with it and insisted that my father refurbish it so that I could live here.” “You live in the bunkhouse?” Dylan asked. “How old are you?” Diego laughed, “I am sixteen, but since this is a large property, my father felt it was alright for me to have my own, how to you say it, space? Yes, space. We call it the bunkhouse as Mateo and his brothers did, but it is rather nice inside.” He opened the front door and gestured for everyone to enter. They entered a large open room with a high cathedral ceiling and a floor-to-ceiling window on the far wall. There were small carpets laid on the hardwood floors and comfortable recliners and couches on the carpets. Bookcases filled to capacity covered two walls of the room. It was a very airy and welcoming room. Diego led them into the room. “This is my great room,” he said. “There’s a television and dvd player behind the door.” He pointed to a spot in the far corner of the room. “But mainly I just like to sit here and watch the sunrise out the windows and relax and read. This room is very peaceful to me.” The boys wandered around the room, admiring the comfort and design of the space. Diego showed them to the kitchen, which was another huge open space. He assured them that they were welcome to anything they found in the cupboards, pantry or refrigerator. He also noted that if there was anything they were looking for that was not there to simply ask and he would have the cook at the main house bring it over or send someone to buy it. Diego then led everyone upstairs. He showed them his master suite which was at the far end of the hall. He then led them to the guest rooms. He had four rooms prepared for his guests, but Dylan and Jesse assured him that would share a room. Diego raised an eyebrow at this, but said nothing that might upset his guests. Each of the rooms had a private bathroom. The boys’ overnight bags had been delivered to their rooms. Diego told them they should take some time to rest and freshen up from their journey and he would meet them down in the great room in an hour. The visitors went into their rooms. Ace and Casey said they were going to relax for a bit and Jesse and Dylan wanted to take showers and change. Mattie checked out his room and then headed down the great room where he found Diego waiting. “Hello, Mateo.” Diego greeted Mattie with a smile. “I did not expect anyone for a while longer.” “Well, the others are resting and cleaning up, but I can’t wait to tour the rancho, so I was going a bit stir-crazy in my room. And, please, call me Mattie.” “Very well, Mattie. Please come sit and we can talk.” Mattie sat on the couch with Diego. Diego was a very handsome boy and were he not involved with Spin he thought he might be someone he would consider pursuing. Diego and Mattie spent several minutes talking about the rancho, horses and their lives. As they talked both became more animated and they kept moving closer together. Without warning Diego leaned forward and kissed Mattie on the lips. Mattie jumped back like he’d been shocked. “What are you doing?!” he asked. Diego pulled back. “I’m sorry. I thought that you were, I mean, Jesse and Dylan and you and…” He looked down at the floor. “I am sorry.” Mattie slid next to Diego. “Diego, it’s alright. I am gay, but I have a boyfriend.” “Oh, no. Now I’m even more sorry. If I had known that...” “How could you know?” Mattie said. “If Jesse and Dylan hadn’t been so adamant about sharing a room, you probably wouldn’t have suspected about any of us.” Diego shook his head. “No, I would not. Are you all…?” “Gay?” Mattie asked. Diego nodded shyly. “Jesse, Dylan, Casey and I are. Ace’s straight as they come. But Ace is also the only single guy.” “Why is your friend not here?” “My boyfriend, Spin, stayed back at my parents’ villa. He and some other friends who came with us wanted to relax a little more. They are all riders and they will be here in a few days.” “Then I look forward to meeting them, and again, I am sorry.” “Don’t worry about it.” Mattie smiled. “I know what it’s like to not have anyone around and be dealing with all the hormones and emotions. If you want to talk, just let me or any of the guys know.” “Thank you, Mattie.” Just then the rest of the group came into the great room and Diego and Mattie got up to meet them and led them to the main barn where Ernesto and several ranch hands were waiting with six Andalusians saddled and ready to go. Diego spent the afternoon giving his guests a riding tour of the rancho. Everyone was impressed by the large property and Mattie was very pleased to see how well it had been kept up. Over the next two days, Mattie, Ace and Diego spent much of their time riding different horses and exploring the property. Mattie also looked at several of the mares that were available for sale. Casey, who had a basic knowledge of Spanish, stayed with Jesse and Dylan who had accepted Senor Montoya’s invitation to take some Spanish riding lessons with one of his trainers. On the day that the rest of their party was to arrive, Ernesto had made arrangements for Mattie to visit the neighboring ranch and see the mares they had available for sale. Casey was going to accompany Mattie to the neighboring rancho while Jesse, Dylan and Ace stayed behind to await their friends with Diego. Mattie was waiting for Ernesto and Casey at the black SUV they would be taking. He saw Dylan walking by. “Hey, Dyl, can you check in the barn for Ernesto or Casey?” he said. “We were supposed to leave fifteen minutes ago.” Dylan nodded. “Ok.” Dylan ran to the barn and started looking around for Ernesto, figuring that he had gotten caught in some type of emergency. He opened one of the feed room doors and quickly looked around. He was about to leave and shut the door when something caught his eye. He walked over and looked behind a tall rack of shelves. He gasped when he saw Casey lying unconscious on the floor. He turned to yell for help and someone grabbed him from behind. He struggled in the strong grip while a strong-smelling cloth was placed over his mouth. He tried to hold his breath, but the fumes were too strong. His head began to spin and he blacked out. Ernesto looked around the barnyard and seeing no one, he carried Dylan’s unconscious body to where the SUV waited. He nodded to the man behind the wheel and opened the back door and laid Dylan next to an unconscious Mattie. “We were only supposed to take the Alvarez boy,” the driver said in Spanish. Ernesto nodded. “Yes, but the other one found the bodyguard. I didn’t want him to yell for help. If he is too much trouble we will dispose of him,” he said. The driver nodded as headed the SUV down the road. *** “Uhh,” Mattie groaned as he woke up. His head was throbbing and shoulders were sore. He opened his eyes, but everything was black. He felt cloth against his cheek. There was something covering his head. He tried to raise his hands to pull it off and realized his hands were bound behind his back. He felt sharp ties cut into the tender skin of his wrists. “Where am I?” he thought. His head was so foggy, he couldn’t remember what had happened. He heard a groan. Someone else was in the room. “Who’s there?” he whispered. “Awake so soon?” he heard a voice say. Mattie thought he recognized the voice, but with the haze in his head, it took him a moment to place it. He started to say something, when he felt a hand grab his arm. “No!” he cried as he felt a needle pierce his skin. Within seconds his head was heavy and he felt himself falling into the abyss.
  13. 1 point
    Act Two – Private Money, Public Policy Scene One: “Hard-Hearted Country” (Curtain rises on a cold white marble corridor outside the committee room. In the center of the rear wall is a large pair of doors above which is an oversized carved and gilded American eagle; spread eagle. Flanking the doors on either side are pairs of marble pilasters. Hanging from each are large banners draping down to the floor. These are large enough for various characters to ‘hide’ themselves behind. There are benches between the pilasters. Action begins with the Lady Interns milling about in post-lunch languor and bemoaning their chances of love in the Capitol) No. 11 – Chorus of Interns INTERNS: Echoing through these marble halls Waft the artless strains of our hearts. But yielding Love within these walls Wander like Cupid’s tender darts. See blind babe how your work enthralls, That even Love to these flint-hearts Finds no sympathy when it calls And sadly demurs and departs. (Dame Dam-Dam enters alone) No. 12 – Recitative and Song with Chorus DDD: Buck up, Dame Dam-Dam. I too know The stinging nettle bite of love That has long gone underground. It is like a soldier who loves A hard-hearted country that would Mock him for it, and with disgrace Force exile on him from duty – And I, I too know the same love, For beyond those doors, Burdock is. Burdock Murphy testifies now – Sweet; Forbidden; Tough – Fibrous – My own Eden-apple – Burdock! [Song] Dear Eros, I beg you guide my ways For maybe now I will beget The fondest wishes of my days To make him his reverse forget. Upside-down eyes Make of the sky a ground And in-turned sighs Bemoan louder than sound. (The interns become quietly enthralled by DDD’s song) Lion and lamb, tooth and cashmere The bite and feel of each other, But one to the next may cohere Scripture-like, to rest together. Inside-out lies Turns of heaven a hell And the soul dies In its dark citadel. INTERNS: Inside-out lies Turns of heaven a hell And the soul dies In its dark citadel. INTERNS: Echoing through these marble halls Waft the artless strains of our hearts. But yielding Love within these walls Wanders like Cupid’s tender darts. (exit Interns) DDD: See blind babe how your work enthralls, That even Love to these flint-hearts Find no sympathy when it calls And sadly demurs and departs. Scene Two: “Repression Breeds Obsession” (Same as above. Committee room doors open a crack with much noise from the other side. TT squeezes his way out, holding his Emmy, and the doors close to restored silence) [Dialogue] TT: (wiping his brow with a hankie) It’s brutal in there. Burdock Murphy is reaming out each and every Senator for being too weak and addled with Progressive leanings. They’ve plastered ‘tough on crime’ smiles on their faces for the Vixen ‘News’ cameras, but they can’t help the sweat beads be-spangling their red and white brows. Burdock’s position is so far to the right of Attila The Hun, that he’s standing on Attila’s left side, calling him a pansy. DDD: He wasn’t always so Retrogressive. (she looks around furtively) I’ll tell you a little, strictly-between-allies, secret. A long time ago, I used to be a shipboard teenage girl with Greenpeace. (astounded look from TT) Well, my father was the captain, and one of the leaders…but I dare not say too much more – however back in ’74, a certain, strapping, high-minded, young Aussie came on board ready to die for Porpoises – (sadly musing) but… We were not meant to be. I know my path in life would have been different – but that’s neither here nor there. Let’s just say, there’s more to Burdock Murphy than one single cat in the bag. (TT motions for more information) You know how they say repressed, self-hating Gays make the most virulent homophobes; well – maybe, the most repressed, self-hating liberals make the most vituperative Retrogressives. TT: But still – with the likes of him, it’s as if their retrogressive mouths have gotten scripture. The left side doesn’t know what the right side is saying! Hypocrisy is so rife and dully mundane that you have to assume immediately the mirror image of the stated thought is what is really meant. No. 13 – Duet and Dance [Chorus Section] TT and DDD: No truer thing was ever said: ‘Repression breeds Obsession!’ Told by the tell-tale signs of dread. Aha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha! TT: In the Retrogressive speak of things The opposite of the truth there sings: Citation speaks of Fabrication Deliberation of Flossification Determination, Vacillation Inspiration, Alienation Cooperation, Obstination! DDD: In the backward leaning talk of things The reverse rule of the truth there sings: Refutation speaks Accusation Activation of Mitigation Adulation, Vilification Innovation, Antiquation Admiration, Recrimination! TT and DDD: (recap Chorus Section) TT: In the Retrogressive spin of things The opposite of the truth there sings: Causation speaks of Stagnation Glorification of Negation Codification, Alteration Deliberation, Confirmation Cooperation, Vexation! DDD: In the Backward leaning tout of things The reverse rule of the truth there sings: Equation speaks marginalization Abhoration of fascination Innovation, fossilization Adoraration, defamation Glomeration[1], hesitation! (together from: "Causation speaks.." and "Equation speaks…" at recapitulation) TT and DDD: No truer thing was ever said: ‘Repression breeds Obsession!’ Told by the tell-tale signs of dread. Aha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha! Scene Three: “Fortune, Rack and Ruin” (Same as above. DDD and TT hear BR and BS approaching from stage left. TT and DDD make a ‘hush’ sign to each other and duck behind respective banners to hide. When DDD next appears, she has affected a costume change) [Dialogue] BR: Branders, wait – BS: My boss is in there! (wildly gesticulates towards the doors) I have to be in there to look approving-ly and loving-ly at his every contemptible and hate-filled utterance… BR: I know, it’s your job, but just hang a minute. (he takes Branders' hand. TT and DDD peek out and signal to each other – ‘ain’t it cute!’) We need to decide. I didn’t come out of the closet to live in a waiting room. (turning tender, and caressing Branders’ face) Let’s make a deal – I’ll quit the Air Force, if you quite Vixen ‘News.’ No. 14 – Ballad BR: Though we may be stretched, Like Alice in the rabbit hole, The distortion wretched Is by others and beyond control. Take carpe diem And for once seize the day today, A hero become And shove down their throats the hate they say. (Benjamin kisses Branders, then adjusted BS’ bow tie before slapping his ass and running off stage left) No. 15 – Cavatina and Three-Part Aria [Cavatina] BS: Sweet lingering kiss, Don’t betray me. Nothing’s amiss, When he is near me. Though what of me he asks, I have a hard time seeing, Of this of me he tasks: That in ‘us’ I start believing. Sweet lingering kiss, Don’t betray me. Nothing’s amiss, When he is near me. [Aria] For you, for me, I’ll be strong For with you so brave Nothing with me could go wrong. You are all I crave. Fortune, rack and ruin To hell with all of them If death comes too soon Well, then just ‘forget ‘em.’ Rip me off the air, If you think they’ll be shocked, Murphy, I don’t care If my future you’ve blocked! As long as I have What others only dream – A loved one to have, Full of hope and esteem. For you, for me, I’ll be strong For with you so brave Nothing with me could go wrong. You are all I crave. TT and DDD: For you, for him, he’ll be strong For with him so brave Nothing with you could go wrong. He is all you crave. (together from: "For you…" etc) Scene Four: “A Better American I’m” (Same as above. Suddenly the committee room doors fly open. The chorus come streaming out as audience members and the Lady interns. BME clears a path for BM, who follows like a king in court. TT quietly joins the crowd, but DDD retains her hiding place. During BM’s song, BME dance in ‘yes-man’ support) No. 16 – Divided Chorus and Song MC: Don’t you question the Sincerity Or Purity Longevity Intensity Of his Mendacity! FC: (tongue-in-cheek) Don’t we question the Sincerity Or Purity Longevity Intensity Of his Mendacity!! MC: Don’t you question he – Avaricious Or Ambitious Uningenuous Mendacious Force of his Mendacity! FC: Don’t we question he – Scurrilous Or Contritious Disingenuous Man-trocious Force of his Mendacity!! (together at recapitulation) [Song – Verse One] BM: As Burdock Murphy, We must deride, And all attempts must chide That which moves to the future, That just do not feature, A longing backwards to A perfect past that never was true. While others live on hope, I on Pride, That Progressives decide They have no will to fight me, And cannot afford me, To make them a target keen Of my slicing Media Machine. [Chorus Section] A better American I’m Than most of your Native-born And to prove it, I’ve got your dime, But to spend it, I’m foresworn ‘Cept to make your future pine – ‘Cept to make your politics mine! MC and FC: A better American He Than most of our Native-born And to prove it, he’s got our dime, But to spend it, he’s foresworn ‘Cept to make our future pine – ‘Cept to make our politics crime! [Verse Two] BM: Though Australian-born I fancy We, As American as Tea – Or at least, when I’m done here, All your tastes will be clear, And you’ll decide I was right, When my cash put-up shuts up the fight. Private money, public policy Is easy, don’t you see? Though the Devil eats his own None of them I’ll disown – Not till I’m good and ready And make of my friend an enemy. [Chorus Section] A better American I’m Than most of your Native-born And to prove it, I’ve got your dime, But to spend it, I’m foresworn ‘Cept to make your future pine – ‘Cept to make your politics mine! MC and FC: A better American He Than most of our Native-born And to prove it, he’s got our dime, But to spend it, he’s foresworn ‘Cept to make our future pine – ‘Cept to make our politics crime! [Verse Three] BM: Though I’m citizen now and free, (I bought the test handily) And when I swore my new oath My fingers crossed did loaf Behind my back and kept the faith (with tender love) To my sovereign Queen Elizabeth! And now you know all of what can be, When backward fronts see Easy pickings from the lot Who with money besot As I by degree, degree Boil the frog for all of you too see. [Chorus Section] A better American I’m Than most of your Native-born And to prove it, I’ve got your dime, But to spend it, I’m foresworn ‘Cept to make your future pine – ‘Cept to make your politics mine! MC and FC: A better American He Than most of our Native-born And to prove it, he’s got our dime, But to spend it, he’s foresworn ‘Cept to make our future pine – ‘Cept to make our politics crime! [Chorus Recap - together] MC: Don’t you question he – Avaricious Or Ambitious Uningenuous Mendacious Force of his Mendacity! FC: Don’t we question he – Scurrilous Or Contritious Disingenuous Man-Tocious Force of his Mendacity!! (exit chorus and TT reassumes his hiding place) Scene Five: “My Boss’ A Jerk” (Same as above. Checking if the coast is clear, out sneaks Toady from the committee room. He wipes his brow) [Dialogue] (TM is not sure if BM knows he is there, and demurs to touch him. Without looking at him, BM startles him by addressing his. BM disdains looking at his patsies in general. Throughout the next scene, BME is there to harangue TM and the others) BM: Are the Senators in line? TM: Yes. They all got your fruit baskets. BM: (clearing his throat disapprovingly) Don’t say ‘fruit’ so loud. People will take the wrong notion. TM: (looking around) Well, your ‘gift’ within the ‘gift’ was well received by all. Also reassuring is your promise of continued favorable ‘editorial’ policy to us and our own. Don’t worry about us. (catches himself about to slap his boss’ back) We know the drill. No. 17 – Song TM: The way it works today In our Retrogressive USA – Stall, Stymie, Delay, If only for a Day That’s the only ‘Right’ way To keep things ‘moving’ we say. Stall, Stymie, Delay, If only for a Day! The way it works today In our Retrogressive USA – That’s the only ‘Right’ way To keep things ‘moving’ we say. Stall, Stymie, Delay, If only for a Day! [Dialogue] (BS enters followed unobserved by BR. BR makes to hide behind a banner and is startled to run into DDD. He is waved off by TT from his banner and finds a third unoccupied) BS: (to BM) Have you been watching the coverage? BM: (not amused) Yes, but I’m still not convinced you really were the proper choice for this assignment. (eyeing him hostilely) I’ve got a stable-full of mouth-frothing, homo-hating zealots back at the Network – why my Philippina, Melissa Malcontent, is preparing a scoop on how (loathing to say the word) ‘Latinos’ have infiltrated janitorial positions all the way up to the top of government – (looking around) including the Capitol. TM: (eagerly interjecting) OH – Should I organize a Committee Hearing, Sir? BM: Ah – well. Let’s wait on that…But as for you, (side nod to BS) now that you are providing Network coverage on Puffs swooning about in the military, you keep to the talking points. Keep it clear…we wouldn’t want any ‘misinformation’ about you – and yours – to get out, (to Senator) would we? And remind your distinguished colleagues, what I’m sure you keep in the foremost of your own mind, that the mirror of bad press can shine on them an any given moment. No. 18 – Ensemble BS and TM[2]: *I hate my work *My boss’ a Jerk *He treats us all *With foreign gall Though why he hates All free debate I’ll never know, His nose should grow *To show his lies *Affect real lives Though it’s for him Simply a whim. Grudged of Abel So he attacked *With hateful label *And murders the fact. TT, DDD and BR: It seems no light Brightens our sight Down the tunnel Our hopes funnel Fear by the hand Grips truth’s demand And leads her on Into his con: Deeper truly In privately Funded darkness And cowardness Personal gain Informs the man Like Adam’s son Cain Who from his faults ran. BM and TM: I am so bad I can’t be had To bend the truth And wrench it loose *Is my calling *So appalling *But fraidy cats *on drop of hats run far and wide and torn inside *’For a another *Blame each other. *For in this game *I/He made the rules – Friend and foe the same, All must act like fools. (together at recapitulation) TUTTI: Do Ask, Do Tell is what we/they want to achieve Though now that day seems too far distant to conceive All we/they have our/their faint power to believe That my/his guile looses all its power to deceive. (exit all but DDD, BM and BME) Scene Six: “Like Anakin to Darth” (Same as above. Soon DDE enter, looking relieved to have found their mistress. Instantly there is hostility from BME to DDE, but DDE acts non-pulsed and ready to poke fun at their seriousness) [Dialogue] DDD: (coming forward) Well, Burdock Murphy. It’s been a long time. (BME surprised to see DDD, then more surprised that BM knows her) BM: (trying to remain nonchalant, but failing) I’m surprised you still remember me. What was it? ’73… DDD: ’74. BM: I’ve been following your career. I’m so glad to see you back on top. Your ‘break out come back’ hit is so catchy…How does it go? (sings a bit – BME appalled; DDE rocking out) ‘Damn Dame Dam-Dam, Damn, Damn, Damn…’ DDD: Yes. But, it’s all do to my Gays. (DDE gives BME the nose-finger salute) That’s why I’m here. I want you, for old time’s sake – for the sake of a budding romance clipped short by my over-protective Captain father – to ease up on The Gays. I know you have your reputation to look after, but just let your heart thaw a little, and maybe there’s still a chance for a… delayed…romance. (DDE start swooning with each other) BM: Impossible. I’m not the same man you knew. I’ve changed, irrevocably… (BME go akimbo and stick their tongues out at DDE) DDD: (moving slowly to his side) Like Anakin to Darth? BM: Yes. Like Anakin to Darth – my Retrogressive credentials are solid gold. My heart is solid coal. (aside to the audience) Yes, that Coax Brothers brand coal; guaranteed dusty and chak-full of choking carbon, for you and your kids! DDD: (making a slow arm gesture to DDE, each of whom raises a small pile of papers in the air above their heads) Then you wouldn’t want anybody to see these charity tax filings…in the name of one 'B.M.' BM: (BME pretending to be out on a stroll over to DDE) What are those…? DDD: (BME tries to grab the papers, DDE easily elude them and form a semi-circle around DDD. One places some paper into DDD’s waiting hand. DDD looks at it a moment and returns it) Let’s see. Ah. Yes. There’s one donation to ‘Sea Shepard’ – Very generous – save those whales from being made into Japanese Bacon – Very commendable. (repeat of BME trying to take the papers. Return of DDE to her side) BM: (glancing nervously around) Wait…not so loud… DDD: (open hand; looking at another paper and returning it) Here’s one – to – (accusingly) Ronald McDonald House! (BM looks stricken) Tisk, Tisk, helping sick kids – how Very UN-retrogressive…I believe your Network advocates a boot-strap approach to childhood illness? BM: And pray tell, Where did you get those? DDD: I have my sources. See, Gays work for you too, don’t they? (BME stop, and standing still, with hands at their sides, look one to another, then with bent knees, look straight out, raise a finger to their lips and bring the audience into their confidence. DDE gestures laughter) But here’s one (taking another paper and holding it high) that would sink the Unsinkable Titanic of Arch-Backwardness – a Gift – substantial Gift to President Obama’s campaign!! BM: NO! (lunging for the paper, grabbing it, but falling into DDD and resting his head wearily on her chest. She slowly begins to caress his troubled brow) I’d be ruined… (BME successfully grabs all the other papers) DDD: Those are just copies, like the ones the Lady Interns are ready to distribute to the Press and Senators, at my signal. BM: (biting his bent index finger, then looking up at DDD with profound admiration and growing attraction. Standing straight, but taking her hand) Black Mail…? The world's finest aphrodisiac. Damn, Dame Dam-Dam, where have I been all your life? No. 19 – Dance Duet [Verse One] DDD: (circling him. DDE circling BME) Aesop said the Hare outran the Tortoise slow And the gentleman Skunk the Cat outwitted So the lessons that they’re teaching Congregate the hearer preaching That the Hunter by the Quarry is accosted. BM: (circling her. BME circling DDE) Yes, there is something that attracts When the outwitted boob attacks When the Stalker by the Victim is accosted! DDD: (circling him. DDE circling BME – they help her make a costume change) A Hummingbird may be taken with a Sloth As she flits around his upside hanging face But how can they see eye-to-eye If he makes of the ground a sky And his slow moving ways can’t keep her apace. BM: (circling her. BME circling DDE) Yes, that’s the ringing in his ears As he swings when she flies too near If her fast-moving ways can’t keep him apace. [Chorus Section] DDD and BM: (they dance together as do BME and DDE) So, right hand, left hand Don’t tell the other one And spoil all the fun Of what it’s doing! Together we’ll stand Independent as one, Walking before we can run, Progress pursuing! [Verse Two] BM: (circling her. BME circling DDE) I’ve heard it circumstance can have it somewhat rare A Chicken for a Fox can be all put out An Ibex with a Lynx taken And Gazelle by A Lion shaken But that only lasts until the teeth come out. DDD: (circling him. DDE circling BME) Yet if those darling Deers were smart They’d dodge the Prom from the start, But that’s just till they had the teeth pulled out! BM: (circling her. BME circling DDE) Take the Dung Beetle rolling back with his feet Only seeing where’s he’s been after, so too Despite the Vixen’s mournful cry The past can’t return with a sigh For only hard work makes Past’s preamble do. DDD: (circling him. DDE circling BME – she spreads her arms as if ready for a costume change, but so does BM. DDE and BME go over to him a affect to remove his business suit. Under it he wears a bight Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts. DDD looks with loving approval) But manure has a limited reach And the Past has but this to teach, Only the poop is cleared, only the Now will do! [Chorus Section] DDD and BM: (they dance together as do BME and DDE) So, right hand, left hand Don’t tell the other one And spoil all the fun Of what it’s doing! Together we’ll stand Independent as one, Walking before we can run, Progress pursuing! (the dance ends in celebration as DDE ‘dips’ BME, and DDD and BM tenderly kiss) Scene Seven: “Permit Me Some Truthery” (The noise of the Committee Room pours out as the Corridor set lifts. Their respective entourage pulls DDD and BM stage left and right. TT is missing, otherwise, all characters are in the same position as at the end of Act One. It seems the Senators are conferring with one another) No. 20 – Act Two Finale [Part One] INTERNS: All this fuss for a forgone conclusion – The back and forth seesaw action, But the law stays – we’re under no illusion As only one side gets traction. QB: The decision’s done, So let’s have it. And to kingdom come They must bear it. Just uphold the law Nothing’s simpler. No need to thaw Or line to blur. DDD and BM: (aside) Let’s tally the sum – Count every bit Down to the last crumb For the right fit. Cue in the guffaw Like the clincher And we’ll be in awe Like a stippler. QE: At ad nauseum Brass asses sit – As Enlisted thumb Hard fought merit. At honor they gnaw Like a crippler As they hem and haw As card dealer. (together at recapitulation) INTERNS, MC and FC: All this fuss for a forgone conclusion – The back and forth seesaw action, But the law stays – we’re under no illusion As only one side gets traction. [Part Two] TM: (banging gavel) Order Now! Cease all your derision. We Senators have made our Decision… (The lights dim from Senator and come up on BS and BR who are on opposite sides of the stage. The music fades from the crescendo of the Senator’s recitative into the quiet and rhythmic madrigal that follows. All characters are frozen in mid-action) BS: I’m sorry I couldn’t be Your hero today. Give me a tomorrow And I promise you will see. Though we can’t always agree What it is we should say, A guide-star I follow - Your expectations of me. BR: I just want us to be free Want it to start today. But we have tomorrow And many years yet to see. Though we can’t always agree What is it we should say, A guide-star I follow – Your perfect love of me. (lights fades from them and slows back to Senators) TM: (banging his gavel) Order Now! Cease all your derision. We Senators have made our Decision… [Part Three] (DDD suddenly motions to TM and steps forward. She motions to BM to reluctantly step to her side. This startles the Senators) BM: (sheepishly and with a quiet stammer) If you’ll please pardon me, And permit me some (agony?) In a moment you’ll see My utter goal is (clarity?). INTERNS and QE: (agitated) Murphy says all should wait And when this TV potentate Stammers in hesitate Big ‘News’ should be the culminate. Senators and QB: (agitated, and pulling out iPhones and Blackberries) Murphy stands to his feet. Where’s my Twitter and where’s my Tweet, Facebook update sweet To record his every bleat. (together at recapitulation) BM: (prodded by DDD, DDE and BME – still stammering) If you’ll please pardon me, And permit me some (truthery?) Released all you should be, To do what’s right – and set them – (free?) (all strain to hear BM’s softer and softer piano) (suddenly TT bursts in loudly. In his hand he holds an iPad) TT: Stop! Halt! Wait! Let’s take it Adagio. (holding up his iPad) You will all want to see this video. (gesturing to BM as if TT were a TV lawyer) Within his lofty state This highly potent potentate Has a past that can’t wait Until the end of this debate. INTERNS and SENATORS: Within his lofty state This highly potent potentate Has a past that can’t wait Until the end of this debate. TT: In this new YouTube video, (Released by ‘Dame 1-7-0’) Burdock, Greenpeace was to join – ‘Save the Whales’ he himself did coin! INTERNS and SENATORS: In this new YouTube video, (Released by ‘Dame 1-7-0’) Burdock, Greenpeace was to join – ‘Save the Whales’ he himself did coin! (BM looks aghast at DDD who only smiles and shrugs) BM and DDD: (starting piano, but growing confident) My/His credentials are ruined, My/His Retrogressive causes (dashed!) (to Senators) Revote the votes I’ve/He’s (cashed!) (to each other) As a pop star producer I’m/He’s recast! INTERNS and QE: (agitated) Murphy says all should wait And when this TV potentate Stammers in hesitate Big ‘News’ should be the culminate. SENATORS and QB: (agitated, and pulling out iPhones and Blackberries) Murphy stands to his feet. Where’s my Twitter and where’s my Tweet, Facebook update sweet To record his every bleat. (together at recapitulation) (The enlisted jubilantly hug and high five, then Branders moves to the center of the stage as the other three quietly exit. He raises his hand toward Benjamin who comes to him and takes it. The cameras follow him as he goes) [Part Four] BS: I’m sorry I couldn’t be Your hero today. Give me a tomorrow And I promise you will see. BR: I just want us to be free Want it to start today. But we have tomorrow And many years yet to be. BS and BR: (quietly slow-dancing) Though we can’t always agree What is it we should say, A guide-star I follow – Your perfect love of me. (they kiss) INTERNS, TT, BM and DDD: (BM and DDD taking hands) A guide-star they follow – Love’s expectations of we. TM: (standing and pointing at BR) Well, if that young man is Gay-ee, (to fellow Senators) We’ll all agree, that Gay’s OK-ee. As for that Branders fey, (limp-wrist) We always knew he was that way. SENATORS and QB: Well, if that young man is Gay-ee, (to fellow Senators) We’ll all agree, that Gay’s OK-ee. As for that Branders fey, (limp-wrist) We always knew he was that way. TM: No vote necessary. Armed Service is not contrary For Gays who love their country To open serve Their Military! INTERNS, SENATORS and QB: For Gays who love their country To open serve Their Military! (TM bangs his gavel decisively) [Part Five - a capella recap] BR, BS, TT, DDD and BM: I close my eyes and can imagine a time, Perhaps not far from today, When no one equal has to trail behind, For what long dead people say. I can glimpse from here time’s bright horizon, Where dawn breaks on everyone, Irregardless of others’ perception, In a time unbarred to anyone. INTERNS, MC, FC and QB: We can glimpse from here time’s bright horizon, Where dawn breaks on everyone, Irregardless of others’ perception, In a time unbarred to anyone. (suddenly QE bursts in loudly and rushes forward) QE: Stop! Halt! Wait! Let’s take it Sostenuto – A committee convenes right next door, Oh, For the Defenseless Marriage Act debate, you know. [Part Six – tutti – concluding dance and vaudeville] BR and BS (dancing together) Let us celebrate while we may – One battle at a time they say Will slowly win both heart and mind And leave all prejudice behind. (they kiss) TUTTI: To slowly win both heart and mind And leave all prejudice behind. DDD and BM: (dancing together) Let’s go and make a life for us – One that leans forward without fuss A pop star and her producer – (BM tosses BS a set of keys) Branders can have Vixen ‘Newsters.’ (they kiss) TUTTI: To slowly win both heart and mind And leave all prejudice behind. TM and TT: (awkwardly dancing together) Let us hold a Press Conference – Buncombe has something to confess Though try to act not too surprised – I’ve/He have/has something just realized. (TT mockingly puckers, but TM demurs) TUTTI: To slowly win both heart and mind And leave all prejudice behind. BR and BS (dancing together) Let us celebrate while we may – One battle at a time they say Will slowly win both heart and mind And leave all prejudice behind. (they high-five, then Branders jumps into his man's arms and they kiss and spin) TUTTI: (all dance jubilantly) Let’s celebrate, Joy unburdened, And contemplate Hope unbounded – (the couples kiss – one at a time, left to right, first BR an BS, then DDD and BM and lastly, TM shrugs and sweeps TT off his feet with a dip and tremendous, un-pent-up smooch) A world to come free from fear, Where Love is greeted with a Cheer! (Darkness – End of Operetta) [1] From verb, to Glom, to appropriate for ones own uses; to be conspicuously trendy; gung-ho, etc. [2] lines TM sings in the recapitulation are provided with an asterisk (*). He moves from side to side, vacillating between BS and BM.
