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Showing content with the highest reputation on 09/18/2016 in all areas

  1. 10 points
    In case you haven't guessed it yet, Renee is still away . If she isn't back soon we might have to send out a search party. Both Cia and I are exhausted with picking up her slack So here is what happened this past week. Monday, we usually would have a story featured in the Featured Story blog. This week, Cia gave us some insight though a review by Aditus on Mikesboy's poetry for NaPoWriMo. This appeared to be a great success as there is 2 pages of comments left for the feature. It is good to see some of our Poets getting the recognition they truly deserve. On Wednesday, Renee shared with us in the Premium Promo, a story by Layla entitled Desolation Angels. We received a excerpt from this interesting story. If you want to read it, make sure to pop by the blog to find out how to get this great story plus many more if you sign up for a Premium Membership. All the details are in the blog. Thursday was a big day for a big announcement. A.J. and The Author Promotion Team announced to the site that Valkyrie was our newest Signature Author!! Valkyrie has amassed a large amount of stories as well as been a frequent contributor on site as an editor, reviewer, and winner of Last Post Wins . Make sure to pop into the blog or her topic in the Signature forum to congratulate this deserving person. Friday, Cia finished the week up by throwing down the gauntlet to see if they were any takers to this weeks Writing Prompts. This week #530 had a first line of "Pull over, I'm going to be sick" . #540 had a tag of The Flood. Lastly Cia feature Sasha Distan's return to the prompts with giving us a glimpse of prompt #526 entitled East-Jesus-Nowhere. Anthology Announcements: ***NOTE: All Deadlines are for submission to the Anthology Proof Team 2016 Fall Anthology: Blindsided / The Forgotten - Due October 28th, 2016 All Pre-2016 Anthology Themes - Due December 14, 2016 2017 Spring Anthology: Jagged Edges / Unintended Consequences - Due April 28th, 2016 Premium Updates: Journey's End by M.A. Church; Book 2 of The Harvest *Premium* Signature Updates: Jabberwocky by CassieQ; Book 3 of Not The Sun Left Without Words by Comicality Leopards Leap by Graeme; Book 3 of The Lilydale Leopards Mental Games by Bill W Mine! by Cia Shelter by Comicality; Book 1 of Shelter Weightless by Cynus; Book 2 of Less is More Promising Updates: Caesura by aditus; Book 2 of The King's Mate Falling Apart by craftingmom Headstall's Reflections by Headstall Morningstar: The Malaise by Headstall One Hundred and Fifty-Five Sonnets by AC Benus; Book 5 of Verse Don't forget.... Read, Write, and Review!
  2. 9 points
    Thought I should mention, the first draft I posted I had Valkyrie winning LBO instead of LPW Then I realized I don't have permission to give away LBO
  3. 6 points
    Have to thank you all again and Adi especially for the review and featuring Napowrimo. Was such a surprise!
  4. 4 points
    October 23, 2021 I’m still off of work. The headaches have mostly receded, so I’m going to try and teach tomorrow. Hank was the one filling in for me, so he came to meet with me after classes ended to update me on things. There were no surprises, the usual quality of work handed in, the usual shit-disturbers causing ruckus. Hank did, however, compliment me on my choice of reading materials for the lit classes and the exercise the students were supposed to work on in my writer’s craft class over the past few days. He’s been teaching for a long time, so I guess I can walk away feeling a bit proud of myself. I’ve been thinking about how this teaching gig hasn’t been as simple as I expected. The first few weeks were a complete scramble day-to-day, partly because I had a lot of shit that needed sorting out and put together to meet Emma’s planning demands, and partly because I just didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, not really. I’ve adapted at least somewhat, I guess. I think the most surprising thing in all of this is that I’m actually starting to like doing this. Seriously, I’m a bit floored by that. I thought that I’d have a lot of trouble dealing with teenagers and their rebelliousness, immaturity and drama because I tend to be impatient as fuck and don’t take shit from anyone. It’s meant that I’ve become a bit of a disciplinarian, but things honestly seemed to have calmed down to a dull roar in my classes once the problem childs figured out I would stand my ground. At the same time, I’ve found myself having to hold in laughter sometimes at the sheer ridiculousness of the situations these kids get themselves into and the melodrama of overreactions that follows. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s dredged up a lot of memories of the past. Sifting through it all, trying to avoid the stuff I’d rather never think about again, I feel like I’m getting some more perspective on the person I was back then, and maybe what that means for me now. I’m trying to use it to inform how I’m relating to my students, but sometimes it’s just too much and I snap at them anyway. I’ve found myself drinking more coffee than I probably should to get through the day, and I’ve started having a pot of tea after dinner for just enough of a boost to get through all the marking and planning that needs to get done. This general exhaustion is frustrating as hell because I don’t really know why it’s happening. I mean, mental/social exhaustion is understandable, but sometimes I feel physically drained too and it weirds me out. It makes it hard to motivate myself to go to the gym some days, but I’ve been doing it anyway because I know the exercise is good for me both physically and emotionally. I’m starting to get some nice results, too, so I guess that’s been a motivating factor to keep dragging my ass downstairs to work out. I shouldn’t really be surprised, though. I’ve always liked physical activities, working out included. I just don’t connect as much with the commercial gym environment so I’ve tended to stay away from it. That said, it’s not like I ever let myself get completely out of shape after Freedom Force disbanded. I had a free pass to the gym on campus at UCLA included amongst my fees while I was working on my degree so I took advantage of that, and I played intramural rugby too. It was a bit annoying at first, but once those eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds saw what this 'old man' could do on the pitch they were scrambling to get me on their teams each season. Once Dom was back I guess I just didn’t have the motivation to work out more than once or twice a week. The gym membership was yet another casualty when money got tight. It was definitely not an essential. I’m lucky enough to have scored on the genetic lottery and have the thinness gene, anyway. But the body remembers, so even with the time away I guess it’s made it a bit easier for things to strengthen up and maybe even bulk a bit too now that I’m back on the horse. And really, it feels great. My body feels great. Well, not right now because of the injuries from being tossed through a wall, but you get the point. Fuck, I’ll say it. I don’t just feel great. I look great. Hot. Fit. Sexy. Oh-so-fuckable. Now I just need to find the time to actually go on dates, or even just hook-ups. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not desperate. Not even close. It’s just tiring, only having porn, my hand, and a couple toys to get off with. But it’s not just getting off that I want. I guess that’s a problem, isn’t it? Who the fuck would ever want a screwed up asshole like me? Who would, other than another piece of shit like Dom? I have days where I’m convinced I’m worthy, that I deserve better. But most of the time, deep down, I still feel like I’m lower than the lowest trash. Untouchable. Unwantable. Unneedable. Fuck, enough with this pity party.
  5. 3 points
  6. 2 points
    Emmett is a Canadian polar bear who loves his job, gets on great with his panda room mate, and gets to have excellent sex with his new boyfriend. So when the panda's cousin moves in with them, it shouldn't bother him, but Emmett isn't so much in control of his imagination as he used to be.
  7. 2 points

    From the album: Stuff

    Four new kitties... 'Penguin' on the right
  8. 2 points
  9. 1 point
    Control. Discipline. Be Strong. Be Good. My mantra. I can do it. I have done it for years now. I need to do it, it's my job. But damn if those two intriguing lords have me faltering, willing to disobey my Master to help them.
  10. 1 point

    From the album: Stuff

    Penguin... so named in honor of Valkyrie's well-deserved promotion. Isn't he awesome!
  11. 1 point
    Life is tough when you're 13, and summer vacation is coming on, and then your best friend moves away. Your very best friend - your boyfriend. For Jesse, it seemed like the end of the world. But Jesse is about to have someone new enter his life - someone quite unlike anyone he has ever met. Jesse is about to learn that sometimes what seems like unkind fate is actually - The Charm.
  12. 1 point
    The sun was setting over the Pacific Coast. The weather was perfect. Slight breeze coming off the water, the sound of waves whooshing over the sand, a few lazy clouds drifting by. Music played quietly on the radio. It was all ready. It could not have been more perfect. A noise from behind made him turn around. He had taken pains to make this the perfect time for this date. It was important to him. For the first time in his entire life, he had found the woman he wanted to marry. No more playing the field, no more sleeping around in wild orgies with smoking hot Asian twins, no more late night partying. This one was his future. "Wow, it sure is beautiful," said the woman of his dreams. "Yes, you are," he said with a smile. It made her roll her eyes, such corny lines always did, but she loved it anyway. "I'm really glad you came. I know you were looking forward to the art faire tonight." "Well, I was, but you did say it was important to you." She kissed his cheek and sat when he pulled the chair out from under the table for her. Sitting, she smiled up at him. "I'm guessing you either made dinner or got a caterer." "Guilty. I cooked." He poured two glasses of white wine and then dished up two salads. "A three course meal even." She was very impressed. "Four. Soup too." She laughed at the pleased look on his face. "You are too cute." It was all going as he hoped. He made her favorite soup and entree, clam chowder and shrimp scampi, and even she said it was as close to perfect as anyone had made outside of a restaurant. Lemon-mint gelato for dessert, and then some dancing barefoot in the sand. When he gathered up the courage, he opened his mouth to speak. Yet she put her finger to his lips. "I know what you're going to ask, and the answer is no." "What?" He felt his heart skip a beat and not in a good way. "No, I won't marry you. You're one of the nicest guys I have ever met, spectacular in bed, have a very good job, and you're everything a woman could ever ask for. Just not this woman." She pulled away. "I'm not ready to settle down. I know you're hurting, and you went to all this trouble to make what has been one of the best nights of my life so perfect. I..." "M...marry you? Victoria, I was going to take you to the art faire after dinner." He had planned on it too, but he had to save face. He couldn't let her see she had just crushed his heart. "I got us tickets. That is what was important to me." "Really?" She blushed very red. "You must think I am such a heinous bitch right now. I am so sorry. I thought..." This time he put his finger to her lips. "Honey, with the way this looks, I can totally see why you thought that." He kissed her cheek and led her to the deck and their shoes. "You go freshen up, and we'll go." "You're the best, Dean." She kissed him and ran back to the house to touch up her make-up. Dean hid the ring, hid his broken heart, and took her to the art faire. It was a nice affair, but Dean really didn't see much point when his entire being was hurting. He smiled, he laughed, he didn't let on how much she had hurt him. When he got home, he called into the office and told them he had a family emergency and would be gone for a week. Then he booked a flight north. He couldn't be here now. He needed to get away. He needed to see his best friend. He called. "You had better be my mother or dying for interrupting me." Despite his sorrow, Dean smiled. "Oh, quit banging your husband for a few moments, dude. I'm calling to let you know I'm coming up for a week." There was an overly dramatic sigh on the other side, which let Dean know that his best friend was not unhappy to hear from him. "When?" "Be there in a few hours." Dean heard the acknowledging grunt followed by a slight slurping sound. "Tell Pat he better swallow. No sense in wasting it." When Dean first met Patick, he had been shocked that his best bro, his straight best bro, was now dating a dude. They had totally staged this cute scene just to make him squirm since he had interrupted their muscle man sex. Yet Pat was an awesome guy, and his bro was happier than ever. "Hanging up now...and he always swallows." The line went dead. Dean just chuckled and then sighed, packing for his trip. It had been a few months since he had seen his friends. He needed to get away, and seeing Jon and Pat was a better place than going home to see his folks. Getting to see Dylan, the guys' son, would be sweet. Kid was huge now, but they still called him little dude. Then Dean remembered Dylan was engaged to his childhood sweetheart. That wouldn't be all that great to see, although he was thrilled for the little dude, but he had already called and said he would be coming. Having made the flight out to Montana many times, Dean knew he could catch a few Z's and not look too dead. All he had to do was come up with some excuse so Jon wouldn't try to cheer him up. An employee lay-off gone bad would be reason to get away. With that settled, Dean relaxed in his seat and shut his eyes. "Uncle Dean!" came a booming voice across the terminal. Even with all his troubles, Dean still grinned when he saw Dylan Davenport, his pseudo-nephew. Just over seven feet tall, no one would overlook him. The now twenty-one-year-old came loping over with uncanny grace to give him a rib cracking hug. "Hey, little dude. Where's your dad?" "He sent me on since he was feeling tired." Dylan's grin told Dean enough to not ask how they got that way. "Got it. I got all my stuff here in my carry-on, so let's amscray." "Packing light?" Dylan asked as they left the gate. "Yeah. No need for suits or anything. It is above fifty degrees, right?" Dylan laughed and nodded. Dean hated the cold. "Good. So, how's Heather?" Dean asked. "She's...cranky." "Trouble in paradise, dude?" Did he come at a bad time? "Oh god no. She's really wanting to get married, but her family tradition states a year-long engagement...and no sex." Dean laughed and clapped Dylan on the back. "Tough shit, dude. At least you got your hand." He ducked a lazy punch. "Funny man, Dean. So how's Victoria?" Dean nearly stumbled over his feet. "Careful." "Yeah. Just tired." Dylan looked at the man who had been his uncle for seven years. Something was wrong. "Oh. Wow. Wanna talk about it?" "No. Don't mention it to your dad either. Bad lay-off is my story and I'm sticking to it." He didn't want to think about her right now, or for the next week...or ever again. "Mum's the word." Dylan could tell that it was fresh and recent, and he didn't want to dredge up bad feelings. They went to the truck in silence, drove in silence, and when Dylan took Dean to one of the guest cabins, he just let him be. "Little dude?" said Dylan as he was shutting the door. "Thanks." "Mum." Morning came, and with it, the smells of breakfast. One of Jon's famous breakfasts. Dean stretched, groaning a bit because the mattress was not one he was used to. Rolling out of bed, he took a very quick shower and wandered out to the communal dining area in just his shorts and a pair of flip flops. "Morning, sleepy," said Jon. He pulled Dean into a huge hug, obviously happy to see him. "Still living at the gym I see, although your grays are showing." "Morning. You look indecently good, bro. Like, what are you taking to still look this young?" It was something Dean marveled at. He and Jon were the same age, both mid-thirties, yet Jon looked late twenties in the face and early twenties in his well-built body. "Clean living, no pollution, tons of sex." Pat socked him in the shoulder but kissed him all the same. "I bet. Some new faces around here." "Yeah. Dean, these are Quintin Marshall and Zeke Whitebear. They rent cabin six." Patrick was still walking muscle. A bit below average height, no one would ever call him small. Not with that chest and those arms. One of them stuck out his hand. "Nice to meet you," said the trimly built Quint. "Jon's told us many things about you." His accent named him from the south. "All lies, I swear. What is in the water where you're from, Zeke? You're almost as huge as the little dude." And he was. Over six and a half feet of furry muscle, he looked like he just rolled off the farm in his overalls. "It's not the water. It's the fact that mom and dad are huge. Mom's just about taller than you and Dad is built like Alan." Zeke's voice was a lot like him. Big and happy. "Ah." His stomach chose that moment to growl. "I don't understand how you don't get fat eating that. I gained five pounds just smelling it." Which didn't stop him from having just as much as everyone else. Dean pitched in to help clean, laughing it up with the guys. It felt a bit like being back in college and going camping, which sounded perfect for something to do. It would get his mind off of his problems and get him some time outside. Too much time in the office lately. "So, what brings you up? You seem a bit off," said Jon. They had known each other for over a decade, worked together at one point, so Jon knew when something was wrong. "Lay-off gone very bad. Poor guy was crushed." "Ouch. Yeah, it's the worst part about the job, which is why I got out of it. So you just wanna chill?" "Hell no, dude! I wanna get out. Been here tons of times and never done anything. Not really." True enough, thought Jon. He had always just been here for the weekends when Dean got transferred to the sister company based in San Diego. Never a long enough visit to do much around the small town. "What do you want to do?" "Camp, hike, fish, stay away from people. I would say surf, but you got no waves." "Whoa, dude, didn't mean to harsh your mellow by livin' in the hills, man," Dylan said, making fun of his beach accent. Dean and Jon both used a lot of surfer terms like mondo and dude, and Dylan loved to tease them about it. "Totally bogus, little dude, but I forgive ya," Dean replied. He could play the game, too. "Yeah, I'll be durned if I'm gonna put up with that for a camping trip. We'll hold down the fort, Jon." Quint would not be held responsible for his actions if he killed someone after listening to that for a week. "You sure? Campground St. Regis is probably one of the best in the state, if a bit of a drive. We own that one, too." Jon had discretely bought up many businesses around the area and was making a very nice living. Almost as much as he did at his former job. Dean still never got the full story of why his bud left such a good career. All he knew was something happened within the company that Jon could not abide by, and he left. Pat came out to Montana from Salem, Mass. to be with him and help raise Dylan. Then they got married. Come to think of it, Jon moving out here was around the time huge things happened in the company they used to work for. Contracts being sold to competitors, branches being closed down, mass lay-offs. "Very sure. Only so much of that Yankee talk a country boy like me can handle." Zeke laughed and poked him in the side. They all knew he was playing up his accent, which really wasn't too thick any more. "Zeke and I will be fine. It's been very quiet lately. Travis will be around if anything needs handling." "Point. Fine. Pat, can you start packing while we finish cleaning? We can be on the road in less than a half hour. Dyl, you coming, or are you going stick around and stalk your fiancée?" "To stalk or not to stalk that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler to chase she whom outrageous fortune brought into my life or to go camping with the guys...Hmm." They all started laughing at his absolute massacre of Hamlet. "Go camping, Creep. You'll know if we get in over our heads." Quintin shoved the little dude towards his cabin. "You just want us gone so you can run around naked with your boyfriend." Quint didn't even try to refute the claim. Boyfriend? "No, bro, this is not an all gay camp," Jon said with a grin. "I was gonna say. I never pegged either of you for that." "Told you that you don't come off as gay, Quint," said another voice coming from the river trail. Dean saw another well built young man with a rifle. He'd met Colton a few times. "Colton, your opinion in the matter doesn't count. I couldn't make heads or tails of you for weeks." Colton's grin was insufferable. "And that, you compact hottie, is how it will always be. I'll keep them in line, Jon." "Not likely. As soon as we're gone, I'll get a call from the cops saying you had been killed for trying to poach Quint's man." Colton laughed. "Legit." Dean marveled at the easy camaraderie these guys shared. It was something Jon was gifted with; making people feel at ease was a talent of his. It was one thing Dean missed was this easy flow of friendship. Once he and Jon had put aside their difference of opinion, on who should have gotten the job in the first place, they had been the best of friends. Still were, too, but Dean was feeling a certain disconnect. Jon had a family. He had other things in his life now that Dean just lost the chance at. * * * The drive wasn't horrid, but it was longer than Dean wanted really. The scenery was hilly but not too boring or mesmerizing. Jon and the rest kept up a long string of chatter about life which Dean found interesting in an uninterested way. In other words, Dean was moping. The almost nine hour drive had them at the camp area for dinner time. Jon just pulled up to a nice cabin which boasted two rooms and its own shower facilities. "My cabin. You can either bunk in with Dyl or use the futon. This is only for the night as we'll pick up gear for actual camping here." "Sounds good. How's the fishing?" "Not great this time of year, but you might catch a trout or something. Dylan is great at trapping rabbits though." Dylan chuckled as Jon's words. "He's just saying that because I was the only one to have any success at finding food. They didn't catch fish, deer season wasn't happening, and no one wants to eat skunk or possum." Dean laughed at that, nodding. "Meager fare, that trip." "Sounds like it. Wild life?" "Typical forested hills and small mountains. Maybe a few bears, some wolves. Nothing that will bother us this close to civilization. Maybe a raccoon, but we'll just eat those." Dylan rubbed his flat stomach like it was the tastiest thing ever. "Squirrel guns allowed?" Dean asked Pat. "Yup. We have a few in the cabin." Pat unlocked the door. The cabin was nicely furnished. Simple, functional, with little touches that said this place was used often enough to warrant it being here. Books, the computer, DVD and Blu-Ray player, the PS4. "I would almost say you spend a lot of time here, Dylan." "I do. I'm assistant manager here. It's also where I come to work on programming and designs when it's too noisy at home." Dean had almost forgotten Dylan was a graphic designer. He also designed his own game for Facebook built around his one passion of Lycans. Coded, written, scored, and drawn by Dyl. "How is the internship going?" Dean knew he was doing an internship with a major prop designer for Hollywood. With his skill in the graphic arts, Dylan had job offers even at the age of thirteen. "Not too bad. Ginger is a task master and sends me requests about once every day from something new or something to be changed. Love her to death though. Still, I should say." He had worshipped her since she had designed him a Lycan costume soon after Jon had adopted him. The following morning had the boys out on the trails and hiking to where Jon and Pat said was the best spot for camping and fishing. It would take a bit over an hour, but Dean wished it was longer. He wanted the physical exertion to stop the pain he was feeling. Yet, out here, he felt great. It was amazing to get out of the city. Get out of the office. Being with Jon and the gang was a highlight as well. The hike was a lot harder than Dean was ready for, but he loved it. Hill after hill, switchback after switchback, some climbing, all of it exactly what he needed. The worst part, though, was the other guys didn't even seem winded. Must be the fact they lived out in nature, and he was a city boy. Not many mountains along the beach. When Jon stopped and shucked his pack, Dean was more than ready to take a break. "Here we are." Jon gestured to the view, which showed a stunning forested hills area. Dean could almost make out the streams under the trees. "Perfect. Except for that hike. I am getting too out of shape." Jon rolled his eyes. "Dude, you're in great shape. That is no easy hike. We make it every couple of months, so we know it pretty well. Now, who's up for fishing?" "Not me," said Pat. "I know of a cold pool to dip my feet in." He kissed Jon and headed off into the woods. "Dyl?" Jon asked. "Nope, but I will set some snares. You guys have fun." Dylan hiked his pack higher onto his shoulder and set off in a different direction. "Looks like it's you and me." "Cool." The duo went to the stream with the poles and just relaxed against some rocks. The burble of the water was calming. "So, want to tell me why you really came out here?" "I hate you sometimes," Dean said with a sigh. "Can't you just accept my lie?" "When it's just us, nope." Jon did shoot a grin at him. "Victoria said no." Jon raised a brow. "I had everything perfect. Food was great, setting totally awesome. We were dancing, and I went to ask her, she stopped me before I could even get the question out. Said she's not ready to settle down yet.Then like the idiot that I am, I played it off that I wasn't going to ask her." Jon could hear the pain in his friend's voice. For a guy who was a very notorious playboy to even think about marriage, let alone get to the point where he was going to ask, was huge. She shot him down. Bad lay-off indeed. "Well, her loss. Will you still see her?" "Honestly...I have no clue, bro. I love her, but right now I'm crushed." Dean sighed and thunked his head back against the rock. "I never thought I would ever be in this position. I know you can relate, with Pat and all." "Ha! Yeah. Never saw that one coming, dude. And then Dyl...we've had our shares of ups and downs, but it has worked out for the best. I know words won't help much, but you will find things work out, even if it's not the way you expect." "Easy for the happily married man to say. Gets to bang his husband's admittedly perfect ass all day." Jon just laughed. Dean was straight, but even he had to admit that Patrick's butt was sublime. "Do you honestly believe I have it in me to go home and make like I wasn't hurt? To wait for her?" "Dean...you've come this far with her. What's a bit longer if she's really the one?" Put that way, Dean could only nod. With no fish biting this early in the day, they made the short hike back to the camp where Pat had already set up the three tents. Dylan needed his own. Said walking mountain was busy skinning two rabbits. "Dude, we've been gone two hours and you have two of them?" Jon asked with a grin. "Hey, I'm that good." "Listen to you," said Pat with the biggest grin. "Who showed you how to do it? Who showed you where to do it? Who gave you the patience to wait?" "You, you, and the foster system." Dean laughed and gave Pat a bit of a shove. "So, master teacher of rabbit hunting, got any tips for a beach bum like me?" Learning a new skill would take his mind off of everything. "I can help you set some snares. Teach you a few things." Which sounded like a great idea. * * * Day three of the camping trip was a bit overcast, but it was still a wonderful day. They had been hiking, fishing successfully, Dean caught his first rabbit, named him Thumper, and set him loose. "That way I can say I didn't kill my first. Appease the spirits and all." "That's actually a very noble thing. Prove you can, but don't take the life." Pat was extremely impressed. "Hey, I was in Indian Scouts, dude. I paid attention." Swimming was even better as there was a nice waterfall that fed the stream and a pool at the bottom. It was cool, crisp, and wonderful. Deep enough to jump from the fifteen feet above and only Dylan would touch bottom if he tried. They splashed and played, and Dean felt better than he had in a long time. He really did need this trip out here. It helped him in more ways than even he knew. "So what are your plans for this afternoon?" asked Dylan, who was floating naked in the pool under the falls. None of them had worn clothes when they swam, and nothing felt strange or odd. "I'm going to tackle that climb again," said Jon. "I'd invite you, Dean, but it's not easy at all, and I've only done it once in two years." "Yeah, count me out. I'll probably stroll. I got my camera, so I'll take a few shots. You, Pat?" "Cooking." They each chuckled. Pat had taken over cooking for them, for which they were all grateful. He didn't even seem put out by it. One thing that Dean liked about Pat; he was genuinely one of the most helpful and selfless people he had ever met. Community project? He's there. Bake sale? How about four pies and some cookies. Need a shoulder to cry on? He did that too. Dean wished he could have that. Victoria was all that, except she wasn't a very good cook. Dean loved to cook, so it worked out just fine. "What are your plans, Dylan?" "Hike back to the cabin to get some work done while I'm here. Won't take me long, but Ginger did ask for them as soon as I could." "And best not to keep the Evil One waiting," Dean snarked which made them all nod. All of them had run across her infamous temper. Only Dylan seemed to never get the full force of it, even when he was late on a project, which was very rare. He was treated a bit more gently than anyone else. When the guys went their own ways, Dean told Jon which trail he was taking. "That's a nice one for pics, dude. Easy hike too. It's the long way to get up here. Also meets up with the vehicle access about a mile down the trail." "Good to know. I'll be back in a few hours." Dean set off. As Jon said, the hike was easy and the scenery was just right. The sun slanting through the trees and somehow finding that one flower that was brighter than the rest. How the stream had an oxbow with a small sandbar and the coolest view of the fish swimming in place. Nesting birds were twittering overhead. Squirrels frolicking...and probably trying to mate...all over the place. Some random guy being chased by a huge wolf and jumping over the cliff... ...Wait, what? Dean looked back and ran towards the sound of snapping branches. He could see a flash of fur disappear into the trees and a person holding their leg. "Hey, you okay?" The person looked up with a pained expression of surprise. "Yeah. Just banged my leg. Thanks for scaring off the wolf." The voice, plus the clothing, hid any sort of gender identifiers. Long hair for a guy, medium for a gal, voice high for a guy, or low for a gal, jeans and a t-shirt hid the body contours. And, bad as it sounds, sometimes the Asian boys were as pretty as the girls. That was when Dean saw the blood the person was trying to hide. "Dude, that is more than a banged leg. I'm coming down to help." Dean started down the hill. "No, I'm fine, really." Dean saw them try to stand and then grimace and fall back to their rump. In his haste, Dean scraped the heel of his hand, but that was nothing compared to what he could see as he got closer. The bone protruded a bit through the skin. "That is not fine." Dean pulled off his shirt and started to rip it into strips. "Now, may I help? I have to ask." "Wow...you're really well built." "Thanks. May I help?" Dean needed consent in case of potential lawsuits some people were known to file. "I...yeah. I'll be fine soon." Obviously in shock. "My name is Dean, what's yours?" Keep him talking, keep him lucid. "Kao." That was a guy's name. "What were you doing playing tag with a wolf?" Dean was binding the wound as he had learned in first aid training, and now he was glad he had taken it just a few months ago as a refresher. "I don't know. That was the biggest wolf I have ever seen." "Well, I guess things get bigger up here in Montana. I don't really know, I'm from California myself." "I'm...I'm in Montana?" Kao asked, seeming very surprised. "Yup." Dean kept up the idle chatter as he wrapped and bound the leg. He didn't care he had lost a shirt, or that he would probably be losing the shorts as well as blood stains were hard to get out at the best of times. "Okay. I'm going to get you up and carry you as far as I can. Let me know if it hurts too much." Kao nodded. Dean easily lifted the young man's scant weight up, made sure he was comfortable, and then started up the hill to the trail. A howl came from behind that spurred Dean on and made Kao flinch. "I gotcha. Don't worry." Dean was almost to the road when he saw Jon and Pat coming at a run. "Give him to me. Pat, you tend to Dean. Make sure he gets cleaned up." Pat nodded. "Jon, you're awesome. I'm just a bit winded, Pat." Dean sat down while Jon stood talking softly to Kao who was in his arms. Kao nodded and seemed to finally relax and pass out. "He's been in shock, Jon." "He's better off than you think, but all the same Dylan is almost here with the truck." "How did you know?" Jon looked at him. "The wolf howl. There have been reports of them recently, but only attacking pets. I thought it would be safer to call Dylan and have him bring the truck for easier transport just in case." Dylan pulled up a moment later, Kao got loaded in, and Pat led Dean back to the camp. "You did a wonderful thing, Dean. I know Jon didn't have the frame of mind to say it, but you saved that young man's life. Now, did you get hurt by the wolf or take any other injury?" "No. I got down and up just fine. I tell ya, Pat, that was the biggest damned wolf I have ever seen. I've seen horses that were smaller. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. His tracks would be all over the place. You could see for yourself in the morning." "I believe you. I have seen some very large wolves around here. Some even around the camp at home. Those ones have never bothered humans at all, so don't worry." Dean nodded as he flopped into the chair by the newly built fire. "Here I thought this little getaway would be stress free." Pat grinned and dished him up some baked fish. "You know what, Pat. I'm really glad you guys got together. I'm a joker, and I know you got some snark in you, too, but you have made Jon so happy these years. I hope I can find that someday." Pat just patted him on the shoulder. "You will, Dean. You will." Jon and Dylan showed up well after dusk. Dean was just dozing a bit in the chair, letting the flames lull him into a stupor, but he perked up when the boys came into camp. "How's Kao?" "He's fine, all things considered. Doc fixed him up and then gave him something for the pain and to sleep. He'll stay at the hospital until his family can be contacted." Jon looked tired but very wired. He was on alert. "Honestly, guys, we should cut this short and head back to the cabin. I don't like there being a wolf that chases humans around." Dylan nodded. "No kidding, Dad. I'm going to go back to the hospital in the morning. Maybe having someone to talk to who ha been there will help. You want to come, Dean?" "Yeah. I have to make sure he's okay. First time I save someone. Gotta see he's okay." "You saved that bunny today." Dean laughed at Dylan and pulled him in for a noogie.