  14. 1 point
    The glass was cold against my fingers. I traced the small chips that made up the bright red berries of the holly. I blew on my fingertips, then tucked them under my arms. My ears and nose burned. My steps squeaked in the snow as I walked away from the new store. I coughed, the rasping bark breaking the quiet as I fought the spasm. On a dead street, in the tiny town I’d recently drifted into, everyone was at home enjoying the holiday with family. Except me. “Hey!” A hand grasped my shoulder, stopping me. “Hold on a second.” I stopped, too tired to argue when he turned me, never letting go. “What?” All I wanted to do was sleep. “You don’t sound too good. Maybe you should come inside?” Blinking, I studied the man staring at me. He was older, his hair gray with bushy eyebrows shadowing his dark blue eyes. He looked at me funny. “I’m not homeless,” I blurted out. He chuckled. “Okay.” “No, really. I’ve an apartment four blocks over. I just was cold and I have to walk to work.” Okay, the second jacket I had on was ragged, but it was one Mack had left when he back home for the holidays. He’d taken his good one. I’d been traveling light before I found my way to my one college friend so I’d borrowed it. I was too tired to argue with this guy though. “I swear, you can che—” I started coughing. Fighting to breathe, I couldn’t stop the man from pulling me back to the holly building. He pushed me down onto a couch. My whole body ached but the cushions cradled my body. I tried to sigh and started coughing again. “Stay right there.” He picked up an earthernware mug and filled it with yellow liquid from a teapot. I wrinkled up my nose. Tea was not exactly, well … my cup of tea. The man chuckled. “Just try it.” The first sip wasn’t too bad; the heat soothed my throat. I groaned as warmth began to soak into my body. I took in the shop around me. Mack would love it. It was full of antiques-many of them Celtic. Blinking began to take more effort. I didn’t want to move but I needed to get home to my cold, quiet apartment. Where I would be alone, at Christmas, while sick. Happy Holidays to me. My voice was raspy when I said, “Thanks for the tea, but I need—” A yawn took over before I could tell the guy I needed to go home. I couldn’t seem to stop drinking the tea. “I know what you need. First you must rest.” I couldn’t stay with a stranger. “I don’t even know your name.” “Call me Dag. This is my shop.” “Thanks, Dag, but I’m—” The cup slipped in my hand and Dag caught it before it broke. He chuckled and set it aside, guiding me down. The pillow felt like a cloud under my head and my exhausted body was too heavy to move. I should’ve been worried but I wasn’t. “You can sleep safe here, friend. The holly will have you better before you know it.” Dag tucked a blanket around my shoulders. I yawned. He mumbled, “Now for the other.” ** “You’re a wee fool, aren’t you?” The accented voice woke me. Cracking open my eyes, I looked up. Mack was scowling down at me. “How did you get here?” I croaked. Mack held out a glass of water. “How did I get here?” I was in the bed in Mack's apartment. I tried to figure out how I’d gotten home. Had I imagined the store? “A weird guy named Dag called, said he’d rescued you walking down the street with a fever. He helped me bring you home. I told you to use my car while I was gone. Instead the only thing you borrow is my ratty old jacket.” I’d never admit I’d borrowed it more for the fact that it was his than warmth. Way too juvenile. “You’re already giving me a place to live til I get my feet under me.” Having a place to call home this year meant I was better off than last year. I’d been nursing a bit of a flame for Mack for a few years but I was trying not to screw things up so I’d kept it to myself. “Well you can’t stay here now.” My heart sank. I’d screwed up again. No real family and I was bad at making friends. Mack was really the only person that I’d cared to keep tabs on. I threw back the blanket, meaning to leave before the tears burning in my eyes could fall. “I’m naked.” Mack snorted. “Why’m I naked?” “You were soaked when your fever broke.” That was not how I’d wanted Mack to strip me. He’d already seen me so I threw modesty to the wind and stood up. Tried to, at least. I would’ve crashed into the table if Mack hadn’t caught me. “Where are you going?” he snapped, pushing me down. I needed some clothes and my shoes then I’d be out of Mack’s hair. “You said I couldn’t stay.” “I said stay here. Mom said I was to bring you home. Now that you’re too weak to argue, you’re going.” So Mack could take care of me? “You know, you talked a lot in your fever.” Nausea twisted my stomach. What had I said? “I thought you weren’t interested in being more than friends,” Mack said. “Have you really been carrying a torch for me for five years?” I shrugged and looked away. Mack’s hands felt good on my face as he pushed my hair back. “I want you to come home with me for Christmas, as my boyfriend.” I was lost when I met his bright green eyes. “Okay.” Maybe it would be a good Christmas after all. **** I spent Christmas day on the couch at Mack's parents. He gave me a warm fuzzy blanket. I liked that it was the same bright green of his eyes. When I rubbed my face against it the softness felt like warm fur. Buying a gift for Mack hadn't been in my budget, plus I'd expected to spend the day alone. I'd been shocked when I pulled the Celtic knot bracelet out of my coat pocket. I know I hadn't taken it; I'd never gotten off the couch at Dag’s store. The note I felt crinkly in the pocket just said Happy Holiday with a stylized D. What a strange man. I begged a gift bag from Maggie, Mack's mom. I loved the surprised grin on Mack's face when he opened it and instantly put it on. "Thank you Jo," he whispered. I shuddered when his soft lips touched my ear. I smiled weakly. "Thank you too." I rubbed my cheek on my blanket. "I love this, it's so soft and warm." Mack's eyes burned into me. "I wanted to keep you from getting cold." The arrival of Mack's mother let me look away. I cleared and started coughing. Maggie patted my back before handing me a cup of tea. "Drink up, lad. You'll be right as rain in no time." I’d no idea how to respond to mothering, so I took a long drink. She seemed satisfied with that, smoothing the blanket over my shoulder. "Dinner will be ready soon." I yawned, being sick sucked. I finished my tea, grimacing at the sweet honey. Mack plucked my cup from my hand, then put my head in his lap. I was surprised but when his hand started sliding through my hair, I decided I didn't care. The headache from all the sinus pressure eased as I relaxed. "Take a nap. We're gonna watch the game." Another surprise, Mack's dad came in and sat down in the chair without saying a word. Like my head in Mack's lap was nothing. What a strange family … but I think I liked them almost as much as I did Mack. ** It took five days before I didn’t feel like I had a hangover. Thankfully, I always recovered quickly and only had to use two sick days. It was New Year's Eve and the tension between us was driving me crazy. Mack had rubbed my head and fed me soup and medicines til I was better. We planned on going out to celebrate, toast a new year together. My black jeans fit like a glove and I paired them with a clean white t-shirt. "Ready to party?" His black shirt made Mack’s pale skin glow. I blinked, enjoying the way he moved as he bent over and pulled on his shoes, and not listening at all. "Jochym!" I glared at him. "Don't call me that." "Well then pay attention." I so was. Mack walked over to me, his hips swinging. I swallowed hard. "I asked if you were ready to go to the club." He stood close enough I could feel the heat of his body. I’d planned on kissing him at midnight but … I yanked Mack close, one hand on his neck and the other against the small of his back. "I'm tired of the teasing," I growled. Mack raised one eyebrow. "So?" A week of being too sick to do anything about the bulge that kept growing in his jeans made me impatient. Our teeth clicked together as I shoved my tongue in his mouth, tasting and exploring every inch. His hands clutched my shoulders as Mack kissed back. It was every bit as good as I'd imagined but now my pants were too tight. My cock ached as I rubbed against him, feeling the ridge of his erection. "Bedroom." He hauled me to his room by my wrist. It was a race to see who could undress first. I waited for the right moment, then pushed Mack down on the bed. “Hey, my boots!" I yanked them off and then pushed his pants down. "Commando, huh?" Mack's green eyes gleamed. "Quick." "Hot." Our cocks rubbed together as I kissed him. We both moaned. I pushed up, stroking his chest and flicking his nipples. His legs closed around my hips and yanked me close. "We can do the foreplay thing later." His erection was angry red and weeping. "I need you." His hoarse voice and the way his eyes darkened with need stole my ability to speak. Mack reached under the pillow and pulled out lube and a condom. How like my Mack. "I wanted to be prepared, just in case." I took them from him. I put the condom on first, knowing that as soon as I touched him I'd be lost. I was right; his soft heat pulled me in as I slicked him up. His back arched as I nailed his prostate with two fingers. "Now!" he gasped. My mind shattered when I pushed into him. I was left with scattered impressions of tight heat, a pounding rhythm and small pricks of pain as Mack's nails dug into my ass. He demanded more and I shoved a pillow under his ass, shifting until he shuddered and cried out. I pushed in over and over, nailing his prostate. He came first, my hand stroking him as I bit my cheek, trying to hold back. He shouted my name as cum shot across his stomach and chest. I let go of my control and pounded into him until the hardest orgasm of my life sent me flying. "Mack!" Panting, I collapsed on the bed. Mack sighed. "Why'd we wait so long to do that?" I shook my head. "I dunno." "Want to go again?" Amazingly, I did. He teased me for ages. By the time the clock struck midnight we were both sweaty and sticky. I finally gave him the long, slow kiss I'd planned. "Happy New Year." The End
  15. 1 point
    He groaned when he heard the phone ringing, and blindly reached out his hand to answer it. He felt like he had just gotten to sleep, after tossing and turning all night. He wasn’t sure why he was so nervous, but he was. He was supposed to meet Julian’s little brother today…and to him that was a really big deal. “Hello,” he said rubbing his eyes as he sat up in the bed. “Oh no, I woke you up, I’m sorry.” “Julian? No it’s okay. What’s wrong, you sound about as good as I feel.” “Tired, yes,” Julian tried to laugh but it was stifled by a yawn. “Look I need a really big favor from you, and I’m really hoping that you can do this for me.” “Sounds serious,” Colin frowned. “We are still on for today aren’t we?” “That’s kinda the problem,” Julian sighed. “I’m stuck in Denver.” “What? Why?” “Plane delay,” Julian explained. “If I wasn’t supposed to be working I would just rent a car and drive until I made it home. But I can’t do that, and I don’t want to disappoint Aidan…or you for that matter.” “You want me to take your brother to the water park?” “Could you?” “Are you sure that’s a good idea Julian? I’m a stranger to him.” “Oh, believe me he knows who you are. He’s looking forward to meeting you, Colin. And I just can’t let him down today. I want you to pick him up and take him to the park, so he can be there when it opens. And I will meet you guys there, hopefully by lunchtime if I can manage it” “You talked to your little brother about me,” Colin asked, a smile creeping across his face at the thought. “Yes and he’s very excited that you want to hang out with him.” “Well, I don’t want to let the little guy down,” Colin conceded. “But I will have you know I was nervous enough to meet him…now I have to meet your parents too. This is getting serious, Luciano.” There was a long moment of silence before Julian laughed and Colin’s smile grew even wider. “Are we giving each other pet names already, Payne? This is only the second date.” “And I’m meeting your parents and your little brother today.” Colin pointed out. “Good point.” “I’m glad your smiling, Julian. I wish I could see it.” “I’ll smile as soon as I get to see you and the little guy this afternoon. Make sure he knows I love him okay? I talked to him last night and I know he misses me. And just in case I am not there; let him have corndogs for lunch. Those are his favorite; we usually end up getting stuffed on corndogs and coke.” “Corndogs and coke…got it,” Colin said “I hope you make it home safely…wish me luck with your family.” “You’ll be fine, Colin. I gotta go. Thank you so much.” Julian was gone before Colin could say you’re welcome. He smiled at the phone and shook his head. His day had just gotten a little more interesting to say the least. He was happy though, that Julian seemed to trust him enough to let him pick up his little brother. It was also a big deal that he would be meeting Julian’s parents today. He hoped they liked him…he hoped they thought he was good enough for their son. He spent the next few minutes trying to find just the right thing to wear. It had to be comfortable and not too classy since he was going to a water park. Yet at the same time he wanted to look nice to go pick up Julian‘s brother and besides that this was a date. He wanted to impress Julian. He settled on a pair of denim khaki shorts and a white t-shirt, and added a light jacket just in case it got chilly during the day. He sent Julian a text message asking for his parents’ address and finished getting ready while waiting for a response. There was no message from Julian by the time he was ready to leave so he grabbed his phone and his keys and headed out the door. He called James while he was in the car, not really caring if he was waking him up. This was an emergency. “Hi James. Can you tell me where Julian’s parents live?” “Colin? What? Julian's parents? Dude is something wrong with Julian?” “No, nothing’s wrong. But he needs me to do him a favor. He just neglected to tell me where to go, and I forgot to ask. And by the time I did ask, he couldn’t answer me so I’m asking you.” “Ok, let me get my heart rate back to normal, you just scared me to death. Julian's parents live in Luther's Corners do you know where that is?” “I’m sorry James, I didn’t mean to scare you. Luther’s Corners? No I don’t think I’m familiar with that area. How far outside of Chicago is it?” “Not too far. Julian didn't want to be too far from home because of his sibs and his grandmothers. He is very close to them. I'll send the directions to your cell, that way you will have them and don't have to try and write them down. So what is going on that you are headed to the Sinclair’s?” “Well, Julian and I were going to take Aidan to the water park opening today. But Julian is stuck in Denver, and he doesn’t want to disappoint Aidan, so he asked me to pick him up. What are his parents like?” “Hey that's wonderful that he wanted you to do that. Annie and Matthew are very nice. They are good people and I'm sure they are going to love you so don't be nervous.” “I can’t help but be nervous,” Colin admitted. “Meeting the family is a really big deal, and I’m doing it without Julian which makes it scarier.” “Just the fact that Julian is sending you without him will say a lot to them. They never liked Marc because he tried so hard to cut Julian off from his family. You will be fine and Aidan is a character. He will have you wrapped around his little finger within minutes. He reminds me so much of Julian sometimes that it is scary. Julian adores Aidan and the feeling is mutual. Just be yourself and you will be just fine. Don't hesitate to call me back if you need to.” “Well I have one more question,” Colin said as he pulled into a parking lot. “I wanted to take something to the house, you know like flowers or something for his mom and something for Aidan and his dad too but I don’t know what. Any ideas?” “Flowers are always a good way to get on Annie's good side. As for Aidan, he's a typical little boy, planes, trains and automobiles are his life. Matthew, he's a little tougher and to be honest I wouldn't take something for him. Be prepared for the third degree, and just be honest about how you feel about Jules. They are just getting their happy Julian back, and I'm sure Matthew is going to want to make sure he sticks around for a while this time.” Thanks James. I’ll keep that in mind, and I’ll let you know how it goes.” Colin hung up the phone and soon received a text from James with the directions. During his drive he received a text from Julian as well. He laughed when he saw a duplicate copy of what James had sent him, along with a thank you and a smile. He was still nervous, but talking to Julian’s best friend had put him a little at ease. This was just a big deal, Julian was putting a lot of faith in him and he didn’t want to let him down. ** Thanks to the directions Colin found Julian’s family home fairly easy. He sat and looked at the huge house for a moment, and once again wondered if he was making the right choice here. According to James, Annie and Matthew, Julian’s parents, were very nice. He guessed he was about to find out. He took a deep breath and stepped out of his truck, with flowers and gift bag in hand. In no time he was at the door, waiting for someone to answer his knock. The woman who answered the door had Julian’s eyes, he noticed that right away. She was about the same height as his own mother, with hair that seemed to be a mix of blond, red and brown. It reminded him of the setting sun and he wanted to remember it to describe it to Julian. She smiled warmly at him and gestured for him to enter. “You must be Colin,” she said as he stepped into the house. “I’m Annie, Julian’s mother. He told me you would be coming by.” “Yes, Ma’am,” Colin said holding the flowers out to her. “These are for you “Thank you, Colin. These are lovely. Julian wasn’t kidding when he said you were sweet.” “”He said that?” Colin asked, not able to hide the smile that played on his lips. “Your son is too sweet himself.” Annie smiled and nodded her agreement to that sentiment. “Matthew, Colin’s here,” she called as she went to put the flowers into water. Colin breathed a sigh of relief and took a seat on the couch. Annie was as nice as James had said. He was more concerned about meeting Matthew and Aidan. Those opinions were the ones that would hold the most weight…They were at the top of Julian’s important people list. He stood when a tall man with sandy hair entered the room. Matthew Sinclair, Colin realized, was a very handsome man with blue eyes and a smile that could put anyone at ease. Colin just hoped that he could keep the man smiling. “You must be Colin; I'm Julian's father, Matthew. Have a seat, and Aidan will be down shortly.” Colin reclaimed his seat, and Matthew sat in his recliner, leaning forward so he could look at Colin. “Jules has spoken very highly of you the last few times we’ve talked. I don't want this to come off as an inquisition here, but having been distanced from Jules during his previous relationship I would really like to know what your intentions are regarding my son.” “It’s nice to meet you, sir. Julian speaks very highly of you as well. I have to be honest with you; I have real feelings for him. I don’t think I have ever felt this way about anyone in my life. I want to learn more about you, and make him happy in the interim. I have no intention of keeping him away from his family…I already know how important you guys are to him.” “And you have no problem with Jules’ work and its sometimes unpredictable schedule?” Matthew inquired. “He loves his job, and I don't want him to feel like he has to make a choice between a relationship and work.” “He shouldn’t have to,” Colin agreed easily. “I knew his job when I met him, and today is just an example of how unpredictable it can be. He has put a lot of trust in me today, sir, and I don’t want to let him down. I take his trust very seriously, and I want to be with him. If it means that sometimes I don’t see him for a few days then so be it…we can find ways to contact each other. In the last week alone I think I have maxed out my texting plan.” “I like you, Colin,” Matthew smiled. “It’s really easy to see why Jules is so taken with you. My son is happier now than I have seen him in a long time, and I don't want that to change. I guess your biggest challenge is coming down the stairs. Aidan adores Jules, and the feeling is mutual so if you can make the little guy happy then I would say the worst is behind you.” As he spoke, Colin could hear feet running down the steps, and he heard Annie’s voice telling the young man to stop running. Aidan slowed down but still tumbled forward stopping only when he reached his dad and Colin. “Aidan, this is Julian's friend, Colin. He's going to take you to the water park until your brother can get home.” “Hi,” Aidan said shyly. Colin had to smile. The little guy already reminded him of Julian. This was definitely going to be fun. “Hey there,” He said holding out the gift bag he had brought. “I have it on good authority that you like trucks.” “For me?” he asked, looking to his dad for permission to take the bag. “Go ahead son,” Matthew nodded. Aidan took the gift and looked inside. “Oh cool, it’s a monster truck! Thanks Colin, I love these.” “I figured you might,” Colin grinned. “I also have it on good authority that you like comic books.” “Yeah, Julian get’s me the new editions when they come out on Wednesdays. I really like Spiderman and X-men. Julian promised we could go see the new X-men movie when it comes out later this summer. It’s coming out around my birthday.” “Wow that sounds really awesome,” Colin laughed. “Do you think your brother would mind if I joined you guys?” “I can ask him,” Aidan said smiling real big. “You actually want to?” “I want to spend as much time with you and your brother as I possibly can. Would that be okay?” Colin could tell the young guy was in awe at that statement. It made him even more determined to make sure he had fun, and that he knew that he was important too. “Are you ready to go have some fun, Buddy?” Matthew asked rustling Aidan’s hair. “Yeah!” “Okay go put your truck away, and then you and Colin can get going. And no running,” He said as his son charged for the stairs. Colin chuckled as Aidan slowed and walked up the steps. Matthew turned back to his son’s friend and smiled warmly. “Julian was like this when he was younger too. So full of energy, and very active. I want you guys to have fun today, is there anything I can do to help out with that?” “I should be asking you that, sir,” Colin said shaking his head. “I will take good care of Aidan. Julian said he loves corndogs, so that is what we will have for lunch. And it will be my treat. Is Aidan allergic to anything or are there any ailments I need to know about? Julian didn’t have time to tell me.” “He’s as healthy as a horse,” Matthew said proudly. “And I’m impressed that you asked.” Colin smiled. “I want to stay on top of things. Don’t want to put Aidan in any unforeseen danger.” “Okay, Colin, I’m ready,” Aidan said bounding down the stairs. “You behave for Colin, okay buddy?” “Yes dad, I’ll be okay.” “Take care of him, Colin.” “Don’t worry; Aidan is in good hands, sir.” “I was talking about my other son,” Matthew chuckled. “You guys have fun.” ** Aidan was bouncing off the walls as they headed to the water park. Colin felt like he knew the name of every single ride at the park, thanks to his little charge. He didn’t mind the chatter though. In fact he found it very comforting to have someone in the car with him who was so animated. He felt like this is what it would have been like to have a little brother. “Do you think Julian will be able to make it?” Aidan asked as Colin purchased their tickets. “He’s going to try his best,” Colin replied. “Hopefully the plane won’t be delayed any longer. In fact for all we know he could be in the air now. He was looking forward to hanging out with you today.” “Yeah, he sounded excited last night,” Aidan admitted. “I really want to see him. I miss him a lot.” “You haven’t gotten to see him lately huh?” Colin asked as they headed towards the first ride. “Aidan frowned and peeked up at Colin under the bill of his hat. “He had to cancel a lot of times because of work. Sometimes I don’t think that was the reason though.” “What do you mean?” “Aidan shrugged. “Well like today. He wanted you to take me today, so that I wouldn’t miss the grand opening. He didn’t do that with Marc.” “What about with James?” “Yeah, I got to hang out with James a lot, but sometimes he works hard too. And Julian’s other boyfriend didn’t let him hang out with me as much as he wanted to.” “Ah I see, well you know what? Don’t worry about Marc. He’s not a part of your brother’s life anymore. And if he can help it, I am sure your brother will be spending a lot more time with you.” “And you too?” Aidan asked. “Would you like that?” “I think I like you, Colin.” “Same here,” Colin said placing a hand on Aidan’s shoulder. “Now come on let’s ride some rides. I’ll race you to the first one.” The words were barely out of his mouth before Aidan bolted off and Colin shook his head and followed behind him. This was going to be fun. Colin couldn’t remember ever feeling like he had just been in a downpour, but he wouldn’t trade the few hours he spent with Aidan for anything…well except for a few hours with Julian. They rode the log ride three times, each time Aidan deciding he wanted to sit behind Colin. Colin hadn’t been sure that was a good idea, and he insisted that Aidan hold on tight, and he asked the person behind them to keep both eyes open just in case. Aidan was having so much fun, Colin didn’t have the heart to tell him no. They rode the water slide next and then went for a canoe ride just to dry off a bit in the sun. They were just finishing their river tour when Colin received a text message from Julian. The plane had landed at Midway airport and he would be there as soon as traffic allowed. Colin decided it was time for lunch and he looked down at his young charge and wrapped his arm around him. “What do you say we get some Corndogs?” “Can we get some for Julian too, so he can eat when he gets here?” “Sure I think we can do that,” Colin said smiling. It was obvious just how much Aidan adored Julian, and he knew how Julian felt about his brother. He actually couldn’t wait to see Julian interact with the little guy. They sat in the sun, with corndogs and cokes, and a funnel cake for afterwards. Julian wasn’t kidding when he said Aidan loved those things; Colin counted, he ate four all on his own. He monitored him closely as they sat together eating. He didn’t want Aidan to get sick from eating so many of the greasy treats. Colin insisted that they sit still for a bit and he bought a deck of cards from the gift shop to keep Aidan preoccupied. Julian was on his way, and Colin couldn’t wait to see him. He cautioned he was just as excited about that prospect as Aidan. ** They were sitting at the picnic table when he found them, and for a moment he just stood back and watched. Colin was explaining something to Aidan who was listening intently, and nodding emphatically. His little brother looked so happy to be sitting there, and Colin seemed animated too. He was glad to see that Aidan had taken well to Colin, which was very important to him. Aidan wasn’t an easy guy to please, and in fact there weren’t many guys who passed his little brother’s test. Of course there hadn’t really been a lot of guys…just Marc for the most part, and Julian didn’t want to think about him. “Julian!” Aidan exclaimed, his face aglow as he got up from the table and ran for his brother. Julian held open his arms and immediately accepted the little guy into an embrace. Colin smiled as he watched the brothers reunite. “You made it,” Aidan was saying as Julian pulled away to look at him. “And you’re all wet,” Julian laughed. Are you having fun?” “Yeah, I’m having a good time. Colin’s been keeping me company. I asked him not to tell you that I lost my hat on the ride, but I decided it was best just to tell you that the hat fell off during the fourth time on the log ploom.” “You rode the log ploom four times?” Julian asked with a twinkle in his eyes. “And don’t worry about the hat, we can get you another…just don’t lose it okay?” “Okay,” Aidan said before dashing off with the money Julian handed him. Colin watched him run off towards the water games and smiled with a shake of his head. He saw Julian sit down beside him, and turned to focus his attention on the man who was quickly taking control of his heart. “Hi.” Julian’s smile was as bright as the sun that was beating down on him, and Colin could see the tiredness in those brown eyes. It was admirable that he wanted to make sure his brother had a good day, but when it was over Colin was going to insist that he get some rest. “Hey yourself. How was the flight?” “Do you know how exhausting it is to be cheerful when you feel like crawling into bed?” “No,” Colin chuckled. “But I know you loved every minute of it, just as much as you love your brother, and that’s why you’re here.” “I’m here to see you too,” Julian admitted. “Are you having a good time with my brother?” “Yes as a matter of fact,” Colin said pulling the corndogs he had wrapped up over to Julian. “And we saved you a corndog and a coke too, though I am sure the coke is watered down by now.” “Thanks,” Julian said gratefully as he unwrapped the corndog and took a bite. Colin stood and went to get him a fresh coke. The line was longer then he expected it to be, and by the time he returned Julian was resting his head on the table with his eyes closed. Colin smiled softly and looked over to make sure that Aidan was still in plain sight. He sat down beside Julian and placed a hand on his back, rubbing it soothingly. Julian opened his eyes, a tired smile forming across his lips. “I guess I’m more tired than I thought.” “Do you want to go home? Aidan’s had a full day and I still don’t know how those four corndogs are treating him,” Colin said worried. “Four,” Julian chuckled. “He conned you into four huh?” “Is that what he usually gets?” Colin asked wrinkling his nose. “No…I usually get him two, and then on our way home I might squeeze in another. But never four. But don’t feel bad, Jimmy made that same mistake once, and he definitely should know better.” Colin smiled. “Well at least I’m in good company. Are you sure you’re okay.” “Yeah,” Julian said sitting up and taking a sip of the coke Colin had brought him. “If I get some caffeine in me I should be fine.” “Okay, but when we drop Aidan off you are going to take a nap.” “Will you stay with me?” Colin leaned his forehead against Julian’s and smiled. “Yes Julian, I will.” “Hey guys, I won a prize,” Aidan called out as he ran towards them. Julian and Colin pulled apart just in time to see him waving a small dolphin in the air. “That’s great, buddy,” Julian said grinning as he gave his brother a hug. Colin rustled Aidan’s hair and gave him a high five. “What do you say we go play some more games then we’ll take a few more rides before heading home?” Colin suggested. “Sounds like a plan to me,” Julian agreed. He sipped on his coke and excused himself to get another one. While he was gone Colin focused on Aidan seriously. “You’re brother is tired, Aidan, but I know he wants to make this day fun for you. So you want to help me win him a big prize to thank him for a good day?” “I bet he’d like one of those big stuffed whales to add to his collection,” Aidan said excitedly. “He has a collection of whales?” Colin asked amused. “Julian loves fish of any kind,” Aidan explained. “Dolphins and Whales especially. He even likes sharks and he has a collection of stuffed ones in his room. Right along with his collection of airplanes and his comics are in there too.” “Thanks for the info, buddy,” Colin chuckled as Julian made his way back towards them. “I like your idea; we’ll try to win him a new stuffed whale.” Aidan grinned and Julian came to wrap his arm around Colin. “What are you two talking about?” he asked as he sipped on his coke. “Just whales,” Colin said meeting Julian’s gaze head on. “Aidan and I decided we’re going to play some more games. Are you in?” Julian looked at his brother’s smiling face and then looked back at Colin, who was smiling as well. “Okay,” he said holding up his coke, “let’s go play some games.” ** By the end of the day Julian was feeling a lot better. He was laughing and having fun at the park, and he was very happy and excited when Colin won him a stuffed whale. Colin could see the tiredness in Julian’s eyes despite his happiness, and finally suggested it was time to head home. Julian slipped into Colin’s truck, with his little brother in the middle, and Colin began the drive back to Luther’s Corners. Aidan was talking animatedly with his brother, and to his credit, Julian held his own, managing to sound upbeat and chipper. It warmed Colin’s heart that Julian cared so much that he didn’t want Aidan to have a bad moment. Julian visited with his parents for a few minutes, and declined an invitation to stay for dinner. Colin didn’t blame him; he could tell that Julian was about ready to fall asleep on his feet. Colin said good bye to the family, and promised Aidan that he would be seeing him again soon. Julian made the same promise and hugged his parents and Aidan before taking Colin’s hand. Colin smiled and they left the house together, ready finally to head back to the condo. When they reached Julian’s home Colin sat in the driveway for a few minutes just watching his friend sleep. Julian looked so peaceful with his blond head leaning against the window, his lips slightly parted and his arms crossed against his chest. Colin reached over and brushed strands of hair out of Julian’s face and gently shook him awake. “Julian, we’re here.” Those brown eyes fluttered open and Colin was greeted with a tired smile. He got out the car and came around to the other side to help Julian, who seemed to wake up once the cooler air hit him. They went inside and Colin asked Julian if he wanted anything to eat before settling in for the night. “No,” Julian shook his head. “Thank you for taking care of me, Colin. I think I’m just going to crash.” “Well I did say you needed a nap,” Colin reminded gently. He guided Julian to his bedroom and watched his friend strip down to just his t-shirt and boxers. He couldn’t help but notice how beautifully lean Julian’s body was, and it was a testament to how tired his friend was that he even got to watch him strip. “Are you going to stay,” Julian asked as Colin tucked him into bed. “For a little while,” Colin said sitting beside him. “Lay down with me, Colin. I want to talk to you.” Colin smiled and did as he was told. He faced Julian and propped his head up on the pillow. Julian’s eyes were already half closed. He knew he wouldn’t’ be talking long. “I had a good time today,” Julian said smiling. “Sorry I’m so exhausted, but I hate plane delays. They always throw me off my schedule.” “It’s okay, Julian. I’m just glad you got to see Aidan today, and I loved seeing you too. “Do you want to do it again?” “Is that your way of asking me out?” “Mmmhmmmm.” Julian’s eyes closed and Colin waited a split second before he heard the even breathing that signified that he was sleeping. Colin laid down and made himself comfortable, allowing one arm to cover Julian protectively. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but I wanted you to know that I’ll never say no to you, unless I think you’re wrong. You’re one of a kind, Luciano and I’m glad I met you.”
  16. 1 point
    Double The Trouble. Chapter 31. "This is weird Matthew. I feel like I should be going to training." They were standing near the entrance to the teachers' car park, waiting for Mr Crossman, who came in a rush a few minutes after he'd said he would. "Hi Peter, hi Matthew. Sorry about that, there always seems to be something. Now, have you got everything?" They both nodded and then headed for the car. The ‘everything’ wasn't much, just runners, shorts and a sport shirt. The car was the same as Rob’s, just an older model and dark red instead of blue, and Matthew and Mr Crossman spent five minutes saying how good they were. "Call me Andrew when we are out-of-school Matthew. Didn't Peter tell you?" Peter had told him, but he knew that Matthew was waiting to be actually invited. "Have you played squash before? Peter told me he hasn't even held a racket." "Not very much. Dad took me four or five times to see if I liked it, but that was a couple of years ago." That made Mr Crossman laugh. "What? Have we dragged you along to something you don't like?" "No, I did like it, but swimming took over and there wasn't time for anything else." "Is that so? It sounds like you were on a heavy training regimen then?" "He was Andrew. He told me it was at least two hours every day last year." "Two hours? That's a high commitment Matthew. How much are you doing this year?" Matthew explained how he'd cut back because this year was important for school. "Was that a hard decision?" "Yes, but when we decided to move it wasn't, because it would have meant too much travelling to get to my old club." "I see, school’s going well for you isn't it? I'm impressed with all your maths work." "Much better than I thought it would, but that's because Peter helps me. He’s brilliant!" Peter wanted to thump Matthew but since he was in the front and Matthew in the back that wasn't feasible. Mr Crossman nodded then made it worse. "He's a star. Well at maths anyhow." "He helps Andy and Marty too. He coaches them twice a week and they've got their best marks ever since he started." God, what was this? Give Peter a big head day? "Really? And do you enjoy helping them Peter?" "Um, yes. Is it very far now?" It was only five minutes, and they pulled into a large sports centre. "Hi Andrew, your usual court?" "Hi George, yes, and we’ll need another one next door too if you can manage it." He pointed out the changing room and sent Peter and Matthew to get ready while he organised the courts. Peter was knotting his runners when Andrew came in and they waited while he changed. Wow, he looked so fit, about as tall as Andy and wiry like Matthew. Matthew looked sporty too, with light blue shorts, a white, good sports shirt and classy runners. "George has given us two courts and I've teed up one of the juniors to help. We'll have someone to play against all the time that way, and I’m sure you’ll like him." They gathered their belongings and headed for courts seven and eight. The first two courts they passed had glass walls, and they paused for a moment to watch some guys playing. God, the ball was flying round at a fantastic speed. One of players missed it and when they looked around they yelled a friendly greeting. "Andrew!" Mr Crossman waved back and then they moved on. "It's juniors afternoon for practice and quite a few turn up. George lets them play as long as they like for a couple of dollars instead of the usual charge. They know me because I give them a hit. Here we are." There were sounds of someone playing and Andrew pushed open the door. "Hi Ricky." The ball dropped and a young guy with dark brown hair came over, holding his racket. "Hi Andrew." "Thanks for helping out. This is Peter, and this is Matthew." They shook hands all round and Peter was struck by his friendly smile. Andrew showed them the right way to hold their rackets and after some more explanation took Peter to the court next door. "We'll have a hit for a quarter of an hour and take it from there." He dropped the squash ball on the floor and vigorously rolled it back and forth under his foot. "I'm not mad at it Peter. When it's cold it doesn't bounce properly and this warms it up quickly." They were on the courts for nearly an hour and a half. Peter felt hopeless, but both Andrew and Ricky kept showing him things and he soon started enjoying himself. Andrew was full of praise and for the last quarter of an hour he set Peter and Matthew playing against each other while he had a hit with Ricky. Matthew knew the rules so they played a proper game. Matthew won the first and then the second, but not as easily. Peter won the third game and Matthew was laughing at him. "You're a cheat! You shouldn't be able to beat me on your first day. It must have been a fluke." Peter didn't say anything because Andrew and Ricky had been watching this last game, but it felt great. They gathered their gear and went to the changing room. Andrew stopped to talk to George, and Matthew gave Peter a nudge in the side. "Bad luck Peter maybe next time." "Idiot! The same to you." A slight tinge crept into his cheeks because Ricky was listening and obviously wondering what they were talking about. "He's just stirring Ricky. Everyone does it to me." Ricky was quickest at getting into the showers and Peter got another nudge and a whisper. "I bet he checks you out Peter!" Matthew was right. Ricky did, but then Peter had a little inner smile because they were both doing the same to him. Everything was very polite, nothing like the change room at school where he would invariably have been stirred by now, and grabbed if Kenny was there. "Thanks for helping us Ricky. It was great. Have you been playing long?" "No, about six months. Are you going to be regulars?" "I don't know. We haven't got much spare time." Peter looked at Matthew to see what he was thinking but got the same kind of look back. "You should. You'd both be good, especially if Andrew’s helping you." "Did you learn everything in six months?" "Yes, it's great here. George lets you practice really cheap on Fridays and Tuesdays, and a few of the good players like helping. Andrew helps the most though." "Is he very good?" "Is he ever! He’s top seed in A grade." "Top seed? What's that mean?" Ricky gave a grin. "No one in the club can beat him." "Really? He never told us he was that good. What seed are you then?" "I'm in C. grade Matthew. They don't bother seeding till A grade." "What grade would we be in at the moment if we were playing?" "They’d put you in D grade because that's as low as they go." Matthew thought that was funny. "Ricky's being polite Peter. He means we’re in about Z grade." "You'd soon get better. I’d practise with you if you like." "Really? But we can't get here Ricky. We haven't got any transport." "I've got a car. I could pick you up if you ever wanted some extra practice." "True? Wow! Well what about tomorrow afternoon? Then you could come to the movies with us. They’re good ones aren't they Matthew?" They explained what movies were on and how they went to the Uni Theatre, and Ricky looked really interested. "What about training Peter? Would we still do that?" "Of course. Then we could go to squash after and Ricky could have tea with us at your place." It was a done deal. Peter felt quite excited about it and Matthew was pleased too, even if the suddenness of it had obviously surprised him. Peter and Matthew finished their showers and were drying off when Andrew walked in. "That was quick. Well, I'll try not to keep you waiting too long." He stripped his sports gear off and ducked under a shower. Peter's ears warmed when Matthew caught him doing the check-up. God, Andrew was even sexier than Peter had imagined. As quick as he could he pulled his jocks and shorts on then sat on a dry spot on the bench. Matthew's eyes widened and a grin spread right across his face as he too sat down. "Which one’s hottest Peter?" came the soft whisper. "Quick Matthew, let's get outside." Matthew just shook his head with a no and then Ricky arrived to dry himself and was asking about times to meet. True to his word, Andrew was quick and they were soon on the way home. They talked about the squash for a bit and then the topic shifted to Ricky. "He’s in year Twelve Peter, and finding it hard work at the moment, but he works at it and he'll get through. I'm glad you're meeting up with him tomorrow. He’s usually too shy to meet people." "He wasn't shy with us. It was his idea to practice with us." "Good, but I imagine it was one of you who organised things." Peter was getting a feeling that Andrew seemed to know Ricky fairly well. "How long have you known him Andrew?" "About six months. He’s got a flair for squash and already reached C. grade. I'm hoping he’ll manage B grade by the end of the year." "What about us? Do you think we could get a grading?" "What ever grade you liked. You’ve both got great coordination and a good eye for the ball, and you're certainly fit enough. How far you went would depend on the effort you put in. You've got your swimming though so I think you'd be better off to just play casually." Rob was already there when they pulled in and he welcomed Andrew with a warm handshake. Beth was having none of that, and Peter loved the surprised and then pleased look Andrew gave when he received one of her full-on hugs. Matthew was next and then Peter of course, and by then everyone was smiling. "How did the squash champions go then?" Andrew laughed and said they had lots of potential. "Potential? That's teacher talk for hopeless. I knew it Matthew. You were born cross-eyed and with three left feet." "It's called heredity dad. Except each generation improves on the one before." "Andrew, you're the teacher. Explain to him what a mutation is." "Well yes, it's a natural device of nature that lets a species improve and adapt to its environment." Rob stared and then laughed. "Help me Beth. I'm outnumbered." "I should think so. What a way to talk about your son. Mine was born perfect and he's got better every day since." Oh my God. What a stir! Peter didn't know what to say as a new round of grins sprang up. He didn't have to because Beth sent him and Matthew up to change out of their sports gear, saying the meal would be on in twenty minutes. "You dog Peter!" "What you mean?" Peter knew very well what Matthew was talking about but acted dumb anyway. Not that that worked because Matthew seemed able to read him like a book. "Who was the boner for? Ricky or Mr C.? I couldn't tell." Peter looked puzzled then started laughing when Matthew pushed him on the bed and sat on him. "What are you doing? Matthew, leave my belly button alone. We have to go downstairs." "All right, but tell me your answer." "Um, both I think. But let's talk about it later." “Okay, give me a hug instead then.” "Ha, that's worse than tickling." "Worse? You know what I mean." "There’s still fifteen minutes. We can have a ten minute hug." They made it just as the food was being carried to the table and Peter was embarrassed in the first few seconds when Rob gave him a big wink. Then it escalated when he realised that Andrew had noticed and had a little smile. The laughter started when Beth handed Rob the carving knife and he held it aloft claiming to be the mad butcher of the Hall household. "Mad’s right. His brain’s been roasted." "What your beef Matthew? I'm the one with the cutting remarks tonight." "No way, you're not sharp enough." Oh my God. It was going to be one of those nights. "What happened today mum?" "It was excellent Peter. I’ve now officially got more than two days a week lined up and Rob says he has three more clients for next week. Rob, start carving and everyone can help themself." The knife was wielded with great gusto and for a while the muted conversation centred round squash, swimming, and one of Beth’s clients. Andrew was interested in hearing about Rob's job and how it was different to Beth’s when they were both accountants. As sweets were being dished out Rob asked Andrew about his hiking experiences. That conversation went for half an hour, except it mostly came to hearing from Rob, who turned out to know places that Andrew had never even heard of. "You'll have to go to Moroka Gorge sometime Andrew. It's a whole series of waterfalls set into steep rock walls. There’s the Cobberas mountains too. I had a real adventure with a mob of brumbies there, and watched thousands of Bogong moths fly out from their shelters at dusk." "Bogong moths? What are they?" "Just moths Peter, but they fly in huge swarms, and I know the first Australians used them as a food source." Beth sent the boys off, which meant Peter, Matthew and Andrew, while Rob helped clean-up, and Andrew asked for another look at Peter's books. For a while the talk was about books but before long Matthew was talking about his last school and the way he was treated there. Gosh, Andrew really was as good as Beth at getting people to talk. At nine o'clock Andrew left, but only after arrangements were made for another visit in a couple of weeks and another afternoon of squash. The house was suddenly empty. Beth left with Rob to look at some new accounting software he wanted her to use. "What will we do Peter?" "Study for an hour since we've hardly done any all week, then go to bed early." Matthew grinned. "Poor thing. You must be worn out." They studied, had a quick shower and dived into bed. Well, onto it really, for a very close cuddle. "How come you asked Ricky to the movies?" "I don't know Matthew. It just came out. I was a bit surprised myself but I had a feeling he wanted something like that to happen." Matthew was nodding. "Me too, and I’m glad you did. Andrew was pleased. He's kind isn't he?" "Yes, I think he’s like you." Matthew thought that over then laughed. "What, you think he’s that sexy do you?" "You're not sexy Matthew!" "I'm not? ..Have you changed your mind?" "No, you're super sexy!" "Idiot! I saw you checking him out." "You did too, and Ricky." "Only to see what was giving you a boner." "You fibber Matthew. You had one too." "Only because I caught it off you." "I wonder how Brent’s going?" "Brent? What made you think of him?" "I don't know. I hope Andy doesn't play too many tricks on him." "Ha, I wouldn't worry. Brent would just turn into Mr Hyde and do the same back." "I suppose. I wonder if they're at Amy’s or at the beach?" There was no talk for a while, just funny little noises that neither of them could help making. "Hey Matthew!" "Mmm?” "Let's go and look for a shooting star." "Okay, but where?" "Downstairs and out the back door." "Will we get dressed?" "Just our jocks’ll do." Matthew called him a rudey and a couple of minutes later they were standing in the tiny backyard looking up at the limited area of sky that was in view. They automatically nestled close and Matthew gave a little giggle. "Mr Long wants to see the stars?" They stopped talking and Peter drank in the feelings of the moment, the warmth where they were touching, the faint gleam of their skin in the starlight and the vague silhouette of the fence and surrounding buildings. "You're smiling aren’t you Matthew?" "Yes, how can you tell?" "I don't know. You just feel like you are." "I was thinking about our first star and how nervous I was that night. Did you make a wish when you saw it?" "Not really, I was too amazed." "I did, and it came true." "What was it?" "I can't say can I? That's meant to spoil it, but I bet you know anyhow." Peter forgot about the sky while they had a strong hug. He was 99% certain but the rule meant he couldn't ask. As their attention turned back to the sky there was the hum of an engine and a flare of light behind the side fence. "Mum’s home." They didn't move. They hadn't yet seen what they were waiting for and it was another five or six minutes before a thin line of fire slashed the inky background to the twinkling stars. Matthew was right about always seeing them, but Peter's imagination was still caught. "Did you make a wish this time?" "Yes!" Suddenly, electric light shone through the little window next to the back door, and almost as soon as their heads turned to look, went off again. "Oh no, now we’re stuck. That was mum locking the back door." "Stuck? No we're not. We'll just knock and she'll let us in." "No way, we've still got boners." "We'll wait a while then." "We can't. When she checks the doors it means she’s going to bed. She’ll probably have a shower." As if on cue the bathroom light went on and water started to gurgle through the downpipe. Matthew laughed, and they stood listening to the rush of water. It finished and they still waited, but as soon as the light went off Matthew started towards the door. "Not yet, I'm not ready." "Peter, we don’t want to get her out of bed. Just hide behind me." He rapped strongly on the door, then again after a short wait. Just as Matthew was about to repeat the knocking the outside light went on, bathing them in its artificial brilliance. Beth's voice came, muffled by the intervening door. "Who's there?" "It's me mum, with Matthew. You locked us out." The door un-snibbed, opened, and Beth was revealed as some of the outside light spilled in. "Goodness! What are you doing? You had me worried." This was understandable as without climbing the side fence the backyard could only be reached through the house. "We were looking at the stars." Beth’s eyebrows had risen at the sight of Matthew in his jocks but now she started smiling. "I see, well come in then and tell me what you saw." The inside light went on, the outside light went off, and Peter, carefully hiding himself behind Matthew walked in. Beth led the way, saying she'd get some drinks and when Peter sat down in the living room he grabbed a big cushion for some strategic cover. Matthew was loving this. How could he be so unconcerned at being practically nude in front of her? When she arrived with the drinks he could tell they were both grinning at the way he was hugging the cushion. Matthew explained how they'd been watching for a shooting star and immediately received a hug. "That's very romantic Matthew. Was that your idea?" "Um.... Not tonight." "I see. So my son’s the romantic one is he?" Matthew nodded vigorously and the two of them exchanged grins. It was partly a stir, but an enjoyable one, and Peter could tell his mum was really happy to hear it. "So, what are your plans for tomorrow? Will I see anything of you?" Matthew laughed. "Peter says he is sleeping all morning and then we’re training, playing squash and going to the movies." "Squash! ...Again?" "Yes, a friend of Andrew’s is going to help us." That made Beth curious and she wanted to know what Ricky was like. "He spent the whole time at squash helping us. Andrew says he’s shy but he was talking with us all right, and he’s coming to the movies too." "I see. Well I’ll meet him tomorrow then." The end of chapter 31. Iarwain.
  17. 1 point
    Double The Trouble. Chapter 27. There was a scurry for clothes when the sound of the car interrupted, and Beth walked in just as they reached the bottom of the steps. Her smile blossomed after one glance and the hugs were on. "So it went well. Is Matthew happy too?" "That's for sure. You won't believe what Andy did mum." She did of course, nodding all the way through and asking more questions as Peter spilled out the afternoon’s events. "And you're sure everyone backs you both?" "We think so. Andy and Marty said they’re going to have another talk with one of the Year Twelves, but everyone else looked as angry as anything about what happened to Matthew." "Do you think that's right Brent?" "Yes, Andy told me to watch everyone closely and Marty was doing the same and we all agreed when we talked about it at The Mall." "So that's where you were?" "Were you looking for us?" "Rob was. He rang me when Matthew wasn't home at 5:30." "Andy took us all to the mall to celebrate. He said he couldn't concentrate on maths coaching." "How are we going to thank him this time?" Peter and Brent looked at each other. "Well, we're not allowed to do a single thing, but he’s put in an order for roast beef and tons of roast potatoes." Beth loved it, then surprised them by walking out the front door. When they looked she was halfway across the road to Andy's house. "Come on Brent. We’ll start cooking. Who knows when she’ll be back?" Beth returned, looking very pleased, just as rissoles and a pan of bacon chunks with some melted cheese were on the verge of being served. "Well that's organised but we’ll need a bigger table." "We will?" "There’ll be eight. Andy and Marty, Matthew and Rob, you and Brent, plus Colin. Andy says we couldn't leave him out and of course he's right. You can ask him tomorrow." Eight! Wow! The room would be full. "When is it mum?" "Saturday, Andy said you're going out on Friday. And who is Colin? I've never heard you mention his name before." Peter didn't really have a clue. "Do you know anything about him Brent? I know he's Year Ten and that's about all. He doesn't say much." "This is his second year on the team but I don't know anything much either." "Another quiet one?" "Except for this afternoon. I could hardly believe it was him talking." "Did he enjoy the celebrating?" "He loved it. Except when Andy got us to give him a cheer in the mall and everyone looked at us." Brent left at about eight and Peter studied. It brought him back to earth after the eventful day. Well, he sneaked in half an hour on his new novel too. The rest of the week went well, though with a few interesting surprises. Mr Crossman had a short talk at the end of double maths the next day as he’d planned at Peter's place and looked very satisfied at what he heard. The guys on the team were the biggest surprise though. One by one they sought out Peter and Matthew during the next few days, basically saying they wanted everything to go well. Peter thought Andy must have told them to, but he hadn't. More of them lined up for extra training and there was stacks of mucking around in the changing room. Kenny followed Andy's orders with such enthusiasm that it became a joke with everyone, and Peter gave up on even making a pretence of trying to evade him. *** "What's going to happen Andy?" Peter was with Andy on the way to Marty's house and got the same answer he'd had every other time he'd asked. "Who knows? Mostly just mucking around." Well the mucking round started when they arrived just after eight and Peter discovered it was a pool party and Andy had accidentally on purpose not told Peter to bring his speedos. By the general round of grins Peter realised he'd been set up. He was given no choice and there were laughs and whistles as he stripped to his jocks. Of course he'd worn his special ones because they made him feel good, and of course it was even funnier when Matthew arrived five minutes later with Brent and Paul, and caught the same as Peter, revealed he was wearing the matching pair. By 8:30 everyone was there, except Jason, one of the year nines, and there were fourteen boisterous guys in the water. God, were they all after him? They weren't, as Peter could see, it just felt like it. He could hardly stay standing since the standard form of greeting seemed to be an approach from behind then a shove under the water. An impromptu war broke out when Andy climbed on Marty’s shoulders and challenged everyone. This was total chaos because it was every pair for themselves. A ball appeared from somewhere and was the attraction for a while. At least it was soft and bounced when it hit you. Marty brought out a couple of floating mattresses which got used in endless different ways. At first everyone tried to use them at the same time, and then Justin showed a trick where you jumped from the side of the pool and tried to stand on the mattress as if you were surfing. He was good at it but most efforts ended with guys sprawling head first into the water. " Dive! Dive! Dive!" What? Andy was looking at him with a grin, which meant that in a couple of seconds everyone else was. He pointed to the edge and Peter knew he was meant to climb out. So, diving was it? That meant he was going to lose his jocks. They were awkward enough with the ordinary mucking around, needing frequent hitches and there was no way they'd survive a proper dive. They stayed on the first time because he cheated and bent his knees right up as he hit the water. That just got him friendly boos and calls to do it again. Matthew did it properly. As Peter climbed out at the side, he watched the perfect racing dive. Jocks didn't stand a chance and there were cheers when he surfaced, his jocks down past his knees. Even that wasn't good enough. They yelled for him to have another go. Okay, now Peter understood his dive wasn't going to be good enough unless he totally lost his jocks. It took two more tries, but when he came up completely free the cheer was followed by a race to retrieve the floating garment. Peter didn't win that, and neither did Matthew after his dive. That was the last they saw of their jocks for the rest of the night. Andy beckoned, and while Peter was approaching, said something to the guys on each side. It was definitely trouble because they laughed and passed it on. Andy put one hand on Peter shoulder as if he was being friendly, while the other grabbed him beneath the water. "Meet the team Big D.!" Oh God, the whole team? Andy yelled out, “Little D.!”, which set the pattern, and Peter was moved to the next person. The third person was Justin, who tugged Peter’s dick till it was growing, and then got the laughs. "Not So Little D.!" That was it. Once Peter's boner started there was no stopping it and Paul, the fourth person, made his pronouncement. "Big D.! Big D.!" Right round Peter went, with each guy now tugging his full boner, a few with quick light touches, most with lively tugs, and a few really giving him the works. Kenny didn't stop at all and Peter was only rescued by Brent pulling him away. "Big D.! Big D.!", they called in turn, while, “Bluey! Bluey!”, travelled round the other way. "Having fun Peter?" "You wait Andy. You just wait." That was what he was meant to say and Andy gave a pleased nod. "Dive! Dive!" Everyone stared at Kenny. "Dive yourself Kenny. They'll break them off if they dive now." "Council of war everyone." Everyone left the pool, typical, just when they’d given him a boner, gathered under the lights on the patio, and under Andy's direction made another of the circles like in the change room. What was with these circles? They'd never done them till this week, but Peter had to admit they were effective. "In the center, Bluey, Peter." The center? Well, every one of them had already had a grope in the water, now they were getting the full view. Peter felt a bit silly just standing there so he moved beside Matthew and put his arm round his shoulders. Wow, everyone was smiling as if they liked it so Peter left his arm where it was. "Okay, what’ll we do if Bluey gets a rough time on Wednesday?" The first few suggestions were for quite physical and violent paybacks. "Sounds great Justin but we've gotta be smart. That'll just make things worse. If we do bad stuff it'll come back on us." "How’re we going to protect Matthew then?" "We won't have too. We'll all be with him in the changing room and there won't be rough stuff when they see Marty and Brent right with him.” “They're going to say stuff to the rest of us to make him feel bad. It's the only thing they can do. We’ll just tell them to piss off as if we don't believe them. If every single one of us acts the same way it backfires on them." Everyone agreed with Paul on that and started discussing what to say. "Tell them it takes one to know one." "Call them Wankers." "Hey Andy, why don't we just agree with them?" That was unusual enough to warrant full attention on Colin. "Like how?" “Just say, "Yeah we know, but he’s a good bloke", or something like that." Everyone agreed that was the best so far. "I'm gay." God, it was Brad. Every head snapped round with the same startled look that Peter was feeling. Brad laughed and looked back. "So's Andy. And so’s Phillips and Marty. I saw it in a movie and it was really funny. We could all say we're gay." No one said anything while they took in this weird idea. "If any one of them says something about Matthew we act like we’re coming on to them. Just imagine it." Jaws dropped then smiles grew into laughs at Brad's idea. "I'll tell them he’s got the best dick I ever saw." That was it. The idea caught like wildfire and suggestions came thick and fast. Andy looked like he was in the seventh heaven from laughing and the next hour turned crazy while everyone practised being gay. Some definitely practised with a lot more gusto than others, especially when Marty carted out a slab of beer. Inevitably there were calls for a demo from the experts, as Marty called Peter and Matthew, and they were put together and told to get into it, well that was one of quite a variety of suggestions. A big frontal hug was enough, except for Kenny, Justin and Paul, who kept urging them to do other stuff. The night turned kind of normal then, with mostly music and talking or hacking round in the pool. Except it's hard to feel normal when you don't know where your jocks are, Kenny and a couple of others are frequently cranking your boner up under Andy's standing orders, and you've never experienced a party like this to know what normal means. It wasn't a late party and Peter arrived home at half past twelve. The end of chapter 27. Iarwain.
  18. 1 point
    Double The Trouble. Chapter 26. Sunday was a good day. They left Matthew's place in the morning and drove to a reserve in the country which had a cave where a famous bushranger called Captain Moonlight used to hide when the troopers and police were searching for him. They climbed the giant granite lookout points and explored the boulder strewn ridge. The cave itself was really a big split in the rocks and the entrance was so well hidden it was a wonder anyone ever found it. Brent dropped them at Peter’s place saying he'd had the best weekend ever and hoping they could do something like it another time. Beth gave them the biggest hugs and sat between them while they had to tell their exploits. "But what about yesterday? Rob told me you're starting a nudist colony." They went through a sanitised version, but Peter had a suspicion she’d already heard Rob's version, which included everything except the boner shows. "Peter, you're such a troublemaker. Leading your friends into such an embarrassing situation. How did Brent cope with it?" "Brent? Mum, he loved it. He was joking with those kids and had them laughing. He put on his Mr Hyde act didn't he Matthew?" "Peter's right Beth. He's been quiet lately but he likes adventures like that." After tea Matthew spent over an hour with Beth at the new notebook computer, loading software and copying data files from the desktop. Peter was getting good at that stuff himself now, and after watching Matthew he knew he'd be able to keep everything up to date till Beth could happily do it herself. They started on physics but Matthew wasn't concentrating so they stopped trying. "What do you want to do Matthew? " "Can we go to bed?" "At eight o'clock? Okay. That's a great idea. You have your shower and I'll get some snacks so we don't have to get up later." Peter went downstairs. "We’re going to bed Mum. Matthew’s worrying about tomorrow. I think he needs lots of hugs." "Well you give him a hundred from me, and a hundred from Rob." Peter received a brief but very special hug of his own. "I'll peek in to say goodnight at ten Peter." Peter rushed back upstairs to get to the bathroom before Matthew finished his shower and only just made it. "Hey, you're not allowed to go till you rub my back." "Well you have to get undressed first don't you?" "Not when I can't wait I don't." In he went, shirt, shorts, jocks and socks and straight-away had Matthew laughing at him. "You nut case Peter." "I don't see why. My clothes want you to wash them too. Come on. Get to work back-washer." The tangle of two bodies in the enclosed space and the resultant problems of trying to get Peter's clothes off kept them laughing, especially when Matthew said he was jealous of the wet shirt which was clinging so tight. "Turn round Peter." "What for?" "So I can rub your back." "No way. I can rub yours at the same time if we stay like this." That was great fun and when they were out of the shower they had to clean each other's teeth and Peter made Matthew give him a shave. "What? Am I your slave now?" It felt so nice being given a shave that Peter insisted on returning the favor. "Now, slave boy. Give me a piggyback ride to the bedroom. No towels." "No towels? What if Beth sees us?" "She won't see me will she?" "Cheat." Out of the bathroom, down the corridor and into the bedroom, the slightly damp, double bodied creature made its way. "Hey Matthew." "What?" "This is fun. You can carry me round everywhere from now on." "Okay. We'll take it in turns. Your week starts tomorrow." "A week? All right. Dump me on the bed and let me look at you." Matthew twisted sideways to let Peter down, and they ended in a tangled heap with Peter complaining an elephant was squishing him. A complaint like that could only be answered with extra squishing, and that in turn provoked the highly exaggerated groans and squawks which would make Matthew smile. That worked perfectly and the next stage was to pull him close in a big hug. "Got you now." "Aren't I squishing you?" "It's not squishing now... It's ..Um.. Interesting." That made Matthew smile again and then they both went quiet. "Aren't you worried about tomorrow Peter?" "Yes, but it’ll be all right." "I suppose. But what will we do if it's not? We haven't talked about that." "You're a duffer. You worry too much." "I can't help it." "I know. I can't either. Give me a squeeze." "It's not like last year Matthew. We won't be on our own. Brent and Andy and Marty will still be our friends whatever happens." "I wonder why Andy hasn't told us what he’s going to do?" "Ha, I don't think I want to know. Except we do know about Kenny and Mr Long." "I wonder who else he's been talking to? He hasn't said anything to Brent." "I reckon he said something to Mum. She told Mr Crossman she wasn't one bit worried about the team. She actually said to him it was the rest of the school that mattered." "Mr Crossman’s on our side isn't he?" "Absolutely. You should have heard him. He said he’d fight to make sure I was happy." "Fight? Wow. I wish there'd been someone like him at Banks Street." Peter wriggled underneath Matthew. "What is it?" "You're teasing Mr Long." Matthew slid beside Peter, and rested his head on his chest. Peter held it in place and started playing with one of the blond streaks of hair. Matthew’s free hand made patterns as it roved round the parts of Peter that were in reach. "Matthew, that's an even bigger tease." "Good." They cuddled and talked, cuddled and talked, constantly swapping positions. Neither was sleepy and both were enjoying the gentle closeness of spirit between them. "Matthew, quick. Put some shorts on." "Shorts?" "This isn't like your place. Mum’s coming in to say goodnight." Beth arrived with drinks and a tray full of crumpets, honey and cream, then laughed when they disappeared in the proverbial blink of an eye, carefully wiped a smudge of cream from Matthew’s chin, and told Peter he could make them himself if he really wanted more. She left almost straight away, touselling Peter's hair, and giving Matthew a soft kiss on his forehead. "Hey, where's my goodnight kiss? How come I miss out?" "Matthew can look after that tonight." Matthew did. Straight away and several times, while Peter watched his mum from the corner of his eye. She gave him a wink. God. She must be catching that from Rob. It wasn't something usual for her. The food seemed to bring them to life, and after Matthew demanded the return of his goodnight kisses they started playing some of their personal games. Peter was sitting on Matthew’s stomach, writing his name with his finger in different places when he was startled by the laugh and the voice. "I told you Marty. They never stop." Sheba! Not again. And both of them this time. Peter dived for the sheet but it was on the floor beside the bed and Andy's foot stomped down first. Oh well. Here goes with the stirring. "What were you doing?" "Um... Writing my name on Matthew's chest." "Cute. We saw your light on so we thought you'd probably still be studying, didn't we Marty?" "Studying? Ha. Yeah." "So, what ya been up to Peter? How did that interview go?" That was his first question? Peter settled next to Matthew, making no attempt to cover Mr Long as that would definitely provoke some sort of treatment. "Really well. You know I like him. And mum thinks the same." "Beth likes him? I thought he might be weak." "No way." "So what else happened then?" "We went out to the river on Saturday, and Brent slept over, and we went up to Captain Moonlight's cave today. What about Anglesea?" "Mate! Marty’s off with Amy all time and I'm stuck with the little brat brother." Peter knew he was stirring Marty but it sounded like there was lots to catch up on. "Hey Matthew? When's it my turn to write on your body?" "Now or never Andy. I’ve heard about that green marker." Andy picked up the sheet and tossed it at them. "I bet it's back on the floor in two minutes. See you in the morning." "You're nuts Andy." "My nuts? Marty’s you mean. Wait till I tell you." They went on their way, Andy with a cheeky grin and his arm twisted up behind his back, leaving Peter and Matthew also with large grins. "What’ll we do? Start locking the door?" "What for Matthew? He gets so much fun out of it." "Peter Hall. You show pony. You like him catching us don't you?" At first quite startled at the thought, Peter could only agree it was kind of true. *** The day passed too quickly. Rob turned up to wish everyone well which was good. There was a surprise test in chemistry and that wasn't so good, because nobody, including Peter, was ready for it. Mr Crossman gave him the Charles De Lint book he’d promised, and that was excellent. And at lunchtime there was embarrassment as Andy and Marty heard all the details of the river adventure. "What? They pinched your clothes so they could see Peter's boner? That is brilliant. I wish we'd been there." "Andy, you would have been shaking yourself under the bridge too." "Still would have been worth it. Hey, I bet they’d be there if we went back next Saturday. They'll go again for sure to see if they can catch someone else." They didn't talk long though and headed off saying they had things to do, leaving Peter and Matthew totally up in the air about the only thing they really wanted to know. "Peter, I feel like screaming." "Um. They're having a meeting after training. That's all I know, except Andy told me to leave it all to him." “A meeting? Brent, he hasn't even said if we're meant to be there." Training was normal, except for nerves, and no one said anything or gave them any unusual looks, which Peter took to mean that no one knew yet that the meeting was about them. Andy did talk to them when they asked, but still hardly said a thing. "Don't worry Matthew. Just do exactly what I say. Even if it feels bad. You too Peter." At a quarter to five there was a mass exodus as every guy on the team left the pool and entered the change room at virtually the same time. Andy took absolute charge and in seconds there were fifteen guys formed in one big circle, almost shoulder to shoulder. There was talk and jostling but that died away quickly and all eyes went to Andy. "Right you guys. We’re an ACE team. Are we gonna win this year?" Everyone yelled agreement. Almost everyone. Peter was too nervous. The attention snapped back though, and when everyone was quiet Andy spoke again. "Matthew. Go outside." He said it in such a strong voice, and when Matthew, under the mass of puzzled stares, quietly left the room, Peter felt so bad he took a step to follow him, but just in time caught Andy's slight shake of the head. "All right. This is the team from now on." Silence. Paul, one of the long-distance guys was the first to break it. "Without Matthew? Are you serious?" No one else said anything. It was their question too. "He's a queer." Peter felt like someone had sliced his heart open. It sounded so awful the way Andy said it. Eventually someone laughed, and then a few others, at what must be yet another of Andy's cons. "He'll cause trouble if he stays on the team." "Andy, get serious. Andy said it again and it was even worse this time. "He's a queer." Marty's hand had clasped on Peter's arm and he couldn't move. What? Before Andy said it? It was planned? Of course it was. It was a challenge not a statement. Realisation flowed into Peter at the same time he started to struggle away from Marty and he stopped and just stood. Heads were turning to him and back to Andy. "So what?" - it was Paul. "I told you. He'll cause trouble." There was a more prolonged silence. "You bastard Hillier. After the way he helped you. You can stuff this team. I'm going out with Matthew." Colin, a quiet year ten kid who hardly ever said anything, was storming towards the door. "You're a mongrel. You too Marty. Let Peter Go." It was Brad, and Kenny and Justin joined him, as they collected Peter and escorted him out the door. Matthew was staring towards them, but as they got closer he kept looking past. Peter glanced back and saw the crowd in the doorway. Matthew looked confused and then disbelieving when nasty comments started to fly about Andy. Peter felt excitement explode, but knew this wasn’t the time for him to say anything. Colin put his hand up to Matthew shoulder. "Colin Miles you are one gutsy kid." Everyone turned at the sound of the clear, strong voice. There was Andy at the door, flanked by Marty and Brent, the three of them with giant grins. "Matthew. I couldn't talk them out of it. They want you on the team. Come back in and we’ll tell them what's going on." Matthew moved forward, and everyone followed. They knew they'd been tricked somehow and now they'd find out why. The circle formed again with Andy’s arm draped across Matthew’s shoulder. "Okay Colin. Bluey really is a gay boy and there really is going to be trouble. Just listen to this." It took a few minutes only for Andy to first of all describe some of the things that happened to Matthew at his last school, and how it was the swimming team who were the worst of all, and then to explain how they'd be sure to pick on him at the comp. "So, he knew we'd all find out about him, but he was going to the comp anyway because he didn't want to let coach or us down. Marty and I reckoned you’d stick up for him and you all did. Colin’s right. Except they're the bastards. Not me." "Are you really gay Matthew?" Matthew nodded at Brad. The renewed silence was broken again by Andy. "Yeah. And he's after your dick Brad, so you'd better stop swingin’ it like that." Brad spread his arms as if to say come and get me and the laughter and comments briefly centred on Brad. Wow, Andy had effortlessly turned it into change-room joking. "What d’you want us to do Andy?" "We're going to shit all over them Paul. They won’t know what's hit them. They've won every comp for the last five years and their heads are swollen as big as Phillip’s dick. Hey, we'll call them the Dickheads from now on.” The grins round the circle were growing. "We've got two champions, so next week we’re going to thrash their asses." He held Matthew's arm up, yelled out “champion”, then passed him across to Brent. Right round the circle Matthew went, every guy lifting his arm and repeating the call. "Big D.! Big D.! Come on Peter." Peter thought he was to be yanked round the circle like Matthew, but that wasn't to happen yet. Andy was heading for him. What now? He could tell by Andy's grin that his time had come. Oh God. Peter's arm was lifted in the victory salute but Andy said nothing, just held it till everyone was watching, then lowered it and beckoned Matthew to take his place. "Guess what you guys. Here's our second gay-boy. Peter wants you to know he's got it bad for Matthew." By now Peter had lost track at how many times there'd been a stunned silence, but this one was going to stay in his mind for ever. What was he meant to do? Every face was staring at him, Andy, Marty and Brent with smiles, the rest not sure what to believe. "They don't believe anything I say. You'll have to show them Peter." Show them? This was freaky. How do you show you’re gay? Was he meant to do something rude? A kiss, like for Marty? That would be too much in front of all the staring faces. Matthew helped him out. Wonderful Matthew slipped an arm round Peter's waist and instantly Peter returned the gesture with a quick hug. A few of the faces were looking amazed but most of them were actually smiling. Andy looked at Matthew and raised his arm in the victory gesture. Matthew knew exactly what he meant, and lifting Peter's arm, the champion cry rang out again. Round the circle Peter went, till, flushed and relieved, he was back in his place. "Shoot Andy. What else are you going to tell us?" "Nothing. Except this is a team secret. You all know what those dorks in David’s class are like. We don't want Bluey or Big D. getting bashed if they find out." The whole team turned as one to look at David, who flushed, and promised it wouldn’t be him who said anything. Andy finished by saying there was going to be a team get-together at Marty's place on Friday, that Marty was gay and Phillips was a wanker. Except it didn't finish at all. The circle dissolved but everyone gathered close and was talking about it all. Wow, three or four guys shook Peter's hand, a couple gave him a pat on the shoulder and Matthew was receiving similar attention. Five minutes later everyone was still talking but the questions showed how curious most of them were. Andy was a nightmare and had Peter embarrassed in seconds when the topic of King Dick came up. "Of course he's still King Dick Kenny. You love being mascot don't you Peter?" What else could Peter do but agree? "See, it's perfect for him. He likes getting a boner even if he's still shy about it. The more you guys yank it for him the happier he'll be." Andy was getting the laughs he wanted and Peter left for his shower. There was another cheer and Peter turned to see Colin being carried on Andy and Marty’s shoulders. The poor guy looked totally embarrassed as a new cry rang around the room. "Gutsy! Gutsy!" Peter and Matthew dressed then waited outside for Andy, Marty, and Brad. Peter wanted to give Matthew the biggest hug but he held back. "Jeez Peter. What happened when Andy sent me out? Did he send them crazy or something?" "It was armageddon Matthew. That's what I thought anyway." Armageddon was an in word between them at the moment from one of the books they'd read. There was no chance to explain further because Marty turned up, and Brent, and walking next to Andy was Colin Miles. "Yo Matthew. We’re going to the mall." The mall? Well the maths coaching was off, which was pretty sensible as far as Peter was concerned. Brent wanted to bring his car but was overruled. They were together as far as Andy was concerned, so they all bundled into the wagon, Peter and Matthew in the back with Brent, and Colin sandwiched in the front. "What are we doing?" "Peter, I'm still shaking. We’re not doing maths and that's for sure. I thought they were gonna kill me when Colin set them off. Man, was I ready to run." He was? He hadn't looked worried to Peter, and Peter couldn't really imagine Andy running. "Andy? Why didn't you tell us what you were going to do? I felt like killing you myself." "I know. I was watching, but I had to do it that way Peter. You would have given it away otherwise. Did you notice how everyone looked straight at you? It was your reaction that got everyone thinking I meant it." "Well it sure sounded like it. You frightened me." Matthew slipped his arm round Peter's middle for a sideways hug. "Will someone please tell me what you're all talking about? I still don't know." "Andy said you were a queer and kicked you off the team because you'd cause trouble. He sounded like he hated you and they got mad at him. Colin called him a bastard and said he was quitting the team to stand up for you. He stormed out and everyone else went with him." Andy gave Colin a friendly dig in the ribs. "Yeah, you're the man Colin. You made it perfect." Colin just got embarrassed, which impressed Peter again. At the mall Andy shouted everyone to giant super milkshake kind of drinks and they talked it all over. Colin didn't say much but looked happy, though very surprised at some of the things he heard. Half an hour was all the time they had with the logistics of getting Brent back to his car and taking Colin and Matthew home. Peter asked Brent in when they drove from school, then told him he was staying to have a meal as well when it turned out he was heading for an empty house. They went straight up to the bedroom where Peter attacked. "Brent Phillips. You knew all along what Andy was going to do and you didn't say a word." Brent had succumbed to the attack and let Peter sit on him. "Um. Would you argue with Andy if he told you not to say anything?" "Excuses! Excuses! You're going to die." Brent didn't look very worried. "Brent, want to wrestle?" The end of chapter 26. Iarwain.