  13. 1 point
    Loose ends. I received a call from Niles. After our last meeting, I had expected to never hear from him again. Either he has not given up or has slipped me into his friend zone. In either case, I am always delighted to hear from him. I do like Niles and he usually has interesting news. In spite of my permission for him to give Nico and Austin my number, he has not. “It’s your choice, Toph. I thought I’d give you a month or so to think it through. Last night I did receive a message from Austin. Ironically, it came by way of Nico. Austin thought Nico could directly contact you, because you had been best friends. The bottom line is, Austin wants to meet with you this weekend, if possible. Do you want me to give you his number, or continue to be the middleman?” “Why don’t you give me both their numbers. I zapped everything from my old phone when I left Euphoria.” Thus I was in possession of Austin’s number. It required a beer and an hour to build my courage. I even conjured up a lengthy list of possible scenarios. Finally, I called. “Austin, it’s Toph.” “Oh, my God! I never thought I’d hear from you! Are you all right? Please tell me you’re okay.” I chuckled. “Yes Austin, I’m fine. I’m painting, working and even getting taller. How about you? How was your first semester at Brown?” “Oh, I’m so glad to hear that. Brown is great. I think it took me the whole semester to get my bearings, but everything is going fine. Toph, I want to see you.” “You can’t be that desperate. There must be a plethora of pulchritude from which to choose at Brown.” “Actually, not. But that’s not why I want to see you. I don’t want to have sex with you, I want to talk to you.” “I’m not good enough anymore?” I couldn’t help teasing. Austin let out a huge sigh. “Toph please! That’s not what I meant. I’d love to hook up with you, but we need to talk. You’ve got to know that!” “I’m sorry Austin. It was a lame joke. I know we need to talk. I’ve been thinking about it too. Niles mentioned perhaps a time this weekend. Is that still open?” “Yes. Quite by accident, I found a little place during a trip I took over winter break. It’s about a two-hour drive for you and maybe three for me. You’ll love it there. Let me book a room. There’s a great restaurant right in their building. We can catch up over dinner. Please say yes, Toph!” “Of course I’ll say yes. Give me the address. I’ll leave after lunch Saturday and be there by 4 at the latest, probably sooner.” I agreed because the unfinished business with Austin needed to be addressed. It would be another picket fence for me to smash. Maybe I would even be able to complete his damn portrait! I was not certain about the sex, but decided to play it by ear. Saturday morning, I visited Naomi. I do not do it as often as I should. “Well, the good news is I may finally complete the portrait I stored with you last fall. Later today I am meeting my friend Austin.” “That is good news, Toph. Finishing the portrait, certainly, but meeting your friend is the most important event. You must have left things incomplete with him.” “Worse! I left him. When I ran off from Floria, he never even knew I had left.” “Then I am pleased you will meet with him. Changing the subject, when you have a few free hours, I’d like to discuss some ideas with you. After you’re back, let me know when will be good.” From Naomi’s I went directly to Happy’s for lunch. For once, I got to listen. Betty and Big Joe were discussing his June wedding. I discovered my guess was correct. His dad does have a medical problem. He never named it, but it is cancer for sure. Big Joe has developed a certain inner confidence since the time I first met him. Perhaps it is the seriousness of the potential loss of his father, running the business or his wedding. Any one of those would be enough to do it. The impact of all three has to be sobering. I stopped back home to pack a few clothes. It was not clear Austin meant for me to stay over with him. Either way, I would be prepared. It was about 3:30 when I arrived. The front desk called his room. A few minutes later, I was in Austin’s arms. He picked me up and twirled us in a circle. “Toph! Toph! You can’t believe how happy I am!” He set my feet back on the floor and held me at arm’s length, looking me over. “Look at you! You’re taller and even thinner. But you look really healthy and fit!” There was a silent moment followed by another hug. This time, we both had tears streaming down our faces. The hotel staff had bemused looks. “Where’s your bag? Still in the car? Let me help you. Oh, here’s your room key.” From that, I knew I would be staying the night. Upon entering our room, I noticed two Queen-sized beds. Turning to Austin, I raised my eyebrows. “I’m sorry, Toph. I wasn’t sure. I thought I would give you the option.” I believe my kiss revealed the option I chose. We sat on one of the beds, totally relaxed with each other. We always were. I was pleased to realize that had not changed. I insisted he give me a recap of his first semester. I have to admit, it was enjoyable listening to Austin describe his college experience. As I said, we were completely at ease. He even described the two guys he had been intimate with. As I previously explained, we always had that type of relationship. Our dinner reservations were for 6:30, which was getting close. We freshened up, then went down to the restaurant. During the meal it was my turn to bring Austin up to date. He was quite surprised I had a boyfriend, if only for a few weeks. “I didn’t think you had arrived at that emotional level. You certainly weren’t ready for a relationship while in Euphoria. I tried to explain that fact to your mother.” “What?! My mother?” “Oh, yes! She cornered me before I could leave for school, right after Labor Day.” “She cornered you?” “It was even worse. She accused me of hiding you somewhere! There I was, not even aware you had fled Euphoria, and there she was, offering me a huge sum of money to break off our supposed relationship and rat you out. I even had nightmares about her for weeks.” “She offered you money to break up with me?” “A pretty large chunk of change. It actually had me worried.” “I’m sorry you had to endure that. You didn’t deserve what happened. I should have told you but was all wrapped up in planning my escape. That she even cared surprises me. But you were right realizing I was definitely not ready for anything when I was in Euphoria. Last fall I did eventually find a guy I liked and thought we were in a relationship. Apparently, he didn’t. Right after New Year’s he dumped me.” Austin laughed. “It’s a good thing he didn’t know your mother. It probably wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did!” I knew otherwise, and did not laugh. We spent the rest of our dinner filling in all the other little gaps from our time apart. Austin pressed me against the door as soon as I closed it. The myriad of events, separating us from the last time we were together, vanished in the midst of our hungry kisses. I’m not sure how long that phase of our evening lasted. I do remember what happened when we started to remove our clothing. “Which bed do you want, Toph?” “Whichever one you’re sleeping in.” When Austin entered me, not everything felt familiar. It was like returning home after a long trip. There was the warm familiarity but, at the same time, a touch of difference – a strangeness. None of this subtracted a fig from the ardor we exhibited. Austin was completely involved in our lovemaking. I experienced an uninhibited ease for the first time since our last time in August. Even as I hungrily pushed back meeting each of his thrusts, even as our gazes never left the other’s, and even as our orgasms delivered us into each other’s arms, that slight difference told us it was to be our last coupling. After a contented night’s sleep, with our limbs intertwined, I was first to awaken. Admiring the beautiful Austin beside me, I realized this should have happened last August. How cruel I had been! I should have stayed the night, then explained I was leaving Euphoria. I thought of these things, lying there, watching him until his eyes opened. Experiencing his broad smile, my wait was made worthwhile. We showered, then went downstairs for breakfast. I am certain we both realized a relationship between us was impossible. We were somehow content with it. I had the strong impression we will always be friends; always keep in touch. Sometimes, in some lives, nothing more is possible. In the parking lot, before we got into our cars, Austin gave me a tender kiss. I smiled as we departed, driving to our futures in opposite directions. . . . . . . . . I was relieved the unease with Austin, unconsciously percolating inside me, had now passed. The sky was brilliant today, with a warmish southerly breeze. I decided to visit the little park, which I continue to think of as Niles’ park. My mind was quite devoid of thought, simply enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon. Sitting on a bench, I realized it was the same one where I had seen the pigeon lady. I looked across to the reflecting bench, but she wasn’t there, just the young illustrator I had spoken with a few weeks ago. Even though Oscar insisted I should paint him, he simply would not emerge. Something was missing. Thinking perhaps a few more sketches were needed, I opened my pad. It wasn’t until I started sketching that I noticed something was not quite right. From the way he was sitting, it made me believe he was very unhappy. He was certainly talking to himself. I tried to capture the facial expressions as I hurriedly dashed off a few sketches. Perhaps this intriguing person would yet emerge from the blank canvass which had been mocking me. I attempted to empathize with whatever his problem was. He was a poignant – no, delicate – soul but also a beautiful young man. As when I first met him, he appeared so vulnerable sitting over there. My heart went out to him. He produced, then lit a cigarette, but quickly made a repugnant face. It wasn’t the face he would make if there were enjoyment. No, it was clearly a face of disgust with himself. I guessed he had quit and whatever trouble he was feeling compelled him to relapse. He continued at it, the smoke now wreathing his head. I realized I was doing what Oscar insisted I do. I was creating a story for this scene. I was becoming cognizant of the feelings and inner struggles of someone who was, for once, not me. Thank you again, Oscar! In truth, I was about to walk over, thinking perhaps I could offer a shoulder to cry on. But before I could lift myself off the bench, a slightly older man approached him. He took the cigarette from Ian, said a few words, then tossed it away. He sat down, gently kissing the younger man. I assumed a lover’s quarrel was the cause of Ian’s distress. The older one opened a small bag in his hand, showed the contents to Ian, and kissed him again. I couldn’t see what was in the bag, but it could not have been much larger than a pound can of coffee. The younger man beamed and they kissed again. They rose and walked out of the park, hands linked. Instead of seeing a painting, I saw a story. Returning home, I began to write what turned into a brief narrative about these two. Ian, the younger more fragile one, had recently escaped from a terrible relationship, which he barely survived. The older man was totally in love with him. Sadly, the previous relationship was preventing Ian from being anything but fearful he would relive his last nightmare. I decided to name the older man Miles. It was a subtle modification from Niles, in whose park this all occurred. Over the next few days, I wrote the story. Beginning with the scene I witnessed, the story stretched a few months into the future. These two were deeply in love, but Ian kept envisioning Miles angry with him for imagined offenses. The love and patience of Miles eventually brought out a sense of balance Ian had been suppressing. Miles won the day; their love became yet closer. I was proud of my little tale. It even had a happy ending. I couldn’t endure waiting until next month’s TALON meeting, so I called Oscar to schedule a meeting as soon as possible. . . . . . . . . I guess this was the month for taking up my items of ‘Old Business.’ I called Nico. “It’s Toph.” “Thank God. Niles tells me you look healthy and are terribly busy working and drawing. Not that I don’t believe him, but I must see you myself.” “Anywhere but Euphoria.” “How about a Thursday evening dinner at Gordon’s, in the city.” “It sounds perfect. I’ll meet you there at seven.” On Thursday, Nico spotted me as soon as I emerged from my car. Exhibiting a wide smile, he came jogging over. I was suddenly in the middle of another embrace from my past. At that moment I realized how close we once were; how much I missed him. It was a different reunion from the one with Austin. Over dinner, I grasped how frustrated he was. Poor Nico had no choice. After only one semester, he was out of school, possibly for good. I tried to tell him it did not need to be so. He could return when things were under control. Perhaps he could get his older sisters involved in the business. He agreed, explaining he had already approached them. I honestly do not think he saw it as a solution to what he faced. Nico believed his life and future were already written for him. I asked about his love life. He was very popular in high school. Some of it was certainly from the fact he was a Popendropolis. But even if he were not, Nico’s warm and outgoing personality would have made him popular anyway. I remembered a few girlfriends, but never one from our group. He described a couple of girls from college he had gone with, but now he is not serious with anyone. I have a distinct suspicion an arranged marriage is in his future, and he is avoiding the inevitable for as long as possible. Why do families eat their young? This made me realize, in a way, I was so much freer. It was also interesting to compare the similar situations of Big Joe and Nico. Each had been groomed to assume his father’s business. Each finds himself thrust into the role much sooner than he expected, and for the nearly identical reason. It is fascinating to note where the similarity ends. Big Joe looks forward to experiencing his challenge, amplified by having a new bride to share it. On the other hand, Nico accepts the crown with sadness and resignation. There probably is a lesson somewhere in there for me to discover. I’ll need to reflect upon it in the future. In high school we were always looked upon as best friends, and we were. In spite of that, we never had discussions about personal things. Perhaps it was me. I cannot remember being involved that way with anyone. Austin was for sex. Nico was for tennis and organizing our group of friends. I only had personal dialogues with myself. I suppose it was those damn picket fences again. In a way, Gary has given me a rebirth in New Glory. He has made me confront issues and feelings I always safely avoided. In that respect, Gary has been more of a friend to me than anyone I have ever known. Is it Gary or is it the fact I have changed? Is it Gary who has been the catalyst of that change? It is another question I will need to investigate. Nico and I shared an enjoyable reunion. We promised to meet again, perhaps for tennis. I doubt it will happen. . . . . . . . . On the day of my meeting with Oscar, I was pacing as he read Ian’s story. When finished, he sat me down. “Toph, please don’t become discouraged by what I’m about to tell you.” “It’s awful, right?” “Actually, it’s not. It simply doesn’t hang together. Your characters are very likeable. The various scenes are interesting and each exhibits a dry humor. The problem is, it is not a story. It’s like a series of unrelated episodes. Take this first chapter, where Ian thinks the relationship is over. You have too many internal thoughts; too many explanations of the feelings each boy has. The effect of the chapter is very cute, almost too funny to be sad, but we know it’s supposed to be sad. We see how vulnerable Ian is.” Then Oscar proceeded to cross out nearly the entire three-page chapter. All that remained were a couple paragraphs. “There. It conveys everything the original chapter was attempting, but it is so much cleaner. Read it over.” I did. “It is better, but how can you write a whole story like this?” “You didn’t write a whole story in the first place. You only wrote a series of unconnected scenes, filled with adjectives and descriptions which did not unite or move the story at all. Each had a nice central idea. Why don’t you take this home and pare each chapter as I did the first. See what you get.” I did. What remained were ten unrelated scenes of only a few hundred words each. The more I read them, the more I realized they did tell the story of a patient lover who helped Ian blossom into the person who was hiding within. It was not a story, but an un-story, which told the tale plainly enough. When I was comfortable, I stashed it into my writing folder alongside the pigeon lady, probably never to be seen again. However, I was able to paint Ian. What emerged in the final oil was not Ian on the bench. It was a scene of Ian standing, in the embrace of Miles. His back was nestled into Miles chest. His head was tilted back, resting on his lover’s shoulder. Their cheeks were touching. Enwreathed by a coral mist, a crimson background brought focus to their loving expressions. It was peaceful, tender and serene. Can one become jealous of one’s own creation? These two were sharing something. It made them complete. Have I ever shared anything? I have attempted to break down the little picket fences in my mind. By smashing some of them, I may have shared their yards with each other, but they were compartments yet in my mind. I understand how much of a weakness this is. However, you cannot begin to realize how difficult it is for me to let someone in – really in. I don’t even know how to begin! Perhaps therapy would help? I’m not sure. I suppose Oscar is my ad hoc therapist for now, but is even he capable of unraveling me? Why do I have issues with people who become close? Did I somehow, unconsciously, chase Steve away once I flirted with the idea of loving him? My list is beginning to lengthen. Now Niles and Austin have been added to it. As soon as feelings emerged with Niles and Austin, did they become off-limits? Will Gary be next? I have always known Gary has feelings for me. I have certainly felt a puzzling attraction toward him. It has been there since the first time we met. What happens if either of us crosses the line; trespasses onto the fenced-in yard of love? . . . . . . . . Toward the end of the month I found myself in the little meeting Naomi had requested. She told me she was getting old. This was patently untrue. She was the same age as Abigail, probably about fifty. Naomi attempted to convince me she was slowing down. What this was really heading toward was a job for me. Before we got to that, she filled me in on some interesting background. Her parents had purchased the little shop for her, shortly after she finished college. Naomi explained the shop they purchased was about half her current shop/studio. She always wanted to expand, to create a small oasis for artists. Apparently, she even toyed with the idea of a coffee shop onsite. Unfortunately, the adjacent properties never became available, except for the one she had annexed as the studio. Now, ‘slowing down,’ she has given up the dream. This brought her to the job offer. “How near completion is your apprenticeship at England?” “Very near. I’ve been involved in every department related to design. I know I’ll be leaving pretty soon. Next, I need to concentrate on completing my portfolio for Abington. I should get right on that and also make sure my application is in order. Time is getting short.” “You’ll need employment. Why don’t you work here, for me? You can run the store and use the studio when it’s not busy. It will permit me to paint a little more and relax with fewer store hours. You can even continue to work here while you’re in school. That’ll be a big bonus for you. What do you think?” “To be honest, it would be like a dream come true.” It was thus I became employed for the third time in my life. Upon arriving, I began discussing the end of my England apprenticeship with Gary. We were home alone, sitting side by side on the sofa. Anders and Joanne were out for dinner and a show. “I figured you’d be near done by now.” “Naomi’s offer couldn’t have been made at a better time. It’s perfect, especially being able to work there while in school.” “Don’t concern yourself with England. I’ll take care of all the paperwork for you. Start at Naomi’s whenever you want.” “Thanks, Gary, I really appreciate it. I have a question maybe you can help with.” “Of course! Anything, Toph.” “Well, you know that money I found in my account?” Gary smiled and said, “Last fall, when you accused me?” “Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I had some trust issues back then. Well, the amount of my car loan is pretty much secured with my own money now, from all my paychecks. I want to know where the other money came from. Do you have any ideas how I can find out?” “Ask at the credit union. They have to know.” “The loan officer I talked to only identified it as from JP Morgan.” “She must have been looking at the summary which appears on your account screen. The information is in that wire, somewhere. Go talk to a manager. You’ll find out. Banks frown on unknown funds, certainly such a large amount.” “Thanks, Gary. That was easy. I’m such a financial simpleton.” We both chuckled and smiled at each other. “You’re so much more relaxed than you were, even as recently as last month. Do you feel it?” “Not really. I mean, I believe I’m more comfortable with myself. I’m more comfortable with who I am and where I am. I can feel it in my motivation for paintings. You know, I am going to dig out Austin’s portrait and finish it. I’ve been making lots of sketches in the park and I want to paint many of them too. I think for the first time since I discovered portraits, I have inspiration.” “No, I believe it’s greater than that. You seem to be more alive than you have been at any time since the day you arrived.” “I think Oscar has helped. He’s made me think of the inner motivations of other people. By writing a story of what I see and draw, even though I invent it, my mind connects with them. I don’t think it ever happened to me before.” “The painting of the boyfriends, you recently finished, is stunning. Have you ever considered selling any of your works or putting on a show?” “I think I would need more works for a show. No, selling has never occurred to me. Anders forced me to accept money for Joanne’s portrait. I still feel funny about that. But I understand what he meant, since he was the one to give it to her.” We sat, comfortably silent. Gary’s arm rested on top of the cushion behind me. Turning, I looked at him, at this boy I was simultaneously attracted to and wary of. He gave me a smile, which I returned. For a long time we peacefully looked at each other. And then I kissed Gary.
  14. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 7 After Venturi, left, Jason was a nervous wreck. Eventually, he gathered himself enough to finish getting ready for the gym. There was no way he was going to be able to sleep after all he had learned….or more importantly after all he hadn’t learned. Jason had many more questions than answers. He might as well hit the gym, Jason thought, hopefully exhausting himself enough to fall asleep despite his uneasy mind. A run to the gym, a grueling workout, and a run back turned out to be enough to exhaust Jason’s body, but not his mind, which kept swirling. After showering and changing into some loose cotton pajama pants, Jason didn’t even pretend he could sleep. Instead, he crawled into bed with his laptop and a beer. His first stop online was another search of Nickolai; surely he couldn’t have missed references to the abduction the first time he had looked the guy up. But no matter how many different search engines Jason used, no matter how many search terms, he found almost nothing. There was a bit about the home invasion, but it was buried in an article detailing crime in general in that neighborhood and didn’t go into any detail, merely stating that “one of the home’s occupant was assaulted and required medical attention, while the other was forced to leave the premises with the assailants.” Certainly nothing about a disappearance, or a kidnapping, or a reward. And as for Corey, Jason found his Facebook page; it was still active. It had been started when Corey left home to attend LSU, which didn’t surprise Jason. From what little he remembered about Corey from high school, the only bit of information that stuck out was that Corey’s parents had been very devout Christian fundamentalists; in fact, they had attended the same church as Shane’s stepmother. Jason doubted they would have allowed Corey access to the internet, much less social media accounts, when he was under their roof. Corey hadn’t posted much, but there were enough pictures that Jason was able to literally trace his decline from a fresh faced teen with a penchant for preppy clothes to an obviously strung out party boy over the course of a year or so. There was no mention of Shane except for “a friend I’m helping out” and later “MRWMNBNOF aka My Roommate Who Must Not Be Named On Facebook” which was clearly part of a running gag. Shane didn’t appear in Cory’s pictures, except as indistinct figure hovering on the edges of some group shots. And as far as info on the fire, again he found basically nothing. Jason was eventually able to track down the name of the porn site, “Bywater Bad Bois” in a blog devoted to reviewing gay porn. It was only a brief post about the fire; apparently, the site had been pretty small time and had only been up and running a short time before the fatal blaze. The site itself had been shut down, but Jason was able to find a handful of scenes from BBB by searching PornMD. Immediately after the search results came up, Jason did a double take. One scene was starring a performer named “Jayson Reed.” What the …..? After Jason clicked on the thumbnail and the scene started playing, he recognized Corey as one of the two boys, in fact, Corey was the boy billed as “Jayson.” “That asshole,” Jason muttered as he watched. It was pretty standard; the only thing that distinguished the scene at all from thousands just like it was the distinctive New Orleans courtyard setting and the fact that the “director,” an older bald man with a beard and multiple tattoos eventually joined in the fun with the twinks. Jason couldn’t bring himself to watch the others. So other than finding out he had inspired a porn name, Jason drew another blank. Eventually, Jason abandoned the beer and the internet search and tried to sleep. It eluded him; added to the worries about Shane, not to mention his own personal problems, he had another issue. Jason couldn’t pretend the porn with Corey hadn’t aroused him, but he was creeped out by the knowledge that at least one of the performers was dead. Plus…..there had just been something dirty about the scene. Jason groaned and continued tossing in a pointless effort to find a comfortable position and get some rest. Jason was waiting on the porch when Ramon drove up promptly at 8 as usual. But like the other morning, as Jason had sat waiting and drinking his final cup of coffee, he had felt prying eyes. He had tried to shake off the feeling, telling himself he was being paranoid, but it had persisted. Somehow, the sight of the bulky, black suited Ramon opening his door made Jason feel safer, and he almost bolted from the porch to the limo door. Arriving at Shane’s room again, Jason went through the now familiar routine: greet Shane’s still form with a kiss on the forehead, turn on some music, and brew yet another cup of coffee before returning to sit beside Shane. Today, Jason was pleased to notice that Shane’s appearance was continuing to improve: while some minor scrapes and bruises on his face still remained, the swelling was almost entirely gone. But remembering his conversation with Dec. Venturi, Jason’s positive feelings were fleeting. “What have you gotten yourself into?” he asked Shane for what seemed like the millionth time. A bit later, Jason was standing by the window, the sheers pulled aside to reveal the view of the great lake that stretched before him. The day was gray and overcast, a good match for his mood. He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t hear the soft knock on the door or its opening. In fact, he wasn’t aware someone else had entered the room until he heard Laurie’s cheerful voice announce, “Jason, y’all have a visitor.” It took a moment for her words to penetrate his consciousness. Wondering who it could possibly be, he turned around. Standing beside Laurie was a guy, who, while not tall, gave the impression of being much larger because of his broad shoulders and muscular frame. He was only a few years older than Jason, but his auburn hair had receded, a fact not hidden by the close cropped buzz that was undeniably flattering. In fact, the guy was very attractive with rugged good looks and blue-green eyes. Eyes that reminded Jason of Shane. “Paul,” Jason said in surprise, unsure of his reception from Shane’s older cousin. Their last meeting had not been pleasant. It had taken place outside of a hospital room where Shane lay recuperating from his suicide attempt. Paul had been angry and adamant about doing as his younger cousin had asked and barring Jason from entering the room. “Hi, Jason,” Paul said in a low, even tone, before going over to look at Shane. He gave a sigh and a quick shake of his head, before resting one burly hand on Shane’s bare shoulder. Jason, uncertain of what to do or say, continued to stand at the window, once more looking out over the lake as an uncomfortable silence built, broken only by Laurie’s quick “Goodbye” as she left. Eventually, Paul left his examination of his cousin and moved over to stand by Jason at the window. Paul, too, turned to look at the water. “Viktor told me what happened, and that you’ve been at the hospital everyday since Shane’s been here. Thank, you,” Paul said, continuing to look straight ahead. “I got here as soon as I could; but it took a while. I’m glad he hasn’t been alone.” For some reason, the fact that Viktor had gotten in touch with Paul surprised Jason; he had somehow assumed the police had done it. He would have called Paul himself, but the number he had for the man had long since changed, and an online search had quickly revealed how difficult looking for someone with the common name of “Paul Anderson” could be; it was even more fruitless since Jason hadn’t known where Paul was currently living. “Viktor?” asked Jason in a surprised voice, turning to the other man. “You know Mr. Pamchenko? He called you?” Paul turned to face him. “Sure I know Viktor. I used to have dinner with Shane, Viktor, and NIkolai whenever I managed to pass through New Orleans. I was at the engagement party, too.” His face darkened again as he sighed. “Poor Nikolai. He was a fun guy.” “You think he’s dead?” asked Jason, noticing Paul spoke in the past tense. “Sure. I mean it’s a shame, but this sort of thing….home invasions, car jackings, muggings….this shit happens all the time down here. One guy I used to work with in Shreveport moved here. Two guys jumped him one morning at 5 am as he was getting out of his car at home; they put in the trunk, drove him to an atm on the Westbank, and after he withdrew the cash…” here Paul, a sad look again on his face, sighed heavily, “they shot him in the head, put him back in the trunk and set the car on fire.” “ I figure something like that is what happened,” Paul continued. “I doubt that he and Shane kept any cash around the house...at least not big stuff. After whoever broke in looked around and couldn’t find anything, they must have dragged Nikolai off to the ATM. The body’s probably at the bottom of the Mississippi.” “Is that what Shane thinks happened?” Jason pressed. “We’ve never really talked about it. He always said it was too much to deal with.” Paul jerked his head toward Shane. “You know him…..he never did like to talk about the bad stuff. Always keeps it inside.” Paul continued, “And in this case, I can’t say that I blame him. I think he feels guilty. All he’s told me was that he was in the bedroom when the guys broke the door in. He heard some noise---opened the door to the living room---and boom. Some sort of billy club upside the head. When he wakes up, the front door is wide open, the living room’s been ransacked, and Nikolai’s gone.” “Damn.” “Yeah,” Paul said, turning to look at his cousin. “The poor guy has had a bad run of it. I mean his mom dies while he’s in high school, then that shit with you….” at Jason’s involuntary sharp intake of breath, Paul shot him a sheepish look. “Sorry,” he said, “I meant to stick with the whole ‘let bygones be bygones’ thing.” He extended his right hand toward Jason. “We good?” Paul asked. “We’re good,” Jason said taking the proffered hand. “Thank, I appreciate it.” They both turned back to look at the lake again in silence, but this time the silence was more companionable, almost comforting. Eventually, Jason realized Paul was staring at him. Not in a bad way, but intensely. Jason’s eyebrows rose. “What?” he asked Paul. , “Anything to drink up in this joint?” Paul replied with his own question. “Sure,” said Jason, going over to the credenza. “There is a coffee machine, and plenty of soda and water.” To illustrate the last statement, he threw open the door to the mini fridge to display it’s embarrassment of riches. “No, asshole,” Paul said in a joking voice. “I meant a real drink. I was going to fill a flask before I came over, but I forgot. I think I saw a convenience store down the block, I’m going to run down there and get some hootch. I think we need to have a real ‘mano y mano’, and if we’re going to have that ‘mano y mano’, I personally need something more bracing than soda pop. Any requests?” Jason laughed, surprising himself; apparently Paul hadn’t changed much in the intervening years since they used to hang out regularly. With a start Jason realized he couldn’t actually remember the last time he had laughed. “No, I’m actually good, so suit yourself.” “Luckily, suiting myself is something I’m really great at. I’ll be back in a bit.” And with that remark, Paul left. After Paul’s exit from the room, Jason wandered back to the window, pondering Paul’s theory about Nikolai. It did make sense, and it certainly dovetailed with the articles about crime, especially home invasions, that Jason had read about last night. But it somehow felt wrong, like too much of a loose end, though Jason supposed that real life was unfortunately full of loose ends. A movement on the bed caught his eye, and Jason went toward Shane. The swelling in Shane’s head was gone, and his medical team was reducing his drug dosage to ease him into consciousness. Laurie had warned Jason that Shane might start experiencing some agitation as he began the slow process of waking from the induced coma. Shane seemed to be distressed; his brow was furrowed, and he was making slight, very slight rocking movements. But compared to his utter stillness of the previous days, any movement, period, was something of a shock. “Shhh,” Jason said soothingly, stroking Shane’s bare shoulder, Jason’s fingers almost unconsciously tracing the outline of the vivid phoenix. “It’s okay. It will all be okay. I promise. I’m here.” Either the soft words or the soft strokes worked, and the brows unfurrowed, and the movements stopped. Even after Shane had settled back into peace, Jason stood beside him, his hand on the other man’s shoulder, stroking it. Looking down at Shane, Jason couldn’t think about the Gordian Knot Shane’s life had apparently become; Jason could only think about how much he had missed and how much he carried about the virtual stranger now back in peaceful slumber. Jason smiled down at the still figure, thinking that he felt almost like a prince in some twisted fairy tale. Jason was so distracted by Shane, that again he failed to hear the door to the room open and someone enter. Paul stood silently for a moment just inside the room, watching Jason’s expression as he looked at Shane and his tender caresses he bestowed on the sleeper. Satisfied with what he was witnessing, Paul spoke. “You’re still in love with him, aren’t you?” he asked. Jason turned to face the older man, his hand still on Shane’s shoulder. He thought about lying, but what was the point? “Yes,” he said quietly. “Want one?” Paul pulled a six pack of beer out of the brown paper bag he carried. “Beer? In a hospital? Before lunch?” Jason asked. Paul answered him with a cocked eyebrow and held the six pack out toward Jason. Jason chuckled. “You’ve sold me.” Paul pulled two bottles from the pack and squeezed the rest into the crowded mini fridge. He carried them over to the sofa, sat down, and jerked his head, indicating he wanted Jason to join him. After a slight hesitation and a final look at Shane, Jason walked over and sat beside the other man. Paul took a long sip of beer before his spoke. “This is a conversation long overdue. It’s one we should have had four years ago, but honestly, I was too pissed at you then and, technically, it wasn’t any of my business. It’s still not, but I’ve managed to overcome my scruples on that point.” “I just don’t understand,” Paul continued after a sip of his beer, “what happened with you two. It’s obvious to me that you have feelings for Shane; it was obvious to me when you were still kids. Hell, I was pretty sure the two of you were hooking up….I kept waiting for y’all to come out to me. So, when I found out that Shane tried to kill himself because you outed him…..I couldn’t wrap my head around it. So what happened?” Paul took another sip of beer as he waited for Jason to answer. Jason sat in silence, his face averted. The silence stretched out between them until Paul broke it. “Look, forget I said anything….it’s really none of my business, and I do want bygones to be bygones. I’m just…:” Still looking away, Jason interrupted Paul. “It’s alright. I guess I do want to talk about it. I’ve never really talked about what happened to anyone,” he said. “Well, I talked about it a little with dad…..” Jason drank a bit of beer, and finally turned to face Paul, who was watching him intently. Jason closed his eyes and let the past wash over him.
  15. 1 point
    *************** “We need to talk.” *************** I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t. It was a thousand times worse than I expected. I fell into the chair with my hands over my face and began to weep. Tears steamed from my eyes. My nose ran. I sniffed. Damn! What kind of loser can’t even keep a boyfriend for even a week? Sam dropped to his knees in front of me and put his hands on my wrists. “Nicky, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?” “Because you’re breaking up with me.” “I’m not breaking up with you. Why would I do that?” I shrugged, knowing perfectly well why. He gently pulled my hands from my blotchy face. “Nick, honey, look at me,” he said. With some difficulty I met his eyes, and he said, “Remember I told you that I had never really had a boyfriend before?” “Yes.” “Well, I’m not good at this romance business. It took me until today to realize what a dickhead I’ve been.” I shook my head no. “Yes,” he said. “I’ve been a dickhead. Nick, I can read people. It’s the one talent I have. I know you love me. But yesterday you were upset. Why? I figured it out. Because I’ve been taking and not giving. You need security, and I’ve given you anything but. A bunch of mumbo-jumbo about my job. Mister Mystery Man. You’re afraid of getting hurt again. But what I am totally ashamed of, Nick, is that not once since Sunday have I told you how much I love you. Please forgive me.” “You love me?” “Nick, I love you so much I’m crazy with it. But don’t you think that two people who love each other should say so? Every day. Fifty times a day.” “Yes.” “Can you tell me?" “Sam, I love you.” Sniff. “And I love you too, Nick. Now get changed and then we’ll talk.” I changed and splashed cold water on my face. Sam fetched beers and we sat together on the couch. He put his arm around me, and I snuggled against his chest. “Better?” he said. “Much better,” I said. “Nick, can we make some sort of commitment? It’s a little early to propose to you, but I’m ready to commit. I’d like to give this relationship a good shot. See where it goes. I’d like to know that I’m standing on firm ground here. How does that sound?” “God only knows I need firm ground, Sam. Are you prepared to be faithful to me?” “Of course, Nick, absolutely. And you?” “One hundred percent, Sam.” Sam’s commitment reassured me, but I realized that my over-the-top anxiety needed to be addressed. I asked Sam what I should do about it. His response was to ask me what I thought I should do about it. The clever man had put the ball right back into my court. “Maybe I should see a counsellor,” I said. “With what you’ve been through in the last couple of years that might be a good idea,” he agreed. “You know you have my total support for whatever you decide to do.” To lighten the mood, I suggested we go out for dinner to celebrate our first week together. So we walked over to the waterfront and had dinner at Anthony’s Fish Grotto. Looking out over the bay, seeing the boats Sam shared his dream of some day owning a boat. I offered to be his first mate and we chuckled at the double entendre. We got a little tipsy from the wine and walked home half leaning on each other. Our lovemaking that night was very special. More spiritual. More connected. The next morning we both woke up with relentless erections, so we retreated to the shower for a little water, soap and release. After breakfast Sam said, “I’ll tell you more about my job. Fuck security.” “Are you sure, Sam? I understand if you can’t tell me.” “No, Nick, I trust you. You deserve to know what you’ve gotten into.” Sam explained that his firm’s bread and butter work was personal protection. Companies whose executives travel to risky places, like Central or South America, pay for protection, usually against kidnapping. He said protection is a lot cheaper than a ransom or rescue. Sometimes people didn’t exercise caution and got kidnapped. As a first step his firm would negotiate a reasonable ransom. If that failed, they could be hired to rescue the hostage. Often they were the only resource a company or family had; in many countries the police are next to useless and the US State Department is a joke. “Rescuing someone is a real military operation,” he said. “You understand?” “Just like the movies,” I said. “Pretty much,” he said. “Without the car chases. And instead of bullets we usually use tranquilizer darts. We sneak up on the bad guys, and by the time they figure out what’s hit them, they’re asleep. “Sometimes we do other things. Like recover stolen property. Insurance companies pay to recover paintings or jewels. “The real bonus work is contracting for what the US government can’t do. That work is top secret. Am I painting a clear picture here?” “So you do what you were trained to do,” I said. “Do you have a specialty, Sam? I’ve heard the SEALs all have specialties, like explosives or guns.” “I’m pretty much a generalist, Nick. But I’m good in hand-to-hand combat. It’s pretty hard to beat me in a fight. And, like I said, I’m good at interrogation. I draw the line at torture though.” “I’m going to start calling you Jason Bourne” “That’s about it, Nick, but without all the gratuitous killing.” I wondered about the non-gratuitous killing. But I left my thoughts unspoken. There are certain boundaries that needn’t be crossed. “Thanks for trusting me, Sam.” “Now it’s time for you to trust me. I have a big favour to ask,” he said. Then, to my delight, Sam asked me accompany him to a barbeque at the home of one of his colleagues. He said it would be an honour to introduce me to his mates. “Of course I’ll come. I’d love to meet your colleagues.” “They’re a bit rough,” he said. “They’re going to tease us. But it’s all good natured. Do you mind?” “Will they tease me? Make fun of my big nose?” “No, no,” he said. “They’ll just say things to me, like, ‘How did an ugly guy like you get yourself such a good looking boyfriend?’” “And what will you say to that?” “I’ll tell ‘em it’s the old Kozitsky charm.” “True, that and a hot body,” I said. “And, just for the record, your nose gives your face character,” he said. “Don’t ever say anything bad about your nose.” “Thanks, Sam, you’re a sweety.” “Does that mean I’ll get laid tonight?” “You bet." Then, Monday he got called away. Sam had warned me, but it was still a shock. His absence created a huge vacuum, and I worried relentlessly. I expected him to come home battered and bruised; with a bullet wound or worse. I lived under a cloud of fear. I didn’t hear from him for ten days. Then, like magic, he was back. I walked into my apartment to find him looking perfectly healthy. We hugged, we kissed, and we dropped to the floor. I fucked him right there. Ten days of pent up worry turned me into a pile driver. Sam loved it, but afterwards it took a bit of work to clean his cum off the carpet. ************************ The day of the barbeque arrived. I was nervous. I wondered if I’d fit into a group of ex-military tough guys. And would they be a bunch of homophobes? We drove to one of San Diego’s eastern suburbs and pulled up in front of a newish, but undistinguished home. Sam rang the doorbell. A pleasant looking, short haired woman answered the door. “Welcome.” she said. “Daniels,” he said, “This is Nick. Nick this is Susan Daniels, a colleague.” A woman colleague? “Hi Nick, come on in,” she said. Then another woman came up. This one was a little shorter and a little stouter than Susan. Susan introduced her as her partner, Kathy. Partner? Susan led us through to her back yard where several adults and a few children were gathered. To my surprise, everybody there looked, well, ordinary. One or two guys looked fairly fit, but otherwise it looked like a regular suburban gathering. “Listen up everybody,” Susan called. All eyes turned in our direction. “This is Nick, Sam’s friend,” she said. “Make him feel welcome.” I heard general murmurs of welcome. I smiled and raised my hand. A tall thin guy came up to us. “I’m Andy,” he said. "But you can call me Zee." I shook his hand. Then he said, “So you’re the reason why Kozy has been in such a good mood lately?” “I told you we’d get teased,” said Sam. “Kozy?” I said. Zee smirked. “My nickname,” Sam said. Then one by one, everybody came over and introduced themselves. There were too many names and nicknames to remember. Many said they worked with Sam, others said they were spouses. Soon I had a drink in my hand, and I was caught up in a circle of people talking about the latest forest fires ravaging the nearby hills. Like I said, and ordinary suburban Sunday, until: “Kozy!” someone shouted. Sam turned and a smile lit up his face. “Sandy!” he shouted back. Next thing I know this body builder Latino guy had Sam in a bear hug. And much to my dismay Sam was giving as good as he was getting. “Fuck it’s good to see you!” “You too, man!” “How you been?” “Great! You? “Never better!” Blah, blah blah. Who the hell was this guy? Serious competition, that’s who he was. Sam broke the hug, turned to me and said, “Nick, this is Juan Santiago. We call him Sandy. He’s the best drill instructor that ever lived. “Sandy, this is my...partner...Nick.” Sandy reached out his hand and gave me a warm handshake. Just then an attractive woman came up. Sam did the hug and introduction routine again. It was Sandy’s wife, Maria. Mental note to self: Stop being so insecure. Sam was comfortable with his buddies and enjoying their company, but he was also attentive to me. When he wasn’t with me, he’d catch my eye and give me a little ‘is everything okay?’ look. I’d nod to indicate I was fine. But Sam needn’t have worried, everyone was welcoming. When Sam was with me he’d often put his hand on the small of my back as we chatted with the other guests. At one point I was deep in conversation with some guy, who was trying to pump me for stock tips, when Sandy came up. “Nick, can I talk to you?” “Sure,” I said. Then he led me to a quiet corner. “Sam likes you,” he said. I grinned and remained silent, waiting for Sandy to get to the point. “I can tell he’s serious about you.” “We’re serious about each other, Sandy.” “Good, good,” he said. “Maria and I have hoped for a long time that Sam would meet someone special. He’s a tough guy, but underneath all that muscle beats a heart of gold.” “So I’m learning,” I said. “I want you to know something about Sam,” he said. “But I’d like him to tell you his version of the story. It’s better that he tells you. It’s about a fight we had. Make him tell you the truth. Tell him I need to get it off my chest. Sam all but saved my life that day. It’ll tell you what kind of guy you’ve got there. He’s the best. I’d lay down my life for him.” I was intrigued and agreed to ask Sam about the fight. Sandy seemed relieved. “Do you work, uh, here?” I asked him. “No, after we had kids I left the SEALs and joined the SDPD. It’s a little more suited to a family guy than a unit like this one. Maria still worries about me, but at least I’m home pretty much every night.” The sun was setting when Sam and I headed for home. It had been a lovely afternoon, and in the car I thanked Sam for taking me. “What did you think?” he asked. “Sam, I think you work with a wonderful bunch of folks. They made me feel very welcome. It was like being with a family. You’ll need to explain some of the nicknames though. Kozy and Sandy I get, but Bugs?” “Oh, he does computers, wire taps, hacking, stuff like that.” “Why do they call that lanky guy, ‘Zee’? “Oh, that’s the first letter of a type of gun scope, Zeiss. He’s a sniper.” “Ahhh....” I was reluctant to spoil the mood, but I knew that Sandy’s request was important, so I broached the subject with Sam. “I didn’t think he knew,” said Sam. “But that’s what he really said? That he needs to get it off his chest?” “Yes, that’s exactly what he said.” Sam chuckled. “Guy’s a lot smarter than he looks. Tell you what, Nick, when we get home, we’ll sit down with snifters of Brandy, and I’ll tell you about it. But you must promise never to repeat it.” “Scout’s honour,” I said. Later, Brandies in hand, Sam told me a remarkable story. “Remember, when I was telling you about my Dad, I told you I vowed never to let anyone beat me up again?” “Yes.” “Well, I guess it’s a protection mechanism, but when I’m in a fight I go into something like a trance. I focus on nothing but winning. And I always do, except once.” “Sandy?” I said. “Yup. See, Sandy was the best drill instructor the SEALs had. If he asked us to give one hundred and ten percent, he gave one hundred and twenty five. He was smart, strong, courageous and, above all, fair. All the guys, including me would have followed him into a suicide mission, no questions asked. He was that kind of leader. “One day, toward the end of training we were on an exercise. We were in teams. We were working against the clock, against the weather, against the other teams. It was always like that, push, push, push. “Well, I was teamed up with Daniels, and after about five hours of pure hell her legs gave out. Like a marathon runner hitting the wall. She dropped like a sack of cement. One of our cardinal rules is that we always help our teammates; never leave them behind. We were working against the clock, but I stopped, trying to get her back up. I figured to hell with the time. She needs help. “Now you need to understand that these exercises simulate real situations, so everybody gets pretty worked up. It gets real emotional, like a real battle. “Anyway, Sandy sees us there and he comes up. I guess the pressure and the competition got to him, and he starts to yell at Daniels. I mean really yell. He’s in full bad-ass, drill instructor mode, and he’s screaming at her to get up and stop being such a weakling, and yelling how she’s letting the whole platoon down and stuff like that. He’s getting himself really worked up. “He reaches down to grab her arm. And without thinking—my instinct was to protect her—I grabbed his wrist and clamped real tight and held on. “He gives me a look of pure rage. I was surprised, but I wasn’t giving in. I kept hold of his wrist. We’re eye-to-eye, real hard. “I realized I was in deep shit. He’d probably run my ass out of the SEALs for assaulting him. “So we’re in this sort of pissing contest, because I don’t back down. And he’s really steamed. So he orders me to meet him on the mat in twenty minutes and we’ll settle this. The mat is our training ring. It’s similar to a boxing ring. “I was pretty steamed too, but the twenty minutes gave me time to cool off. I’m thinking that on one hand I don’t ever lose a fight, but on the other hand, if Sandy loses that would be bad. He’d lose face. Our unit cohesion would go to shit. We’d both come out of this looking bad. You have to understand, I love that guy, I couldn’t do that to him, or to our unit. “We get to the mat and Sandy’s still pissed. So we go at it pretty hard. I put up one hell of a fight. I give him a few bruises to make it good. But eventually he’s got me down with his knee in my throat. I’m about one millimetre away from a crushed windpipe. I can’t move. I can barely breathe. Sandy asks me to say ‘uncle’ so I go slack, he backs his knee off a bit, and I whisper ‘uncle.’ “Sandy gets off me. He’s still real pissed. He puts his finger up to my face, like he’s really going tell me off, but he just gives me a hard look, then turns and walks away.” “But you let him win?” I said. “Yes, for his sake, my sake, for the sake of the unit. I let him win. “We finished training and, thanks to Sandy’s leadership, our squad won first place. Everyone was happy. “Until today I didn’t realize he knew I threw that fight. Incredible." “Sam, he told me that you all but saved his life that day. And he said the story would tell me what kind of guy you are. And it has. You are amazing.” “I’ll do anything for people I love, Nick. Never forget that.” *********************** I had been seeing a counsellor for several weeks and was feeling much more grounded. There certainly are benefits to cognitive therapy. Sam deployed a few more times. But gradually his absences became less stressful as I learned that he would, more than likely, come home intact. While he was away I would watch the news for signs of his activities. Once I read about an oil executive that had been freed from kidnappers. Another time I read about a drug lord’s assassination by persons unknown. I wondered.... One time he came home with a sunburned face. Desert? On our free weekends we often took long drives exploring the countryside around San Diego. Of course Sam had enthusiastically shown me a couple of marinas. So it came as no surprise when he broached the subject of a weekend cruise to Santa Catalina Island. One of his former Navy SEAL friends had offered the use of his boat. “Nicky, I know you offered to be my first mate and all, but this would give us a chance to see if you really would like boating. If you don’t, that’s okay. There are lots of options. As long as we communicate, right?” I enthusiastically agreed to the trip. After all, Sam was a mariner, and I was eager to see that side of him. We went to the marina on Shelter Island at the top of San Diego Bay and Sam led me to a really sleek looking power boat. “I’m impressed,” I said. “What kind of boat is this?” “It’s a thirty five foot Regal Express Cruiser,” he said. “Her name is Harbor SEAL.” We boarded and Sam showed me around. “Sam, it’s beautiful. So luxurious. It has all the comforts of home.” “Nice isn’t it?” “Sam, I’d kill for a boat like this.” “Maybe I already have,” he mumbled. Sam had earlier put everything that we needed on board. All I was carrying was a small duffle bag with my clothes. I put that on the bed and joined him outside. He explained what he was going to do and why. I didn’t have to do anything until we moored at Catalina Island, and he said he’d explain that when we got there. He showed me all the safety equipment. Then he ran through a checklist and started up the powerful engines. I stood aside while Sam undid the lines. He took the wheel and put it in gear, and we gently left the dock. I watched in amazement as we motored out between the docks and other boats. Then we headed for Cabrillo Point, and when we got out past the Naval Station Sam opened up the throttles and the boat sped along. I was looking in every direction at once trying to watch the land, and the other boats, and the vista of open ocean. Soon we were far from land. I stood with Sam for a while then laid on one of the benches and relaxed. A few hours later we arrived at the island and motored into a small harbor. Sam explained we had been assigned a mooring buoy and that my job was to hook the buoy with a long pole he gave me. Sam brought the boat up so gently that my job was easy. Then he tied the lines securing the boat. Sam asked how I felt, and when I said fine, never better, he gave me one of his signature smiles. Next to us was a beautiful white sailboat named Colibri. I explained that Colibiri meant hummingbird in French. The boat’s registration said Vancouver, BC, Canada. A slightly scruffy, but handsome guy about our age appeared on deck and waved hello. He was joined by a clean cut guy, equally good looking, who also gave us a warm greeting. I asked them if they were from Canada, and the conversation flowed from there. Introductions were made. The scruffy one was, Jerome, and the clean cut one was, Rob. Someone suggested we all meet at on shore at the Bluewater Grill for dinner. So we took the zodiac to the dock, and after a stroll though the touristy streets of Avalon we made our way there. Jerome and Rob told us they had six month old twin boys. Typically proud parents, they showed us multiple photos. They explained that they hadn’t had a break since the twins were born and that Rob’s mother had come over and virtually kicked them out of the house. The weekend trip to Catalina was a little getaway before Rob returned to his job as a flight attendant. They lived in Venice Beach, and they made us promise to visit them one day soon. Later, back at the boat I said to Sam, “Imagine running into a gay couple in the boat next door.” “It was great,” he said. “I’ve never really known male gay people. It’s nice to see that they can just be ordinary folks.” “Just like us,” I said. “You’ll never be ordinary to me, Nick. You’re beautiful and special. I love you so much.” I led him to the bed and kissed him hard. “I love you, too.” I slowly removed his clothes and kissed him everywhere. Then I removed my clothes and laid down on the length of him, front to front. Our hands were entwined above his head. We began an endless kiss. I could feel his mass under me. Muscles, hair, heat. The mild rocking motion of the boat set our hard cocks rubbing gently. Our stomachs became slippery with precum. I rolled onto my back with my legs up. Sam knelt in front of me and gently entered me. I moaned and pushed my hips up eagerly, but Sam continued his slow, relentless entry. He fucked me into outer space that night. Right out of the galaxy. I screamed and cried when I climaxed. Afterwards, lying in his arms, I told him again how much I loved and needed him. “I need you too, Nicky. If you only knew how much....” By the time we got home on Sunday night we were wacked. We were in bed by nine and cuddled up; asleep in seconds. Our four thirty wakeup call loomed. For the next few days our discussions revolved around boats. Sam was thrilled that I had enjoyed the trip to Catalina and happy that I wasn’t prone to sea sickness. I asked Sam a million questions about boating, and he answered each one patiently. He gave me the good and the bad--it was a fun but expensive pastime. I gave him my unqualified commitment. Sam admitted he just happened to have his eye on a boat he liked. The next Sunday Sam took me to see a thirty seven foot Sea Ray Sundancer. She was every bit as luxurious as Harbor SEAL. Her name was Budweiser. “Named after a beer?” I asked. “Nope, Budweiser is the nickname for the SEAL Trident insignia.” “Then it’s meant to be,” I said. “But why do we call the boat ‘she’ when it’s got a masculine name?” “It’s a very old tradition,” he said. “Probably goes back to the Greeks. Did you know that ‘boat’ is one of the only inanimate objects in the English language that has a gender? Cars sometimes, but boats are always ‘she’.” We took her for a test run. Sam was beaming. I was as excited as a little kid at Christmas. He signed an offer to buy subject to an inspection. That week involved some heavy discussion about joint ownership. Sam insisted I be on title. I was flattered but reluctant. Sam argued that it was the SEAL’s equivalent of an engagement ring. “Is that a proposal?” I said. “Definitely!” “Oh God, Sam, YES!” The next weekend she was ours. It really was like Christmas. I texted our new friends, Jerome and Rob, to tell them we’d bought a boat. They invited us to bring Budweiser up to Venice beach for a visit. We planned another trip to Catalina. Our life was full and happy. Then Sam got called away again. In Sam’s absence I phoned my brother to fill him in on good news. I hadn’t yet told him about Sam. He was his usual pompous doctor self. He had very little interest in my news but bragged about his work, his successful (also a doctor) wife, and about their admittance to the country club. What a self-centered prick he was becoming. I wondered if I could get Sam to kill him. Then I settled in, waiting for Sam’s call to tell me he was home. A few days later, I was at work when my cell phone rang. I snatched it up hoping it was Sam. But instead of his ID, the call display showed 'unknown caller.'