  19. 1 point
    Chapter 49: The Question Bridget took a sip of her gin and tonic, just as George walked into her parlor. She smiled warmly at him, handing him a mint julep in a gold-trimmed lead-crystal highball glass. “Great minds think alike,” George said with a chuckle, taking the drink and then holding it up to the light and savoring the sight of it, as its chilled contents hazed the crystal with a fine mist of condensation. He took a sip, enjoying the contrasting tastes of aromatic fresh mint and the sweet fire of Southern Comfort. “We’ve got reason to celebrate again. Gonzalez is up in Cocoa Beach running the manhunt, and he’s fit to be tied. Dirk and the lawyer got away clean so far; there’s been a few possible sightings, but nothing hard and it’s been days. They were damn clever about the getaway; they put the GPS trackers on a pizza delivery car to bird-dog the surveillance units, and they’d switched the plate so Ainsworth’s car didn’t have the plate we were looking for. It took the locals hours to notice the swap, and by that time, they were long gone. Now for the really good news: the prosecutor is going ahead with the indictment, including for Arnold’s murder – they want to be able to go on the news and talk about a serial killer, because every bit of publicity aids the manhunt. It’s being filed Wednesday, and it’s a done deal.” Bridget turned to face Arnold’s portrait, and after contemplating it for a few moments, turned to face George as she said, “At long last, I shall be free of that bastard. Thank you, George. However, my dear, I have news of my own; we may have even more to celebrate today than we previously believed. Sanchez has e-mailed me, and it appears we may hear good news soon. The Cartel has contacts in the Seychelles, and though they only specialize in smuggling, they have their own connections amongst the Somali pirates, who also partake in that trade. The gist of Sanchez’s e-mail is that he gave his contact Atlantis’s AIS code and anticipated route, and she was seen leaving the Seychelles. Fate was kind and there was a Somali boat near her course, which is going to attempt an interception any time now, far out at sea. According to Sanchez, ensuring that Trevor does not survive will not be an issue for them, and the bounty he offered should merely make it certain.” George gave Bridget a kiss and settled in beside her on her loveseat. “That’s great. We’ve basically got a lock on an indictment of Dirk, and now this. The only thing is... remember the fiasco in the canal? How will we know for sure that they got him?” “Sanchez said they will take a picture of their AIS display as they intercept, and some other shots as well. In addition, they will take something with Atlantis’s name on it; that is what they will exchange with Sanchez’s contact for the bounty,” Bridget replied. “Any idea when we’ll get the confirmation?” George asked. “Sanchez did not say, but my guess is within a few hours of the intercept for photos, and whenever they make port for the hard evidence.” George nodded, deep in thought. “This’ll leave just Lisa and Joel to take care of, and that’s assuming Joel follows through on the Ares search. What do you want to do if he doesn’t?” Bridget took a prim sip of her gin and tonic. “Assuming he forgets the idea of finding Ares, then I see no harm in letting him and Lisa be; they would be no threat to us, and there is also the inherent risk of complications if we frame them with the cocaine.” “I agree. As my father was fond of saying: if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.” George took a drink of his mint julep before asking, “What’s your guess on the odds?” Bridget shrugged. “It is hard to predict what a person will do, but I would venture a guess that Joel is more likely than not to keep his word, especially as it appears that he and Trevor are brothers.” “I’ve been thinking about that. Brothers, or maybe half brothers, sharing just one parent. We know Dirk and Trevor were fighting when Trevor left, so I wonder... Could Trevor have found out that Dirk had a thing with Joel’s mother, and that’s part of what caused the fight? Or maybe... Wait a second, if Dirk is gay, then here’s what fits: he’s not Trevor’s real father, Charles Stiles is. That would explain everything,” George said, narrowing his eyes. Bridget shook her head. “Except for one glaring issue; we know for a fact that Trevor was fearful of his father finding out that Trevor is gay. That certainly makes little sense if Dirk himself is gay.” George thought for a few moments before replying, “That makes no sense, but here’s what could be useful to us: If Dirk is straight, and Rachel was screwing around with Charles Stiles, Dirk had tons of motive to kill her. Let’s leave this alone for now – it’s currently a slam-dunk case so no reason to mess with it – but... it never hurts to know that there’s more dirt to dig up if needed.” George took Bridget’s hand tenderly in his own. “I thought you might be clutching at straws when you gave Joel and Lisa use of your guesthouse, but I gotta admit, the info we’ve been getting from those two via the taps and bugs have been pure gold.” George raised his glass to Bridget’s, and offered a toast, “Here’s to you, my dear; as brilliant as you are beautiful.” “Why thank you, my dear. And here is to you, the man I love, brave, cunning, and resourceful beyond measure,” Bridget replied, tapping her glass to his, and the soft ting of fine crystal sounded amidst the opulent Edwardian parlor. The weather was perfect, exactly as Joel had envisioned. The sun was shining brightly in a sky painted with a few wispy clouds, the birds were chattering their ancient melody in the trees, and a faint sea breeze rustled the palm fronds, offering some meager respite from the sultry heat. Joel checked his watch for the thousandth time, his palms clammy and cold as he paced the hot pool deck. “Hey, you’ll wear a hole in the concrete,” Steve said, giving Joel a pat on the back. “I guess I’m nervous,” Joel said, continuing to pace. “Now there’s a news bulletin,” Steve replied, chuckling. “Let’s go get suited up. Try to relax; everything will be fine, man.” Joel took a deep breath, and turned to look at the pool. “I hope so,” he said, and then turned to walk into the locker room with Steve. For several minutes, Joel struggled to remember his locker’s combination, one he’d used almost every day since his freshman year. Two of his teammates had lockers near Joel, but resisted the urge to tease him. Finally, Joel remembered the sequence, and popped open the lock before beginning to strip. Joel tugged on his speedos and, goggles in hand, padded out to the pool, where he resumed pacing back and forth near the water’s edge. When Steve came out of the locker room, he walked up to Joel and said, “Relax, man. If there’s anyone with no reason to worry, it’s you.” Joel fled from that subject, moving on to another. “They’re already late. What if they don’t show, or won’t go for it?” Joel asked. Steve shrugged. “Then we’ll wing it, and the meet will be... races to determine rankings on the team?” Joel glanced at the starting blocks. “That’s kinda thin... Maybe we should have told ‘em?” Steve shook his head. “Not smart. It could have leaked. You know how people like to talk.” Steve had more of a point than he knew; he’d mentioned the attempt to kill Trevor to two mutual friends, and the news had spread, slowly at first, but then exponentially, resulting in the majority of the campus knowing about it by the end of the week. “Tell me again why we didn’t go with water polo, seeing as it’s water polo season?” Steve asked, with a grin. Joel shrugged. “I just figured a swim meet would be better, and we’re out of season for both, so I told Lisa it was a special regional exhibition event.” Steve angled his head and chuckled. “That’s sort of true, if you think about it.” Joel was about to reply when four guys walked into the pool area. One of them looked at Steve and nodded his head upwards once in recognition. The four runners – all members of the track team – walked up to Steve, and one of them asked, “Okay, we’re here. Now will you tell us what’s up? Or did you just need spectators for the meet? And since when are there swim meets in October?” Steve grinned and filled the track guys in on the plan, finishing by saying, “You four will play members of the visiting team. Lisa knows everyone on the swim team really well, and she’s seen us at a lot of meets, so she’d probably recognize any of us, but I don’t think she’ll recognize you guys from a distance if you’re wearing caps and goggles.” One of the runners glanced down at Steve’s swimsuit. “We’ve got to wear speedos?” he asked dejectedly, before sharing an angst-ridden look with his fellow runners. Steve rolled his eyes and shrugged. “Yeah, what’s the big deal? You guys wear running shorts, which ain’t a lot bigger. Come on, don’t let Joel down.” The four runners exchanged glances, and with some reluctance, nodded their agreement. Joel grinned. “Thanks guys; you’ll find suits, caps, and goggles on the benches in the locker room.” As the runners walked away, Steve let out the laugh he’d been holding. “They look like they’re going to their own funerals. Good thing we didn’t tell ‘em in advance; they’d have probably chickened out.” The pool area looked very much as if a swim meet was about to begin. The only things lacking were an actual opposing team, and the usual assortment of attending parents from both teams. The bleachers held twenty spectators, seated scattered about to make them appear more numerous. They were mainly the girlfriends of the team members, plus a few of the team members’ male and female friends, and the boyfriends of the team’s two out members. The swim team – except for Joel – was dressed in their matching blue and gold team speedos. Joel was wearing the red Speedo he’d purchased – at Lisa’s insistence – when he’d swam the glow plug wires out to Atlantis, prior to Trevor’s departure. The team clustered around Joel, who took a deep breath to calm himself before saying, “Okay, like we planned.” “Just don’t chicken out,” Steve said, grinning as he gave Joel a pat on the shoulder. “I gave up my fishing day for this, so if he does he’ll regret it. And Joel... you damn well better have meant it when you said the wedding date would be after you’re both eighteen and out of high school,” the coach grumped, and then smiled to show he wasn’t really angry. “We’re all set. We’ll call the race right after she gets seated.” Steve looked at the starting blocks, where the four track team members were waiting and fidgeting. He walked over and asked, “Uh, you guys do know how to use starting blocks, right?” Two of the four shook their heads, proving to Steve that they had a problem. “Okay, it’s super easy, watch me,” he said, as he climbed onto one of the angled platforms. “Just stand on it, with your toes near the poolside edge. Ignore the bars and handles below: those are for the backstroke. It’s just like diving off the edge of a pool. Dive in hands first and start swimming. Remember to stay in your lanes, too. It’s a one-length race, so the finish line is the far end, no need to learn a kick-turn.” With a powerful thrust of his legs, Steve launched himself horizontally, cutting cleanly into the water and surging into a freestyle crawl to the far end of the pool, where he kick-turned and returned. Treading water, he called out, “Okay, give it a try.” The four runners mounted the platforms, and dove roughly together, but their entries ­– throwing up huge splashes – made Steve cringe. Their attempts at a freestyle crawl were worse; none of them knew how to breathe sideways, so they pulled their heads up and looked straight ahead. Steve wasted no time; he surged out of the pool and ran to his coach and Joel. “We’ve got a problem. No way is Lisa going to buy those guys as swimmers. I guess we should have rehearsed them for a few days.” Joel’s eyes opened wide as he saw his plan disintegrating, but the coach glanced at the lanes and shrugged. “Lisa isn’t a swimmer, so what she’d pick up on is differences, not technique itself. That makes this easy: the grandstand is on one side of the pool, so give those four runners the four far-side lanes, and three of you plus Joel take the adjoining nearer four lanes. That puts you guys closer to the stands, between Lisa and the runners. If you guys muff your entries a little and then splash a lot during the race, I doubt she’ll notice anything.” “Thanks coach,” Joel replied, relaxing a little. Steve eyed Joel and asked, “Aren’t you forgetting something?” Joel stared blankly for a moment, before mumbling, “Oh shit!” and racing for the locker room. He returned at a jog a few moments later, clutching a tiny inlaid box, two inches on a side, which he’d purchased in Turkey. One of the swimmers, Chris, was the designated lookout. “Target in sight! She’s parking!” he called down from the high dive platform, where he had a great view of the parking lot. As soon as he sounded the alert, he jumped feet-first into the pool, landing with a splash before Lisa was out of her truck. Chris swam to the side and hauled himself out. He padded over, dripping, to the starting blocks, where Joel, Steve, and the rest of the swim team were waiting, along with their coach and the runners. The coach took charge. “Okay, starting at the left side of the pool, runners in the first four lanes, swimmers in the next three, Joel to their right. Just like at a meet, a couple of minutes before the pistol. Runners, watch the swimmers and follow their lead for getting on the blocks. Okay runners: caps and goggles on now, and head for your blocks.” The runners went to their places, and began fumbling with their caps. Steve watched for a second before realizing the problem and turning to his team. “Help ‘em, they don’t know how to put caps on,” he said, racing off with three of his teammates to help the runners into their caps and goggles. “We should’ve rehearsed this,” Joel mumbled. The coach shook his head. “Damn straight, but too late for that now, Joel. You should have let me in on this earlier.” Four minutes later, Lisa strode purposefully through the pool area gates, seeing to her surprise that the meet appeared to be well underway. The coach intercepted her. “Hi Lisa, glad you could make it. Joel’s big event is up first, and he talked me into letting him wear red, for luck. He wouldn’t tell me why, but said you’d understand. Take a seat; we’re about a minute and a half from the starting gun.” Lisa nodded, and as she headed for the bleachers, looked at the swimmers, instantly picking Joel out and waving. Lisa settled into a seat on the bottom row, looking around. She glanced at the digital scoreboard, which was still blank of results. At first glance, it looked like an average interschool swim meet; the swimmer’s bronzed bodies, strings of triangular blue and gold flags, and eager spectators in the bleachers, waiting to cheer their team on. Tinny music was playing over the speaker system, helping to set the atmosphere. On the top row of bleachers, the team’s designated photographer tended his running video camera, and then turned his attention to his Nikon digital still camera, checking its tripod, and ensuring that it was pointing at the area between Lisa and the pool. Lisa, for the moment oblivious to the incongruities around her, sat on the bleachers, enjoying the gorgeous day, feeling the warm sun on her face, making the shimmering pool waters look ever so inviting. The smell of chlorine hung lightly in the air, and Lisa smiled with pride, watching as Joel mounted his starting block. “Swimmers, on your marks!” the coach called out, raising his starter’s pistol as Steve, who was not in the race, ran towards the far end of the pool, taking a position he often occupied to urge his team on to victory, though this time he was careful to keep a small box concealed in the palm of his hand. A loud crack rang out, and the swimmers were off, muscles rippling as they arced through the air, their arms held just a little higher than usual, guaranteeing a larger splash on entry. The four runners performed better on this, their second time off the blocks, and together all eight guys broached the surface, pulling into freestyle crawls. Lisa surged to her feet, her attention fully on Joel, yelling and cheering him on. She yelled even louder, jumping up and down as he pulled into an easy lead. Joel touched first, the crowd cheering as he raised his fist in victory and glancing at the scoreboard for his time. Pulling himself out of the pool, Joel waved to Lisa before exchanging high-fives with his teammates, and then, in an apparent show of exuberance, Joel pulled Chris into a brief backslapping hug, and then he hugged Steve. Joel’s hug with Steve had been rehearsed, and as Joel pulled away, with his body between Lisa and Steve, Steve slipped the box into Joel’s left hand. Joel turned to face Lisa and, dripping wet, trotted towards her. For a moment, Lisa thought Joel was intending to hug her while dripping wet, something he’d often done at meets, but she didn’t mind. Grinning and proud, Lisa took a step towards Joel, holding her arms wide, ready to embrace him. Joel came to a halt an arm’s length from Lisa, and in a move he’d practiced countless times, he dropped gracefully to one knee. He looked up at Lisa, his wet hair swept back, the sun glistening on his wet body, his chest heaving though not from the race. Slowly, he raised his arms, joining them in front of him, cradling the ring box as he flipped its lid open. On cue, the loudspeakers cut out and the crowd fell silent. Lisa was used to Joel’s antics, and had thought he was playing when he dropped to one knee. Then she saw the box, and watched it open. Her calm, relaxed demeanor began to dissolve, the sudden silence leaving her distracted and confused her for a moment, but then she looked into Joel’s blue and pleading eyes, and understood. “Lisa, will you marry me?” Joel asked, in a strained, almost breaking voice. For what seemed like an eternity Joel waited, his eyes locked on Lisa’s. Less then a second after Joel had asked the question, Lisa, her throat suddenly dry, replied, “Yes, of course I will...” She wanted to fly into his arms, but he glanced at the ring and back to her eyes as he stood up, with a beatific smile on his face. Joel pulled the ring from its box, and then, his heart full of joy, he held it in his hand, feeling the heavy gold as the diamond glittered in the sun. Then, in a moment he’d dreamed of, he slipped it gently onto his fiancée’s finger, and their eyes met again. A few claps sounded as gathered people broke their silence, then more, clapping and cheering. Lisa looked at the sparkling diamond on her finger, its image blurring from the tears in her eyes. “Oh Joel, it’s beautiful,” she said, as she pulled him into her arms, hugging him tight. Joel held Lisa in his arms, feeling her breathing and the tremble of her beating heart. He pulled her closer, angling his head, hesitating tenderly, and then their lips met for a deep and passionate kiss. At last mindful again of the many people who had been part of his proposal, Joel broke the kiss, and together he and Lisa, with the swimmers gathering around, turned to face the bleachers, as the photographer kept his cameras running. Joel’s team, jumping and cheering, pummeled Joel’s back in congratulations. Joel turned and swept Lisa off her feet, holding her in his arms, as he nuzzled his forehead to hers. “Thanks for taking the plunge,” Joel said softly, as he trotted easily towards the water’s edge, keeping her in his arms as he stepped off the edge and into the water. Several members of the swim team took exuberant backflips into the pool, as Lisa surfaced, laughter in her eyes, reaching for Joel and pulling him into a kiss as they sank together beneath the waters. They surfaced together, still entwined, and Lisa glanced around her brow furrowing slightly. “Shouldn’t we get out, so the next race can start?” Joel chuckled, “There aren’t any. It’s the wrong season for a swim meet, and we almost never have them on Sundays.” Slowly it dawned on Lisa what Joel had done. “You set all this up... so you could ask me in front of everyone?” she said, in an amazed tone. Then she grinned, giving Joel a playful splash before pulling him in for another kiss. An impromptu pool party developed, and for a few joyous moments, Lisa and Joel were lost in each other, holding onto the pool edge and kissing, as the celebration roared on around them. When they broke the kiss, Joel whispered, “I need to wait a bit before getting out.” Lisa chuckled. “I can tell. Joel, this is the happiest day of my life. I love you.” “I love you too,” Joel replied, brushing Lisa’s hair from her forehead, his eyes lost in hers. Lisa’s expression grew troubled, her brow creasing. “Joel, my father won’t–” Joel touched his finger to Lisa’s lips, smiling. “Don’t worry, he won’t need to. I was thinking we could get married on your birthday next June, yours and Trev’s... you’ll be eighteen then, and out of high school.” “That would be perfect... he can’t say no. Now all we have to do is find the right time to tell him.” Joel nodded. “I know, we’ll figure that out. We’ve got to tell my parents too. We’ll be together, that’s what’s important.” One of the swimmers, who was also a member of the diving team, ascended the high-dive platform, where he executed a perfect one and a half forward dive, ripping the entry to a scattered round of applause. Steve went next, and called out from the diving platform, “So, when’s the big day? And by that I mean when’s the stag party?” Joel glanced skyward, squinting against the sun’s glare as he looked at Steve and grinned. “Sometime in early June... Trev said he’d plan the party.” “Just don’t let him pick the strippers,” Steve shot back with a laugh, and then tucked into a forward pike. “Why’d he say that? Does he....” Lisa asked, arching an eyebrow. Joel chuckled. “Yeah, the team knows. They figured it out; I didn’t tell ‘em. And ah... speaking of Trev... I was thinking we could have the ceremony on Atlantis.” “Atlantis was built in France,” Lisa said, wrinkling her nose in mock disgust. “But that was before my mom moved there, so I suppose I could overlook that, just this once.” Joel chuckled, slowly spinning himself and Lisa around in the pool. “We’ll need a place for the reception... Bridget’s house would be perfect. Do you think she’d–” “I know she would,” Lisa said, nodding with delight at the thought of having their reception in Bridget’s opulent house. “We’ll ask her, but I know she’ll say yes. I’d like to go to the guesthouse when we leave here... and I just realized I don’t have any dry clothes, but I don’t care.” Joel smiled, his eyes twinkling, “I bought some for you; they’re in my locker and coach said he’d open the girl’s locker room for you.” Lisa ran her fingers through Joel’s hair. “You really did think of everything...” Lisa pulled Joel in close, hugging him as they floated together. “I’ll remember this day always, Joel. It’s just perfect.” ~ Atlantis' Page (see what Atlantis looks like) © 2010 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading. A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice. Any remaining errors are mine alone.