  16. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 6 It was 7 am when Jason’s phone buzzed, indicating an incoming text. The apartment was so quiet, and he was so keyed up by the events of the past couple of days that he actually jumped at the noise. Unable to do anything other than toss and turn the night before, he had been up for a while and was on his second mug of coffee already. Jason reached over for the phone beside him on the sofa. The text, from an unknown number, said “Ramon will pick you up at 8 am and take you to the hospital. VP.” Relieved that he had been granted permission to see Shane, Jason sat on the sofa, holding the phone for a moment or two longer waiting for any further info or instructions, but nothing else came. He had showered earlier when he had given up on sleep, so all he had to do was change his silky basketball shorts and tank top for some jeans and a polo shirt and throw the supplies he had gathered last night into a backpack. Jason’s internet research had indicated that many comatose patients benefited from sensory stimulation while being in a coma, some even claiming to remember events and conversations that happened in the room around them. So, he had spent part of his night putting together a playlist consisting of he and Shane’s favorite songs from their high school days. In addition to his iPod, he added a speaker, and his iPad. Remembering Shane’s love of reading, he had downloaded an audiobook app to it, and had bought some titles he thought Shane might like. Jason wasn’t sure whether or not the room would have a DVD player, but tonight, he planned to dig out his box of movies to find some of the ones he remembered Shane liking; if nothing else, Jason could play them on his laptop. By 7:45, Jason was changed and packed. The unadorned walls of his apartment were closing in, so he decided to fill a travel mug with the dregs of the coffee pot and wait for Ramon outside on the porch. The previous tenant had left a couple of plastic Adirondack chairs, it was on one of those that Jason settled, his eyes glued to the street, watching for the limo. As he waited, sipping his bitter, black coffee, Jason felt the skin on the back of his neck prickle; it felt as if he was being watched. He tried to ignore the sensation, but it persisted, until finally Jason rose and walked to the open side of the porch looking around trying to see if someone was actually there. He saw no one, but suddenly heard a car horn honk. Startled, he jerked around, splashing coffee on his shirt. “Shit!” he said, looking at the stain as another honk sounded. He looked up and saw the pearl grey limousine waiting at the curb. Sighing as he realized he would be spending the day wearing a stained shirt, he put the mug down on the porch railing, and walked toward the car. As Jason approached, Ramon silently emerged from the driver’s seat and opened the door for him to climb in. Jason could have sworn he saw the man, wearing another impeccably tailored suit, glance at Jason’s stained shirt and smirk. Jason gave him a forced smile and an awkward “Good morning.” All he received from Ramon was a curt nod. As Ramon climbed back behind the wheel, and the limo smoothly slid into traffic, Jason settled into the luxurious seat. “Jesus,” he thought to himself, “what the fuck is going on, and how did I get involved in this?” Lost in his thoughts, Jason likewise lost his sense of time, and was startled to feel the car stopping. He had only a moment to realize they were already at Lakeside Hospital before Ramon was opening the door for him to get out. “Thanks,” Jason told Ramon. Ramon’s stony face didn’t register any response; the driver merely said, “I’ll be here to pick you up at 5.” Before Jason could respond, Ramon had smoothly shut the passenger door, climbed back into the front seat and left. Jason stood on the curb outside the hospital, uncertain what to do or where to go. It hadn’t occurred to him to ask Ramon, even if there had been time. As Jason stood there pondering his next move, he heard his name being called. When he turned, he spotted the pretty strawberry blond nurse from the day before. “Nurse...ummmm…” he stumbled, trying to remember her name. “Nix,” she said smiling. “But please, call me Laurie.” “Thanks. Do you know where I can find Shane?” “That’s why I’m here. I’m going to take you to him.” She turned and started walking toward the entrance. “How is he?” Jason asked, falling in step beside her. “Stable. It looks like the swelling is actually going down a bit. Everything else is healing nicely. No sign of infection or anything.” “Great,” Jason said, relieved. Then, the initial worry about Shane dealt with, something occurred to him as he walked with the nurse through the glass doors and started across the expansive foyer. “Is this normal?” She paused and turned to him. “Is what normal?” “This.” He gestured toward her, then himself. “A nurse meeting a visitor and taking him to a patient’s room.” She gave him a wry smile. “It is when the visitor has come to see a patient who is the personal friend of a large donor to the hospital. Especially if the donor himself has personal friends on the hospital’s board. Apparently Mr. Pamchenko was pleased with my work with Shane and asked that I be assigned to his case. It’s irregular, but, hospitals are like most organizations these days….when money talks, they listen. Anyway, come on, let’s get to his room.” Laurie turned, and continued across the lobby. When she reached the bank of elevators, instead of hitting the up button, she turned and walked a bit further to a single set of elevator doors set some distance from the others. She reached into the pocket on the front of her scrubs, and pulled out two key cards, one of which she gave to Jason. “You’ll need this to activate the VIP express elevator,” she said. “Try not to lose it….getting it replaced is a pain.” “VIP elevator?” Jason asked. “What the hell is that?” The nurse laughed as the elevator dinged and the doors opened. She ushered Jason into the car, which had a marble floor and real wood paneled walls unlike the laminate clad elevator he had used yesterday. “It’s the new thing in hospitals,” she said as the doors closed, and the car started moving upward. “It’s more for PR than anything, but for people willing to pay extra, we have a group of….well….” she paused and her face scrunched in thought, “.for want of a better word….a group of luxurious rooms. They’re designed to feel like a hotel. You’ll see.” As she finished talking, the car stopped, and the doors opened. They stepped into an expansive space that did feel much more like the lobby of a nice hotel than a hospital waiting room. The floors were gleaming travertine, scattered with rugs, and straight ahead was a bank of floor to ceiling windows that looked out over Lake Pontchartrain. There were a couple of seating areas scattered around, and a large table holding an enormous arrangement of fresh flowers sat in the middle of the floor. To the right of the elevator doors, a well dressed man sat behind an elegant desk. As they walked toward him, he rose and greeted them. “Hello, Nurse Nix. And you are?” he continued, extending his right hand to Jason’s. “This is Jason,” Laurie said, gesturing to him. “He’s going to be visiting our patient in Suite 13.” “Well, hello, Jason,” said the dapper middle aged man. “I’m Patrick, the concierge for the Pamchenko wing.” At the mention of the name, Jason groaned and involuntarily rolled his eyes toward Laurie, who shrugged, giving him a “what can I tell you” look. Patrick looked a bit confused at the exchange, but his plastered on smile didn’t waver. “If there’s anything you need, Jason, please let me know. There is a button marked “C” on all the phones in the suite. Just hit that, and it connects directly to me. Will you be here for lunch?” he asked, brightly. “I guess so.” Patrick picked up a small leather bound portfolio and handed it to Jason. When he opened it, Jason realized it was a menu. “This the lunch menu for today. For the main course, there is a choice of beef, chicken or fish. Please note there is also a vegetarian option, and most of the items can be made gluten free. And of course, we’re more than happy to accommodate any allergies or religious needs.” “That won’t be necessary.” “Great,” Patrick smiled again. “Take the menu with you and please call when you’ve made your selection. Lunch is typically served between 11 and 1, but we are happy to make an exception if necessary.” “Thanks,” Jason said awkwardly. He kind of felt like Julia Roberts when she was being sucked up to by the salespeople in Beverly Hills; but unlike her character, he didn’t like it. Perhaps sensing Jason’s discomfort, Laurie said to the concierge, “Thanks, Patrick. I’ll show Jason where everything is in the suite. I know he’s anxious to see Shane.” “Of course,” Patrick smiled again, and nodded in Jason’s direction; a nod so deep, it was almost a bow. “This way,” Laurie said, and gestured to a hallway on the left side of the lobby. The same gleaming travertine continued down the hallway which was covered in a metallic copper wall paper. Periodically, large abstract oil painting, lit by spot lights, broke the expanses of wall. The doors to the rooms, dark paneled wood with brass kick plates and handles were set into deep recesses. It looked like something out of a movie. Eventually, Laurie paused in front of one of those doors, and opened it. Light filled the room from another of those banks of windows, but sheers pulled across the glass softened it. The flooring was something dark that looked like wood but felt softer underfoot. Most of the walls were covered in a soft green wall paper; the same sort of impressive oil paintings that graced the hallways decorated them.. A large alcove to the left of the door held a seating area with a large, comfortable looking sofa; floor to ceiling draperies in the same copper color as the hallway framed the alcove. Matching draperies flanked the large window. To the right, a long built in credenza of the same dark wood as the door sat underneath an enormous television flanked by more doors. White orchids in terracotta pots were scattered across the room on every horizontal surface. But while Jason spent quite some time later exploring these and other splendors of the room, right now only one thing drew his attention. The still figure lying in the hospital bed. The hospital bed and the surrounding equipment made it impossible to pretend that you were anywhere else but a medical facility, no matter how luxurious the other furnishings. Forgetting he wasn’t, alone, Jason dropped his backpack onto a chair and walked over to where Shane lay. He looked the same as yesterday, though it was only now that Jason noticed Shane’s beard was gone. Bruises still bloomed across his porcelain skin and swelling distorted his face, at least what little of his face could be seen between the ventilator mask and the bandages wrapping his head. Maybe it was the knowledge that there was real reason to be hopeful; maybe it was the knowledge that he loved the man in the bed; whatever the reason, Jason didn’t feel the same despair as yesterday. He felt hope. “Hey, buddy,” he whispered, leaning down over the still figure. “I missed you.” And he leaned further over, delivering a soft kiss to the bandaged forehead. “How are you doing?” At the sound of Laurie clearing her throat, Jason quickly came to himself and shot upright. Sheepishly, he turned to her, but the nurse had a smile on her face. “He’s doing fine,” she said. “Really. It’s going slowly, but the swelling is receding. I’ve already done his morning check up, so I’m going to leave you alone. If you need me, just hit this button,” she indicated a red button on the side of the bed. “If for some reason you don’t get an immediate response, the nurse’s station is just down the hallway past Patrick’s desk.” “Thanks,” he said, smiling at her. “For everything.” “No problem. It’s what I’m here for. I’ll be back in a bit to check on Shane.” After she left, Jason explored the room a bit. One of the doors flanking the built in led to a marble clad bathroom with a giant walk in shower; the other a closet. He discovered that the curtains flanking the seating niche could be pulled together creating a private area, which made more sense after he discovered the sofa pulled out into a bed. Jason returned to the main room, and opening the doors in the cabinet under the t.v., he discovered an ice machine, a mini fridge stocked with water, juice, soda, and any kind of milk possible from dairy to almond, and an entertainment system that included a docking station for an iPod, a PlayStation, and a BluRay DVD player. A single serve coffee maker sat on the credenza’s marble top, along with a selection of coffee pods, cups and saucers, and every sugar/sugar substitute known to man. Another silver tray on the counter help cut glass tumblers, presumably for the contents of the mini fridge. Standing up and closing the cabinet doors, Jason let out a low whistle He turned to face the bed. “Shane, I’m not sure exactly what you’ve gotten yourself into, but I could get used to this.” Continuing to talk to his friend, Jason walked over to his backpack and retrieved his iPod. “I don’t know what you’re into listening to now, but I remember you used to like The Killers. Hope you still do.” Jason docked the iPod, and spent a few seconds fiddling with the master remote. Soon, the opening strains of “Somebody Told Me” filled the rooms. After adjusting the volume, Jason walked over to the bed, choosing the chair on Shane’s left. He sat down, taking Shane’s good hand is his own, being careful of the tubes and monitoring devices attached to the other man. For the first time in a long time, Jason felt like he was right where he was supposed to be. Just before 5, Jason gathered his belongings, and after a quick kiss on Shane’s forehead and a whispered “I love you,” he hurried down to the front entrance to meet Ramon. It had been an uneventful day. He had spent most of it listening to music and talking aloud to Shane about their greatest hits of shared good times. Lunch (he had chosen the chicken) had been surprisingly good, much more like the cuisine from an expensive restaurant than hospital food. Jason had also made good use of the coffee machine, drinking enough coffee that Laurie had scolded him about too much caffeine on one of her periodic visits to check on Shane. Other than Laurie and a nurse’s aide, no one else had entered the room. Jason had hated leaving so early, but Laurie had assured him that it was fine. “Look, you being here does help him. I believe that. But he’s going to need a lot more help after he wakes up, and if you exhaust yourself now, you won’t have the energy you need then. Go home and get some rest.” Jason knew she was right, but as he waited for Ramon, he resented being forced into this 8 to 5 schedule by Pamchenko. But Jason knew he had, at least for now, little choice. Once he got home, he found himself at loose ends. One of the reasons he had settled in the MidCity neighborhood was its convenience and amenities, including a 24 hour gym near his apartment, one he had planned to join. “No time like the present,” he thought, with an endless night stretching out until his (he hoped) 8 am ride in the morning. So he changed into some workout clothes, grabbed his wallet, and headed to the gym. Signing up took little time, and soon he was sweating through a workout. Periodically his phone dinged, and he sighed. Since this afternoon, Denise had been texting him bible verses; Jason deleted them without reading them. How had he never realized how annoying she was? Right as he was leaving, Jason’s phone dinged again. As he went to delete the message, he noticed it was from Brad. Jason started to delete, but felt guilty. Brad was his best friend, and Jason hadn’t been in touch since the move. Jason texted: been at hospital shane’s still in coma He didn’t bother to explain further. He was sure that Brad had gotten an earful from Denise and knew what was happening. that’s a shame anything I can do, let me know bro appreciate it Walking home from the gym, Jason stopped off at a neighborhood Mexican place for take out. While he was waiting for his burrito, his phone rang. Looking down at the screen, he sighed. His mother. Great. He stepped outside to take the call. “Hi, mom.” “Hi, sweetie. Just calling to check on things. How’s Shane?” “He’s stable. But the nurse says the prognosis is good, though we won’t know about brain damage until he wakes up.” “Oh my goodness.” Barbara Reid paused. “I didn’t realize it was quite that serious.” Another pause. “And Denise? How is she?” Jason sighed again, trying not to let his mother hear. “Fine. I guess. She feels good enough to keep texting me Bible verses.” “Have you spoken to her?” God, he hated having these conversations. “No, I haven’t.” Now his mother sighed, audibly. “Jason, she’s your fiancee. You need to make up with her.” “I’m not sure I want to. I’m…..” he stumbled over his words. “I’m starting to think I’ve made a mistake.” “A mistake?” ‘I don’t think…” he paused. “I don’t think I want to marry her.” “I don’t know what to say to you. I can’t believe you’re thinking of breaking that sweet girl’s heart over some silly argument.” “It’s not that.” Jason struggled to explain his feelings without mentioning Shane or his anything that would hint to his mother he was gay. “It’s just….I just don’t think we’re right for each other.” Another long sigh from Barbara. “I don’t know what to say about all this. You’re a grown man, and I can’t make you marry her, but I think breaking up with her is a huge mistake. I can’t even imagine what people will think when they hear.” Anger flashed through him. “Maybe, mother, I don’t give a fuck what people think.” “Jason Reid!!!! Don’t you ever speak to me like that!. I don’t know what’s gotten into you since you moved to that place.” “Look, I’m sorry. I really am. I’ve got to go, my food’s ready.” He hit the button ending the call before she could answer. Before the phone could ring again, he powered it off. The next couple of days went the same. Ramon picking Jason up at home at 8 and then at the hospital at 5. Talking to Shane, holding his hand, listening to music, listening to a Neil Gaiman audiobook, and watching movies. Working out every night to avoid staying in his lonely apartment. Eating takeout, texting Brad, and dodging texts and calls from Denise and his mother,. One evening, as he was changing for the gym, a knock sounded. He started, dropping a sneaker in his surprise. In the time since he had moved here, no one had been by but a pizza delivery guy or two. As he walked from the bedroom through the living room toward the front door, Jason called out, “Hello?” “Jason Reid?” came from the other side. As Jason made it to the front door, he caught a glimpse of the figure on the porch through the sidelights. Detective Venturi. Jason opened the door. “Hello,” he said uncertainly. “Sorry about dropping in like this. I tried calling, but it kept going to voicemail.” Involuntarily, Jason glanced at his phone lying on the trunk he used for a coffee table. It was, as it was most of the time these days, turned off. “Sorry, I turned my phone off.” Jason looked sheepish. “I’m avoiding my mother.” The detective’s mouth twitched into what was almost a smile. “I understand, trust me. Can I come in? I’d like to talk to you.” “Sure,” Jason said, stepping back to open the door fully. “Do you want something to drink. I think all I’ve got is water and milk. Or I could make some coffee.” “Coffee would be great if it’s not too much trouble.” “It will only take a second,” Jason assured the detective, walking toward the kitchen as Venturi settled himself on the sofa. “What the hell,” Jason thought to himself nervously as he filled the filter. Venturi didn’t seem upset, but still, nobody, even the law abiding, are prepared for a police detective to show up out of the blue. “How do you take it?” Jason yelled to the living room after brewing finished. He had spent the time the coffee dripped practicing deep breathing and was almost calm again. “Black,” came the answer. After filling two mugs, Jason walked back into the living room and handed one to Venturi who had taken his jacket off and relaxed into the sofa. Jason couldn’t help looking at the detective’s holstered gun as he pulled a stool over. “So…” Jason started nervously…”What’s this about.” Venturi looked up from the mug he had been examining. “I’d like you to keep this conversation confidential. Most of what I’m going to tell you is public record, or will be soon, but still…...keep a lid on it.” “Ummm….sure.” Jason was lost. “It’s about your friend, Shane. The other morning, I don’t think we told you the whole story.” Jason almost interrupted him to say that he knew the rest, but something told him to stay silent. “After Shane was abducted and beaten, he was thrown out of a van. And I don’t know if they told you at the hospital; he was raped.” Venturi paused and looked at Jason as if to gauge his reaction. Jason didn’t know how to respond. He decided to go with the truth, “I don’t what to say.” “Yeah, it was all pretty cold. Being thrown out of the van was probably what got him so banged up. Anyway, a witness happened to see the dump and was able to identify the make and color of the van, plus give a partial on the plates. We found the van this morning.” “That’s great. Did you find the guy?” “Maybe.” “Maybe? What do you mean maybe? What did he say?” “Nothing. It’s kind of hard to say anything when you’ve been shot in the head. Before that…...” the detective paused. “They had been tortured.” Jason sat there, stunned. “What?” “Here’s what happened. There was a car accident this morning on Wisner Boulevard; one of the cars went into Bayou St. John. When the team went in the water do the recovery, they found the van. One of them happened to notice it matched the description of a vehicle used in a crime…..when they pulled it out, they found two bodies, both shot in the head, execution style. It’s almost certainly the perps. Their DNA matches DNA from the rape kit. But there was a third DNA that wasn’t identified.” Jason sat there is silence, trying to process. All he could think of was Pamchenko and his assurances that Shane’s assailant would be taken care of. He was happy the bastards had suffered, but still he shivered. Something Venturi had said penetrated Jason’s mental fog...a third man “It wasn’t me….I didn’t…” Venturi interrupted him. “Look, kid, if I thought you had the slightest thing to do with any of it, you’d be down at the station right now. I’m here to try to get some information about your friend and give you a warning.” “A warning?” “I’ve been doing a bit of digging. Your friend Shane seems to be…..bad luck.” “What do you mean?” “Well, he just got put in the hospital, and two of the guys who almost certainly put him there just turned up tortured and executed. But this isn’t his first trip to the hospital in the past year.” “What?” “Does the name Nikolai Pamchenko ring a bell?” Jason thought about lying, but decided it wouldn’t be wise. “He’s Shane’s fiance.” “Right. Six months ago, their place on Esplanade was the target of a home invasion. Shane got banged up, though nothing like this time.” “What about Nikolai?” “Who knows?” “Be serious. You know what I mean. What happened to Nikolai?” Jason demanded. “I’m being serious. I don’t know. Nobody knows. He disappeared, presumably abducted. Hasn’t been seen since. The case was taken over by the FBI, but when I tried to get some info from my contact there, he said the file has been sealed. Strictly top secret. Off limits.” “What did Shane say?” “Said he was knocked unconscious. Said he doesn’t remember anything.” “Do you believe him?” “Wasn’t my case. I haven’t talked to him. Just know what was on the report.” As Jason sat in silence processing the information, the detective asked another question. “Is the name Corey Crowder familiar?” “Who?” “Corey Crowder.” The name hovered tantalizingly on the edge of Jason’s consciousness. “It sounds familiar, really familiar, but I can’t place it.” Suddenly, Jason rose and walked over to his bookcase, pulling out a yearbook, and flipping through it. He stopped. “Here he is. He went to high school with Shane and me….he was a year younger. I never really hung out with him much, but he and Shane were good friends.” “That makes sense. They were roommates in the summer of 2011.” “So,” Jason said. “So, Corey Crowder died a couple of years later.” “How did he die?” “Fire. He was a hustler; did some porn, streaming stuff for a website. Producer was local. He shot out of his house in the Bywater. Corey and some other guys were apparently doing a shoot at the producer’s house when it caught on fire. No one made it out, including the producer. Cause of fire never determined.” “Did the police think Shane was involved?” “He wasn’t mentioned at all in file. But when I was looking into Shane’s background, I came across Crowder’s name and remembered the case, cause I remember it stank to high heaven.” The detective focused an intense gaze on Jason. “Look, Jason, I don’t know anything about your friend, except he doesn’t have a great track record. In the past four years, he’s been beaten twice, his rapists have been executed, his fiance has disappeared, and his former roommate died under mysterious circumstances. That’s a lot of coincidences. I don’t know what’s going on or what's he's mixed up in, but I want to find out. What can you tell me about him?” Jason’s mind was reeling. What the everloving fuck? “I don’t know anything, I swear. I mean, his ….I don’t know what you’d call him….his father in law is creepy, but I guess you already know about him?” He looked at Venturi, wondering if he should mention his interview with the S.O.B. Venturi nodded, “Yeah...Viktor Pamchenko. He’s as sketchy as fuck, supposed to have been tied into the mafia in the 1990s….but I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything on him lately….he may have connections, but he personally has been squeaky clean for at least the last 20 years. And by all accounts, he and his son were really close. He’s offered a huge reward for info about Nikolai. And spent a fortune on private investigators. Maybe…" the detective trailed off. Jason almost blurted out what Pamchenko had told him but….he was scared of the man. Plus, those bastards deserved what was coming…...and he couldn’t risk cutting off his contact with Shane if Pamchenko traced the comments back to himself. Besides….torture and execution….holy shit…..this was all above Jason’s pay grade. "Anybody else?” Venturi pressed. “No”,” Jason said. “At least not that I know. Shane’s a farmer’s son from a hick town. When I knew him before, the closest person to important that he knew,” Jason swallowed thinking of the guy, “was Thomas McAlpin, and he wasn’t important….just his dad was.” “Thomas McAlpin? Sounds familiar.” “His dad’s a senator; Thomas works with his office now, I think. We knew Thomas at college. At least briefly. I spent a year with him in high school, and then he spent a semester at Tech. He and Shane…” this part was difficult for Jason, “went out for a bit. But Thomas left school after one fall semester. He ended up in some Baptist university.” “McAlpin,” Venturi repeated. “Senator Trent McAlpin? He has a gay son? I can’t see that going over well.” “I don’t think he knew. At least not at first. And when Senator McAlpin found out….that’s when Thomas transferred. But as far as I know, Shane never met the Senator….at least not while he was at Tech.” “Well, shit,” said Venturi. “I was hoping you might have some missing piece.” “What now? What’s your next step?” “I honestly don’t know,” the detective sighed. “If you think of anything else, call me.” He pulled a card out his pocket and offered it to Jason. Glumly, Jason took it. He was getting too used to taking cards from policemen these days. Thanking Jason for the coffee, Venturi took his leave. Almost in a trance, Jason shut the door, bolting it automatically. All thoughts of the gym were gone. He sank down onto the floor, his back against the door, his head in his hands. “Jesus Christ, Shane,” Jason thought, “what have you done?” ******************************************** A black sedan was parked at the end of the block. The figure inside watched the bulky man leave; the sedan’s driver had already traced the detective’s identity through the car tags. He called his employer. “Your young friend just had a very interesting visitor...a Detective Venturi of the NOPD. He is one of the officers assigned to Shane O’Neal’s case. Just thought you might like to know…..” “Thank you,” said the deep voice on the other end of the line. “That’s very interesting.” The line went dead.
  17. 1 point
    The snow crunched underneath my boots, causing the chatter of woodland creatures to temporarily cease as the perceived danger walked past them. I was no danger to them on this trip. It wasn’t food I was hunting. A few minutes later, I stopped in a small clearing, making sure to stay on the outer edge to avoid any faery circles that were covered by the snow. I brushed the snow off of a small log and sat. My legs were weary from my long journey, and I still had a ways to go. I drank a few sips from my pouch of water and opened my provision sack. I ate a small meal of cheese and bread before resuming my quest. It had taken me the better part of a week to reach this point, and it wasn’t much further to my destination. My heart raced in anticipation. It was an honor to be chosen for this quest, and I bore the responsibility with the import it deserved. Three hours later I stood at the edge of another clearing. My breath hitched and a surge of emotion swelled through my body, causing me to drop to one knee in deference to my location. The Sacred Grove lay before me. It was even more beautiful than I imagined. Tall evergreens stood proudly, covered in a light layer of white, powdery snow. Mistletoe grew in bunches amid the gnarled branches, their lighter green a counterpoint to the depth of color of the sacred pines. In the center of the clearing was a majestic oak; its leafless branches reached up to the winter sky like a sentinel to the heavens. I could almost envision the Oak King himself stepping out from behind it, on his way to do battle with the Holly King. I reached into my bag and pulled out the bundle of sacred herbs. I sprinkled a mixture of laurel, blessed thistle, and bayberry around the perimeter of the grove, then used my flint to light a bundle of sage. I waved it around, making sure the smoke covered the cardinal directions as I chanted a blessing in Gaelic. Once my task was completed, I removed a deerskin-covered bundle from my pack and carefully took out an ancient knife with an elaborately carved handle. My task was a simple one: harvest mistletoe for the upcoming Yule celebration. I whispered more words in Gaelic as I removed just enough sprigs for our use, thanking the spirit of the grove for its sacrifice. I hoped my offering of fruit and herbs was satisfactory. As I left the grove, a slight breeze blew through the trees and through my hair, causing me to draw my cloak closer around me. I smiled, content that I had fulfilled my duty to our order. ***** My two-week journey had left a large backlog at the smithy. Even though my apprentice had performed admirably in my absence, a lot of people waited until my return to bring their work in to us. I had just finished placing an iron rim around a wagon wheel, when I heard a soft voice. “You were gone a long time. I’m glad to see you’re back. Betsy only likes you to shoe her.” The corner of my mouth lifted into a smile, and my heart skipped a beat as it usually did when I heard my friend’s soft voice. “Let me cool this, then I’ll be right with you.” I poured water over the wagon wheel, causing a giant cloud of steam to wash over me. I emerged from the steam cloud drenched in sweat; the dirt and ash that had accumulated on my skin throughout the morning ran in rivulets down my bare torso underneath my leather-smith’s apron. Even though it was winter, it was hot enough in the shop to go shirtless. My friend stood by his horse, patting her neck and talking to her softly. His momentary distraction allowed me to look him over. He wore the brown robes of his order, tied around his waist with a soft rope. He was slight of build with light brown hair and dark brown eyes. His smile was a thing of beauty that made my heart stop every time I saw it. I normally preferred men that were more like me physically. Large and strong, with full beards and a chest full of hair. That all changed when I met Ailen. I felt an instant attraction to the slight monk, even before getting to know him. Ours was an unlikely friendship, and one that caused much gossip amongst the townsfolk. A Christian monk and the son of the pagan high priest were not supposed to be friends. Even though most of the village embraced Christianity after the missionaries arrived, there was still a small number of us who followed the old ways. I thought it was ironic that Ailen’s name meant “made of oak”, our sacred tree. It suited him, though. For he was as strong as his namesake, even if he didn’t appear to be. “How is old Betsy? Due for new shoes already?” I ran my hand along the old mare’s face. The monks at the monastery led a very frugal existence, but they did have Betsy to plough their small fields. “She’s not due for another couple of weeks, but she threw a shoe the other day and it needs to be replaced.” She was standing slightly unevenly. I ran my hand down her left front leg and she lifted it obediently. The hoof was a bit rough around the edges from the shoe tearing off, and there was minor bruising on the sole. I set her foot down gently and straightened up. “She has slight bruising on that sole but looks ok otherwise. Why don’t you leave her here tonight? I’ll poultice that foot, and put a full set of shoes on her tomorrow. Her feet are long enough to be trimmed again, and it’d save you a trip.” Not that I wanted to see him less, but I tried to be as accommodating as possible to my customers. Ailen nodded. “Ok.” He shifted his feet and looked at the ground, wringing his hands. “Is something on your mind?” I asked. He looked at me with those liquid brown eyes, and I wanted to take him into my arms. “I started translating an old text and was hoping I could get your input. It’s in Gaelic, and there’re some passages I’m having trouble with.” “Sure, I’d be happy to. I’ll stop by tomorrow after I finish Betsy. That way you don’t have to come into town again.” “Actually…do you mind if I come here? It’s a text the elders might not…approve of.” I raised an eyebrow. “Come by my place at six. We can have dinner and discuss your text.” He sighed, relief evident on his face. “Thank you.” “Anytime.” After giving me a soft smile and little wave, he turned and headed down the road. I watched him walk a short distance before untying Betsy and leading her into the stable. I poulticed her foot before finishing my work for the day. I stoked the fire in my small cottage and then cut up some potatoes to add to the pot of rabbit meat I had stewing in the fireplace. I threw in some herbs along with the potatoes, and sat in a chair, wrapped in a blanket, watching the flames. It was one of the rare times I felt lonely. I had accepted my sexual preferences very early on, knowing that it meant a life of solitude and secret affairs. Men like me weren’t accepted like we used to be, since the Christians came and pronounced us ‘sinners’. I decided long ago that I wasn’t going to marry a woman and have a family just because I was ‘supposed to’. Living the bachelor’s life was fine with me. I was a passable cook and didn’t have many household chores, since I spent most of my time at the smithy. I made a comfortable enough living that I was able to hire a girl to do the cleaning and laundry once a week. Meeting Ailen challenged every belief and notion about my life that I had. I had lain with men before and enjoyed it tremendously. Sex was one thing, but wanting a man to share my house and bed with was another entirely. Especially when that man was a Christian monk. I stood and stirred the stew, adding more herbs after tasting it. I imagined Ailen in my place, cooking our dinner; taking him in my arms after I came home from a hard day’s work at the smithy; kissing him and lying with him in our bed. I frowned and cursed under my breath. I needed to stop these thoughts. We were from two different worlds, and as much as I might have wanted to live with him as a man does a woman, it would never happen. I wonder what he’d think if he knew the thoughts I had about him. It would end our friendship for certain, and that was the last thing I wanted to happen. I thought about the first time we met. I was standing in the town square, struggling to read a pronouncement that had been nailed to the community board. He read it for me, and with a shy smile, offered to give me reading lessons. He could have offered to lead me to the Christian devil himself and I would have followed. Ailen taught me how to read, and I discovered a love of classic literature. More than once we spent an entire night arguing the finer points of Greek philosophers or discussing the religious tenets of his faith. Even though I hadn’t had much schooling as a child, I loved to learn, and Ailen had found a most willing pupil. I headed to bed after cleaning my dishes, thoughts full of my beautiful friend. I knelt before the mighty oak in the Sacred Grove, praying in Gaelic as I sprinkled sacred herbs around the base of the tree. I held a Christian bible in my hand, and placed it in a circle of herbs, chanting a request for a blessing from the Oak King. A large figure coalesced next to the oak, dressed in robes of green and wearing a laurel crown. He held a staff made of oak, which was adorned with sprigs of holly and mistletoe. He was the epitome of masculinity. Tall, broad-shouldered, with well-defined muscles and abundant facial hair that was a mixture of auburn, red, and green. He had an aroma about him that reminded me of spices, freshly mown grass, and sex. I bowed my head before my king, honored that he chose to reveal himself to me. “Arise, my son,” the Oak King said. His voice sounded like the rustling of leaves, and sent a shiver down my spine. I did as he commanded and stood before my god. I’m a tall man, and my head only came up to his shoulders. The king stepped close to me, glancing down and seeing my arousal at his presence. He placed his hands on either side of my face, then leaned down and kissed me. I tensed as images flooded through my mind: the circle of standing stones where my order held our seasonal rituals; myself in the Sacred Grove, placing my offering and cutting the sprigs of mistletoe; Ailen’s smiling face as we talked late into the night; Ailen’s face in the throes of ecstasy as I slowly thrust into him, the Oak King watching and nodding in approval. The images stopped abruptly when the Oak King released my mouth and removed his hands. He smiled and nodded. “You have my blessing, child.” I awoke drenched in sweat and aroused to the point where it was painful. I immediately gripped my hard cock and brought myself to a quick, but very satisfying release. After work the next day, I prepared a small lamb roast I had purchased from the local butcher and placed it in the stewpot over the crackling flames. It didn’t take long for the aroma to fill my small cottage. I chopped some vegetables, then set the table after placing them in the pot. I had just finished sweeping the floor when I heard a knock at the door. Ailen smiled and handed me a loaf of crusty bread. “I made it this morning,” he said. I placed it on the table. “Thank you. It will go perfectly with our meal.” “It smells wonderful in here. I hope you didn’t go to too much trouble.” His soft English accent sent shivers down my arms. “Of course not. It’s no trouble,” I said, gesturing to the table. Ailen sat, placing a small package wrapped in deerskin next to him. “Dinner’s almost ready.” I poured him a mug of cider and placed it in front of him. “Thank you,” he said before taking a sip. “This is lovely.” I removed the pot from the fire, placing it in the middle of the table. We ate in mostly silence. I stole glances at him as we consumed our meal, remembering my dream from the night before. Having him in my home, enjoying something of my creation, was stirring feelings that I had tried desperately to repress. I never wanted him to leave. Despite my dream of the Oak King’s blessing, I still couldn’t imagine the beautiful man sitting across from me sharing my feelings. “You’re awfully quiet tonight,” Ailen said softly. “Is everything ok? You seem distracted.” I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. I cleared my throat. “So, what is this text you want me to look at?” He looked at the bundle next to him and ran his hand over it softly. Goosebumps rose on my arms as I imaged that hand running over my skin. His eyes met mine, and I could see warring emotions play across his features. “We’ve talked a lot about my faith…but not very much about yours.” I nodded slightly. “I didn’t think you’d be interested.” He cocked his head slightly, frowning. “Of course I’m interested. It’s a big part of who you are. I---“ He stopped abruptly, then sighed. “Seamus, this text belonged to my mother. She managed to hide it and save it after my grandfather died.” He opened the wrapped package with the same care and diligence I had used when unwrapping the ceremonial knife in the Sacred Grove. When he was finished, a small leather-bound book was revealed. He wordlessly held it out to me. I gasped when I beheld the figure on the front---a man in green robes with a laurel crown, holding an oak staff. No wonder he wanted to meet here. He would likely be shunned from his order for possessing such a text. My hands trembled as I opened the small book. I leafed through the pages, becoming more and more fascinated the further I got. When I reached the end, I shut the book and held it close to my heart. “Tell me what it is,” Ailen whispered. I opened my eyes, brushing away the tear that had fallen down my cheek. “This is incredibly rare. Our traditions are all passed down by word of mouth. I’ve never seen a written text before.” “I knew it…” He gazed at me with a faraway look. “My mother spoke rarely of her father. I only met him once or twice. I heard rumors, but…” He inhaled and held his breath for a moment before slowly exhaling. “Now I know.” “How did you get this?” “My mother told me where it was when she was on her deathbed. She told me to keep it safe and hidden.” I wasn’t surprised. Any Christian family found with such a thing would be immediately shunned. “I’d like to know what it says.” He looked at me with a serious look on his face. “Please, Seamus. I want…no…I need to know what it says.” I stood and headed over to the fireplace, setting the book down on a chair before adding wood to the fire. Ailen watched me, unsure of my actions. I gestured for him to join me. He rose and then sat in a chair opposite mine. “First, tell me why you want to know.” “I already told you,” he whispered. I raised an eyebrow. He looked me in the eye. “It’s a big part of who you are, Seamus. And a part I know nothing about, aside from rumors.” “What rumors?” I asked. “You are the son of the High Priest.” I nodded. “Yes.” “Which means you are next in line.” “Yes.” “All I know about the old ways has been taught to me by Christian priests.” He paused. “They say some pretty horrible things.” “I’ve heard what they say.” “Is any of it true?” “That we sacrifice virgins and animals and dance naked in the woods before having orgies?” He winced at my words. “I’m sorry, Seamus. I should never have assumed you’d take part in such awful things.” I laughed, then sobered. “There was a time when ritual sacrifices were performed, but believe it or not, we evolve too. When animal sacrifices are held at Samhain, we consume those sacrifices in honor of the harvest. We aren’t squeamish about sex, either. It is part of the cycle of the seasons, and as such may be part of a fertility ritual. We don’t exactly go around having orgies, though.” He blushed and held his hand out for the book. I gave it to him. He flipped through the book and stopped at a certain page, running his trembling hand over it before looking me in the eye. I couldn’t read the expression on his face, but I felt like my heart stopped beating. My mouth felt dry, and I felt a stirring down below. He held the book out to me and swallowed. “Tell me what this says,” he whispered. Our hands brushed when I took the book from him, and I shivered from the contact. When I looked at him, his eyes were wide and his cheeks flushed. He’d never looked more beautiful to me. My eyes widened when I saw the page he wanted me to translate. It was illustrated by a drawing of two men embracing; their manhood erect and in direct contact. It was a page celebrating masculinity and the love that could be shared between two men. I closed my eyes, gripping the book tightly. “The elders say that such feelings are wrong. I want to know if your beliefs are the same.” My heart was pounding in my chest. I was dangerously close to telling my friend how I felt. I shook my head. “No, we don’t believe as you do.” “I said the elders…not me.” I jumped when I felt Ailen take my hands in his own, and I opened my eyes to see my friend kneeling at my side. “You make me question everything I’ve ever been taught,” he said softly. The glow of the firelight illuminated his features. His eyes danced with a light I had never seen in him before. “Yule is only a couple of days away. I’d like to watch your celebration…if you’ll have me.” I nodded wordlessly. I didn’t trust myself to speak. Ailen smiled and rose, squeezing my hands before he did so. “I think I’d better go now. Thank you, Seamus. You have no idea how much you’ve helped me.” “Two days from now at high sun at the standing stones near the old castle,” I managed to say. He nodded before heading out the door. ***** The standing stones were decorated with evergreen branches, bayberry, holly, and laurel. Oak leaves were strewn about the base of the stones as a tribute to the Oak King. The mistletoe I had harvested from the Sacred Grove hung on string in between the stones, prompting a kiss between those who passed under it. The women of our order were setting up a feast on a large horizontal stone. A fire blazed in the center of the circle of stones, which is where the majority of people were gathered. Ailen was nowhere to be found. I tried to hide my disappointment as I conversed with other order members. I was talking with my father when all conversation abruptly ceased, to be replaced by disbelieving whispers. My father frowned, then strode over to Ailen, who stood at the edge of the circle uncertainly, shuffling his feet. “What are you doing here, monk? This is a private gathering,” my father said brusquely. “I invited him, Dad,” I said, stepping in front of my father and motioning to Ailen. “Why on earth would you do such a thing? They want to destroy our ways!” “Ailen has no such desire. He’s my friend and wants to learn more about the old ways.” My father looked between us and nodded. “If you vouch for him, then that’s good enough for me.” He gripped my shoulder tightly before walking back to the fire. “I can leave if I’m going to be a disruption. I don’t want to ruin your celebration,” Ailen said. He looked very uncomfortable. He was dressed plainly, with a white shirt, soft, tan pants, and a cloak. “Nonsense. All are welcome here,” I stated loudly. One of the women approached us with a mug of spiced cider. She handed it to Ailen with a smile before returning to the table of food. Ailen sipped his cider as I gave him a tour of the standing stones, explaining the symbolism and meaning behind the different herbs and plants that decorated the stones. It felt strange for our roles to be reversed. It was usually he who was teaching me. After I finished the tour, it was time for the ceremony of the Yule log. My father allowed me to lead the ritual, and I chanted the prayers in Gaelic with pride, before placing the Yule log that was adorned with sacred herbs on the fire. I swore I saw an image of the Oak King himself smiling at me in approval as the flames rose, consuming the log. After the ritual, it was time for the feast. Ailen never left my side as we consumed pork pies, a variety of fruits and nuts, spiced cider, and caraway cookies. I was amazed at his quiet acceptance of our celebration, and by the reception of the members of our order. Although initially wary, it didn’t take long for people to warm up to Ailen and welcome him to our feast. We stayed once the feast was cleaned up, after everyone had left. My father was the last to leave, embracing me tightly. “I’m proud of you, son. You did an admirable job today.” He clapped his hand on my back. “And I approve.” He glanced in Ailen’s direction before winking and striding down the hill. I sat on the stone table next to the slight monk, watching the sunset in silence. “So what did you think?” I asked after a pause. “It was nothing like I’d imagined, to be quite honest,” he said. “I thought it was lovely.” I reached over and took his hand in mine. “I’m glad.” He scooted closer to me, and I put my arm around his shoulders, drawing him into my side. “I had a dream about this place the other night…” he started, looking at the ground, then directly into my eyes with soft smile. “I think I met your Oak King.” I gasped, and he laughed, the sound like music to my ears. He reached up and brushed my hair behind my ear. “I don’t want you to be afraid of me any longer.” I nodded and placed my hands on either side of his face before leaning down and pressing my lips against his. A shock passed through my system at the contact that I’d been denied for so long. From the look in his eyes, he felt the same. Ailen initiated our second kiss, pressing his body close to mine and flicking his tongue against my lips. I gently pressed him backwards, until he was lying on the stone with me on top of him. I could feel our desires pressing together as bent my head down, nuzzling into his neck, kissing from his ear to his shoulder, and inhaling the intoxicating scent of the man I loved. His hands pressed into my back, feeling for my bare skin as he moaned softly from my ministrations. The sound almost made me lose it, and it was much too early for that. I explored every part of his body as I slowly removed his clothing, and then my own. I reached for a jar of oil, left behind as an offering for the Oak King. I had a feeling he wouldn’t mind if I put it to good use. Ailen writhed underneath me as I prepared him. Every moan, pant, and gasp he produced only made me love him more. I paused in my preparation to kiss him, burying my face in his neck and holding him close. He winced with the pain of my initial entry, then his features relaxed as he ran his hands along my back, pulling me close. A tear ran down my cheek as I made love to my beautiful friend. I couldn’t resist kissing his swollen lips and looking into the brown depths of his eyes that mirrored the love and joy that I felt. Neither one of us lasted long. I lay on my back, looking up at the clear night sky, chest heaving from my exertions. Ailen nestled into my side and I absently stroked his hip, then kissed the top of his head. “You’re going to have to leave your order, you know.” “I know…” he replied with a smile. “I already have.”
  18. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 5 “No,” said Jason, almost screaming the word. “NO.” Somehow Pamchenko’s final inquiry had managed to pierce through Jason’s fear into the ribbon of rage that always seemed to be roiling within him. Normally Jason turned from it, afraid to embrace it; whenever it burst forth, it lashed out uncontrollably as it had toward Shane that fateful day in the Student Union. Since then, he had tried to bury it further, to keep it from ever hurting anyone again, but now, miserable and scared after 48 hours that ranked among the worst in his life, Jason allowed the rage to flow from him, to cut through his fear, to fill him with a focused courage. “I don’t know who the fuck you are or who the fuck you think you are, and I don’t know what the hell Shane is mixed up in,” Jason raged, pushing his chair back from the table and standing, “but I refuse to pillage my past for the amusement of some strange asshole. What I did was stupid and wrong and awful, and I have regretted it every single day since it happened. I can’t change what I did, and I know I can never fully make it up to him, but what happened is between Shane and me and nobody else. And it isn’t 4 years ago, it’s now, and now he needs me. I don’t care who the fuck you are or how many hired goons you have,” here Jason gestured past the closed curtains to Ramon, “you will not stop me from seeing Shane.” Jason paused, perspiration pouring from him. His river of rage, potent as it had been, was receding, and he trembled inside as his looked down at the frightening man still seated across the table. He managed to keep that tremble inside, though, and stood resolute. A small movement, something like a genuine smile flitted across Pamchenko’s lips. “Well, Mr. Reid,” Pamchenko said, “you have unexpected depths. So passionate, so eloquent, especially for an engineer. You have made some valid points. Sit, and we can finish this conversation.” As Jason remained standing, Pamchenko barked “Sit” again. This time Jason obeyed the obvious command. “Let’s start with who the fuck I am,” said Pamchenko smoothly. “Technically I am Shane’s employer; he first worked for me here at Diabolique and now at Le Coq.” Responding to Jason’s surprised look, Pamchenko smiled. “My restaurant and nightclub holdings are quite diverse, Mr. Reid, but I’m sure you are not interested in a discussion about my business dealings.” " Actually," Jason thought, "you’re wrong". But he held his tongue. Pamchenko continued, “Shane,however, is much more than employee...he’s….” here for the first time Pamchenko looked human, “....he’s like a son. In fact, he almost was. Shane was engaged to my son, Nikolai.” Jason, unable to control himself, interrupted. “What? You have a gay son? What happened with the engagement?” With a wry amusement tinged with sadness, Pamchenko responded, “I, too, Mr. Reid, have no desire to….how did you put it…..oh yes….’I refuse to pillage my past’ to satisfy a stranger’s curiosity. All that need concern you is that I promised to look after Shane for Nikolai.” Again Jason interrupted, fueled by his last vestiges of rage, “Then why was Shane dancing half naked at a go go bar? Is that how you looked after him?” Anger flooded Pamchenko’s stony visage, and Jason shivered inside, even though he could sense the anger was not entirely directed at himself. Pamchenko controlled himself with visible effort. “It was Shane’s idea. He thought it was the most efficient way to earn money for nursing school. I tried to dissuade him, to allow me to pay for his school or to at least let me loan him the money, or to work at one of my more respectable establishments, but…” Pamchenko’s voice softened, and he smiled as if remembering something, “Shane is very proud, very stubborn, and very persuasive. I finally relented; I thought at least he would be safe there under my security.” The older man’s facade finally cracked. The pale eyes, so blue, were no longer icy, but filled with pain, lines of strain etched the lean, handsome face. The intense crystal eyes bore into Jason’s hazel ones. Pamchenko spoke softly, his voice trembling with emotion. “This happened under my watch. Mine. I let him down. I was supposed to protect Shane, and I failed. I won’t let it happen again. Not so much as a paper cut; not so much as a hurt feeling. That’s why I need to know your intentions. Will you hurt him again? He was already suffered so much. Much more than you know,” Pamchenko said to Jason. “No. I’ll never hurt him again. I just want to do want I can to help him get better, even it’s just sitting there with him.” Pamchenko looked intently at Jason, his blue ice orbs again agents of inquiry. After a long moment, Pamchenko spoke. “The doctors are planning to move Shane to a private room sometime this evening if his condition continues to be stable. I will make my decision tonight as to whether or not I think it is advisable for you to see him again.” At Jason’s cries of dissent, Pamchenko said, “Your protests are very impressive, Mr. Reid, but pointless. Be assured I can and will prevent you from seeing Shane if I think it for the best. I have your number; I will contact you in the morning with my decision. Ramon will drive you back to your vehicle. Good day.” As if drawn by ESP, Ramon parted the portieres and stepped inside the room. “Ramon, please take Mr. Reid back to his car,” Pamchenko said. He then removed a phone from an inside pocket of his exquisitely tailored suit and began scrolling through it. Jason stood and began to protest again, but Pamchenko did not remove his gaze from his device as he stated without emotion, “I said good day, Mr. Reid.” Defeated by this impenetrable wall of disinterest and Ramon’s glare, Jason reluctantly acquiesced. He silently followed Ramon through the restaurant and to the pearl gray limo waiting outside. Jason stared unseeingly out the window as the limo flowed through the streets. What the hell was going on? How did his friend get mixed up into this world of priceless art and dive bars and scary men? And what was Jason going to do if the scariest of those men refused to let him see Shane? It was one thing to bluster about refusing to take “no” for an answer; it was quite another to follow through. He was still in a daze of fear, confusion, and anxiety when Ramon let him out of the limo at the entrance to the hospital’s parking garage. For a brief moment, Jason considering defying the chauffeur and Pamchenko by waiting until Ramon left and trying to get in to see Shane again, but he quickly discarded that idea. For one thing, he had no legal right to visit his friend, and after witnessing the display of Pamchenko’s wealth, Jason had little doubt the man was one of great influence. The hospital would certainly take Pamchenko’s side in any dispute. But more importantly, Ramon stood beside the car, waiting patiently and watching to make sure Jason walked to his own and drove away. No, there was nothing to do now but go home, wait for Pamchenko’s decision and hope for the best. Though it felt like he had left his apartment hours ago, it was still early evening when Jason pulled back up. As he had been too upset earlier to eat, he was ravenous. He ordered a pizza, took a hot shower, and once he had donned some loose shorts and a soft, weathered tee, he turned his phone back on. He might as well deal with some of the certain fall out from his call from Denise. Sure enough, as the phone powered up, he was hit with a mass of texts and notifications of voicemail. Jason wasn’t up to dealing with Denise, so he sent her a text telling her he would be in touch. He couldn’t quite bring himself to type the word “sorry,” but he, hating himself even as he did it, tried to make the message somewhat conciliatory. Her response, which came almost immediately was “I’ll be praying for you.” Jason groaned aloud. Jason ignored the voice mails and Brad’s texts, but just as he was about to respond to one of his mother’s, the phone rang; it was her. His finger hovered over “decline” for an instant, but after the hell of the last few hours, Jason realized that he, like grown children in times of crisis the world over, wanted his mother. “Hello,” Jason said. “Jason,” his mother said sharply. “Where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you for hours. What did you say to Denise?” “We had a fight.” “Obviously,” Barbara Reid said dryly. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have gotten a phone call from her telling me that my son cursed her out. She was in tears. What on Earth were you fighting about?” “We were fighting about Shane.” “Shane?” his mother said in surprise. “Your friend Shane? Why were you fighting about him?” Jason knew he wasn’t making much sense, but he was so tired. So tired, so rattled by events. “She said he deserved to be in a coma.” “Okay, Jason,” Barbara said in that voice of forced calm he remembered from his childhood when she was trying to make sense of events when faced with an incoherent and hysterical child. “Start at the beginning. Why were you talking about Shane to Denise?” “I saw him last night, “ Jason said. Jesus, he thought, how could it have only been last night. It seemed like their meeting happened weeks ago. “Apparently, he lives here.” “You saw him?” Barbara asked. Shane had been a favorite with her, and her heart had ached for the sweet, shy boy after his mother and grandmother’s deaths. When Jason and Shane had roomed together, she had always made Shane his own care package when she sent one to her own son. Barbara had been heartbroken over their falling out, upset by the revelation about Shane’s sexuality, and horrified by Jason’s actions. “How is he? Is he doing well?” “He was okay when I saw him, and Mom….” Jason tried, but couldn’t keep the tears back. He wiped his eyes and tried to hold back a sob. “He …...he said he forgives me…..that he had already forgiven me for what I did.” “Oh baby,” she said, tears in her own eyes. “You made a mistake, we all do it. But I’m glad you saw him. He always was such a sweetheart.” “There’s more.” “More?” she said worried by the tone of her son’s voice. “After we talked, he was attacked on his way home… They beat him, Mom….somebody beat him….it’s bad, really bad.” “Oh my goodness,” she said. “My goodness. How is he?” “He’s still in unconscious. There’s a head injury, so they’ve put him in a medically induced coma.” “Oh my goodness,” Barbara repeated, stunned. “How could anybody do that, especially to such a sweet boy.” “Denise,” Jason answered in a dark voice, “said Shane deserved it. That’s what the fight was about.” “Deserved it?” Barbara repeated, confused. “Why on earth would he deserve it? Nobody deserves to be beaten like that.” “She said he did, because he was gay, and that the wages of sin are death. That’s when I told her to go fuck herself.” “Jason! I know you’re upset, but that’s no way to talk to your fiance. I don’t ever want to hear language like that from you again!” He sighed. “I know, but I was so upset. She doesn’t even know him.” “I know, sweetie,” his mother said, “but she’s young and sheltered. And, quite frankly, her opinion is not so different from what yours was in the not too distant past. You apparently changed your mind, I’m sure she will too.” Jason wanted to yell at her, to scream that she was wrong, that she didn’t know what she was talking about, but remembering the look on Shane’s face as Jason shouted horrible epithets at him, Jason knew he couldn’t. He had been just as bad as Denise. Worse. He had screamed those words at a friend, not a stranger. “I guess so,” he mumbled. “I know so,” Barbara said in a confident tone. “I doubt she’ll ever be comfortable with gays, but I’m sure she’ll gain some perspective. Gays may be sinners, but they deserve our compassion. This may be your first big fight, but it won’t be your last, so don’t worry too much about it. There are many things your dad and I don’t see eye to eye on. We’ve had some real knock-down, drag-outs over the years. Just get on your knees and apologize, send her some flowers, buy her something nice, and it will all blow over.” “I’m not sure I want it to,” Jason said. When Barbara spoke again, her voice was almost cold. “Jason, stop acting like a child. By now you should know that your actions have consequences. You asked someone to marry you; you planned a life together with someone. You can’t just throw that away because you got into a fight, especially a fight over something as silly as whether or not being gay is a sin that deserves divine retribution. I’m truly sorry to hear about Shane, and I will pray for his recovery, but he is an adult. His well being is not your concern. Your fiancee’s well being, on the other hand, very much is your concern.” Jason sighed. “I guess so. Look, I think somebody’s at the door. I’ll talk to you soon.” “Okay, baby. Get some sleep; you sound tired. I’ll be sure to add Shane’s name to my prayer group; keep me posted about how he’s doing. And don’t forget, roses and jewelry will solve almost any tiff. Goodbye.” After talking to his mother, Jason was keyed up again. The problem of Denise kept running through his mind, chasing worries of Shane, and panic about Pamchenko’s decision in an endless loop, so when the pizza came, he took it to the computer to eat while he distracted himself with the internet. Before doing an internet search on head injuries and medically induced comas, Jason guiltily succumbed to curiosity, and his first Google search was for “Viktor Pamchenko.” It produced frustratingly little. His name was occasionally mentioned in connection with some society events, almost invariably linked to a charity. He found a couple of old, blurry photos. There was a tantalizing mention on one web page dealing with the history of the mob in New Orleans that cited an article from 1995 that mentioned Viktor as being connected to it, but Jason couldn’t find the original article. Other than that, not much. Searching for Diabolique turned up a lot of hits, but Viktor himself was rarely mentioned or named as the owner. Frustrated, Jason Googled “Nikolai Pamchenko.” Jackpot. Nikolai had apparently been something of a social butterfly, and his party pics were everywhere as he apparently attended every event in New Orleans that warranted a photographer and press coverage. He was undeniably handsome, Jason admitted grudgingly. He had his father’s chiseled bone structure and lean, broad shouldered frame, but the effect was softened by chestnut hair and greenish brown eyes. After a while, Jason found the engagement announcement in one of New Orlean’s society magazines for Nikolai Pamchenko and Shane O’Neal from about 18 months ago. It included a photo, and Jason’s heart ached with jealousy as he stared at the picture of the handsome Pamchenko smiling down at Shane. He wasn’t sure what made him more jealous, the fact another man had been brave and lucky enough to successfully propose to Shane, or the simple fact that this was a couple obviously in love. Jason couldn’t help but compare this picture of contented bliss with he and Denise’s own stiff engagement photos. Pamchenko looked deliriously happy; Shane, beaming up at his fiance, suffused with happiness was perhaps even more beautiful than Jason remembered. His dark blond hair, stylishly cut, shone in the sunlight, as did his golden skin. His snug sweater showcased his toned physique, and his green-blue eyes sparkled. Shane was wrapped in Pamchenko’s arms, leaning against his chest, and they both glowed with happiness. Jason found more articles from around the same time concerning Nikolai’s opening of a new nightclub, Don de Dieu, which also featured a cabaret space. Pics from the opening night extravaganza showcased the engaged couple, perhaps even more handsome in their evening wear than in the engagement portrait. Jason spotted Viktor sporting what could only be called a grin as he hugged his son. Jason couldn't quite reconcile this smiling man with the grim bastard he had dealt with earlier. But as Jason found more current pics online, he noticed subtle changes. Nikolai, in later photos, seemed thinner, almost gaunt. And though Shane continued to smile at his fiance, something seemed different in his eyes. Shane was still looking at Nikolai with love, yes, but something else as well. Wariness? Concern? Jason spotted Viktor in the background of another picture, unmistakably scowling at his son. At any rate, Jason couldn’t find any mention or activity from Nikolai at any point in the last six months. His social media accounts were all inactive. Googling Don De Dieu brought up the information that the nightclub itself had been shuttered unexpectedly half a year earlier and the building remained empty. At least as far as the internet was concerned, Nikolai Pamchenko no longer existed. Jason frowned at the computer. Curiouser and curiouser, he thought. ********************************************************************************************* In a three story mansion across town, Viktor Pamchenko walked through echoing rooms. He wasn’t quite alone. Ramon was in his apartment in the house’s garconniere, a wing attached at a right angle to the main structure. There was a guard housed in one of the other outbuildings watching footage from the security cameras that surrounded the house and grounds, but there were no other people in the main house. Viktor entered his study, crossing to the bar and pouring himself a few fingers of Scotch. He rarely drank, and shouldn't have this nightcap after his afternoon Bourbon, but this business with Shane was weighing heavily on his mind. Sipping his drink, he paced around the room, years of familiarity blinding him to the beauty of the antique paneling, rich fabrics, and expensive art. At any rate, he had no use for interior decoration right now. Shane, his beautiful, trusting Shane, lying unconscious in a hospital bed. Drinking more deeply, Viktor continued to pace. His pacing led him to one of the room’s built in bookcases, and he paused before it studying a photo in an ornate silver frame. Viktor put his glass down, and picked up the picture. He ran a finger over the smiling faces. He and Nikolai towered over Shane, who stood in the middle. All three were mugging for the camera, and he himself wore a Santa hat. They stood in front of a giant Christmas tree, and Viktor’s heart ached as he remembered that night. The three had been so happy; a family. An unconventional one perhaps, but a family none the less. At least for a bit, for one magical moment, for the first time since Constance’s death, Viktor had known happiness. But of course, it had not lasted. The world, as always, had intruded. Viktor put down the picture, picked up his Scotch, and began pacing again. If he had another chance, how different it would all be. Especially how he dealt with Nikolai. Nikolai. But with Shane to worry about, Viktor refused to think about Nikolai and how he had failed him. If only Viktor could have a second chance with Nikolai, but he couldn’t think of his son now. Even Viktor could only deal with so much at one time. Second chances. They didn’t really exist, Viktor thought, or at least were so rare as to be nothing but a dream. Stil, people longed for them. Viktor thought of Jason Reid and smiled a bit remembering the young man's bravado. It reminded him, somehow, of Nikolai. Viktor considered Jason. Was he, indeed, who he claimed to be? A young man, haunted by his conscious, who wanted his own second chance? Or was he something more? Was this the classic case of keeping one's friends close one's enemies closer? Viktor sipped his Scotch and pondered the problem of Jason Reid. In a hospital bed a few miles away, another young man lay unconscious. He lay unmoving, but he dreamed,deeply. Shane dreamed, or at least hoped he was dreaming, that this nightmare wasn't real, as he lay still in his expensive and exclusive private room, dark and quiet except for the hums and beeps of the machines surrounding him. Shane dreamed he walked through an ancient city, one that reminded him of New Orleans, but the buildings were taller, pressing down on the narrow streets, their facades black with centuries of grime. The streets were filled with color, though, from the costumes of the crowds that swirled through them. The costumes were exuberant and elaborate, flowing, hooded capes and broad swinging hooped skirts, but they were somehow tawdry, too. The garments were bright and garish; the screamingly loud hues actually hurt Shane’s eyes. And the noise. Some sort of music played, loud and discordant, with a pounding bass that hurt Shane’s head. God, his head was aching, and he prayed for the music to stop, but it only increased in volume as the crowds grew in size and agitation. Shane fought his way through it, disoriented. The river, he need to find the river. There was a bridge there, a bridge to the quiet eastern bank. And He waited on the other side. But as he tried to maneuver through the twisting streets, the revelers began barring his way. As Shane continued to fight through them, pleading with them for passage, he realized to his horror that what he had taken for horrible, leering masks were their actual faces, At the realization, he began screaming as they pressed into him, ripping at his own costume. Even as the crowd stripped him, as the fingers began clawing at his flesh, Shane fought on. Fought on to the river. Fought on to the bridge. Fought on to his handsome prince with the hazel eyes and chestnut hair who waited for him on the other side.
  19. 1 point
    17 Dimitri shifted in the passenger seat, his gaze on Lucian who drove with a grim expression on his handsome features. “What?” Lucian spared him a short glance. “Two years ago,” Dimitri said. “When you and I were together, you knew why I wanted in. That’s why you went out with me.” “If you didn’t find me, you’d have gone to Sasha. Vlad wanted the marina; she’d have pushed Sasha to seek you out.” Lucian shrugged. “I knew your father. He was a good man. Ivan thought you’d made the best choice joining the army, and he was proud of you. I couldn’t let you lose your life so easily.” “Lose my life,” Dimitri scoffed. “Anyone who works for Sasha has a lifespan of six moths from the day they start,” Lucian said, his gaze on the unconscious man between them. “He doesn’t trust anyone. At least with me, you’ve lived.” Dimitri didn’t argue with Lucian’s assessment. “Why did you agree to help?” Lucian stopped at a light and glanced at Dimitri. “I have my reasons.” “What did you talk about with Ilia?” “If I tell you, will that help you trust me?” Dimitri shook his head. “No.” “Then don’t ask,” Lucian said, the traffic light turned green and he accelerated. “All I can tell you is that I want what’s mine.” Lucian’s answer made Dimitri nervous. He doubted what Lucian wanted had anything to do with him and Talin’s safety. They rode the rest of the way to Vlad’s warehouse in silence. Tension coiled deep inside, as they approached the perimeter gates. Lucian pressed a button on his phone and the gates opened. He drove in fast, heading to the wide roller doors familiar to Dimitri. Lucian stopped the van, and Dimitri clenched his gun tight. “Wait,” Lucian ordered, when he started to reach for the door handle. Dimitri dropped his hands as a blue light flashed on his left. The light moved over the van, taking less than a second. Lucian let out a soft breath when the warehouse doors released, sliding open. “Told you,” Lucian said, as he drove into a pristine warehouse. Dimitri couldn’t believe this was the same warehouse Lucian had murdered two women. Instead of stopping right at the entrance, Lucian drove the van straight to the little office Dimitri had seen the last time. “This is the hard part,” Lucian warned. “We need Sasha’s eyes to open the door into the underground.” “You’re not listed?” Dimitri frowned. “Not here,” Lucian said as he opened his door. “Vlad trusts no one with this place. Sasha remains the gatekeeper because he is in charge of security.” Dimitri got out of the van, knocking on the back for Sean and Tomas to join them. “What makes her trust Sasha?” Dimitri asked Lucian. “She doesn’t,” Lucian said, watching Sean and Tomas reach in to help carry out Sasha. Lucian pointed to a small panel mounted on the wall, right next to the entrance into the small office. Sean and Tomas carried Sasha there, and braced him upright. Lucian moved closer, holding Sasha’s head, he opened Sasha’s right eye with his thumb and forefinger and pressed Sasha’s head close to the panel. It took a few tries, but then the panel activated. Once again, it took only a second, and a large wide door opened on the floor in the little office. Dimitri turned in time to see Lucian screwing a silencer on to his gun. Before he could ask, Lucian put two bullets into Sasha’s head. Sean and Tomas jumped back, Dimitri stared at Lucian in shock. “We can’t leave him standing,” Lucian said. “The women stay here,” Dimitri said, afraid of the cold anger brewing in Lucian’s eyes. “Whatever you want,” Lucian said, adjusting his jacket. He pointed to the closed rolling door. “Good luck with that.” “What?” Sean asked following Lucian’s finger. Dimitri frowned when he took a closer look at the wall on either side of the door. Rows of semtex bars seemed to hold up the rolling door’s frame. “She’s rigged those explosives to detonate if those doors aren’t opened by Sasha or Vlad.” Lucian shrugged and pointed out a security camera in the corner of the inner office. “I will give you the code, but I’m sure it’s been revoked.” “You’re an asshole,” Dimitri cursed. “I didn’t say it was going to be easy,” Lucian said, heading into the small office and the entrance into the sub floor. “Make a choice, Dimitri.” Dimitri met Sean and Tomas’s gaze. “Get the girls to safety,” Dimitri said. “I need to get Talin.” “We can come to you after,” Sean said. “No.” Dimitri shook his head. “Head to the marina, secure Katerina and Lukas. If I don’t get back, make sure you ship them out of Colston.” “Dim,” Tomas started. “Figure out how to get those doors open and get out of here. Make sure my family is safe,” Dimitri said, then followed Lucian. *** Talin sat in a chair across a large mahogany desk, his fingers gripping the armrests tight. Vlad’s office was in the basement of a secure warehouse. She had restricted Raphael’s men from following them into the office. A major disadvantage as she’d kept one of her guards inside. He stood blocking the door. Raphael sat beside him, tense and silent. The tablet resting on the desk in front of Vlad had a Pan Limited stock transfer form filling the screen. The pencil on top of the tablet awaited Vlad. She needed to sign the document. Raphael assured him the transaction they’d prepped would be immediate. “Sato,” Vlad read his name on the documents. “Talin. You write your name backwards.” “You wanted my shares,” Talin said. “Sign at the bottom of the line.” Vlad’s gaze shifted from the tablet to Talin. “I suppose life is more important. Is the pain too much?” she asked with a smile. Talin hated her smile, that red curve of her lips made him shudder with fear. She needed to enter her signature for the plan to work. He fought back impatience and instead sat still. Vlad opened a drawer on her right, and produced a vial with clear liquid. She placed it on a mat on the desk and held Talin’s gaze. “The antidote,” she said with a small grin. “You held out longer than I expected. Not everyone pushes it this far. You fascinate me, Talin Sato. How did you get over your aversion to sign over Pan Limited?” Talin glanced at Raphael, and Vlad’s chuckle disappeared. “I see. Your brother in-law has influence on you.” “I reminded him why he needs to live,” Raphael said, his tone cold. “Don’t waste my efforts, Vlad. You promised the antidote for the company.” Vlad studied Raphael for a moment, and then picked up the white pen on the tablet. Her gaze skated over Talin. Talin bit his inner lip, fighting the pain sweeping through his body. He felt too hot and his palms were sweaty. The pressure in his head increased every second, taking away his ability to remain cordial. He wanted to scream out, yet he had to keep calm before Vlad. Vlad scoffed and with a flourish, she signed the document, the signature verification was immediate, Raphael worked with the best. Vlad smiled when she read the words authorized on the screen. Talin felt relief flood him. With that done, he was left with one last hurdle; his gaze went to the vial on the desk. He held his breath when Vlad took the vial, and stood. “You want this?” she asked, walking around her desk. “Or do you want to follow your husband? Do you know why he was murdered?” Talin bit his lip harder until he tasted blood. “Raphael, you told him the truth.” Vlad shook her head with mock shock. “You didn’t want me to have fun telling Talin. How mean of you.” “Give him the antidote, he’s done his part,” Raphael grinded out. “This?” Vlad held up the vial, and then she dropped the vial on the floor, the glass breaking. She grinded her red heel on the glass, the precious liquid spilling on the wooden floor. Talin sat frozen in his seat. The reality of his death staring him in the face, all he could worry about was what it would do to Dimitri. Dimitri, who was out there protecting the people he loved— What would his death do to Dimitri? “Water,” Vlad said with a nonchalant shrug. “You had no intention of handing over the antidote.” Talin stated. “Why would I?” Vlad asked. “You’re dying. You’ve handed over the company to me. Why do I need loose ends? We’re done with our transaction. Raphael, this is payback for your family refusing to work with us. If only things were different— “Shut the fuck up,” Raphael snapped. “My father was right about you. You have no principles, no respect.” “Insulting me is not wise,” Vlad said, her tone low, deadly. “Insults are the least of your worries.” Raphael stood, his phone in hand. “I thought you might be less than honest.” Vlad crossed her arms against her chest. “You can’t touch me here, Raphael Yun. I suggest you take your dying brother in-law and leave. I don’t want him to soil my expensive leather.” Raphael smiled, startling Vlad. “Did you read those documents before you signed them?” Vlad frowned. Her gaze went to the tablet on the desk, the screen now filled with the Pan Limited logo. “Of course, Talin has given me control of his shares in Pan Limited. I have won, Raphael.” “The problem with you is that you don’t think anyone would dare cross you,” Talin said, tired, his strength waning. “I might be dying, but you’re a fool, Vlad.” “You dare— Her cell phone buzzed and she scowled, answering on the second buzz. Talin glanced at Raphael who gave him an assuring nod. Talin breathed out in relief, and started to get up. The world shifted, his vision blurring. He sat back in his seat hard. His chest felt constricted, Talin gasped in air, bringing his hand up to his tight chest. “Talin?” Raphael started to reach for him only to be shoved aside by Vlad. Her eyes murderous, she had her hands wrapped around Talin’s neck in a blink. Her fingers tight around his neck, pressing down on his windpipe, cutting off the little air he was getting. She threw all her weight on him, forcing him back in his seat. “Where is my money?” she demanded. “Where is my fucking money? You thought this was a painful death, I’m going to skin you alive.” Talin grinned at her, though it felt like he was losing control of his body. His vision turned blurry. In the periphery, he could see Raphael struggling with the bodyguard who’d been at the door. “Your money is in a safe place. Thank you for authorizing the purchase of Pajari Industries,” he choked. “I told you, your ego would be your undoing.” Vlad’s expression turned ugly, her eyes filled with anger. Fear grew so deep, at the thought of hers being the last face he saw. Talin scratched her abnormally strong arms, but he was weak. Dark spots filled his blurry vision and he mourned not having seen Dimitri’s handsome face one last time. *** Lucian moved with speed, neutralizing guards with precision. Dimitri was at once impressed and worried. Worried because Lucian’s loyalty was still unknown, yet he followed him deeper into Vlad’s lair. Dimitri was glad when they emerged from the long corridor to an open hall, lined with cargo boxes. He recognized some from his jaunts across the lake, others were new. Lucian raced from one box to another, until they reached another corridor across the large hall. There were no guards in the quiet area, and as the walls turned to a deep burgundy, Dimitri realized they’d arrived at Vlad’s residence. They entered a familiar living area, through to the kitchen where Dimitri had first met Vlad. The countertops were clean, spotless. Lucian entered the dining room and motioned to a closed door across the room. “She’ll have four guards waiting outside her study,” Lucian said, his tone barely a whisper. “One inside to keep your boyfriend and Raphael in line. Don’t hesitate; they’re trained to shoot on sight.” Dimitri nodded and following behind Lucian. Meeting Lucian’s gaze, Dimitri gave him a short nod, and Lucian opened the door with stealth. In less than a minute, the four guards were down. Eager to see that Talin was fine, Dimitri opened the door to the study room. The sight of Vlad kneeling over Talin in a leather armchair blinded him with rage. Forgetting all the reasons why he needed Vlad alive, Dimitri aimed at her head, and pulled the trigger with deadly accuracy. Vlad fell back with a gasp, long dead as she hit the wooden floor. Dimitri raced to Talin’s side, panic seizing him when Talin didn’t move. Talin sat slumped in the chair, his eyes closed. “Talin.” Dimitri shook him, dropping the gun on the floor. He pulled Talin into his arms. “Talin, wake up, baby. Open your eyes.” Talin’s eyes remained closed. Dimitri felt tears sting his eyes, he pressed shaking fingers against Talin’s neck, looking for a pulse. The thundering noise in his ears wouldn’t let him concentrate enough to find that delicate throb. “No,” Dimitri said, shaking his head. Wrapping his arms around Talin, he picked him up and kicked the armchair away. Falling to his knees, he laid Talin on the floor and checked his pulse again. His heart almost jumped out with joy when he detected a slow beat. “Is he alright?” Raphael demanded kneeling across him. “Is he a—alive?” “Slow pulse,” Dimitri said, busy getting Talin comfortable. He removed his jacket and covered Talin with it because Talin felt too cold. “Did you get the antidote?” When Raphael didn’t answer him, he looked up. “Did you get the antidote, Raphael?” Raphael sighed and pointed to broken glass a few feet away. “She played us. You shouldn’t have shot her dead so quickly.” Dimitri stared at the broken glass in shock. “What?” Raphael took Talin’s left hand and squeezed it tight. “He’s going to die. We have no options left— Dimitri shook his head, already reaching for his cell phone. “We need to get him to a hospital. They can slow down the process until your people generate— “It won’t work,” Lucian said behind him. “The poison is lethal, his symptoms are nothing compared to what he’ll go through when that poison activates. The best the hospital can do is keep him in a coma to escape the pain.” Dimitri turned to look at Lucian and for the first time in his life begged. “Please help him. You must know where she hid the antidote.” Lucian hesitated, and Dimitri seized on that. “Lucian— “What do I get in return?” Lucian asked. “You’ve killed Vlad; her allies will think I did it for revenge. What do you think will happen next?” “You get to live,” Raphael said. “No, I’ll have to go on the run,” Lucian answered. “Helping you will make things worse for me.” “Don’t do this,” Dimitri said in a whisper. “Don’t beg me so pitifully,” Lucian said, his eyes glittering with anger. Dimitri took in a sharp breath when Lucian pointed his gun at him. “Stop it,” Ilia ordered, walking into the study followed by Himura. Himura immediately rushed to Talin’s side, while Ilia moved to stand beside his brother. “What are you doing?” Ilia asked Lucian. “Following the plan,” Lucian said. “What took you so long?” “The semtex on the doors,” Ilia said, glancing at Dimitri. “His men got the bomb deactivated. They drove off in a hurry, talking about saving the women in the van.” Dimitri held Lucian’s gaze. “What do you want?” Dimitri asked Lucian. “What plan?” Ilia sighed and turned to look at him. “The plan to take over Vlad’s network,” Ilia said with a small smile. Raphael started to get up, and Lucian fired a shot a few feet away from Talin. “Don’t play the hero, Raphael Yun,” Lucian said. “Now we all have something to lose. Dimitri more than most, I suggest you listen to my brother.” “The antidote first,” Dimitri said. “I don’t—,” Ilia started. “The antidote!” Raphael shouted. “Or we all die here, and no one will get what they want.” A tense minute passed, before Ilia gave a dramatic sigh. “Alright then, let’s save sweet Talin first. The tension in this room is killing me,” Ilia said with a suffering tone. He moved to Vlad’s body, and spent a few minutes running his hands over her body. Dimitri looked away when Ilia ripped the neckline on the purple dress Vlad wore. “Here we go,” Ilia said straightening up. He held a blue vial up with a grin. “She liked to keep it close to her heart.” Dimitri held his hand out for it, and Ilia narrowed his gaze. “Remember, you promised to do what I ask,” Ilia said. “Give it to me,” Dimitri growled. Ilia smiled and handed him the vial. Raphael pushed away Dimitri’s jacket and spent a few minutes looking in Talin’s jacket pockets. He produced the small metallic box Dimitri had seen Talin use for his meds earlier. Thankfully, there was a new needle in the box. It took a few minutes to administer the antidote. Dimitri’s shaking hands stopped him from being able to make the necessary injection, so Himura took over. Injecting the precious liquid into Talin’s left arm with practiced ease. Dimitri swept dark hair away from Talin’s face, worried about the sweat coating Talin’s forehead. He pressed a kiss on Talin’s lips, his heart plummeting when there was no response. He was terrified they were late. Afraid he’d lose Talin after all… When Dimitri pulled Talin into his arms and held Talin tight with a soft sob, Raphael squeezed Dimitri’s right shoulder, and got to his feet. “I’ll handle this now, leave Talin and Dimitri out of this mess,” Raphael said. “Lucian, Dimitri’s free of you, is this understood?” “As long as you hold up your end of the deal,” Lucian said. “Don’t worry,” Raphael said. “I keep my promises.” Dimitri buried his face into Talin’s shoulder, and rocked back and forth. Shouts outside the study room reached them, and Himura got up, rushing to the door. He came back a few minutes with a sigh. “Police,” Himura said. “Who called them?” Lucian demanded. “No time to find out,” Ilia said. “We need to go.” Dimitri remained on the floor, still holding Talin. “Dimitri,” Raphael urged. “Get out of here,” Dimitri said, staring at Talin’s closed eyes, willing them to open. “You’ve done all you can for us.” “Dimitri—,” Raphael continued to protest. “Go,” Dimitri hissed sparing Raphael a short glance. “Just go.” The shouts outside the study were getting closer. Ilia and Lucian had opened a hidden passageway in the wall to the right. Raphael and Himura followed, worried expressions on their faces. Dimitri watched the hidden door slide closed, and turned to Talin just as Detective Oman rushed into the room. *** A steady beep woke Talin. The scent of antiseptic filled his nostrils next, his eyes opened, his vision, blurry at first, focused on a white ceiling. His body felt raw: very sore and achy. Swallowing hard, he sighed at how dry his mouth felt. Closing his eyes for a moment, he shifted on the pillows, and started to lift his right hand to rub his nose. But his hand felt caught in a vice. Lifting his head slowly, he stared at the dark head resting on the mattress near his thigh. His heart jumped, elated. Dimitri held his hand tight. Dimitri. Those dark wavy strands called to his fingers. His head fell back on the pillows. The movement had Dimitri sitting up fast, and Talin smiled when frantic blue eyes met his. There were no words to express the love that