  20. 1 point
    Chapter 46: Forces in Motion Troubled dreams disturbed Trevor’s sleep, as Atlantis rode at anchor in the moonlight, a hundred yards off the pristine palm-fringed white beach at Grand Anse, on Praslin Island’s reef-fringed southern shore. Trevor finally awoke just after dawn, feeling the wracking emotional pain as he remembered the news of the previous day: that his own father had tried to kill him. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t true, for Trevor had no way save one of knowing that. That one way was his instincts, and he tried to find a reason to disbelieve, or at least doubt, what he’d been told. Trevor sat on deck, watching the shoreline, listening to the murmur of tiny waves lapping against the sand. He replayed in his mind the events at the Suez Canal, and then in the Strait of Messina, but he could find no logical flaw that would contradict what he’d been told. Trevor sighed, and then said aloud, “I can stay here brooding all day, or go see this place.” He hoped the island could provide what he most needed: distraction. Trevor checked his cell phone again. There was no signal, so he got ready to go ashore. Getting ashore would be easy in his Zodiac, but Trevor decided that a swim would do him good. He placed a pair of running shoes, the rock, the satellite phone box, and his wallet in a zip lock bag – a standard means for swimming things ashore while keeping them dry – and locked up Atlantis, putting the keys carefully into the inner pocket of his red running shorts. With the bag in hand, Trevor jumped into the sea from the starboard stairs, and checked to make sure there was enough air in the bag to counteract the weight of its contents – he didn’t want it to sink if it slipped from his grasp. For a few moments, Trevor just floated in the warm calm waters, savoring their caress, and then he began swimming towards shore. When he arrived on the sand, Trevor went for a jog along the pristine beach, letting the warm breeze dry him, but leaving a faint dusting of salt on his golden skin. Trevor spotted a large cluster of palm-frond huts and angled inland. The huts comprised a quiet market selling fresh fruit, vegetables, and handicrafts. Trevor took his time, strolling along the stands, making a mental list of food he could buy for his voyage. Trevor walked alone though the small town of Grand Anse, soon finding its post office. Before going inside, Trevor set the rock atop one of the small boulders skirting the parking lot, and with the aid of a few strikes from a stone, fractured the lump of pink landscaping shale. Trevor separated the two pieces, keeping the smaller of the two, and taking the other inside to mail to Gonzalez, along with the satellite phone box. With that task done, Trevor emerged from the post office and stood for a moment, looking at the tropical town and the beach beyond. When he reached the grass, he tugged on his shoes and folded the bag, putting it, with the rock still inside, in the pocket of his now-dry shorts, along with his wallet. Praslin Island was not a place he’d planned to visit, and he knew nothing about it. That changed, as he spotted a small stand selling fruit smoothies, and ordered one. English was the second official language of the Seychelles – Creole being the first – so Trevor was able to browse some of the brochures and tourist posters while waiting for his order. One place on Praslin was prominent in most of the posters, and Trevor soon found it on a map that was part of a tourist poster. Trevor took a few sips of the fruit smoothie, and asked, “How far to Vallée de Mai?” The stand’s proprietor pointed inland. “Two kilometers. Maybe there is a taxi down the beach,” he said, and then handed Trevor one of the free tourist guides, which included a better map. Trevor walked a few yards away, and sat down on the grass, under the shade of a cashew tree, to finish his drink and study the map. He was not interested in finding a taxi; he knew that two kilometers is roughly one and a quarter miles, an easy walk or, as Trevor planned, an easy run. Drinking the last of his fruit smoothie, Trevor glanced up at the tree, which spread wide and thick above his head. He noticed the strange fruits, but Trevor had never seen a cashew tree or its unusual fruit, and had no idea of the tree’s species, or whether the odd-looking fruit was edible. He considered jumping up and grabbing one to look at, but soon lost interest. It was well that he did, for the cashew is a close cousin of poison ivy, and the shell of the nut – the lower part of the fruit – contains the same irritating poison. Trevor discarded his empty smoothie cup in a trashcan, and after another glance at the map, took off at a fast jog across the small town, and then along the gravel coast road. The road branched, and Trevor checked a road sign before resuming his run. After just twenty feet, he came to a halt and looked back at the sea. He looked up the beach, at Atlantis, and stood watching for a few moments, reassuring himself that she was safe, before turning and resuming his run, heading northeast into the verdant hills. It was a hot, humid day, and Trevor was running uphill. Soon, he was covered with a light sheen of sweat, feeling the cooling breeze on his bare chest. The winding gravel road made its way through a lush valley, the high jungle canopy providing shelter from the sun. Trevor let his running and the scenery distract him, which partially freed his mind from its turmoil, but it was a temporary respite at best. Soon Trevor reached the entrance to Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve, a large ornate roof over a mostly open building, sitting back off the road on the far edge of a dirt parking lot. The grand building was the gateway to the park: an unspoiled valley of multi-canopy jungle. Trevor paid his entrance fee and was given a guide map, which showed the several miles of walking trails in the reserve. Trevor picked the longest, a two-mile loop, and set out amidst several other tourists. In no mood for the company of strangers, Trevor walked fast, following the mostly-dirt trail as it wound its way into the palm jungle. A hundred yards on, and Trevor was alone on the trail, which had become in places a tunnel through the thick foliage. He stopped for a moment, the earthy smell of the place in his nostrils, listening to the warbling of unseen birds, and the occasional raucous cries of parrots. Trevor continued on, listening to the strange muted cacophony of the palm jungle, surrounded by a million shades of green, punctuated in places by the vibrant yellows of cascading orchids, and velvety red flowers of more types than he could count. Trevor walked the twisting path, losing himself in the experience, feeling as if he was on another world, one far removed from his troubles. The mostly sunless green world grew darker, and Trevor could hear before he saw a burbling stream. Deep in the exotic jungle, Trevor bent down to splash some of the cool water on his face and chest, and then looked up, at one of the many massive palm trees. At first glance, they did not look overly different from ones he was familiar with, but a closer look revealed larger, finer fronds. Nestled beneath the crown, Trevor saw a cluster of large green coconuts, ones considerably larger than he had ever seen. They were the largest in the world, the nuts of the Coco de Mer, the Seychelles’ famous giant coconut, which had once been the stuff of legend, and worth more than their weight in gold. The Coco de Mer palms were abundant in the valley, and a prime reason for the reserve’s creation. Trevor had seen many since entering the park, but now, bemused, he studied the one above him for a few moments, before continuing his hike. The trail grew narrow in places, and Trevor felt the caress of palm fronds tickling his bare skin as he brushed past. Entering a small clearing, he stopped to look around the lush glade, which stood in sharp contrast to the dense jungle. Trevor glanced down, at the red running shorts, which were his only clothing that day, and smiled softly as he realized that his mostly bare skin was making him feel even more immersed in the jungle. He chuckled to himself as a he thought, ‘I should have worn a loincloth, then I’d really feel like Tarzan.’ His very next thought was, ‘Good thing there’s no flies so far, or I’d really feel like lunch... theirs.’ For the next two hours, Trevor walked on mainly alone, encountering only one small group of tourists to break his solitude. Many times, he stopped to just look and listen. When the entrance building came into view, Trevor considered taking another look through the reserve, but a clear view of the darkening sky dissuaded him, and he returned to the road, heading back for Grand Anse at a jog as the first heavy drops of the afternoon thunderstorm began to patter amongst the leaves. For a few minutes, Trevor ran through a torrential downpour, which ended as suddenly as it had begun. By the time he reached the beach at Grand Anse, he was almost dry, and the sun had returned. Trevor swam out to Atlantis, pausing there only long enough to launch his Zodiac. Trevor motored to the beach, securing the Zodiac to a convenient palm, and walked the few remaining yards to the little market he’d explored earlier. There, he shopped for fruits and vegetables, sticking mainly to familiar types, but trying a few local samplings as well. At one stand, he saw the fruits of the tree he’d seen earlier, their odd shapes intriguing him. He asked what they were and was surprised to learn that they were cashews, with the nut residing in the curved bulb below, and above it the cashew apple, a popular fruit in many areas where the cashew tree is grown. Trevor purchased a large bag of roasted cashew nuts, and then, curious, he bought a few of the delicate and harmless cashew apples, which had already had the poisonous nutshells removed. Laden down with several bags of groceries, Trevor made his way back to his Zodiac, and then home to Atlantis. After getting everything put away, he took a seat, cross-legged atop the cockpit canopy, to watch the spectacular tropical sunset. The place, he decided, was a paradise, but it was not enough to keep his troubled mind at bay for long. The darkness that descended matched Trevor’s mood. He sat, listening to the gentle lapping of the waves, looking at the twinkling lights of Grand Anse, but his mind was far away, thinking of the Suez Canal, and the news that his own father had tried to kill him. Trevor felt a sharp pang of despair and hurt, and then looked at the sea again, trying to find solace, but at a deeper level, trying to understand. Returning to the cockpit, Trevor clicked on some lights and stooped to study his propane storage rack. He had no idea what he was looking for, but he felt compelled to see all he could. Trevor sat down in the cockpit, replaying Jim’s visit in his mind. Joel had discovered Jim in the cockpit, and then Jim had talked to Trevor, demanding that he call and let the Ft. Pierce police know that he was alive. Jim had a briefcase, Trevor remembered... but nothing that could have concealed a propane tank. Trevor mulled over the encounter, deciding at last that it didn’t quite make sense. ‘If Jim wanted to plant a bomb, why do it like that? He’d be nuts to be seen aboard.’ Trevor bolted to his feet with a sudden flash of insight, and said to the night sky, “I’m looking at this backwards. Everybody is.” Trevor reasoned it through in his head, ‘Jim could have got a propane tank aboard easy, because we didn’t see him arrive, but he couldn’t know that in advance... and he’d have had to take the tank he was replacing away with him. Unless he had someone working with him, he couldn’t. He couldn’t just toss it overboard; full tanks float and I’d have seen it. He also couldn’t know when I’d use that tank... so if he did plant it, why wait until Suez? He’d have blown me up sooner... and why let us see him, proving he was there?’ Trevor’s mind flashed back to his father’s sabotaging of Atlantis, ‘Dad wants to keep me from finding Ares, and there’s those divorce papers he refuses to talk about... and a bomb sure fits Ares going down. It would have ruptured her buoyancy chambers – just about the only way to sink her.’ Trevor clenched his fists in frustration as his mind warred over the conflicting theories. So much didn’t make sense, and it preyed on his raw emotions. Then, another angle occurred to him, ‘It all happened in Egypt... if they stole my phone from the mail, they could have built the bomb there and planted it there, which could mean it has nothing to do with Dad.’ Trevor followed that line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, ‘If somebody in Egypt tried to blow me and Atlantis up, I’m not going back unless I know for sure what’s going on.’ Officer Gonzales was a very busy man, juggling meetings with the prosecutor’s office and several department heads. The international ramifications of the Carlson case had brought in the FBI, which further added to the complexity and thus Gonzales’ workload. In addition to the FBI liaison agent, Gonzalez now had three police investigators assigned to him for the case, one of whom outranked him: Senior Detective George Alfred was a police lieutenant, and Gonzalez was a sergeant. He was glad that he had a good rapport with George, which Gonzalez hoped would blunt what could have been a very awkward situation. The investigation was proceeding rapidly. The payphone had been examined for fingerprints and DNA, but the fingerprint report was inconclusive; the phone had been used too many times to retain any prints from the time of the bomb detonation. The DNA check was on hold, until they had a sample of Dirk’s DNA to work with. The GPS records – thanks to Dirk and Jim’s subterfuge with the exchange of cars – showed that Dirk was in the area at the time the calls had been made, and they knew that the phone which had been in the bomb had come from the chandlery’s stock. That alone was damning hard evidence. Officer Gonzalez could also make an ideal case for motive; Trevor had been searching for Ares – a murder case in which Dirk was a suspect – over Dirk’s vehement objections. There were also the connections to the Bellevue case, which though tenuous were part of the record, and that now made Dirk the de facto prime suspect in Arnold Bellevue’s death in the eyes of most of the department – not including officer Gonzalez. The Egyptians had been very thorough. They’d identified the explosives – dynamite – which was available in Italy. They’d also interviewed the freighter’s crew, including the two men who had been on deck and seen a pilot boat floating nearby, engines off. They’d heard a few muffled splashes, and then heard the engines as the pilot boat motored away. It had not been easy, but an intense series of interviews with canal personnel had narrowed down the suspect boats to three, and Ghassan’s boat-driver, when offered immunity, had told them all he knew. Ghassan, when confronted, had denied everything, but when he was offered lenience and told that he’d be allowed to keep his job if he cooperated, he’d recanted and told in detail the events of that night. He had visibly shuddered when told that he’d handled a bomb, and then he protested loudly when informed that, no, he would not keep his job, but would instead be spending time in jail. The Egyptian police were in no mood to let a thief remain at work in the canal, and were not above a false promise of leniency to a criminal. It was therefore known that the bomb had been on Atlantis, further cementing the case against Dirk and Jim. With such a preponderance of ostensibly convincing evidence, it was a forgone conclusion that Dirk and Jim would be arrested and questioned. The only question was when and how. Officer Gonzalez called a meeting with his team and the Assistant State Attorney – whose office would have to get a judge to issue the warrants – to come to a decision on that issue. He also had to include an attorney from the Felony Intake Division: the office primarily responsible for the presentation of first-degree murder cases before the grand jury. It would be his job to review and make filing decisions on the case. The meeting convened in the Fort Pierce Police Department’s main conference room, where Officer Gonzalez laid out the case in detail on the whiteboard, to make sure they were all up to speed. “One problem I have is with the lawyer, Jim Ainsworth. He’s the one with the most convenient access to plant the bomb, and we’ve confirmed that the explosives used could have been obtained by him in Italy – could have. We have no evidence that he did so. The other question is motive... no sane lawyer will commit murder for a client. Therefore, there must be more, or we’re likely on the wrong trail. They spend a great deal of time together, and I suspected that he and Carlson could be in a relationship – Ainsworth is an admitted homosexual. However, Ainsworth told me that Dirk Carlson is straight. My guess now is that he was lying, but I’d like proof.” Officer Gonzales was being honest to the best of his knowledge, not realizing that he was misremembering what Jim had actually said. “Indict ‘em both and let the jury sort it out,” George Alfred said. He was known as a tough cop with many large drug busts to his credit, so the statement was in character for him. “That may be premature,” the Assistant State Attorney said, drumming his fingers on the table. “We have enough to arrest, but let’s get as much as we can before we do. I’ve called Cocoa Beach; they’ve scheduled unmarked cars to watch Ainsworth’s house and office, and they’ll be checking into him, including interviewing his neighbors.” Officer Gonzalez nodded; he’d been hoping for that. “We have Dirk Carlson under surveillance at his home and business, and we have a GPS tracker installed on his vehicle. How are we coming with the wiretap warrants?” he asked, looking at the Assistant State Attorney. “Got ‘em on my way here, for Carlson’s landlines and cell anyway. I’ve got to go through Brevard County for Ainsworth, and getting a judge to sign off on a warrant to wiretap a lawyer who is representing a client is a harder sell. With what we’ve got, I’ll get it, but it’ll take up to two days and there’s no chance of it including the phones at his law offices, because he’s not the only attorney there,” the Assistant State Attorney replied. The issue he was facing was that attorney-client communications were confidential, and a judge could not allow the police to listen in when other attorneys could be talking to clients. He took a glance around the room before adding, “We’ll see what develops for a few days, which will give the Egyptians time to see what else they can get from forensics. At this point, I think we already have a very solid case against Carlson, but the one against the lawyer is currently circumstantial. I think we can get him on attempted murder and conspiracy to commit, but I’d like more before we go to trial. As for Carlson, that phone from his store, triggered from a nearby payphone, means we’ve got him solid on attempting to kill his son, and therefore a sound circumstantial case that he killed his wife by the same method. His connections to the Bellevue case are thinner, but there’s the possibility of an affair between his wife and Arnold Bellevue, plus the fact that Arnold Bellevue sold them Ares, which turned out to have a lot of problems. I’d like to indict him for both murders, plus the attempt on his son. The jury might not agree with all three, but they are often prone to going yes or no on a whole slate, especially for a serial killer, and in this instance we have an airtight case for the attempt on his son. That proves he’s a killer, which should be enough to nail him for the other cases as well. I’m going to charge Carlson as a capital punishment case: multiple homicides. Maybe a good hard look at the chair will persuade him to take a deal for life without possibility of parole, and as part of that he’ll have to testify against Ainsworth.” Officer Gonzalez chewed on his lip, unwilling to make that leap and seeking a way to derail it. Addressing the Assistant State Attorney, he said, “Sir, I have severe reservations regarding the Bellevue case. Arnold Bellevue was killed at sea by a blunt instrument blow to the head, and that does not match the methods Dirk Carlson has seemingly displayed in his apparent bombing of the Ares and his attempt on Atlantis. My current opinion is that the widow, Bridget Bellevue, had motive and opportunity, and in my opinion she’s the most likely killer in the Bellevue case.” The Assistant State Attorney scowled. “We already know for a fact that Carlson tried to kill his own son with a bomb, which also happens to be the leading theory as to what happened to his wife and her boat. He too had at least some possible motive and opportunity in the Bellevue case. He furthermore has shown a provable predilection for murder. The widow has not. Therefore, I can make a better case against Carlson for the Bellevue killing, so absent further evidence to the contrary, that’s the way I’ll proceed.” The Assistant State Attorney’s reasoning was simple; go with the case most likely to result in a conviction. It wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t always just, but that was the procedure. George Alfred was amongst those nodding in agreement. He was very pleased with the way the case was going, and certain that Bridget would be too. If Dirk were indicted for her husband’s murder, it would forever foreclose her as a viable suspect. The reasoning was sound; if the police indicted someone else, it was an official declaration that they believed, based on the evidence, that the person did it. That fact would make it impossible for them to later obtain a conviction on a circumstantial case where all the evidence had been in their hands for years prior to the indictment, and with conviction impossible, the investigation would end. It was what they’d worked to achieve, and George had to fight the urge to smile as he watched the plan bearing fruit. Not everyone agreed with the Assistant State Attorney. The attorney for the Felony Intake Division shook his head. “Not so fast. My office will make the final decision there, and I’m not yet convinced. We’ll hold off for now: there’s no need to commit to a course on that aspect at this juncture. I’ll sign off on indicting Carlson for the Bellevue case if we can satisfy motive, but not without it.” The Assistant State Attorney and the attorney for the Felony Intake Division exchanged harsh glances. “Very well, we’ll see what we dig up,” the Assistant State Attorney said. It was a complicated system, and each of the people around the table had differing roles to play. However, it was a somewhat adversarial system, with responsibility and authority shared by several departments. This was by design, to help ensure sound cases and just prosecutions. The Assistant State Attorney’s role was to press ahead for convictions and to close as many cases as he could. The Felony Intake Division was there, in part, to act as a brake on the Assistant State Attorney. The over-arching goal was Justice, and with one exception, everyone in the room wanted to see Justice done. Senior Detective George Alfred coughed lightly for attention. “Gentlemen, and ladies,” he said, giving a chivalrous nod and a charming smile to two female division heads, “Let us not forget that what we have here is a serial killer, the repercussions of whose actions had – and have – reached far beyond his victims, whose lives he so callously stole, and his son, whose life he tried to snuff out when it has barely begun. The dead can no longer feel pain, but their loved ones do. Trevor Carlson had his mother viciously murdered, and has been without her now for more than half his life. He had to flee alone, running from his own father, and undertook a perilous voyage. Now, he is all alone, with the knowledge that his father tried to kill him in cold blood no doubt causing him untold pain. We need to do right by the victims here; let’s tie up the loose ends and give the victims and their families some peace and closure. The only choice Dirk Carlson should be able to make is the needle, or the chair.” Under Florida law, someone sentenced to death was allowed to choose between lethal injection and Ole Sparky, the electric chair. While first-degree murder was a capital crime, a killer was far more likely to receive the death penalty if he was convicted of more than one murder, as everyone in the room knew. George had just made a strong case for charging Dirk with Arnold Bellevue’s murder, and had done so without even mentioning the Bellevue case. Many of the heads around the table nodded, moved by the speech that Bridget had written for George. Officer Gonzalez was one of the few in the room to withhold any sign of agreement, but he stopped short of arguing. He believed in Justice above all else, and although he had no hard evidence, his instincts told him that Bridget Bellevue was the killer of her husband. Officer Mike Gonzalez had a deep and abiding dislike of letting murderers walk free, so he resolved to try to find some new evidence, enough either to keep the Bellevue case from being lumped into Carlson’s charges, or to add the Bellevue case to the charges with certainty, thus sending Dirk Carlson to death row. Gonzalez was fine with either outcome, provided that the person who actually committed the crime was the one convicted, and he had pressing reasons for keeping his opinions on the matter to himself. The FBI’s liaison agent spoke for the first time, weighing in to address his own area of expertise and responsibility. “We may be getting ahead of ourselves: this case is massively complicated by the jurisdictional issues, which are the worst I’ve ever seen. We have a bombing committed in Egypt, with the bomb apparently planted in Italy and triggered from Florida, with conspiracy-to-commit in Florida, against a U.S. citizen on a U.S. flagged vessel – the latter two, when occurring overseas, are Federal crimes. To make it worse, if we let the Italians try Jim Ainsworth, they won’t release him to Egypt because of Egypt’s death penalty; my interpretation of Egyptian law is that the bombing makes him eligible for capital punishment there under their anti-terrorism statutes. So, we’d probably be better off to hand Ainsworth over to the Egyptians. I think we’ll need to convict him ourselves first, otherwise he’d probably win a fight against extradition. As for Carlson, the murder of his wife appears to have been in Bahamian territorial waters, but we only have that radio call to base that on so we don’t know for sure. All the victims were Florida residents at the time of the crimes, as were the accused, which gives Florida a jurisdictional claim because Florida jurisdictional statues only recognize the primacy of jurisdiction of other states, not other countries. We can probably try them here first, but the jurisdictional mess means we’ve got to tread carefully. A further international aspect is that we will be, perforce, reliant on Egypt for a considerable amount of evidence, and we’re likely to need them to supply that canal pilot to testify at trial here. We need to play ball with them, which means we need to keep them happy. For a start, they want to talk to the Carlson kid and we’ll need to make that happen. They might also want to examine his boat.” The Felony Intake Division attorney asked, “How soon can we get Trevor Carson to Egypt and then back here? He’ll be needed for the grand jury.” Officer Gonzalez shook his head. “It’ll be a while. He’s in the Seychelles Islands, in the Indian Ocean. Could we go with teleconferencing for now? He’s not going to want to leave his boat, because he doesn’t think it will be safe there. He expects to be in Australia by November, and I think he could be persuaded to fly out from there. I’d like to get a satellite phone out to him, so he can stay in contact while he’s at sea. We need more evidence before we can make a move on the case.” Witness and victim handling was more the turf of the Assistant State Attorney, who was already late for his next meeting. “Have him head for Egypt and leave the damn boat there. I’m sure their police can keep it safe. Live teleconferencing testimony is a legal gray area: there are precedents both ways, but no applicable definitive rulings. We might get away with teleconferencing for the grand jury, but in a case this messy, I don’t want to hand the defense any grounds for appeal. Further, there’s no chance we could go with it for trial. The Sixth Amendment is specific; the accused has the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him, and courts have ruled that means in person with a few very narrow exceptions, none of which apply when the witness is also the victim. Also, once charges are filed, the speedy-trial statute starts ticking, and it limits us to one hundred and seventy five days. If a delay on our side pushes the start of trial past that, defense will move to dismiss on those grounds and they’ll automatically get it. We can’t take any chances on the kid being late; have him either head directly for Egypt or get on a plane, and if he resists, get the locals to impound the boat.” He glanced at his watch again, and stood up to go. “We’ll see what the wiretaps and the Egyptians bring in the way of additional evidence, but for now, let’s plan on picking up Ainsworth and Carlson for questioning in about five days. They are to be held separately, and not allowed to communicate with one another. We can hold ‘em for seventy-two hours without a charge, and that will give us time to interrogate and offer deals. If they don’t bite, we’ll charge ‘em, and send the case to the grand jury for indictment. I think we’ve got a solid one. Good work, people,” he said, which signaled that the meeting was over, and the attendees began filing out. Many were in a hurry; they all had large caseloads. On the way to the parking lot, George fell into pace with Officer Gonzalez. “Good job, Mike. It’s rare to wrap up cold cases with a capital indictment. This’ll look good on your record, and I’d bet money you’ll get a promotion.” Gonzalez shrugged. “It was the Egyptians who broke the case open.” George arched an eyebrow. “Don’t ever sell yourself short. I noticed that you glossed over just how the Egyptians knew to contact you. My bet is you’d already called them, which proves that you were already looking in the right direction. You’ve got good instincts, Mike, but you need to blow your own horn a little. When you’ve done good, let ‘em know it.” Officer Gonzalez felt that little itch in his subconscious again, but dismissed it, deciding instead to bring up another matter, one that had been bothering him. “I don’t like kissing off the case against Bridget Bellevue. I think she killed her husband, plus she’s got an ear in the department: Sergeant Pierson, in dispatch. I spread some info for a canary trap and his set was a match. What do I do about him?” George chose his words with care. “He’s a year from his pension, and his wife’s health took a turn for the crapper a while back. He’s a good cop, just maybe trying to find a way to pay the bills. Unless he harmed a criminal case, I’d say this is one where it’s best to let it go. As for Bridget Bellevue, watch yourself there. She’s powerful, and if you make any missteps, she could wreck your career. Unless you’ve got something solid, don’t buck the brass on this. If she was the killer, I think we’d have more on her by now. Besides, she told you about her source in the department herself, right? Would she do that if she had anything to hide? So my guess is, she’s innocent and just using her power and influence to guard her back. Go for the collar on Carlson, that’s your best bet from where I sit,” George said, looking straight ahead as they walked. Officer Gonzalez broke stride for a moment, blinked once, and then gave a very casual shrug. “You’re probably right. We’ve got Dirk Carlson and his damn lawyer stone cold on the bombing, and his method means we probably have him on the murder of his wife. I’ve been trying to get them to agree to an interview about the Bellevue case, but they stalled me. That makes sense, if one or both of them did it,” he said, in a deliberately offhand way. George smiled and nodded, already planning a romantic celebratory evening with Bridget. ~ Atlantis' Page (see what Atlantis looks like) © 2010 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading. A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice. Any remaining errors are mine alone.
  21. 1 point
    Chapter 40: A Package from Home Trevor’s call found Joel on his morning break, sitting in Trevor’s car in the high school parking lot, wolfing down a snack that he’d picked up on the way to school. Joel flipped the phone open and said, through a mouthful of food, “Hello?” “I’m in Egypt, and you’re insane,” Trevor said, and then asked, “Is Lisa there too?” Laughing, Joel replied, “Hey man, I miss you... No, Lisa’s not here: she just ran for her next class so she could stake out a good seat. I’ve only got about five minutes of morning break left, and I’m sitting in your car eating.” “You’re always eating, but in my car? I know you miss me, but isn’t that going a bit too far? Hey, make sure you don’t get any crumbs on my upholstery,” Trevor quipped. Joel glanced at the Honda’s deeply split seats, and the foam stuffing that was coming out in tatters. “Crumbs would be an improvement. As for why I’m in yours, my car had a dead battery, you ass, and I’m about to declare this to be sexual harassment,” Joel replied, chuckling, and then he gave Trevor a fast rundown on the guesthouse, and what had happened with the ring. “Damn, you must have been shitting bricks! But hey, at least you got it back, and it’s cool that you guys have a place to yourselves whenever you want it,” Trevor replied. “I’ll do the paperwork stuff and deposit the money after school; it’s all safe in my room right now. Hey, are you on your satellite phone?” Joel asked. “Nope, that was sent to the Suez Canal Yacht Club, which I found out is on the other end of the canal.” “So the intrepid crosser of oceans can’t tell one end of the Suez Canal from the other? I hope you don’t take a wrong turn halfway through and get lost in the desert,” Joel said, snickering. “Shut up, you’re the one who thinks Atlantis can go on land,” Trevor replied, smiling at the memories of past banter. Joel checked his watch. “Lisa and I are meeting up tomorrow at the guesthouse; leave your cell on about three our time and we’ll call you. I’ve got to get to class but I’ll talk on the way,” Joel said, scrambling out of Trevor’s stifling car and beginning to jog towards his new math class. They talked for a few more minutes, and then the bell rang and the call had to end. The sudden end of the call left Trevor feeling a little down, so he moped around for a while, killing time, and then got showered and dressed for the cocktail party, hoping that it wasn’t formal, because he didn’t own any formal clothes. He wore the best he had; khaki shorts and a polo shirt, the same as he did when greeting charter guests. Trevor climbed aboard the Thaddeus, listening to the chamber music playing through the yacht’s many external speakers. He began walking astern, and Eric, accompanied by a few casually dressed people, stepped out on deck to greet him. “Everyone, this is our circumnavigator, Trev. He’s on the catamaran moored alongside. Come on inside, Trev, I’ve got the AC on and the drinks are flowing.” Eric paused, and then gave Trevor a conspiratorial wink, “I don’t know the drinking age here, or if alcohol is legal here at all, so we won’t check your ID.” With a chuckle, already feeling better, Trevor followed Eric and his guests into Thaddeus’s large, ostentatious lounge. Trevor glanced around, seeing mainly mahogany and gold trim, in a heavy-handed Edwardian style. The room’s very essence seemed to be a declaration of wealth and power, and as Eric stood in its center, like Zeus on his Olympus, he snapped his fingers at a tuxedo-clad crewman, and pointed at Trevor. The crewman came over, and asked, “What can I get you, sir?” “Beer, please,” Trevor replied. The server smiled patiently, and asked, “What kind, sir? We have a wide selection aboard.” “Anything European,” Trevor replied, after trying to think of a name. The crewman nodded and departed, returning moments later with a large, frosted glass of slightly cloudy beer on a silver tray. “A weissbier hefeweizen – a German unfiltered wheat beer, a favorite of our captain. He prefers it chilled. If you don’t like it, I’ll get you something else.” Trevor took the beer and replied, “This’ll be great, thanks.” He took a sip, finding the wheat beer a bit tart, but liking the unusual flavor. ‘Joel would love it,’Trevor thought, taking a moment to memorize the name. Trevor took a seat in a plush chair, listening to the conversations buzzing around him. A smiling man he hadn’t seen before walked up, taking a seat beside him. “So you’re the circumnavigator. You’re young for it. I’m from the UK, and I’ve done a few trips to the Med and the Caribbean. My name’s Red, and you’re Trev, right?” Red asked. Trevor smiled, glad to have someone to talk to. “Yep, I’m from Florida... Where are you bound?” Red chuckled. “I’m on an Islander 36, moored at the far end of the line, heading for the Red Sea to do some diving.” “I run Atlantis as a dive charter,” Trevor said, finding himself fitting in and having a good time. He talked to Red about dive sites for a while, and then a tall, aristocratic-looking man stopped by and took a seat. “Hi, I’m Jan, and it’s good to meet another multihull guy. Red and I have been going the rounds on multi versus mono all afternoon.” “Jan’s ride is the Talon, a Gunboat 62,” Red announced. “Mine is Atlantis, a Lagoon 55,” Trevor replied. Jan smiled approvingly. “I’m a big fan of Lagoon, and almost bought one before I decided on the Gunboat 62, which I fell in love with in spite of its price tag. I saw yours from the rail; you’ve got the big, raked-back windows, pretty much the same as mine. How are those in the sun?” “They can be pretty hot. I had a coating put on mine that blocks most of the heat and UV, but the salon heats up a lot if I’m moored on a hot day. I have powered vents, which help, or I run the AC. How are yours?” Jan shrugged. “Mine are coated too, but the salon gets hot sometimes. I don’t go into the tropics much, though. I love the angled windows when I’m taking heavy seas forward; the waves are deflected instead of making a solid impact on the superstructure.” Trevor and Jan talked back and forth about the common features of their boats, and Red let them continue, until the subject of daggerboards came up. “Give me a weighted fin keel any day,” he jumped in to say, grinning. “I don’t like boats that capsize and stay capsized.” Eric stopped by, taking a seat to join in the conversation. “I’m not much of a sailor – that’s the crew’s job – but that’s one thing that’s always scared me away from multihulls; if they get knocked all the way over, they don’t come back.” Jan chuckled, and made a point of glancing around the lounge. “And if this big schooner of yours capsized, you think she’d self-right and be just fine?” Eric shrugged, and ordered another beer before replying, “Probably not, but the Thaddeus is big enough that she’s not likely to capsize.” “My Islander can self-right. I’ve done it; a couple of years ago I had a knockdown, a bad one. A wind gust shoved me all the way over until the mast and sail hit the drink, but I thought she’d come back. Then I got slammed by a wave and the next thing I know, I’m in a heap in the cabin ceiling, looking at water out my porthole. She leaked a lot, but she righted herself,” Red said, shuddering at the memory. “You did tempt fate by naming her ‘Jinx’,” Jan added, laughing. Eric glanced at Red, and then at Jan. “Yeah, that may be, but you’re tempting it worse than he is, crossing an ocean in a catamaran. If you flip, there’s no coming back.” Trevor had been in monohull versus multihull debates a few times, and was in his element. “That’s very rare for a big cat, and monohulls can capsize too, like what happened to Red. There’s no way to right a catamaran at sea after a full capsize, but they can recover from a knockdown. Catamarans and monohulls have two positions of stability: stable-one and stable-two. For both of them, stable-one is right side up. For a catamaran, stable-two is upside down, floating on the ocean, with no way to right it. Take a wild guess what stable-two is for a monohull,” Trevor said, with a grin. Eric narrowed his eyes, trying to figure it out. After a few moments, he shrugged. “It’s gotta be the same; capsized, right?” Trevor laughed and shook his head. “Nope. The difference is ballast; the heavy weights – often several tons – which monohulls have built into their keels to keep them right side up. Once they capsize, that weight is above them, and an overturned hull usually doesn’t hold enough air for long to keep the boat on the surface. In other words, stable-two for a monohull is on the bottom of the sea. If a catamaran capsizes, she’ll stay afloat. There was a case like that in the Pacific a few years ago, with a trimaran: the Rose Noelle. The crew was able to go inside the overturned hulls – there was plenty of air space – for shelter, food, and fresh water. They lived for five months until they washed ashore. I think that’s a lot safer than having your boat head for the bottom of the sea.” Red shrugged. “In warm water, that can work, but in cold seas, they’d die of hypothermia. The fact remains; a monohull can often recover from a capsize. A multihull can’t.” Jan took a drink, and then replied, “You’ll find that most capsized multihulls are smaller ones. I don’t think there's ever been a case of a big cruising cat of fifty plus feet capsizing, or if there has, it’s damn rare. Like any boat, the danger increases the faster you go. If you’re trying to surf down big waves in high winds, you’re taking a risk. If, on the other hand, you reef in your sails or are on just a storm jib, I don’t think you’re in any danger of capsizing a big multihull.” “What about a sudden massive gust, like in a squall, that hits unexpectedly when you’re under full sails and sailing to windward?” Red asked. Jan shrugged again. “That’s rare too, and don’t forget that a multihull can often recover from a knockdown; it’s just when the mast submerges that you’re not coming back.” Trevor hated to argue against his own boat, but he felt compelled to do so, at least to a degree. “Atlantis came close to a knockdown in the Aegean, off Sifnos. We caught a hurricane force downslope blast that came out of nowhere. If I hadn’t seen the signs of it on the water as it approached, I think we’d have had a knockdown.” “Ah, the Meltemi,” Red