surged through him; all he could do was stare. “You’re awake.” Talin nodded, words lost. Dimitri let out a relieved sigh. “You’re awake,” Dimitri repeated with more strength, and Talin frowned when tears filled those gorgeous blue eyes. “Thank you for waking up.” Talin felt as though he needed to speak, but when he tried, his dry throat wouldn’t form words. Dimitri squeezed his hand and stood to hug him. Dimitri lifted him into his arms in a gentle hug that infused warmth into Talin. Talin closed his eyes feeling relieved for the first time in weeks as he breathed in Dimitri’s scent. “I love you, Talin,” Dimitri said into his ear. Happiness burst through Talin. He started to hold Dimitri, but the sight of police officers at the doors had him frowning. Detective Oman came into the room, and stopped at the foot of his bed. Talin wrapped his arms around Dimitri. “I have to go, babe,” Dimitri pressed a kiss on his jaw. “There are things I need to clear with the detective.” Talin shook his head unwilling to let go of Dimitri. “We’ve waited long enough, Sedlackov,” Detective Oman said. Dimitri helped Talin lie back. “I’ll be gone, but Kat and Lukas are around. Lori will visit too. You’re not alone.” The calm in Dimitri’s voice was new, but still…the worry grew deep inside. Talin swallowed hard and willed his voice to cooperate. “W—where are you going?” His voice sounded scratchy and rough to his ears. “Vlad— “Vlad’s dead,” Dimitri said. “Don’t worry, Talin. It will work out.” “Dimitri,” Talin held on to Dimitri’s right upper arm. “I’ll come back to you.” Dimitri kissed him. “I promise. Get some sleep.” Talin sighed and watched Dimitri leave with the detective, feeling helpless. He worried until sleep claimed him again. **** The next time Talin woke to soft feminine voices talking over him. “The doctor says to let him rest as much as possible. His body needs to recover strength.” That was Katerina, Talin thought through the heavy fog. “Will he go home to the loft?” Lori. What time was it? She was supposed to watch out for the club. “Dimitri would like it very much if he came to stay with us at the marina.” Katerina let out a sigh. “But that’s impossible right now. Since the investigations started, our home looks like a crime scene. It’s not the best place for recovery.” “Talin is most comfortable at the loft,” Lori said. “Yeah,” Katerina said. “I’m just glad he’s alive.” “I still don’t know what happened. How did he get sick?” Lori sounded upset. “I saw him at the club, and he seemed healthy. To see him in here, with all these equipment attached is shocking.” “It’s a long story,” Katerina said. “I’ll let him tell you when he’s ready.” “What about Dimitri?” Lori asked. “Is it true he was involved with the Russian mob? It’s all over the news.” Talin opened his eyes then curious about that statement. Dimitri on the news meant he hadn’t dreamed up the police and Detective Oman in his hospital room. They had taken Dimitri. “Talin,” Katerina exclaimed appearing on his left side. She rubbed his upper left arm. “You’re awake.” Talin frowned. “What was that about Dimitri?” he rasped out. Katerina frowned and gave Lori a small scowl. “There’s nothing to worry about.” Talin reached for Katerina’s hand and held it tight. “Tell me,” he pleaded. Katerina sighed and met Lori’s gaze before she said, “Dimitri was arrested. Colston PD is investigating Vlad’s operations, and the marina.” Talin started to sit up. He couldn’t lie here when Dimitri needed him. “See,” Katerina pushed him back with a soft curse. “Dimitri was right. He said you’d want to jump out of bed and rush to his side. But you can’t, Talin.” “Dimitri needs me,” Talin hissed, kicking the covers away determined to check out of the hospital. “Help me up.” “Not yet, you just survived a major scare, Talin,” Lori said. “Please stop this. Dimitri is fine.” Talin shook his head. “No.” A nurse rushed into the room, and minutes later, he was fighting oblivion, his gaze on a tearful Katerina. *** Two Months Later Dimitri removed the security camera he’d installed weeks ago meaning to protect Talin. Climbing down the ladder, he dumped the gadget into his toolbox and removed his gloves. Autumn was in full swing, the air getting colder with each passing day. Dimitri stepped up to the balcony, and studied the parking lot below. It was almost eight o’clock. The parking lot was filling with cars; soon there would be no space. The Talon lived on despite the turmoil that had filled his and Talin’s lives these past weeks. Dimitri reached into his jeans pocket and took the keys he’d kept for a week now. He’d wanted to be sure that there would be no scary repercussions from his decision to call Detective Oman. That night, holding an unconscious Talin in his arms—, his fingers closed over the keys. That moment, thinking Talin dead, was the most painful he’d ever had in his life. Dimitri had vowed never to feel that pain again. He could have run like Ilia and Lucian had, but that would have meant dragging Talin along. When the detective had arrested him, Dimitri cooperated as much as he could. The investigation into the marina was hard on Lukas and Katerina. But, it had soon passed when it became clear the marina was run clean. Lukas and Katerina were cleared, and they now ran the marina peacefully. His case however had dragged on. Vlad’s murder, the bodies found in the warehouse, had all seemed damning. It had helped to have Vlad’s illicit cargo in her warehouse. Not to mention the poor girls she’d smuggled into Colston. The ones Sean and Tomas helped rescue. Dimitri had given Detective Oman enough information to help capture most of Vlad’s acquaintances in the city. The lawyer Raphael sent him had helped broker a deal with the prosecutor. Thanks to Raphael’s help, Dimitri’s cooperation against the Colston Bratva had kept him out of jail. “Dimitri?” Talin’s sexy voice cut through his thoughts, drawing his gaze to his right. Talin looked good. Healthy, Dimitri thought. In a pair of grey slacks and white shirt, his long hair windblown, Talin looked too enticing. Holding out his hand, he smiled when Talin closed the distance between them. Talin wrapped his arms around Dimitri, burying his face into Dimitri’s chest. They fit. “Hey.” “What are you doing out here?” Talin asked. “It’s cold.” Dimitri rubbed his hands over Talin’s back and then brushed his fingers through Talin’s silky hair. “I was removing the surveillance camera I put up.” Dimitri kissed the top of Talin’s head. “I think it’s time.” “We didn’t get to find out who was sending those messages.” Talin sighed. “That bastard owes me paint for my door.” “Detective Oman said it was Ken Luther,” Dimitri said. “They caught him living in a condemned house a few blocks from here.” Talin bunched Dimitri’s shirt in a gentle hold. “That’s not surprising. He had a thing for you.” “Actually,” Dimitri sunk his fingers into Talin’s hair and tilted his head back. “Ken had a thing for you, my love. He had pictures of you on his walls. Those drugs didn’t do him good. They said he wanted to protect you from me.” Talin held his gaze. “Then Ken was quite misguided. I don’t need any protection from you.” Dimitri smiled and leaned to kiss him. He forgot about cold weather when Talin moaned and kissed him back with enthusiasm. Passion igniting, Talin clung to him, moving closer to him. Talin sighed when they broke apart. “Raphael called.” “What does he want?” Dimitri asked. Talin grinned. “He helped you out, Dimitri.” “Yeah well, he skipped out of town pretty quick when shit hit the fan.” Talin shrugged. “It’s better for all of us. He sold back Pajari Industries to Lucian and Ilia as they wanted. They’ve left the country, heading to Moscow. Colston is safe from them, for now.” “Good riddance,” Dimitri said with a satisfied nod. “What about Pan Limited?” “I suppose I’ll watch over it,” Talin said. “That’s if you don’t mind a husband who travels from time to time.” Dimitri blinked. “What did you say?” Talin blushed and hid his face in Dimitri’s chest. Dimitri chuckled and held Talin tight. “Are you asking me to be your husband?” Talin nodded. “It doesn’t have to be now— “Yes.” Dimitri cut in before Talin could come up with a reason to wait. “The answer is yes.” Talin let out a relieved sigh. Dimitri dangled the keys in the air, making them jingle and Talin looked at them. “Whose keys are those?” Talin asked. “Did you change the locks again?” “Keys to our new house,” Dimitri said with a smile. Talin’s eyes widened with pleasure. “What?” Talin asked. “When? How?” “You’re forgetting where,” Dimitri said. Talin grabbed the keys out of his hand. “Where is our new house?” “By the lake, about twenty minutes away from the club, thirty from the marina,” Dimitri answered. “Secluded, safe, good neighborhood, no chance of interference from organized criminals.” Talin held the keys against his chest and leaned up to kiss him. “I love you, Dimitri.” “I love you,” Dimitri said against Talin’s soft lips. They stayed there talking and kissing, then Talin took his arm, leading him into the loft. Dimitri smiled when Talin made a point of closing the door before he stripped out of the white shirt he wore. “Do I get to plant my rose in a garden?” Talin asked. Dimitri’s gaze fell on the little rose growing in a pot. It sat on the coffee table this time; Talin moved it around the loft chasing the sunlight. It had bloomed twice, deep red roses that made Talin smile at the sight of them. Dimitri reached for Talin, pulling him into his arms for a scorching kiss. “I’ll buy you a dozen bushes if you wish,” Dimitri said, trailing kisses along Talin’s bare shoulder. “Anything you want, Talin.” “All I want is you,” Talin answered. “Always you, Dimitri.” As Dimitri lifted Talin into his arms, heading to the bedroom, he knew in his heart too, that all he ever wanted was Talin in his life. **** Fin
  20. 1 point
    Moira O'Brien is an archaeologist studying the ancient history of Ireland. Her particular interest is in the dolmens of the stoneranges called the Burrens in Western Ireland. But she discovers something beyond her understanding. Something that could mean the end of the world. Something that will challenge all she knows, all she believes, and all she holds dear.
  21. 1 point
    Song and Dance Chapter 3 Chet couldn’t believe he had done something so fucking stupid. He didn’t know what it was about this guy… Arron… damn, he loved that name, but he’d wanted this evening to go perfectly, and he was off to a piss-poor start. He had to force himself not to speed towards the man who was his destination. Arron had given up on him and left the restaurant. That freaked Chet out, big time. He must have been angry, thinking he’d been stood up... the same way Chet had felt when he thought Arron had done that to him. Chet knew he had his hopes up way too high, but he was powerless to hold back. He still couldn’t believe he’d said what he did about Arron’s eyes. He was probably coming on too strong, but again, it was out of his control. Just knowing he’d already disappointed that beautiful guy had almost sent him into a tailspin. Please, God, don’t let anything else go wrong tonight. His silent plea was meant in earnest because his gut told him there was a lot at stake here. He had learned to trust his gut. Pulling his Jeep into the parking lot, he could see Arron waiting for him in front of the restaurant. With his attention on the handsome cop standing under the entrance lights, he almost plowed into the rear of a big black car backing out of a parking space. He had to slam on his brakes to avoid a collision. Reversing his Jeep to allow the car to proceed, he didn’t dare to look over at Arron. He knew his face was now a brilliant shade of red, and just hoped it wasn’t noticeable from where Arron stood. Obviously, God hadn’t heard his prayer, or he had a sick sense of humor. Finally getting parked, he got out trying to look nonchalant, and strode over to a waiting, smirking Arron. “Was that my 'eyes’ fault too?” he asked with a laugh. The receding blush on Chet’s face returned, and he had to laugh. “Something like that… smartass.” Arron’s beautiful grin was infectious, and they both entered the restaurant looking like happiness personified. Waiting to be seated, Chet leaned in close to Arron and murmured, “I hope I’ll be able to hold onto my cutlery tonight.” Arron’s grin got bigger as he took in Chet’s handsome features with a sweep of those wolf eyes. “If you can’t manage it, I’ll just have to feed you.” His eyes had stopped their movement and focused on Chet’s mouth. “Or we could order the ribs and give you lots of napkins.” His deep voice sent an electric thrill through Chet. “That would work, but I think I like the idea of you feeding me better.” Arron laughed aloud at that. Okay, this was looking good. Chet was relieved there was no attitude or coolness coming off of Arron. In fact, it was the opposite. He was definitely flirting, and it made Chet think he didn’t screw up too bad after all. He was at ease now, and allowed himself to relax. Dinner was superb. It was the ideal place for a first date. The ambiance was both charming and subdued, the lighting romantic, and they had a nicely private table in an area all to themselves. Maria the waitress was a gem who seemed to understand their desire to be left to themselves. The conversation was indicative of a special rapport they shared. They started off talking about Michael and Kendall, but as they opened up to each other they began to realize just how much they had in common. Eventually the casual aspects of their conversation got more personal, and much more real. Arron revealed the pain he carried around after finding Dwayne with his best friend, christening Arron’s new couch in the worst of ways. The most surprising aspect in revisiting and telling of that memory was the difference in the impact he felt from it. It no longer felt like it was a yesterday pain. In fact, the agonizing memory of pain became a distant, almost non-existent one, in the presence of the attentive man sitting across from him. Here was a man who got it, and that seemed to help make what had happened in the past become insignificant. The understanding and the commiseration reflected back from those softened green eyes validated Arron’s taking his time to get past it. There was no judgement in those eyes, only a compassion for what Arron had endured. “I’m sorry that happened to you, Arron. I understand the feeling of betrayal. We think it should be easy to find that one person to love and build your life with, but my experience is there are those who are lucky and hit the jackpot right off the bat, and those, like you and me, who have to do the song and dance, over and over, never seeming to have the luck or karma or timing or whatever it is it takes to get off the dance floor. Does that make sense to you?” “Yeah, perfect sense. I thought I was one of those lucky ones, but it turned out to be a big fat lie; like you said, a song and dance. Unfortunately I was the last one to know. My… our friends knew, but not one of them had the decency to tell me. Instead they all went around thinking ‘poor Arron’, and left me oblivious, in the dark. That made Dwayne and David’s betrayal even worse. It felt like I had lost all control, and there was no one to count on. I don’t want to be angry and bitter anymore, you know? I’ve had enough of it.” “I know we don’t know each other very well yet, but I’d like to be someone you can count on.” Looking closely at Chet, Arron saw nothing but sincerity there. It was such an honest face. Was this too good to be true? Not wanting to get caught up in the sensations bubbling up inside, Arron pointed the conversation in a different direction to give himself time to reel those feelings in. “So what’s your story? Why is a gorgeous guy like you not hog-tied to someone’s bed for all eternity?” His eyes twinkled in the soft lighting. “Gorgeous?” “Yup. Stop stalling and answer the question. I spilled so you owe me, green eyes,” Arron teased. Chet’s heart hitched at the thought that maybe Arron was giving him a pet name, like Michael and Kendall had for each other. Like the one he used to have. That was ridiculous though, to be thinking of these things on a first date. Man, he was needy. “My story is different from yours, but the moral is the same. I lost the ability to trust for a while, and I turned tail and ran.” Chet hesitated and looked away. “You didn’t judge me and I won’t judge you. I ran away too. Sometimes it’s what we have to do to make it through. Keep going,” he said softly, capturing and holding Chet’s gaze in his, grasping his hand at the same time. Chet’s eyes flicked down at their hands and then back up to that gaze. “I was so in love, and I was sure he loved me just as much. It’s been over a year and it still hurts. The day we were going to move in together, he said he was too young to tie himself down. He just walked away, like I meant nothing to him.” Chet’s eyes filled up with tears and he pulled his hand back to wipe them away before they could fall. “Three days later, I went to get my Dad’s watch from him, and saw him through the window of his door, already fucking someone else. Someone he told me was just a friend.” The next tears he couldn’t catch in time. Arron could feel the pain radiating off of Chet in waves. He almost looked ashamed, and Arron wasn’t sure if it was because of what had happened or because he was crying. Standing up, he went around to Chet’s side of the table. “Stand up.” Chet understood right away, and stood up and folded himself up in Arron’s outstretched arms. They held tight to each other, breathing the other man in, memorizing the scent. Neither one cared about the other patrons. It was as if only they existed, as the hug gave each of them something they needed. Reassurance, support and the promise of something more. A connection, a special one, had occurred and they were feeling it, needing it like they needed to breathe. It was the best hug Chet could ever remember getting, and as much as he didn’t want to, they eventually had to let go. Both of them sat back down. “Thank you… I needed that more than you know.” “No problem. It was good for me too, but just so you know, I don’t usually hug on the first date.” Chet laughed at that, feeling better than he had in a long time. The simple human contact had pulled him back from the depths of a despair he was finally ready to let go of. “So you’re telling me that’s all I’m getting… tonight?” There was a sultry twinkle in the look he gave Arron, almost like he was accepting a challenge, and Arron got the playful vibe right away. “We’ll have to see about that. It depends on how charming you can be.” There was a challenge in that remark. “How am I doing so far?” he joked. “You got the hug, didn’t you?” “Yes, I did, didn’t I? Prepare to have your pants charmed off, my friend.” “Wait, I didn’t mean….” He was drowned out by Arron’s laughter, a gut-busting laugh as he took in Chet’s beet-red face. There was something so endearing about this sweetly-blushing man. “Relax, I know what you didn’t mean,” he continued to laugh. Chet joined him as the embarrassment faded. The rest of the dinner was magical. They interacted like they had known the other man forever. Talking about so many different things, the conversation flowed from one subject to another. This was no ordinary date for either of them, and the connection they shared continued to cement itself. When they finally agreed it was time to go, both were in the highest of spirits, seeing much of themselves in each other. They were at the same place in their lives, with the same outlook on life, both ready and looking for something real. It was unspoken but it was present in both their minds, that each was what the other wanted… had been looking for. Standing next to Chet’s Jeep, they became drawn to one another, not at all aware of the coldness of the chilly winter evening. “So was I charming enough to warrant a kiss, or is that too presumptuous of me?” Chet got his answer from the soft brush of lips against his, their fullness and taste were intoxicating enough that Chet couldn’t stop himself from increasing the pressure, and deepening the kiss. Arron responded with a parting of his lips, letting his tongue meet Chet’s in a gentle, searching caress that tentatively explored the taste of this incredibly magnetic man. Chet allowed Arron to take the lead, responding to each action with one of his own. It was a first kiss worthy of the feelings that were building behind it, and as they slowly drew apart, the loss and the promise of it was felt by both of them. “Wow,” muttered Chet. “Wow back, green eyes. That was… I don’t know what… that worked for me. Could I ever get used to that!” Arron’s face expressed a kind of child-like wonderment. “God in heaven, me too, gray eyes. You’re almost too good to be true. I don’t want to freak you out, but I’ve been waiting for someone like you, and not just because of the kiss. Is it too soon to say that? I can’t seem to control my mouth around you. Please don’t think I’m crazy.” “I don’t think you’re crazy, and maybe it is too early… but I’m feeling the same way. This doesn’t feel like a song and dance to me. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had this kind of reaction to a guy before… not even Dwayne. It feels like we have something here, and that’s kind of scary. Does it scare you?” “Holy crap, yeah, but I think it’s a good scary. I really, really like you, and I want to know everything about you. You feel like you fit me, like my other half or something. I know that sounds lame and maybe I’m getting carried away again, but I can’t remember having a better night, not ever. Maybe we could go to my place and talk some more if you want?” Arron raised his eyebrows at that. “Seriously, just to talk a bit. We both have to work in the morning, and I have a really nice mint/jasmine tea that has no caffeine. What do you say, handsome?” “There’s the charm again,” he grinned. “I’ll follow you, more-handsome guy.” “Now who’s being charming? Stick close, and don’t get lost,” he winked. Chet’s place was both stunning and homey. It could more be described as a loft than an apartment, with great architectural detail still present in the renovated space that had once been an industrial building. “Chet, this is amazing. What did it used to be?” “Thanks, it was an old shoe factory at one time. I love the bones of it. Some of the building is still being renovated and there’s no security system in place yet, but it’s a good neighborhood, and I have a great view of the park. I’d like to see your Craftsman Style house one of these days.” Putting on a puppy-dog face, he made Arron chuckle. “Play your cards right, and I think you’ll get your chance.” That felt like a promise to Chet, and he glowed from the inside out. The tea was a soothing finish to a very satisfying dinner and they enjoyed it while sitting on a deep pile, geometric-patterned rug in front of the gas fireplace. It was a romantic setting, to be sure. “So where do you see this going, Chet. I’m curious about what you’re thinking, and I’m not asking for any promises or anything like that, so don’t freak out.” “You can ask me anything you want. I trust you, and somehow I know it’s not a mistake to feel that way. I’ll be honest with you. I’m lonely. I feel it every day and I hope it doesn’t sound pathetic to hear it?” Arron shook his head, intent on what Chet was trying to say. “The only real friends I’ve had since I left the city, are Kendall and Michael. I’ve been lonely for a long time, but I’m not desperate. I’ve met a bunch of guys since Ian, and I even hooked up a couple of times, but the first time I’ve felt something good, something right, was tonight… well, today, when I first met you. I’m not bullshitting you, Arron. I want this to go somewhere. I want a partner... someone I can trust and count on. Someone who loves me, and is happy and content with only me. I want a monogamous life partner, and I don’t want to jump the gun, but it feels like you could be that guy. If I could make a wish right now, you would be that guy.” Sighing deeply, Chet put his tea down and laid back on the cozy rug, closing his eyes, fearing he had said too much, too soon. His admission made him feel very vulnerable. The next thing Chet knew, he was being kissed with a passion that surprised him, but he was quick to get up to speed, returning the same passion. That feeling of vulnerability vanished. He had thought their first kiss was great, and it was, but this one took him to the moon. Arron had climbed over his body and was laying full length on him slowly grinding into him as the kiss seemed to go on forever. Chet could feel the hard excitement of Arron as it rubbed against his own equally hard erection. Where had that come from? Chet was in heaven, when they finally came up for air. “Was it something I said, gray eyes?” Chet looked flushed and dazed, and absolutely beautiful, his face lit by the flickering firelight. “Something like that… smartass.” Arron’s gaze was unwavering as he took in Chet’s open, honest face. “Sorry I got carried away, but you did say the perfect thing, mister charmer… exactly what I wanted to hear, but never thought I would. I really want to believe you, and I think I do. I want the same thing, and I think you could be the one too. Are we kidding ourselves here? Are we getting carried away? It’s been one date and two kisses.” What Arron was asking for was reassurance, and Chet wanted to give it to him. “And a lifetime of looking. We’re both getting close to twenty-eight and while that’s not a reason to start a relationship, it’s a damn good reason to have some faith in what our instincts are telling us. I think we have to give this a chance… not get scared by how we’re feeling. We’ve both done the dance, and we know not just what we want, but what we don’t want, right?” “Right. You know, you’re a very persuasive man, Mr. Little, and, ah, I should get up now, before we do get too carried away.” Arron looked a little sheepish at his very forward action to Chet’s earlier words. “I happen to like you right here. It feels just right to me.” He was grinning like a fool. Arron laughed. “I’m sure you do, but there isn’t enough room in my pants and it’s getting kind of painful, and I think we should maybe take this part slow, at least. I know I started this, but you have to let go now, and let me up.” He gave Chet’s lips a quick but sensual kiss. Chet hadn’t realized that he still had a tight hold on Arron’s warm, powerful body, but he reluctantly let go so the man could sit up and adjust his impressive bulge to a more comfortable position. Chet sat up and did the same. “So are we saying we’re both on the same page about us… that we’ve got something here?” Arron had to drag his eyes upward.“I think we are. I think we have gone from one date to officially dating. What do you think?” “I think I haven’t been this happy in a long, long time. It’s like we got struck by lightning or cupid’s arrows.” Arron laughed at that. “Honestly, Officer Bailey, I have never had this happen before. Do you think there’s such a thing as love at first sight?” That was a loaded question that quickened Arron’s heart-rate. “Yesterday, I would have definitely said no. Now, I’m not so sure.” He leaned over and kissed Chet softly, tenderly, expressing so much emotion in that kiss. “I think we are getting carried away now, and I should go. I want lots of time to dream about tonight… about you.” “I know you’re right, but can you give me just five more minutes, please?” “For what?” “I really want to sit on the couch and hold you for five minutes before you go. Would you mind?” Chet’s blush made his request all the more adorable and Arron felt his eyes burning at the sweetness of this big man. Chet was propped in the corner of the couch, Arron’s back to his chest between his spread legs, and he felt such a peace with his arms wrapped around the guy he wanted to be his guy. Resting his chin lightly on Arron’s broad shoulder he felt like the luckiest guy in the world, and he murmured how he felt into Arron’s ear. Arron sighed in total contentment. “You say that, green eyes, and you haven’t tasted my cooking yet.” He turned his head to receive one of Chet’s affirming kisses. “You look this good, and you can cook too?” “Damn right, I can cook. I could fatten you up in no time.” That earned him a gently tweaked nipple, eliciting a quiet groan. “Did I just find one of your spots, Officer Bailey?” “I am neither confirming nor denying, Mr. Little.” “That would be a yes, then,” Chet laughed. “So when are you going to cook for me, Emeril?” “Don’t set your sights too high. I’m no Emeril, but I think I can make you happy, so just say when and I’ll make it happen. I’m off at four in the afternoon all week. What about you?” “I’m usually home by then too. Surprise me. My calendar is wide open; there’s only one name penciled in it from now on.” Arron choked up on hearing that said. This guy was too good to be believed. “Okay, deal. Now I really have to go.” The kiss at the door was scorching, something both men would take to their separate beds with them. After a suspect start, the night had turned into the best night of Arron’s life. He was damn near giddy with the joy he felt as he raced down the stairs, almost barreling some guy over as he practically flew out the door. Life was fucking good… so fucking good. @@@@@@@@@@@
  22. 1 point
    “You’re gonna have to teach me how to drive this monster, Vasili.” “You don’t have to learn how to unless you want to, Mahi. If it’s the two of us I can play Captain, if you want to take the family or some of the tribe members out, I can get some of my guys to crew for you. I do want to make the first weekend trip after we clean the place out and make some changes an outing for the men who ran the operation for us and their families.” “That would be cool; can we sleep that many?” “Yeah, we’ll give the couples and the crew first dibs on the cabins; kids and single men can sleep in the salon or topside. I plan to string a hammock outside and spend my nights under the stars as long as the weather let’s me.” “Do you mind my guys naming the boat the Atlantis?” “Fuck no! It’s the perfect name. Plus naming the jet the Full Moon Flyer was another stroke of genius on their part. My people will be stoked when they see the name of the tribe on the plane.” “What a fucking month! I guess it all worked out in the end, though.” “For the most part yes; Tepes getting away by turning into smoke pisses me off.” “He’s one cocky fucker. Just him and the two goons on board. And they sailed this thing all the way from Marseilles! They probably had a larger crew they put ashore somewhere in New England.” “I have a feeling this is not the last time we will see him. He lost a lot of money, a jet and a yacht―he’s probably not happy with us. He’ll see right through the ruse of the solicitor stealing the money and the plane.” “Not going to worry about it right now. You and I have at least three days at sea before we dock at Sambro and we’re going to spend most of that time naked.” “Now we’re talking! Before I forget, the wife sends her love but asks that you not wear me out. She claims sometimes after she lends me to you I’m useless to her for a day or two!” “Ha! That woman is a trip, you better be good to her. When you and I are near retirement age we’ll all have to sit down and figure out what we want to do in our personal lives." “Matters to be dealt with, mate. Matters to be dealt with at another time. For now it’s you and me and some good loving.”
  23. 1 point
    The next two hundred years passed with little happening. The only snag with Harry and I was the fact we couldn’t communicate with our minds. Jackson had asked us about the ability early on and was surprised when we didn’t know what he was talking about. After a lot of talking we decided it must be due to my being only half vampire and settle into our new life. Then one day I was assigned as a bodyguard to a visiting Vampire lecturer from the High Council, High Councilor Terrance Smidge – or Terry to his friends. Terry liked history and he was eager to meet the new history teacher for the vampire children’s night school. We slipped into the classroom halfway through a class and took a seat at the back as quietly as possible. The teacher, a witch called Edmund Stone, flicked a look at us before returning his attention to his class. The lesson was over within half-an-hour and when the class had left Terry and I made our way to the front of the classroom. “Mr. Stone, this is High Council Member Terrance Smidge,” I said, then I stepped back as they shook hands. “Welcome Sir. Please call me Eddy, everyone else does,” Edmund said smiling. “Well you have to call me Terry then.” The two men were soon chatting about things I could only guess at. I had lived through a lot of history in two hundred years but they were talking about stuff that had happened on the mainland, and I had never taken much notice of the mainland—after all I didn’t live there or have to go there. I was absorbed in staring at a piece of art work one of the younger children had done, I wasn’t sure what I was meant to be but it was colorful and seemed like the child had to have had fun doing it. A hand landed on my shoulder making me jump. “Sorry I didn’t mean to startle you,” Eddy said smiling. He nodded at the picture, “It’s supposed to be a waterfall, if you were wondering.” I looked again, if I squinted, I could sort of make the picture look like water. “I think I see it,” I commented, making him laugh. “I’m Eddy, and you are?” he asked holding his hand out. Taking his hand I had to mask my shock as I answered, “I’m Thane. I’m just here to guard your visitor.” I looked around and saw Terry was inspecting the children’s work displays much as I had been doing. When I had touched Eddy’s hand I had felt a shock too much like the shock I still got every time Harry touched my bare skin. I needed to get out of there and talk to Harry, quickly. As though he had been summoned Harry knocked and entered the room. He barely paused when he saw me. “Ah, Mr. Stone, Senior Elder Jackson Langman said you needed an assistant for some of your classes. He thought I may be a good fit. My name is Harold, I’m a second on the council. Jackson knows I have an interest in history.” Harry held his hand out to Eddy and before I could react Eddy had taken it. Harry couldn’t mask the shock that went through him and he stared at Eddy and then at me. I turned quickly knowing that Harry had a reason for being there and I didn’t want to do anything to ruin whatever his task was. If he could he would fill me in properly later. “Terry, I think it is time we left Mr. Stone to his work.” Terry nodded as he joined me and we took our leave. As I passed Harry I used the sign language he had taught me, We need to talk, dear. I’ll see you at home in two hours, he replied. *** Later we sat eating some dinner I had rustled up. “Well what’s happening?” I asked after another long silence. “I don’t know, I need to talk to Jackson but he’s out of town ‘til later tonight,” Harry answered. “But I do know that Eddy Stone is going to be very close to us somehow.” I sighed. Harry patted my hand. “Look, I left a message for Jackson to call us as soon as he could. You know he’s fond of you so he’ll call soon.” I knew Harry was trying to make me relax but I couldn’t. How could we both be reacting to Eddy when we already had each other? Harry was right about Jackson though. The Senior Vampire had taken me under his wing from our first meeting. Apparently he didn’t like the fact that my adoptive siblings had just cast me aside without a care for how I would survive. He had always been there for me, during my training, and at any time I needed an older person to talk to. We both started when the phone suddenly rang, Harry answered and nodded to me to show it was Jackson. I sat there listening to only one half of the conversation as Harry explained what had happened and asked what it meant. By the time he hung up I was on tenterhooks to find out what Jackson had said. “Well?” I asked talking quickly and getting up to pace the floor, “What did he say? It’s just an aberration, isn’t it? There’s nothing to worry about, is there?” “STOP!” shouted Harry, I froze immediately. “Now when you’ve quite finished panicking I will tell you what Jackson said.” He looked at me and waited for me to nod. “Right, sit.” He pointed to the couch and joined me once I had sat down. He put an arm round my shoulders and started talking, “Jackson said he has heard of this happening but only rarely. In his seventeen-hundred or more years he has only personally seen this manifesting twice before. It seems you and I were right when we spoke a few decades ago about adding a third for some fun. What we didn’t realize was that actually our need for someone else was actually our bond’s way of telling us we were missing someone. Eddy is the missing part. Our problem is convincing him of that. He’s a witch and Jackson says that they may not feel the same wanting that we do.” I sat there in shock and just stared at him. Yes we had talked about adding a third but only for play, not permanently. If what he said was true I would have to get used to sharing Harry for the rest of our lives. On the plus side, I suddenly realized I wouldn’t be alone when he had to travel out of the community for his work. Although when he had started he had only working round town, Jackson had soon promoted him to a second on the council and often sent him traveling, checking out the surrounding communities to make sure there was no unrest nearby. His easy manner and years as a con man made sure that people trusted him easily and he made some good allies for the community. I realized Harry was waving his hand in front of my face and I swatted it away. “So how do we convince him?” I asked and enjoyed the look of shock on Harry’s face. He had expected me to argue that we were okay just the two of us. “What dear?” I asked trying to look innocent. He threw a cushion at me and shook his head, “You are too much sometimes.” “Well to be honest I have been feeling lonely recently. Since you were promoted you’re out of town a lot and that leaves me on my own. And I’ve been feeling that something is missing for a while as you know. I love you more than anything but I keep feeling there’s something more out there.” Harry looked thoughtful and then nodded, “I know what you mean. I think it’s worth trying to get to know him. But how do we do that without us sounding crazy? What we going to say? Hi, Eddy we’re mates and we think you’re our third mate?” “Well I assume you’re checking him out anyway, for Jackson?” At Harry’s nod I continued, “Well then. You can get to know him and you can introduce me as your mate. Maybe we can invite him round for dinner. You know a getting to know your workmate kind of thing?” “Alright we’ll try it your way and see how it goes.” *** Harry spent a week trying to convince Eddy to meet up with us. Harry had gone to help with his class but had trouble getting Eddy alone for long enough to really work on the witch. I thought it was hilarious to watch my super confident mate get evaded time and time again. He was so used to getting everything he wanted, he didn’t know how to react. In the end it was me that got to see Eddy alone first… *** Harry was out of town one snowy night and I was relaxing at home, when the phone rang. “Hello,” I said as I answered. “Thane, is that you?” a voice asked. “Yes, who’s this?” I frowned, the voice sounded familiar but there was something wrong with it. “It’s Eddy, I need your help. My car broke down on my way home. I tried to walk the rest of the way but the snow got heavier, and I slipped, and I think I’ve hurt my ankle, and I didn’t know who to call, and Harry gave me this number. He said to call if I ever needed anyone, and I don’t—” “Eddy. Where are you?” I interrupted. “About halfway between the school and the Council Building. On the road that passes the pharmacist. I found an open café to use their phone.” “I know where you mean. Stay there I’ll come and get you!” I hung up the phone and grabbed my coat and shoes on my way to Harry’s car. Once inside I carefully pulled out of our driveway and headed toward where Eddy was. *** I found a very cold and shivering Eddy sitting by the outside a closed cafe. I pulled a spare blanket from the back on the car and bundled him up before settling him into the seat. I swore when Eddy told me the café had closed and told him he would have to wait outside for me to arrive. After I had finished making a note of the café’s name so I could report them to Jackson – I mean who lets someone use their phone and then leaves them sitting outside with a hurt ankle in the freezing cold? – I got in and started the car. “Right where to?” I asked my passenger, I wanted to take him home with me but I didn’t want to press my luck. Eddy looked down, “I think I lost my keys in the fall so I don’t know where to go.” “That’s easy then, you’re coming home with me. I’ll wrap your foot and I have a spare room you can get some rest in.” Eddy tried to refuse but I overrode him and pulled back out onto the snowy road. “So what were you doing out on a night like this?” I asked curiously Eddy glanced at me in the half light from the passing street lamps, and he frowned before answering. “I had to finish some marking. I thought I could get it finished and get home before the weather got too bad. But I fell asleep at my desk and this is what I woke up to.” He gestured at the snow outside the window. It didn’t take long for me to drive us slowly back to mine and Harry’s place. After a few false starts at trying to get Eddy out the car and into the house, I just scooped him up and carried him in, much to his embarrassment. He weighed next to nothing and by the feel of him through his clothes he was slim but well built. He had short ginger hair and a few freckles over his nose that were standing out at that moment because he was blushing. “You know you go an adorable shade of red,” I told the small man in my arms. “Shut up,” he muttered, as I carried him in to the main room and set him down on the couch. “Right let’s get your shoes off and get that ankle looked at.” I helped him to get his shoes and socks off and after a careful examination I was fairly certain the ankle was just sprained. I wrapped it tight and we settled in, with a hot chocolate, to watch a DVD for the remainder of the night. We chatted as he started open up to me, and I actually started to find out things about him. I found out he was thirty years old and that he had no family left due to a sickness that passed through his town. He moved to Chapmistres for a fresh start and to see if he could find someone to settle down with. He said he took after his dad in looks but his mum in height. His dad had been six foot eight, his mum was only five foot three and he was five foot four. That made him a foot shorter than my six foot four and made him the same height as Harry. After he made a comment about my strength I told him that because I was half vampire and bonded to a vampire I got to share a few of their characteristics, including, immunity to most illnesses and increased strength, sight and hearing. When it seemed he couldn’t stay awake any longer I carried him to the spare room and got him settled with access to a pair of Harry’s unused pajamas, before wishing him a good sleep. *** “You’ll never guess who I managed to get into bed.” I joked to Harry later on the phone as I lay in our bed. “What do you mean you got someone into bed? Who’s there?” Harry demanded and I stifled a chuckle. “Oh, didn’t you know? I always have people round when you’re not here…Well, you will leave me here all cold and alone.” I wanted to push it further but Harry caught on to my tone. “You little tease. So tell me what have you really been up to tonight?” “Well, I had to go out earlier and rescue Eddy from falling over in the snow. Then I brought him back here and we chatted –“ “What! Is he alright? And what do you meant you brought him back to our place?” Harry interrupted, suddenly I had his undivided attention. “As I said he had fallen in the snow and he had hurt his ankle. So I brought him back here, wrapped his ankle and settled him in our spare room.” “What was he doing walking around at night in the snow?” Harry demanded, I grinned at his possessive tone. It seemed my older mate was already getting very attached to Eddy. I explained the whole evening to him and laughed as Harry wished he was home instead of at least four hours away. I bid him sleep tight when I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. *** I was making coffee the next night when Eddy came limping out in just pajama pants and rubbing his eyes. He looked adorable with his hair all askew and I noticed that I had been right about what was under his clothes – well under his shirt anyway – his chest had good definition to it, he must work out a bit. “Hello, Sleepyhead.” I smiled and watched as he jumped slightly. He moved his hands and seemed to peer at me a moment before blinking and nodding, “Hi.” He looked so cute and confused that I wanted to take him in my arms and never let him go. “Coffee?” I asked to cover my thoughts as I turned back to the counter. Eddy nodded and sat down at the breakfast bar. I placed the coffee in front of him and then added a jug of milk and a sugar bowl to the counter. I frowned when I saw him trying pick up the spoon from the sugar bowl but missing it. He seemed to always be closing his hand too soon to touch the spoon. “What’s wrong? Are your hands hurt from the cold last night or something?” I asked worried. Eddy shook his head but wouldn’t meet my eyes, “No, it’s just that the spell I had on my eyes last night has worn off and I don’t have my glasses with me. I have a cream that is spelled, I rub it into my eyes each morning and I can see for seven hours. Then I have to switch to glasses ‘til the next night. I can barely see clearly more than a few inches in front of my own nose.” I covered his hands with mine and picked up the sugar. “How much and do you want milk too?” I asked, ignoring his blush. “Milk and two sugars please,” he said quietly. “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about you know,” I said as I fixed his coffee and went to put some toast down. “Harry used to wear glasses as well, but he was lucky and found a witch who could correct his vison completely. But I must admit to missing Harry’s glasses sometimes. He looked like a teacher with them on and I could really get into playing the naughty schoolboy.” I grinned as Eddy let out a small gasp and I saw a blush spreading down his chest. Then I had an idea. “Hey, where do you keep your glasses?” I asked thinking fast about what I could try. “They’re in my car in a case under the passenger seat. I keep them there in case I finish late at the school and the spell wears off before I get home.” “Okay, let me try something.” I closed my eyes and concentrated. I had never tried to bring something to me that belonged to someone else before, it had always been my own things. I muttered the spell and waited, after what felt like minutes, but was actually only a few seconds, there was a small pop. I found I was holding a small oblong box and I opened it to reveal a small pair of wire rimmed glasses. They looked tiny and fragile compared to my big hands so I carefully set them on the table in front on Eddy. Eddy stared at them in wonder and his hand was shaking as he reached out for them. I think he thought they would disappear before he could pick them up. “How did you do that?” he asked, looking up at me after he had put them on. “You said you’re a vampire.” I caught my breath, I had thought he was cute before but with those glasses on he was downright sexy. I moved behind the counter to conceal the effect he had on me and answered his question. “I said I’m half vampire, I’m also half witch. My adoptive mother taught me a few useful tricks as I was always forgetting things. Over the last two hundred years or so I perfected the spell, but…” Eddy’s mouth opened in an o and we settled down to toast and coffee, while I answered his questions about my life. Although his face when I’d mentioned my age had been a picture. *** The snow stayed bad but word reached us that the witches had found the problem with the spell and that it would stop by the morning. I talked Eddy into staying with me, pointing out that taking a car out would be asking for another accident. We watched TV and he beat me a most of the board games we owned. The snow stopped just as we were considering turning in for the day. Because both of us were used to working nights daytime was always our time to sleep. I was just locking up when I heard a car pull into the driveway. Looking out the window I saw it was Harry and I threw open the door to pull him inside. “I wasn’t expecting you till later. You shouldn’t be driving in this.” I said as I helped him strip off his coat and shoes. “I couldn’t resist driving straight through, in the hope that our guest was still here.” We turned at a noise in the hallway and saw Eddy standing at his bedroom door. “Hey, Eddy. I heard you tried to drive in worse snow than this.” Harry called out. Eddy flushed and looked down. I elbowed Harry before Eddy looked back to make him behave himself. “Right, bedtime I think. Eddy and I have worn ourselves out with movies and games all night and you mister”—I poked Harry—“have been driving all night.” They both agreed and Eddy headed back into his room. Harry and I were soon cuddled up and Harry was soon snoring up a storm to rival the one that had just finished outside. *** The next night I was first up and putting on the coffee when Eddy came limping in—although his ankle seemed to be better than the night before. “I got to get going fairly soon,” he said round a yawn. “I need to get home showered and changed then get to work.” “I can let you have some of Harry’s clothes, then you can shower here, and Harry can take you to work. I expect he wants to come join your class again tonight as he loves history and hasn’t stopped talking about how much you know.” I watched Eddy go a deep red. “If you’re sure he won’t mind me borrowing his clothes then that would be good. I think I would be cutting it very close to get home and then get someone to come give me lift to get to work.” “Let’s ask the man himself,” I said as I saw Harry entering the kitchen. As usual he was in just his tight boxers and Eddy immediately looked at the table top as though it held all the answers to everything. “Ask me what?” Harry asked as he reached up to kiss me then helped himself to coffee. I fixed Eddy’s coffee and put it in front of him before answering. “Eddy needs to borrow some clothes and yours would fit him fine. So can he borrow off you, so he can shower and get to work?” “Course, I think I like the idea of dressing this little cutie.” Harry gave me a nudge and I rolled my eyes as Eddy’s startled gaze flicked up to us. “Ah, that made you look up did it?” Harry crowed and Eddy immediately looked back down. “Harry, you leave out guest alone this instant. Now go and find him something appropriate to wear—and I do stress the word appropriate—then get dressed yourself. You’re taking him to work as I assume you want to sit in on his class again?” At Harry’s nod I continued. “Well good, which means I can get his car towed and looked at on my way into the office. Jackson hasn’t got any assignments for me at the moment so I’ll just be hanging around the Council Offices and running errands for the administrators.” “Oh, don’t go out of your way.” Eddy exclaimed. “No trouble. No trouble at all. You just keep my mate here in line and come home with him after work. I’ll have your car delivered here and you can join us for dinner.” My tone left no room for him to refuse, so I wasn’t surprised when he just smiled and nodded shyly. *** The next few weeks saw me and Harry using every excuse in the book to keep Eddy coming over to our house for some reason or another. Harry asked for his input on assignments Jackson was giving of him. He said he needed help with researching the histories of the communities he was being sent to and, of course, he thought Eddy was the best person to help him with that. I on the other hand decided to surprise Eddy. Not many people know but I love to cook, so I kept calling Eddy saying Harry was occupied working late and could he please come round after work to taste test whatever I was cooking. And of course once I had him at the house Harry would miraculously come home earlier than expected and we would of course insist that Eddy had to stay and have a proper meal with us. Harry would then start going on about work and they would be off on one of their history discussions. The night would fly by and before Eddy knew what was happening it was morning and he was heading home for bed, only for us to start the same thing the next night. If Harry was out of town then I would give Eddy the sob story of being lonely and could he please come and watch TV with me. He almost always said yes. The turning point was one Friday when I had convinced Eddy to accompany me to a Council event. Jackson had decided to have a party for the staff and Harry was out of town, not due back ‘til near the end of the event. So I pleaded and pouted ‘til Eddy agreed to come. I have to say until then I had thought Eddy was shy but once he got out on the make shift dance floor, he was a completely different guy. The sexy way he moved had me half hard all evening and when the band did a slow song I didn’t give him a chance to object before I had him in my arms, swaying to the music. Suddenly Eddy stiffened and I lifted my head from his shoulder to see Harry dancing behind him. I smiled and pulled Eddy even closer, Harry slipped his arms around Eddy’s waist until we were both holding him sandwiched in between us. We kept in time with the music and slowly Eddy started to relax again. By the end he was swaying with us and we all jolted when everyone started clapping in appreciation for the musicians. Harry and I took one of Eddy’s hands each so he couldn’t escape as we guided him to a secluded table in a dark corner of the room. “What’s going on?” Eddy asked, looking between us apprehensively. “Eddy, surely you know by now that we both want you to stay with us?” Harry asked. I rolled my eyes at my mate’s bluntness, especially as Eddy just looked more panicked. “Nice going dear, you’ll scare him away. Why don’t you just threaten to kidnap him like you did me all those years ago?” Harry growled low at my teasing but with the focus off of him I saw Eddy start to relax slowly. “I did not threaten to kidnap you. You just didn’t listen to what I was saying.” Harry declared, and Eddy giggled at his indignant tone. I just grinned at Harry and winked at Eddy, causing him to giggle even more. I reached out and turned Eddy’s face so he looked me in the eye. “Joking aside, Harry’s telling you truth. You know that vampires know their mates the moment they touch them, I’ve heard Harry talking to you about the subject. Harry and I know that you’re our mate. You’re the third part of us and we want you to join us.” Eddy’s eyes had gone wide but he hadn’t run so I counted that a success. The upper most emotions seemed to be shock and fear. But there also seemed to a bit of curious interest mixed in. “Tell me you don’t feel a pull to us and we’ll leave you alone,” Harry said confidently. I wanted to punch him. He was giving Eddy a way out and I didn’t want him to have an escape route. Eddy looked between us nibbling his bottom lip. “Okay I can’t lie and say I don’t feel anything for you both but I thought you two were mates? How can I be your mate as well?” “I spoke to Jackson after we met you and realized the possibility of what we felt around you. He said it’s rare for there to be tri-mating’s with vampires but not unheard of. There are not currently any in Chapmistres but there are some in other communities.” I was staring at Harry as he spoke. I knew he had spoken to Jackson and that Jackson had said threesomes were not unheard of but I didn’t know Harry knew of others. Recovering from my small shock and promising myself I would talk to Harry as soon as we were alone I turned to Eddy. “Let us take you home and give us a chance to prove all three of us can work together.” I asked, holding out my hand for him to take. Eddy was silent so long I thought for sure I’d pushed too far, too fast, but he smiled shyly and took my hand. Harry let out a whoop and grabbed Eddy’s other hand before trying to tow both of us up and toward the exit. Before we made it to the door we were stopped by Jackson. “So,” Jackson said smiling at all three of us. “I take it you three have finally stopped dancing around each other?” Harry and I rolled our eyes at the obvious pun but Eddy just looked at Jackson in awe, after all he was the Senior Elder of the community. Jackson just laughed and waved us away. “Go on, get out of here,” he said and turned back to the room. *** Harry and I spent the next week wooing and basically seducing our little witch mate. We pampered him and spoiled him until he actually told us to stop trying so hard. As the final step Harry and I decided to make dinner for Eddy. We both got home early and set up our table with candles and flowers. We made a good dinner between us—that is to say I cooked and Harry handed me things as I asked for them. Eddy came home and we made him sit down and relax while we took turns serving him. Then at the end of the meal we both knelt down on either side of his chair. “Eddy, you know how much you mean to both of us,” Harry started on our rehearsed speech. “And you know we will do anything for you,” I continued on with my part. “Will you please bond with us?” we asked in unison. Eddy’s eyes filled with tears and for a while he didn’t seem to be able to say anything, but then he shouted at the top of his voice, “YES.” Harry grabbed him and swung him out his chair and round in a circle. Then he passed him to me so I could do the same thing. We bonded that night and I must say I for one have never regretted a second since. The best part was the feeling of both my mates talking to me in my mind. It seems that the only thing missing was our third person to complete the bond, and activate the mind link. *** Thane finished his story and looked around the room. A few of his friends were trying to dab discreetly at the tears in their eyes. While the rest just looked on in fond amusement. Thane cuddled Harry and Eddy closer. He liked being the biggest of the three of them, because it meant that he could practically swallow up his lovers anytime he wanted. Jamie was the first one to speak. “May I ask, have either you or Eddy ever had any children?” Thane felt Eddy stiffen instantly and moved quickly to stroke his back where the others couldn’t see while he answered the question. “No, Eddy and I can’t have children. I’m half vampire and therefore Harry’s DNA didn’t change me in that way when we bonded. And in Eddy’s case no one knows why but the bond didn’t give him the ability to have children, like your bond with Andrew did you.” “Actually that might not be entirely true,” Eddy spoke up. Thane swung his head round to face his bashfully smiling mate and felt Harry shifting to fully face them too. “What have you done Eddy?” Harry asked. “Well, Harry, remember last month you took me with you on one of your visits? Well I decided to do a bit of research while you were in your meetings. I found a healer who specialised in vampire/witch bonding’s, and more specifically she had experience of tri-mating’s. She lived near the place we were staying in and so I walked over to meet her. She told me that because I had bonded with both of you, my body was trying to decide which DNA to use.” Eddy turned his full attention to Thane. “Because you’re only half vampire, my body didn’t seem to understand what it was meant to do with your blood. The witch gave me a potion that I have been taking every time we exchange blood now. It separates the witch DNA from the vampire DNA, allowing my body to absorb all the vampire blood while ignoring the witch blood because of course being a witch myself I already have enough of that. ” “What does that mean for us?” Thane asked, he felt Harry leaning in as though to hear better what Eddy’s answer was going to be. “I’m pregnant.” Eddy mumbled. “What, we can’t hear you over here,” Jamie called out from across the room, even though with his enhanced hearing from his bonding with Andrew Thane knew he could hear perfectly well. “I’M PREGNANT!” Yelled Eddy and threw his arms round Thane and Harry’s necks. *** The gathering became a celebration that only ended when the vampires of the group had to head home for sunrise. Thane and Harry led their witch mate to bed and proceeded to show him exactly how pleased they were with his news.
  24. 1 point
    Ode to a Perfect Willy Willy McAdam, man of our time, Perfect and punctual, always in line. Buy you a drink? Lager and lime? Willy McAdam, man of our time. Willy McAdam, man of our time, No longer young, still in his prime. A drink would be great. Bottle of wine? Willy McAdam, man of our time. Awaking each morning, alone in his bed, Living with mother, until she be dead. Breakfast is ready her voice calls on through, Crispies or toast? One piece or two? Hop to the bathroom, jump in the shower, Hopelessly useless, lacking in power. Scraping his chin, brushing his teeth, Using his hand to find some relief. Catching the bus, a beautiful day, Giving his seat to the lady in grey. Perfect gent, but what would they say, If only they knew that Willy was gay? Coming alive, subduing a sigh, Onto the bus comes one with blue eyes. Greeting the man, unwilling to ask, Nodding politely, retaining the mask. Boarding as always on 5439, Regular as clockwork, always on time. Young and attractive, full of intrigue, Distant and lofty, out of his league. Private emotion, hidden desire, Physical attraction, lighting his fire. Desperate to add a name to that face, Hanging his head in shameful disgrace. Willy is here, they call on arrival, At last, someone cries; he has no rival. Help me to do it, a colleague does plead, Willy's our man, he's what we need. A popular man for what he can give, Helping and building, making it live. Quietly eating his lunch on his own, Watching them happily chat on the phone. Join us tonight, out for a drink, Reluctant when pressed, just let me think. Come, they all plead, we'll go for a jive, Down in reception, meet us at five. Why did he come, he wonders inside, The noise is too much and nowhere to hide. Taking his drink he sits by the fire, Stares into flames reaching higher and higher. A life meant for sharing, shouldn't it be? They could all do it, why couldn't he? Without being asked, he knew what they’d say, Probably hate him if guessed he was gay. Wished it were different, can't change a thing, No hope of romance, never a ring. No point in dwelling on what wouldn't falter, He'd hardly be making that trip to the alter. Couldn't be angry, bitter or mad, No one to blame for why he was sad. A mother at home for whom he should care, That was his purpose, why he was there. Time to go home, dinner to make, Watches to check, excuses to fake. Just enough minutes to the 5439, To drink up his glass of lager and lime. Ready to stand, looks up in surprise, Mind if I sit asks the man with blue eyes? See you each day when we wave on the bus, Don't really know you, but my name is Gus. Both of them knew it, it was there in the eyes, No longer hidden by secrets and lies. My name is Will, my friends call me Willy, Try not to giggle, I know it sounds silly. Can I get you a drink? A lager and lime? Why did that sound, like your place or mine? We talked by the fire, he knew it was right, Came out of the darkness and into the light. I'm not what you think, he said with a sigh, A smile came from Gus: neither am I. I've watched you for months on the 5439, Hoping to meet you, biding my time. Surrounded by friends, glasses of wine, Raising our toasts, making him mine. Holding him close. So perfect, divine. Willy McAdam, man of our time.
  25. 1 point

    From the album: China

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