said, with a knowing smile, “If that was your first time in the Aegean, I’ll bet you weren’t aware of the Meltemi and how it can cause treacherous localized conditions. There is often no substitute for local knowledge, and monohulls can be far more forgiving than a catamaran zipping along at fifteen knots or more. You need a great deal of skill to handle a multihull.” Eric patted the wall beside his chair. “I’ve always been of the opinion that the bigger a boat is, the safer it is. So tell me, if you were in the path of a monster of a storm, such as a category five hurricane or a supertyphoon, and couldn’t get out of the way, which of our boats would you rather be on?” Jan jumped in to answer, “That’s easy, yours.” He paused for effect, and then added with a subtle shrug, “We’d be dead on any of these boats, yours included, but you’ve got good beer on tap, so we could go down in high style.” Jan’s quip prompted a round of laughter. Red nodded. “That’s true enough. And, if I’m being honest, I’ll say that one of the good points about the big multihulls is their speed. The hull speed on my islander is seven knots, so that’s about as fast as I can go,” he glanced towards Jan and Trevor, “But your catamarans can easily cruise at fifteen knots or higher, and more under the right conditions if you want to push it. That’s handy for getting places fast, and getting out of the way of storms. I’m still no fan of a boat that can’t self-right, but I’ll give you this; they are damn fast.” “I’ve had the Talon at twenty-nine knots, but that was under ideal conditions,” Jan said, with a satisfied smile; he knew that his boat was the fastest of those present. Red chuckled. “Considering that a gunboat 62 runs, what, about two and a half million American, you paid dearly for that speed.” The Gunboat catamarans were often considered the Ferraris of the yachting world, and were priced to match. Trevor gave Jan an admiring nod. “That’s fast. Our boats have similar hullforms, but your extra few feet and lightweight carbon fiber reinforced epoxy hulls make a big difference. The fastest I’ve had Atlantis is twenty-three and a half knots, and I was running light with nearly empty fuel and water tanks.” Trevor found that he was very much enjoying the nautical banter. It was a very old argument; both types of boat had their distinct advantages and disadvantages, and thus both had their passionate adherents. Eric looked at Trevor. “That’s still almost thirty miles an hour. I like comfort over speed – that’s why I drive a Humvee instead of a Ferrari – but I have to admit, that kind of speed is attractive.” The mention of tankage spurred a memory, and he added, “Are you thinking of taking on water here? If so, forget it. I made that mistake last time; it tastes like chlorine and it’s cloudy.” “I’ll skip it then, thanks. I’m down to about a hundred and fifty gallons, but my water maker can top me up in about nine hours if I’m under power and in clean water. I figure I’ll have to run on engines sometimes in the Red Sea, so I’ll do it then,” Trevor replied. “What about fuel? Diesel, right?” Red asked. Trevor nodded. “The agent said they’d arrange for me to tank up in Suez. I’ll need about a hundred and thirty gallons.” Red shook his head. “Don’t. Egypt subsidizes diesel, but the government tries to prevent it being sold at that price to foreign vessels. If you can wait, do so. Along the Red Sea coast opportunities to buy it at fuel station prices sometimes occur, and if so, you’ll save more than half.” Trevor still had over half of his fuel supply remaining, so the extra distance was of no concern. The conversation eventually wound down, and Eric broached another by saying, “Another difficulty we face is Somalia – pirates.” Red shook his head. “Not me; I’m not going that far.” “I’m going to the Maldives for a while and then coming back, so I’ll have to run them twice,” Jan said. “Your boat could outrun them,” Eric pointed out. “Only if there’s wind. I’m limited to ten knots under power,” Jan replied. The Gunboat 62 was specifically designed to be light weight for high speed under sail, and one of the design tradeoffs was that it had small engines. “I can do fifteen,” Trevor added. “The Thaddeus can do fourteen on a flat sea,” Eric said, and then, with an authoritative note to his voice, pointed out, “According to the warnings, the pirates often launch skiffs from a large boat, and attack with those. If they’re using inflatables with large outboards, they could still outrun either of you, even under full sail. The only advantage you’d have is it would be damn near impossible to board you at high speed, but you might get shot up. More likely, they’d be using wooden skiffs, and they aren’t as fast, but they still might get close. However, there’s safety in numbers, and a lot of yachters form convoys when leaving the canal southbound.” Eric stood up, and in a booming voice, asked the twenty yachters present, “Anyone heading past Somalia whose boat isn’t armed, raise your hand.” A few hands went up, then a few more, totaling more than half of those present. Eric scowled and continued, “That’s worse than I thought, but that still means we’ve got several armed yachts. We’d all be safer sticking together.” “You’d be limited to the speed of the slowest yacht,” Red pointed out, glad that he wasn’t going that far. He supported the convoy idea; his reservations were based solely on Eric’s domineering manner and lack of seamanship. Eric shrugged. “We could shoot the shit out of any approaching skiff, because we’d have multiple fire points. Some of us – those with rifles, and I have a few – could engage at long range. We’d also have some cover; they wouldn’t. I don’t think they’d try to attack a convoy anyway; they usually go for isolated ships and boats. So, we’ve got a choice; convoy, or go it alone.” There wasn’t much of a debate; every yachter present who was going that far signed on, and Eric’s convoy, totaling nine yachts, was born. The agreed-upon end point was north of the island of Socotra, a large island belonging to Yemen, two hundred miles past the Horn of Africa. There, their routes would diverge as the yachts, past the danger zone, proceeded to their various destinations. For many of them it would be the Maldives, so they would head due east. “I have no objection to the convoy while we pass Somalia, but just getting there means over fourteen hundred miles at slow speed,” Jan observed, doing the math in his head. “That’s a couple of weeks or more, if you take into account stops and spells of unfavorable wind. Trev and I are single handing, so that would make staying in convoy twenty four hours a day pretty well impossible for us.” Eric shrugged. “The faster boats may break ahead if they want, and rendezvous with the rest of us at the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb – which means ‘Gate of Scars’– before we leave the Red Sea and enter the Gulf of Aden, which is where the danger is. That’s about thirteen hundred miles from here.” Red shook his head. “Bad idea. The straits are between Yemen and Djibouti, and to get there you have to pass Eritrea on the African side and a lot of Yemen on the Arabian side. There have been a few reports of piracy near the straits, but nowhere near as bad as the Gulf of Aden. So my suggestion is have your rendezvous at Jabal al-Tair Island. It’s a very prominent landmark; a cone-shaped volcano rising from deep waters, roughly equidistant between Eritrea and Yemen, and it’s about two hundred miles this side of the strait. There’s a Yemeni military garrison there, and the island is used as a waypoint by lots of shipping.” The only remaining issue was that two of the yachts were scheduled to transit a day after the rest, so it was agreed that they would all meet at the Suez Canal Yacht Club, at the Red Sea end of the canal. The slower yachts, led by the Thaddeus, would depart in convoy, and the faster multihulls would make their own way to the later rendezvous at Jabal al-Tair Island. After much bickering, it had been decided to set a rendezvous date of three weeks after leaving Suez. For the remainder of the evening, the yachters discussed details such as courses and anchorages, and Trevor found himself making new friends and having, much to his surprise, a very good time. The only sour point for Trevor occurred after he returned to Atlantis and went to bed. A sharp knock on the glass salon door roused him from sleep, so he pulled on his boxers and padded out cautiously, a dive knife in hand, drawn by the repeated knocking. Trevor could see the silhouettes of two men in his cockpit, so he turned on the cockpit lights. The two visitors, who were wearing disheveled grey uniforms and carrying revolvers in black leather holsters, blinked at the sudden glare, and resumed their knocking. Trevor assumed they were police – reasoning that armed bandits would be unlikely to knock – but he wasn’t certain. The other factor on his mind was the risk of Atlantis being seized on orders from his father. With some trepidation, Trevor set his dive knife on a bookshelf and turned on the salon lights, illuminating himself, and said, loud enough to be heard, “What do you want?” “We are Marine Police,” the elder of the two men announced, pointing to the badge on his chest, and then producing what looked like some sort of official ID, written in Arabic. “We are checking passports.” Trevor glanced at the clock on his wall. “At one in the morning?” he asked, incredulously. One of the policemen shrugged. “We have our orders.” Trevor had been keeping his passport, plus a Xerox copy, in the navigation desk’s top drawer for convenience while in the canal, so he retrieved the copy and approached the door. The men had made no hostile moves, so Trevor unlocked and opened the salon door. “All I have right now is this; the canal agent still has my passport.” The two policemen smiled, and the older one took Trevor’s passport copy, giving it a cursory glance and then returning it. “Thank you. Do you have any alcohol on board?” Trevor felt his stomach begin to churn as he remembered the Islamic prohibition on alcohol. After a moment, he also recalled seeing a bar in the yacht club, a few yards from where Atlantis was moored, with a large selection of liquor displayed. Confused, he said, “A little: I run the boat as a charter, so I have some for the customers.” “Beer?” The younger officer enquired, with a hopeful look on his face. ‘Is this a shakedown?’Trevor wondered. Most of Joel’s beer was secured in the bilge, but four bottles were in the refrigerator. “I think so, just a few bottles, why?” Trevor asked. The older policeman’s face turned mournful. “We are paid next to nothing. We would appreciate some beer and cigarettes, and perhaps something to remember the boat by.” Trevor was furious, but felt that he didn’t dare let it show. “I have very little,” he said, in an even voice. The older police officer shrugged, and gave Trevor’s boxers a pointed glance. “We have decency laws here. It would be a shame if you were to be arrested for indecent exposure, and your fine yacht impounded.” Trevor’s temper began to boil to the surface, but he stamped it down, judging the threat to be credible. “I was asleep when you knocked,” he said, and then, gritting his teeth, went to get the four bottles of beer and the cigarettes. More demands and threats soon followed, and by the time the police left, Trevor had ended up giving them an additional ten dollars each. “Passport check my ass, that was just an excuse to shake me down,” he grumbled, watching sourly as the canal police took their baksheesh to their car before moving on to the next yacht. For Bes, the days were long but rewarding. After receiving notice from Sanchez to have the bomb ready, Bes ran a final test of the bomb’s electronics, and then, with exquisite care, he assembled the two halves of the propane tank and joined them with epoxy. He waited impatiently for the adhesive to dry, and then sanded it flat before painting the tank. The next morning, Bes reapplied the tank’s label, and stood back, surveying his handiwork with pride. To all appearances, it was merely a propane tank, and its weight was appropriate for a full one. Bes caressed the tank with his calloused hand, smiling with pride in the fine work and craftsmanship of his creation. Bes loaded the bomb into the back of his dilapidated old pickup truck, along with an old barbecue and two other propane tanks. The real propane tanks had older paint, making it easy for him to tell them apart from the bomb. Bes detailed one of his men to guard the truck, and walked into his store, to notify Sanchez that the package was ready to be delivered. The bomb remained in the pickup truck’s open bed, baking in the blazing Egyptian sun, which caused the old sticks of dynamite to begin to sweat nitroglycerin. It took three hours for Sanchez to reply. The instructions Bes received were brief and to the point; Bes would deliver the bomb to a pilot boat operator, Mufid, a man Bes had worked with several times before. It was always useful for smugglers to have people on the ‘inside’. Sanchez sent Bes the orders for Mufid, which were simple. A description of Atlantis, along with a photo of a Lagoon 55, instructing him to use the propane tank to replace one in Atlantis’ cockpit storage area. It was Bes who spotted what could have been a problem; Sanchez’s instructions were in English, a language which Mufid spoke somewhat, but did not read at all, due to the vast difference between the Latin-based alphabet used in English and the cursive script of Arabic. Bes quickly hand-translated the document into Arabic before printing out the orders and the photo. He checked them over thoroughly, and once satisfied, he turned his attention to the money. Sanchez had offered Bes ten thousand American dollars in total, but Bes would be responsible for paying Mufid. Bes had decided on the amount, and counted out five thousand Egyptian pounds. He stuffed the money into an envelope; it was equivalent to just under nine hundred American dollars, which Bes considered to be a large sum for what he assumed would be a simple task. By late in the afternoon, with the bomb baking in the heat, Bes set out on the long drive east, to the canal’s northern end. On the way, he contacted Mufid by phone and arranged a meeting. They met at Mufid’s small home, four miles from Port Said, where Bes gave Mufid the money, instructions, and the bomb. Mufid looked in the envelope and counted it; displeased by the amount, but he reluctantly agreed. He too assumed it would be an easy job, and he wanted to keep the cartel happy. Mufid checked his orders again, committing them to memory before burning them, keeping only the Lagoon 55 photo and Atlantis’s name. On the day before Trevor’s scheduled transit, a pilot boat, with Mufid at his usual place at the helm, carried a Canal Authority measurer out to the waiting string of yachts. The assignment was a popular one, placing the pilot and workers in an ideal position to demand baksheesh. In Mufid’s case, his job also enabled him to keep an eye on both the Cartel’s shipments and the activities of the customs service, for which the Cartel paid him far more than his Canal Authority salary. The propane tank containing the bomb was nestled in a storage locker aboard the pilot boat. Mufid was unconcerned; it was unlikely in the extreme that the pilot boat would be searched, and even if it was, there were five other propane tanks aboard, along with emergency life rafts, ditch bags, sails, and other items pilfered by the pilots and boat drivers from unwary yachts. Unless the bomb was inspected closely, it would appear to be just another looted item. The bomb’s condition was degrading due to the heat; the sticks of dynamite were now coated with a fine speckling of tiny amber drops, almost like morning dew. The drops were mainly nitroglycerin, and enough had sweat out so that any violent jarring of the bomb would result in its immediate detonation. Mufid’s usual practice was to take the measurer to each boat, or at least accompany him, in order to obtain baksheesh. However, on this day, Mufid had more important things to do than shaking down yachters for packs of cigarettes. Mufid docked the pilot boat at the quay, and let the measurer go about his business while Mufid sought out the target. Mufid waited until the measurer had gone aboard the big schooner, and withdrew the photo of a Lagoon 55 from his pocket. It was only then that Mufid realized that he had a problem; the name Bes had printed on the paper was اتلانتيس, which is Arabic for ‘Atlantis’. The western Latin-based alphabet used for the names on the boats’ hulls was as unintelligible to Mufid as Arabic script would be to someone unskilled in the written form of that language. Mufid gnashed his teeth in frustration, cursing himself for not realizing the problem sooner. His first thought was to call Bes, but he dismissed the idea; it would not solve his issue of being unable to read the foreign alphabet. Then, after another glance at the photo, he began to relax, believing that he could identify the boat from the picture alone. It was a catamaran, which ruled out all but six of the yachts that he could see, and most of those appeared too small to be a match. He studied the picture, glancing up frequently, and then smiled in recognition as he spotted the large catamaran moored two hundred yards ahead, halfway down the line of yachts. His smile turned to a sullen frown as he noticed a very similar large catamaran moored a few dozen yards past it. Mufid glanced repeatedly at his photo, trying to discern between the outwardly similar Gunboat 62 catamaran, Talon, and Atlantis. Mufid checked the picture one more time, and though it wasn’t taken from the same angle, he was certain that he had his target in sight. He was in an understandable hurry to deliver the bomb and put distance between himself and it. Mufid waited impatiently until the measurer went aboard and headed forward to begin his task. He casually leaped onto the catamaran’s stern, bomb in hand, inadvertently bumping the bomb lightly against the fiberglass hull as he casually hopped down into the cockpit – he would never know how close he came to detonating the unstable explosives. Mufid looked around for the propane storage, finding it within moments. He began to extract one of the two tanks it contained from the compartment, easing it out and replacing it with the outwardly identical bomb. He closed the storage compartment's lid, thanking fate that the owner had not thought to put a lock on it. Mufid returned to shore, and then his pilot boat, with the real propane tank in hand. On Atlantis’s forward deck, the measurer surprised Trevor by asking for a rope to use to measure Atlantis – the normal procedure for the measurers, though Trevor was unaware of it, and had expected them to bring their own equipment. Trevor stood by with trepidation as the measurer worked. When he finally paused, Trevor gave him what he hoped was a friendly smile. “Cigarettes?” he offered, extending several packs to the dour little man. The atmosphere changed in an instant, and Trevor’s smile was returned as the cigarettes were accepted. With Trevor’s help, the measurer quickly finished measuring Atlantis; checking her length, beam, and girth from the deck, down around the hulls, and up the other side. Five minutes later, with a friendly wave and a request for yet more cigarettes, the measurer returned Trevor’s line and moved on to the next yacht. Trevor had hoped his baksheesh would garner him a little leniency in the transit fee. It didn’t: an hour later, a representative of Trevor’s agent arrived, with Trevor’s stamped passport in hand. Trevor looked over the contract, which included a breakdown of all the fees: insurance, pilotage, mooring, quarantine, stamps, processing, the transit fee itself, and a long list of others. Trevor felt his gut clench as he read the total line: One-thousand-eight-hundred-fifty-nine dollars, and forty-seven cents. Suez Canal yacht fees were notoriously uneven, and due to the transit fee being calculated on volume rather than displacement, catamarans were hit even harder than most. Even so, the price was excessive, and Trevor would have been outraged had he known that the Talon – a slightly larger and considerably more expensive catamaran – was being charged almost two hundred dollars less than Atlantis. The price was higher than Trevor had hoped for, and he argued, but the agent was adamant; pay now, or face long delays at best. It was a bluff – a standard tactic – but Trevor was uncomfortable with the idea of attracting official attention, due to his questionable legal situation. Trevor, thinking that he had no viable recourse, consoled himself with the thought that the bill could have been even worse. Gritting his teeth, he paid the agent in cash, counting out the sum in twenties and hundreds, rounding up to the nearest dollar. “Keep the change,” Trevor said, with a sarcastic scowl. Aboard the Talon, Jan was reviewing his own contract. Jan was satisfied with it, and as he’d already paid, he set that issue aside and began baking biscuits on his galley. He was preparing for the party he was hosting that night, the last before his scheduled transit. When Mufid returned to shore later that day, he contacted Bes, reporting via a code phrase that the bomb was in place. Bes, relieved that the mission had gone so well, passed the news to Sanchez via e-mail, in which he included the bomb’s phone number and three-digit detonation code. The Suez Canal had cellular coverage for its entire length, so the bomb could now be triggered from anywhere in the world that happened to have a phone. Sanchez reviewed Bes’s e-mail, and scowled at the screen when he realized that the phone number bore an Egyptian prefix. He knew at once what had happened; Bes had activated its cell service and nothing else. Sanchez considered that for a moment, and then realized that it could work to their benefit. He wrote a message to Bridget, encrypted it, and sent it on its way. When Bridget decrypted the message, she was displeased at first, until she read Sanchez’s reasoning. She copied the number and code, and then showed the message to George before deleting it. Bridget drummed her fingers a few times, deep in thought, before she said, “He’s right, this does make it better, or at least no worse, and there is little point in fretting about it now. All we have to do is wait until Atlantis is in transit so we can be certain that Trevor is aboard. Check into the payphone situation; there must be one somewhere close to Dirk’s store.” ~ Atlantis' Page (see what Atlantis looks like) © 2010 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading. A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice. Any remaining errors are mine alone.
  22. 1 point
    Chapter 32: Meltemi Sitting on Jim’s teakwood deck, looking north up the beach, Dirk and Jim watched the seagulls wheeling lazily overhead, listening to their plaintive cries, carried on the warm breeze. Dirk took a drink of his gin and tonic and kept looking north. “Jim, what should I be doing about Trev?” Dirk asked, his gaze fixed in the distance. Jim blinked, pondering the question for a few moments before replying, “I think you’ve done the right thing, under the circumstances. He has Joel for help and company so he’s not alone, and this way he’ll have him there for support when he finds out. Besides, I think the two of them will have a blast, sailing around the world. I’d have killed to do that at their age.” Dirk gave Jim the briefest of sharp glances, and then added, in a pained voice, breaking with emotion, “He’ll hate me, and he’ll have every right.” Jim stared at the seagulls as they traced patterns across the clear blue sky. Finally, he nodded, just once. “My guess is he’ll be furious at first, but he’ll understand, given time. I’m a lot more worried about you. Gonzalez wasn’t too happy with some of your answers; he knows you’re hiding something. It doesn’t help that you don’t know much of anything about Arnold Bellevue’s murder, which I think Gonzalez was counting on you to know. I think he was hoping that you could make his case. Now, my guess is he’s going to take another look at you for both that, and for Rachel. He’ll want to interview you himself, and my guess is sooner rather than later.” Dirk sighed, and took a drink of beer. “We’ve already told him everything I know about Arnold Bellevue. Rachel handled most of the details of the Ares purchase, so I only met the guy twice. I didn’t even know he was dead until Rachel told me, and she said it was a boating accident; he was creamed in the head with the boom while sailing alone, and he drowned. I can’t say more because I don’t know more.” “The problem is, Gonzalez doesn’t seem to believe it. He’s suspicious; good cops usually are, that’s their nature, so he thinks we’re hiding something. The trouble is, it’s the wrong thing. What’s worrying me is he’ll offer you a deal; full immunity if you’ll agree to tell everything. The problem there is, in your case, neither he or the district attorney have that power, but they don’t know it, and we sure as hell can’t tell them,” Jim said, beginning to pace. “And even if they did, you don’t know anything they’re interested in that you haven’t already disclosed. Catch-22: You don’t know what they need, but subjecting yourself to grand jury testimony is a horrendously bad idea; perjury is a major offense.” Dirk stared out to sea for a few moments. “Gonzalez is after Bridget Bellevue... He thinks she killed Arnold when she found out he was divorcing her, right?” Jim nodded. He’d called in a few favors to find out what he could on that case. “Sort of... That’s my read on it at the moment, but I really don’t know for sure yet. He has a tough case if so; Arnold’s body was recovered at sea and there was blood on the boom, but forensics didn’t think it looked right... and there was some question regarding time of death. He didn’t drown; the blow to the head killed him. They searched for evidence that someone else had been aboard, but Bridget Bellevue said she’d been aboard that boat many times, so her DNA and fingerprints showing up proved nothing. I think there’s more to the case... but I haven’t been able to find out what – yet.” “What if... what if we could turn up something that proved she killed him?” Dirk asked. Jim shook his head. “The chances of that are just about zero; I can’t think of anything we could do that Officer Gonzalez can’t, and if we start poking around, we’re a lot more likely to get ourselves in trouble than anything else.” Gliding across the sparkling waters, the Sea Witch turned into the east-west channel separating Nassau, on the south, from Paradise Island. The towers of the Atlantis Resort loomed large on the west end of Paradise Island, and Bridget used them as a landmark; they were directly north of the entrance to the Atlantis Marina. She smiled, her hair blowing in the warm breeze. “I’ve been to the Bahamas countless times, but never here. We should stay a few days; it looks quite pleasant,” she said, smiling at George. George Alfred nodded, grinning. “I’d like that; I’ll call in sick for a couple of days.” Detective Alfred had, long ago, set up a switch on his fax line so he could relay calls out on his home line, so there was no risk of the department figuring out where he was calling from. Both he and Bridget had sets of fake ID, which they were accustomed to using in the Bahamas. Detective Alfred glanced at the luxury resort, and added, “I hope the cartel will come through for us.” Bridget waved a hand dismissively as she spun the wheel to port, turning into the marina. “Don’t worry about that. You and I have been dealing with them for over a decade, and Arnold and I for a decade before that. Besides, I’m hardly asking for a favor; I’ll pay them well, far more than the going rate for a contract.” As they approached the public docking area, Bridget pointed to her right, at a docked catamaran. “There’s a familiar profile; a Lagoon 55. Pity she’s not Atlantis, or this would be so much easier. Had I known we’d need to do this, I’d have never warned that boy away from the Bahamas.” George Alfred lifted his sunglasses and spent a few moments studying the Lagoon 55, which was named Stardancer. “Had you not, he could have hit lucky and found the wreck of Ares...” “There is that,” Bridget allowed. “From what I’ve been hearing for a couple of years now, the boy seems obsessed with finding that boat, or his mother’s body. I wish he’d have found the latter; it would have ended his obsession with Ares, and with it my need to keep an eye on him.” George gave Bridget a puzzled glance, and asked, “I’m curious about that first anonymous e-mail you sent; how did you know when Atlantis would be transiting the Strait of Messina?” Bridget gave George a proud smile, and then brushed her graying, windswept hair back. “A simple matter of reasoning, greatly aided by the fact I’ve spent time in Italy. I already knew that Trevor was in Italy, somewhere not too far from Naples. When I was speaking with him on the phone, it came to light that he’d been in a waterfront restaurant which adjoined funicular tracks. There is but one location in that region that fits, and that’s Capri. I’ve eaten in that restaurant several times, so I recognized it right away. Via Lisa and Trevor, I knew when he’d be sailing, and I’m familiar with those waters. It was easy enough to look at a weather plot and with the known abilities of his boat at hand, discern his likely arrival time at the strait.” George gave Bridget a nod of respect. “That’s damn fine detective work.” Bridget smiled, her eyes sparkling. “Thank you, George. I’m just glad that we’ll have far more accurate – not to mention easier – information on his Suez transit.” The meeting did not take long. It occurred in a suite, with three senior members of the cartel, all of whom Bridget had met before. After discussing a few business matters, Bridget explained her need for the hit and presented her plan, and then her offer. A man who often went by the name of Sanchez, who had the most experience with such things, spoke for all three cartel members when he said, “This will be problematic, to a degree. A normal contract is not so specific regarding the conditions under which the target must die. Operating in Egypt will not be a problem for us; we have associates there. The problem will be arranging the death to fit the needed criteria. Make no mistake, we’ll do what we can; our relationship with you goes back many years and has been very beneficial to us.” Bridget smiled warmly. “Thank you, Sanchez. I don’t think the manner of death will be difficult. Fate has been kind enough to present us with an excellent opportunity. The yacht had a bomb scare in the Strait of Messina, conveniently triggered by Dirk Carlson’s attorney appearing aboard. Two of Trevor’s friends – one of whom was aboard – were witnesses. If Atlantis were to be destroyed by a bomb that also kills Trevor Carlson, it would fit with the fate of Ares, nicely implicating Dirk Carlson, via his lover, for the murder, and by extension further implicating him for the murder he did commit. It would be a sound case; conspiracy to commit, and all that. We only need him charged, though a conviction would be icing on the proverbial cake. We’ll need to make certain the bomb is triggered in the canal or in shallow water near shore, in order to leave easily recoverable evidence behind. We’ll also need to procure some traceable items from Dirk Carlson’s store, for use in the construction of the bomb. This I can handle, provided that your associates can provide the explosives and take care of emplacing them on Atlantis. I can also provide the time, day, and date when the yacht will be transiting Suez, assuming that’s when your people would want to make the attempt?” The man known as Sanchez gazed out the window. “Yes, that would be likely; I’ll find out. From what you say, this will not be difficult, so long as we have the parts you’ll provide a week prior to the transit. I’ll make certain that the explosives will be ready. I’ll give you my guarantee; we’ll do all that we can. I must admit, I find the amount of your offer – one shipment, gratis, plus a hundred thousand dollars in cash – oddly large. We need you, as you surely know, so it puzzles me why you did not try to do this for less?” The man known as Sanchez was not one to look a gift horse on the mouth, but only extreme caution had allowed him to survive for so long. Bridget understood Sanchez’s reasons, and perceived the risk. She decided to level with him. “My reasoning is simple; I stand to lose everything, and for me, this amount is not large. I am also aware that by specifying a method of death, I have increased the complexity.” Bridget fixed Sanchez in a steely gaze. “I would be a fool to attempt to cut corners when my life is at risk. Better by far to pay high for a job well done, when the cost of failure would be infinitely higher. What would you do, were you in my position?” Sanchez, satisfied, gave Bridget one of his rare smiles. “Exactly as you are, I suppose. Very well, I will see that this is done.” With business concluded, Sanchez indulged in a tradition of which he’d grown fond, one of his few concessions to sentimentality: the deal was sealed, with a round of aguardiente, an anise-flavored spirit distilled from sugar-cane molasses, the traditional liquor of Colombia. After the meeting, Bridget and George checked into the resort, and as soon as they were alone, George arched an enquiring eyebrow as he asked, “What’s our timeline like? I can get the alarm bypass codes via the department and do the job at the chandlery on any night, no problem, but when do we need to do it by? Maybe we should head back?” Bridget shook her head. “No need, we have time. Trevor is dropping Joel off in Cyprus in just under two weeks, and it will take him a few days to get to the Suez from there. We won’t be shipping anything illegal, so it could go Federal Express or similar, if need be. We have time, so let’s enjoy ourselves while we’re here.” George stood at Bridget’s side, and with a formal flourish, presented his crooked elbow, “Then, my love, will you do the honor of accompanying me to lunch?” “Of course, George, I’d be delighted,” Bridget replied, linking her arm with that of her longtime lover’s. “Just keep going, slow and easy, and keep your feet on the trail,” Mike called back over his shoulder, as he led the way down the goat trail, unwittingly heading for the greatest concentration of unexploded munitions on the island. Trevor and Joel were over a hundred feet apart, both of them trying to keep the guests calm by appearing unafraid. For Trevor, each step was one taken in trepidation, and with every moment, he expected the ground to erupt with a blinding roar. He glanced back at Joel, hoping they’d both make it out okay. ‘I hope Joel makes it even if I don’t...’ Trevor thought, as the interminable march through danger continued. Joel glanced ahead at Trevor, worried that Trevor had exposed himself to added danger by taking position behind Mike. Joel feared for their safety, but also for another reason... he was afraid that Trevor would never forgive him for getting them into this mess, which Joel now realized is exactly what he’d done when he’d arranged the charter. Knowing that each step could be his last, Joel found himself thinking of Lisa... and in that moment, he reached a decision. The goat trail angled a few degrees to the right as it cut diagonally down the hillside, and the group marched on, in tense silence, each dreading that their next step could be their last. After another hundred yards, Mike turned around to shout, “I think we’re out of it; no cratering ahead. Stay single-file until we’re on the beach, just to be sure, but we’ll be fine.” A few people cheered, but Phil scowled at Blake and said, “Lovely place you’ve brought us to. Any more surprises like this in store?” Blake glared back. “None of the other islands were used for target practice, at least not that I know of.” “The things you don’t know could fill a damn library,” Phil shot back, and then raised his voice to yell, “The next stop is another uninhabited island, and I’ve had my fill of ‘em. I say we tell our captain to anchor off the inhabited one, two miles away. Blake and whoever else wants to go can go to his deserted island in the Zodiac. Sound okay to you, Captain?” Trevor didn’t like being thrust into the middle of the argument, and he paused for a moment, trying to figure out how to answer. Blake made use of the silence to tell Trevor, “If you want the rest of the money, you’ll do as I say.” “That’s our fucking money, most of it anyway, so like hell you’ll get away with that,” Phil yelled, ignoring Mike’s advice to remain single-file and stalking towards Blake. Mike could see things getting worse fast, and on past trips he’d often played peacemaker between Phil and Blake. He was about to speak up when his wife, Jane, beat him to it. “Enough, you two,” Jane said, and then looked in turn at the three other wives. “Ladies, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of minefields and uninhabited islands. Let’s anchor off Kimolos, and then Blake can go to Polyagios in the skiff if he wants to. The rest of us can see Kimolos and soak up some sun on the beach.” The other three wives, including Blake’s wife, Barbra, nodded in agreement. With a crestfallen expression on his face, Blake told Trevor, “I guess I’m outvoted. Anchor at Kimolos, but you’ll need to run me to and from Polyagios in the Zodiac.” Trevor nodded in agreement. “That won’t be a problem.” “I hope not,” Blake said sourly. Mike noticed Phil and Blake glaring at each other again. Trying to defuse the conflict, he pointed ahead and called out, “There’s Atlantis, we’re safe now.” As soon as everyone was aboard, Trevor and Joel began serving drinks under the waning late afternoon sun. Blake glanced at the shore, took a sip of his martini, and said, “We’ll need to avoid that area when we go ashore again.” “Gee, ya think?” Phil yelled, and then said in a lower, but still loud voice, “I can’t see any reason to stay here any longer.” Blake turned to look at his group, but found himself staring at seven resolute sets of eyes. Shrugging, he said, “I suppose not. Trevor, get underway.” On that sour note, Trevor and Joel raised anchor and set sail, taking Atlantis out into the strong north winds and rising seas, heading for Kimolos, sixty miles to the south. An hour later, while Joel was fixing dinner, Mike caught Trevor alone in the cockpit. “Exciting day, huh?” Mike asked, smiling wryly. “Yeah, that was a first for me. I’m sure glad you knew what to do,” Trevor said, glancing back in the direction of Gyaros. “It wasn’t all that bad, really. We probably weren’t in all that much danger, but it’s good to take precautions.” Mike lowered his voice to a whisper. “What I really need to talk to you about is Blake and Phil. They fight a lot, but they calm down pretty quick. They’ll probably be okay, now that we’re away from Gyaros. Just make sure Blake can get to Polyagios on the Zodiac, and we’ll be fine. Basically, they’re both stubborn as hell, but this way they can both have what they want. Oh, and in spite of what Blake may say, we all pitched in for the trip, so he can’t threaten to not pay you.” Trevor smiled. “Thanks. I’ve done a lot of charters, and had all kinds of stuff happen, but being in a minefield is a first.” They had a somewhat tense dinner at sea, and that atmosphere was not aided by the fact that Atlantis was pitching in near-gale conditions. Trevor remained at the helm, and as soon as he could, Joel carried a plate of food out to him. With a sad look on his face, Joel handed the plate to Trevor and said, “Trev, I’m sorry for getting us into this.” Trevor looked up from the plate of stir-fry and blinked at Joel. “What are you talking about? The charter? Or the minefield?” “Both,” Joel replied. Trevor blinked again. He could tell that Joel wasn’t joking. “There’s no way in hell you could have known, man. Don’t stress over it.” Trevor lowered his voice. “I’m just sorry some of the guests are kind of hard to deal with. I’ve had worse, but it’s probably not what you expected, huh?” Joel looked at Trevor in surprise. “Aside from the minefield, I’ve been enjoying it. It’s different, for sure, but I can see why you like chartering. I do too, and just so you know, I’m planning on inviting myself along as crew on some of your charters when you get home,” Joel said, as a smile spread across his face. “Welcome to my world,” Trevor said, grinning. Atlantis anchored off Kimolos just before midnight, and Trevor slept in the cockpit again, falling into the familiar routine of a charter. He woke at dawn, checked the anchor lines and the weather report, and then headed for the galley, where he fired up the coffeemaker and checked the galley supplies. Trevor returned to the cockpit just as Joel padded down from the deck, looking sleepy. Trevor nodded in greeting, and then glanced ashore. “We’re near a small town, there should be a small grocery store, and we’ll need to stock up–” “Do that,” Blake said, startling Trevor and Joel as he padded out into the cockpit, coffee in hand. “I heard enough to know that you’re trying to plan the food out. I’ll make this easy; we’re not fussy and we’re aware that you did not have time to prepare. In general, local food is a plus: Greek cheeses, Greek yogurts, that kind of thing. We’ll eat ashore for at least our main meal of the day, probably every day. When you go to a food store, take at least two of the wives with you and let them pick things out; that’ll keep everyone happy,” Blake said, and then looked out at the island before adding, “I’ll need a packed lunch and water for my explorations today. Any kind of sandwich will do, but I need it ready in half an hour, and I’ll need ferrying to Polyagios.” Blake returned to his cabin, and Trevor shook his head and smiled. “He’s pushy, for sure. I’ll run him over to the island if you’ll make the sandwiches,” Trevor whispered. Joel glanced at the Zodiac. “Yeah, no problem... but if you want to get back at him, you make the sandwiches. That’d teach him...” “Shut up,” Trevor said, chuckling. Joel looked out at the choppy strait. “It’s rough today. Good thing we’re in a sheltered anchorage,” Joel said, and then went inside to make the sandwiches. Trevor ferried Blake to Polyagios, just over a mile across the choppy channel. He set him ashore, handing him a handheld VHF radio, and showing him how to use it. Blake examined the device, and then told Trevor, “If you don’t hear from me, I’ll be back here at six tonight.” Without another word, Blake turned away to walk inland. Trevor returned to Atlantis, and Joel took the remaining guests ashore to the village. The days at Kimolos went smoothly, a relief to Trevor and Joel. Blake was content to spend his time on Polyagios, and the rest of the guests preferred exploring Kimolos. On the final afternoon, Trevor and Joel led a dive off Polyagios for the certified divers, and upon their return, to Trevor’s surprise, Blake and Phil seemed like old friends, the animosity they’d shown on Gyaros seemingly forgotten. When dealing with the sea, there is no substitute for local knowledge. Without it, one is forced to rely on assumptions that may not hold true. For this reason, Trevor was unfamiliar with a weather condition known as a Meltemi. On his weather charts, the north winds showed as strong, but nothing he couldn’t handle. In Florida waters, he would have been correct, but the Meltemi is different. The Meltemi wind, known to the classical Greeks as Etesian, is common in the Greek summer, caused when a high-pressure weather cell takes hold over the Balkans, coupled with a low-pressure system over Turkey. The winds around a high rotate clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, while around a low, they rotate counter-clockwise. With the highs and lows in place, both serve to drive a powerful wind out of the north, down the Aegean. A Meltemi gives harsh winds, but also cooler, clear, dry air. A mild Meltemi can also impart ideal sailing conditions, but a powerful one holds danger. Most of the Aegean islands are mountainous and often separated by narrow straits. This serves to focus the power of the Meltemi in north-south straits and channels, much akin to the intake of a jet engine. This leads to sudden, violent sea conditions in confined waters. Countless ships have been lost to the Meltemi over the centuries, but it is little known beyond the Aegean. Trevor had never heard of the Meltemi, and so, on the last morning of the charter, as he laid in a course for Mykonos, he was unaware of the danger. The course he plotted was a simple one; a straight line northeast, passing just south of Sifnos, to Mykonos. It looked like an easy sail, close-hauled into the forecast strong north winds. An even greater danger posed by a Meltemi is the fall wind. When a strong wind encounters a mountain, it is lifted and further cooled on the upslope side. When it passes over the crest, it follows the slope down, compressing as it descends, and often picking up speed. On the lee – downwind – side of an Aegean island, this can cause sudden hurricane-force blasts of wind. Several of the Aegean islands are notorious for this peril, and one of these is Sifnos. By the time the guests appeared for their breakfast, Trevor had Atlantis at sea, surging northeast at fifteen knots, under a full spread of sail. The seas were rough; a long swell from the north mixed with wind-driven chop, causing Atlantis to pitch, roll, and yaw as she angled across the swells. Trevor was standing at the port helm when Blake strolled into the cockpit. “Good morning, sir. Where on Mykonos would you like to be put ashore?” Trevor asked, hoping that it would not be somewhere where he could encounter the Greek harbor police. “The same beach you picked us up at. We can call a cab from a hotel. Just make sure we’re there by noon,” Blake replied. Trevor smiled. “No problem there. We’ll be off Mykonos in about three hours, so around ten o’clock.” “Good. You can anchor and we’ll wait for noon on board,” Blake said, and then he returned to the salon. They were approaching Sifnos when Joel joined Trevor in the cockpit. “It’s rough today; should I offer the guests some seasick stuff? Mike is looking kinda green, and so is Barbra.” Trevor cringed at the thought of guests throwing up in the salon; he’d had to clean up similar mishaps a couple of times before. He nodded. “There are Dramamine patches in every bathroom. Just remind them they’re there. I’ll keep tight in on the lee of Sifnos, which should give us a calmer sea for a while, but it’ll pick up again – probably worse than now – as we clear Sifnos and cross open water to Mykonos.” Joel headed inside to tend to the guests, while Trevor conned Atlantis closer to what he thought would be the shelter offered by the coast of Sifnos. When the ragged, mountainous coast of Sifnos was half a mile off the port beam, and Atlantis was in the calmer waters, shielded from the north swell, Joel returned. “They’re doing okay now. Barbra put on a Dramamine patch, but Mike thinks he’ll be okay without it,” Joel said, looking out to port and enjoying the view. Mike joined them, seeking to quiet his churning stomach with some fresh air and an unobstructed view of the horizon. “How are we doing,” he asked, forcing himself to smile. Trevor grinned. “Pretty good, except for the swells. We’re on a close-hauled reach across a north wind that’s topping thirty knots. It’s calmer here in the lee of the island, but we’ll be in open waters in about fifteen minutes. It’ll be rougher there. You might want to help yourself to a patch.” Mike chuckled, feeling a little better. “Yeah, but I’m okay for now.” Trevor was about to answer, when his eyes, sweeping the waters ahead and to port, fixed on something that sent a chill down his spine. Coming out of a bay, moving towards Atlantis at high speed, was a disturbance in the sea’s surface: an area of choppier water, whitecaps, and windblown spindrift. Trevor knew what it was, though not the cause, and yelled, “Hang on!” spinning the wheel hard to port, and Atlantis began turning towards the oncoming maelstrom. The disturbance on the water was caused by a fall wind; a massive wall of wind cascading down the island’s slopes and then blasting out across the sea, like a fist upon the waters. Trevor knew it was a strong gust of wind; and with Atlantis carrying a full load of sail, being struck beam-on could be catastrophic. It was a recipe for a knockdown: the boat being forced over on her side by the sudden, massive power of the gust. It hit with a fury, the first sign the humming from the rigging, a hum, growing higher and louder in tone, so powerful that they could feel it through the soles of their feet. Atlantis, only halfway through her turn, took the full brunt of the blast from her port forward quarter, the mast groaning from the sudden strain. The wind howled through the cockpit, jumping within the space of seven seconds from a twenty-knot wind to an eighty mile per hour hurricane. Atlantis reeled from the blow, her speed dropping and her port hull beginning to rise. Trevor yanked hard at the main sheet, freeing it, letting the boom swing before the wind. He took up the slack in the sheets and centered the rudders as Atlantis completed her turn into the wind, her bows pointing at the rocky coast just a few hundred yards ahead. “Joel, take the con, fire up the engines, and keep her slightly off the wind while I furl the sails,” Trevor yelled above the shrieking wind that was battering Atlantis. Trevor furled the foresail and the mainsail, trusting his engines more than a storm jib to deal with the unexpected windstorm. In moments, it was over; the wind abated as suddenly as it had begun. Trevor turned Atlantis out to sea as he advanced the throttles, powering way from the menacing coast, and Mike made a mad dash for the stern railing, leaning over it just in time, as his stomach began to heave. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” Trevor told Joel, sparing a moment to glace at his weather display. “What the hell is going on,” Blake demanded, storming into the cockpit. “I don’t know. It was a sudden blast of wind, hurricane-force, from the direction of the island,” Trevor replied. Blake turned to look at Joel, who could only shrug, and then at Mike, who was still violently vomiting over the stern rail. Blake returned his attention to Trevor, and in a calmer tone, asked, “Are we in danger, and will this delay our arrival?” Trevor turned Atlantis to the northeast and resumed course. “I think the island’s mountains might have been channeling the wind somehow, but whatever caused it, it’s only a danger if we’re carrying sail and it hits us beam-on. I’m proceeding on engines for a while, and that’ll reduce our speed. We’re about forty miles from Mykonos, so even if we go at ten knots, at worst we’ll be there by eleven, an hour before you need to be.” Blake scowled. “We can’t miss our flight. Can’t you go faster than ten knots?” Trevor shook his head. “Not in rough seas, it’s not safe,” Trevor replied. He didn’t want to argue, so he was lying; Atlantis could go faster than that on engines, even in rough water, but after the close call they’d had, Trevor preferred to be cautious. “Can’t you raise the sails again, once we’re away from this island?” Blake asked, with an irritated glance towards shore. “Blake, calm down. He said he’d have us there an hour before we need to be, so what’s the point of taking any risks?” Mike asked, as he staggered into the center of the cockpit. “I suppose not. Just make sure we’re not late,” Blake told Trevor, and then asked Mike, “Are you okay?” “I’ve been better, but I’ll be okay,” Mike replied, reaching into his pocket to retrieve a seasickness patch. Blake nodded, and returned to the salon. Mike turned to face Trevor and Joel before saying, “Do me a favor, and don’t cook anything until we’re at anchor in calm waters.” Joel gave Mike an understanding smile. “How about some orange juice, or sparkling water on ice?” Joel asked. “The latter sounds good, lead the way,” Mike said, with a wan smile. Joel glanced at Trevor and asked, “Are we okay? Do you need me here for anything?” Trevor shook his head. “We’re fine, or should be.” “I’ll be back in a few,” Joel replied, leading Mike inside. The crossing to Mykonos was rough, but no worse than it had been prior to reaching Sifnos. Trevor remained at the helm, keeping a wary eye out as he conned Atlantis through the swells, taking them at an angle, and doing his best to keep Atlantis from rolling and pitching too much. A mile from anchoring, the seas calmed suddenly, almost as if a switch had been thrown, and Atlantis glided into the placid waters of the bay. Atlantis rode at anchor, and noon approached. Trevor began to load the suitcases into the Zodiac, and as he and Joel worked, Blake joined them. Blake reached into his pocket and handed Trevor a thick sheaf of hundred-Euro notes. “Thanks for the charter. We know you weren’t planning to do one. There’s an extra twenty Euros in there, buy yourselves lunch on me.” Trevor glanced down at the bundle of money, before sticking it into his pocket and plastering a pleasant smile on his face. “Thank you. I hope you enjoyed the charter.” “Gyaros was a disappointment, even without the munitions, we shouldn’t have gone there. Other than that, it was great. When are you returning to Florida? If we do a Caribbean trip, we’ll look you up for another charter. I’ve taken one of your cards from the salon.” “Hopefully by May.” “Maybe we’ll see you again then. Have a safe voyage,” Blake replied, and returned to the salon. The scowl Trevor had been hiding appeared, and as they finished loading the Zodiac, he whispered to Joel, “Twenty is the smallest tip I’ve ever had.” Mike came out, looking decidedly improved. He glanced back at the salon, and then handed Trevor a small envelope. “That’s from the rest of us. We know Blake usually doesn’t tip, so...” Trevor smiled, pocketed the envelope, and shook Mike’s proffered hand. “Thank you, and have a safe trip home, Mike.” Mike shook Joel’s hand, and then said, “I’ve got your card, too. Have a safe voyage.” Mike returned to the salon, and Trevor took advantage of what he knew would be a brief moment of privacy to hand Joel the thick wad of banknotes Blake had given him. “We’ll worry about splitting the tips later, but this is yours. Put it in your pocket.” Joel began to open his mouth, but before he could say a word, Trevor angled his chin towards the salon, “We can’t discuss money in front of the guests.” Mike and Jane emerged from the salon, leading the other guests, cutting off the reply Joel was planning to make. The smirk on Trevor’s face was enough to clue in Joel, who thought, ‘Trev timed that to shut me up...’ Trevor handled ferrying the guests and their luggage to shore, and helped them carry their bags to the hotel, where they called two taxis. He waited with them until they arrived, and then bid them farewell, waving as they pulled away. When Trevor returned to Atlantis, he found Joel sitting in the cockpit, shirt off, drinking a coke and smiling. Trevor narrowed his eyes. “I know that look. What have you done?” Trevor asked, tugging off his own shirt. Joel gave Trevor an innocent look. “Nothing, I’m just sitting here.” Trevor thought for a moment, and then glanced at Joel’s shorts, noting the absence of a bulging pocket. “I don’t believe you... Where’d you put the money?” “I put it away,” Joel replied. “In my stash spot?” Trevor asked, arching an eyebrow. Joel shrugged, and knowing Trevor would look, decided he might as well answer honestly. “Safest place on the boat, right?” Trevor crossed his arms. “That’s yours, Joel.” Joel grinned; he’d expected this, and had been planning his arguments for days. “Did you split charter fares with Julie?” Joel asked, though he was already fully aware that Trevor hadn’t. Trevor thought for a moment, and then answered, “No, but you already knew that. But this was different; you set up the charter, and it was during your vacation. That’s yours.” Joel shook his head. “I did it so you’d have more money for your trip. You’ll be gone a whole damn year, Trev.” Trevor shook his head. “Right now, I’ve got access to my bank account via my ATM card. And, thanks to my half of the charter, I’ve got plenty of cash. There’s also something you haven’t thought of,” Trevor replied. Joel narrowed his eyes. “What?” Trevor patted the railing. “What if something happens? I’d be a lot better off if you take that and can then send me a loan. I don’t need it here, and it would be safer with you. If you don’t take it and I get robbed or something, you won’t be able to send me much, right?” Joel opened his mouth, and then closed it again. Finally, he said, “Okay, I’ll take it home, but it’s still yours.” Trevor shook his head, but before he could reply, Joel swallowed once, his palms beginning to sweat, and in a nervous voice said, “Okay, save the arguments, we’ll figure it out when you get home. In the meantime, if you’re sure, I’d like about a grand of it, so I don’t have to drain my ATM. I also want to go to Turkey... and that’s why I need some of the money.” Trevor could see that Joel was suddenly nervous. He sat down beside Joel, looked at him for a few seconds, and asked quietly, “Why Turkey?” Atlantis' Page (see what Atlantis looks like) © 2010 C James Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!" Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading. A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice. Any remaining errors are mine alone.
  23. 1 point
    We all left shortly after I became a part of the huddle. Me, Taryn, Dion, Jenna, Rain, Bryson, and Max with Kid in tow behind him as usual. Jun, while feeling a lot better after having both his legs 'burned out' from running, declined to go. I wasn't talking to anyone outside of a few phrases here and there, and that was only to answer when spoken to, so I didn't get the whole story behind it. But I got the impression that Jun had a rather bad experience with a Sun Quest once, and that made things difficult for him when even mentioning that one was coming up. So he stayed behind. As we began walking out, Trevor shouted out that he and Michael would meet us there later. It seems his 'beloved' boyfriend was getting hungry, and they were going to involve themselves in a hunt and shower up before coming to this 'living wake' that Dion was talking about. Even after all I've seen and all I've done since my crossover, I still wonder if someday all of this death and blood will become as routine and 'matter of fact' for me as it has for them. Maybe Trevor was right all along. Maybe it's just a matter of making the act common enough to desensitize myself to it. Maybe all it takes is a subtle switch in my pattern of thinking to make it right somehow. When you really sit down and think about it, you have to ask yourself, "Is it peer pressure that makes that young boy smoke dope for the first time? Or is it just the sudden realization that it is normal and accepted in your current circle...that the very 'taboo' behind it doesn't exist anymore?" And if THAT'S the case....did the taboo ever exist at all, or were the people outside of that circle the ones who have got it backwards? I can honestly say this...living life this way is guaranteed to have you thinking in circles. We all left the lot in a group, one big happy family except for me, but the group began to split up little by little along the way. With some of us walking faster to get to the celebration earlier, some straggling behind to enjoy the peace of their own thoughts. However, Taryn was trying to keep me in sight every step of the way. Wanting so badly to talk to me, and not having the courage to even look in my direction half the time. Still, he kept his pace pretty even with my own, trying hard not to let on. In spite of my attempts to hold on to my anger...I actually thought it was kinda cute. Not that I would DARE to smile visibly. "I'm glad you came." Dylan said out of nowhere, jolting me out of my thoughts. "WHY do you keep doing that?" I snapped. "Doing what?" "Jumping out of the shadows like the freaking midnight stalker." "I've been talking to you for a couple of minutes now." Dylan's eyes reflected a certain level of sadness, reinforced by the timid flutter in his voice, and I felt a sudden rush of emotion coming from inside him. A feeling of rejection that resembled this weird emotional 'pressure', pushing down on him and away from him simultaneously. Like trying to hold a large balloon underwater. I could also feel his fear, and his need to get back into my 'good graces'. All at once, the sensations flooded into me and I did my best to calm down my reaction to the stimulation. "I'm...I'm sorry. I didn't hear you." I toned it down a bit for his sake, Dylan's feelings would break as easily as a thin sheet of glass if I said the wrong thing in the wrong tone of voice. "Sigh...rats." He mumbled to himself. "My extra gets so out of hand when I get nervous. I don't understand why it does that." He said quietly to himself. "Your extra? That's what keeps making you sneak up on me like that?" I asked. "I don't mean to. It just happens. Whenever I get really shy or worried about something, it swirls up by itself and tries to protect me." He said, bashfully wiping a few of his light brown locks out of his face. Even if they fell right back into his eyes, Dylan keeping his head down so often. "What swirls up?" "Invisibility." He whispered. "You...you can become invisible?" "Well...no, not in the visual sense. But pretty much in any other sense. It's undetectable most of the time, even to me, so I don't always know whether I'm using it or not." "Well...how? I mean, how do you do it? Like, if you had to do it on purpose?" I took a great interest in something like this. Especially since Dylan was always so quiet most of the time. I guess the extra kinda fit him. "It's a bit hard to explain unless you're actually doing it. You just...find your place, your special little piece of someone's focus. Then...you just....kinda remove yourself from the picture. They won't notice you anymore." Dylan's eyes dropped even lower to his feet, "It can be a good thing sometimes...to not be noticed. There are a lot of times...when I'm feeling alone, that I wish I could just conjure it up and wear it all the time." I wasn't exactly sure how to respond to that. If maybe I should ask more questions, or take the opportunity to pay him a compliment to reverse the bad vibe I was getting from him, or if I should just...stay silent. "Dylan...I'm glad you're not invisible." I said. It was the best I could come up with on such short notice. He looked up at me, and a very small, almost unnoticeable, grin appeared on his face. His cheeks became slightly pinkish in color and he just said, "Thanks Justin." But it was so soft, there would have been no way for me to have deciphered it if I hadn't been reading his thin red lips. "We're almost there." Dion said, slowing up a bit to walk with us. And, as was to be expected, Dylan began having his own little panic attack. The last time, I thought it was unbelievably adorable the way Dylan's hormones flared up and he went running off everytime Dion came anywhere near us. But this time was different. This time, I could feel it too. Trevor's extra helped me to locate and define the desires surging through Dylan at that very moment. And Jenna's extra mirrored the emotion flawlessly in my own body. With both extras working at once beyond my control, I got hit with a huge doseage of puppy love jitters. It was almost enough to rattle me down to me knees. That shakey feeling inside that refused to go away, the tightening of every muscle in your stomach from just being near him, and that burning conflict inside that wanted you to burst forth and scream how you feel to the heavens and swallow the feelings whole to protect your sense of dignity at the same time. The impact of it hitting me so suddenly was intense. "So you ready, Justin?" Dion threw his arm over my shoulder, and my whole body shuddered uncontrollably from the contact. Not to mention that I was getting aroused amazingly fast! I had to get away from this. "Yeah, sure." I said, and slipped out from under his arm. Hopefully, he would take it as me still being upset with him and the rest and nothing more. But even though the feelings began to die down a bit as I walked faster to avoid the both of them, I couldn't help but remember the feel of his skin, the sound of his voice, the brightness of his eyes. Get a grip, Justin. Let it go...let it mellow out a little. Jesus, if THAT'S how Dylan feels about him, I don't blame him for being terrified to talk to him. We followed the street to its end, where it turned into sand and took us out to the beach. Looking ahead, I could see a few people milling around by the water, having a few laughs...but it wasn't until we got closer to the waves that I was able to see even more. Maybe about 30 different vampires, give or take. Some our age, some older...all coming out to join in the festivities. There was a large pallet on the ground, made up of many multicolored beach towels, spread out for a few 'final gifts'. Most of it was food or drinks of some sort, but there were also a few trinkets here and there as well. A small stereo was more than enough to fill the air with music, quiet to most I'm sure...but our sensitive hearing could pick it up easily. The whole idea seemed normal enough until I realized that this was an actual FUNERAL. After that point, the need for a 'party' didn't seem to make much sense at all. "Bryson! Awwww babe, you CAME!" Shouted out a young lady from the center of the crowd of people. She broke away from her friends and switched her attention over to us. She was what you would call exotically beautiful from her facial features all the way down to her toes. Her body was curved so sensually that it seemed to be above anything 'natural'. Her skin was a shade slightly darker than Dion's, like rich coffee, and yet she had eyes that sparkled brightly with a greenish golden glow. Even brighter than Taryn's did. I figured her to be about 18 or 19 from the look of her, and she had clean looking strands of thin black dreadlocks, cascading down almost to her shoulders, but not quite. Instead, hovering a half inch above them. She moved over to give Bryson a hug, and then looked to the rest of us to say "Welcome, welcome. Come on over, help yourself to whatever you want." She led Bryson by the hand and he signaled for us to follow. I was still a bit confused as to what it all meant, however. The significance was evidently over my head conceptually. As we were blended together with the other vampires and the art of 'mingling' was dropped into or laps, I figured that I might feel a bit less out of place if I knew more about what this ceremony was. I leaned over to Rain and whispered, "Is that the one that's dying?" But Rain just gave me an evil look. What else is new. "She's NOT dying, dumbass. It's a sun quest." She snarled. "Give me a break! It's my first time doing anything like this." I said in retaliation. "Yeah, well, just don't do or say anything stupid. This is a special night for her. As her friends, we're supposed to make sure that her last night on Earth is spent enjoying the moments she has left." She didn't really tell me much of anything with what she said, but I guess that's what I get for going to her for answers. "Fine. Why don't I just sit here and not say anything then? Would that make you happy?" "Extremely happy, yes." She replied, and sped up her pace to walk ahead of me and go over to the drink table. Arrrgh! Fuck her! I'M the one who's supposed to be pissed and throwing around insults afterall. "Don't mind her, dude." Taryn said, walking over to stand next to me. "You know Rain, she's always been kinda touchy." I didn't want to speak much more than a few words to him at the time, but I just couldn't bring myself to be mean to him. And yet, I couldn't bring myself to act like everything was alright either. So I just didn't say anything at all. We stood there under the veil of uncomfortable silence for minute or so, and Taryn got the nerve up to try again. "So...I guess Gyro told you about the IceZone invitations, huh?" "Yeah. He did." I answered, without making any eye contact and staring off into space. Taryn waited another few seconds and then added, "It's pretty cool. I've never been there myself, but I met somebody who got invited there a few years back. He said that it was 'absolutely undefinable'. I take that to mean that it's one hell of a good time." He looked to see if any of this was sinking in. It wasn't. "Yeah, it sounds like a blast." If I had put any LESS emotion in my reply, it wouldn't have come out of my mouth at all. "So...you gonna come with us?" "I suppose. What else is there to do?" More time, more silence, more tension. Then Taryn quietly said, "You know.....I missed you last night." Here it comes. The old 'Fall in love with me all over again so I can trick you and make you look even MORE pathetic' routine. Well I wasn't about to allow myself to be a sucker again. Not right now. "Whatever..." I mumbled, and I got up to walk away. Leaving Taryn to sit by himself. I pressed through the crowd and grabbed some concoction of alcahol off of the table. I took a healthy few gulps of it and continued until it was gone. Then, as soon as the slight sting of it had gone down a bit and the warm sensation had filled my belly, I looked for a refill. That cup was going to be my only friend tonight, it seemed. Not that it was going to get rid of any of my confusion, but it would at least make it so I didn't care about it anymore. I poured another helping into my plastic cup, and then grabbed a hold of the bottle to take it with me. To hell with this. I don't know what it is I was supposed to learn from all this anyway. I should have stayed home. If they were just trying to teach me how to willingly kill myself, I already know how to do that, thanks. "Justin...?" It was Taryn again, following me carefully so as not to force any kind of hostile reaction on my part. He sat down next to me with a drink of his own, already half full from the sips he had taken from it. I couldn't help but think, 'God he smells good. I can't believe that he can always smell this good.' "What?" I answered, almost annoyed at the fact that he was trying to settle things with me so soon. I didn't WANT to be settled already. I wanted him to wait a few days, to suffer a little, and to really take some kind of MEANING from it all. "Why aren't you talking to me? What's the matter?" He said. "I just wanna be left alone for a while, is that such a crime? To want some privacy for once?" "I want to know what I did to make you act like this. I want to..." "This isn't about what you want...not this time." I said, and he was quiet at that moment. Then he shot up to his feet and finished his drink all in one swallow. I guess he had had enough for the time being. "Fine. Have it your way." He said. Taryn threw the cup down at my feet, walking out of the crowd and going to stand out by the lake by himself. In a way, I guess I wanted to quietly provke him, to make him mad at me too so it would be easier to keep my distance. The truth is, loving him was easy...trusting him again was going to be a bit of a struggle. And I hated him, all of them, for taking that tiny piece of the puzzle away from me. I kept to myself for the next hour or so. None of the other people knew who I was, and I had purposely alienated myself from everyone at the lot. So I sat alone, brooding, occassionally wetting my lips with the numbness of the 'magic elixir' in the bottle. It felt good to escape for a while, but not as good as I was hoping it would. I'll bet money that Gyro never lets things like this dwell on his mind for longer than a few minutes. Then again, I guess he's not the sucker I am. I looked into the crowd of smiling faces, not a single one of them really showing any signs of sadness or distress at all. Except for maybe Kid, who was clinging to Max's waist and keeping his distance from the many people who wanted to reach out and pet him like the cute little chipmunk that he was. Still, if this was what we do at a funeral, I'd hate to see what we do for an execution. "Shit..." I said to myself, the bottle's empty. Time to get more. I got up and noticed a certain familiar sway in my walk, as I melted into the herd of people once again...only looking for another fix. Jenna looked over at me and smiled, but I pretended not to see her and kept moving my way to the drink table. Trevor and Michael had arrived and were easily charming the people who came to greet them. But it didn't really phase me or strike me as anything special. Nothing did. Trevor was a natural charmer anyway, no doubt about that. "Had enough to drink yet?" Came a voice from over my shoulder. It was Rain, probably looking for another chance to insult me. I didn't want to give her the satisfaction. "Fuck off, Rain." I pouted, and I walked away before she could get another shot in at my self esteem. Another healthy dose of liquid entertainment filling my cup. I doubt she cared enough to chase after me though. Something tells me I should be thankful for that. On my way back to privacy, Jenna stopped me. "So are you going to talk about this?" "What the hell is wrong with you people? I TOLD you, I'm FINE!" "You are NOT fine, Justin. And frankly I don't like what you're doing to Taryn. He's been through enough without having to deal with this too." She said. I couldn't tell if it was her own agitation or a reflection of mine as it flowed through her. But she softened a bit before speaking again. "I don't like seeing YOU like this, either. Justin please talk to me. Talk to somebody." But before I could open my mouth, Bryson walked over and we cut our conversation short. "Justin, this is Tiana. Tiana, this is the new addition to our little family at the lot." He said, and next to him was the girl that greeted us when we arrived. I turned to give her the most 'polite' smile that I could manage to keep on my face and shook her hand. "So this is Justin? Very cute. I can see why Taryn would be so crazy over you." She said. "Thanks." I wasn't quite sure what else to say. She WAS...um...dying tomorrow, afterall. "I'm...I'm sorry. About the Sun Quest and all." I stumbled for words, wondering if anything would sound even remotely comforting. "Why would you be sorry?" She asked, wrinkling her brow and smiling through a strange look of bewilderment. "Well...I thought that...I mean aren't you..." "Ohhhh...I see. This is your first time, isn't it? I can see that you and I have a lot to talk about then. I'm sure you've got a lot of questions." She said, and with that, she ruffled my hair a bit and put an arm on my shoulder. "We'll be right back. I kinda like this part." Tiana walked with me over to the lake and took a deep breath, soaking in the air around her. "I didn't mean to...offend you back there or anything..." I started, but she stopped me. "Oh please. The act of being offended was made for old nuns and priests. And I am neither one, thank God." She grinned. She was an easily approachable young woman, one who set you at ease about everything before you even had the chance to feel weird about it. "So..." She started, "...I'm assuming your first question would be...why. Am I right?" I have to admit, I felt really awkward talking to someone about their own demise, but I figured that I'd never get another chance, right? "Um...yeah, for starters. If...if you don't mind." "Simply put, I've lived my life." There was a short pause while I waited for her to go on, but she didn't. "I don't understand. That's it?" I asked. "That's it. Easy, huh?" "Actually...no." "It will be. Someday. A long long time from now for you, but someday." Tiana stared out into the lake and took another deep breath, a smile spreading across her face as though she could see something out in the darkness that I couldn't. "Do you realize...that I haven't laid eyes on the sun, in over 106 years?" "THAT LONG???" I shouted, surprised beyond belief! "Hehehe, yes, Justin. That long!" Her giggle was so pleasantly feminine. It was a beautiful thing to behold. "But in a few hours, a few short moments of time, I'm going to get to see it again. I'm going to watch it rise right over there, and I'm going to feel it's gentle warmth on me one last time. It's going to be so beautiful. Sooooo beautiful." The way she kept staring out at the waves, I was forced to look out and examine them too, wondering if I was missing some great deal of beauty that wasn't there before. "So...you're just 'done'? I mean, you just don't want to live anymore?" I certainly hoped I wasn't treading on personal feelings here, but I was finding it hard to believe that what she's doing now, and what I was doing on that night when Taryn rescued me from the same waves, are so unrelated. "I know it's a bit hard to grasp at first. Especially for one so young. Your idea of eternity is so very undeveloped at this point, Justin. It will change over time." Tiana looked in my eyes, and playfully gave me a shove. "Not for the worse, kid. It will just change. You'll learn more, understand more, things will become clear once you get to a certain age." "I don't know...it just seems kinda sad." "Oh honey, there's nothing sad about it. It's a choice based on a feeling of being complete. Do you see any tears in my eyes? Any big regrets? Any deeply guarded secrets? I'm HAPPY to have done what I've done, and seen what I've seen in the past century or so." The mention of the time period seemed so unbelievable to me. "But you could see more, right? I mean, if you decided you wanted to keep going." Tiana's smile faded slightly, and she got down on one knee, feeling the cool water pass through her fingertips as the tide crept up the shore. And she gave me a serious look, "Justin...it will be many MANY years from this night when you experience the same revelation that I've had guiding me towards this night. But I guarantee you...one day, you'll wake up, go out to your usual haunts to do your usual thing, and you'll understand that everything is different." Tiana splashed her hand in the water a bit, and brought it to her face, feeling the wetness of it against her smooth flawless skin. "When you understand that everyone you've ever known, ever loved, is dead and gone, when you realize that every actor and actress, singer and songwriter, every artist and acquaintance...have all passed away...then you'll get it. There just comes a time when you've played every game, and had every kind of sex, tried every flavor of ice cream, been to every city on the Earth, read every book, and asked every question that there is to ask. And you'll understand that it's time to go." "I can't imagine ever getting to that point. The world is always growing, isn't it?" "In some small ways, yes. I suppose it is. But I've been there, done that. I look at the world and I see reruns. The same ideas regurgitated over and over again as though they were brand new. Society's mentality stays the same. Sure the slang gets updated, fashion comes and goes, prejudices shift from one oppressed group to another, wars make the same threats and end with the same results. Sometimes I take a really good look at everything, and I see that the world hasn't changed much at all. It's just been covered and masked with different cosmetics. Same bullshit, just driven deeper into the subconscious where people can get away with it easier. After 106 years, people are still greedy, still racist, still homophobic, still cheat on their spouses, still allow their religion to arrogantly judge the people around them...it's an endless circle that will never break because nobody wants to acknowledge that they're a PART of it." She looked back out into the waves again, that look of utter peace and understanding dancing along with the sparkle in her eyes. "People are born, breed, die, and seem to get reborn again as somebody else. It's weird. The world, however, it's not going to get any evolutionary jumps anytime soon. I'm sure they'll repeat the same mistakes and give it a different name, and they might suddenly discover something that was already here but nobody paid attention to...but NEW? Nothing much ever happens in that category." ===== Did it make sense on some level that I hadn't reached yet? Perhaps. The others keep telling me that no one can really fathom the concept of eternity until after you've lived for a hundred years. I guess it's not as promising and magical as it sounds. Still, for someone I had just met, Tiana came off as an incredibly sweet person. Someone that I didn't want to just 'give in' and say 'I've lived all that I can', that's crazy! "Tiana...I just...I just wish you didn't see this as your only way out." "This isn't a way out, Justin. It's a way to move forward. I've answered the questions that I needed to answer here. If I don't move on, if I don't at least try to reach forward...then I'll just get stuck here. Never growing, never changing, getting 'comfortable' and refusing to move, just like everything else in this place." "But Tiana..." What could I say to her? She didn't seem to get what I was really asking her. "...how do you know that tomorrow won't be the day that everything changes?" "Hehehe, I did wonder about that. Everyday for the past 38, 722 days in a row approximately! Now I'm ready to leave that equation for the next person to solve." I guess she could see the frustration appearing on my face, and she ran her fingers through my hair as she lifted my head to look her in the eye. "The human body wasn't made to last forever, Justin. As vampires, we've been given eternal youth, and we've conquered that single aspect of our existence. But...the mind, the soul...THEY weren't built to last an eternity either. You do what you can, you learn what you're able, and you philosophize about all of life's little intricacies until you've touched them all...but eventually, you'll find yourself feeding a youthful and beautiful body, but existing in a life that simply doesn't want you anymore. When you've literally 'done it all', we vampires go on a Sun Quest. It's a venture forth into the next world, where a whole new set of questions are waiting for us." "What if I like it here? I mean, what if I just decide to stay?" I asked, now wondering how long it would be before I found myself out here on this beach, surrounded by these same vampires, all looking the exact same age, and wondering whether or not I'll want my life anymore either. Even if I still have Taryn to share it with. "Well it's definitely your choice. If you ever have to think twice about it, then a Sun Quest probably isn't for you. It wouldn't be your time yet. Technically, whether or not you want to have that experience should be the very last question that you ever need answered. When the answer honestly becomes yes, then that means you've become complete, and that this chapter of your life is ready to give way to a whole new one. Does that make any sense to you?" "I'm trying Tiana. I really am." I felt a pinch of sadness as I saw the night sky begin, almost invisible to the eye, to brighten up with a dawn that was maybe an hour away at the most. "Are you SURE that you want to do this?" I pleaded. "Positive. The average age for most vampires is about 120 to 130 years tops. There are some that go past that point, sure, but I've seen what living for much too long can do. I've seen vampires driven mad by it, or they become secluded in some dark cave somewhere, or they become obsessed with any promise of new information. The mind is so fragile, hon. The brain needs input in order to survive. Without new and intriguing material, the mind's proccesses break down. Even your dreams become repetitive and insane after a while. I don't want that to be me, Justin...so lost in my own insanity that I don't even realize that I NEED to move on from this place. No, that won't be me." I watched as Tiana picked up some sand and sprinkled it out into the water. "By this time tomorrow night, I'll be a part of this beach forever. And you can come visit me anytime you want." She grinned. I walked over, and gave her the tightest goodbye hug that my arms would allow as a few tears leaked from my eyes. "Will it hurt?" I sobbed. "I suppose so. There is no growth without some kind of harsh process. But whether or not it 'hurts' or whether or not it will be 'difficult' or 'wrong' or 'irreversible' isn't the point now. What matters is that I'm prepared to deal with what lies ahead of me, and that I am doing so by my own free will." I finally let her go, and she took a step back from me. "I hope you're right...and...I hope it's everything you're looking for." "Your contacts have been breached." She said, as the tears caused my eyes to glow brightly directly through them. Bright enough to reflect off of the tone of her skin. "Now then, enough of this depressing talk. This is supposed to be a party afterall." Tiana led me away from the lake with a huge smile. "So..." I asked, "You have really seen everything you've ever wanted to see, huh?" I was trying to dry my eyes when she surprised me with quite an unexpected answer. "Well, I thought I had at one time. But even after all this years, I never once thought that I'd ever get the chance to meet a Mimic. I guess there ARE one or two surprises left in the world afterall." And she winked in my direction. The shock that shot over my face made her laugh. "Hahahaha! Don't look so worried! I won't tell. It'll be a secret I take to the 'grave' with me, I promise." She giggled.
  24. 1 point
    “Dane,” Tap reached out and touched his upper arm gently. “Really?” His voice was serious and soft but his face spoke his skepticism loud and clear, though he said nothing more than that. Dane didn't answer and he didn't need to. His face was twisted in a look that somehow combined impotent fury and humiliation. Dane shrugged then and looked down, taking a deep breath. “Of course,” Dane's face set in stubborn lines, his jaw line firming as his full lips folded together in blatant refusal to speak of what Tap suspected was happening to him. Tap sighed and Dane braced himself for a harangue or well meaning lecture, not sure if he would start screaming or crying if Tap tried to push him on this. “So, how was the muffin? If that nasty sort of healthy stuff is what you like it's no wonder I got to gobble up the cookies Tammy gave us,” Dane looked up, surprised at the change in subject. He narrowed his eyes at Tap but decided to take the switch at face value and tried to bury the sudden thankful feeling he had and the urge to come clean and tell Tap everything. “Yeah. It was really moist, I haven't had one that good since before we moved and my mom got...” Dane trailed off, his face stricken. Tap was still watching him, trying to study and learn everything he could about this mysterious person he had the unfathomable urge to protect. His eyebrows drew down as he watched the pain flash across Dane's face. “I didn't mean to remind you of bad stuff, damn it!” Tap swore in a loud voice with a look of chagrin. “Patrick Seamus Leeran, language!” A sharp maternal rebuke came from the woman measuring coffee behind the counter. “Sorry Mom,” Tap said sheepishly. Dane was still breathing hard, lost in the memory of that morning that had popped into his head, the last morning his mom had been really well. She had woke him up with a cheerfully lilting 'Good Morning!' and a kiss on the forehead, urging him to get up in time to have a hot breakfast before school. She had made some scrambled eggs and fresh bran muffins and he had eaten them without a clue that afternoon she would get the news that she had pancreatic cancer and needed to have poisonous chemicals flooded into her body immediately. His mom's reaction to the treatments had been severe and after that it was Dane taking her mint tea and crackers in the mornings before he left, trying to help her keep the nausea and sickness at bay when exhaustion confined her to her bed. Dane blinked back the sudden tears that ached to be released but he refused to give in to them and stood up abruptly. His chair legs screeched across the floor as it was shoved quickly backward. “I gotta go,” “Okay,” Tap said softly when Dane looked at him hard as if expecting him to argue, “I'll see you at lunch, alright?” Dane gave a feeble half-nod and then fled from the coffee shop, leaving Tap behind staring at his back as he passed the glass windows as fast as his battered body would go. Tap shook his head as he picked up the half full mug and empty plate and took them into the kitchen, thinking hard about things that were almost too horrible to even consider. “That is one sad boy,” observed his mother shrewdly. “I think so too,” agreed Tap. Dane's week went on pretty much the same way that day did. He crept about his house trying to stay out of his dad's way as much as possible. The casually dealt blows to his back and ribs for whatever small infraction he made or just because his dad was irritable seemed almost reassuring and the sudden attack had not been repeated. His face started to heal, the blister draining one night and the redness began to fade slowly. The bruises were almost gone so he wore a t-shirt to school on Friday, enjoying the sun on his bare limbs and how cool he felt not wearing long sleeves to keep his arms and neck covered up. Dane's dad wasn't going to be home until around 8 pm that night so Dane was considering breaking the rules and staying for the baseball game that their school was hosting that afternoon. He would have plenty of time to walk home and finish his homework. Tap had asked him yesterday if he would consider going, promising that it would be a good game. Dane knew that he really didn't want to be alone Friday night with his memories of his mother, dreading the funeral coming on Saturday morning. Tap provided him with a good distraction; he had continued to come sit with Dane each day at lunch before taking off to go to the gym until practice when the bell rang signaling the end of lunch. Dane sat in his class before lunch that Friday thinking about the big guy and how everyone seemed to know and like him. Dane had no idea why Tap had taken such an interest in him and it made him nervous. How would he react if he knew Dane was gay? Would he beat him up with those big fists and call him names too? Dane didn't want to ever find out so he tried really hard not to give himself away. Tap was always putting his hand on his shoulder or squeezing his arm, friendly gestures that meant a lot to Dane; he didn't want to lose that either. A hand came down gently on his shoulder and squeezed gently as soon as he sat down at his picnic table, of course it was Tap. Dane couldn't help but smile at his new friend. “Hey little guy, how's it going?” “Good. Busy morning, lots of homework from the teachers, prep for finals and all that. They’re slave drivers here,” Dane whined a bit. “I'm so glad I don't really have to worry about that. It's not like Phys Ed is really challenging to study for,” Tap laughed. Dane grinned at him. “So, enjoying lunch out here in the sunshine and fresh air?” Tap leaned his back against the picnic table and dropped his head backward exposing the lighter triangle of skin on his neck that was normally shaded from the sun that tanned his skin an appealing golden color. His medium length light brown hair was ruffled by the slight breeze, just long enough to tickle the tops his ears. Dane noticed but kept his look and tone casual. “No way, it's hotter than hell here. But I hate being cooped up inside all the time. It was a lot cooler in Idaho where I lived," Tap laughed. "If you're so hot all the time why do you wear long sleeve shirts almost every day?" Dane panicked a bit, scrambling, "Suntans are bad, man. Maybe I'm just trying to live to old age," "Yeah, not if you melt first in this heat," Tap chuckled. "Heh," Dane gave a short laugh, "well, I’m glad I wore a t-shirt today though, it's bound to be scorching by game time tonight,” Tap was nodding with his eyes still closed when that registered. They opened wide and sparkled as he looked at Dane and asked him excitedly, “You're coming?” “Yeah, someone told me it'll be a good game. I figured I might as well go watch and see if our catcher sucks as much as I've heard,” Dane joked. “Oh ho, someone has a smart mouth on him today, doesn't he? Maybe someone should watch it before they end up dunked in the fountain,” Tap said warningly, a mischievous glint in his eye. “Oh no, I'm so worried,” Dane clutched his chest and tried to look scared, his clowning provoking Tap. He let out a squawk of alarm when Tap leapt up and grabbed him around the waist to throw him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. Tap walked quickly toward the fountain in the center of the courtyard that was surrounded by students sitting on the rim and talking. “Okay, look out, coming through, man on a mission here. Got someone who needs a cool off,” Tap boomed in a loud and boisterous voice. Students scrambled out of the way, laughing and pointing at poor Dane who was blushing as he struggled ineffectually to get down. Tap was just lifting him off his shoulders as if he was going to drop him in the fountain when a smooth female voice lifted above the sounds of the laughing crowd. “Tap Leeran, if you drop that boy in that fountain I will tell your mother!” Tap quickly put on an innocent face as he turned to look at the girl threatening him with while still holding Dane in his arms. Dane was too mortified to do anything but stay still with his eyes closed. “I wasn't doing anything,” Tap protested in a faked injured tone. “Sure you weren't. So, if that's the case then why is that poor guy draped across your shoulders like a scarf?” “Oh, umm... uh...” Tap tried to think of a good answer as he bent down and put Dane on his feet gently. “That's what I thought,” the girl who had been speaking walked up to Dane from the circle the crowd had formed and put her arm through his. “C'mon Dane, let's go sit down and I'll teach you how to quell this big lug,” “Aww, Neri, don't be like that,” Tap whined. She sniffed disdainfully and swept them back toward the picnic table with a dignified expression as she ignored Tap. She winked conspiratorially at Dane where Tap couldn't see causing him to blink in surprise. Dane was a bit confused by the rapid turn of events but followed in her wake meekly as he was dragged along by the grip she had on his arm. Neri pushed Dane down at his plate and sat down next to him making Tap take the bench across the table. “Be like what? Expect you to behave and not act like a hulking caveman?” she asked haughtily. “I was just playing around,” Tap pouted. “And embarrassing poor Dane. Did you think about that?” she asked; her eyebrow raised and her head cocked. Tap's face paled when he thought of how upset the normally quiet and shy guy might be and he looked apologetically at Dane. “I'm sorry; really, I didn't mean to upset you,” he said quickly in a hang dog voice, looking at Dane pleadingly with sad eyes and a mournful expression. “I'm not upset. It's okay, really,” Dane assured him. “Really?” Tap asked as his eyes widened and his smile started to break out of the doleful expression his face was trying so hard to maintain. “Really,” Dane smiled at Tap, unable to resist the soft look in his eyes. He had been embarrassed but he wasn't mad. That embarrassment was probably the only thing that kept him from popping a tent in his pants the second he had been slung across those firm shoulders, especially with one hot hand clamped so firmly on the back of his thigh. “Whew. See, Neri, I told you he wasn't mad,” Tap said, one of his mega watt smiles erasing all signs of his previous distress. “Yeah, you were so sure. That's why you babbled out that apology so fast,” Neri laughed at him and Tap looked at her with a glare before dissolving into laughter himself. “So, Neri, Dane. Dane, Neri,” Tap introduced the two with a sweeping gesture of his hand between the two. “Neri's been my best friend since I was 10,” he explained to Dane. “Yep, years of suffering on my part trying to curb the antics of this troublemaker. Do you know he was already 5'7” at that age? He was like a giant even then. I've been looking out for him ever since,” Neri confided in a mock whisper to Dane. “Hey, it's not my fault you're a shrimp. Everyone is tall compared to you,” Tap protested. It was true; Neri was even shorter than Dane's 5'5”. She maybe was 5'1” on a good day, slim and elfin in appearance. She had the most amazing long graceful hands though; something Dane had noticed when she grabbed his arm and as she moved them in the air in flowing emphasis when she spoke. “Watch it Mister! Let's not get talking about shrimpy things,” Tap blushed scarlet and muttered carefully under his breath as he looked away. Neri looked triumphant for a moment before she dismissed the quelled Tap with a flick of her fingers and turned to Dane, “So, you going to the game tonight? It's with Laurelhurst Academy; we have a serious rivalry with them so this is one of the biggest games of the season,” “Yeah, I was thinking about it,” Dane told her. “Great! I'll be there playing the flute in the band before the game and during half-time but we'll sit together during,” Neri told him, blithely assuming that was what he would want to do. Dane just smiled at her, going along with it and just happy he would have someone to sit by. They continued to chat until the bell rang a few minutes later, sending Dane and Neri into the main building and Tap jogging off to the gym. The game that afternoon was good. Tap played most of it as the behind home plate, catching a pop up foul ball and tagging out 2 players as they attempted to score. He didn't score but he made it on base several times when he came up to bat. Dane didn't really go for sports but he enjoyed the game, cheering with Neri each time Tap made a play or hit the ball. It was 6:30 when the game ended and Dane stayed with Neri for a little bit until her mom picked her up. "Do you want a ride Dane?" Neri asked him, rolling down her window in the car as he started walking across the street away from campus. "No, it's okay, I don't live far," Dane didn't want anyone knowing where he lived or meeting his dad. Neri's mom was looking at him curiously from the driver seat and he avoided her look. "Really, it’s okay, I'm fine," "If you're sure," Neri said. "I'm sure. See you later," said Dane, “Thanks for hanging out with me at the game tonight,” Neri waved goodbye as her mom drove away. Dane took off toward home before it could get any later. He was walking up the driveway just a little after 7:00 pm when he looked up and his heart almost stopped. His dad's car was in front of the garage a good hour before he should have been home. Which meant he most likely had his client dinner canceled and had been home all evening. Not only was Dane not home when he was supposed to be but he hadn't made dinner either. His knees shook and a cold sweat instantly dribbled down his back. He was hyperventilating, gasping in a vain attempt to draw in enough air. He didn't want to go inside, he just didn't. Dane would never know what force finally got him moving toward the front door but he walked in a fog, trying to separate himself from his body to distance himself from the pain he knew he would shortly be feeling. His dad was waiting in the entry hall, hulking over Dane and roaring at him. Dane did the pleading that never helped him avoid the beating but seemed to please Alan enough to sometimes calm him partially. This time it was if the several days that Alan had left Dane alone had built up a pressure that exploded in a violent beating. Several of the stripes from the rubber hose landed on the same spot repeatedly causing instant purple bruising and welts. When his arm finally got tired Alan stepped back from the boy he'd pinned against the wall with his much larger body. Dane sank to the floor, his body shaking too hard to stand and held back the cries of pain he felt hovering in his throat burning to get out. His dad stood over him in disgust as Dane cowered, flinching when he got kicked a few times in his still sore ribs and ordered to go make dinner. Sobbing silently Dane shakily pulled himself up the wall and stumbled into the kitchen to make a quick meal of spaghetti and buttered bread and put the food on the table. He went to sit down; steeling himself for the pain he knew would be sharp as a flash of lightning as he came in contact with the wood chair. Just before he could sit down his dad barked at him, “What do you think you're doing? Get out of here. You don't deserve to eat my food,” Dane looked at his father dumbly, not even dodging the blow to the side of his head. “Get out of my sight! If I see you again tonight I'll throw you outside to sleep where you deserve,” Alan ordered harshly. Dane didn't dare try and sneak anything from the kitchen to eat so he just crept into the front hall to get his backpack and then scurried up the stairs as quickly and silently as his battered body would allow. He could feel the heat radiating from the stripes he'd earned for his stupidity. He gingerly peeled the jeans down his lean legs and twisted to see as much as he could even though that pulled the tender skin that felt hot and swollen along his back and shoulders. Big fat tears rolled down his face and Dane curled up in his bed facing the door, hugging a pillow to his chest. His body hurt, his heart hurt and there was nothing he could do about it. If he thought that he could stand the pain and do it right he would kill himself just to stop the misery but Dane knew that he wouldn't be able to pull it off. Besides, in some ways that was taking the coward’s way out. Dane may be too weak to fight off his dad but he was not a weak person. He wouldn’t let himself be. Worn out from the emotionally and physically exhausting day he fell asleep in just his underwear on top of his covers, unable to bear even the light blanket and sheet atop his damaged body. He must have rolled on to his back at one point in the night and been too tired for the pain to register enough to wake him up. The rubbing of his blanket against the welts and bruises on his tender back was a stinging burn that made him gasp when the growing light fell across his face bringing him out of the tender dream he had tried so hard to hold on to. The arms that had gently surrounded him and soothed him reminded him of the only times he had felt safe. He had been dreaming of his mother and then the arms had turned harder, warmer and yet brought that same sense of peace. Dane rolled onto his side and bit back a sob when he realized that his mom's funeral was in just a few short hours. It was going to be horrible but he had no choice in the matter. He had to go, if only to say goodbye to her in the only way he was allowed. He got dressed into his black suit his mom had bought for him last year and combed his hair neatly. He had ironed his clothes on Thursday and the pants and shirt felt like sandpaper on his super sensitive skin. The hard wood benches of the pews at the memorial service made him feel like each bruise was bone deep, it was almost a relief when the service ended and the small group of mourners moved from the church to the graveside. After the classic ashes to ashes, dust to dust passage was read by the pastor the casket draped with a chain of daisies, his mom's favorite flower, was lowered into the gaping hole that waited in the ground before them. Dane's dad ushered him to their car by his shoulder. The doctor and staff at the hospital, a few friends of his mother's and the pastor all shook his dad's hand and expressed their condolences, viewing the physical connection with an air of relief that the pair would have each other to lean on now that the woman in their lives was gone. They didn't realize the grip was bruising and controlling, not comforting. It was all Dane could do not to writhe as the punishing fingers dug into the bruises they had made the night before. Dane stayed silent through everything, burying the physical pain deep inside to hide along with the emotional pain of losing the only person who had loved him. He looked out his window at the mound of dirt yet to be smoothed over that marked his mother's grave as they slowly drove away, placing one finger on the window as if to touch it. He said a final silent goodbye, closing his eyes after it was finally out of sight, blotting out the rest of the world that continued to move on as if the death that meant so much to him had no impact at all. The rest of the weekend Dane tried to avoid his dad who had at least gone back in the office for a few hours on Sunday to make up for some of the hours he'd missed arranging his wife's funeral. Dane took advantage of his absence and crept downstairs and made a few sandwiches and grabbed some granola bars and an apple, sneaking them up to his room for later. He did his homework and studied ahead a little, trying to keep himself from thinking about the mess his life had become. At least tomorrow was a school day; he could see Tap and maybe Neri would talk to him too. He went to bed that night, clutching the slim comfort his new friends gave him like a life preserver in the ocean of misery his life had become.
  25. 1 point
    Dane ran. He knew he couldn't outrun this but if all he thought of was the pound of his feet on the ground and the hitching gasp of his breath he might keep himself from screaming. The urge to do that was strong, almost overwhelming his fragile control. Dane redoubled his efforts, not feeling the scorching heat or the bright sun beating down on his lowered head as he fled. He watched the ground in front of his feet, refusing to look up or around. So when he bounced off whatever it was he ran into he flew backward quite a ways before crashing to the ground, flat on his back. “Son of a bitch!” the unmovable object said, rubbing the center of a very wide chest as he stood still in the middle of the sidewalk staring down at the prostate form on the concrete. Dane lay on the ground, fighting to breathe as he wondered if perhaps he had burst his lungs or something. 'Like I could be that lucky!' he thought. Suddenly his body gave a great gasp and without the focus running away had given him what came out after that first huge breathe was a great heaving sob. He lay collapsed on the hot concrete and fell into the pieces that he'd so desperately been trying to hold together. He couldn't stop, not even if he'd wanted to. Which he did, desperately, when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Oh man, hey. I'm sorry. Are you hurt?” a deep voice said frantically. Dane pulled away, dragging himself backward with his eyes still shut tight, which granted, wasn't a good idea but by then he was pretty much gone mentally. The absence of anything under his right hand took him by surprise and Dane fell sideways only to be stopped just before his nose and now open eyes kissed the asphalt of the road. He was pulled back and into well muscled arms that gripped him tight to the big chest he had bounced off of so impressively. “Hey, don't do that. Shhh...” He was still sobbing incoherently but stopped trying to get away. The tight grip that was holding him loosened as Dane let his head rest on the soft shirt that soaked up his tears. A deep rumbling voice was the only thing Dane could hear above the sounds of misery he was making but that and the hand cautiously rubbing his back somehow eased the tight knot of pain inside him. He tried desperately to stuff his tears and weakness back down but it took several minutes before he was successful. Gulping and snuffling he stiffened when he realized that the strong arms were still holding him and now massaging his shoulders. “You okay now?” the guy said. “Uh, yeah,” Dane said in a thick voice. “You can let go of me now, I won't do that again.” “Oh. Sure.” He let Dane go but he only scooted back a little. “Sorry. So I'm guessing you weren't that upset just because of me knocking you down. Are you okay?” “I,” Dane started but paused, “I,” Dane tried again but the lump in his throat kept him from speaking. He shook his head, his shoulders slumping. He couldn't say he was okay; he wouldn't be okay ever again. “You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to but it's hotter than hell out here. Can we go inside?” the big guy stood up and offered Dane his hand as he towered over him. Dane hesitated before he took it and was pulled effortlessly to his feet. He just stood there mutely until he was guided by a hand on his shoulder into the coffee shop they were sitting in front of. “Hey Tap,” the young woman behind the counter called out, “What's up?” she looked at the pair, her head cocked to one side as she looked at Dane and then at... Tap. Dane looked up at the guy himself but didn't speak. “Well I knocked down my little friend here just outside. Thought I'd buy him a drink to make up for it. Can we get two iced mocha's, Tammy?” Tap ordered. “Sure thing sweetheart.” Tammy bustled around behind the counter. The coffee shop was deserted other than her but since it was just after 1:00 pm on a weekday in early April that was expected. The temperatures outside had to be in the lower 90s already and getting a coffee was the last thing on most people's minds, even an iced one. Still enough teenagers frequented the place before school and again on lunch breaks for the muffins, doughnuts, and deli sandwiches that it must have made it worthwhile to stay open this time of year. Tap had led Dane over to a light blue pair of comfortable chairs grouped together next to a small round black table. They sat in silence, Tap studying Dane while Dane tried to curl into a ball in his chair. Tammy came waddling out from behind the counter with the two cups and a plate. She was a tall for a woman and looked slender other than the large curve of her stomach that was echoed by the curve in her overtaxed back, making her seem all belly. Tap leapt up and took the cups from her, quickly putting them down and turning back to grab the cookies. “I could have come and got them you know!” He gave her a look as he grabbed the plate from her. Tammy laughed and patted him on the cheek. “I'm pregnant, not crippled you know,” she said sarcastically. “I still have 2 months yet.” Tap looked at her skeptically. “You sure? You don't look like you have 2 more months in you. You're really going to get even bigger?” Tammy's eyes widened in mock outrage as she slapped his shoulder. “Smartass! See if I bring you white chocolate macadamia nut cookies again.” Tap's eyes lit up. “Fresh?” “Still warm and everything.” “Then I am very sorry. You are slender as a reed and twice as beautiful as the most perfect blossom,” Tap proclaimed in a reverential tone. Tammy snorted. “Kiss-ass. Take care of your friend you goof.” She smiled gently at the boy she had seen walking past her shop a few times in the last month. “I hope you like it.” Tap sat back down at looked Dane who was still sitting in the other chair. He grabbed his coffee and a cookie, gesturing for him to do the same. Dane took the silent invitation, the cool drink soothing his sore throat still raspy from crying. He ignored the cookies though. “You don't want any?” Tap asked. “No thanks,” Dane said quietly. “Well, okay.” Tap shrugged. “I guess that means more for me then.” He grinned happily as he stuffed a second cookie in his mouth. Dane had a small smile on his face as he watched. It brightened his face, eased the look of sadness that he'd been wearing but didn't reach his desolate eyes. Tap cocked his head as he looked at him curiously. “So, what's your name? Do you go to school at Brookvern? I've not seen you around much, did you just move here?” he askedquestions in rapid-fire style. “Dane, uh, yeah, I go to Brookvern, I'm a senior. I just moved here,” Dane answered shortly. “I thought so! I'm Tap,” Tap said, though Dane already heard the woman use his name. He just nodded. “I'm a senior too but I only go to one class a day, last period so I can sleep in.” He grinned again. “I could have graduated early but I wanted to stay this spring so I could play baseball.” Dane was surprised when he heard that Tap was a senior in high school, he would have thought him older than that, maybe a college student or something. Tap was staring at him again so he buried his face in his coffee cup, taking a long drink. The sugar was helping with his shock but he was still trembling and fighting back his emotions that only grew the more difficult to handle as he sat in his soft blue chair. They sat quietly sipping for a few minutes, Tap staring at him with questions in his eyes and Dane fighting desperately not to think at all. Tap set down his cup beside the empty plate after a few minutes. “You don't need to tell me what has you so upset but do we need to get you back to the school before you get into trouble?” Tap asked in a serious voice. The tears filling Dane's eyes overflowed and slid silently down his cheeks as he nodded, gulping in sudden fear. “Well then, let's go.” Tap stood up and held out his hand. Dane grasped it and let him pull him to his feet once again; he was perfectly able to stand on his own but for some reason he kept taking the hand the bigger guy offered. He stood wobbling a little but let go of the warm hand quickly and looked down, his emotions swirling inside him like a vast maelstrom. “I'm sure whatever it is that had you running, it's going to be alright,” Tap tried to assure him as they walked outside. That comment was the last straw; thought it was unintended to hurt him that one comment made Dane snap emotionally. His eyes blazed and two spots of bright color blazed in his cheeks. He rounded on Tap with his fists clenched and practically spat his ire-filled words at the teenager towering over him. “What the hell do you know? Nothing! It's not alright; it's never going to be alright. She's dead, okay!” He was screaming at Tap who just stared at him. “Just stop, do you hear me?! Stop helping me, stop talking to me! I don't need you, I need, I need...” Dane shuddered, closing his eyes. It was all back, all the pain and the frustration, the impotent anger that he just couldn't handle. He wanted to take it out on someone, anyone, with the sole exception of this handsome guy staring at him with his mouth open in shock. He took off at a run again, desperately trying to outpace the way he felt even though he knew it was futile. He could hear the footsteps pounding behind him and redoubled his pace. 'Why can't he just leave me alone?' he wailed to himself, unwilling to accept any comfort when she lay beyond the comfort he had been giving for so long. He sped up, turning a corner only to slip on a bag that lay in the middle of the sidewalk in front of the local supermarket entrance. For the second time in less than a half hour he was on the ground with the wind knocked out of him. “Are you okay?” Tap asked in a breathless voice behind him. “Oh hell, that's a stupid question, I'm sorry, really. I mean, are you hurt anywhere?” He dropped to his knees beside Dane panting from his run chasing after him. He ignored the dirty look Dane sent him and checked his pupils to see if he hit his head and ran his eyes down Dane's arms and legs for any obvious signs of broken limbs. He breathed a sigh of relief. "You don't look like you broke anything." “You know, you're quick,” Tap observed, “Too bad you aren't on our track team! They'd win meets for sure. Well, if you could run without falling down,” Tap grinned at the lame joke. Dane just watched him, not willing to give into a smile. “Why don't you just go away?” snarled Dane he tried to get up. His grief was rapidly turning to anger and this guy who just wouldn't leave him alone was starting to seem as good a target as any. Dane's harsh independent facade lasted until he tried to get to his feet only to have his right ankle let out a vicious throb and refuse to support his weight. Crying out, he sat down hard on the ground again, cussing as he gripped the offending body part. Tap brushed his hands aside. “Because you need me,” he said shortly. “Do not,” Dane muttered. “Yes, you do.” Tap gently pushed up Dane's pant leg and pulled down on the white sock exposing an already rapidly swelling ankle that was beginning to develop a nasty purple bruise. “Do you really think you can walk on that all by yourself? I don't think so.” “Whatever. Could so.” “Well if we are going to use kindergarten type arguments how about this? I'm bigger than you so I'm not giving you a choice. You can get up and lean on me to walk or I will carry you,” Tap said in a matter of fact voice. “Fine.” Dane gave in with bad grace. The pair made slow progress back to the school, walking together. “At least you were heading back toward the school,” Tap observed. They were silent after that until they walked into the school, a big blue building that easily housed the number of students that attended. Tap steered them toward to the office where the Vice Principal exclaimed loudly at the sight of them together. “Dane! There you are. I was so worried when you took off like that. I called your father and he's on his way here,” Mr. Stephens said. Dane began to tremble but Tap was the only one who could tell. “I'm sorry, Mr. Stephens, I just...” “It's okay, son, I'm not mad. You're not in any trouble. I just think you should go home for the day, having your father and grandmother around would probably be best for you.” Dane was nodding reluctantly when a voice barked out his name, causing his whole body to lock up. “Daniel Kendricks, what have you done now?” A tall man stood in the entrance to the office with a sharp look directed at his son. He was lean and dressed in a dark suit that was tailored to fit his body. His entire body radiated impatience and annoyance, from his expression to the clenched fists at his side. “I'm sorry Dad, I...” Dane began contritely. “Now Mr. Kendricks, while we can't condone leaving school grounds unexcused, I can understand why Dane took off. Hearing that sort of news from someone who is essentially a stranger was probably not the best way to handle the situation,” Mr. Stephens interjected. His voice held a bit of unspoken censure in it. It was clear he felt the man had taken the easy way out by making someone else tell his son. Dane had known he was a nice man earlier but he had to leave, try to escape his words when he was called into the guidance counselor's office after lunch and given the bad news. “My wife had been ill for some time, it was expected. There was no reason to disrupt the boy's schooling,” he snapped. “Still, it was a shock. Dane is in no trouble but the Principal and I believe that it would be best if he went home for the rest of the day,” Mr. Stephens said firmly. “Your teachers will give you an extension on the day's work, Dane, especially since you are ahead in most of your classes anyway.” Dane just nodded at hearing this, not having spoken beyond his attempt at an apology when his father came in the room. Tap was just standing there watching everyone. “Well come along then Daniel, I'm very busy. I don't have time for this.” Tap silently began to help Dane limp over to his Dad. “Excuse me, who are you?” Dane's dad tried to look down his nose at Tap but since he was actually a little taller and much bigger than him it didn't really work well. “My name is Patrick Leeran, sir. I ran into Dane earlier. He hurt his ankle and I helped him back to the school.” “Well you can just take your hands off of him like that. He can walk just fine on his own, I'm sure it's nothing,” Tap began to protest but Mr. Stephens cut him off. “Actually Mr. Kendricks, there is a form here I need you to fill out. Dane's emergency contact information was missing from his admission paperwork and you need to sign him out of school. I bet Tap can get him to your car while you are doing that so you won't be held up by Dane's slow pace.” Mr. Kendricks sighed and pinched his nose, glaring at his son. “Fine, you had better be ready to go by the time I get there.” Dane nodded but kept his eyes on the ground. Tap didn't say a word just turned them and walked out the door. They were out of earshot of the office when Dane finally spoke. “I'm sorry about Dad,” he apologized to Tap, “and for not telling you about my, my...” “You don't have to talk about it. And you didn't make your dad act like that, so you don't need to say sorry for the way he treated me.” Tap was shaking his head, his hands gentle on Dane as he helped him walk. “Still--” Dane began. “Still nothing. C'mon, let's get you out to your car before he gets away from Mr. Stephens and blows a gasket.” “Okay.” They were silent as Tap walked slowly and Dane limped along. “Hey, can we get my backpack? I have some homework from my morning classes and my locker is by the door.” “Your mom just died and you're worried about homework?” Tap was a bit incredulous. “My dad will be mad if I don't do it. Besides, what else am I going to do?” Dane said bitterly. They stopped briefly at Dane's locker and he threw his loose books and binder into a black backpack and started to sling it over his shoulder. Tap stopped him and grabbed it before slinging it over his own shoulder. “You don't have to do that,” protested Dane. “Uh huh, but I'm going to anyway,” Dane shook his head and started toward his dad's car, still leaning on Tap. He really didn't want his dad to think he had been dawdling when he finally came out of the office. They stopped next to a red Saab and Tap whistled. “This is your dad's car?” Dane just nodded, a bit embarrassed. The rest of the lot was cheap older cars for most of the teenagers and the staff mostly drove Honda or Toyota cars, decent looking but nothing special. Dane hated standing out and his dad's car practically screamed Look At Me to everyone who saw it. Dane opened the back door, Tap assumed to put his backpack in the rear seat, but he was surprised when Dane slid in across the leather seat too. “You're going to sit in the back?” he asked confused. “Um, yeah, so I can stretch out my ankle,” He slid over behind the driver seat and stretched his sore ankle on the seat, making sure to keep his shoe off the leather. “So, um, thanks. You know, for everything.” “Sure,” said Tap easily, “I really didn't mind,” The bell rang, a shrill ringing that signaled the end of class. “I guess I need to go, I've got gym class and I need to get changed. I'll uh, see you tomorrow, right?” “I guess,” Dane said uncertainly. “Well you're coming to school right?” Tap pressed him. “I think so.” Dane was looking at his knees, his voice small and tired. It was the worst day of his life but his dad had been right; he had known this was coming. Besides, he'd rather be at school than around his dad any day. “Good, then I'll see you tomorrow.” Tap took off at a jog after shutting the door gently. Dane looked up to watch him as he ran off. He leaned his head back against the seat, a small smile on his face until his dad opened the front door and got into the driver’s seat. Dane ducked his head and made sure his face was impassive, gritting his teeth at the coming storm. “What in the hell were you thinking?” his dad asked angrily, looking in the rear-view mirror as he reversed his car out of the parking spot and left the lot. “Never mind, don't even bother to try and excuse your idiocy. I'll deal with you when we get home.” Dane started shaking as soon as his dad said that but stayed silent. Speaking would only get him in more trouble at this point. Why bother?
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